On Stuff

The other day, Bill got to go to a village and pass out food and other goodies. It’s an enjoyable mission, except that he had to wear his 45 pound body armor the whole time. Imagine walking around with a 5 year old on your shoulders for 6 hours.

While there, a little boy, 6 years old, threw himself over the concertina wire just so he could get to the front of the line. I guess he cut himself pretty badly, but I guess he also thought it was worth it.

This is what an Afghani kid will do to get first dibs on a candy bar. (**See note below)


The catalogs have started to come. They don’t yet say “Holiday” or “Christmas” but you know that’s what they’re gearing up for. While I welcome yet another sign that the end of the year, and the end of my purgatory, are approaching, catalogs do not make me happy. The vast majority of these thick, glossy advertisements get put immediately into the recycle bucket. I have learned that I won’t care what I’m missing if I don’t see it. My children are not so wise, though. They have been snatching up the toy catalogs and poring through them as though the ultimate source of happiness could be found therein.

I’ve been hearing a lot of “I want.”

Today, having sat through another child showing me all the wonderful things that would make her the perfect, dutiful and loving child simply because her happiness at having all this stuff would make her thus, I called the children around and told them about the Afghani boy. I told them they needed to start thinking about what they could do for other people for Christmas instead of what they could get for themselves. And I told them to think of ONE, and only ONE thing they they really wanted for Christmas. And tell me in November.

I’m sure this isn’t the end of it.


My daughters were fascinated by the Yorkshire Terrier in the dog stroller. I think this was their first encounter with someone who treats a dog like a baby. As we left the Scout Hut, the woman who owned the dog told me she gave a stuffed animal terrier to Katie – her adolescent daughter having outgrown it. Katie was, of course, thrilled.

Later, Jenny was crying because Katie wouldn’t share the dog. “She promised,” Jenny wailed. Katie denied making any such promises.

“Katie,” I said, “You didn’t earn this dog. Somebody just gave it to you out of the generosity of their heart. Don’t you think you ought to share it and be just as generous as they were?”

“Well, Mom,” she said with angelic sincerity, “I was thinking we could send this dog to Afghanistan for the children there to have.”

Perhaps another mother would be fooled by such a sweet sentiment. “That may be a good idea. But in the meantime, can you not share with your sister? Or is it easier to share with a stranger than with your sibling?”

Bingo. She started to cry. In truth, she would rather give the toy away than share with Jenny. This is human nature. We all do this in one form or another. “Love your neighbor” is much much harder than “Donate anonymously to poor people.”

Sharing with your sister hurts. You don’t care what you’re missing if you don’t see it. But watching your sister play with your toy is torturous.


The dog may or may not head for Afghanistan and some little child may or may not get himself some stitches in addition to a stuffed animal. Dr. Ray Guarendi says and writes repeatedly that you need to get rid of your kids’ stuff if you want them to be generous. The more stuff they have, the more selfish they are.

The more stuff we have, the more selfish we are.

These are the thoughts I ponder as I begin to write shopping lists.

** Note: my husband emailed to tell me that the kid was 14 and was going to such extremes to get flour or rice, not candy. It makes the story worse on both accounts: he was old enough to understand the consequences and he felt those risks were worth it for mere food staples.

5 thoughts on “On Stuff

  1. This is something I have to relearn myself over and over again. Having a credit card made it too easy to obtain what I wanted, never what I needed, and then a huge amount of debt. I'm free of the credit card and making huge payments to see the debt come down. It's a hard road saying “no” to the wants in life, but it's healthier – emotionally, spiritually, and eventually, financially. I find I don't want it if it's going to cost me beyond what it costs to obtain it (if I can pay cash, fine). Anyway, it's nice to save up the money to buy the big stuff . . . it's earned then and much more appreciated.

    My daughter has made her list. We'll see. Stuff has too hefty a price tag any more.

  2. What a wonderful reflection!! Thank you! You given me lots to think about (and a few closets to clean out, too!)

  3. All so true, Michelle. The catalogs go straight to the trash in my house — I don't even get to look.

  4. I'll have to tell my kids about that. I wish I had more details to the story. I think this one might be a very good lesson for the non-sharers around here.

  5. Michelle,
    Thanks for this great post. Up here in Canada, we don't really get all the catalogues you do, but the annual tradition here is the Sears “Wishbook”. It's about 2 inches thick and it came in August. The kids “wished” all day, then to the recycling it went. It was actually disgusting to see them salivating over the pages and pages of toys. I love your ONE gift idea.
    Again, great post. I love your blog and I'm always praying!

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