The intersection of my want and another’s need

Sometimes at dinnertime when I’m pulling out my worn stack of Corelle plates, the same ones I’ve been using for 15 years, I imagine buying new dishes. Something square and sleek and Asian-influenced, perhaps. Like this. Or maybe this?

I look at prices and remember I’d need at least enough to serve 16.  I don’t have cupboard space for two sets of dishes. Yet getting rid of a perfectly decent set of dishes sounds wasteful. Which train of thought starts me imagining new cabinets, and a new kitchen floor. And, oh, as long as I’m dreaming of a remodel, how about an industrial range?  And suddenly in my head I’m lusting after a $30,000 kitchen remodel instead of a $300 stack of plates.

About the time I start getting all revved up over the new kitchen idea, I happen to watch the news for the first time in weeks, and hear the staggering quote that a million kids a year die of malaria in Africa. Malaria. An entirely treatable disease. Killing a million kids a year in Africa alone.

That same evening I spend an hour chatting on facebook with my sister in Ethiopia. Talk turns to malaria again, along with all sorts of other ailments that Sophie treats every day. Polio. Mossy foot. Other ailments so ancient that Sophie’s been hunting 1930’s medical textbooks online, seeking lost wisdom about illnesses that modern Western doctors have never seen.

She tells me that some days she literally doesn’t know what to do next, she’s looking at so many people in need all at once.

“Do what’s in front of you, ” I tell her simply.

Clarity is always easier when advising others.

The next day I open an email from Shaun Groves, offering me free tickets to go see Hillsong’s new documentary The I-Heart Revolution. I’ve practically worn out two Hillsong CD’s, so I give him a quick and emphatic yes. I don’t know what the documentary is about, but if there’s Hillsong music, I’m there. (If you live in Australia or Asia, your date to see this movie is Nov. 18th, by the way)

Two evenings later I was there, traveling via film with Hillsong to some of the poorest areas in the world, listening to person after person spell out the dilemma that is continually in my mind: how much impact can I have on my world? Can my life make a difference?

In the middle of that movie, while watching a man offering gracious hospitality in the doorway of his 5 x 6 foot shack, my longing for new dishes and new floors in my comfortable home seemed as stupid and frivolous as socks on a turkey.

Walking out of the theater I clutched that feeling tight to my heart, knowing that in that moment my heart was aligned a little more closely with the heart of God, and wanting desperately for it to stay that way.

I’ve had that clarity before when coming home from travels, after seeing poverty in Ethiopia and in the Dominican Republic. Seeing the faces myself feels different, somehow.  It makes me more ready to act, even if acting might take me beyond my comfort zone. Even if it means I miss out on bits of puffery here and there.

The trick is to remember the faces, and not get confused by the puffery.

May God grant that clarity each time I open my wallet.


Right now a group of bloggers is in El Salvador, experiencing the work of Compassion International in that country. If you are longing to make an impact in this crazy mixed-up world of ours, would you consider sponsoring a child?


  1. Wonderful,thought-provoking post, Mary. I’ll think twice the next time I get lost in ‘puffery.’

  2. Sometimes it is hard for me to fully enjoy the perfectly normal life I have when I think about how most of the world lives – we give sacrifically but it never seems “enough” – yet I was just looking at the Old Navy online catalog ::;sigh:::: our hearts can be so fickle – wonderful reminder especially at this season!

  3. What a beautiful post, Mary. I’ve struggled with the same thing. If I could just remember that my money is not my own, nothing is mine, it is all God’s and I’m merely a steward of it. Then I could ask myself simply would the Lord be happy with this purchase. I wish I could say that He always is. Thank you for the sober reminder that there are so many better ways to spend our money than on new dishes (although my mom and I have had our eyes on some, too.)

  4. Oh, I needed to hear that today. I checked your website right after all the design blogs I read. What you’ve described is a real and constant struggle for me. Thanks for writing about it.

  5. Mary, I’m right there with you. In the blur of everyday in this comfortable abundant life here I so often have a very blurred focus. My hubby and I have been talking about this a lot, and even our kids too.

    Long story short, one of our darlings sent a gift to Bite Back last month and now we often compare a purchase price to how many mosquito nets we could buy instead.

    Thank you for always being a strong voice calling out truth Mary!

  6. A good reminder for all of us. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Mary, thank you for sharing openly and honestly about your life. I like to think of you as my internet mentor. Your posts continually encourage and challenge me, and I’m thankful God lead me to your blog. So very thankful.

  8. I love this post. The artist in me gets lost in all of the redos and then I look over at my two 11 year olds from Liberia and I quickly come back to reality (one of which was very sick with Malaria that you spoke of when he came 8 years ago). The timing couldn’t be better. Last night my husband and I were just talking about our three present tradition (one clothing item, one fun educational item and one frivolous item). Still doing three but on a smaller scale. There are so many children and my heart longs for them.

    Thanks for this post.

  9. Thanks for your transparency, and for the reminder for the rest of us.

  10. Debbie in GA says:


  11. Thanks Mary, We all really need to remind ourselves of this so often. Open our eyes Lord to see as you see and to KEEP that knowledge ….


  12. I want to engrave this in my brain: “May God grant that clarity each time I open my wallet.”
    thank you.

  13. Definately on my mind and in my heart as well. The $30 Christmas dresses remained at the store, and money was spent instead on baking supplies. Here’s why:

    I’m so proud of my daughter. She will always think first of those in need before herself. Angels are everywhere if you look.


  14. Thanks for this. It’s very timely for me. I listened to my mom and a friend talking about their expensive kitchen remodels today as I looked at my scratched and dry fake wood cabinets, hoping I could make them look a little better with some lemon oil. And then there’s how I melted the Cuisinart lid on a hot burner today. And, oh yes, our everyday shoes are literally wearing out, and we just had to shell out $800 (on sale!) on suits and ties for my husband because he’s required to wear them every day, and his are looking ratty. Oh, the clothes I could buy with $800, but I don’t require them… =) The money leaves so fast, and its stressful sometimes, and some months things just pile up like crazy. But we have everything we truly need and a lot more. Thanks for a little perspective shift. =)

  15. Ahh…. contentment. It’s so hard sometimes, isn’t it?

  16. Thank you so much for posting this today! I think this was meant for me for sure. I have been thinking about a large purchase today and going back and forth between yes and no and this was the confirmation that I needed that No is the right answer this time.

  17. Hi Mary, I know we haven’t met, but I often pop over and read what’s on your mind or in your heart on a particular day. As the mom of 5 adopted, I relate in many ways. And altho my journey into parenthood is on a small scale, I hear your voice clearly, in terms of the worlds need.
    I scrolled and happened to read your post about making bags, and that you would be keeping your eye out for Christmas remments. If I could have found an email addy for you, I would have put this there, but I didn’t, so here goes.
    I have a fairly large drawer of Christmas fabrics gathered over years and several moves. It’s sooo much more than I need or can ever use, and I would be happy to fill a flat rate box and send it off to you(I’m assuming USA(hope,hope). You should have a link to my blog and email on the profile page, if not then you can drop me a line at I would be so happy to pass some fabric your way. Hugs, Finn

  18. Wow. I checked out the Hillsong site, and it doesn’t look like this film is playing in the US. I’d like to see it, any suggestions? And thanks for pointing out that Shaun Groves has a blog. I am not a fan of many, but he is one of our all-time favorites.

  19. I’m clapping from here – great post.

  20. Lauren from Indiana says:

    I have my grandmother’s old set of Corelle. I used to have more modern and fancy dishes, but I sold those when I went back to grad school. Now-I would never ever ever ever get rid of the Corelle, since it was my grandma and grandpa’s way of going to law school with me. That, and I sit and study every night at the old dining room table that we had so many family dinners at with them. Maybe that is a way you can think of your dishes. Think of the memories that you ate off of them!

  21. socks on a turkey…puffery….great images…

  22. First, I have to say that we sponsor a child and it’s lovely for the children…they are all so happy to send and recieve the letters and gifts and it’s one of the best things we have ever done.

    Second, your first paragraph made me laugh, because I really just got rid of my “fancy” plates…every single one of them, and what did I buy? Corelle. I LOVE them. They are light, tons of them fit in the dishwasher and they are practically unbreakable. I bought them my grocery store. They are the best…

    I do the same thing as you…a little want turns into a snowball.


  1. […] One of the things that was hardest for me about coming home after the trip was assimilating the memory all those real faces — those real struggling people –  into my everyday life.  It made me really rethink where our resources go. […]