From Rags to Riches – How to Live in American Culture when Your Life is about Helping the Poor

This is a story about two Roses in different worlds. One Rose lives here in America and the other lives in a village in Peru.

I stepped off the plane from Peru yesterday morning and was thrown into all sorts of activities my family had scheduled. In the evening, Steve and I escaped away for a date at an amazing little restaurant/deli in Portland where we caught up with each other. Somehow, the red-eye flight from the night before hadn’t taken its toll yet, and I was able to enjoy an evening out on the town.

After dinner, we headed to the main event of the night. Isabel Rose, my daughter, was to walk the runway (fashion), modeling clothes that were made and created by seniors from the Portland Art Institute. Like art, these students study and come up with creations of fashion. Isabel was a part of their canvas for the evening and truly it was art. She was beautiful and the event was glamorous and fun.

Isabel plans to use the $50 she was paid for doing this show toward her short term mission trip to the Dominican Republic.DSC_0522DSC_0512In contrast, only two days ago, I sat in a home of a mother named Rose, who with her five children, lives in a home built from sticks, mud, dirt and plastic bags. DSC_0270Rose is a mother in Compassion’s Child Survival Program. She wishes for a better and safer home where she won’t worry about someone stealing her things. The doll legs in the pile of dirt in the corner of the house, and the baby chickens behind the crib, spoke the story of Rose’s life.DSC_0256DSC_0266 Her eyes, though weary from the demands of motherhood, smiled as we talked about her dreams for her children. “I wish for them to have a better life than this.”DSC_0264DSC_0255Isabel Rose wore fancy dresses and walked under the lights of the runway. Cameras flashing in the pit, the crowd cheering on as they said yes to the dress. DSC_0488 (1) Steve lamented as the Blazers were in a playoff game in the arena next door. “I am watching a fashion show while a playoff basketball game is going on right next to me. This seems wrong.” Steve said. Then we laughed as we sat in a room full of colorful people who are into art and fashion. We felt out of place.

Rose, back in Peru sits in her home scraping by to find food to feed her children while Steve and I went out to a nice Portland restaurant and enjoyed a meal. We probably spent two months worth of Rose’s income on dinner.DSC_0252The clothing Isabel Rose wore was rich in color and fabric. My favorite was this vintage look, right out of The Great Gatsby. Yet, I can only imagine the cost for such clothing and how it might compare to a new home for the Rose in Peru.DSC_0474 (1)We often speak of how we hate the materialism of our culture and how TV and magazines impress upon our children what they need to look like. And we hate what our culture dictates is “beautiful,” because it’s a lie. Yet, there are Christians and lovely people who are into art and creating, and they love fashion, bridal gowns, shoes, and stories. Some of our dearest friends sell art in the form of music and make money on it, and others are hairdressers, retailers, fashion designers, authors and movie makers who feel the call to be light in the darkness. They make their living off of what other people buy. Is it wrong?

Is it wrong to spend money on a nice dinner, when there are Rose’s in the world barely able to feed their five children?

How should we live in the culture of America, when we are about helping the poor?

It’s a question I have to ask myself everyday when I want to upgrade my bathroom or buy a nice pair of shoes or allow my daughter to walk in a fashion show. It’s a dilemma when my other daughter wants to go to prom and needs to buy a dress. We desire to do the right thing when it comes to helping the poor but we desire to have a life in our own culture. Right?

As Christians in America, we have all these dilemmas to deal with. Like, should we only buy fair trade clothing and shoes to make sure we aren’t supporting sweatshops in Bangladesh further taking advantage of the poor around the world? Well then, lets get our $60 TOMS Shoes and call it good. Certainly this is not letting culture or trends dictate what we purchase. After all, TOMS gives away a pair of shoes for each one purchased. Or is it marketing and fashion we fall for in the name of helping others? Is it wrong? Or is it better to spend less on shoes at Target and give more toward a cause that will further help the poor? I don’t have the right answer.

As I watched my daughter walk the runway in the beautiful clothing, and I listened to her stories afterward, I was happy she had fun. This isn’t necessarily something she ever sought to do, but she was asked to do, so she took the opportunity. After the show, she then put back on her t-shirt, jeans and old Converse shoes, and looked more like the girl I recognized.  I couldn’t help but think of the contrast I had just witnessed from one Rose to another. Rags to Riches.  DSC_0263

I have come to the conclusion that God wants us to wrestle with these things in our hearts, and in the end, He wants us to give. He desires for us to give to the poor, and over 2000 scriptures support our call to do this. He wants us to interact with the poor and be challenged by our own choices. He wants us to examine our hearts to make sure money has not become our god.

The scripture I think about a lot is the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 10: 17-27. (NASB)

17As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words [a]he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

Steve and I have chosen to immerse in our culture, not because we love everything about our culture, but because we live in America. We wrestle with what is excessive and what is enough. So, we sponsor children and give, and find ways to keep it real in our family. We share stories about the Rose’s in the world so others may respond too. Then we go to fashion shows and the theatre and out to dinner and we try to enjoy it. However, God keeps those Rose’s in our minds.

Our girls have shed their tears for the poor. When the prom dress is purchased, and our daughter looks so beautiful, she cries at the money that was spent, realizing once again, what it could have provided someone in Africa. But then we tell her, it’s ok, and we celebrate the prom. We also celebrate the fact she doesn’t take it for granted.DSC_0122 (1)

It’s a complete struggle isn’t it?

I do love that in the story of the Rich Young Ruler, verse 21 says something very important. Jesus felt love for him.

Could it be that God allows us to wrestle, because he loves us? He wants us to examine our hearts.

Read on.

23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “[b]Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

As the disciples said, “Then who can be saved?”

Jesus says this. “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

All things are possible with God! It’s too much to try and figure this out on our own. The answers to how we are to live in this culture and all it’s riches, are too big for us! There are all sorts of Rose’s in this world from poor to rich and the good news is, God loves them all. I don’t know about you all, but as I live in this culture and immerse myself with the world around me, I realize how much I need the cross and need the grace of God. I will never be able to give enough to get myself into Heaven. It will only be by His grace.

I will continue to struggle as my life intersects with the rich and the poor, and will forever try to make sense of it all. One day, when I am in Heaven (by His grace), it will be then, that I might finally understand why it all had to be this way.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
           for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NIV Matthew 5:3)

This is my story of two Roses. One of these Rose’s is in her real world, and the other is only acting. Both, have hearts of gold.DSC_0269 DSC_0534 (1) May we never forget the way the rest of the world lives.

May we always be light in the darkness.


(A good read from years back about being an influence in culture. “Roaring Lambs” )

6 Comments on “From Rags to Riches – How to Live in American Culture when Your Life is about Helping the Poor

  1. I too have struggled with these thoughts, because God knows I love both beautiful things and helping people. Great blog. And as a native Oregonian stuck in Europe, it was nice to hear a shout-out to PAI and the Blazers! 🙂

  2. So, so good. I see my 14yr old wrestling with this a lot after her trips to El Salvador to visit our Compassion children that we sponsor.

  3. These thoughts have crossed my mind much also. Thank you for expressing so beautifully!!!!

  4. Thank you for this. I feel the tension so frequently. I appreciate your thoughts. And I love your daughter’s name!! We had a baby girl in March and named her Isabela Rose.

  5. I love this because I live in the balance between the two cultures and trying to buy something that costs $39 is awful because I think about how I can provide for a child in $38.

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