A thing of beauty is a joy forever. — John Keats.
The Vivianna bangle watch by Georg Jensen is a thing of beauty. Designed in the early 1960s, this open-bangle watch remains a work of iconic watch design; the cool stainless steel encircles the wrist magically without a clasp, and the dial reflects light as if it were a tiny sun.
I told Andre about it so he could get it for me to mark our 18th wedding anniversary. After 18 years, I’ve found it best to show him what has caught my eye. It’s better than putting away a gift that was unasked for and will never be used.
For almost two months, the watch lay at the back of my mind. I went on two vacations and when I came back, still looked forward to getting the watch. But each day I either was busy, or tired, or didn’t feel like shopping and getting a big-ticket item. It wasn’t urgent.
At the same time, I’d been reading The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer That Changed My Life And Might Just Change the World, by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, US. Ever since I rededicated my life to God, we’d been giving financially to our church plants in third-world Asia. Over the decades, we’d visited these churches and served on short-term missions, developed and maintained close ties with the friends we made in those countries like Cambodia and more recently, Burma.
God loves the poor while hating their poverty, the man-made actions that contribute to it, and the apathy of the “well off” who allow it to persist. Perhaps this is why the poor figure so centrally into Christ’s incarnation and ministry. His identification with the poor was and is startling. In His new, upside-down kingdom—the kingdom of God—the poor are placed at the top of the status pyramid. — Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel
I have never felt giving of my finances to be a sacrifice. It was just something we did, like saving for retirement. Now, I could afford to do two things simultaneously, make a donation that was the cost of the watch to Cambodia Outreach, and then go to the Georg Jensen store and get the watch with a clear conscience.
Andre suggested I not get the watch and give the money to New Life Fellowship, our sister church in Phnom Penh.
It was the least popular of my options. I envisaged feeling empty, the disappointment that lingers when something I am anticipating is taken away from me. Of course, not getting the watch and donating what it would cost to me was the sensible thing to do, an exchange that would be an antidote to extravagance; the sign of a good steward. I just didn’t look forward to it and it wasn’t going to leave me a cheerful giver.
I said out loud, “OK.”
I sat down at my computer and opened the online newsletter from New Life Fellowship which had been sitting in my Inbox the last several days unread. I scanned the list of things which needed funds. There was a need for powdered formula for the babies living in the ghetto. US$150 would provide baby formula for 15 babies.
Textbooks and resources for the young adults in the leadership training school were needed. US$100.
Sponsoring a child-at-risk for three years, giving the child an education, vocational training for his impoverished family (usually single-parent), teaching simple money management and how to launch a small enterprise: US$30 a month for three years.
To purchase a musical instrument, like a guitar which is always in shortage, so that anybody in the church or out in the mission field can pick up and enter into God’s presence through music: US$300.
My last visit to Phnom Penh had been as recent as seven months ago. I could put a face to each request on the list, because I’d visited the ghetto and seen the small children, I’d hung out with the musical youth on a Saturday evening, met a young leader-in-training, been out in a village and saw how lacking in opportunity the village kids were and would continue to be if things didn’t get profoundly better in some small way.
I tallied up the amounts. Give or take a few dollars, the donation amount matched the price of the Georg Jensen watch.
A beautiful watch to adorn a single wrist of someone living in Singapore was the equivalent of improving the lives of 15 ghetto babies, giving opportunity to a child-at-risk and his family, a class of enthusiastic youth leaders, and a musician in a country not two hours’ flight away.
I wrote a short email to Phnom Penh and hit Send.
I was prepared to feel bereft. Funnily, I didn’t. The watch, the lovely Vivianna, was no longer wanted. What once looked so beguiling lost its pull on me. It is a beautiful watch, but I am no longer under its spell.
The poet is right. A thing of beauty, given away in the spirit, can have its intrinsic value turned into joys that last forever.
Best of all, I am free.
The Faces of Cambodia