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Lessons from a little black dress

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By Nancy Kennedy

A few months ago I bought an LBD, a “little black dress.” All good fashionistas know that every woman needs at least one LBD in her closet, because you never know when a museum opening or semi-formal awards banquet will spontaneously break out.

I bought it at a thrift store for only $35, but that’s not the point, neither is the fact that I will most likely never wear it.

The point is that I thought I needed it because I thought it would bring more glamour and adventure and culture and class into my life, as if the dress itself had intrinsic powers.

It reminds me of the time I bought a pair of navy blue ski overalls when I was in the Air Force, shortly after I arrived at my first duty station in Limestone, Me., way, way up North, two miles from the Canadian border. Where it snows. A lot.

I thought if I had a cute ski outfit on hand, invitations to ski would surely follow, and with them, a full and satisfying social life—a changed life.

Which didn’t happen.

The truth is, I neither knew how to ski nor had any desire to learn. That said, I did end up going skiing once while in Maine and had a terrible time. I went with a group of people who had been skiing since before they were even conceived and I screamed on the chairlift ride up the mountain.

To make matters worse, what should have taken 20 minutes for even the most remedial skier to get to the bottom took me two hours. No one ever asked me to go skiing ever again. Thank you, Jesus.

I hadn’t thought about the ski overalls until recently when I read the results of a study, “Materialism, Transformation Expectations and Spending: Implications for Credit Use,” by two marketing professors at the University of Missouri.

The study looked at people in debt and the common, powerfully motivating beliefs that their purchases will change their lives. It identified four lies people tell themselves when buying something they don’t need: (1) It will make me a better person; (2) People will like me more; (3) I’ll be more fun and (4) It will make me more effective.

One person in the study told the researchers she wanted a new house so she could entertain and be more social and find more friends.
Another person wanted a mountain bike so it would make him appear more adventurous and interesting.

Several people said they needed a new car to make them more independent and self-reliant. However, the only thing their purchases got any of the people in the study was in debt.

“Heavy users of credit have a greater tendency to believe that the product makes the person, which is, of course, backwards,” the researchers wrote. “A cyclist may need a new bike, but a new bike does not make a cyclist. You can’t buy personal transformation in a store.”

Most of us know this, or at least that’s what we would say if asked, but I wonder how many of us truly believe it. Every time I think I get it, I discover I don’t. Hence, the LBD in my closet.

It comes down to the lie that an inanimate object, a substance that can be consumed, even an earthly relationship, can give a person meaning and worth.

I know that’s not true, and yet I’m continually looking to anything other that Jesus to satisfy the cravings in my soul, which drives me deeper and deeper into debt, not necessarily financially, but spiritually.

It’s as the hymn writer wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love” as I chase after lies. That’s my real debt problem.

However, as often and as far as I may wander, by his grace, God draws me back and reminds me that he alone is the fount of every blessing I could ever want.

It’s his grace that transforms me and not anything in my closet or refrigerator or bank account or anywhere else, not even the cutest ski outfit or the best-fitting LBD.

The question is, will I ever truly learn?

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria – I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.