The Year without a Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting

The Year without a Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting

by Scott Dannemiller

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780664260682
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Publication date: 08/04/2015
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 200
Sales rank: 829,251
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Scott Dannemiller is a writer, blogger, worship leader, and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He and his wife, Gabby, reside in Nashville, Tennessee, with two very loud children.

Read an Excerpt

The Year Without a Purchase

One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting

By Scott Dannemiller

Westminster John Knox Press

Copyright © 2015 Scott Dannemiller
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-664-26068-2


Darth Vader and the Call from God

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs ... Love never fails.

(1 Corinthians 13:4–5, 8 NIV)

Most ideas don't hatch overnight. Especially the questionable ones. They need time to percolate like a good cup of coffee. That's how it was for us.

You could say it all started ten years ago when Gabby and I started feeling disconnected — not from each other — but from reality. Gabby was working 50–60hour weeks as an operations manager for a computer manufacturing company in Austin, Texas. When asked what she did for a living, her response was a simple, two-word answer: "Professional Nag."

She made money by staying on top of details and making sure other people did what they were supposed to do. Frankly, she was good at it. Her frantic days were spent bouncing from phone calls to meetings, dealing with crazy people. People who firmly believed that late computer shipments would cause the sun to explode and kill us all.

Unfortunately, she was becoming one of those people.

Gabby noticed her life becoming more transactional. Conversations were no longer meant for increasing understanding and building relationships. They were a means to an end. Just another task in an ever-growing to-do list, and this attitude was beginning to bleed into her personal life, blurring the lines between life and work.

My job wasn't much better. I was a recent transplant to Austin. I worked as a technical trainer for a technology company. I hardly knew a soul and traveled most of the time. When I wasn't traveling, I was working online, spending time with "virtual people." To compensate, I forged relationships in places where people were forced to interact with me.

If I felt the need for some conversation, I would just drive over to Kool Klips and share life stories with Belinda as she gave me an aptly priced six-dollar haircut. This worked well until our in-depth chatter served to be too much of a distraction, and my hair began to look like I had taken a nosedive into my kitchen blender.

Then there was the grocery store — a perfect place to pick up some crackers, spray cheese, and spot-on relationship advice. I began to call the checkout clerks my personal friends, learning about their families and social lives. I would hold up the line to ask lots of questions and delve into their personal business. It was an honest attempt to build community with those around me and create a more connected world. Unfortunately, my desperation turned this simple act of friendly conversation into something creepy. Shortly thereafter, they installed self-checkout lines.

Coincidence? Not likely.

On the outside, life was good for us. We had good jobs, a house in the suburbs, and vacations to exotic destinations. Inside, we felt as if we were stuck on a hamster wheel, pursuing activity for activity's sake.

Over dinner one night, we were both bemoaning our harried existence. We were becoming cogs in the wheel of a culture that was drawing us closer and closer to things that felt so very unimportant. We both felt the need to change the trajectory of our lives. We knew we wanted to focus on something different, but we weren't sure what that something different might be. That's when I blurted out, "Maybe we should just be missionaries or something."

They were throw-away words. A hypothetical question wedged in between bites of mashed potatoes and mac-n-cheese. In retrospect, I probably said it to get my wife to fall in love with me all over again by giving the impression that I was some sort of saint.

It didn't work.

In the time it took me to move my fork to my face hole, a smile instantly formed on her face, and she answered with an enthusiastic, "OK! Let's do it!"

I nearly aspirated my meatloaf.

I heard an audible "click" echo from inside her skull. My wife sprung into work mode. Ever the planner and organizer, she was frantically creating a mental Gantt chart of tasks, resources, and deadlines. She rattled off a list of "to-dos":

• Research potential locations

• Choose a destination

• Sell the house

• Sell the cars

• Find someone to take care of our dogs

The flood of words spewed forth as if a dam had burst inside her. It was like she had been planning this all her life. This idea of disconnecting in order to reconnect had captured her heart. It was a drastic change to kick start meaning, and she held on with both hands.

Meanwhile, I compiled a list of ways we might die as missionaries in a developing country:

• Impaled on long, sharp spears

• Cooked in a giant, black cauldron

• Thrown into a volcano

• Murdered by drug lords

• Ravaged by dysentery

Needless to say, I was not on the bandwagon. I have always been a fan of making the world a better place, so long as it means I don't have to change anything about my life. Like Martin Luther King, I, too, have a dream. The difference is, rather than rally millions of people to put their lives on the line for truth and justice, I prefer to discuss my dream in very ambiguous terms over a plate of nachos.

So, there we were, battling it out. One of us motivated by love, and the other motivated by fear. A quick glance at history and the nightly news shows us that fear normally wins. Fear is strong. It has bulging biceps and ginormous pectorals. Fear admires itself in the mirror, grunting as it hurls weights the size of Volkswagens into the air with ease.

Love, on the other hand, is fragile. Love blows kisses and dandelion fluff into the breeze. Love bakes a batch of cookies for the school fundraiser and offers you a comfy seat on the bus. Normally, love doesn't stand a chance against fear.

But love is persistent. And this was a long-term battle.

As the weeks wore on, I began to wonder if the nagging in my gut had less to do with my eating some bad sushi and more to do with God, but I couldn't be certain. I was looking for a sign. I wanted it to be something obvious, like the voice of The Almighty echoing through my living room. To me, God's voice sounds like James Earl Jones' Darth Vader mixed with a hint of Charlton Heston.

Scott. I am your Father.

Alas, the celebrity voice-over commands never materialized. If God was sending signs, He must be using fine print. Maybe The Almighty Marketer was trying to speak to us through all those roadside billboards adorned with pictures of faraway lands? Or the advertisements that were in our faces twenty-four hours a day?

That's when I started to notice all the hints buried in the pages of newspapers and magazines. Laundry detergent. Potato chips. Hair Club for Men. It wasn't the products calling out to us. It was the slogans.

"A new formula."

"You want more."

"It's time for a change."

But I still wasn't sure it was a call from God. One evening, Gabby and I were discussing our options when the phone rang. She answered. It was an acquaintance of ours. The woman didn't sound anything like James Earl Jones, but her words were a rubber mallet to my noggin.

"Hi Gabby. This is Katy. I know it's short notice, but I was wondering if you and Scott would be interested in joining a two-week mission trip to Guatemala next month."

God is funny.

We had been thinking of spending a year or more as missionaries, but the concept was terrifying. The uncertainty of such an experience was creating an avalanche of anxiety. Now, it was like God was pulling double-duty as a telemarketer, telling us, "Here's your money-back guarantee! Just try it out for two weeks, and if you don't like it, you can return to your mundane old life. But if you're satisfied, we'll give you a full year of mission service and even throw in this lovely set of steak knives!"

It's hard to say no to bonus steak knives.

We agreed to go on the trip as a way to test the waters of missionary life. What we didn't realize was that this simple decision likely sealed our fate. Love's persistence overcame the strength of fear, fueled by the same force that put us on the hamster wheel in the first place.

Peer pressure.

Yes. That force that made you wear a tuxedo print t-shirt to prom back in the '80s? The mysterious power that told you to streak the quad back in college? The one that caused us to give in to the expectations of others, trying to leapfrog the Joneses and losing ourselves in the process?

God can use it for good.

In much the same way you might tell your friends about a new gadget you just purchased, we innocently told friends and family about our two-week mission trip. Inevitably, this led to discussions about a possible year-long commitment. Which led to people asking, "Why?"

This is when the tone of our conversations would shift. We moved beyond chats about Lasik surgery and family vacations and dove into the deep end of the connecting pool, discussing life and its frustrations. We talked about stress and busyness. We talked about meaning. We talked about the false allure of manufactured joy. And the more we talked about these things, the more people would ask, "So when are you leaving?"

Now we were trapped. There was no good reason not to commit to a full year. Besides, if we told people we were going to look for meaning, we had to do it. What would they think if we didn't? We would be frauds, falling short of their expectations. But at least this time, we had a hunch that those expectations were pushing us in the right direction.


Doing Nothing for God

Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.

(Proverbs 19:21 NIV)

We signed up to be part of the Young Adult Volunteer program through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We were over the maximum age for the program, but apparently there aren't a ton of people beating down the door to make a couple hundred bucks a month and live in "third world" conditions for twelve months, so they let it slide. We were filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation. While it was a scary leap of faith, we knew it was going to be a great adventure. And secretly, I had grand aspirations of selfishly saving the world in the name of God.

Prior to hopping on the plane to Guatemala, we spent a week in missionary orientation. It was like army boot camp, but instead of yelling, push-ups, and daybreak marathons, we did lots of singing, reflecting, and daybreak praying. It was less physically taxing but emotionally exhausting just the same.

The hardest concept to accept was the idea that we were to treat our year as a "ministry of presence." Our leaders said that our focus should not be on achieving any major goals, but rather, experiencing simplicity among God's people and doing our best to be living examples of God's love for all those we might encounter.

Wait. That doesn't sound very sexy.

We had grown accustomed to a fast pace of life. Calendars were crammed with things to do. We were incredibly active. Working extra hours, then meeting up with friends and their families. The weekends were full, too. Throwing parties for friends, running charity races, and serving at church. Now we were being asked to commit to being a vessel for God. Nothing more, nothing less. Which sounded like doing a whole lot of nothing.

In addition to being "present" we did have actual jobs to do. Gabby's role was to work as a liaison between local Guatemalan villages and mission teams coming from the States. She would help plan itineraries for the mission teams based on what the village leaders needed. Sometimes it was building a structure, such as a church or community center. Other times it was cultivating vegetable gardens or constructing composting latrines. It was a glamorous job, if glamour comes covered in diesel fumes and pees in a steamy outhouse.

My job was to teach leadership and project-planning skills to twenty-five pastors scattered throughout the southwestern part of the country. The hope was that they might use their places of worship as a centralized location to serve the greater needs of the community, starting nutrition projects or after-school programs to keep youth out of trouble.

Even though we understood this whole "ministry of presence" concept, it was still very hard to shake our corporate-American mind-set. And it was more than just the change in activity level. It was also a change in outcomes. I wanted to be able to share a list of accomplishments: how many schools we could build, how many projects we could complete, or how many lives could we save by the time our year of service was over. Maybe even get a certificate of achievement I could stick on the refrigerator. It didn't take long for my performance-minded mind-set to come face-to-face with missionary reality.

This year was not about achievement.

As soon as we landed, it was evident that we both had the Spanish skills of a nine-year-old with bad grammar. Imagine if some third grader from Nicaragua came to your city and claimed to have all the answers to your community's problems. Would you listen? Probably not. And even if we had been fluent in the language, we didn't truly understand the culture anyway. We were like a Texas rancher dropped in the middle of a housing project in Brooklyn.

Our expectations and focus quickly shifted. We learned that it's hard to measure meaning. Impossible, actually. It is, however, something that can be felt, and we felt it most deeply in our everyday interactions.

While we did accomplish some amazing things throughout the year, by far our greatest blessing was sharing a home with Martín, Graciela, and their six kids, combining lives from completely different worlds. They were a Spanish-speaking family of Maya Quiché descent, and we were suburban American DINKs (Dual-Income, No Kids). While we possessed a deep understanding of our own lives, we had no clue about theirs. They had faced hard- ships we would never fully understand. Extreme poverty. Civil war. Genocide.

As honored guests in their modest home, they offered us the best of what they had. Each night we would stand on the rough concrete floor around the warmth of the wood stove, watching Graciela pat out corn tortillas by hand and muffling our coughs as the wood smoke filled the room, floated up to the tin roof, and escaped through the gaps.

At mealtime we all gathered around an old wooden table surrounded by mismatched chairs. Some were plastic. Others were made of metal with peeling vinyl cushions. In a house without a couch or a La-Z-Boy, it was the best place to share stories of our upbringing, comparing lives and finding commonality in the midst of glaring differences.

We were humbled by their generosity, often receiving the only meat at the meal. It was a simple extravagance, but an extravagance just the same, because in Martin and Graciela's house, excess didn't exist. There were few conversations about new stuff, the latest movies, or techno gadgets. There were no material distractions at all, so all the conversations were about immaterial things — the things that really matter. Looking one another in the eye and learning about one another. Not what you have or what you do, but who you are. What made you who you are. What drives you. The hopes and the hurts. Fears and dreams.

It was a shock to the system.

In the United States, when you meet someone, one of the first questions asked is, "So, what do you do for a living?" How do you earn money? The answer defines who you are.

I am a teacher.

A doctor.

A nurse.

A postal worker.

In Guatemala, we were never asked this question. Not even once. In twelve months. This experience temporarily severed our connection to money. We no longer had any bills to pay. Our program paid our host family enough to cover our food, and we received a small stipend that was more than enough to pay for transportation on the chicken bus and an occasional trip to an Internet café to send updates to family and friends. So material goods stopped being an everyday concern.

Imagine for a moment that your very sense of self has been stripped away. You have no career. No culture. Everything in your immediate possession fits into four large suitcases. You speak with the simple words of a child and are constantly humbled by the kindness of a family who earns next to nothing. Meanwhile, everything you used to believe about security and accomplishment is disappearing like frost in the sun.


Excerpted from The Year Without a Purchase by Scott Dannemiller. Copyright © 2015 Scott Dannemiller. Excerpted by permission of Westminster John Knox Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part One: Living with Integrity

1. Darth Vader and the Call from God

2. Doing Nothing for God

3. How to Screw Up a Good Thing

4. The Rules

5. The Monster under the Bed

Part Two: Owning What We Have

6. Our Little Science Experiment

7. Darn!

8. The Price Is Right?

9. The Businessman and His Baggie

10. The Power of Stuff

11. Filling the Void

12. Coach Burgess and the Brainiacs

13. Two, Four, Six, Eight, What Do I Appreciate?

14. Christ Is Risen! Let's Go to Arby's!

15. True Confessions

16. The Worst Parents Ever

Part Three: Growing in Faith Together

17. Yoga Pants and Jock Straps

18. Naked in the Flat

19. The Purge

20. Good-bye Nana Claus

21. Our Discipline Problem

22. The Most Awkwardly Awesome Prom Ever

23. The Perfect Birthday—Just Add Aqua Velva

24. What Do You Get the Woman Who Has Everything?

25. Gala People?

Part Four: Serving God's People

26. Ontario with Ellis

27. My Better Half

28. Brainiacs Revisited

29. Filling

30. A Homemade Halloween

31. Christmas Tree Carnage

32. The Santa Clause

33. The Belly of the Beast

34. Christmas Present

Part Five: The Results

35. Year in Review

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The Year without a Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
StudentofParables More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! And as I laughed – out loud – no less than three times just in the Introduction, you can believe me when I say this book is hilarious. Mr. Dannemiller recounts his family’s experiment with honesty and humor, weaving together a great read. Reading through the Dannemiller’s experiences stirred strong feelings of thankfulness. The book is not written as a scathing chastisement of consumerism, but as a priority and reality check for our lives. I am now newly aware, and immensely grateful for the abundance of things I possess, and how much more I can share with those around me. I am also extra grateful for the family and friends I have. While I prize spending time with the people in my life, The Year Without a Purchase gave me many ideas for making that time more meaningful in the immediate, and fostering cherished memories. This is a book that sparks conversation. Previously I had never heard of the “Wise Men Gifts” tradition, of only giving three gifts at Christmas. That concept, and many others prompted some cool conversations for me and my family. We may not implement everything the Dannemiller’s did, but the discussions their ideas sparked will bring us our own family traditions, values, and memories. Highly Recommended! I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book faster than it took to write this review. How can I express what I think without sounding sappy and too "adjective-y"? Scott is one of the funniest writers I have had the joy of reading. He's super silly and creative and makes you think, "Yes! I was thinking that, but didn't know how to express it like that!". He also has this uncanny ability to start with a topic that may be hilarious and superficial and slowly change the subject into something deep and meaningful. This is this book. It's funny and enjoyable and at the root of it's meaningful and worthy. It doesn't matter your religion...if you want to be a good human, this book will strike a chord within yourself. Forget the "worthless" stuff, and start connecting with people for experiences you can't put a price on (for the most part). Just read it, will ya?