Paper­clip Faith

Trade up!


Did you ever hear about the young man named Kyle MacDonald who traded a paper­clip for one item af­ter the other un­til he was able to get his own house? Sur­pris­ingly, it only took him 14 trades to achieve his goal one year af­ter he started. His jour­ney was: clip to pen, to door­knob, to stove, to gen­er­a­tor, to keg of beer, to snow­mo­bile, to trip to Yahk, to panel truck, to record­ing con­tract, to one-year rent of an apart­ment in Phoenix, to an af­ter­noon with Alice Cooper, to a mo­tor­ized snow globe, to a speak­ing role in a movie, to a house in Ki­pling, Sk., Canada.

Kyle said, “I em­barked on an ad­ven­ture and that paper­clip sym­bol­i­cally held it to­gether, and it was re­ally easy to re­mem­ber.” Je­sus of­ten used such ob­ject lessons when He told us that the king­dom of God was like a pearl, door, seed, bread, wa­ter, trea­sure, fruit­ful tree, vine, just to men­tion a few. In the same way as Kyle used the paper­clip as a point of fo­cus for his idea, I thought we could use his story by ap­ply­ing some of its con­cepts to our life of faith.

Kyle was in­spired by a child­hood bar­ter­ing game called “Big­ger and Bet­ter.” He won­dered if it would be pos­si­ble to take the idea of this game and bring it to life. In­stead of play­ing with game pieces, he would trade real ob­jects un­til he owned a house. Lots of the great­est dis­cov­er­ies and in­no­va­tions in his­tory were about mak­ing con­nec­tions, ap­ply­ing one idea to an­other. Of­ten, this in­volves connecting the imag­i­nary with the real—first you have to con­ceive the idea be­fore you can be­gin to reach for it.

What kept Kyle go­ing through­out that year of trad­ing from paper­clip to house? One was the fun fac­tor. Kyle said he was jazzed on his jour­ney to get what he wanted; he loved ev­ery minute of it. En­joy­ing what we do, see­ing it as a step to a greater end, helps greatly in see­ing our vi­sion come to fruition.

Kyle looked down on his desk and saw one red paper­clip and thought he'd start his ad­ven­ture with that. We have to be­gin with the lit­tle that we have be­fore we can get to where we want to be. Kyle asked him­self, What is one red paper­clip worth? We should ask the same ques­tions: What is the po­ten­tial of this idea? What can it lead to? What steps can I take to get closer to that goal?

Je­sus en­cour­aged us to have crazy faith when He said that if we have even just a lit­tle faith—even as small as a seed—we can move moun­tains of ob­sta­cles. Moses had the same thing hap­pen to him when God told him to take a bet­ter look at what was in his hand, which was just a wooden rod

that he used to part the Red Sea and free his peo­ple from slav­ery.

The red paper­clip story is a lot about putting ideas into ac­tion. It is easy to just blow off an idea when we get it, dis­miss­ing it as in­signif­i­cant, but once we take the time and find out it is what we should do, we should not give up while we are strug­gling to de­velop it. It is es­sen­tial to stick to the plan till the end.

When we get an in­spi­ra­tion, it may be God speak­ing to us to get us go­ing in the di­rec­tion He wants us to go. Just as Kyle rec­og­nized his “Aha!” mo­ment as a worth­while idea, so can we. When in­spi­ra­tion strikes, we need to cap­ture the light­ning in a bot­tle for fu­ture use.

Kyle soon found that he was do­ing more than just trad­ing ob­jects; he was grant­ing peo­ple their wishes. He was giv­ing some­thing to oth­ers that they could ben­e­fit from. He was connecting peo­ple who no longer needed some­thing with some­one who did.

In our deal­ings with oth­ers, we should look deeper than out­ward ap­pear­ances to find out what the per­son re­ally needs. Achiev­ing what you set out to do is more than ac­quir­ing wealth and ob­jects; it is more about de­vel­op­ing warm re­la­tion­ships with the peo­ple you meet along the way.

Near the end of his trad­ing, Kyle got a year's rent of a house. Some peo­ple said he could stop then as he had a house, but he wasn't fully sat­is­fied be­cause it wasn't his own house, which is what he had set out to do. If we're not sat­is­fied with sec­ond-best, we're giv­ing God the op­por­tu­nity to ac­tu­ally de­liver on what He has promised. Kyle's story is a good ex­am­ple of see­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties that oth­ers would miss. It makes me won­der what op­por­tu­ni­ties I've missed be­cause of my lack of faith or vi­sion, what waters I could have walked on, what moun­tains I could have moved, what rivers I could have crossed if I'd had more faith. Cer­tainly, hear­ing sto­ries like Kyle's gives us a prece­dent and ex­am­ple that the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble is within our grasp.

Hav­ing faith for an idea that comes to fruition in­spires oth­ers. Kyle re­marked, “There are peo­ple all over the world that are say­ing that they have pa­per­clips clipped to the top of their com­puter, or on their desk or on their shirt, and it proves that any­thing is pos­si­ble, and I think to a cer­tain de­gree it's true.” MacDonald said the jour­ney had turned out to be more ex­cit­ing than the goal. “This is not the end. This may be the end of this seg­ment of the story, but this story will go on,” he said. He is now in­spir­ing oth­ers as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker and has spo­ken to over 50,000 peo­ple on four con­ti­nents.

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