Money Talk

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you may have asked yourself, “What does it cost to walk away from a career and take some time to be still in a little house by the river?”  Well, that’s a good question.  Let me start by saying that although I was a math wiz in elementary, middle, and high school, my wizardry is no more. Especially when it comes to money.

Those of you who are good with money — investing, budgeting, balancing your checkbook every month — you might as well just stop reading, because I am likely to drive you insane with my approximations, guesstimations, and overgeneralizations.  You might as well know right now that I am not even keeping a check ledger.  There, it’s out.  I used to.  Really, I did.  I tried to justify my ledger every month.  I succeeded a few times.  But I’m over it.

Are you still with me?

Ok, here’s the skinny on our finances.  When we decided that my husband would take this position in Michigan, we knew that although he would receive a pay increase, the first year would cost us because we would be living separately.  Because of the living situation we have in Ann Arbor, most of that initial cost would be travel between St. Louis and Ann Arbor.  That didn’t seem like a big deal because I was still working and my salary was adequate.  When we further decided that I would take a break — at least until January 4, 2015 — we reduced our combined income by about 40%. The good news is that we reduced our housing expenses substantially by renting out the house we own in St. Louis and choosing to live on-campus in Ann Arbor.  We also reduced the amount we spend on auto insurance and gasoline by donating one of our vehicles before we left St. Louis.  Taking those factors into consideration, I was thinking — “Cool, this should all work out fine!”

But, you probably already guessed that we have expenses I wasn’t thinking about — medical bills (oy!), educational expenses for our girls, and (gasp!) some credit card debt.  Doesn’t sound bad, does it?  It’s actually not.  Not any worse than most other Americans who are juggling income with expenses and trying to make it all work out.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry.  I do worry.  I wish we were debt-free.  I wish our savings was much larger than it is.  I wish we could go out this weekend and pay cash for a second vehicle.  But that is not the case.

So, today being payday, I started out my morning paying bills while drinking my parade of beverages.  Here’s the good news.  I paid the bills!  All of them. See, we are doing fine financially.  But the numbers on some of those outgoing checks were pretty large and the weight of it all can push me toward worry.

When I was done paying bills, I turned to my Bible study.  I’m still in the Sermon on the Mount and today’s section was from Matthew 6:19ff, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  I read that and I thought, self-righteously, “Dude, I don’t have any treasures on earth; I just did the minimalist challenge.  I live in under 1000 square feet!  We have one bathroom, one TV, and one car!”

Yeah, I definitely needed the bonus lesson today.

And I got it…my Bible study took me to Proverbs 30, where the writer says, “give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” Oh, yeah.  You’ve answered that prayer for me, haven’t You?  You’ve given me neither poverty nor riches.  You’ve given me just enough so that I have to continually turn to You and trust in Your provision.

And for forty-eight years You have consistently provided.  But that wasn’t really the bonus lesson, was it?  Not really.  If I miss the second part of the lesson, I miss the most important part.  Life isn’t just about buying things, paying bills, and balancing my checkbook.  Those things are miniscule.  The first part of the passage said, “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth” — savings account, cars, houses, clothing.  The second part of the passage said, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

That’s the nugget, kids.  Where is my treasure?  Where is my heart? Does it long for things of this earth — a new dress, a second car, or a huge savings account — that will deteriorate, rust, or be stolen? Or does it long for things of eternal value — relationships, faith, salvation — that cannot be destroyed or stolen?

Depends on the day. Depends on the moment.  I have to admit that some days I am totally lost in the things of this world — the house, the car, my work.  It’s a daily struggle to turn to His Word and be reminded of the things that are of more value.

So today, I turn.  I remember that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” (Psalm 24:1). I dwell in a house that is His, beside a river that is His, with a husband who is His.  He’s got us all, even our finances, in the palm of His hand.

The mountains are His.  The rivers are His.  The stars are His handiwork, too.

Our God is so great, so strong, and so mighty,

There’s nothing our God cannot do.

(Children’s Folksong)

Monday morning struggling…

Uh-oh. It’s happening again.  This is my third start on today’s blog.  I have gotten to two or three paragraphs and deleted twice already.

I was going to write about our trip to Washington, DC this past weekend and how blessed and beautiful that whole trip was.  Then I started hearing myself speak and I was like, “blah, blah, blah, who cares about your trip?”

Then, I started doing statistical analysis on this blog — what topics are most interesting to people who are not me.  Yeah, I tried math. Bad idea.

So why don’t I stick to what I do well and tell you what’s on my mind this morning. I sometimes feel redundant like I write about the same things all the time. But, hey, it’s my blog — it’s what’s on my mind — I can’t help it.  Whenever I try to force something and make it about something else, I end up deleting a whole bunch of paragraphs.  In fact, I am not even sure this won’t get deleted.

I am not sure it will have a point at all.  And maybe it doesn’t have to.

Here are the facts.  We had a beautiful weekend.  I am exhausted.  I am in my pajamas and need to be out of them within the hour.  My hips and feet feel like they are coated in IcyHot (no, I am not a paid sponsor, in fact I doubt I will ever have need to buy this stuff because my body seems to simulate its effects on its own).

But in the midst of this less than stellar mind-frame, I read my Bible study this morning which was about how the Word of God is effective even when we don’t think it is effective. I know, it sounds like a rather boring topic, doesn’t it?  But a little nugget grabbed hold of me.

You know, I’m sure by now, how pre-occupied I am with figuring out what it is I am supposed to do next…so after I read “If we’ll ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit as we read and study, He will alert us when He’s speaking to our situation through a precept that doesn’t blatantly fit” (Beth Moore, Children of the Day, 155), I saw “we’ll often feel emotionally and spiritually satisfied after a work handpicked and infused by the Holy Spirit…If you’re on the right track of your spiritual gifting you’ll start getting snippets of feedback that affirm your contribution…(157),
and I thought, holy cow!  I love blogging, I am affirmed through blogging, but, “um, God, sorry to bother You, but I am a little worried over here about finances and paying for stuff, you know, education, and trips, and stuff.”

But in the same lesson I also saw, from The Message version of Psalm 119,

Give my request your personal attention, rescue me on the terms of your promise…put your hand out and steady me since I’ve chosen to live by your counsel…[you know, I am trying to be still and know that You are God over here]…

And I thought to myself, this is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?  Do I trust Him enough to do what He says even when things get a little uncomfortable?  a little scary?  When I can’t see how things will work out?

In this moment, my answer is ‘yes’.

Do I believe that I am only supposed to blog?  Nope.  I think you are going to get bored reading stuff about me being still.  I think I need a little material to write about. So, perhaps I’ll get a job at the library, or teach composition, or work at the airport. And today I answered an ad from a grad student who needs help organizing a thesis. I could do that.

I don’t think I know what’s next yet.  So, I think I will continue to acknowledge that He is God and I am not, and I am, after all, sitting in the palm of His hand.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

A word about paychecks…

This post, written in 2014 and polished up in March 2019 is one of the most frequently viewed of all my blog posts — maybe because so many of us confuse our worth with what we earn. 

I have always loved to work. I love to be doing; we’ve established that. I like the feeling that I am meeting a need. I like the satisfaction of a job well-done. And let’s be honest — getting a paycheck is pretty great.

I’ve been paid to babysit, to drop a fry basket into a vat of boiling oil, to stuff envelopes, to mystery shop, to write devotions, to teach, to proctor tests, and even to walk door-to-door asking ‘how many people live in the house, what is their ethnicity and employment status’. I’ve been paid everything from fifty cents an hour to a respectable salary with benefits for me and my family.

It’s an exchange, isn’t it? The worker does a task; the employer pays a wage. That wage provides the means for the worker to buy food, housing, clothing, and other necessities. It provides a means for the worker to save for the future. It allows the worker to bless others.

But somehow a paycheck has come to mean something more. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I tie my wages to my worth. If I am earning, then I have value. The more I earn, the more value I have. I am worth something when I am working and making a wage.

Uh-oh. What happens when I resign my position and decide to be still for a period of several months?  If I’m not working, I won’t be getting paid. This could present a little problem in the inner workings of my psyche.

Over the years, my husband and I have been in every state of employment — we have both worked, only he has worked, only I have worked. For a few months, neither of us was employed full-time. We have made very little and we have made substantial salaries. But one thing remains, we have always had just about exactly what we needed at the moment. We have always had appropriate housing, vehicles that work, food for our family, clothing that looks respectable, the ability to give gifts to others, and the means to take modest vacations.

Just before our first daughter was born, I was teaching full-time in a residential facility for emotionally impaired children. My husband was finishing his hours of supervision to get his license in counseling. I was definitely the primary wage-earner, yet we agreed that I would resign my position one week before her due date so that I could be a stay-at-home mom. We made this decision even though he had not yet secured a full-time position and even though we didn’t have much in savings. It was a step of faith. I don’t remember our families saying much about it, but they must have thought we had lost our minds! On the day our daughter was born, my husband came to visit us in the hospital. He had about five dollars in his pocket, not much in the checking account, and no idea how he was going to get groceries before I got home. After he visited,  he stopped by the counseling office where he was doing his supervision, checked his mailbox, and found a check for over $500 in pay that had been delayed due to insurance! In 1992 that was plenty to get groceries, pay some bills, put some money in savings, and buy his new daughter a bow to wear home from the hospital. During the following months before he had a full-time position, we were blessed over and over by the generosity of others and God’s provision that often came just in time.

It grew our faith and reminded us that all things are provided through Him — even a paycheck.

Yes. That money that someone gives me in exchange for a task I complete is not really a measure of my worth; it is God’s way of providing for me. He has given me gifts and skills, he has plugged me into positions, and he has provided for my needs.

He has declared my worth.

Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 10: 29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Did you see that? I am of far more value than many sparrows.  I am worth more than my pay check. My value is found in Christ.

Yours, too.

And you can’t measure that with a paycheck.