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)

The Real Teacher

My battalion and I are reading the Sermon on the Mount — that time when Jesus sat his crew down and said, “Dudes, you’ve got it all messed up; let me set you straight.”

I know, that’s not what I thought it was either.  I always thought the Sermon on the Mount was Jesus telling me how blessed I am — “Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers” — but those phrases are just the beatitudes,  and I am learning that I really didn’t even understand those correctly.

I’m only half way through the study, but I think I could summarize the key idea –“The way you thought you were supposed to do stuff? Totally wrong. Sit down, let me explain.”

He tells the listeners — the disciples, a bunch of other people, and us — Jesus followers — that we are salt and light.  We are preservative and clarity.  We are seasoning and illumination.  We should be noticeable.  We notice salt in our food.  We notice light in the dark.

What should we be noticed for?  For doing stuff that you wouldn’t expect — for reconciling with our accusers instead of seeking retaliation, for loving our enemies, for giving to anyone who asks.  It’s not what we are taught in our culture is it? Our culture screams — “get what’s coming to you! make him pay! don’t get sucked in!”  So when we act in a way that our culture doesn’t expect, it’s noticeable.

And, let me tell you, when Jesus gave this Sermon on the Mount, He was noticeable.  He went up on the side of a mountain (or possibly just a hill), sat down, and spoke to the crowds.  He said, “You have heard…” and reminded them of the commandments.  Then he said, “but I tell you…” to correct what they ‘had heard’.  He was changing the rules. But not really.  He was changing our understanding of the rules.  We had seen the letter of the law — “do not murder.” Fine. Done. I won’t kill anybody.  But he pointed out the heart of the law — “if you even tell someone they are worthless, you have killed them.”  Ouch.  I’ve probably done that.  Especially during those difficult teen years.   His point?  We have all sinned.  We have all broken every single commandment.  The crowd felt the weight of the law — the whole law.  

But they noticed something else.  He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  In fact, he started there.  He prepared them for the hard words they would hear.  He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  And then he showed them how to show mercy — “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  He pushed further — “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  What?  Then what am I going to wear??? 

Well, we haven’t reached this part in our study, but I know what is coming.  I looked ahead…He said to them, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

In fact, the message of the Sermon on the Mount is “You are of so much value, that I, God, chose to come down among you, sit with you, and spell it out for you.” What?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But, come on, I am surely not pure in heart! “You’re seeing me, aren’t you?”

John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son,

who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.