I don’t know about you, but I have a sticky relationship with money. I would be totally fine with doing away with it all together. Except that I wouldn’t. Because I like nice things. I am definitely one who’s willing to pay for convenience (valet parking versus driving around forever to find a spot and then having to walk 10 blocks to the freaking restaurant. God definitely had a sense of humor by pairing me with a thrifty husband (he prefers that word to cheap) who enjoys the challenge of saving money.
A lot of our differences with money have to do with how we were raised. Early on, I noticed that my lifestyle was different from most of my friends. I grew up in small town Texas where there are a lot of old money families, but we were not one of them. We had a rather unusual and tragic situation occur when my dad was killed in a plane crash. That accident left behind six widows and multiple children (who were not on the plane). I was four when it happened. It was a pretty big deal in our town, all over the papers. There was a lawsuit and damages were awarded to the surviving families. My dad had incredible foresight to plan for such a scenario so we were completely taken care of. My mom didn’t have to go back to work. We had everything we needed and more. I try to remind myself of what a blessing that was when I am plagued with guilt over money. It could have been a very different situation.
But because I grew up having money, I never learned how to manage it. There was no need. And I completely took it for granted. Even now, that’s still a struggle.
Funny example: During my time of engagement, I was writing checks left and right (back when check writing was the norm) and of course, I knew my mom would just ‘keep filling up my account’ when money was running low. The problem was: I wasn’t paying much attention to my account balance. And well, things like wedding dresses and flowers and a wedding coordinator add up.
One day, I got this weird notice in the mail. It had this list of charges in the $75 to $150 range. There were at least five of them. Maybe more. They were listed straight down the page in one column. Okay, I’m not a finance person. But I promise, it was a confusing piece of paper. What I should’ve done was ask my roommate to look at it, who handled all of our bills. (I loved how she would always write a sticky note and put it on the fridge door with the amount I owed and who to make the check out to. Love you, Fofo). So anyways, here I am with this weird notice and well, what do I decide to do? Go to the bank. But I did not just go to the bank. Oh no. I decided to go through the drive-thru and try to DEPOSIT that piece of paper. I thought surely it was a list of checks made out to me. From who knows where, but that was my thinking. Kind of like my paycheck, I guess. I put that piece of paper in the plastic container thingy, sent it up through the vacuum tube and waited for someone to assist me. When a guy came on the speaker and asked how he could help me, I was like: Ummm, I think I need to make a deposit. To which there was a long pause, before he said: Ma’am, this is a Overdraft Notice. I don’t actually remember the exact terminology. To this day.
The guy was super sweet and explained that I had been writing checks without enough funds in my account, so I was being charged every time a check was written. That’s what that notice meant. Oops. I think I said that. Then drove off. And called my mom and asked her to ‘fill up my account’ again. I bet those guys staring out of that the bank window had a good laugh over me.
The Nagging Guilt of Inequality
But back to my nagging guilt about money. It only grew when I became a Christian in college and got all passionate about serving overseas as a missionary. As I mentioned in my previous post Missionary Fail , I have a hard time handling all of the inequality around me. It eats me up inside. I am bombarded with inequalities on a regular basis. We all are, if you choose to notice. I have a deep friendship with my fun, bubbly housekeeper who is from Colombia. I know her story and it’s a hard one. I am also good friends with my yard guy and the neighbor’s yard guy, who are both from Mexico. I know a lot about their individual stories and upbringing and every time I talk to them, I am like, Wow, they are coming from a totally different world and living a completely different life than me. I try to imagine what life is like for them. Then the slightly neurotic always-worried-what-people-think-about-me voice says, in a rather accusatory tone: What a spoiled brat you are! To have enough money to pay someone to cut your yard and clean your house! And you don’t even work full-time! But then I think I’m probably making some big assumptions about what they are thinking and well, like I said, I tend to be a bit neurotic. But I heard that good writers tend are often that way. So there’s that).
What is my point? I struggle with the inequalities I see all around me. Particularly in regards to money. I know that having money doesn’t make you happy. Duh. Look at Hollywood. But having money gives you very different experiences. And that’s a little bothersome. Because it’s not like I deserved my upbringing and my experiences. Why was I born into a family like mine when so many others have so little? My husband and I recently took a trip for our 10-year anniversary to Cancun and one morning, I was sitting under this lovely cabana, staring at a crystal blue ocean framed by white sand when I noticed this humble-looking guy quietly cleaning off the empty tables. We struck up a conversation and I found out that he has five kids at home and is struggling to pay for their education (the public schools are very poor quality). He explains that he grew up in a small town several miles away but had to move because the town is run by a handful of wealthy petroleum families. If you don’t have the palanca, well, you aren’t gonna’ get a job, at least not a good one. So he moved to Cancun. To wait on a bunch of rich people at an over-the-top resort. That bothered me. His story bothered me. To the point that I was sobbing over an incredibly fancy dinner my husband had spent time and money planning, all the while I was saying how I just can’t understand why there is such inequality in the world. Why we are so rich when so many people are so poor. My husband is a bit of a teaser and he responded with, “Oh honey, that’s just your liberal guilt talking. That guy was probably just working you. I bet he uses that story on everyone.” Of course, he didn’t really mean that. He later went on to say that is why he married me – for my compassionate heart. We ended up having a great conversation about money. He reminded me that his upbringing was very different from mine. His dad was the first to go to college in his family and he earned his way. Every penny of it. They are a family of hard workers. Entrepreneurs. Driven and ambitious. Not a lazy bone in their bodies. In fact, when I spend the night with his family, I always feel a bit self-conscious because they all get up at the crack of dawn – actually, before the crack of down, it’s completely dark outside when they are up – then I come strolling downstairs around 9 and they have already had breakfast, coffee and been to the park for a run. Man, he married well.
I didn’t really make my point in that last paragraph, so I’ll try again. What my husband and I discussed that night was good. Beyond the liberal guilt and differences in upbringing, my husband reminded me that as Christians, we believe that this is not all there is. This is not where life ends. We believe that one day, this entire world will be renewed. There will be complete and total restoration and reconciliation on this very earth that we live on. That means relationally, between God and man, for those who accept what Christ has done for us on the cross. But it goes beyond that. It also extends to physical, geographical and economical restoration. That means that the inequalities we see now that are very painful won’t be there anymore. It will truly be a heaven on earth, a restored Eden, where we all have jobs, but are not hindered by the burden of trying to provide for our families or the envy and greed and comparison that money can cause. The amount of money we have will not matter (if there even is money in this new earth – my husband thinks there will be but then again, he’s a finance guy. My liberal arts mind says there will not be money, but some kind of barter system, exchanging goods and services with one another). What excites me most is that we will be doing what we love as we bask in the presence of our Maker and use the gifts He has given us as a sacred act of worship. That sounds pretty amazing. A lot different from sitting on clouds and playing harps. Did you know that’s nowhere in the Bible? But a renewed heavens and earth IS! And oh, can you imagine the diversity of people and all their unique gifts – whether it is bricklaying or basket weaving or sewing or painting a mural or writing a book or teaching children or crunching numbers or creating software or engineering a building, all of it will be done for His glory. No task will be more meaningful or more significant than another. All of it will be glorious, all of it will be an act of worship. And in the midst of it, because we are in the presence of our Maker, we will experience deep and eternal satisfaction.
So next time I experience that gnawing guilt that eats away at my insides, I am going to try and remind myself that this is not all there is. There is more coming. And it is going to be awesome. But for now, life is hard. People are suffering. Often times, unnecessarily. If we weren’t so freaking consumed with ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to make a difference now. Absolutely we can and should. But in those times when we feel like the suffering is overwhelming and there is not much hope for change, we don’t have to despair. Because restoration and renewal is coming. There will be a day when there are no more tears, no more pain, and no more suffering. Man, I long for that day!