Monday, March 18, 2013

How Much is Enough? (a sequel of sorts)



Almost a year ago my head was spinning in the murky sea of How Much is Too Much. (Catch up here and here.) We were living in the Betty Draper Rental, in the process of building our new house, sitting on a pile of cash that would soon be siphoned out when we closed on the house. We bickered about the number of outlets we needed in the kitchen and wondered how much of a safety net we should leave ourselves. You have to remember, we were quasi-reformed disciples of the Dave Ramsey School of Life, and the emergency fund was the most fundamental and revered of all his tenets. There was a time when 6-months worth of a generous budget seemed not only preferable but essential. Back at the BDR, we knew times were changing and 3 months of a slimmer budget would probably be fine.

That seems like eighty or ninety years ago.

Here we are, ten months later. I laughed when I read my line, "On the flip side, we do have an emergency fund. We keep handing it over to hospitals and doctors and I'm thankful that we have it. (Thanks, Dave!) Maybe that's too much for some people. Maybe soon, it'll be too much for us." 

In the six months we've lived here, the conversation has taken a hard swerve from "How much is too much?" to "How much is enough?" I have to say, it's a better place to be. But I would be lying if I said the answer for us has been obvious or easy. There have been arguments and tears and maybe for the first time in forever, Cory and I haven't landed in the exact same place. That's okay, because it's forcing us to dig deeper and mine the words of Christ for the truth.

We moved into this house with insane medical expenses and two jail-birds who suddenly relied on us for every little thing, but we also moved into a mortgage payment that's roughly a third of what we used to pay.

Knowing our greedy hearts well, we knew we had to very quickly back ourselves into a corner. So the very first month, that dear, sweet precious month where we had no mortgage payment at all, we loaded up the Giving portion of our budget. We inked our deals and didn't dare look twice. We did it with one eye closed, in fact, then wondered for the next three months why there was always too much month at the end of our money (as Dave would say).

So our scrawnier emergency fund slipped mostly away and we're back to a new beginning - what is the right way to live? I'm not asking what's "responsible" or "safe". I don't want to know what conventional wisdom might say or what your Uncle Ray thinks.

The Jesus I'm getting to know kicked conventional wisdom in the shins and lavished the poor with love. The Jesus I see tells us that He ties our heart to our treasures - wherever they happen to be. The Jesus I love tells me not to worry about the shirts in my closet or the cereal in my pantry. He reminds me that he invented cotton and oats. He owns the patents.

My Jesus blesses the poor and spits out what the world values.
He demands that I love my neighbor (my orphan neighbor, my starving neighbor, my imprisoned neighbor, my living-off-the-system neighbor) as much as I love me.

Where does that leave me? What crosses the line from living by faith into negligence or stupidity? And most importantly, what should be done about the pitiful, banged-up car with no headlights, a trunk that won't open, and windshield wipers permanently stuck in the "Up" position?

We are committed to living debt-free.
It's quite possible that we'll live the rest of our lives largely paycheck-to-paycheck.
We are guaranteed to continue frittering away small sums of money on needless silliness like a new blue dress for no dang reason or the Mumford and Sons cd simply because the sky is clear, the sun is shining, and we need a new tune in our ears.

We'll go out for pancakes after church and we may even sneak away for a few days in May. But this kind of living reminds us of way-back-when, when we were newly married and sometimes over-drafted our checking account. It feels a little scattered; the ground is shakier than it used to be.

There's also this: It's becoming easier to not love money when we see our bank account as nothing more than a temporary pass-through. What was once a solid Holiday Inn Express is now the grimy hostel in Peru.

It's harder and harder to sit on cash when we're surrounded by the sharp drag of poverty. And it's ridiculously obvious that my giving is less about who happens to be on the receiving end and more about cleaning up my own, broken crud.

My instinct is to chuck it all. Honestly, it feels sort of gross to have it if I think it's only for me. But I'm also learning that my pendulum tends to rocket pretty wildly. Maybe it's time for a little middle ground? Maybe in this wacko world where I now live, the easy thing would be surrender, but maybe the wrestling holds its own value?

This is one of those nights where I'm all yammer and zero answers.

All I know is that Jesus calls us to live, move, love, breathe in reverse. It's never the way we thought it would be. It's not what we would have scripted if the pen were in our hands. So maybe our instincts are wrong and maybe peace can never be found in a smooth row of zeros.

What do you think?