Friday, October 25, 2013

On Leaving A Legacy

Of all the ways we've slid backwards in recent years, the finances thing may hurt most.

It's not just that it's humbling beyond belief, it's that it's always in our faces. We're reminded every month on payday, every trip to the grocery store, every week, every day, all the time that things are quite different than they used to be.

We've set up camp in a land where there is always more month left at the end of the money. It's unsettling territory. Sometimes it feels a little crazy. And if we dare listen to all the moving mouths around us, we might even be convinced it's wrong.

We come from the school of Dave Ramsey, remember. We grew stout and sturdy, stable and so very able, in a reality where the goal was to have investments and many accounts, to balloon our savings, to "retire a millionaire". We profited from careers that paid Cory's student loans and financed three adoptions. We gave generously, if not sacrificially.

Since that time, our income has been cut by 80%. Our kids are on government health insurance and qualify for free lunch and reduced book fees at school. We avoid Target like the plague. Eating out means fast-food with coupons. And our smaller giving thrills us and leaves us feeling a bit bruised.

I share not as a martyr, and not from a place of pride. While we willingly walked in this direction, you'd better believe I would grab a raise with both hands if it came our way.

I don't believe living below the median is holier than living above it. I simply believe it's what was asked of us.

A new friend recently asked, confusion knitting her brows, "Did you choose to live in intentional poverty?" My response, "No, we're just lucky."

I said it as a joke, because the question took me off guard, but the more I thought about it, the truer it rang. Because while I don't claim to understand any of it, living with less can be strangely exhilarating in the right light.

The good news is, moving in the direction of less freed us to accept Cory's position as jail chaplain. Four years ago, his salary would have been laughable. Even two years ago, we couldn't possibly have made it work. But when it found us, though we knew it would require a little more leaping, we also knew it would be doable. So we stretched to reach it.

The truth is, I get whiny about money all the time. Sometimes I get judgmental. Often I feel sorry for myself. I want to fly around and visit friends, I want to buy shoes at Target on the spot instead of saving $30 over a couple of months or robbing our dwindling savings. I miss outfitting my kiddos in brand new clothes. I miss putting cash in the bank. A while back we heard exciting news from a friend about his new job opportunity and I broke out sobbing, because that used to be us. We used to move up the ladder. We used to know that feeling. 

I can't say for sure why we're here, but the truth stills my knocking knees and racing heart if I let it: God is made bigger in our brand-new smallness.

And so we keep paring down, knowing it's never really enough and even more, it's not even about what is or isn't "enough". God owns the bank. He trusts each of us in ways He ought to know better. He has things to teach us about extravagance, provision, and freedom. We steward what we have with as much wisdom as possible. We accept our inevitable failures. Even now, we have much more than we need, and we continue to wrestle.

What about leaving a legacy for our children?

We haven't forgotten. Our legacy to them is the Gospel, one where grace fills all the cracks and family is global. Our legacy is a front-row seat to our budgeting talks and all associated traumas. Our legacy is telling them no, it's hand-me-downs and the Goodwill, it's stretching the soup for one more at the table.

Our legacy is casting light on all the ways our daily bread finds us and reminding them who sent it.  It's the humility to receive. It's the slow-learning that "average" and "typical" are overrated and "low" is often the sweet-spot.

It's a foolish economy, where nothing makes sense until you stand on your head.

To read more about this journey:
How Much is Too Much?
How Much is Enough?