But last week, I came across Andy Stanley mid sermon. He was talking about personal finances. Not every pastor is willing to take on that topic, but it seemed particularly appropriate for our current economic situation. He talked about giving first your ten percent, then meeting your needs, then saving wisely - not hoarding - for the future. After they've done those things, many people have extra. Most of us have no trouble finding a place for anything left over. But the question he said we should be asking ourselves at that point is this: Why do I have extra? (Or why did God see fit to give me more than I needed?) Think that one over for a while.
He then went on to explain something he called 'awareness'. In terms of need, you don't need what you aren't aware of. In terms of giving, you can't give to what you aren't aware of.
I taught my last high school class in June of 2002. I was pregnant with Brenna and had always planned to be a stay at home mom. My last paycheck arrived in August of that year. Anyone who has ever taught public school knows that when two teachers are married, and one stops working, the family takes just about a 50% pay cut. In our case, my Uncle Randy had advised us early on to live off of one salary and bank the other. We had done that for the most part and had a little cushion in the bank. I distinctly remember another teacher scoffing at my decision to stay home, saying "You'll never make it. You can't raise a family on a teacher salary." I set out to prove her wrong.
Michael took a job as a part-time music pastor to supplement his teaching income, so in some ways, that other teacher was dead on. You can't raise a middle class family on a teacher salary. Even with the church job, though, we struggled to make ends meet. And those were ends that did not include any debt or car payments. Just the normal bills of life. The extra cushion in the bank dwindled more quickly than we had hoped, and we did what we could to keep our expenses low.
During that time, I began to realize that if I did not go shopping, I would not spend money. If I didn't see it, I wouldn't know it existed, and therefore wouldn't feel the 'need' to buy it. I've never been a big shopper. But put me in a home store or a store that sells clothes that actually fit me or a book store (or more recently a fabric store) and suddenly I see all kinds of things I'd trade my dollars for. Over the first three or four years of Brenna's life, I slowly withdrew from shopping pretty much anywhere other than the grocery store and Target. My motto became, "If Target doesn't have it, I don't need it."
My awareness shrunk. And that was good.
This weekend I spent some time with three of my closest friends. We went to the Beth Moore event at the coliseum and spent Friday night together in a hotel room. It was wonderful. Just like old times - before kids. We stayed up late talking and sharing and just basking in the friendship God has blessed us with. I had a moment, though, that I think exemplifies this idea of awareness. As the other girls were getting ready for bed and the next morning, getting ready for the day, the conversation occasionally flowed around the contents of their toiletry bags. Their hair washing supplies, hair fixing supplies, make up, cleansers, and more. Much of it, I didn't know existed. One friend had flown into town for the weekend and had had to get every bit of her supplies into the required 3oz. containers and ziploc bag for airport security. That ziploc was jammed full! She made fun of herself frequently over the weekend and even admitted to being a sucker for the products the salon recommends. All too loudly, I could hear Andy Stanley explaining that the more aware we are, the more our needs grow.
I don't mean to paint any one of these girls in a bad light. They are truly some of my dearest friends and just because I've never heard of a hair paste doesn't mean they shouldn't use it. I'm just showing my own awakening to the products I didn't know existed ... and suddenly wondered if I needed.
The other side of this awareness issue is the awareness of giving. Andy Stanley told a story about his wife's search for a dress to wear to a national prayer breakfast where prominent politicians would be present. She found one at an expensive store and called to tell him. The dress cost $3000. Before he could react, she told him that they could build an entire wing to an orphanage they were involved with in another country for that much money. She didn't buy the dress. That is awareness of giving.
Awareness of giving comes in so many different forms. It can be ministries and outreaches sponsored by the local church. It can be national organizations that do world wide missions. It can be knowing why a co-worker has missed so many days recently or getting involved with a family going through a long term medical situation. Opportunities to give of our extra abound. But we have to take our eyes off of self and become aware of needs greater than our wants.
I've been chewing on this topic for days. I don't know how it will play out for me. I'll definitely continue to fight the American marketing machine, winning and losing as I go. I'll be a wiser shopper. And I'll be looking for opportunities to share our 'extra' as well. Just because our 'extra' isn't a high number, doesn't mean our extra is any less extra. It's still meant to be shared.
One opportunity for giving that's personal to me can be found at Apple Pie and Egg Rolls. Our friends Rush and Jennifer leave in just a few weeks for China to bring home their adopted daughter, Rylie. They have scrimped, saved, and then sold as much as possible to raise the funds necessary for this trip. If you have a little extra this month, you are now aware of a special family who could use your help. Please keep them in your prayers as they travel, meet their daughter, and bring her home to join their other two children. They have much ahead of them.