The Trouble with Money


Tim and I have a new pact–to keep our mouths shut about money.
No, it’s not because we have a bragging issue. We aren’t out living large, pimping our rides or promoting a highfalutin flashy lifestyle, our problem is the exact opposite. We’ve become somewhat obsessed it seems in justifying our modest OC life style.

Somewhere along the way we bought the lie that operating in the space of “just a little bit” poorer than our neighbors is how people want their pastors to live.

If you work in ministry there is a silent but overtly loud expectation of living  below average. God forbid anyone think the church actually pays their minister’s enough money to live in the community we actually minister to.

It wasn’t so bad when we were first married and lived in a condo, but when we moved to suburbia and bought a home in a nice neighborhood, both of us felt heavy burden from the moment we invited people in–this insidious pressure to justify and play down anything nice that we have.

Six years ago we bought a big screen TV. (Crazy huh?) It was a joint Christmas and anniversary gift to each other. I still remember writing the check out to my husband because it hurt a little. But that TV hurt more than my checkbook, that TV generated a storm of snarky comments.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I guess the church must be doing pretty well with our tithe money if  you can afford that kind of picture”…and so on and so forth.

I think that’s when it first started–the first seed of angst and an OBLIGATION to explain our every dollar and sense to the world and even our family.
Oh, our new car?  That’s a gift. From God via our parents. Private school? Scholarships and more help from grandparents. Hawaii? A relative’s miles and grandpas time share. Oh my clothes?–thrift store.
Recently we sat at a restaurant with some old friends from out of town and I heard the two of us play that same old sad record again–mustering up the correct blend of  pastoral downtrodden humility.
But this time it made me a little sick.
Maybe it’s because they weren’t from around here and I had fresh ears to hear? But something deep within me just said “enough!”

Why, do I need to justify what we have?  I work. I’m not collecting disability, social security  or living on the backs of others. We aren’t in a religious organization that takes five offerings in one service–in fact we don’t even take an offering, we have boxes in the back if you feel like giving. We live in a modest home and my husband works six days a week, hustles like crazy to work extra performing weddings and is paid fairly for his time and energy.

And we are grateful. Enough said. EVER.

If my purpose is to give God the glory for his provision, then Amen and Amen, but the truth, is I don’t believe God loves me any more or less based on my financial success. So, yes, I thank God for my blessings–the entirety of them and  I thank God for his sustenance and provision, but I will not be trite or falsely humble about money anymore.

Instead,  I want to be known more for my generosity, not my stinginess, poverty or fear of having enough. I want to be known for trusting God when circumstances are volatile and I can’t see over the waves of fear.  I want to be known for my faith, however small and mustard seed-like it is as I point people towards God and trusting him.

I never thought I had a money problem because I don’t have a ton of money, but I realized I was just as caught up in the rat race justifying all the reasons why I wasn’t playing the game.
I think it’s time for us to put down the pious act and simply BE.

Wow. That feels good.

The truth is we live in an expensive place (like so many of you) and it’s not easy. Sometimes we struggle, sometimes we breathe a little easier, but often than not we live in the tension of the middle ground. Personally, I’m not shooting for a rich and indulgent lifestyle but I do hope for enough to avoid desperation. My goal is to save more than spend, pay cash vs charge and have enough to use our money as a tool to make a difference in the world–even if it’s small.

So if I hop back on the justification train about anything financial, gently (so gently) please tell me to zip it.  If I can’t afford something I’ll be honest, but I’m not explaining the math to you.

Maybe our money troubles aren’t so big after all, maybe the trouble with money is our broken thinking about it.


No Money, No Honey

I’ve never really understood how “visual” men are when it comes to being attracted to the opposite sex.  Maybe it’s because I’m a woman and my metrics for measuring up a dude are vastly different.  Sure, looks played a part in my overall decision-making process but it was never a deal-breaker if the guy had other stellar qualities.

(*note: my husband’s hotness was a bonus on top of his other attributes)

But when I saw a new study in the OC Register the other day, I had an epiphany.  The article, titled –Women aren’t looking for an unemployed man, online dating service’s survey discovers, suggests single men without a job are lonelier than the Maytag repairman as 73% of women refuse to consider dating an unemployed man.

(For those too young to remember, Maytag had an ad campaign showing a lonely repair man in his shop insinuating their washers and dryers rarely break…)

And then it hit me why men date hot chicks who have the brain cell capacity of a flea – it’s because men are wired to be visual in the exact same way women are wired to seek financial security from a mate.

Tit for Tat.  Hot Chicks vs Cold Hard Cash.  Show me the Money vs DD Cup Size

Jokes aside, I have to believe it’s how God designed us.  Despite feminism and women’s rights, the truth is most women feel vulnerable when they are pregnant or raising small children and a husband  with an adequate income allows her to focus on nurturing and caring for her young without the burden of financial stress. 

I know this all too well because when I was single mom the financial stress was OVERWHELMING.  But once I got remarried, the burden lifted.  I still had to go to work and provide but it felt more manageable with a partner.  I don’t believe women are designed to carry the financial burden alone. We can do it (and some do it very well) but it doesn’t sit well on our frame just as most men struggle to get up at night with baby.  They can certainly do it but it mommy does it so much better with a smile and a song instead of bad words from a cranky and grumbling daddy.

The male focus on visual aesthetics is not just immaturity.  According to Dr. Phil McGraw, it’s a “psychosocial, biochemical and neurological gap—so trying to get a man to function according to female standards is like trying to get a pig to fly. It’s just not going to happen. That old but often accurate notion that men are hunters seems especially applicable here.”

Men need to be quick on their feet and act fast to bring home the bacon while women need to plan and store provisions for a long winter and hungry mouths to feed.
Terry – a reader from the Register article responded: ” A man is set up on a blind date, first question, what does she look like? A woman is set up on a blind date, first question is, how much money does he have?”
But here is the catch, although we are designed to operate in a certain manner, we, unlike our four legged friends, have a choice in the matter.  We don’t have to  take this”pre-wiring” to the extreme.  Not every woman needs to be a gold digger and not every man needs to be a skirt chaser. 

We let the world distort God’s standards of provision and beauty.  We let Cosmo and Maxim tell us what matters most and we tune out the simplicity and brilliance of God’s design for male/female relationships.

A man who can provide a roof over a woman’s head and put food on the table is a good catch.  A man who will take a job at Starbucks, or parking cars or get up every morning and apply for a hundred jobs in a bad economy is a treasure indeed. 

A woman who takes care of herself and others, has a sweet spirit and big smile (though she may not be a super-model) is still a beauty.  A woman who follows God, is faithful and true and loves without barriers is ravishing.  And a woman who is physically appealing on the outside but nasty on the inside is not worth the misery of a dreadful marriage, or worse yet, an expensive divorce.

I think it’s time we stop complaining how men only like hot chicks and women only want guys with a job and instead start redefining what real beauty and real provision actually are.

And maybe we need to fix our broken “pickers” so we spot the real jewels when we find them. 

Is your “picker” in need of some fine-tuning? 



Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

Five hands reached out to the center of the table and piled one on top of the other.  Kolby’s little arm had to stretch really far, but she got the tips of her fingers in as our family made our New Year’s pact.

“One, two, three…Yo Gabba Gabba,” we yelled out to seal our commitment. 

The crowd at CPK (California Pizza Kitchen) looked at our table in open curiosity.  Our family isn’t exactly a quiet bunch and tonight we were celebrating Kolby’s second birthday.

First, we went around the table and affirmed our little girl.  Kolby beamed over her mac-n-cheese and pizza.  Then we picked one New Year’s goal each and shared it with the table.  We finished up by picking one crucial action item we could each do in the next few months to turn our goal into a reality. 

Our conversation was sincere, tender and full of cheers and encouragement.

The family next to us glanced over at us occasionally.  Their boys were dressed in the height of surfer cool and the mom and dad had the “OC well groomed look” (i.e. hours at the mall, salon, dermatologist and gym).  Each child got their own meal and soda.  It was obvious their entertainment budget had more wiggle room than ours.

Our family was out to eat on a gift certificate received from a congregant as a Christmas present.  Each of us split a meal and we made our kids drink water.  I dressed baby Kolby in a birthday girl t-shirt, just to make sure the restaurant didn’t forget to give us our free ice cream sundae.

Just as they delivered Kolby’s monstrous sundae (amidst a loud and lusty rendition of “happy birthday”) and the five of us dug in –snarfing like wild dogs on the baby’s treat, I noticed the other family getting served individual desserts the size of Texas. 

I looked at my husband and chuckled, “You know you’re the financially strapped pastor’s family when…”

  • The waiter hates you because the bill is always couponed, meals are split, and they have to ID your kids to make sure they are twelve and under for the kids menu (the hair on my son’s lip and almost six-foot status might indicate an older teen-ok he’s thirteen)
  • The baby yells out “Amen” when the food arrives because she is hungry and doesn’t want to wait for prayers.
  •  The homeless guy in the parking lot is wearing an outfit you have in your closet because the same rich family in town gave you both their hand me downs.
  • You get excited when your kid loses a tooth with a cavity in it. What a saver!
  • You re-gift nice gifts you actually want.
  • You consider washing the birthday girl t-shirt and wearing it the next time you go out to get another free dessert.  (The two-year old won’t catch on for a while)

You also really know you’re the pastor’s family when the rich kids next to you look longingly over at your table and wish they could abandon their big sundae’s and fancy clothes to come and hang out with the big, noisy family where the mom has just spilled ice-cream all over the son’s pants as they try to share bites and snort hysterically.

And even though I don’t love always struggling and pinching pennies, I also know there are some things money simply can’t buy.



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