Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More Than 40 Days


For some, it is a time to give something up for 40 days. Something tangible. And probably something that will come back when this time is over.

In years past I have tried to give up things like Facebook, shopping, or sugar. Just typing that makes me feel ridiculous. Why? Because after that 40 days was over, all I did was eat cupcakes, spend hours on Facebook, or spend $300 on my credit card in one stop at the mall. I didn't learn anything. I spent 40 days counting down when I could go back to my old ways. And what benefit was it to anyone else, or even to myself, to try to and "sacrifice" for 40 days? Does abstaining from sugar help others? Does it really help myself?

But what if I decided to do something for 40 days. What if I decided to give something away?

I have struggled with my finances for as long as I can remember. Until age 20, I was hardly in want or need of anything. My parents lived in a nice house, drove nice cars, and would put money in my account every month. They leased a new car for me when I was 18 because I had gotten a soccer scholarship to go and pay for most of my education. My dad has always been the frugal one, saving more money than my mom wanted. But in October 2006 when my mom lost her job, and the only income our family had at the time, things started to change. My parents kept me in the dark until after New Year's when I wondered why my mom wasn't going to work after the holidays were over. I had no idea, because Christmas was the same as always, and I had gotten everything I asked for. The next 3 years included phone calls to me at school preparing me for the possibility that they might lose the house. This wasn't what I had remembered from high school.

But what developed in me was so strange. I went out and got a job at Gap in January 2007, and spent most of my income on clothes. Suddenly, I was trying to make up for what my parents could not provide. And I spiraled out of control to obtain so many material things, that my closet was overflowing. I sit here today paying interest on $13,000 of out of control spending. Finances are so personal, but I am really over the mentality that I should keep that private.

I have debt. I've made mistakes. A lot of them. Who's hasn't? So why do we still hide?

In just the last week, God has pressed upon my heart that now is the time to change directions. If I don't make the choice now, I will probably spend the rest of my life in this hole. I am at a crossroads. And for the first time ever, I am truly listening.

At church this past Sunday night, the sermon was about money. I sat in my chair, shifting positions every few minutes, signaling my discomfort. When I finally sat still, I felt my heart open up and sat there vulnerable and broken. Jay showed us a clip from Dave Ramsey's teaching - and some parts I could hardly keep it together. He said that to get out of debt, we must attack with with gazelle-like INTENSITY. He said, "Darlin', you can wander into debt, but honey you can't wander out of it. You have to run." The tears started to well up. I've been a competitor my whole life in sports - having been wired by God as a passionate and intense individual - and here I am being defeated by clothes.

Dave painted a picture of how we don't come to God with our garbage because we think that He'll look at us and be mad at the choices we've made. Dave said, "But instead, the truth is that you're deeply in debt, and God in heaven is crazy about you." I couldn't help but lose it. The last thing he said was, "If you want to do one thing to prepare for your marriage, get out of debt." With a seemingly impossible pile of credit card debt, I wish I could say to whoever that man will be, I've made these mistakes but I'm making the choice today to honor God with my money.

Have I mentioned that I owe the government $1,514 by April 17th? There is so much hope, if only I would just turn my gaze to heaven.

After church, a group of us headed to a friend's house to enjoy some spaghetti. I met a few new people there, having some of the most real and genuine conversations I have ever had. Our friend's aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he was hosting people to try and raise $100 to send to his aunt's family so they could go out to a nice meal and not have to worry about money. As he stood up in front of us and shared this, I was so moved by how open he was to people in the room, some he didn't even know. He emphasized that his main hope was that everyone who came could just simply enjoy the company of others and eat some spaghetti. I gave all of the cash I had in my wallet. I didn't even look to see how much it was, I just emptied it.

I had finally seen clearly: giving is everything.

Giving without hesitation, giving without strings attached - giving so freely, that your heart is overflowing simply from the sacrifice.

And so God has pressed upon my heart, this season of Lent, I am to give. Every week when that paycheck comes in, I am to tithe first. The whole 10% of my income. Every week for 40 days. I am going to give freely, and let God take care of the rest. After all, nothing I have is my own. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights..."

Jesus Christ has paid the greatest debt of all on my behalf. He is surely able to give me strength enough to pay off the debts I have built for myself.

Give. Sacrifice. And see what happens.

May you know that you are loved by God.
May you know that there is nothing He cannot repair.
And may you give so freely, that the angels sing over what you have done.