A Little History About Me and Money (Part 1)

I remember when I was 9 years old, I wanted to donate all of my savings—all $16.00 of it— to a fundraiser for needy children. My parents wouldn’t let me. I know they were just trying to protect me, but I was deeply grieved. I really wanted to give it all. 

From as early as I can remember, I’ve questioned how we spend money. Not so much asking questions, but more the quiet ponderings inside one’s heart—like when you’re not quite sure the thoughts you are thinking are what others would understand or approve of. As best I could tell, it didn’t seem like anyone I knew questioned these things.

I remember our house out in the country was nicer than my friends’, and it always embarrassed me to hear their oohs and ahs when they first came over. Funny what felt extravagant back then seems fairly modest by today’s standards. (Progress they call it.)

I always wondered how we could live like we do in America when children were starving around the world. At least I was told they were starving—in Ethiopia—every time I stubbornly refused to clean my plate. (I never figured out how gagging on a spoonful of mashed potatoes was going to help a child in Africa.)

I wondered why no one else seemed to care about this. I found the topic noticeably lacking in the conversations around me. But I don’t think I ever brought it up either. Maybe we were all silently wondering about the same things? I don’t really think so.

I remember going to a craft show in a woman’s home, probably 25 years ago, and learning that she made the crafts all year long and then sold them to support several children in third world countries. I’ve never forgotten that.

About 10 years ago, Tom and I were invited to attend a local women’s service club meeting to hear Binh Rybacki speak. Binh, who I learned was my same age, came to the United States from Vietnam as a teenager near the end of the war in the 70’s. We were excited and honored to learn we had been seated at her table, and I was delighted to find I had a seat right next to her. We learned that both Binh and her husband worked full-time in Colorado, but their family managed to live on his salary so that her entire salary could be used to rescue children off of the streets of Vietnam. She told me she was harassed every time she went back to Vietnam, and arrested many times—but always released. She invited me to go back with her sometime, assuring me that an American would never be arrested. I was in awe of how she was living her life and yet terrified at the thought of being arrested there. (I’d seen a few horrific POW movies.) We never connected again though I kept a brochure about her ministry on my kitchen bulletin board for many years. She made quite an impact on me. (See http://www.childrenofpeace.org/about.html.)

I was a police officer for eight years. My last three and a half years in that profession were spent as a School Resource Officer in a high-poverty, high-crime, multi-cultural junior high. During that time, I saw poverty up close, and I lost my fear of it. Looking poverty in the face made me see it as manageable—maybe not desirable, but manageable. I could do that if I had to, I remember thinking.

At this same time, my son lived in a very affluent neighborhood south of town. He was a contractor, building very expensive homes, and his children went to a wealthy neighborhood school. I found myself put off by the lavish lifestyles of their peers and secretly thought my grandkids would benefit from a “real life” education on the “other” side of town. One day the Lord convicted me, letting me know that He needed people taking the kingdom into all realms of society—so there was no room to judge. He opened my eyes to see how my son and his family could touch lives I would never have access to because of my judgmental attitude. That was an eye-opener!

Reading Bill Johnson’s book, When Heaven Invades Earth, prompted my husband and I to quit our jobs, sell almost everything we owned, and move to Redding, California, so that I could attend Bethel’s ministry school in 2007. I cried sorting through all my possessions. I never thought I was materialistic, but everything I owned had memories attached. It was a brutal process, though it felt good when we were done. We committed to living a simpler life (i.e., fewer possessions). That’s been a little bit of a challenge, and I think we’ve accumulated more than we thought we would since then, but we’ve learned we like living with less and are trying to stay intentional about it.

One day, as I sat in that first year of ministry school, I listened to one of our in-house missionaries visiting from Mozambique, Tracy Evans, speak about how we spend our money—and I was on the floor weeping as that little 9-year-old girl’s voice came to life again in my heart. I’d never heard anyone speak the thoughts that had been in my heart—challenging us, charging us, with responsibility for how we spend our money. My heart connected with Tracy’s words that day. I wasn’t sure what would come of it, but I knew something in me that got pushed down long ago had just come back to life. (Check out Tracy’s ministry at http://www.ireachafrica.org.)

More to come . . .