Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Privilege of Tough Times

 "As it is with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of the house."

Isabella Beeton, from her famous book, "The Book of Household Management", 1861. (pictured at right)

"She is clothed in strength and dignity; and she laughs without fear of the future." 
Proverbs 31:25
There's a common misconception out there that if a woman is a housewife, somehow she is weak, needing to be sheltered from the cold, hard world. That couldn't be further from the truth--in these times more than ever. In a materialistic society where we are told it is almost impossible for a family to function without dual incomes, deciding to be a homemaker requires a rebellious spirit and the heart and stamina to constantly swim upstream. It also requires a sort of steely calmness when troubles--especially financial ones--inevitably happen. 

For the past several years, my husband was working at a job where he had a two hour commute every day. I realize that this is the case for many out there, and wow, you indeed have my respect and sympathy. In our situation, the difficulty was compounded by a second-hand vehicle with random mechanical failures, winter road conditions that broke 40 year records for snow and ice, and a budget where there was absolutely no room for thousands of dollars of additional fuel costs. Sometimes he even had to stay at a local motel because the highway was closed except for emergency traffic. Although the position was--and is--a good solid one, there were many times when he and I wondered if the the job was just costing too much.

Every month more was going on the credit card than we were making. I have always been extremely frugal, and it was a slap in the face to be in a situation for the first time, where we were actually paying for necessities with plastic.  I was frightened; I felt worthless and guilty, and most of all I felt paralyzed with indecision. 

This was so different than other troubled times in my life. As a single mother, widowed at a young age and used to rolling up my sleeves, I am a woman of action, someone used to conquering problems with my own self-will. I have done all sorts of jobs and have some professional skills to my name. It seemed like a no-brainer that I would go out and make some extra income for us, and relieve the burden that my dear husband carried each and every day. 

But this time there was a dilemma.  I was now the wife of a pastor and a police chaplain, and I felt the Holy Spirit asking me loud and clear to stop to deal with this crisis differently this time. We had looked at the world with fresh eyes after coming back to Christ, truly seeing all the rampant adultery, divorce, and abuse. We had counseled many a shattered family, and knew that there were Biblical principles that could prevent much of this pain. Going back to the work world would be tearing at the heart of our belief system. It would be a statement that indeed, the verses about a woman's role and the hierarchy of the home were just anachronisms-- worthless in the current day. It would be a statement that we didn't think God was big enough to handle our finances. It would be a statement that the fads of feminism, our own fears, and a few entries in a check book were mightier than his plans.

We are beginning to come though this turbulent--and yet wonderful--time. In December of last year, I received the gift of news, news of a transfer for my husband that would bring him back to an agency only blocks away from home. I cried like a baby from relief, I must say. And as we are skimping still and whittling away at the debts, I can finally breathe a bit and reflect back on the lessons learned.

 If you are struggling financially, first of all, let me please give you a huge cyberspace hug. In a world where we seem to talk about anything and anyone, money seems to be last taboo, and especially when we are having problems with it. There is nothing quite like the loneliness of following an ideal that the world is trying to stomp out, and when the winds of trouble blow, it is so easy to think you have made some sort of colossal mistake. You are not alone. There are others going through similar things, and God is there with you as well, every step of the way. 

I wish I could say that I was valiant, strong and self-controlled throughout this journey, that I always had faith and trust. Umm...not so much. I whined and worried and tantrumed and threw my hands up in defeat more often than I care to admit. I probably mentioned going back to work at least once a week, and always, my dear husband would remind me that he needed me home. And another thing that happened? I'd start to search the job ads and invariably, something at home would just suddenly come up, a furnace repair, a vet visit, a husband sick for days with the flu, and yet again, I would be reminded that things happen in this house that cannot be addressed from a desk at the office.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how  the lilies of the field grow; they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these.…

Here are some of the things I believe I learned through this particular journey.

1.) I learned that God will indeed reward thrift and care with His money.  We need to remember that all that we have, has been given to us from Him, from the roof over our head to every single breath we take. God will take care of our basic needs, if we ask Him. Throughout this financial challenge, there was not ONE time where we were unable to make a payment on a bill. I believe this was because we were content to have our basic needs met; we were not asking Him for more than that. We were also willing to sacrifice any extras, live simply and willing to stretch every bit as far as it would go. I believe I can say that God approved of this, because many, many, many times, we would have exactly, almost to the penny what we needed, even when at first glance, it seemed the budget just wouldn't cover it all. I like to joke with hubby about times like that and say, "Well, God's showing off, again." I love those moments, because it is like He is deliberately making his presence known to us.

2.) I learned that God's plan is for us to be more than workers and consumers. We are to be responsible with the resources that come into our lives, but focusing only on the finances is very close to making them an idol. We are human beings, not just human wage earners. Sometimes we need to be tested over whether our values can be bought or not. The world will tell you the direct opposite of what God would have you do. It will tell you that you are a burden when really you are being a support system; it will tell you that you are being foolish when actually you are seeking great wisdom.

3.) I learned that if I had God, it really wasn't that hard to give up most material things. During extremely impoverished times, we realize how much is out there that is just frivolous and really doesn't fulfill us. In fact, many of the fripperies of life just manage to drain us. I think this is why monks focus on simple lives as their way to get closer to God.

4.) I realized that God was bigger than my bills. He could handle this; I just had to do my part and my best each day, and let Him take care of the rest.  It was during this time, that I encountered many people who were in far worse financial straits than we were, and both people in the marriage were working, and making far more money. I learned that 'financial security' only could come from true security, which could only come from the Creator of the Universe.

And most of all, I learned that tough times are a time to exercise our faith muscles. It is not about being punished or 'in trouble' with God; it is about learning to walk with Him more closely. When we are trusting only in our nice bank account balances, or the size of our investment portfolios, we tend to trust our own devices far too much. But when things fall apart...ah, those can be the best times in our lives, if we are willing to be guided. These are the times we may not want to live again, but if we are willing to learn we can be mighty glad they happened. They are the times when we are privileged to have a front seat, to witness His providence in action, to see how God can work through what we think is 'impossible.'  

What a glorious thing to see.




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