Our homeschooling friend met us at the library with her two sweet girls, ages 3 and 5. They got out of their newer second car dressed in well-made, colorful summer clothes, with Mom donning a popular maxi-skirt ensemble.
As our conversation flowed that day--in the library's Literacy Room--I learned that she has a housekeeping service come every two weeks at General Motor's expense. They are Michigan residents on an eighteen-month assignment in Ohio--benefiting quite substantially financially with a company-paid apartment, company-paid car, and per diem, along with the aforementioned cleaning service.
She buys whatever homeschooling curriculum she desires regardless of price. If she doesn't like it she tries something else.
Her children are neurologically normal, as are her husband and herself.
If her daughter won't keep a hat on, she simply goes shopping--for a hat with a tie.
What ever comes up she takes care of promptly, whether it be purchasing new boots for wading in streams, or replacing a broken appliance at their Michigan home, which they visit once a month.
While I wouldn't describe her as frivolous, I can definitely say she's privileged.
I write all this to say one thing.
For the first time since my husband lost his full-time job seventeen months ago, I felt frustrated and strongly discouraged that our lives are so hard right now compared to so many in our culture. Yes, the jobless rate is close to ten percent, but that still leaves 90% of the country employed and buying maxi skirts or another latest trend for their summer wardrobes.
As a woman in my forties and comfortable in my own skin, I don't struggle with envy. And yet on that day--physically and emotionally exhausted--I was on the fence.
Had I let myself lean too far, I'd be lost on the envy side right now. An ugly, sinful place. A good-for-nothing place that serves only the enemy.
My older son, eight years old, is starting to compare our lifestyle to that of others, including to that of the friends I mentioned. Sometimes he can disguise his envy. Other times he lets it flow, although not in anger. He's more puzzled than anything else.
"Why did God provide a second car to so many people, and not to us?"
"Other people go camping but we can't. When will we be able to?"
"Will we be able to go to Stories and Crafts at the library this fall?"
"Will Daddy be able to take us to homeschool gym in September?"
All day long I repeat, "I'm sorry but we can't afford it. Take your requests to God". Or, "I'm sorry but we don't have the van at that time. Take your requests to God."
A few times a month I gently remind him that God isn't about making us comfortable and happy. He wants more people in heaven. Sometimes making people uncomfortable and then helping them cope, accomplishes that best.
I can see his comprehension when I talk about this. It's in his eyes. He knows how sweet salvation is.
Still, Peter is particularly bothered by our lack of transportation, especially as Daddy adds more hours and spends more time away. I am less bothered because if you don't have much gas money and can't even stop at the ice cream stand, a second car isn't much good. Even a country drive is wasteful, due to the gas involved.
But no. I don't envy her.
The Compassion International blog posts from Africa changed me forever. They kept me balanced on that fence I mentioned, so that envy didn't win.
I am rich in knowledge of what God wants Americans to do with their money. Most Americans are impoverished in comparison--sometimes through no fault of their own. They don't understand why God detests frivolous spending.
Sure, they might hear once in a while that children in some countries sell their bodies so they can eat.
But when it comes to abject poverty, hearing isn't enough. Seeing is everything.
If and when I am ever financially secure, you can bet I won't be jumping up and down about going to a retail store for my clothes.
I'll stick to thrift stores thank you very much.
And I'll give my discretionary funds to Compassion International for child sponsorship, knowing that fewer children are eating rotten fruit out of trash cans.
And no, I won't look down upon those who spend freely.
But I will do my best to open America's eyes, through any forum available to me.
The financial discomforts we're feeling make us rich. I've never been surer of anything.
Living in a style well under the Joneses and learning to be happy about it?