above, below, within

It feels good to be tucked inside my parents’ country farmhouse, away from apartment supers and monthly subway passes and all the financial details about adult life I would rather avoid. It feels good to be under someone else’s roof, especially two someone elses who somehow manage to make frugal feel abundant. We feast and play and laugh and revel in holiday spirit and there is always something in the cupboard to throw into the pot on the stove.

And it has me thinking about living above, below and within my means.

I remember having a phone conversation with my dad after his first mission trip to Kenya. He said, “Caroline, we have so much here. We just don’t have any idea. We can easily live on so much less than we do but we choose toys and vacations and excess instead.”

That was years ago.

I am typing out this post today while wearing a brand new pair of ice skates my dad found at a thrift store. It wasn’t even a Christmas gift. It’s just because he is a giver. He could do a lot of things with the money he makes in his second (or third?) career, but he and my mom choose to live like he is still milking 50 cows. Because they want to be givers.

My parents will always be one of my favorite studies as I try to figure out how to be a giver. It really doesn’t matter what I am making or the bills demanding payment. It’s about a heart condition. It’s about being ruled by anything or anyone other than the infant King.

So, how do I calculate intangible glorious riches into my budget? How do I prize what Jesus prized and value treasure that does not rust? How do I make my bank account better reflect those kind of priorities, without feeling like my bank account needs to have a giant cushion between it and negative numbers? (Or any sort of cushion at all).

I’m not sure, but I want to be a giver.

I always want to have enough to add another plate to the table. My Grandma Avonell was famous for that kind of abundance. She never turned away a stranger or a neighbor from the heavy oak table that now sits in my parents’ dining room.

Add a leaf to the table and water to the soup, because giving is always within our means.

Feeling poor is hard and it makes my generation uncomfortable. We don’t want to struggle… but if we have to, we don’t want anyone else to know about it. In NY, we don’t want our friends to see our sparsely furnished, cramped apartments or notice our hand-me-down trends. In Iowa, we don’t want our friends to know we are still renting or without a retirement fund. Everywhere, we fight hard to look like we get to enjoy the things of people with means.

We want the instagrammed vacations and the airport selfies. We want the newest version of the riding boot to pair with our pinterested ensemble. We don’t want to struggle and, I guess, who would?

I’m still in advent mode, still reflecting on the miracle of God planning from the beginning of time to send His only Son to earth as a baby… to later suffer and die.

It was the most extreme case of living below his means. He was a king with the deepest trust fund, royalty with the most lucrative inheritance, but he was a helpless baby in a crude manger born in the middle of nowhere. And this was God’s plan.

God intended struggle and suffering when He emptied His Son of everything royal in order to pour out royalty onto an undeserving creation.

I’m trying to understand how to joyfully choose struggle and suffering with the small sum in my bank account. God was not stingy with the greatest treasure and He was not arm twisted into giving. It was God’s delight to send love through His Son. He sent Love out of His great love … and then Jesus struggled and suffered “for the joy set before Him.”

I’m not good with numbers, but this means conversation is a heart condition that I want to figure out. I want to be a giver when it hurts and when it is easy. I want to be a giver when it doesn’t make sense and when it is obvious. I want to be a giver when what I really want is to be everything else.

The heart condition of a giver is really about belief. Do I believe God is a Provider – in Iowa and NYC and in harder to reach places? Do I believe God gives good gifts to His children and do I believe He has already given the best and most valuable gift?

I’m praying my heart into belief – belief that above, below, and within is a conversation that is not too big or complicated for the Lord.

I am a sinner, in the first person

Yesterday, I stood in a new church singing a song with all the old, redemptive swagger of a classic hymn. We rested on the chorus in repeat and I finally sang in the first person.

“I am a sinner, if it’s not one thing it’s another
caught up in words, tangled in lies
You are a Savior and you take brokenness aside
and make it beautiful, beautiful.”
(Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters)

I am a sinner. 

Have you ever been challenged to make “I am …” statements? I often asked my students in Honduras to make a list of ways they could finish that sentence. We would then look through the list and talk about which of those statements were true, which were false, and which were within his/her power to change. All those conversations are nice and tidy when I’m on the counseling end, encouraging people to examine their inner being and ask God to reveal if there is any wrong thing.

As I stood there singing, “I am a sinner” in the first person, something broke. “Sinner” is not the first thing I’d like to have follow my “I am” statements. I’d like to have an impressive list before I make that admission. I always have a hard time thinking about specific ways I sin when I’m standing in church (so convenient, I know). But not yesterday. With every repeating chorus I thought of ways I’d made my heart ugly.

I am a sinner.

The pastor introduced the sermon series on generosity and we read from Luke 18 about the offerings of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

I work with the kind of stories that would tear your heart out – parents, children, families, neighbors capable of things we try not to know about. There’s a distance that threatens to creep in to my posture when I come before the Lord. There are so many things I haven’t done and would never do.

I pictured the posture of the tax collector at the temple and his first person proclamations struck me. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed for favor. The Pharisee was grateful for what he was not. The tax collector was grateful for who God was. 

The tax collector prayed with a posture that honored the Lord, recognizing how great God would have to be to save him – a sinner.

It is this kind of posture that produces a generous heart – a desperate, first person statement that begs for mercy from the One who is merciful.

I am a sinner, but You are my Savior and you take brokenness aside and make it beautiful, beautiful.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy