Money: What It Has and Hasn’t Done For Me

Posted on January 10, 2011


  I was alone in the grocery store when I saw an old man rolling towards me. I was just shopping like everyone else. But when I saw him I was changed. He looked a little worried and was walking so slowly, perusing the contents of the shelves but putting nothing in his basket. Then I looked in his cart as I passed him. One head of lettuce and a pint of milk. My heart broke. I wondered how limited his income was.  I wanted to take him home with me. But I was living with my mother and she would’ve wondered… I was never able to buy anything after that without being acutely aware that some people had to really think about what they bought.

I’ve had lots of money and I’ve been near homeless. As an adult I’ve always tithed (10% of my income) even when we only had $5. to our name. I don’t think I’ll live long enough to figure out how to make and keep money without feeling drained. It’s not something I’ve ever been able to focus on without losing a part of myself. There are two parts to living for me that have to coexist: living in the moment and preparing for the future. I’ve never been able to explain to someone why I live the way I do. So many people over so many years have challenged me about how many children we have. Most of the problem for them revolves around money, or the lack of it.  I’m sure that the comments come from a place of sincere caring about the quality of my life and that of my childrens’.

I had to decide pretty early on in my marriage what my values and desires were. Before children came, I enjoyed working and I learned I could be a responsible and dedicated employee. But after my daughter was born something inside of me woke up. My love intensified, and even though most of the first year was challenging and miserable, I knew that I loved her and wanted to be with her more than anything else. I started to learn about sacrificing for another human being. It was all done so unconsciously because I was so tired. And when money was tight and a second income would’ve helped I wasn’t even tempted to leave her. I had a husband who loved to work and was thrilled to provide for us.

But it didn’t always flow smoothly the way everyone thinks it should when you’re doing what you know to be right. We’d always paid a full-tithing, and even tried to give a fast-offering once a month, a practice at our church that, among other things, is used to help the poor and needy. As more children came, my husband was blessed with more job opportunities which led us to Maine and then back to the Cape when he took on two more offices in New York and Virginia. He’d travel and I’d be in the middle of his travel route. I spent my time redoing a cellar of the house we were living in and he’d have the joy of racing home from New York one night when I called, ready to deliver our fifth child. He arrived with minutes to spare! Then we moved west, out to Idaho where the culture for his line of work was too different. He gave up his other offices back east because we couldn’t maintain a home and multiple offices that required frequent visits that the company didn’t pay for. So started the steady and scary decline, and the awakening to so many things brought on by trials that a lack of money presents.

For the first time I started writing because my heart was so broken. I didn’t mind going without. But it was killing my husband. I wrote my first short story called “The Rock” for Father’s day, right before having a yard sale to make money to pay the last month’s rent, load the moving truck, and drive for seven days home to the Cape where we’d live with Frank’s parents for months. I learned I was pregnant with our sixth child when we arrived home! I cried while weeding a neighbor’s ivy after being told that there were ways to prevent having kids, and that it wouldn’t be hard at all to make it permanent. The message I got: if you have a steady job, and can show that you can responsibly raise children, then you’re allowed. I was starting to feel so alone. I had friends who supported me. But no one really knew the spiritual turmoil I was in.

I never thought consciously about having children. The only strong desire I had was to not mess with the body God had given me. I believed that if I was sent children, His children, a way would be made to take care of them, This is where I lose a lot of people. My definition of caring for children and others’ can be so far apart. In a nutshell, my children have never gone without. But they almost always saw others with more and better than what they had. They learned the value of money and when they grew past a certain age that the bank doesn’t give you money. The bank can make your money grow and it can shoot it out of a machine if you put a card in. But if you don’t work and put it in it’s not going to be there.

The most difficult part of our life started when a neighbor asked me if I had insurance to pay for the prenatal care and delivery of my child. Nope. She told me about all the state agencies available and told me how to get the paperwork started. It’s very interesting to see what that process can do to your head. I had to prove that we were poor. That was such a negative place to be. Everything was offered with such care, but I’d never been in a situation like that before, where I wasn’t paying my own way.  More devastating was the effect it had on my husband. I’ve learned that there’s something inherent to men, and to single mothers I must add, that makes them want to fight to provide for their own. I took that away from my husband. But I was so scared. I’ll never know what door would’ve been opened if I hadn’t gone down that road.

Since then we’ve added three more children during some good years and some really bad ones. There have been some constants. Tithing has always been a part of our life no matter what our income. Living that principle has kept us aware that all we have and everything we are given, including our children, comes from God. What a gift to know that our money trials aren’t related to our faith. We pay out of gratitude, and hopefully what we get is humility. I don’t know if there’s much more to say about that.

I can say that money doesn’t make me happy. But the lack of it has tried my soul. And I’m better for those trials because they showed me when and if I’d sell out to please other people, and if I was a determined enough person to learn to do or make something that I really want. But what has become most valuable to me is the knowledge that people who struggle with finances are just as smart and valuable as everyone else. And more often than not the people I’ve met who live in a culture of poverty have uniquely sweet spirits. I’ve been very humbled when someone worse off than I am shares what they have. And that is typical. Those who haven’t struggled give, but they give so differently. They give with the thought that you got yourself into a mess and have a lesson to learn. I’ve found that it’s human nature to want to progress. I treat people like intelligent, talented human beings who must have a wonderful story to tell. A story full of evidence of God’s love for them that is not limited to the blessing of money.

Money can open many doors, and bless many lives with food, homes, healthcare, education, and a myriad of other things. But some of us will see those blessings come and go. We will wonder often what we’ve done wrong or what we could’ve done better. We’ll watch other people, not to covet, but to learn about the formulas they’ve used to succeed to become as independent in this world as it is possible when dodging health issues, and death of spouses, the loss of a job or inability to find one.

Money cannot give me peace or fulfillment unless it is attached to a God-given passion that links me to other people whose relationship becomes symbiotic, mutually fulfilling.

Someday soon I may have to earn a living for my family. Sometimes I slip into that thought and fear escalates. Not because I don’t want to work or that providing isn’t possible. Or maybe that is what it is. To know that everything has always worked out and that everything that happens helps me to grow makes me feel secure. I’ve always lived my life in the present taking baby steps towards the future. I pray and meditate every day. I’m never given more than one thought to guide me each day. I’ve started writing because of one thought, drawing again because of another. The little steps I take every day are leading me somewhere. And I know that’ll be a good place.

So I don’t think about money the way others think I should. Oh! Do they get frustrated with me! I understand and I think you’re wonderful to care! But, in the end it is my life. I’ve always been guided. And I’ve suffered a lot. One does not negate the other. But I often think of the butterfly making its way out of its cocoon. The struggle out makes it’s wings strong. It has to do it on its own. Skip that step and it’ll be disabled  for life. That’s the way it is for me. But unlike the butterfly I recognize my dependence on my faith which leads me to good friends and strangers that I watch with their own struggles. And whether those moments are shared out in the open or silently in a grocery store , they add to my strength and testimony that we are watched over and cared for by each other. Not out of duty, pity, or responsibility, but out of love with no judgement except that everyone wants to and is doing the best that they can.

So the future might seem uncertain but I’m sure it’ll be interesting!

Betsy Cross

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