On faith, finance, and turning twenty-two

ON FAITH

I’ve not been writing a whole lot lately, because it’s hard for me to find time and I haven’t been inspired much until now. It’s safe to say that the events of the past week have given me plenty of writing fodder.

I was having lunch with a friend over fall break, and he asked me a question that, in the past, I really dreaded. He asked: “so what’s God been telling you, Jeff?” I used to hate that question for one reason: I didn’t spend any time listening. It’s been a real wake up call of late to me that my age is catching up with me (this isn’t the “on turning twenty-two part.) What I mean is that while I was a teenager, I was used to hearing, “you’re doing so well for your age, you’re so far ahead of your peers, etc” that I got really comfortable, and like the rabbit “racing” the turtle, I settled down for a nap.

To be frank, I’ve felt at times like I’ve even taken a few steps back. There are practices I kept that I abandoned, possibly because I discovered grace and realized, “Oh, I don’t have to do those to be saved!” So I actually began to develop aversions to things like praying, listening to God, listening to worship music in my spare time, and even reading my Bible, because those used to be security blankets for me, to make me feel like I was good and saved or like I was doing something to become favorable to God again.

Take Bible reading.

Honestly, I’ve lost several steps (so to speak) in that I have always had a hard time deciding when to read my Bible: when I wake up, to show it as a priority of sorts, or when I go to bed, so that I actually have a functioning brain to understand what I’m reading? Honestly, both of those are problematic for me because I’m either too tired when I wake up, or I’ve had so much happen or again, I’m too tired to read at night (I fall asleep reading very easily.) Not only that, but when I think about reading the Bible, my first question is: where? Where do I start? I know it’s a good idea to work through a book at a time, but how do I decide which? If I miss a couple days, do I start over again?

At the same time, I think all of these are the wrong questions. My prayer is always that God will help me love His word. It’s not an instruction manual. It’s a story; a story with implications and truths and realities to understand and apply. To see the Bible as such helps, but there’s one more step, at least in my mind. I often hear it said that God puts the super to our natural. Well, sometimes I need to put my natural to God’s super! Reading the Bible is a choice. Without a purpose, it’s all but pointless. But with a purpose (and it’s my belief, and this is how it ties to what I was saying at the beginning, that purpose is to listen, to hear God) it takes on power. This is a step I’m taking, and I’ve been trying to take for years. Bible reading: it’s elementary, right? Now who’s ahead for their age?

Final note on the faith/hearing God/Bible reading thing: all that is to say that I want to read the Bible for the sake of hearing God, for the sake of learning the implications of the Gospel, and being able to have a Biblical response to questions when I’m asked, including the basic tenents of Christianity. It’s been a struggle for me to learn to read the Bible for the purpose of learning and applying, and not appeasing.

ON FINANCE

I smoked my savings ethic the year after I graduated from high school. Absolutely smoked it. I went from working in Berea to working in Mt Vernon while my workplace rebuilt their store, so a 5 mile commute became more like a 30 mile commute (one way.) Some of those days, I’d go and work for an hour before my co-worker who I hung out with (and happened to be a manager) would use his influence to convince them to let me go home, and by home, we meant richmond, where we’d eat lunch out, go to the local entertainment store, and I’d blow my money. I had $5,000 dollars when I graduated from high school, and by God’s grace, I had enough to pay for my first three semesters of college, but in the meantime, boy, I SPENT. Ad nauseum. Shoes, movies, books, CDs a TV, games, and more movies, and I drained my funds QUICKLY. The worst part was the lack of pause I had. I went from never spending money to spending it like water from a fire hose, without a second thought. It was disturbing.

Rock bottom for me came in the summer (I believe) between my freshman and sophomore years. I had just started a new job, and my gas tank was on empty. I went to the gas station, intending to put the last dollar I had in my bank account (true story) in my gas tank so I could make it to payday. The gas pump rejected my card, and I drove home petrified that I wouldn’t make it. By God’s grace I did, but boy, was that a wake up call. Unfortunately, at the same time as my bank account was empty, I started having bills. Phone and insurance, which I realize isn’t much, but I didn’t make much either. Honestly, I’ve been juggling ever since. I’m still not where I’d like to be financially, although I no longer spend as freely as I used to (occasionally I end up going nuts on a birthday present, or see an irresistable deal or something and spend more than my budget allows, which I suppose is pretty free spending) but the issue now is less an ethic and more a means. I’d like to think that if I had a nice chunk of $500 that I could put in my bank, it’d stay there, because I have no desire to spend it. But it’s hard to do that when you don’t even make $200 per week. (I am blessed with a fabulous job that I enjoy, and my bills are paid, God is soverign and He provides, I am not complaining. Honestly.) BUT that fact becomes important in this: it gives me motivation to go out and find a well-paying job after college (I realize this isn’t easy.) I want to be able to both save for emergencies, as well as pay off debt and save for a house, all of which is virtually impossible when making just over minimum wage at a single job.

The point here is this: sometimes it takes rock bottom to get the point (although hopefully not always, and hopefully I can teach my children a better ethic than I had.) And once you get that point, the end goal has to be far more important than the nice things along the way. That is to say, getting to the destination has to be more important than picking roses and collecting rocks along the way. Literally, what I mean (for myself) is that a house and having money for my family has to be more important than eating out, or buying that movie which was REALLY good in theaters and what I don’t yet know is that it’ll be watched once at home and then never again, and I’ll stare at it in two years regretting spending those 25 dollars, or having that nice soccer jersey that will make me look like I play, which we all know is just not the case. Perspective. That’s what managing finance is about.

ON TURNING TWENTY TWO

Last Sunday was my twenty-second birthday, and the year before I got over my guilt of celebrating birthdays and realized: birthdays are a really good time to reflect on the last however-many years and to celebrate them, and to be with friends, family, and others you love, and I like the part where you don’t necessarily have a filter and you can tell everybody just how much you love them without sounding weird or random.

I’ve had a really good experience so far (I wanted to say a good run, but I’ve made my fair share of mishaps.) I’ve been able to learn a lot from experience, to glean a lot from others’ experience, and I’ve enjoyed most if not all of it, at least in retrospect.

This year, I decided that instead of doing a new years’ resolution (which I’ve yet to keep over the course of a year,) I’ll start a sort of yearly bucket list. A list of things I want to accomplish, or habits I’d like to form, skills to learn, etc from the time I’m (such and such age, this year 22) to such and such year (23.) Weight to lose, people to hang out with, things I’ve done but want to do again, etc. So this year I’m hoping to get to 190 lbs (from 210, and I think dietary change will help significantly) and yes, there’s a girl I’d like to ask out (and yes, it’s on the list) but also, I’m making it a point this year to spend some time with each member of my family one-on-one in some context, and for an example one of the more abstract ones, I’d like to learn how to grill.

But all in all, the dawn of a new year brings time to reflect and realize what’s important: being a man worthy of a great wife, instead of being a man who feeds every one of his own desires, being a preacher and not a pacifist, being a worker and not a bum who happens to get paid to do work he doesn’t feel like doing, embracing where I am and not wishing it’d change, etc. Life is swell, and God is good, and my 23rd year (because I’ve already lived 22) is going to be a good one.

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