DH = Dear Husband
It dawned on me: We were receiving charity
We were walking towards our car after church that Sunday in late December, 1998. DH and I had our two young girls with us, and I was six months along with child number 3. Someone called out to stop us, and a friend approached with a big bag in her arms. She put it in my hands, keeping her eyes low, and just barely managed to say that it was a Christmas gift from the church. She clearly felt awkward, and she made her exit as quickly as possible.
It took a while for it to dawn on me: We were receiving charity. Our friend was on the committee that identified families in need of extra support over the holidays. “Thank you,” I said as she walked away. I found myself wanting to make her feel better. “This will make a difference.”
And it did.
DH had lost his job a month before. We’d moved into our “dream home” three months before that. And I was pregnant. Our financial wake-up was still more than a decade into the future, and for the time being, we were deer in the headlights. Big mortgage, big belly, big shock. An engineer and a teacher in our spacious new suburban home, we were nevertheless suitable candidates to receive that gift bag. And though it did feel strange, we accepted it with gratitude. It brought in a rush of warmth at a difficult time.
How you receive exposes how you give
Now be honest. How would you have felt if you had been the one in the parking lot receiving that charitable gift? Would you have felt grateful? Or ashamed? There’s a sort or respect in our culture for people who, no matter how dire their situation, refuse to accept charity from anyone. Their “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality can be admirable, but it can be a cold, stubborn pride too.
If you’re too ashamed to accept charity, what does that say about how you give? Doesn’t it suggest a contempt for the ones receiving your gift? Since they are in a position that would be shameful to you?
Charity when you “don’t deserve it”
“But you have to take ownership of the lousy financial position you were in after DH’s job loss in ’98,” you might say. And you’d be right. We had maxed out, and we had no emergency savings. We had made ourselves vulnerable, and we were feeling the consequences. But that didn’t cut us off from an expression of love.
The Christmas gift bag acknowledged and addressed our vulnerability. It didn’t bail us out. We did “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” in the years ahead. And we did eventually get our financial act together. The gift was symbolic of the fact that despite our imperfection, despite our mess, we were loved and valued. And that fact was essential to our foundation as we faced our imperfections and cleaned up our mess.
Still imperfect: Discretionary money mess
True confession: I’ve REALLY blown my discretionary money. DH and I budget a significant discretionary allowance for each other: $600 per month for personal essentials like shampoo and clothing, as well as for non-essentials like meals out and gifts. My poor management of my personal money (as opposed to DH’s disciplined management of his) has been a lingering imperfection that I haven’t overcome in the 4½ years since our journey out of debt began in June of 2012.
Here are the ugly details of my latest discretionary fail:
- 3 years ago, I cut my credit card, determined never to use debt again. (A Dave Ramsey move. He’s our guru.)
- It soon became apparent that in Canada, it really is difficult to live without a credit card. (In the U.S. Visa debit can be used just as widely as credit cards. In Canada, that isn’t the case.)
- In the spring of 2016, I got a credit card again – attached to my discretionary account.
- Almost immediately, my limited discipline for discretionary spending evaporated.
- The credit card made it possible for me to go into debt in my discretionary fund.
- I did. And the debt grew over the months. To $1,000.
- This month, I moved my credit card debt over to a line of credit that I got for my discretionary account – at a much lower interest rate.
- My credit card is now locked in the fire box until I need it.
- I have started to track my discretionary spending with pen and paper. I have put the paper up on the fridge so that EVERYBODY can see it.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Still hoping for a happy ending here!
Still accepting charity without “deserving it”
“You have to take ownership of the lousy state of your discretionary account.” I do! I’m owning my bad habits, and I’m doing what I can to try to change them (see last point above). This month, I’m on heightened awareness mode, heightened intention mode, trying to nip my spending triggers in the bud. It’s tough!
A birthday invitaion
A colleague invited me to her 40th birthday party this month. It’s being held at a restaurant. “I can’t buy a meal at a restaurant,” I knew. But maybe I could just buy a drink? I approached my colleague about it. She reads my blog, so I could share my dilemma. She understood. She was in a dilemma herself – feeling a guilt for the fact her party was at a restaurant. Life was too busy to do it any other way though. But there would be no way around buying a meal. For buffet night, everyone would be charged the same (low) amount no matter what they had. “If you shouldn’t spend the money on a meal, don’t come. I get it, and I respect you.” My eyes welled up. Charity doesn’t always come in the form of materials or money.
Friends from high school invited me out for coffee after work earlier this month. “I can’t buy any food,” I decided in advance. “I’ll stick to tea.” I was, of course, assaulted by all sorts of heavenly food smells when I entered the coffee shop ahead of my friends’ arrival. Fierce in my determination, I stared at options for tea. “Hi Ruth!” said my friend from out of town as she breezed in. “You must be starving. Let me buy you something.” She reads my blog too. “I’m going to say ‘Yes’ to that.” I responded, my stoic intention giving way to relief and gratitude. But she could tell that I didn’t feel completely comfortable about it. “Good,” she said. “There’s a grace in receiving you know.”
Receiving and giving charity: two sides of the same coin
At the end of last year, I wrote a post about Vanessa, a student who had been a refugee from the Congo in 2014. I was struck by the generosity of Vanessa’s giving on the one hand, and the confidence of her gratitude in accepting on the other. “Sometimes giving, sometimes receiving . . . Vanessa is equally comfortable in both roles. Happy to offer, and not too proud to accept.”
Receiving and giving: two sides of the same coin. Although it can be difficult in our culture to learn to receive with grace – especially when we “don’t deserve it”- it’s an attitude worth learning. Not to be enabled. Not to be protected from our imperfections. But to move forward with less friction and more support. Only when you learn to receive with grace will you be in a position to give with grace.
Do you find it more difficult to receive than to give? Can you think of a time when someone’s generosity towards you had a big impact? Your comments are welcome.
*Image courtesy of JPhotoStyle.com