Get Your Grandma and Grandpa On!

Sermon preached on February 21, 2010.

I was so honored when Molly approached me about preaching during Lent.  I am a double preacher’s kid – both my parents are UCC ministers and if you count my grandfather who was a Presbyterian minister I’m a triple pk.  So you would think that preaching is in my blood – but other than the 1 sermon I wrote when I was 7 years old, this is the first time I have ever stood in the pulpit to preach.  I hope you are as excited to hear it as I am excited to preach it. 

Please, brothers and sisters will you pray with me?  “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."

Get Your Grandma and Grandpa On!

About 5 years ago, just around Lent and right after Simon was born, my husband and I started to think about our long-term goals.  We were married less than a year, living in a cheap apt in Chelsea, and dreaming of owning our own place.  I was working full time, going to grad school at night.  And David was home with Simon.  We were a few months into being a one-income family and we talkedabout talking about our finances and budgeting but we just never got around to it.  Talking about money gave me the heeby jeebies. What if we weren't on the same page?  What if David thought something that I "needed" was frivolous and judged me? What if he thought I was judging him? Besides, there was cash in our bank account.  It wasn't like we couldn't buy the things we wanted. Sure we both had some credit card debt and we each had our own cars – a Toyota corolla & matrix – not exactly super high end.  And I had taken a low interest loan on my 401k to pay for part of our wedding.  I figured I would just be paying forever anyway and why not enjoy life a little.  Some day I would have a super high-paying job and *poof* everything would magically go away. 

So we had debt, I knew it wasn't good, but I really didn’t want to know how bad it was. 

You ready to hear?  Wait for it…

We had six…ty seven thousand dollars in high interest debt.  97,000 if you included my “good debt” student loans.  67 thousand dollars!  That was twice my salary!

I was angry.  Angry at myself; I felt so much shame; the weight of all this debt.  I’d become an indentured servant to credit card companies. 

We sat in my living room going over the overwhelming list of debt and made some tough decisions.  Yet, for the first time in a very long time I actually was relieved.  Certainly not because of the amount of debt I accumulated (I was pretty embarrassed about that) but because I knew.  I now could see EXACTLY what was in front of us.  Just as Laura Ruth preached last week: "We started practicing living in the light. We’re trying to find all the dark places in our lives and let a little light in there." Oh and did we shine the light on that one.  

One of my favorite sayings I picked up from a mentor is "The news is the news."  It isn't "good or bad" it's the news.  We interpret it as good or bad.   Once you have the news, then you can actually DO something about it. Although doing something about it is sometimes easier said than done.  

A couple weeks ago Molly gave us suggestions on how we can invite the Christian Lenten practices in our lives through: praying, fasting, and almsgiving.  More specifically, she said we could  "give alms to the poor: think energy bars in your backpack, dollar bills for the Spare Change folks. To pray: we have handouts at the back of the church for new and simple ways to add prayer to your daily life....To fast: you can take on giving something up, a lesser god whom you are done obeying, to make room for the One God."  

So what if we applied these three spiritual practices with our financial practices? 

Let's talk about giving alms for a minute.  If you are in a similar situation as I was and in debt to your eyeballs, living paycheck to paycheck, you might not feel like you have a dollar to spare, but like me you probably have a lot of "stuff."  For me, seeing all my "stuff" was a constant reminder of how I got into this mess.  One of the most cleansing experiences I had was boxing up and donating clothes and books and right-sizing my "stuff" while I right-sized my financials.  

In the scripture reading today Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’  Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods."  Doesn't this remind you of the George Carlin skit on "Stuff"?  Your house is a place to store all your stuff so you can go out and buy more stuff!  Here is this rich man who has an abundance of possessions.  I imagine these things and managing these things consume his thoughts.  I mean, he's adding to his stockpile and now wants to tear down his storage to build a bigger storage.  And why does he need to store it, is he afraid it won't be replaced?  Can you imagine how much time, effort and energy it takes to live like that?  What if the rich man gave away some of those crops instead of building bigger and bigger places to store his stuff?  What if we did the same?  How much freer would we feel? Right sizing not only de-cluttered my home, but it de-cluttered my soul! Give till it feels good! 

The second practice is prayer. No, I'm not going to suggest we add "prayers to win the lottery" during the prayers for the people.  But I do think that money-type prayers can be part of Lenten prayer practice. 

Here is the thing about money.  Money is just a tool.  Just like the "news is the news" it is how we interpret it; how we use it.  Yet, money issues can be so deeply rooted, we may not even be aware of how money or talking about money or using, spending or obsessing over money affects us.  Many of our attitudes about money come from our parents and our upbringing. Maybe you heard things like: 
  • Money burns a hole in my pocket. 
  • I can't afford to pursue the career I want.
  • Women don't make as much money as men.
  • If you want something you have to be willing to sacrifice.  
  • Don't carry cash, you'll either spend it or someone will clunk you over the head and take it.
  • Maybe you heard, if we only waited longer before having kids?
  • Maybe your parents constantly fought about money. 
  • Or maybe they never talked about money around you at all.  

Becoming aware of your attitudes about money and recognizing how these beliefs influence your relationship with others and with money can help you work through these challenging issues. The first step to overcoming your fear is awareness.  This is where prayer comes in.  

In the book Healing the Eight Stages of Life, Linns and Fabricant offer a wonderful way of visualizing prayer.  They call it "Prayer of Creative Imagination."   There are four parts that can be used for healing any hurtful experience, not just around money:

1.    Recall a time when you felt deeply loved. Re-experience that scene breathing that love into yourself again. 
2.    Now recall a time when you were hurt.  Maybe it was around money.  Re-experience it using all of your senses to imagine it. Maybe you are sitting around the dinner table and your parents are tired and angry and fighting about money. Get in touch with the feelings. 
3.    Let Jesus join the scene. Watch what he says and does for you, watch how he adds to the conversation.
4.    Breathe in all the ways Jesus is loving you, and breathe out any hurt.  

The third Lenten Practice is fasting: Molly suggested "you can take on giving something up, a lesser god whom you are done obeying, to make room for the One God."  One idea is to live like your grandma & grandpa did.  What do I mean by that?  I mean the basics: Use cash. Not too much. Practice gratitude. Can you tell I've been reading Michael Pollan too? :)  Live in financial transparency. Shine the light on it. 

But what if you are in debt?  Or scared to find out just how much debt you have?  Or not sure how to create a budget?  Start simple.  

Here is a basic way of practicing value based budgeting:  Either by yourself or with your partner, or your whole family...start having those healthy conversations about money now!  List out all of your basic needs (e.g. food, shelter, clothing - things we can't live without). And I say basic to challenge, do we really need 2 phones, a land line and a cell? or a data plan? or cable tv? Basic needs are just that, basic.  Basic needs are taken off the top of the income side.  Now brainstorm and list that you value: church, organic produce, family time, reading, education, cable, retirement, bigger apt with a second bathroom, second car, living debt free.  Most likely these values are very close to your "wants." You could survive without them, but they do make life more joyful. Here is the fun part.  Once you have your list - take 100 pennies - exactly 100 pennies and put whatever number of pennies you would place on each value.  If you only have 100 pennies how much would you spend on church, organic produce, family vacations....You see where I am going with this?   You've just created a percentage-based budget that reflects your core values.

Here are some other tips you may have heard but are definitely worth repeating:
  • If you have debt, pay off the highest interest rate first.
  • Call periodically to try to get your rates lowered
  • Pay cash
  • Freeze your assets (put your cc in water and freeze it in the freezer.  If it is worth buying, it is worth waiting for the card to melt!)
  • Always pay your bills on time
  • Consider becoming a one-car household or a no-car household  - We became a 1 car household and saved not only in car payment, insurance & gas, but on all the things that we DIDN’T buy because we didn’t have the 2nd car.
  • Contribute to your 401k or pension plan (Especially if you employer matches) Do this EVEN IF YOU HAVE DEBT otherwise you will be leaving money on the table.
  • If you receive an unexpected monetary gift, put some toward your debt and some to  your savings.
  • Give back – try % based giving, even if you are in debt
  • Practice an attitude of gratitude
  • Open a high-interest savings account
  • Pay more on your mortgage each month to shave off years
  • Track your spending (write everything down for a week/month/during Lent)
  • If you have a CC, get a dividend card that gives cash back and always pay the balance in full. 
  • Go one day without spending any money
  • Go one week without using your credit card
  • Go one month without eating out
  • Create a 6-month savings reserve
  • Set a SMART goal around money (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely)
  • Remember, you didn't get in debt over night, so don't expect to get out of debt overnight either - simple shifts
  • Find a buddy in church to help you keep you accountable

Lastly, just because my mom is here and I had to get her in MY sermon as payback for all the times I was in HERS - practice what she always said to us:  "Think before you do." 

These simple shifts do add up.  Just over a year ago, we officially got out of debt, continue to contribute 15% to retirement, give 8% away and slowly built up a 6-month reserve fund.  Shining the light on our debt and making some simple shifts took away the worry and is such a wonderfully freeing experience for mind, body and soul.    

As for our dream of owning a home…we were blessed to qualify for affordable housing and bought a right-sized home with our right-sized income last January.

Eckhart Tolle in the Power of Now writes, " When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space so that you find the life underneath your life situation."  

Find a way to shift your thinking and imbue your life with gratitude.  Focus on your breathing and connect with God.  Know you are safe, loved and there is abundance all around you.