Sitting in my office for a few minutes after the end of the day, my head spinning from getting used to a new job, I felt glory of the work I was to do fade quickly as I realized that a big cut in pay set in. I opened up good old Microsoft Excel and decided to crunch some numbers… The good news was that with what I had in savings, I wouldn’t go into the negative for my budget for at least 9 months….
Yep, I had to figure out how to pay what were still big paycheck bills on a little paycheck budget.
I was thankful that I had some time to figure out a better budget and maybe even get an extra job so that I could afford my new career calling. When I finally left the office and went outside I saw battle line being drawn in the sky. Half was roiling and angry thunder clouds, black like coal smoke, the other was bright and blue with the sun brightly holding back the clouds. I chose to face the sun and feel the warmth on my face. Closing my eyes I felt thankful for the sun and reminded myself to be thankful for my job. A job where I could make a difference if not a mint.
A cute little beep/clunk sounded as I clicked the fancy little button on my keychain and my car unlocked itself, I got in just as the first heavy drops splattered on my windshield. The Dark clouds had won the day and were celebrating by releasing their purchase upon the land.
My drive along the freeway was uneventful with the windshield wipers not quite keeping time with the Christian music on my radio. I used the voice activated blue tooth in my car, “Siri, remind me to call my new insurance company to ask about benefits.”
“O.K. here’s your reminder….” her cheery response didn’t take the edge off of my frustration that my insurance wasn’t as good as my old job and my deductible would be big.
The storm had brought a slight chill to the Texas summer and even though 71 degrees isn’t cold, it feels cold when it’s the result of a 30 degree drop within fifteen wet and rainy minutes. I clicked the seat warmers on as the exit came up for my neighborhood. Some frantic activity to the side stole my attention for a moment. A group of the transient folks who live in a vacant lot were racing for cover beneath the overpass. A few of them tugging and puling shopping carts full of their belongings trying to save them from the deluge. Black or grey hair slicked down on brown faces, clothing clinging to bent frames, they struggled to help themselves and each other to escape the rain.
I turned onto my street and made a mental note to really make the time to make care packages for the small community of homeless on my corner. It was nagging me to do so for as long as I’d been in the neighborhood.
Walking up to my apartment I saw my upstairs neighbor with her umbrella walking her three little Boston Terriers, the youngest was excited by the weather and ran up and jumped up at me to get her pats and attention.
“Crazy how cold it got so quickly,” I said as I bent down to scratch little ears that were bouncing about my legs.
“I know it wasn’t even supposed to rain, at least we get a break from having the ac on.” she was struggling with the umbrella and leashes as she responded.
A few more trivial pleasantries and we went our separate ways. The coolness of my apartment was a contrast compared to the usual 85 that I faced when I got home. I never leave the ac on when I’m out to conserve energy and money, I was thankful that it was cool enough inside to keep the ac off for another night. Normally I had to sit and sweat for a half hour before my place cooled off in the evening.
I went to the fridge and opened it and let out a short, silent stream of curses as I realized that I’d have to settle for PBJ because I forgot to defrost a fish fillet. A cold sandwich dinner would cap off a day that I struggled, with only minor success, to be thankful for
My head was still a little clouded with doubt about my future finances so I figured I’d numb it with a little Netflix. I clicked through trying hard not to pause on the bikini movies that are the artifact of my old watching history.
Unfortunately I was week and when the “Because you watched…” row came up it was filled with temptation I scrolled along. It must have been some documentary I had watched because the whole row was documentaries. Something caught my attention right away, but not what you think. “Living on One Dollar” is a documentary about some college kids who decide to go to Guatemala to live just as the Guatemalans do. On one dollar a day.
I don’t really know why but I clicked watch and my jaw dropped….
Less than an hour after I frantically tried to figure out my budget for a salary that is higher than the national average I watched four college kids try to budget money that is the equivalent of earning an average of one dollar per day. They even created a spin wheel with different amounts to simulate the native experience of not knowing how much or when they would get actual cash. Some days they had plenty.
Some days, just like the natives, they didn’t get to eat.
10 minutes after cursing about having to eat what is surprisingly complete nutrition in the form of PBJ, I was watching people who sometimes didn’t eat at all. I watched the boys as they learned from natives to buy lard (my mom hates that word but it’s full of calories, the lard not the word) to supplement their beans and rice. The lard is cheap and is high in calories to keep you going for little money.
The second night the boys stayed in their little shack the Guatemalan Rain Forest lived up to its name and opened up on the little tin building. Water poured in through several holes in the roof and, I guess to break up the cliché, even poured in from some holes in the walls.
25 minutes after I was clicking the little seat heater in my car I watched as the boys like the natives shiver in the chill of the downpour.
The next day for the little group the sun was back out and boiling away the water from the soggy ground. As the boys were sweating in the shack as they decided to walk to a neighbor to ask about a doctor for one of their ranks who had taken a fever from the rain and chill. The neighbors told them through a mix of Spanish and a native Mayan dialect that they would have to go try to get a ride to town and have money to see the doctor. Of course the boys’ daily allowance of money wouldn’t cover the doctor visit so the next piece of advice was to ask for a loan from the “Mayor” of the little village.
35 minutes after I was using $600 dollar technology to remind myself to call to complain about the deductible for my coverage that would basically take care of any and all of my medical needs I watched the struggle to pay for and then wait in line for hours for very limited medical care and even more limited pharmaceutical availability.
The kicks to the gut of my emotional thankfulness kept coming, I was whining about my ac bill and having to sweat at 78 degrees mere minutes before watching villagers have to live through extremes of temperature between 60 and 100 degrees. I watched a young girl who was crying because she wanted to be a nurse but had to quit school around 7th grade to take care of her little sisters while only a little over an hour earlier I was worrying about my student loan bill.
I realized how lucky I really was, and that I should be someone who could distribute the benefits of that luck. I was caught up in the spirit! I decided that I would go on a mission to Guatemala and help build a school and help make farms and build hospitals I would… I…. I would never be able to go to Guatemala, not in the near future.
I sat back on my leather couch, watching my big, flat screen t.v. eating my PBJ (actually my favorite meal if I’m honest) and realized I couldn’t reach as far as Guatemala. With a new humility I watched the remainder of the film. An honest and eventful telling of poverty that we in the U.S. can barely comprehend. I wanted to help but flailed about for a way.
Suddenly in my mind popped an image of souls drenched and dejected, frantically saving their possessions. Rejected from society living in a field and under a freeway. I didn’t have to reach all the way to Guatemala to make a difference, I only had to go about a block.
So many lessons learned in that short time.
God sent me to find thankfulness and attracted me to what I needed to see with the very weakness of my sin.
The best way to be happy is to be thankful, for there are those who would love to have your troubles.
And, a great way to not worry about myself is to decide to help take care of others. Right after watching this I started my work at a place called Community First, a village that provides housing for those wishing to end their homelessness. I’m not in Guatemala but I’m doing what I can.
When I worry that it’s still not enough I remember this verse from Matthew
Matthew 6:25-27 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?