(Sorry I've been absent. My bff was here last week, and my internet has been out all day.)
One more week. That’s all that is left of October. So, how are your budgets looking? Ours is uncomfortably snug, but I
think know all will be fine. We have passed our original grocery budget number, but we have been able to move things around in other categories to make it work. (For the fiftieth time, you need to let your budget grow and change. It needs to be flexible enough to allow for life.)
As some of you know, I have twice-weekly language lessons. In theory, these are helping me learn to communicate in Spanish. In reality, they afford me the opportunity to chat with my language trainer, too often in English, about all my Panama questions. At first, she stuck to the facts without much opinion. As we’ve spent more time together, she’s been more forthcoming with her thoughts on my questions.
We usually start each Tuesday class with a discussion on our fin de semana (weekend). She was telling me about how late she stayed up, and that her mom wasn’t very happy about when she arrived home. I was teasing her that she needed to move out. That’s when all kinds of honesty broke out, and God made His point VERY clearly.
We began talking about how small some Panamanians’ salaries were. I didn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable position of talking about her personal salary so we talked about public school teachers- my former profession. I shared that 10 years ago, I started out at $32,000 which was a pretty good salary for that part of central Illinois. She said in Panama teachers are lucky to make $1000/month. (I didn’t ask her if that was for 9 months or 12.)
That number struck me. That’s not very much money. We live in the same city. And she shops at the same grocery store I do. And I complain about my grocery budget. I know people here whose grocery budgets are about $1000 a month.
She was telling me about being a kid and feeling like her family was doing okay. Why? Because they knew that their school, food, housing, and clothing needs were going to be met. They were confident there wasn’t going to be any extra, but there wasn’t any real concern about the needs. Umm. Yes. Can we talk about needs for a minute?
We (as Americans, perhaps) can’t even begin to fathom what “needs” means. Not even close. The more she talked the more I thought about financial gurus in the United States. I thought about the financial experts who recommend having “blow money” in your budget so you don’t get discouraged by the tightness of staying on budget. Blow money? The working-class people of Panama (some of whom, by comparison to the rest of the world, are doing pretty well) don’t have blow money. They are thankful to have their needs met. A $5.00 trip to Starbucks to reward themselves for their financial responsibility that month? It doesn’t work that way. A 3-day vacation to the beach because they’ve earned it? It’s not happening.
I know when God wants me to get something because it comes up in every conversation I have until I get it. Thursday, my Bible study friends had a lunch for my birthday. Several of them do ministry in the impoverished area of Curundu. A new lady has been visiting with them. She’s turned to prostitution to meet her family’s financial needs. How quickly do we shake our heads judging with fained moral superiority those kinds of choices while we can’t live within our means because we “need” to go out to eat 5 times a month? (or once a month?)
My Bible study friends are praying she will trust Christ and turn from this life, but they fully recognize that for her to trust she has to be willing to risk her family not eating. She has to trust Christ to meet her NEEDS some other way. I listened to them, and I was overwhelmed with the conviction of the moment. Not only do I pretend to have a tough budget, but I pretend to trust Christ, too. I can’t even begin to fathom what a daily-clinging-to-faith-because-it’s-all-you’ve-got life really feels like. Sure, my cushy earthly life brings some challenges of faith, but let’s be real people. My life is easy. Yours is, too. Do you have food in your refrigerator? Do you have a refrigerator? Do you have consistent electricity available to run a refrigerator?
As the orange of October fades into the glitter of the holidays, I challenge you to look at your budget, and deeply praise God for how truly financially blessed you are. Thank Him that though we have financial challenges and struggles, we can’t begin to know what need truly is. I pray that we may each be transformed in faith as we see how blessed we are. And as we recognize our financial blessings (and all the nonfinancial ones!), we can turn our eyes away from our concerns and trust Him more deeply to use us for His eternal glory.