About Me

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Five years into widowhood, after one year of incredible happiness and nearly 14 years of single blessedness. Have given up perfect manicures and pretty hands in order to resume playing the soprano recorder and to see if I can figure out how to play bluegrass banjo. Singing in the shower. Still really, *really* love to knit!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Somebody dropped a nickel in me.

Boy, did I hear stuff that I needed to hear in the General Conference broadcasts yesterday! Mostly stuff that comforted me in my challenges (because Heaven is all about comforting the afflicted) as well as challenging me to do better in various areas (because Heaven is also all about afflicting the comfortable, and there are areas of my life in which I am altogether too comfortable).

I had been musing, earlier in the week, about how to divvy up the raise that is coming. The Lord gets His cut, right off the top, of course. And I was wondering if I should increase my contributions to the two non-LDS charities I support (not at the present, as it turns out) or find additional places for my discretionary income to go (bingo!)

Bishop has counseled me that my primary donations should be for tithing (check!) and a fast offering (check!) until I am out of debt. And that makes sense to both my head and my check register. My heart, however, continues to argue quite convincingly that if I want to be generous when I am solvent, I had better start practicing it now. So I’ve chosen two reputable private charities that support my ideals, and they get a small donation every month, which I’ve automated to remove the question can I afford it this month? from the discussion entirely.

Beginning with the big paycheck later this month, I will start making modest but regular contributions to the church’s Humanitarian Fund and to the Perpetual Education Fund. As my last big debt dwindles down, I can increase the size of those contributions. And, of course, if Brother Right shows up with a paid-for house and an oil well on the back 40, then I can toss in my half of the utilities, get out of debt that much sooner, and fund what I laughingly call my retirement.

That’s the plan, anyway. And my heart feels good about it.

Fourthborn’s FiancĂ© raised an interesting issue recently. As I understand it, he would like to see all the money we are currently exporting in the form of foreign aid, used here to take care of our own sick and afflicted. This is something that I struggle with.

I have been poor, in U.S. terms, nearly all of my adult life. Some of this is due to my own poor choices, and some of it is due to the poor choices of others, and some of it just is.

We bought a house in 1981 at the height of the interest rate feeding frenzy; our cheap mortgage was 14.25%, and our second mortgage was 20.36%. When we sold the house to friends, to avert foreclosure, they assumed the first mortgage (the second was paid off by then) and gave us the nominal amount of cash we asked for.

We lost 97% of our investment. [That is not counting the $100K we had paid over ten years on the second mortgage.] Am I bitter? No, I am grateful to the friends who saved our financial hides at a difficult and scary time. We lived for several weeks on that money; I hold those friends in the highest esteem.

So I have very tender feelings for friends and acquaintances (and children) who are just barely scraping by. And I struggle to know how much to help, what sort of help would be truly useful, and what might be enabling. I know a very good woman who has given and given and given until she has depleted all her assets. Only she and the Lord know if her choices have been the best ones.

On the one hand, I think it is unconscionable that so many people cannot afford decent medical care. On the other hand, I know enough about the underwriting process to know that premiums must be based upon the risks to be covered. So if you have good health, or work for a large company (as I do), you can have good medical coverage and still pay the rent. If you are self-employed, the risk pool is smaller, and the premiums are necessarily higher. If you are underemployed, you pay relatively high premiums for relatively little coverage, or you have no coverage at all. And woe be unto you if you have chronic health problems. Which frequently arise because you cannot afford preventative care.

And it is only by the grace of Heaven, and the generosity of friends, that we were not homeless for a time. So I have some tender feelings in that area as well. With the new raise, I am now making approximately twice what I was earning in 1999. Hard work and persistence are part of the equation, but the larger part is truly the grace of Heaven. As Alan Jackson sings in “Small Town Southern Man” (which always reminds me of Dad, though he was neither small-town nor Southern), I’m blessed, and I know I am. On paper, with my 401K’s, I am officially in the black. But in two-week increments, I struggle to judge between wants and needs, I still rob Peter to pay Paul, and I do far better some months than others. Nevertheless, inch by inch I am edging toward a debt-free life, and when I get there, I want my hands to be open and ready to give.

Here are some other thoughts on this subject, and others:
1. Michael Otterson, who is head of Public Affairs for the church.
2. William J. Monahan, on our petty personal rebellions.
3. Maurine Proctor, on self-talk, which is generally not an issue with me. My running monologue is usually about the creative process: wonder what would happen if I tried this?

This is for Dad (and Mom) who gave me the foundation for my life. Thirty-five years in the church has turned out to be the world’s longest finishing school.


Bonnie said...

You are definitely entitled to make your own decisions when deciding how to allot an increase in income. I do think it is important to take care of your temporal needs first though, including retirement (please don't leave us with a heap of trouble and financial worries, if heaven forbid, you are taken by a debilitating illness and need long term care that we cannot afford to provide.) I'm also praying just as hard for you to find brother right as you probably are, but if he doesn't appear soon, you may want to consider what would happen if your current living situation was to change due to something beyond your control. It would be great if you had money saved up for a rainy day and a plan to buy a house if you ended up needing to do that on your own. Just things to think about in the middle of your generous musings.

AlisonH said...

I think of the US's foreign aid as being a small-scale Marshall Plan and something that it behooves us by the grace of God to do in the world. The amounts spent are so very small but create much good and much good will.

At home here, I think we need to listen to Warren Buffet when he says that it's unconscionable that his tax rate is lower, and quite a bit lower, than his secretary's.