Fear, the presence of evil and why I sometimes don’t want to leave my house

Earlier this month, on my birthday no less, our son “discovered” the presence of a snake living nearby. I say  “discovered” because he was minding his own business, our son, when he noticed the long black creature next to the driveway. We all stood on the porch transfixed as this 5 1/2 foot reptile slithered back into the neighbor’s yard and disappeared into the brush beneath a large tree.

My husband alerted the neighbors and for the next several days, every time we left the house, I looked around the yard and ahead on our path to the van to see if anything creepy or crawly would prevent us from getting where we needed to go.

I was alert, aware of an unwanted presence, cautious.

How We Respond to Fear

The snake didn’t stop us from spending time outside, but it did change our behavior a bit. No longer did our yard feel like a safe and carefree place to play. I personally didn’t relax as much when we were outside and my eyes roved the base of the tree, looking for movement. (I should  mention, also, that thanks to a Google search, we didn’t fear we’d be hurt by the snake. Not venomous.)

A week passed and I let my guard down. I still looked around, but the fear waned. Maybe it found a new home, I thought.

And then, about 10 days after the first sighting, the snake showed up again. On our way back from the bus stop, we noticed it on the side of our tree near the house. The kids and I made a wide path to get to the porch and into the house. My husband declared he would catch it and we would then call someone. I took a picture from the safety of the house and then we watched as it slithered/crawled/climbed the base of the tree and found a path across the branches of our tree above our driveway and back into the neighbor’s tree where it apparently lives. wpid-20150515_155056.jpg

I posted the picture to Facebook because I’ve never seen a snake this big outside of a zoo or that wasn’t in the hands of a trained professional. I was understandably freaked out by its proximity to our house and the fact that it used the tree branches like a bridge. (Visions of the snake dropping out of the tree onto my head or the roof of the van plagued me for a couple of days.)

We’ve not seen the snake again yet, though as I write this, 10 days haven’t passed since the last sighting. I’m no snake expert, so I don’t know if that’s the usual amount of time between feedings.

After posting the picture on Facebook, we saw a couple types of response: multiple offers to come get the snake (these people are my 911 right now); and bold assertions that we should move, kill it or never go outside again. None of those is terribly realistic, but I understand where it comes from. My eyes are constantly searching the branches and tree trunks for this creature. It’s only a matter of time before it emerges again.

(And if that picture gives you the willies, then here’s a happier picture to focus on.)

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What Fear Does To Us

My son and I took a walk a few days ago. It was a rare morning when he didn’t have preschool and it was cool and we didn’t have anything pressing on the agenda. So, we walked a short stretch of sidewalk near our house.

We hadn’t gotten very far when I saw it on the side of the road: a much smaller snake with different coloring than the one in our yard. It wasn’t moving. Probably dead, I thought. Just breathe and don’t panic. We were safely on the sidewalk and it was lifeless on the shoulder and cars passed by as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

By the time we’d finished our walk, I had myself convinced it was a copperhead, one of the poisonous variety of snake, and I was internally freaking out about so many snakes being in the neighborhood. I felt like Indiana Jones. Why did it have to be snakes?!?

Wanna hear something embarrassing?

It didn’t occur to me until HOURS LATER that the snake we saw on our walk was probably a child’s toy. We live near a large apartment complex, so it was far more likely a realistic-looking toy than it was a dead snake.

I was influenced by the fear I’d been harboring for a week. I was thinking about the snake in our yard, so what I perceived about the side-of-the-road snake was a threat, not something harmless.

Isn’t that just like fear? It clouds my perception and twists reality and alters my mind. I could have let a toy limit my life because fear was in charge.

The Alternative to Fear

In our house, we’ve chosen to fight fear with facts and truth, which in some strange way aren’t always the same thing. (You can find a lot of facts on WebMd but it’s not necessarily true that your symptoms are a sign of a deathly illness.)

The first time we saw the snake, the kids and I decided we’d get some books from the library about snakes and learn about them. The next day, my daughter brought home a book about black mambas. (They live in Africa.) And my son picked out a book about green tree pythons. (They’re found in New Guinea.) We did eventually find some information relevant to our snake, and we talked to a few people who have more hands-on knowledge than we do, so we’re feeling less fear about our snake.

One Facebook comment from a friend warned me to not let the snake sell me any fruit. (Referencing Eve in the Garden of Eden, in case you don’t know.) I laughed.

And then I realized something I’d never thought about. Yes, Eve was tempted by the snake and she fell for his trap. But she wasn’t afraid of the snake when he first started talking to her.

I don’t know many people who approach snakes calmly, so it’s hard to imagine living in a garden and not being afraid of any of the creatures that live there, not even a snake.

What must it have been like to live completely without fear?

I literally can’t imagine it because there are so many things I fear. (And yes, we are going to Kenya and that fills with me fear as much as it does excitement.)

Sometimes I don’t want to leave the house because there is evil and potential for harm OUT THERE. Not to mention the problems in my own heart, in my own home, but still, it’s easier to believe sometimes that the world is scary and my house is safe so I will not leave it unless absolutely necessary.

But then something happens to bring the fear inside, like your husband finding a tick on his leg a full 24 hours after he’d been outside working and you begin to imagine that everyone in the family is covered with ticks and we’ll all have Lyme disease any minute and there must be ticks in our bed.

That’s where fear leads. And it’s no place good.

And I’m no expert on overcoming fear, but I can tell you one thing I’ve learned about fighting fear:

You take it one step at a time. Sometimes literally.

Every  time I leave the house or sit outside on the porch or take a hike in the woods, I’m fighting fear. I’m declaring that fear is not the winner today because snakes and ticks are a part of creation and I will trust the God Who created, whether He keeps me free of snake bites or Lyme disease or any other “bad” thing that might come my way.

Living a fearful life is exhausting. I know this from experience and I still fall into its trap.

But even if the fear doesn’t go away completely, it fades every time I bring that fear out of the darkness and into the light. We talk about. We read about it. We face it. And sometimes we do all of that with a side of fear, still.

How about you?

What do you fear? And how do you fight it?

What we really need when we’re suffering

On one of the busy highways near our house, it’s nothing out of the ordinary to see hundreds of semi-trucks passing through.

What is out of the ordinary is that on one Sunday a year, more than 300 trucks travel a 28-mile loop at 30-40 miles per hour, and people pull over and line the roads and bridges to watch.

It’s an intentional convoy in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, one part of a day full of activities raising money and celebrating the work of an organization that is in the trenches with families whose lives revolve around illnesses, hospital visits, doctors and medicines.

We first learned about this convoy last year when, from our house near the highway, we heard honking and sirens. Neither is unusual for the area in which we live, but it sounded like something major was going on. We couldn’t find any reports on the live incident website that is our standard source of information, and then we must have googled it or something and we found out that this is an on-purpose cacophony.

This year, we decided to set up a blanket at the park and watch the convoy, instead of just listening to the sounds of it from afar.

What an amazing experience.

The speed limit on the highway is 65-plus, yet people lined the roadway, sitting in lawn chairs, or in their cars with the hatches open. Dozens of people gathered at the park, and the overpasses, also, drew a crowd of onlookers.wpid-20150510_142657.jpg

We waited till we heard the first sounds and then it got exciting as we waved to the trucks that passed by.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of those traveling on the highway that day. Some of them waved at us. Others took the first opportunity to pass the slow-moving trucks. Some seemed oblivious that anything was out of the norm.

How can they not notice? I thought.

Imagine you are in a battle. A fight for your life. Or the life of someone you love. Or for your marriage. Or for sanity.

Whatever the battle, it is day in, day out. No vacation. No rest. There is never time off.

You are weary. Exhausted. Tired in soul and spirit and body and mind. What little rest you get is plagued by worries and nightmares and fears. Maybe there’s an occasional respite. Maybe not. But no matter what, you press on. You show up to do the next hard thing. And the next. And you don’t know when or how or where or if it will end or end well.

Most of the people you know are either oblivious to the battle or fighting their own similar battle and so you either find yourself at a loss for words trying to describe what it’s like or you’re commiserating with people whose situations are as bad or worse than yours.

Hope. Joy. They’re in short supply.

But then something crazy happens. A bunch of people get together and they acknowledge your pain. More than that, they see it. And they say, “We’re here for you. Even if we don’t really know how to help, we’re with you. You’re not forgotten. Keep fighting. Keep going.”

They call everyone they know and they pick a day and they donate their time and fuel for their vehicles and they say, “We don’t care what it costs us, we’re going to make some noise for your cause.”

And then they do that. They make a whole lot of noise. Horns and sirens and engine brakes. For 28 miles, anyone within ear shot knows that something big is happening. And they attract attention. People who otherwise might not remember that there are people suffering and fighting and battling hard stuff show up and they cheer and they say, “We’re with you, too.”

For one day, instead of a weary warrior, you’re practically a celebrity. You are riding in semi-trucks and fire trucks and dump trucks, waving to people who are with you and for you, even if they have no idea who you are.

For one day, you are celebrated. And seen. For one day, you believe you can make it another day.

I have not personally watched anyone battle cancer. My kids have not spent more than a couple of nights in the hospital in their entire lives. I don’t know what it’s like to center your entire life on hospital visits and medicines. I have watched from the outside as family members live this life, and I have felt helpless. And inspired. I’ve said the wrong thing and done the wrong thing or done or said nothing, which is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

I do not know physical suffering, but I have known emotional suffering. The battle was not for my  body but my mind, not for a sick kid but a marriage in need of healing.

So I can’t speak for families with cancer or terminal illnesses, but I know that when we were suffering, what we needed was what I saw at the convoy.   We needed cheerleaders. People to stand with us and encourage us, to see our suffering and acknowledge it existed. To convince us that another day of fighting through was worth it. That we weren’t alone.

Some of our best memories of our season of suffering are of people who stood by us and didn’t give up. Who loved us and prayed for us and stood with us in the most difficult days. When our heads were filled with sadness and despair, they made some noise in the form of encouragement and truth. They believed what we couldn’t, that we would get through this and good would come of it.

I know that those are sometimes the wrong words to say, or sometimes they are said at the wrong time, but whether spoken out loud or not, they are an important message to  those who are suffering. Sometimes, they are “spoken” just by showing up.wpid-20150510_134834.jpg

In reality, there are lots of things we need when we’re suffering, but there’s no one-size-fits-all list of what that is. Every situation, every person, every family will require something different.

But I don’t know anyone in any kind of suffering who couldn’t use a friend. Even an imperfect one, willing to show up, ask questions, and do the wrong thing with the right heart is a blessing.

Nobody wants to fight alone or be forgotten.

Suffering is a lonely place sometimes.

Take a page from the book of a truck convoy. Show up. Make some noise. Cheer them on.

What have you most appreciated from people in a time of suffering? What have you least appreciated?

What ways do you show people you care when they are facing tough times?

The question I can’t stop thinking about

A few nights ago, at the invitation of friends, Phil and I attended a dinner, Celebrating HOPE, highlighting the work of HOPE International. If you aren’t familiar with what they do, check out their website and be amazed. It’s not charity. Not at all. And it’s inspiring.

We said “yes” because a) it was a chance for a night out downtown and b) we like the work HOPE is doing and c) even though I’m an introvert, the friend who asked is one with whom I could always spend more time.

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After a rooftop selfie at the parking garage, we entered the hotel/convention center unaware of what the evening would bring. A good meal, sure. Fun times with friends, definitely.

But it was the stories, and a question, that stuck with me.

HOPE works with people around the world to break the cycle of poverty through savings groups, small business loans and training. President and CEO Peter Greer spoke about how working with HOPE has changed him. Now when he reads the news about conflicts and disasters, he sees more than just a global story; he sees people he’s met or who work with HOPE groups in places like Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine and Haiti.

And he talked about how people often respond in two ways to overwhelming global needs: they either become defeatist and feel nothing because they don’t think they can help or they behave like saviors, thinking they are the answer to the world’s problems.

“We were never meant to be the Savior,” he said.

And then he told us what people living in poverty actually need.

People in poverty don’t need our pity or our charity. They need our partnership.

One of the ways HOPE begins that partnership is by asking people about their dreams. Because rich or poor; young or old; American, European, African, or Asian, we all have dreams.

The most challenging part of the night came, though, when the HOPE country director from Rwanda shared about a biblical message that is helping people overcome the feeling of helplessness. When we lack, he said, we often think “If only this or that was different.” Instead of wondering what life  would be like if we had more or different, he challenged people–including us–to answer this question:

What’s in your hands?

You can watch the inspiring video here. It’s almost 8 minutes long, but it’s worth your time.

“What’s in your hands?”

That’s the question I can’t stop thinking about. Because each of us has something. Time. A talent. A skill. Maybe money. HOPE encourages people to consider this question and use it as an investment.

I was humbled by the stories we heard about what people are doing with a little bit of loaned money and the talents they have. They have gardens and sweet shops and salons. They run laundry businesses and restaurants. They are elderly and young, fathers and mothers. The winner of the organization’s annual award is man who is raising 5 biological children and taking care of 11 orphans while also running a farm and restaurant. His goal? To help one person every day so that 365 lives a year are impacted.

My reaction after that night is to feel guilty. That I was born in the West. That I have so much and still find ways to complain. That my goals for life are not nearly so noble.

But that’s defeatist, and I don’t want to be that. And I don’t have any answers that would lead me to think I could save the world.

So, I’m left with partnership. And the question: What’s in my hands?

Today, I write about HOPE International because this blog is in my hands. It isn’t much, but I want you to know about these amazing people who are not content to live in poverty but who are given the chance to follow their dreams and change their communities. And I want you to know about this organization that literally invests in people’s dreams. And if you’re opposed to the idea of charity, then check out the work of HOPE.

And maybe ask yourself the question, too?

What’s in your hands?

The one who makes room

One of my best memories of high school (and there are few) is the lunch table where my friends and I gathered daily to share a meal. We always chose a circular table, rather than the long, rectangular ones. Maybe it felt more intimate or inclusive. I don’t know why, really, but I remember the tradition of finding a circle table and pulling up chairs and squeezing in around it.

The table was meant to seat six, maybe eight, but as the year went on, we found ourselves making room for one more person, and one more. There were days that 10 or more teenagers squeezed around this table, elbows bumping, food overlapping, personal space non-existent.

And it wasn’t that any of us was popular or well-known or even particularly well-liked. No, we were more like a band of misfits. We worked on the school newspaper, played in the band, got good grades. You know who we were. We were not flamboyant or funny. In a crowd, we’d usually blend in.

But at lunch, we came together as a group.

And we made room.

Paweł Wojciechowski | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Paweł Wojciechowski | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Read the rest over at Putting on the New, where I blog on the 12th of each month.

When all you can do is be still

I woke Sunday morning with back pain so bad I had trouble walking. The tightness would grip me and I would cry out and lean against someone or something or drop to my knees. Anything to relieve the pain.

It was the most helpless I’ve felt physically since giving birth to my children.

That was enough to convince my husband that we needed to head to urgent care where I would at least get some medication to help with the pain. Two hours of waiting and I was given painkillers and muscle relaxers to manage the pain until it passes or I decide to take another course of action.

So I spent a lot of Sunday being still, not by choice but by necessity.

Yu-chuan Hsu | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Yu-chuan Hsu | Creative Commons | via unsplash

It’s a humbling thing to be in so much pain and rely on others to get you the things you need. I reserved my energy for the effort it took to get off the couch only for necessity (the bathroom).

And I realized that I don’t sit still very well. All day I fought the urge to get up. For food. For drink. To help the kids. Just to do something different. And I found myself getting frustrated because all I did was sit. And rearrange my position for comfort. When I was hungry or needed water, I had to ask. When the rice sock needed re-heating, I had to ask. Apparently I’m not very good at asking, either.

So, it was a hard spot for me to be in. Today I’m a bit better, but still trying to take it easy. My husband is home today, but he won’t be tomorrow and I want to be able to participate in our lives again. It’s a scary prospect, not knowing when or if you’ll be able to do regular life stuff again.

Being still has been my only choice, and I’m surprised at how hard it is.

Is it harder because I didn’t choose it? Because it’s the result of pain?

There’s a psalm that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I want to believe that I can do that in the midst of everyday life, but when stillness is a necessity and I resist it, maybe I’m in desperate need of it after all. Maybe I need to, even when I’m not bound by pain, behave as though I am. I am a master at starting a dozen different things and finishing none. I am notorious for sitting down to do one thing and remembering 10 other things I could be doing.

Be still? Who has time?

And yet, being still is a gift.

From my vantage point on the couch, I saw a robin land on the tree branches in our front yard, and I watched him watch us, sitting there for minutes. I heard my kids say actual words instead of just hearing their noise. I was aware of everything going on around me because I was undistracted by anything else. And I was dependent on others, so I felt I needed to be present mentally with them. Our daughter snuggled close and I appreciated the closeness. Some days, I’ve been touched too much and can’t handle another sensation, but last night I needed it.

I also took a 2-hour nap, aided by the medicine, I’m sure, but that’s almost unheard of for me. Twenty minutes on rare occasions is about my limit. I’ve resisted naps for as long as I can remember, afraid of missing out. Maybe this is why I choose not to be still. I’m afraid I’ll be missing something.

Stillness is both a necessity and a luxury, and I need to treat it as such.

To the world around me, stillness might look like idleness. But it’s not the same thing.

And maybe that’s what I’m afraid of, too. That if I’m still, I’ll be looked at as lazy. Ours is a culture that values the doers, not the be-ers, so I convince myself to do and do and do until I’m done. (And honestly, who of us is ever done?) Or overdone.

This back pain/muscle strain is a combination of overdoing it (cleaning, walking, chasing the kids at the park) and underdoing it. I have neglected my health for years, and this is just one more indicator that I need to take care of myself.

Otherwise, I’ll be celebrating my 37th birthday next week like an 87-year-old–limitedly mobile, with body aches and pains, ingesting medicine to keep me functioning.

There is a time to do and a time to be, and I pray that I will know and sense the difference. And give equal value to both times.

Something else this forced stillness has reminded me: I want to be well. I don’t want to keep telling the children I can’t do this or that with them because my back hurts. I don’t want this to be my life, and it doesn’t have to be. At least not yet. I have options to relieve my back pain that doesn’t yet involve surgery or chronic pain. Exercise, chiropractic care, yoga, orthopedic footwear. All of these are possibilities, and I am thankful for the choices.

Being still is also a choice. I can say “no” to busyness, “no” to doing one more thing, “no” to my value being only in what I do instead of in who I am.

I don’t have to like it, at least not at first, but stillness is a gift, forced or unforced. And I will learn to appreciate it.

Have you ever been forced to “be still” because of illness or injury? How did you handle that time? What keeps you from regularly being still in your life?

News travels fast (and then what?)

We wake up to the news that an earthquake has devastated Nepal.

And my day begins with a burdened feeling for people I don’t even know. I search Twitter for news. For photos. I scan Facebook for news about people I know who live/work/travel in the area. I am hungry for information and in the information age, news comes as quickly as fast food through a drive-up window.

Quick. Now. Instant. I want to know everything and I want to know it now.

On the one hand, it’s a blessing. Tragedy strikes and we can know within hours if loved ones, friends, acquaintances are safe. We can mourn in real time with those who are suffering. We are connected across oceans in ways that still astound me.

News travels fast.

Pavan Trikutam | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Pavan Trikutam | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Sometimes, though, it’s a curse. News travels so fast that it’s often just as quickly forgotten.

Today, we are focused on Nepal. And maybe tomorrow we will be, too.

But our attention will fade long before the work is done. We will move on and those who have suffered loss will remain in their pain.

We swear we’ll never forget but we do. All the time.

Remember Ebola? There are people in Liberia and other West African nations who have daily been unable to forget because they are on the ground in the midst of the outbreak, doing the work.

Or what about the university attacks in Kenya?

Or how about Hurricane Sandy? Or the Midwestern tornado that leveled an Illinois town called Fairdale? Or any other countless disasters that wreck lives on any given day?

We can’t remember them all. We’re human, aren’t we? And the world is so messed up that bad news seems to be the only news, and who needs that to drag them down day after day? Right?

I confess: it’s easier to turn off the TV, or not watch the news in the first place, or scroll past the Tweets or Facebook posts about tragedy, or scan them with a “not-another-one” attitude. I do it all the time.

I’m not proud of that.

When I was a newspaper reporter, the pressure was high to publish breaking news and follow up on that news in the days after. But every day was something new and sometimes one tragedy trumped another. We’d make it to the one-year anniversary of an event and I’d think, “Has it been a year already?”

News travels fast and time passes quickly and life goes on.

But what if it’s your tragedy?

We can blame the media, but it’s not really their fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine. (And yours. But I can only deal with my fault. You’ll have to deal with yours.)

As I scrolled through Twitter today, looking at pictures from Nepal, I wondered about the role of the photographers. I questioned the sanity of people tweeting while running from an avalanche on Everest. I even wondered if I should believe everything I read on the Internet.

When news travels fast, it’s not always accurate, at least not at first, but there are circumstances where some news is better than no news, even if it’s wrong. (The journalist inside me is screaming “NO” at that statement.)

It is good for us to see that people are huddling in tents in Kathmandu as night falls. And it’s good for us to be reminded that the water supply is dwindling. And it is right that we know that the death toll is climbing. Because the more we know, the more we’ll connect, and the longer we’ll remember.

At least, I hope so.

We want to help, I think. Most of us do, anyway. So we send money. We pray. Or if it’s a closer-to-home tragedy, maybe we bring food. Send a card. Take a team to help.

Maybe you respond to suffering and tragedy like I do. You want to do something NOW. You want to spring into action. Head to wherever the tragedy is, to whomever is suffering, swoop in and fix it.

The truth is that there are no quick fixes to tragedy, and lots of organizations (the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse) respond immediately. Even individually, we are good at clearing our consciences by helping or offering to help right away.

But what happens a month later? Or a year later? Or 10 years later?

The woman who has lost her husband unexpectedly continues to grieve well after the funeral is over. The mother who loses a child aches forever. When the camera crews go home after a hurricane or a tornado, the work continues. The rebuilding doesn’t stop. I remember standing in the moldy, water-stained house of a family in North Carolina a year after their community was destroyed by a hurricane. Almost everything they had belonged to FEMA, and our little crew from Indiana barely remembered the storm.

My heroes are first-responders of any kind. The men and women who rush in when others are fleeing. They are a special breed of human, and sometimes I think that if I am not built to be a first-responder then maybe I can’t help at all.

We need first-responders. Desperately. But we also need second-responders. And third. And tenth. We need–and need to be–people who show up not just on the day of but on the day after. And days after. Who step in when the wounds we can see have been bandaged but the wounds we can’t see are still oozing.

I don’t know how we do that except to be responsible for our own intake of information. Maybe we need to clear our Twitter feeds of celebrity gossip and TV shows (guilty) and fill it with news sources, relief agencies, charitable organizations. Maybe we need to watch the news once in a while or read a newspaper.

Maybe we need to do more. (Check out what a couple of guys from our denomination are doing to support the Ebola relief in Liberia.)

Maybe we need to read the articles and look at the pictures and sit with our grief when these things happen. We don’t need to feel good and happy all the time. We can mourn with those who mourn. (I should also say that there are times when we need to not to do this, too. Say, if a personal tragedy is still fresh and raw. We can step away for a time from situations that will cause us more grief personally. It’s just easy for that to turn into an all-out avoidance of any kind of suffering. I know this from personal experience.)

What other ideas do you have?

An inspiring book on this subject is Eugene Cho’s Overrated. What a challenge to us to stop being in love with the idea of changing the world and actually start changing the world.

And if you’ve never heard the song “Now the News” by Eli, check it out and let yourself be challenged by its message.

What do I do with the money issue?

I love money.

There, I said it.

I’m not supposed to say it, especially since I also love Jesus. You know, that whole Bible verse about not being able to love God and money at the same time. And the other one about the love of money being the root of evil. It’s not something any God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Bible-reading person should admit to.

And yet. I can’t deny it anymore. wpid-20150423_131110.jpg

I love money. I love earning money for work well done. I love having enough money to pay our bills and buy things we need/want and give to others.

But I also hate money. Especially when there’s not enough. Or someone else has what I perceive as too much money.

Then, I want to find a way to live without money. To simplify my life in such a way that I don’t need as much money just to get through the day.

I love money. I hate money. And I get so frustrated trying to find the middle ground, a place where I can be grateful for what I have without developing an insatiable desire for more.

Money has always meant security for me. If we have enough to pay the bills, then I breathe a bit easier. If we’re cutting it close, I worry. Paying bills and buying groceries and doing the checkbook math give me anxiety until the next payday. And when we come up short, I grasp at any opportunity, however slim, to fix it.

In January, I applied for a part-time work-from-home job I wasn’t qualified for because our income was unexpectedly lower. In the first part of this year, we used our credit card for the first time in years to make up the difference until our tax return came. And because our tax return was later than we expected, the weeks held more anxiety than I wanted, and I was thinking about money. All. The. Time.

Things are better now. Not great but better. And I’m still thinking about money a lot.

How much we have.

How much we need.

How much we’ll get.

It’s a tough spot. In our house, my husband makes the majority of the money and I do the bill paying and budgeting. (I’m terrible at the latter.) My husband has such a generous heart. He always wants to give. And I’m such a worried hoarder that I always want to keep what we have. Just in case. Thankfully, we don’t fight about money. Though, I’m sure we could.

But it’s a problem for me, the whole money=security thing. And I’m tired of pretending it’s not.

Tell me I’m not the only one pretending I don’t love money.

In case that’s not a shocking enough confession for you, let me also say this: I’m a sporadic tither. I used to be pretty great at it. Ten percent or more in the offering plate every time I or we got paid. I believed what they told me, that if I gave God a little, I wouldn’t miss it. And I didn’t. But there are so many weeks that the math doesn’t add up, and I can’t understand why God would want me to write Him a check if it meant I couldn’t feed my family or pay the heat. Yeah, it’s been that bad at times.

What’s the answer? Somebody tell me because I don’t know. I want to do good with what we’re given, and I know I fall short. A budget is a start. Using my talents to earn money is another step.

But what about that whole trusting in God thing?

Last week, in church, we talked about “blessed are the poor,” the words Luke uses. Not the “poor in spirit” that Matthew uses. And the prosperity gospel nonsense of belief leading to material blessing. I have seen God provide for impossible circumstances for our family, in ways we could not have imagined. But I have also seen faithful Godly people struggle to make ends meet for a very long time through no fault of their own. And let’s not even talk about global poverty and the kind of faith among the truly impoverished that puts mine to shame.

I can’t undo that I live in this country. That my husband and I have college degrees. That we have two kids. That the “cost of living” is what it is where we live. (Sure, we could move. But there are always trade-offs.)

So, what can I change?

For starters, my heart. (Why does it always go back to my heart?!) I can choose to not let money be my god by trusting God no matter what. And I have to kill my pride by submitting to a system that helps me track where our money goes. I like to think we spend our money wisely, but I know better. We aren’t extravagant, I don’t think. But we aren’t disciplined, either.

Somehow, there’s a balance between being wise and being gracious. A writer friend recently said that he and his wife don’t make any decisions based on money, either earning it or spending it. And they’ve been in a place of deep debt with desperate need for income. We made that mistake once, and it cost us dearly.

Maybe to tame the money beast I have to acknowledge my fears. What is it I’m afraid of? And why do I think money keeps that fear at bay?

I don’t have any great wisdom for you today. I wish I did. I just felt like I had to put into words what I’ve been wrestling with in my heart and my mind.

Maybe you struggle this way, too. If so, just know you aren’t alone. If not, then maybe you can share your experience with us.

What do you think? How can we relate to money without loving it?