The Rock Waterman Audio Glut)
If you happened to follow the comment section following my last post, you will have read how several readers of this blog came together and discussed ways to rescue my lovely bride and me from a serious financial scrape. So today I want to about talk that. And I want to talk about love and faith. And I want to talk about gratitude.
This particular post might get a bit personal. And it may be way too long (aren't they all?) And it may not be of interest to everyone, because it requires some back story to explain how, after a lifetime of active membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I only recently came to understand a key part of this religion, and how learning to practice it absolutely changed my luck.
In my interview with Micah Nicholaison for A ThoughtFul Faith, I touched briefly on how a few years ago I finally obtained my personal baptism of fire. In that experience the love of God washed over me in a way I had never felt in my entire history as an active member of the church. It was a total baptism, a complete immersion into the bosom of God, where I was washed and wrapped and enveloped and embraced in a love so glorious as to be indescribable. That event transformed me in such a way that I came out of it not only knowing I was inherently good, but desiring, like the people in Mosiah 5 who had the same experience, to get out there and start doing nothing but good things continually.
And it is here that I wish to introduce my first digression; about this business of "being good." Up until that experience I had it all wrong. From the time we are quite young we are taught, warned, admonished, and threatened to "be good." What the grownups in our lives usually meant when they told us to be good was they wanted us to sit still and behave. And that is the understanding most of us acquired and carried into adulthood.
So we learn from a young age that "being good" means learning to restrain ourselves, to keep to ourselves, to make sure we aren't doing anything wrong, and above all, to do as we are told by those in authority.
As we get older we learn that as long as we are able to keep our hands to ourselves (and as teenagers to keep our hands off ourselves), we're being pretty good and will probably pass the yearly bishop's interview. As grownups we find that righteousness is measured by how faithfully we do the things we are taught we should, such as attending our meetings, paying our tithing, going to the temple, and fulfilling our callings. As long as we restrain ourselves from drinking the wrong beverages, wearing the wrong clothes, or watching movies with the wrong rating attached to them, we're probably headed in the right direction.
But these tokens on their own appear to me to represent a religion of self-absorption rather than one that is outwardly focused, as Christ would have us be. The question that often seems to motivate us is "how can I properly do my part to assure myself that I make it to the Celestial kingdom?"
This isn't the religion our scriptures teach us, but it has become the religion many of us come to embrace over time. We work hard at making sure we are doing all the things we "should" be doing. Even our service projects are assigned and coordinated and performed as group activities. When we help out after a natural disaster, or even just a community project, we are handed bright yellow T-shirts and tunics with a professionally designed logo that reads "Mormon Helping Hands" that were provided by the Church PR department in Salt Lake. Very little is done in secret anymore; it seems someone is always passing out a rollsheet so we always get credit for being where we should be.
In looking back on my life in the church, I realized that much of what motivated me toward righteousness had been spurred by the belief that I "should" be doing certain things. I attended church because I knew I should, I paid a full tithing because I knew I should, I went to the temple and participated in various ward service projects because I knew I should. I did all these things gladly and with a happy heart, knowing that I was pleasing God by fulfilling my callings. But I did them primarily because I understood that doing as I should was what I should be doing.
I have heard this predilection described as "should-ing all over ourselves." What it often amounts to is a lot of wasteful busy-work. God does not give or withhold his love based upon our doing what we think we should, and that ought not to be what motivates our actions. Can you imagine loving your children only when they do the things they should? God loves us regardless of what we do; he especially does not reward us for displays of outward appearances.
After my heart was transformed, I underwent a quickening in my understanding as well. Jesus' days on this earth were largely spent providing comfort and encouragement to his fellow man. And he performed these acts of love not because he felt he should, but because he really wanted to. If our goal in life is to emulate Christ, it makes sense that "being good" would mean doing good; to stand in for Jesus in our own meager way by performing little acts of Christian charity every time we have the chance.
In other words, emulating Christ has nothing to do with my childhood image of the serious, often dour looking Son of God often portrayed in paintings and bible films with a pious sanctimonious look. If I were to assume that posture I would not be emulating Christ, I would only be imitating a counterfeit. To emulate Christ is to act, to perform the kindnesses to others he would perform if he were here to perform them himself; to be doing, in our tiny way, those things Jesus himself would do if he passed by and saw someone hurting.
Suddenly, rather than serving others because I knew it was something I should be doing, I started serving others because I really, really wanted to. I began to seek out opportunities every day on the street rather than passively waiting for an assignment from a ward group leader.
F Is For The Faithless
I admit to being a slow learner. To put it another way, for most of my life I thought I understood certain concepts about the gospel, when now I realize I often didn't have a clue. Take this business about faith, for instance. Most of us think we've got it figured out. What does it actually mean to have faith, anyway?
Well, that's easy. Anyone who has served a mission can quote Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Nailed it. Faith simply means believing in something you can't see. Like believing in the existence of God, right? Too easy. Next question.
In recent years I couldn't help thinking there may be something more to this business of faith than just simply the act of believing. In his book "Believing Christ," LDS theologian Stephen Robinson shows that though most latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ, few actually believe him. That is, we are willing to accept that he lives and who he is, but we are not as keen as we think we are when it comes to taking him at his word.
Yet in some respects even Robinson is only discussing one facet of faith. Our scriptures are so full of ceaseless homilies about faith that reading about it can actually get tiring. You gotta have faith this and faith that. The ancient prophets just wouldn't shut up about it. Faith, faith, faith.
Oh, and don't forget about faith.
Maybe the prophets were doing all this harping about faith because they wanted the people to understand something about it that they just weren't getting.
I find it interesting that Joseph Smith felt faith was not only important enough to list as the very first principle of the gospel, but that he also delivered seven separate, in-depth lectures on it in the Kirtland temple to a specially chosen group of men he dubbed The School of The Prophets.
Think about that. Seven separate lectures all centered around this one topic. What other concept did he give so much emphasis to? I can't think of one. To Mormonism's founder, this business of faith was not just an important teaching, it was the important teaching. To the prophet Joseph Smith, faith was the key to everything.
Joseph said faith was the first great governing principle of the universe. It was the force that has power, dominion, and authority over all things. He said that without it there is no power, and without power there could be no existence. Everything God himself accomplishes operates on this principle of faith, and without it nothing would exist, not even God himself.
Pretty heavy stuff. But decades ago when I first came across these Lectures on Faith, I still didn't understand much of it. What was so all-fired important about faith? And how did it work? Better question, why didn't it seem to work for me? I believed in God, but I certainly was never able to move a mountain.
As I re-read the Lectures on Faith recently, it became apparent that this thing, faith -whatever it is- may just be the key to unlocking all the Mysteries of the universe. At the very least it seemed to embody the path to happiness in this life. And true happiness seemed to be something I had not yet gotten the hang of. So I was game for further investigation.
There's an interesting historical footnote about those Lectures on Faith. They used to be included in the Doctrine and Covenants, but they aren't there any more. Joseph Smith considered the Lectures on Faith to be the actual "Doctrine" part of the Doctrine and Covenants. Which ought to make us wonder why such important teachings were so cavalierly cut out of the canon a few decades after his untimely death.
Beginning in 1921, these doctrines, which our founding prophet considered of paramount importance, were simply left out of the book they were once a key part of. One reason given was "to avoid confusion." But I'm not buying it. I think it's just one more instance of how our religion has been gradually dumbed down by those who considered themselves the gatekeepers.
By the early twentieth century, LDS teachings regarding the attributes of God had evolved somewhat, and these modern ideas of who and what God is no longer perfectly jelled with what Joseph Smith had described in his lectures. What to do about these contradictions? Why, simply flush the teachings of the founding prophet from the canon.
Problem solved. You know what they say about dead prophets. You just can't trust 'em.
The Lectures on Faith are still floating around out there, available to anyone who cares to look for them. But not many members of the Church today have read those lectures and fewer still have any idea what they are about.
That included me. And even after I did read the lectures, I still wasn't quite getting it. Like I said, I'm a slow learner. But one of the ways I have come to understand a difficult concept is by examining its opposite. (As I wrote earlier, one way of understanding the meaning of The Law of the Land is by looking to its opposite, The Law of the Sea.)
So what is the opposite of faith? It isn't unbelief, as we might first suppose. It isn't doubt, either. Doubt is healthy. In fact, sincere doubt can lead to a strong, healthy faith. No, the opposite of faith is not unbelief or doubt. The opposite of faith is fear.
Yes, fear. Not the first word that would occur to most of us. Let me illustrate with a discussion of the opposite of love.
Most people think the opposite of love is hate. But it isn't. The opposite of love is indifference.
Think of the last time you saw a ragged homeless person on the corner holding a cardboard sign asking for help. Chances are pretty good you drove right past, not stopping to roll down your window to hand him a couple of bucks. Is it because you hate him? No, of course you don't hate him. You might even feel a little sorry for him. Just not sorry enough to reach out and help.
Even if you were disposed to help, maybe traffic is moving too fast, it isn't convenient to reach into your wallet or purse, traffic behind you wants you to keep moving, or the guy is simply on the wrong side of the street. Anyway, no need to worry about it. Surely someone else will come along and give him a handout. Besides, there's always the possibility that if you did give him money he might just spend it on drugs or booze, and then you would be guilty of some kind of sin or something for enabling him.
And a moment later, you've turned the corner and he's gone from your mind.
That's indifference. And so through indifference we fail the test of love. We might feel bad for that guy's plight, but feeling sorry for him didn't buy him lunch. Feeling sorry for someone is not an act of love. It's a dismissal.
If you were to ask someone who knew me if I was a good man, they would probably tell you sure, Rock Waterman is a very good man. But unless I am actively doing good things for others, I'm not really being good. All I'm doing is behaving myself. Which I'll admit, for me is still something.
But it isn't enough. When we read the gospels we don't admire Jesus because he managed to behave himself. If we're going to be like Jesus we're going to have to be like Jesus. And that means performing daily acts of kindness.
Like most people driving along in their cars passing homeless people on the street, I used to be indifferent, though I would hardly have thought so. But even if it was convenient for me to help a fellow out with a few bucks, there was another factor keeping me from being generous with my substance, and this was what was constantly keeping me from practicing my faith. You guessed it. It was fear.
No, I've never been afraid of homeless people. What I was afraid of was what might become of me if I let go of too much of my money.
I remember years ago reading an interview with Pearl Bailey, who said: "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better."
That quote pretty much describes my life. There have been times in my past when I was doing quite well, times I thought would continue forever. But they didn't. Due to health and other issues, for almost the past two decades my family has barely scraped by. So during those times of hardship, by and large I felt I was exempt from helping others. I would have been able to help folks out if I still had lots of money of course, but I'm not, so that's that.
I figured I loved my fellow man and everything, but I was going to have to leave it to someone else for the time being to do the giving. What's that saying- "The Lord helps those who help themselves"? Well, ten or fifteen years ago our situation changed for the worse and it was all I could do to help myself and my family stay above water. Sorry, needy people. If the Lord helps those who help themselves, then I'd better just concentrate on helping myself and let someone else take care of you.
Besides, it wasn't as if I turned anyone down. If a beggar came up to me in a parking lot and asked for change, I might give him a quarter -if I had one. If all I had in my pocket was a few dollar bills, the poor guy was out of luck. After all, he did ask if I had any change, didn't he? Dollar bills aren't change.
Yeah, I was that stingy.
But the way I looked at things, tithing was already taking a whopping ten percent of my gross right off the top, and there was also the monthly fast offering that took another chunk of cash from my pocket. So I figured I was already doing my part as far as charitable giving was concerned. I gave at the office. Stop bothering me.
What I didn't realize back then was that I was being kept in poverty precisely because I was afraid of being in poverty. I felt we couldn't afford to give because we barely had enough for ourselves, saddled with medical problems as we were and scarcely scraping by. What I didn't understand was that this fear that kept me from thinking beyond my own myopic problems was directly related to my continuing struggles. Instead of attracting blessings, I was calling forth continued poverty. This constant fear and worry about how I was going to get by if I gave my last dollar to someone in need was the very thing keeping me down, because it was barring me from properly practicing God's religion of love.
Anyway, I wondered, where was God in all this? Isn't he supposed to bless us when we pay our tithing? So where were these blessings? Why was life a constant struggle when I was doing everything I knew I should?
Well, my life was a constant struggle because of fear. That's why. What I didn't know was that my own fear was blocking God's efforts at showering blessings upon me. It was not that he didn't want to. It was that I was blocking those blessings at every turn. By allowing fear to limit me in performing little acts of love toward my fellow men, I was holding back my faith in His ability to bless me. When fear is present, faith becomes inoperable. It just can't work.
Joseph taught that God himself operates on faith. Can you imagine a god who is afraid? He wouldn't be able to accomplish a thing.
God operates according to eternal laws which he himself is subject to. You've heard this saying that "obedience is the first law of heaven"? The "law" of heaven is not just something God arbitrarily decreed, it is a set of realities He himself must work within in order to accomplish His work. In D&C 130:20-21, we are given this hint as to how the universe operates.
The law of free agency allows me to be as disobedient as I want to be regarding the Great Law -the one that commands me to love my neighbor as myself- and God will not love me any less. But the downside of it is that I can not expect to receive the blessings God wants me to have because I am not in harmony with the law of love. No matter how much God loves me and wants the best for me, his hands are tied as long as I refuse to act with charity toward others.
God could look down on me from heaven and say, "you know, I really like that guy. I understand why fear is hampering his ability to love; he can't help it. So I'm going to go ahead and bless him anyway by sending some extra money his way." If God were to do that, then HE would be disobedient to the law of heaven. And as Alma explains to his son in Alma 42, God himself must be obedient to the laws of the universe, or he would cease to be God. And I don't think any of us want to see that happen.
What I didn't understand during all those years of struggle was that God actually wanted to come to my rescue. He is on my side. But the laws of the universe could not work as long as I did not have faith that they could. Didn't Jesus tell us to "pray always, and be believing, and all things will work together for your good"? So why weren't all things working together for my good? Because I did not believe that I held the key to delivering myself out of my own poverty. I was afraid. I was fearful that if I were to truly practice my religion by loving my brother enough to lighten his yoke a little, that I might put my own family and my own survival in jeopardy. The Lord does help those who help themselves. But the best way we can help ourselves is by waking up and shaking off our fear.
Sacrificing Is For Suckers
As you can probably guess, allowing fear and worry to rule my life kept me and Connie barely squeaking by. Then came the mighty change. Suddenly, when I saw a needy person on the street, I didn't worry about whether I had enough money for myself; I only thought about whether I had enough for him. While it's true I am not able to actually solve anyone's problems, I am able to offer someone enough to eat. That's at least something, so that's what I do. I never give less than five dollars, so he can at least get himself a meal at Jack-in-the-Box.
If I had intended that money for something else, oh well. I don't worry about it. I take very seriously the Lord's admonition to treat others at least as kindly as we would treat Him if we happened to see him on the street: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
I have a rule nowadays. If I can't stop and help someone because I'm in the wrong lane, I always take the time to drive up the street and come back around. If necessary I'll park the car nearby and walk over to the sidewalk and hand the person the money. Where I used to cringe when I saw someone like this approach me, now I seek them out. I never pass up the opportunity to help. Never. And I'll tell you why.
I broke this rule once. I was on my way to church one Sunday morning and saw a woman standing on the traffic island on the opposite side holding a cardboard sign. Normally I would have pulled a U-turn, got into the far left lane, and come back to her. But I was now already five minutes late for church, and several more minutes from getting there, so I just kept going. I arrived at church just in time for the sacrament song, hurriedly found a seat, caught my breath, and...I just felt awful.
Here I had been hurrying to get to church so I would be where I should be, and I had just blown off the opportunity to provide a bit of assistance to one of God's gentle daughters. The apostle Paul admonished us to "be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
I have no idea whether that woman was an angel or not. Most likely she was just some miserable, discouraged soul who could have used a little cash and some words of encouragement, and I hadn't even attempted to provide it.
I have sat in church countless times bored out of my skull and wishing I was somewhere else, but this was the first time I sat there and felt God wanted me somewhere else.
That's why I have never passed up a needy person since, no matter what.
I don't keep track of how much I give; that would be worrying about it. Worry leads to fear, and I don't want any good thing that might be on its way to me to get deflected. Since loving my neighbor is as important as loving myself, Giving to my brother or sister is no different in my mind from giving money to myself. So how could that hurt?
This new program I have of handing out money left and right has not been a strain on our finances because it isn't a sacrifice. Why? Because I'm not sacrificing anything. It isn't a sacrifice to give a brother or sister five or ten bucks. It's a service.
But isn't sacrifice and service the same? No, I don't think so. Sacrificing hurts. It's difficult, it's often painful, and it requires thought beforehand. "Should I really be doing this? Will it be worth it? Is this wise? Can I afford it?"
Service, on the other hand, brings joy. It isn't supposed to hurt. It is an act of kindness.
Service doesn't make us poorer, it makes us richer.
I think this is the reason the law of tithing is such a simple law to comply with. Oh, we can make it difficult if we want to. If you believe the Lord requires ten percent of all you have every month, I can certainly see why you might see that as a sacrifice.
But the commonly held idea that the Lord requires ten percent of our gross is one of those beliefs prevalent in the Modern LDS Church that is not supported by God's word. Because this belief is so widespread, it's often a struggle to pay a "full" tithe, so quite a few saints have given up and don't pay any tithing at all. Which I think is a shame. God does not ask us for ten percent of our all, He only asks for ten percent of our increase, which is the mere tiniest portion of all he has blessed us with. I don't think God wants our tithe to be a sacrifice, he wants us to think of it as service.
If you are paying so much to the Church every month you're feeling the pinch, you may want to reassess your understanding of the law. Or your motivation for giving.
How Much Tithing Is Enough?
Suppose Abraham has a thousand sheep, and out of those thousand sheep a hundred lambs are born. Those hundred lambs represent Abraham's increase for the year. So Abraham offers Melchizedek ten of those lambs as his tithing. He does not give ten percent of his entire flock; only on that small number of sheep that increased his flock. God intended tithing to be this simple because he wants even the poorest among us to have the blessing of helping each other out, even if only a tiny bit.
When we use the scriptures as our guide instead of rumor and hearsay, we find that we are expected to tithe on our surplus, which is the money we have left over after we have provided for our family's needs. Of course, you can always give more, since in reality everything we have belongs to the Lord, but God makes it easy for us by only requiring ten percent of our interest, which, according to both dictionary definitions and D&C 119, means increase or surplus.
Who can't comply with that?
(For a thorough analysis of what and how much tithing is supposed to be, and how in recent years some in the Church have distorted its meaning, see here.)
Remember the story of the Widow in the synoptic gospels? Although this woman was dirt poor, even she was able to put something into the poor box in order to help those she considered even less well off than she. (The two mites she placed into the poor box represented about the cost of a loaf of bread in those days). I assume Jesus did not let such generosity go unrewarded.
He certainly doesn't let me go unrewarded, which brings me finally to my point. Ever since I started assisting those less fortunate than me without thought of fear or worry, we have always had sufficient to get by on. I would love to tell you that my newfound generosity has made us rich, but that hasn't been the case. What has happened, however, is that one way or another we always make it through the month, and we usually make it without sweating.
Besides, what we do is nothing. I met a couple in Provo who are both doctors. They live frugally and buy most of their clothes at D.I. so they can consecrate the bulk of their earnings to those less fortunate. I've never met people like that before or since, but they certainly fit the description of "Christlike."
The really interesting thing is, ever since Connie and I let go of fear, we have given much more than ten percent of our surplus; indeed, some months we clearly give away much more than ten percent of our gross, but we still don't feel the pinch. I can't really tell you why. It just works out.
Which brings me to my second digression. I will tell you of the first thing that happened after Connie and I threw caution to the winds and let go of our fears about how we ourselves would get by, and stopped pinching pennies when it came to the poor.
Halfway through a certain month, we found ourselves close to broke. Maybe we had been a bit too generous, a bit incautious. Should we have put the brakes on our giving? Maybe. But that month someone we knew had been in desperate need of three hundred dollars, so we had forked it over without a second thought. But now we were definitely hurting, no doubt about it.
Next thing we knew, we got a check in the mail for $500.00. It was completely unexpected, and from someone I hadn't even thought about for years. I don't even know how he found me.
This check arrived from one of my old missionary companions, Terry Myler, and his wife Julie. I'm naming names here because the Mylers provide a unique service to people who own motorcycles, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles, so if you or anyone you know is involved with motorbikes, the Mylers deserve your business. Anyway, here's the story as I learned it later:
Some years back Terry had an unfortunate accident. Broke both his legs or something, I don't remember exactly. Whatever it was, the upshot was he lost his job. Terry found himself wasting away on the living room sofa feeling sorry for himself as the family's finances dwindled day by day. One day a friend crashed his dirt bike during a weekend outing, and the radiator was hopelessly smashed. It turns out that getting in wrecks is a fairly common occurrence among dirt bikers, and when this happens, the radiator, which is made of aluminum and openly exposed, often takes the brunt of it.
Well, Terry took his friend's radiator out to the garage and found he was able clean it out and bend it back into shape using some of his welding equipment and makeshift tools. In fact, he found he was able to repair any smashed radiator, and he had a knack for fixing them in record time. He also learned no one else in the country was offering this service, because usually when a rider smashed his bike, they knew that meant buying an entirely new radiator to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars. Terry figured he could repair those things for about 60 bucks each.
So he took out a tiny ad in a dirt bike magazine and soon folks from all over America were shipping their radiators to him, which he would repair and ship right back in time for them to wreck their bikes all over again the next weekend. Myler's Radiators is now a thriving family business based in West Jordan, Utah. I've been to his operation, and saw a radiator that looked like a french horn run over by a truck. It was no problem for Terry Myler to put it back like new.
Anyway, I had not heard from Terry in maybe twenty years, and of course had never met Julie. Long story short, they had been experiencing quite a bit of success with this new radiator business and wanted to share their blessings with someone in need. They prayed about it, tracked me down to get my address, and sent us that check with a nice card explaining why.
So almost immediately after we shed our fears about giving to others, we saw how quickly God was able to deliver us from difficulty. Now I ask you, where was my sacrifice that month when we gave those people that $300.00? We gave without fear or worry, and the Lord provided us more in return than we had given. That doesn't sound like a sacrifice to me.
The key was our faith. We refused to worry about how we would be taken care of as long as we were motivated by love to help others. We simply had faith that things would work out. "Pray always, and be believing, and all things will work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly." That is quite a promise. Be believing. That means to have faith that good things will happen for you.
If ye walk uprightly. I take that qualifier to mean that we ought not let fear and worry weigh us down and stoop our backs. Connie and I have experienced the vicissitudes of life just like everybody else, but we have to admit that by and large, all things have been working together for our good. We have our trials, but we are not discouraged.
Which brings me to the point of all this. The amazing miracle that occurred for us last month.
Our October Surprise
Near the end of September, I was driving Connie to an important medical appointment when the car overheated and violently quit on the freeway far from home. Well, that was the end of that. I had the car towed to a nearby garage where I was given the news I expected. This car's engine had reached the end of its long life. The car was finished. Rest in peace, my beloved auto.
This car, a big, well-cared for twenty year old Crown Victoria, was an exceptional buy five years previously, when it fell into our laps for a mere $1600.00 at a time when the car we owned before it had breathed its last.
At the time, Connie and I happened to have a thousand dollars available, so I financed the remaining 600 over the next six months. The car had over 150,000 miles on it, but it served us well those five years, never needing any repairs. Still, we knew it was only a matter of time, and when it died, it was l almost a relief. After all, I had just taken it in for its biannual smog check and it had failed. I was in the process of doing all manner of tuneups and tweaking in hopes it would pass smog the second time, but it didn't seem likely. So when the car died and left us stranded on the freeway, I just shrugged. I took it as the answer to whether I should continue to pour more time and money into it. This wasn't the best timing, because we had somewhere to go and we were sixty miles from home, but it was an answer nontheless. I rented a car to get us to Connie's appointment then home, and there things stood.
Now, a few years ago I would have absolutely freaked out. After all, we had no money even to fix up this car; how in the heck would we be able to afford buy another? I knew what an amazing miracle it had been back when we found this car at the price we paid. But now, even if I had that kind of money, who in the world would sell me a decent car for anywhere near 1600 bucks? We had absolutely no hope, no money, and no options.
But these were not the kinds of thoughts going through my head this time. I understood we had a problem, of course, but I didn't think it was anything that was beyond God's ability to solve. I said to Connie, "I'm really interested in finding out how God is going to get us out of this one." And I meant it. I was very curious. I had every expectation that God would somehow provide us with a way to pay for a car, even though I didn't have the slightest clue how it could happen.
If I've learned one thing, it's that it is impossible to second-guess God's strategy. Every time he has pulled our feet from the fire, it has been in some unexpected way, like with the Myler check. Rescue has never come in any way I could have imagined.
I did have an idea that I might be able to get a small car loan through my credit union. Though I don't have any savings there, this credit union is where we keep our checking account, so I figured they would lend me one or two thousand dollars for a clunker, and life could go on.
But I got some disconcerting news. No bank or credit union will loan on a salvage car, and that was the kind of cheap wheels I was looking for. They might loan me enough to buy something for seven or eight thousand dollars, but that's more money than I could possibly afford to repay. So now I really wondered how God was going to pull this off. But I didn't lose faith.
Besides, I didn't have time to even look for a car just then. My immediate concern was that we had to get Connie sixty miles up the mountain again to Placerville the very next week for an important surgery, and how were we going to find someone to loan us a car to do that? After years of being virtual hermits, we don't really know anyone around here we could even ask.
But the very next day I got an email from someone in my own neighborhood who offered the use of his car. I didn't know this guy, but he had heard of our plight from someone else I had emailed the day before, and this other guy put out the word. I took that as a sign that everything else was going to work out, too.
The following week, Connie had her surgery, and at the end of the day, after I got her home and safely into bed, I sat down at the computer to look for cars on Craigslist. It was a bit discouraging, as anything even comparable to my old car was unavailable for less than $2500.00, and by this time I really didn't have any idea how I would pay for any car even if I did find one. But I decided to let God worry about that. Connie didn't have another medical appointment for a couple of weeks anyway, and I could use my bike to go out for groceries and whatnot. So there was plenty of time for God to work his magic. I would do my part by looking for a car, and leave it to God and his angels to show me how I was going to pay for it.
Here's the thing. We talk of the blessings we receive when we do right by others, and I have come to truly believe in those promises. I have also learned that the quickest way to block those blessings from getting through is to allow myself to be overtaken by the fear that maybe this time it might not work.
That's why we hear about discouragement being one of Satan's favorite tools. If we call forth fear, the good stuff can't get through. Our own fear prevents it. Then as gloom and darkness overtake us, we cease to be vessels that God can work through to serve others. And that's how Satan wins. He doesn't have to turn us to evil. He only has to neutralize us.
In the past, it would have been very easy for me to regret giving away some of the money we had, especially when we have an urgent need ourselves. We have known a certain regular middle class couple for many years -I'll call them Tom and Jeri- who have recently fallen on hard times like so many others these days. Tom and Jeri have three young children.Tom was working in construction and doing quite well, but as that industry fell off, he lost his job. They had more and more trouble coming up with the rent on their apartment until finally they were evicted. They bounced around a bit with friends, so fortunately they have always had some shelter, however temporary. Since the beginning of last summer they have been living in the garage of a another couple they know. It hasn't been pleasant living in a garage during the summer heat, but at least it's shelter and they're grateful to have it. Tom and Jeri are receiving a few hundred a month in government aid, of which they give half as rent to the people they are living with.
As you can imagine, what remains doesn't stretch very far, so Connie and I end up giving them what we can now and then so they are able to afford gas, diapers, and so on. They get a bit in food stamps, but even that doesn't reach to the end of the month, so I often raid my own cupboards and take it over to them, along with a little more cash.
Tom and Jeri and their little family have become something of a project of ours. I often take the kids out for treats and to the park so they can have a little play time away from the garage. Sometimes I bring them over to our place where they'll sit on the bed and watch a movie with Connie. We can't do as much as we want to for this family, but we do what we can. Tom started doing a bit of tiling work for a man who owned some empty homes he was fixing to rent out, but one night someone broke into a house he was working on and stole all the tools he had left there, and that was the end of that pot of gold.
All in all, this family is a hard luck case. But at least they still had their car. Near the end of September I was visiting Jeri in their garage apartment and saw on her mail pile a final notice that her car would be impounded because her registration was months past due. To her credit, Jeri never asks me for anything because she understands life is a struggle for us, too; when desperate, she will hit up all of her other friends before she'll talk to me about her problems, so I always have to seek her out to see how I can help. When I asked her what she hoped to do about this problem with her car registration, she shrugged in weary resignation and said "what can I do? They just keep piling up." Penalties had already reached $157.00, and she knew one day they would just take her car away. But she didn't see how there was anything she could do about it. There had been other urgent priorities draining her meager funds. Her life had become one thing like this after another.
I didn't think there was much I could do to help in this case, as that was a chunk of money I didn't have either, but I took the letter with me to the DMV where I negotiated the penalties down to the original $82.00, then went ahead and paid that. But the car still had to be smogged. So I spent another $60.00 for a smog test, which failed just like mine had. Happily, Tom can fix cars, so I bought the needed parts for him. I saw that the fuel gauge was on empty, so I went to the gas station to put ten dollars in. when I got there, I thought what the hell, and filled it up. By now I'm into this car almost two hundred dollars, in addition to the money I had already come up with for them recently. It was not really money I could spare at the time. And it was the very next day that my own car blew its head gasket.
So here's what I'm getting at: When my own car blew, I could have felt some immediate regrets for having spent so much of my money on what others might have considered a lost cause when I'm clearly going to need every cent I can get my hands on to address my own problems. In fact, that is exactly the way I might have felt before I learned to have faith. But those kinds of thoughts never entered my mind this time, and let me tell you what happened next.
My old Crown Vic was absolutely worthless. It had no trade-in value. The repair shop it was sitting at wanted it gone, so I called a junkyard to see if they would be willing to drive all the way up to Placerville and tow it away without charging me anything. When I signed over the papers to them for my hunk of junk, they gave me a check for $200.00! That more than covered the amount I had just spent to get Tom and Jeri's car on the road, with a little left over. The way I see it, I made a few dollar's profit, and most importantly, Connie and I had enough money again to make it through the next couple of weeks.
So I ask again: how much did we sacrifice? Nothing. No matter how much we supposedly "sacrifice", we seem to keep getting back more than we ever put in.
But I digress. I was about to tell you about the October miracle, where we got showered with blessings in a way we have never experienced before in our life.
After putting Connie into bed the evening of her surgery, and tiring of searching Craigslist looking for a car I had no money to buy, I wandered over to my own blog to see if there were any comments on my recent post. At the end of my September entry I had mentioned in a postscript that Connie was about to undergo a hopeful surgery, and asked that prayers be sent for her. I also mentioned in passing how we had just lost our car on the way to the pre-surgery appointment.
Well, unbeknownst to me, the very day Connie was in surgery, a vigorous discussion was taking place among my readers which included a proposal that they send us money to help in the purchase of a car!
I was stunned.
But I'm not an idiot. I instantly recognized this as the way the Lord had chosen to assist us, by inspiring virtual strangers to lend us a hand. I immediately wrote in and gratefully accepted these offers of aid. Within the next three or four days donations poured in, and though the story is too long to relate, the Lord led us to a perfect car with incredibly low mileage in great condition for a ridiculously low price which these donations covered with four dollars left over, and now we are well situated.
As I sat at my desk looking at the contributions adding up before me, I had to stop for a minute as I sat with my head in my hands and just wept uncontrollably. I was so moved by this expression of love that I cannot begin to describe my feelings of gratitude. I was completely overwhelmed. This flood of love was totally unexpected. Yet it was also confirmation that when we have real faith, our needs will be provided for. As the prophet Daniel said, God is able to deliver.
I am a living witness to how faith creates miracles. I have personally written and thanked everyone who contributed to us, with the exception of three anonymous donors whose cash and money orders arrived in envelopes with no names or return addresses. To you three, if you're reading this, I say a heartfelt THANK YOU, and may God bless you as I know he is blessing all the others who assisted us in our time of need.
Something I Want You To Know
This post has been a particularly difficult one to write. Every time I look it over, I'm concerned that those reading it will think I'm either boasting or that I am a pushover. I have had several false starts, and even deleted entire sections that I realize were redundant or irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make.
So here's the thing:
I believe this country -the entire world, in fact- is heading irrevocably for some very difficult times. As I write this we are two days away from the presidential election, where folks are frantically arguing about how their candidate will save us while the other will make things worse. Well, here's the bad news. Neither candidate is going to be able to stop this juggernaut. Things can't help but get worse no matter who is in office. At some point in our future -and it's impossible to say when- things are likely to get very bad, and we all may end up in the soup. All we can do is prepare as best we can and then try to get though it. Together.
You may have noticed that what we call "the homeless demographic" has changed in recent years. Where it was once largely made up of the type of people uncharitably referred to as "bums," today many of the destitute are regular people like you and me who have fallen on hard times. There are lots and lots of these people. The problem may not yet be as noticeable as it could be, as not all of those who are struggling are yet on the street, though a growing number are ending up there.
In this essay, I told of some assistance I gave to people on the street. But I don't have to look past my doorway to find folks in need. In the apartment complex I live in, the neighbors on both sides of me have recently taken in friends and relatives -in another case an entire second family- who sleep on the floors of their living rooms. This doubling up is happening all over the city; it is a phenomenon recently covered in a feature story in our local paper. There is no longer anything unusual about learning of someone living in someone else's garage as is the case with my friends Tom and Jeri. It's becoming the new normal. Untold numbers of people who once had a normal, middle class existence are now finding their lives turned upside down. And I think we're seeing only the beginning.
No president is going to have the power to alleviate the suffering that is bearing down on us. The government won't save us. We must all save each other as we would save ourselves. It will be up to us as individuals to lend each other a hand in any way we can. If we don't come to understand right now the importance of brotherly love and charity, as things get progressively worse we ourselves could be in danger of succumbing to selfishness and pettiness and lose our souls in the process.
I don't think any of us will be unaffected by the hard times that are coming, but the Lord can get us out of any real scrape if we have FAITH and believe on his words. Along with faith, we must have hope, but most important of all is that we demonstrate pure charity toward those brothers and sisters who are now already losing hope. Many of these troubled people may be living right next door to you. Get to know them.
I don't think this great blessing that just happened for me and Connie could have occurred at all if not for two things. First, it was necessary these past years for me to have the faith that enabled me to obey the great commandment to love my neighbor. I believe God's generosity toward us is directly connected with our willingness to show compassion to his other children. If we worry about whether we can afford to help others, or freak out about our own problems, we are not going to be able to assist others with a pure heart.
When we see a brother or sister in need, we must be concerned first for their welfare and not for our own. It isn't always easy to do, but when we are outwardly focused instead of inwardly fearful, that's when the magic takes place. You are not in this alone; when you move forward in faith, numerous invisible presences on the other side will join in to assist and magnify your efforts.
Secondly, when we give, we must give without anticipating a future reward. If rewards are forthcoming, they will come unbidden. In the old days, one of the things I used to say to my kids when they didn't want to pay their tithing was "do it for the blessings." But my kids noticed that somehow those blessings rarely came. I was teaching them the wrong lesson.
That's because giving in hopes of getting something in return does not represent a pure expression of love. You have to get to the place in your heart where you truly want to alleviate the suffering of others without expecting any benefit for yourself. For me, that burning desire to really want to do good things arrived in my heart following my baptism of fire. That is when I became born again in Christ and developed what some call a Christ consciousness; a mindset that puts one in harmony with the desires of the Lord.
I don't have any of the abilities of the Christ. I don't have his power. I cannot help the lame man walk or the blind man see. I can't put a family in a house or even feed them for a week. But I can, in my small, humble, tiny little way, be just a little bit like Him. I can always perform some small act of kindness to one person at a time. I can't do a lot, but I can always do something. All of us can.
To those of you who came to the rescue of Connie and me in our time of need, I say thank you. We consider the money you sent us to be sacred. We know that for some of you, contributing directly in this way is how you chose to tithe, and we graciously accept that offering. We consider it all to be consecrated funds sent for a righteous purpose. We honor you for your service to us, and we send our gratitude up to heaven for inspiring you to perform this act of love. Every time I walk up to that car, I am reminded of what wonderful friends I have, every one of whom I have never even met. This is an act of love and compassion that we will remember for the rest of our lives. May God bless and reward you all for your selfless service.
[A note about leaving comments: Many readers have posted as "Anonymous" only because they see no other option. This has resulted in an epidemic of commenters all going by the same name, which can be confusing. I would prefer everyone use some type of username if possible.If you don't have a Google, Wordpress, or other username among those listed, you can enter a username in the dropdown box that reads "Name/URL." Simply put your name in the "Name" box, ignore the request for a URL, and you should be good to go. If the system still insists on a URL, enter any website you care to. It doesn't matter.
I have a pretty firm policy of never censoring or deleting comments. If your comment does not immediately appear, it probably means it is being held in the spam filter, which seems to lock in arbitrarily on some posts for reasons unknown. If you have submitted a comment and it doesn't immediately show up, give me a nudge at RockWaterman@gmail.com and I'll knock it loose. -Rock]