Monday, September 21, 2009Tweet
In Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz," he talks about the importance of tithing. Traditionally, this refers to giving 10% of your income to the church. Ever since reading that book, I'd decided that once I had a steady, measurable income, I would do this. In the book he explains some good reasons for doing this, the main point being to trust in God. It's a tangible way to remember and acknowledge that our lives belong to God.
He stresses in the book that choosing to tithe is not dependent on your personal situation. He talks about living paycheck-to-paycheck and still choosing to tithe, and a check would always arrive from some freelance job he'd done right when he needed it. I never really saw this as being particularly applicable to me, since I don't freelance and my income is pretty much set.
Nonetheless, even though Mike and I were spending what we were making before beginning to tithe, I wanted to make a commitment to doing so. We sat down and figured out about how much we were bringing in per month and what 10% would be. We decided to split it, half to church and half to charity, including the $30 a month that goes to my World Vision child. It's funny how rich it suddenly makes you feel when you have x number of dollars to spend and are trying to come up with who to give it away to. We donated at church and afterward gave $20 to the Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll drive.
That night, we went to my friend's birthday dinner. We had already spent $40 of our $50 "eating out and entertainment" budget for the month, forgetting we had this dinner coming up, and so we were trying to conserve how much we spent, knowing we'd be over budget regardless. Then, amazingly, the restaurant took 40% of our table's bill because they'd taken so long to seat us even though we had a reservation. Then, even more amazingly, my friend's boyfriend picked up the entire tab (a) because it had been cut almost in half and (b) because he had -- get this -- won the lottery ("not the big one, but the next biggest one") that week. We chipped in $3 total to give our waiter an extra tip.
Then, this morning, Mike needed to buy a 10-pass for the train, and we came up with exactly the right amount of cash (they don't take credit). He then told me the only reason he had that much cash on him (he never has cash) is because this woman had tipped him at work. He's a host -- he doesn't get tips. He was ringing out a carry-out order and the woman decided to tip him for it. Even then, it wouldn't have been cash except he didn't notice that she'd added a tip to her credit card charge until it was too late, and so she paid him the tip in cash instead.
I don't believe God is a slot machine or a credit card with cashback rewards. But I believe that God doused me in belief this weekend because I trusted in Him. And so, regardless of our financial situation, I remain committed to tithing 10% of our income. I trust God to take care of us, not so we can be crazy, but because we are being responsible with our money. Responsible and faithful. And I do believe God rewards that. Though maybe not always so obviously :)
Sunday, September 20, 2009Tweet
I'm starting to acknowledge and let go of the guilt I feel about enjoying my job so much. There are legitimate (I suppose) reasons I should not be enjoying my job:
- I have a lot of downtime. It is not a constantly challenging position. I am the kind of person who likes to be challenged, and when I don't have something to work on, I find projects for myself, like sorting through all the files left by the person before me or going through their database of faculty and staff and changing everybody's phone numbers to reflect the area code change that was made this spring. This does not seem like the most valuable use of my time, given what I know I'm capable of doing (see: the past five years of my life).
- I feel like I should be helping a lot of people. Like I should have a job that has a significant impact on a lot of people. This is one of the things that draws me to textbooks -- I want to edit textbooks because I feel that it's more valuable than editing fiction, since it can actually affect people's abilities to learn. In my job, I help, at most, three people. But mostly just one.
- This is not the field I want to be in. Yes, I enjoy being in the higher education environment, but my "ultimate goal" is publishing. I should be doing something that gets me closer to that goal.
- I have a master's degree, and I'm doing a job that requires, at most, a bachelor's degree. My master's degree doesn't get me more money or more benefits or anything, and I'm not really using anything I learned in grad school to complete the tasks given to me as part of my job.
Despite all this, I really enjoy my job. I love the people I work with, my job creates almost zero stress for me, and I look forward to going to work every day. I make enough money that Mike and I should be able to make through the next year until he finds a job, and still have some savings left over (we're spending about what we're bringing in each month, not counting his school expenses, which are essentially coming out of our wedding gift money).
Here's what I'm figuring out, in response to the "rational" complaints I should have about my job, above.
- I busted my ass practically all day, every day for at least a decade of my life while I was in school. I mean, probably since I was in sixth grade, I have not had a ton of free time in my life. I now have a job where I don't have to bring any work home with me. Ever. I get an hour lunch break every day, whenever I want it, and I spend that time reading while I eat. I read on the train. I am flying through books faster than I have since I was a little kid and used to bring home a huge stack of library books each week. And Mike's about to start classes and bring home homework and between classes and internship and work will be busy seven days a week, so my responsibilities at home are going to pick up a lot. Even if I can't exactly run errands during my downtime at work, I can still get done anything that needs to be done electronically, and I don't get any stress from my job, so I will be better able to handle stress that comes from home.
- I don't have to help a lot of people through my job. My boss is in charge of a ton of people. She makes decisions that affect lots of people. And if I can make her job easier, take some stress off her, and catch some mistakes or go the extra step to make something happen, then I've done some good. And nothing is stopping me from volunteering or donating or doing any of those types of things. Our library is closing for a few weeks, but when it opens back up again I plan to start volunteering there. And Mike and I planned out how much we want to give to charity each month (more on this another time).
- One of the alumni I e-mailed with when I was looking for jobs told me that she did a job just like what I have now and ended up in publishing eventually. And once I have a better handle on what my at-home schedule is going to be like, I may try again pursuing freelance opportunities. Maybe not this year. Maybe I'll wait until Mike has a full-time job, which should be no more than a year away, and then start freelancing. A one-year gap in publishing involvement is not going to kill my chances, plus I'm doing some proofreading-type work at my job now, which has to count for something.
- I actually came to terms with this last point while reading The Poisonwood Bible. Two of the characters, who live in the Congo, come to the United States to get college degrees and then go back to the Congo and back to having almost nothing to eat and living in a shack and all that. And I didn't understand the point of getting their degrees at first. The degrees "count" for nothing where they are. They don't help them earn any more money and they don't help them survive any better. Then I understood that they had come solely for the education -- the reason we're all supposed to want to go to school in the first place -- so they could teach their neighbors some more efficient ways of living and growing food. And I thought to myself, I essentially got my bachelor's and master's degrees for free. Particularly my master's degree, which only added a year to my schooling plus I got paid to teach. And so if in the end all I got out of it was education -- so what? That's OK. I learned about the importance of communication in every aspect of life, and that by itself has the power to improve my quality of life for as long as I live. I know it's helped my marriage. And even if my master's degree doesn't change my salary, it's not like it's a bad salary. I could have found a job where the master's degree did count for more money and still end up not making as much as I do. So what does it matter?
Saturday, September 19, 2009Tweet
Dear woman in front of me at church today,
You have a very well-behaved son. He was quiet, he didn't seem overly distracted, and he stood and kneeled and sat when he was supposed to. In fact, the only thing that was disrupting my "churchgoing experience" was you. I still can't figure out why exactly you were hissing at him or grabbing him every five minutes, but the only thing I could gather was that you didn't think he was being holy enough because he wasn't sitting up straight or because he was tapping his fingers together or because he put his head down during the prayers like maybe he was sleeping -- or maybe he was praying.
But I'll tell you that even if you succeed in whatever your goal is, making him sit up straight and hold his head just right and sing and not act bored for even a second, you will not have saved his soul. If you place all your emphasis on his outward appearance, then in the end, that's all you're going to get. If he loves you or respects you or fears you enough he will eventually do everything you say, and then get the hell out of there and turn his back on God as soon as he's 18. Who knows, maybe you don't care about that. Maybe you do just care about appearances. In which case, I will repeat that you were being a heck of a lot more annoying than he was.
I would gladly sit behind your son in church again, but I wouldn't want to sit behind you again. On the other hand, if you let him be himself, if you let him put his head down or tap his fingers because he's bored, then maybe he'll be thinking about video games or sex or food, but maybe he'll get to thinking about God. Maybe some part of the priest's homily will seep into his brain and he'll get to thinking about it late at night when he's lying in bed. But if you spend all of church poking him and reprimanding him, then everytime he thinks about God he will think about church and he will have a negative feeling, and that will color everything he believes about God.
The woman behind you in church today