Friday, February 29, 2008

Update from Living on $100 per week

Well, we are into week four of living on $100 per week. Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday, Wednesdays are our beginning point of each week. To date we are more than $100 over budget. Of the first $400 or so spent in the first three weeks, $163 was for food and $174 was for gas.

We don't even commute anywhere! The church office is only 5 miles from home. The $163 for food in three weeks averages $54 per week. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Special credit goes to church food and good use of leftovers. And still we are over budget. We did spend $20 on a babysitter to go to a church gathering, and included it in our budget... does that really count? Hard to say.

At the grocery store, it was an interesting exercise to determine what I absolutely couldn't live without and what I could put off. While shopping, the sale items did not get doubled in my cart, as would usually be the case. Not in the budget. I decided to forgo:
+replacing the spray butter...we can use regular
+the mini chocolate chips that I like so much for homemade waffles...we can use regular size we already own
+ the grape jelly...we can use up the blackberry and strawberry before buying more
+ the bagels... we may not have our three favorite varieties on hand all together, but we have a few bagels left
+ the cereal bars... we can use up other snack items first

Interesting that most of the savings comes from packaged foods. Cooking from scratch has definitely proven the most budget friendly.

This week I made lentil soup. My plan was to use half a pound of bacon for the soup, and the other half to make my daughter especially happy for breakfast one morning. She loves bacon. I used a plastic spoon and left it in the pan while the bacon was rendering. The spoon melted in the bacon. I had to throw it all away, start over, and use the bacon I was looking forward to sharing with Shannon. I was truly disappointed. I was also grateful that Shannon didn't know anything about the bacon, so she would not be disappointed.

I got to thinking about how often parents living on minimum must feel this way. I tried to tell myself that bacon for Shannon is not a necessity, and there is really no reason to want it. But it was the fact that I was looking forward to treating her, and then couldn't, that really got me.

On the flip side of disappointment, I am also discovering again a truth Marva Dawn wrote about in her book on Sabbath. When she talks about feasting on the Sabbath, she makes the point that we don't know how to enjoy a good feast because we don't how to fast. If every day is a day when we can have whatever we want, then there is no chance of having special days.

In this midst of this fast of a sort, I am finding that I appreciate all that I have. I savor every meal, and appreciate every indulgence. This week on Tuesday, I took some of the lentil soup to a meeting. Someone else brought the bread. At the end, I got to bring home the leftover loaf of fresh Italian bread. I was ridiculously pleased to bring home this treat!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Every so often, I get a flash of insight that feels deep and memorable. I am not so sure for how long I actually remember it...but at the time, it feels memorable.

This happened to me on Sunday while I was in worship at Trinity. Tom Duffy was sharing the monologue on Caiaphas (the Lenten Monologues in worship have been great). I don't know what sparked this thought exactly, but it dawned on me that one of the greatest challenges in life is fear... and that somehow, my role as pastor involves being present to folks in ways that address fear, and invite folks to a deeper relationship of trust and freedom with Christ and with people.

I thought more about this last night in study group. We were talking about the Christian life being about acts of piety and acts of mercy. I remembered my own fears when I began this journey in earnest. I was intimidated, even scared, by the idea of prayer. I didn't know how to pray and every one else seemed to assume that it just comes naturally. Not only did I find acts of piety like prayer intimidating, I found acts of mercy to be as well. Eating dinner with homeless folks. Sharing in 2 weeks of Truck Stop ministry. Every time I engaged in a new spiritual practice, there was some level of fear surrounding it, if for no other reason that because it was new.

I think about all of the fear that surrounds our lives. I was talking with two moms this week who are worried/scared for their children in so many circumstances- riding the school bus, going to the mall, driving at night, going into Wilmington, etc. I really do try to commend my children to God's care, plan to teach them basic safety measures, and then trust God for the rest. I expect that parental fear becomes more intense as the kids get older and more independent. (My kids are 3 and 5.)

But I really really don't want to live my life in fear and worry for their safety. It is not abundant life. When I imagine some horrible thing that could happen to my kids, rather than fear it, I try to imagine how God would be present in that circumstance. I try to imagine trusting God in the midst of my child being in a car accident, or fill in the blank of 100 more horrible things that could happen.

The somewhat ironic thing is that I discovered that it is in the act of doing new things (even prayer and service) and facing the fear, the fear dissipates. I think the unknown is worse than anything else.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's one of those....

We got a call from the school nurse yesterday. As the parents of a girl in Kindergarten, this was our first call. We knew Shannon had a bit of a cold, a slight cough, and was not feeling fabulous. But she didn't have a fever, and wasn't sick enough to stay home.

When my husband told me about the call, our concern was not her missing school. It was that she would miss her Valentine's Day party that day, and potentially her "Jump Rope for Heart" on Friday, both of which she had been looking forward to immensely.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than a disappointed child. We were dreading what would happen if she got home without realizing what she had chosen for herself.

So I went to the school to talk with her. I explained I could certainly take her home...I also asked if she was thinking of her Valentine's Party. After some hemming and hawing she said "well, actually, I would like to go back to class." The nurse graciously agreed.

As we were walking down the hall, Shannon turned to me with one of her great smiles and said in a sweet, sincere little voice "I guess it was one of those half hour things."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Minimum wage continued...

Well, today marks the first full week of our attempt to live on minimum wage during Lent. Ray tallied up our expenses and we overspent our $100 goal by $10. Not too bad, but not perfect. And we need to fill up the van.. that will mean at least $40 out of this week's money.

I am left wondering what folks do when they don't have that $10. I suppose the answer is to either pay for everything in cash and thus have not been able to buy the extra $10 worth of items (we have been using our credit card and keeping record) or begin to run a credit card balance.

It has been interesting how my perspective on things shifts. Dinner at Church sounds like a really good idea for a much different reason: it is cheap or free! Amazing what a different sort of motivator that is in making dinner plans. Dinner at a family member's home sounds almost irresistible!

Also, I am having my suspicion confirmed that it is cheaper to go the grocery store often (which is less than 2 miles away) than to try to buy groceries for an entire week or more. Inevitably, groceries are wasted when the planning is out further than 3-4 days.

Yesterday, when I was at the polls for Stop Slots Maryland, I went to the grocery store and bought sandwich makings and other items. It was cheaper than buying subs, and for the extra 10 minutes or so it required, it was certainly worth it to save $10-$20. (It probably put is over the $100 mark, but felt good to do.)

I am impressed by how much God truly provides for our needs. Also, I appreciate what we have on a deeper level.

My kids still don't have any idea that we are doing this, which I think is good. I don't want to raise our kids always saying "we can't afford this" and thus teach them that money will help meet all of their desires. I'm trying to simply focus upon "we don't need that; we have plenty at home." (And, there is still room enough for special requests for lunch box items...) I think this since I had already made it a habit to regularly refuse requests of many kinds, it is also easy enough to implement.

Thanks for reading about my journey thus far... it is a blessing to reflect upon it in writing.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Fasting, Simplicity, and Solidarity

Lent began on Wednesday. I was blessed to be a part of a fabulous Ash Wednesday service at Ebenezer AME, hosted by our Ecumenical Association. I really appreciate the shared ministry and shared witness of our Ecumenical Association;I am grateful to God for this lay led group. It is fabulous.

Ray and I often share similar or overlapping spiritual commitments during Lent. Last year, when he gave up TV, I mostly gave it up with him. Although it was by default rather than design, it was still a tremendous blessing. We spent many extra hours just sitting and talking.

This year, we have decided to do a financial fast of sorts. We are trying to live on the equivalent of minimum wage. Our hope is that we will experience a deeper sense of what it is to fully rely on God for our provision, that we will live in solidarity with those who have no choice but to live on minimum wage, that we will learn more about how to sacrifice and submit ourselves to God's will through the overlapping disciplines of simplicity and fasting.

Several folks have asked how exactly we figure out the nuts and bolts of doing this. We did our best to calculate the monthly income of earning $6.15/hour for 40 hours and then 10 hours of overtime at $9.22. (I can tell you that if I lived in Cecil County and worked at minimum wage, I'd probably be commuting over the state line to Delaware, where they earn $7.15! But that is not part of our assumption.)

Assuming one of us works and the other takes care of the kids, we figured that after housing and other living expenses, $100 per week for food, gas, and other expenses would be our plan.

Although I do try to live by the discipline of simplicity in general, having my spending controlled by these parameters is a different experience. We are writing down every cent we spend. Spending 75 cents on some small snack at a convenience store seems ridiculous. Making as much as possible from scratch, and stretching our food to put off grocery shopping an extra day or two has gone to a whole new level in our house.

You know what? Right now, it's sort of fun. It is a challenge that after 3 whole days, we have been able to meet. Rather than go out for lunch with some folks from church, I made chicken salad, and we ate at home. And I saved the broth from cooking the chicken, which will become soup for dinner tonight.

This makes me question whether there is any solidarity or shared suffering happening. But I know that one of the blessings of simplicity is the joy of realizing how little material needs I truly have, and how much God really provides if I pay attention. So right now, that blessing seems to be happening.

One of the goals of spiritual practices during Lent is to begin habits that will be a part of our journey long after Lent is over. Although I don't expect to live on $100/week forever, I do hope that this fast, and our desire to live more deeply into the practices of simplicity, submission, solidarity will find fertile soil in our lives.

I'll let you know how it goes after more than 3 days have passed!

In the meantime, I invite you to read this Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent. This comes from the United Methodist Book of Worship. It is something that I find to be a blessing every year to review and reflect upon.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion
the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church
that before the Easter celebration
there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
and had separated themselves from the community of faith
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness
proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ
and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent:
by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;
and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.
To make a right beginning of repentance,
and as a mark of our mortal nature,
let us now bow before our Creator and Redeemer.