Liz Schandorff is with us once again to share how her re-entry is going. I’ve felt some of these same things on furlough: out of sight seldom seems to equal out of mind for a missionary mama, and there’s never enough to meet legitimate needs in our friends’ lives. Read on, mamas…enjoy!
We’re about to spend our tax return on a sprinkler system. I’ll decline to mention the precise amount we’re going to pay but it’s more than $1,000, more than $2,000, more than $3,000… and (insert incredibly painful cringe here), more than $4,000.
Oh my word. Can’t believe I’m saying any of this publicly; sharing personal finances in public is scary! CRINGE again.
I should preface (to try and make myself feel better, at least a little) that my yard is a certified disaster area. Let me back up. We bought a fixer upper that had been foreclosed two owners ago. The owners previous to us, according to the neighbors, bought the foreclosure (also then fixer-upper) aiming to fix it up… and then spent their renovation money on alcohol. Seriously. I’m still finding broken beer bottle glass in the yard.
Two years ago, the yard was chest high with weeds. Not even exaggerating. We have tamed the beast until the weeds are now ankle height or below and I have spent hours upon hours hand-weeding the front yard, which was the least-awful-and-most-likely-to-be-redeemable area. But the back is kind of still a wreck. It’s uneven, with trenches and random potholes sprinkled throughout but still manages to slope entirely towards the house. Idaho doesn’t get a ton of rain but it doesn’t take a genius to know that a yard that drains right into the foundation of your house is less than ideal.
And I’m a gardener. I love to have my hands in the dirt, creating beauty from, well, dirt! Right now my front garden beds are full of tulips and daffodils; the crocuses are done already but the irises are just about to start. My budget is limited (single-earner non-profit income, anyone? I know you missionary mamas can relate!) but I have begged plant starts from several family members and neighbors (and the occasional generous craigslister) and the front garden beds are starting to look downright respectable.
And my family thrives outside; my husband is never happier than when out in the fresh air and my soul is most at peace on my porch in the mornings when the rising rays of sun hit my face and the potential of a new day stretches out in front of me. My sons enjoy swinging and playing with the dog, whacking croquet balls and tossing bocce balls, swinging for (and missing, let’s be honest here!) baseballs, tossing Frisbees, finding bugs and playing in mud.
So sprinklers make sense, right? Let’s review: 1) Yard is a disaster zone ripe for the “before” setup of an HGTV show. 2) Family loves to be outside and spend quality time with each other; 3) Tax return will cover said sprinkler system as well as leveling the back yard safely away from the house and planting grass.
So… why do I feel paralyzed with guilt about this decision? Why do I feel the need to write such a lengthy tome justifying this purchase? We need it, we can do it, we will appreciate the heck out of it… should be simple, right?
Nope. Because those funds could help fix G & C’s house in Port-au-Prince… they wrote recently saying water is leaking in and they ran out of money before they could complete the roof. Because W has school registration fees to pay this summer and the primary donor who was helping with that has had a change to their income and may not be able to help with that this year. I keep hearing reports that J doesn’t have food to eat and gentle N is still trying to build a block house for his wife and children – an upgrade from the tin shanty on the bare hillside they currently live in.
How can I spend on myself when their needs are so grave? I have food and shelter; my children have multiple educational options. We have clothing, furniture, and extra money to spend on a pet. My older son is going on a (not cheap) youth group trip to a family fun zone this Friday and my younger is taking martial arts lessons… because he wants to and we can.
What would Jesus do? Would he sacrifice sprinklers and the foundation of his home to give it all away? Would he take care of his family this year and give generously next year? Would he get a second job so he could do both – but then not see his kids as much? Would he give half away this year and save half, and hope to get sprinklers next year? This may sound ludicrous but these are the thoughts going through my mind. I feel horribly selfish because I think we are going to go ahead and get sprinklers; the choice is all but made. Bids have been submitted and we will soon sign on the dotted line.
This is a larger amount of money and I’m now 3,000 miles away from the needs mentioned above, but I had the same struggles while living on the mission field. Should we spend this $1,000 on a sorely-needed vacation or give it to the orphanage? Replace the rotting futon or supplement our guard’s meager income so he can get medical care for his son with the broken arm? Buy the ice cream with the inflated, imported price as a treat after an awful week or give it to someone at the gate who doesn’t have rice and beans?
The struggle is real and, I believe, the struggle is right. After 5 years on the field I decided that the Lord values the struggle. He appreciates the thought we put into it. Not that we should obsess over each big decision, but we should pray. Not to nit-pick each purchase, but to carefully consider. This may be heretical, but at the end of the day, but for me, I’m not even sure that choosing Option A or Option B is the important part. It is embracing the struggle that is key.
Why? Because it means you care enough about the needs of those around you to pause and think. It means you are unselfish enough to wonder if spending your resources on yourself is the best choice. So embrace the struggle, mamas. Sometimes you’ll choose yourself, sometimes you’ll choose others – and you know that. Jesus knows it too, and I think he’s ok with it. After all, we are to love our neighbor as yourself. Sometimes we missionaries feel guilty about the “as yourself” part – but remember that it’s there, it’s Biblical too. We need to take care of ourselves as needed so we can keep ministering. That’s going to look different for different people. And that’s okay, too.
As for me? I’m also going to be praying about those needs (which are all real and current, by the way – not fictionalized or generalities for the sake of a blog post) and how the Lord might want to use me to meet them. But I’m also going to be giddy when those sprinklers are installed and I can wiggle my toes in that silky grass while my kids whiff those baseball pitches!