I used to believe that money truly was the root of all evil. I have always been afraid of money, of its power, and the pain it is capable of inflicting on so many lives. It wasn’t until six years ago that I was forced to face my fear of money. In the Spring of 2012, I applied for graduate school at the Master of Arts in Counseling program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. After researching and applying to several schools, I chose RTS Orlando because of its curriculum, professors, reputation, and professionalism. If I was going to go back to school and start a whole new career path at age 30, I was going to do it at the best place and with the best people I could find.
Months before I was accepted to the program, I let go of my Midtown Memphis apartment with the best porch view of Idlewild Presbyterian Church (church bells and morning coffee make magic for the soul) and moved in with my parents. I worked full time in sales and marketing and part-time as an overnight nanny for three kids. I didn’t find out that I would be accepted to the counseling program for another four months, but I prepared as if I was already moving to Orlando.
In my preparations, I quickly realized that I had no means with which to pay tuition. It was a two year program, and tuition alone would be about $25,000. I had saved up about $2,000. I knew I would also need a place to live, books, gas, car maintenance, food, and there were many academic fees that needed to be paid along the way as well. In short, I realized that I could not afford to go, and I didn’t know what to do.
Logically, I knew this meant I should wait a year or two and save up more money or take out a loan with hefty interest rates. Spiritually and emotionally, I knew that I needed to be in school at that place and at that time. I just didn’t know how to make the pieces come together. Some people said, “Well, it’s just not meant to be”, but others said, “Well, it looks like you need help.” Several people in my church community encouraged me to make my need known and raise the necessary financial support so that I could go back to school and become a mental health counselor.
I didn’t want to ask for help. I hate asking for help. Asking for help means admitting I can’t do something on my own and it makes me feel weak, embarrassed, and ashamed. I don’t even like to ask my husband to do the dishes because the thought of asking for help – even when it is related to basic home care – ignites a feeling of strangulation and intense anxiety in my body. I am used to fending for myself. I am well versed in autonomy. Asking for help just feels counterintuitive to my very being. (This is partially why we are back in marriage counseling again.)
Raising support to go back to school was a two year process that stripped me of all I thought I knew about money and my relationship with money. I had no idea that I was so afraid of money. I was afraid of people who had it, because then surely they would abuse it. I was afraid of people who didn’t have it, because surely they would abuse others to get it. I wanted to ignite a world wide barter system so we could all just go back to doing things the old fashioned way – two sheep for that donkey, please! Four rows of summer squash for an iPhone 8! Six hours of babysitting for 2 hours at the spa, madame!
But that isn’t how our current economy works. For two years, I depended on the generosity of others to eat, sleep with a roof over my head, go to school, and use my car. I never knew how much money would come in from month to month, and I lived very frugally. In fact, I rented a room in a house with an 80 year old couple. We pretty much shared everything except for the bed. I paid them $300 a month for a room in a safe neighborhood, a place to do my laundry, a partially-shared bathroom, little privacy, and the occasional opportunity to reset the WiFi for the whole house.
I never really knew how I was going to get from one month to another, but God provided through the generosity of others throughout the entire process. I would love to tell you that I learned how to trust God and others in the process and not stress about my daily needs, but apparently I still have some lessons to learn.
Since Tim lost his job immediately after our honeymoon, we faced severe financial stress together for a period of 14 months, and we are just now coming out of that strain. Living off of $20,000 for the last year has wreaked total havoc on our credit scores and our confidence in making financial decisions. (It infuriates me how otherwise good, hard working people are judged solely on a three digit number, but that is another story for another day.) Now that we are moving into a place where we are able to pay our bills, tithe regularly, build some savings, and even do things like eat out every so often, I find myself afraid of having it all ripped away. I am afraid of not having money, and I am afraid of having money. I have learned that money, in itself, is not evil at all. In fact, it is a very useful tool that makes living life in America in 2018 pretty necessary.
When Tim received his job offer, and we started to calculate our new budget based on what would be coming in, my husband lead us in asking one question together: Once our bills are paid and needs are met, who needs this? Who needs this money more than we do? We have been on the receiving end of the generosity of others when it was needed most. How can we pay that forward?
If money were evil, we wouldn’t be asking these questions. I have come to learn that money isn’t evil. The love of money is what kills relationships, tears apart families, and turns men and women into monsters. We could lose everything we have again tomorrow, and it would be painful, but I know we would be ok. We have each other, and we have people around us who care for our well being. No amount of money can replace that.