This blog is not about the ghost of Christmas guilt.

Having just graduated from college in the spring, I have been working “full-time” all summer. My wife and I have been married for seven and half years, and have had simultaneous full time incomes for a total of about ten months of that span. We overlapped for part of the summer right before I went back to school, and then again starting in May of this year. The brief stint of two incomes some four years ago was at a dramatically lower-income than either my wife or I make currently. To say, we have felt pretty blessed over the course of these last few months. Out of this abundance, that has admittedly made us slightly lazy about being frugal and stewarding our money, I have been more than willing to give generously. We have been able to give to friends and family when they have had need. I have even made it a point to keep a small handful of cash in small bills with me at all times, for the sake of giving it away. I call it my homeless money. I end up sitting in traffic most of my commute home from work. There are often several folks walking up and down the stopped traffic asking for help. I love rolling down my window to hand the needy folks a couple of bucks. They are always very gracious when I mutter some slightly encouraging, “God Bless, stay warm, or take care of yourself.” It just seemed to make sense. I could certainly spare the money, and they needed it more than I did

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It really seemed to come naturally, until an old legal issue has cost my wife and I most of our savings, and could jeopardize my ability to work. All of the sudden I am quite aware that I had been giving out of my abundance, which costs me very little.

Last week I was loading my groceries into my car outside of Aldi. A gentleman hobbled over to me with a cane, and asked if I could help him get a sandwich or something. I had an instant inner struggle. I had the immediate reaction of sure I can help this guy, but when I touched the handful of ones that was tucked in my pocket, I knew immediately how far that money could get me and my family as gas, groceries, christmas gifts, or bills. Pulling the cash from my pocket, I let him know that it should easily get him a sandwich, and that I hoped he would enjoy it. He then asked if he could take the cart back to get the quarter too. (If you are unfamiliar with the Aldi business model, they have their carts set up on a rental system.  It eliminates the need for them to hire a parking lot associate for collecting carts.) I thought to myself, “Damn, dude. I just gave you five bucks, and you are still hustling for another quarter.” Politely, I let him know that I just needed to finish emptying the cart, and he could take it.

No big deal. God told me to give, so I gave what I had.

Friday night I was preparing a meal for the next day when I realized that I was still in need of a few ingredients for my (nearly award winning) venison chili. I also needed to grab a six-pack or two to share at the Red Dirt Studio holiday open house. (If you missed it, try to catch us in the spring. If you made it out, thanks for stopping by.) Walking into the Giant grocery store there was a super cheery lady ringing a bell for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign. I was super annoyed, and began a systematic self-defense of judgement. I told myself that I did not need a manufactured economy based holiday that has nothing to do with incarnation to be generous in my community. I give all of the time.

Meanwhile, my heart hardened.

Fast forward to this morning when I was once again grocery shopping at the same Aldi as last week. The same gentleman with a cane approached me as I was getting out of my car to enter the Aldi. He again asked for a little help to get a sandwich. I told him that I would get some cash at the register when I was finished grocery shopping, and meet him around the same area. I had figured he would be set up by the carts asking for the quarters as people concluded their shopping trips. When I got into the store, I pulled out my wallet. looking at the ten-dollar bill and five singles in my wallet, I pulled two dollars from my wallet to place in my front pocket. A measly two dollars. I didn’t give the guy the money when he first approached me, because I didn’t want him to see how much I was holding out on him.  I unceremoniously gave him the two dollars in the parking lot.

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I wanted to decide on my own time how much I was going to give. Not that I should be driven by any guilt to give the dude all the cash I had on me. That is certainly not the point. Please don’t read this blog, and drown yourself in some guilt trip of needing to give. Everyone knows there is plenty of bullshit guilt floating around this time of the year trying to get people to give, because “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and, “He gave the best gift.” Sure, Jesus gave the best gift, but let’s not kid ourselves about the reason for the season. There is a holiday season, because our consumer economy is built around it. By all means, give when God calls you to give. I am trying to tell you that a selfishness in my heart prevented me from obeying a call to give, and that sucks.

What I have come to realize, upon examining my own heart, is that I am very willing to give from my abundance, but overly hesitant to sacrifice. I weigh the cost, evaluate my loss, measure my gain, and make decisions. Instead of a warm and loving human brother, I am a cold and calculated machine.  It happens quickly when I have abundance. I know immediately that I can spare five or ten bucks to make someones day. I know immediately that I have the resources to buy dinner for my in-laws at their favorite mexican restaurant, because I know in St. Louis I can feed four people for less than the cost of feeding two in DC. But, when I have less, the deliberation is extended, because the numbers are much closer. The margin for error is exceedingly more dangerous. The value of the dollar doesn’t change, just my heart.

The boil down of all of this is a complete lack of trust. I don’t think that I love “my” money. I think that I ultimately just don’t trust God to provide. Even though He has proven Himself time and time again in my own life, and in the lives all around me.

It is hard to pay a mortgage and keep a house warm in the dead of winter, particularly when that dead of winter dictates that you can only work two or three days a week. Some how, God provided then. It is hard to get by when your car throws an engine rod, and you still need to get to work. Some how, God provided then. It is hard to pay for a college education, much harder two educations. Some how, God provided then – twice. It is hard to find a heart transplant. Some how, God provided then. It is hard to live with knowing you will never bear your own child. Some how, God provided then. It’s hard to hear the word cancer, and need to find a bone marrow donor match. Some how, God provided then.

Then he provided again.

It is pretty damn hard to live life, but some how, God provides every new day.

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6 thoughts on “This blog is not about the ghost of Christmas guilt.

  1. Your unvarnished introspection helps me to look inside myself with less self-protection and hopefully will lead me to a more generous heart

      • I was just talking with Steff about this post last night, and one of the things I told her I appreciate about you is (what I’m now calling) your sincere practicality. Most (?) people construct fantasy frameworks around real life and engage the world in a conceptual or even hypothetical way — maybe you do that, too, but I value your ability to let reality be reality, and to engage it (in word and deed) with honesty.

  2. Another great post, Travis. I appreciate your transparency and vulnerability. I can relate to many of the feelings you express, and that causes me to examine my own heart.

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