BY: Janeen A. Lewis
In actual life, every great enterprise begins with and takes its first forward step in faith.
~August Wilhelm von Schlegel
When my son Andrew was born three years ago, my husband and I decided to live beneath our financial means -- way, way, beneath our means. I wanted to stay at home to care for Andrew, and that would mean cutting our already average income in half. It was a vast commitment, and our family's well-being hung in the balance.
The cost of our ever-rising health insurance, home mortgage, and monthly expenses loomed before us; but our desire to raise our son without the use of day care outweighed any other costs.
Needless to say, we were a little intimidated by what the future held. But I was consoled and filled with courage by something Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."
It felt like we were taking a running leap onto a one-step staircase when I quit my teaching job.
I already had experience living meagerly -- as a single woman on a teacher's income. I always knew I wanted to stay at home to take care of a family if I were blessed with one, and gave up expensive clothes and shoes to save for the future. I bought an eight-year-old Honda, ate out and went to the movies less, and moonlighted. I lived in a safe but no frills, low-rent apartment less than two miles from school, and went on vacation twice (including my honeymoon) during eight years of teaching.
I think it was during those single years of tightening the purse strings I first learned about humility, gratitude, and living on less. My thinking began to change about what it really meant to do "without."
I would catch myself feeling irritated that I had to walk down a flight of steps tugging and toting my overflowing laundry basket, detergent, and armored truck's worth of quarters to another building to wash my clothes. I would even chide myself -- if you weren't such a tightwad, you could just spend your savings and move to a bigger apartment with your own washer and dryer.
Then one day my barrage of complaining thoughts was interrupted with this thought: what would someone in a wheelchair feel like if she were in your shoes? Wouldn't she be rejoicing that she could walk to the laundry room?
I would silently resent it when I ate macaroni and cheese for dinner, and then I would hear about someone in Haiti who would have to drag a cup through the mud to catch enough water for a drink.
I began to realize that wealth is relative. If my basic needs were met and I was loved, I was rich.
The flip side was that as my savings increased; I slept better at night knowing I could afford to take care of emergencies as they arose.
I began to appreciate the small things, like a warm cup of cocoa on a snowy day all snuggled up in my warm apartment, or the toothless grins and pudgy-armed hugs of my primary students. I was giving up things, and yet I felt wealthier than I ever had. When I gave up my desire for lofty possessions, the simple things in my life became loftier.
While I came to my stay-at-home stint with some knowledge of thriftiness, I realized it was one thing to live frugally when I was single. It was quite another to do it while my husband and I were responsible for supporting our son.
Nonetheless, we were up for the challenge.
I nursed my son for eleven months, alleviating the cost of formula, and we washed cloth diapers, something I wanted to do for the environment anyway. I began comparing prices, buying store brands or using coupons, and rebating. Cashing in on franchise drug store rebates was like finding a gold mine -- I got almost all our toiletries and some household items free.
My husband learned how to fix our cars and do repairs around the house, and I continued driving my still-ticking sixteen-year-old Honda. I gladly gave up my cell phone, and began to freelance write and babysit to supplement. We ate out only on special occasions and stopped buying expensive gifts for one another, opting for beautifully written cards and time together as a family. Most importantly, I prayed without ceasing.
When my son happily opened his gifts Christmas morning, my husband and I didn't need anything under the tree to be content. We already had everything we wanted (and even some clutter that we didn't), and it was a relief to enjoy the season without the stressful scramble to purchase all the material trimmings. I told my husband, "Staying at home with Andrew is my gift. It's like my birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas all rolled into one."
We have been living on less for more than three years now. Before we took that leap of faith, I didn't know the blessings that would pour down on us, and what I have witnessed has been amazing. At this date, we are less than two years away from owning our home and being completely debt-free. We have ample insurance, save for Andrew's college education, and give to our church, individuals, and donation centers as much as we can.
The quality of my life has not changed; the wealth in my spirit has become an overflowing river. Andrew and I walk to the creek bordering our backyard, his dimpled hand in mine. He throws in a twig to watch it drift away, and I am marvelously aware of how that tiny bundle has grown since that first day when we could only see the first step in the staircase.
With the ever-changing economic climate, there are days when I still feel a little uneasy. But then I realize that my hope and security do not lie in the stock market, the deed to our house, our savings account, or anything material that can rust or fade away. How many people who have lost a loved one to disease or tragedy would give all their material possessions just to embrace that loved one again? My faith and contentment cannot depend on what our bankroll looks like. As for my husband and I, we are glad to climb an ever-lengthening staircase of faith and are savoring the priceless time we have with our newborn.
No, we don't own an expensive house or drive vehicles manufactured in this decade. We don't wear the latest fashions or dine out regularly. We don't buy our son expensive toys or baby gear. And do you know what? He doesn't notice because he doesn't know what OshKosh B'Gosh is or what "make and model" means. He just wants time with us. We give him as much time as possible and shower him with learning and love. We read, play, and sing, and the quality of our lives continues to get better every day.
It was when we loosened our hold on material possessions that we realized we were rich. If you are approaching a staircase and you can only see the first step, I challenge you to take a deep breath, have some faith, and leap. You may be surprised where you will land.