I think I’ve always been anxious about money. At least I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.
It started young, a fear that something would go wrong, fear that our old Buick station wagon would break down, fear that even what we had was not enough.
I made it through four years of college debt-free thanks to my parents, but when I needed a fifth year to finish, I took out a student loan. And then a credit card. For the first time in my life, I knew what it truly felt the enslaving weight of not-enough. To owe someone else.
This was also the first year I got a migraine. I doubt it was a coincidence. My first one was September 28, 2004, my 23rd birthday. It settled in while I was sitting in my social work class, the intense pain and pressure I’d never felt before. I made my way to the student clinic, and a doctor saw me and prescribed a medication that nearly knocked me out. At least the pain was gone. But I’ve had migraines ever since.
My first year out of college, I went into full-time ministry on a partially developed partnership team, the kind where people invest in you specifically to do your mission work. I hated asking people to support my work, partly because I didn’t believe in the work and partly because I didn’t believe in myself. So further into debt I went until I maxed out two credit cards and was literally penniless. I was eating oatmeal for several meals and couldn’t even afford to put gas in my car.
I told no one of my financial woes until I was so stuck, I had run out of every option. Asking for help opened many doors and I felt like I could finally breathe again. But soon afterward, I decided to leave the ministry and look for work where I got a paycheck that was more stable and predictable.
I finally found a job, but I also discovered a new tendency I had to hang onto money. It wasn’t really building a savings though. I just wouldn’t pay my bills. The interest on my credit cards and student loans stacked up as my payments went delinquent. I felt sick about not paying them, but the thought of letting go of the money I might need later left me almost as ill.
Getting married and growing up meant more debt, from a Master’s degree and a home mortgage and a couple car loans. We paid off the car loans as soon as we could, but the giant debt still looms over our heads.
Money grew to be such an anxiety for me that literally spending all money triggered a feeling of fear in me. To this day, the purchase of a plane ticket or a coffee elicits a mixed feeling of doubt, guilt and fear.
I know that at the root, I am terrified to return to the year I had nothing. I always want to hang onto what I know I need to give away, whether in the form of generosity or simply money owed for fear, What if there is not enough? What if there is not enough? What if there is not enough?
I celebrated my birthday 11 years ago today newly in debt and afraid. Debt and fear have been no stranger to me since, but I want to quit them both. So first I’ll start with the fear. I want to get out from under the deception of not-enough and live with an attitude and lifestyle of abundance. The only way I know to do this is to be generous.
You only get to keep what you give away. Generosity renders poverty powerless. -Pastor Bill Johnson
Yesterday I started a small campaign to raise $3400 in 34 hours for my 34th birthday for The Lulu Tree, an organization that seeks to elevate African mothers beyond poverty and into a transformed future for themselves and their children through education and community. I am matching up to $1000 of these gifts, and as of 10:00pm on Sunday night, we are already at 30% of our goal.
This isn’t just an act of charity. This is an act at freedom, a shoving off of the fetters of fear that have held me tight for 11 years.
So here’s the truth: I’ve had this $1000 sitting here for a while now. Back in May, our Lulu Tree board planned a meeting in Canada where we would all get to meet for the first time, women from around the world who had been working together for months to elevate and equip African mothers. It was going to be such an important trip.
I gathered my courage and asked you to make the trip happen, and you did. It was incredible. I had all the money I needed almost immediately after I asked.
But then travel for our Ugandan staff fell through due to visa problems. The trip was on hold, but I still had the money. The individuals who sponsored my trip gave me freedom to do whatever I wanted with the money they gave me, and I had numerous ideas. I needed the money for travel. I could pay off debt with it.
But I didn’t do anything with the money. I held onto it. The fear again.
Then I got the idea to give it to The Lulu Tree to help our mothers rent a home together outside of the slum. The money would’ve paid at least two months’ rent. But I still held onto it. I wish I didn’t have to say that.
I wish I could say the fear had good boundaries and cared about other people, but it didn’t.
I realized that for my birthday, I wanted freedom from fear of not-enough more than anything. So I am going to test out this whole “generosity displaces poverty” concept. I’m finally giving $1000 to the people I truly want to give it to, and I’m doing it, once again, with your help.
I want to invite you to join me.
I want to invite you to join me in not just changing the future and legacy of African mothers and their children through The Lulu Tree. I want you to join me in rendering poverty powerless in your life too.
Maybe you can relate to the fear of not-enough. Maybe you know what it feels like to hang onto money just in case, when you really wish you had the courage to give. If that’s you, let’s give big. Let’s give until the fear evaporates.
Thank you in advance, for being here for this breakthrough moment with me. Thank you dreaming with me and walking this journey toward freedom and hope.
Here’s to more dreams coming true, more fearlessness and more freedom in the coming year.