The tyranny of stuff

My car is bugging me these days.

More to the point, what my car is costing me is bugging me. The amount of money I am spending on my (leased) car, and on the insurance for said car, is something like 20% of my take-home pay. The insurance is high because the lease requirements stipulate that there have to be certain coverages…and probably because I have a few skeletons (of the speeding ticket variety) in my closet. But I am once again wrestling with my choices, and wondering whether there is some way out.

The irony of my life is that I wrestle with having so many things, and yet, I really don’t have much compared to the people I see around me*. Perhaps this is still a remnant of my junior high and high school years, growing up on the low end of middle class but surrounded by classmates on the other end  of the spectrum. Even beyond that, though, I often think that there is something not quite right about me. I am bewildered as to how other people save money to buy a computer, or a car, or a new mattress, or a vacation. Money to me is something that comes into my life and just as quickly goes out. My relationship with it is, and always has been, convoluted.

True confession: I really love my car. Like, I’m sure I love it more than a human being (particularly a Christian) is supposed to love an inanimate object. But it’s just so “me” in so many ways–case in point–this is a picture I drew in response to a humorous conversation that I had with a friend, during the time I was carless:


As you can see, even my invisible car was orange.

This is the second car I’ve owned in my life, and the first one that I really have felt like I’ve “chosen” (after a slight mishap/false start). And despite my angst over owning it at all, I really do love it and love having a car.  (I am still not a fan of mandatory bus travel, although Elijah would be thrilled with it!) But I will be paying this fairly hefty sum for two more years, and then will likely be paying for at least another three years if I end up buying it (which I likely will, either because I will have gone over on the mileage, or because the various dings and scratches will be too much to turn it in). I am not careful with my things (see also: my current computer and cell phone).

Right before I got my car, I was seriously considering taking a job that would have been a substantial pay cut for me. I reasoned that I could take the bus (a short ride, no transfers) to that job, and so would not need a car. I still dream of taking that job, not because it’s the job I want, but because it’s not the job I have. Budget-wise, though, it’s simply not possible.

I think there is probably some way that I could turn in my car early…I would have to pay some kind of penalty, I’m sure, but I would still be paying less in the long run than I will be by keeping it. The thing is, though, that I know that I do *not* want to do that, not unless I absolutely have to. So I try not to think about the fact that I don’t have the luxury of taking a job that pays much less than I’m making now…and I try not to think about my ongoing angst about “stuff”. But when I look at my budget, what I struggle with is the lack of autonomy those payments represent.  I tell myself that I would have money for a new laptop and plane trips to see people I love and who knows what else, if only I had not made this choice to love this thing in my life.

I just don’t like what it’s keeping me from.

Maybe I just need to find gratitude for what I have…it may be true that this car limit my choices in some ways, but in another sense, it opens up choices that riding the Rapid would not afford to me. For now, then, I guess I just need to live with where I am, as I try to figure out where I’m going.

As long as I can get there in an orange car…


*PS – PLEASE know that I am well aware that even in my “lack”, I am among the wealthiest people in the world. I’m just constrained by the context I’m in.

Food for thought

I am not sure who the original author of this piece is; it came from an e-newsletter from The Micah Center in Grand Rapids, MI. But given the things that are going on around our country (and indeed, around the world), I thought it was important to share this.

The fight by the rich and powerful against the middle class and working poor continues.  Their strategy is to blame complex economic problems on one of three scapegoats: teachers, immigrants, or government employees.  And unfortunately, it offers politicians an easy way out.  At a time when our country is in grave distress, they can pick out a select group and blame all of our problems on them. From a distance, the tactics being pursued in different states look diverse and varied.  But their three-pronged attack suggests a national strategy.

First, under the guise of targeting “lazy” and “overpaid” teachers, the rich and powerful with the help of the politicians, are working to dismantle public education.

Second, as they talk about balancing state budgets, these same folks are trying to undermine the public sector’s role in providing critically important public services.  A bill in Michigan would privatize support services to public schools.  Again, the goal is to strengthen corporations and disempower organized workers in the political realm.

Third, this same wealth/power group attempts to block the voice of immigrants in our country’s politics.  Various attempts are being made to create barriers to voting and to discourage people not yet registered from exercising their legal rights.

Now it’s up to us.  Those of us who are concerned, disgusted, and outraged that our democracy is being taken over by multi-national, big, big corporate money  need to step up.

We should not allow the wealthy, powerful, and yes, greedy to ride roughshod over the needy of our land.  In Psalm 72 we see God’s picture of a good governmental leader:  “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”  May those types of leaders soon be raised up to save our democracy!!

Buyer’s remorse in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1

So yeah . . . yesterday, I filled out a credit application online for two different car dealerships (Toyota and Kia/Hyundai). The plan was to “just see” what they could offer me in terms of financing. I still wasn’t sure I even WANTED to commit to a car payment, let alone do it right now. But I wanted to check out my options.

I had planned to ask about leasing, and when a woman from the Toyota dealership told me that she could get me into a lease at a price that was (at least “sort of”) manageable for me, I decided I would go and take a look. The problem is that a car dealership is like crack . . . the cars are all new, and shiny, and they put you behind the wheel of a car whose odometer reads 38 miles . . . from that point on, it’s so, so hard to walk away. The woman I worked with was sincere enough that I was able to brush off my nagging feelings of needing to take a shower from being around all of the sleaziness that is inherent in such a place. Had she been any less sincere, I’m quite sure I would have walked away, and this leaves me feeling even more duped.

I am also starting a five-day-a-week temp job on Monday – yes, in addition to my day job. So without a car, the plan was to get on a 6:20am bus to get to my day job by 7:15am, then to get on a bus across town to get to job #2, then to try to catch the last bus so that I could transfer to the other last bus and get myself home by 11:45 before starting it all over again the next morning.

This plan, in and of itself, had me thinking that I was going to give in very soon and buy something. I just didn’t know I would succumb so soon.

my first, and (prior to this) only car

It’s no big surprise that I tend to be impulsive, nor is it any secret that I am a chronically poor money manager. But that is not the thing that is causing me to hyperventilate as I write this. I am broke no matter how many or how few bills I have, and no matter how little or how much I am making. The payments are affordable on paper, so having this car primarily means that I will need to end my habit of eating out more days than not. I will not be on the bus, but I will be on the ramen noodle diet. This seems to me like a good exercise in restraint. I will probably end up putting my student loans into forebearance yet again, also, but that’s also nothing new.

All of these things are realities I will just have to deal with . . . but my real problem is two-fold. First, I consider my inability to delay gratification by saving for a cheaper car to be a clear sign of my lack of character. Second, (secondly? help me out, grammar police!) I feel that having a nice car is not something I should aspire to, if I believe what I say I believe.

too late to give it back?

The reality is that I have had a myriad of opportunities to save money over the past several years. I knew that Anastasia was on her last legs, and I could have been preparing for that, but I did not. I am still living very much paycheck-to-paycheck, and could not even put a down-payment on the car (unless I had waited two weeks). Had I been able to save money, I would have been in a better position to purchase a $2000 or $3000 or $5000 car, and would not have fallen prey to the temptation to go after as much car as I could afford, and then some.

Similarly, my month on the bus while working 13-hour days was supposed to be a test of my character. It was supposed to prove (to me and to whomever else might care) that I have the ability to work hard to get what I want, that I am not one who seeks the easy way out. It was supposed to put weight behind the lip-service I give to “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the bus as a form of transportation”. Two days before I first was to get on that 6am bus, and I have already failed that test of my character. In fact, I have not merely failed the test, but have shown the true nature of my soul by spending much more money than I needed to.

This brings me to my next concern, and one that I fear has more profound eternal consequences. I made a choice today–a choice to spend almost $300 a month on myself, entirely for my own enjoyment and convenience. I don’t have a better point of reference, but I know that $300 could send four students in Liberia to school for one year. Multiply that by 12, and maybe you will see my dilemma. I am choosing to avoid the minor inconvenience of having to take the bus on a daily basis over the opportunity to change the lives of nearly fifty children. And I fear that even my choice of that example is me making things too easy for myself . . . how many children’s lives could be saved with that money? Am I really going to get to the end of my life and look back on this moment with pride and not horror? And yet, I made that choice today.

So I came home from this ill-advised purchase, and in an attempt to ask for a sign, I opened my one-year Bible and began to read.I don’t know what I expected to see . . . but I think that I was looking for some confirmation that it was somehow okay for me to be all about myself. But Jesus doesn’t roll that way, and I should’ve known better than to try to find justification for my actions in those pages. What I found instead was this:

“Then He said, ‘Anyone who wants to follow me must put aside his own desires and conveniences and carry his cross with him every day and keep close to Me! Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it, but whoever insists on keeping his life will lose it; and what profit is there in gaining the whole world when it means forfeiting one’s self?’ ” (Luke 9:23 – 25, TLB; other versions translate “self” as “soul”.)

I know I’m rambling; I’m not even going to edit this at this point. And please know that I am not looking for any of you to tell me that I really am a good person deep down inside or any other such nonsense . . . I’m not looking for affirmation here. I just wanted to explain exactly why I am experiencing this remorse, and why I am wishing that buying a car was like buying Tupperware, where they allow you to change your mind within 72 hours.

And I know that Jesus still loves me anyway, but I still do not relish an eternity spent living with the knowledge that I chose my own comfort over self-sacrifice. Of course, that I made this choice is nothing new, but it’s all the more difficult to face when it’s done on such a large scale.

Maybe this is the real reason why car dealerships are closed on Sundays. They know that people will go to church and feel convicted about their choices. If I had waited for Sunday, maybe I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

There’s no easy way to wrap this up, so I am just going to stop. Maybe I’ll do some editing later. But I wanted to get my thoughts out as best as I am able to . . . for better or for worse, I won’t be on the bus come Monday, and I guess I just have to live with that.


Sunday blogging against . . . myself?

It has to have been seven or eight months since this happened, but it has haunted me ever since. So much so, in fact, that I have resisted writing about it here out of my embarrassment and shame. But, delinquent blogger that I am, I have to write something, and so here goes . . .

I was in the food court at the mall, and because I was still recovering from my ankle surgery last year, I was maneuvering with the help of Speed Racer. Sara had Elijah and was getting herself settled with him, and I was trying to get Chinese food and make my way back to the table. Yes, on one leg and while trying to maneuver a tray of food.

An African-American woman at the next counter over saw me struggling and had compassion on me. She told her son (who was about 9 or 10) to come over and offer to help me, which he did.

I was not paying attention to my surroundings, as usual, and so did not notice this sweet young man coming up to me until he was right next to me. When I realized he was trying to speak to me, I jumped . . . as I was trying to get his words to translate from my ears to my brain (something I tend to have trouble with under any circumstances), I looked at him with a panicked, forced smile and shook my head while sputtering something like, “no, thank you, I’ve got it, but I appreciate the offer”. I think I then said something about how I was shaking my head “yes” while saying “no” with my mouth–something like, “I know that I’m shaking my head the opposite of what I am saying”–but I don’t know. maybe I’m not remembering that part correctly.

I know I am remembering the forced, automatic and fake smile, though. My facial muscles still ache with self-condemnation every time I think about it.

I have so many excuses for why I jumped out of my skin when he approached me. Primary among those is the fact that having both ADHD and PTSD means that I both zone out easily and startle easily. One of my coworkers, after having seem me react that way one time too many, has taken to using very deliberate footsteps when she approaches me. I hate when I am jumpy like that, because it is never in any way the fault of the person who has (unintentionally) startled me, but people quite often take it personally.

But I have no excuse. This sweet, polite young man had absolutely no  reason to interpret the look of terror in my eyes, combined with the fake, plastered smile and meaningless words, as anything other than what I fear it really was.For this young man, and for his mother, my personal history was not even a factor. I am certain that they could only assume I was reacting in that over-exaggerated way because of a fear or a distrust of black men. How could it be interpreted any other way?

I still wish to this day that I had gone back to them and said something. I sometimes fantasize that I’ll somehow run into them again and will be able to make my apology, even though I barely remember what they looked like anymore. And I don’t want to give a complicated justification for my actions–“It’s unconscious–it’s a learned response”, blah blah blah, shut up, Lorraine . . . I just want to tell him how very, very sorry I am.

All I know is that in that moment, I wounded the heart of that little boy, and somehow sent the message that, no matter how many kind things he might do in his life, that there are always going to be white women reacting in unfounded fear at the very sight of him. And as I sat down for dinner with my own precious brown-skinned godson Elijah sitting next to me, my heart broke at the thought that he too will grow up in a world where people will instinctively and automatically jump in fear when they see him coming . . . even if he is the sweetest little boy in the world, and even if he comes with the most altruistic of motives . . . because at the end of the day, the inheritance we’ve all carried down through the years is one of mistrust, of irrational fear, and of unconscious, yet immediate judgments based on appearance.

I do not want Elijah to have to face the reality that I subjected this boy to . . . this young man who only wanted to be helpful, but who got only disdain and disrespect in return.

I can’t go back to that day and change my actions . . . all I can do is to continue to fight this monster of racism that rears its ugly head so often. I owe it to that young man to do so. I owe it to Elijah. And I owe it to myself, because this below-the-surface racism is a poison that needs to be eliminated from my body, mind and soul.

I’m so sorry, young man, wherever you may be. I’m sorry that you have to face a world filled with people like me. But I have to thank you as well, because your kind gesture taught me so much more than you will ever know.

Sunday blogging against racism–Bingo is for everyone

Last week, I went to play bingo, since I hadn’t been in quite a while. As I was updating my Facebook status throughout the evening, more than one of my friends alluded to “blue-haired ladies”. I’m quite certain that this is the perception most people have of the Bingo hall (and we’ll save age-ism for someone else to tackle!), but in reality, a Friday night bingo game is remarkably diverse. There are people of all ages, ethnicities, etc. Though Bingo (hmm. to capitalize, or not to capitalize?!) is considered a “woman’s game”, there are certainly a fair number of men that play, also. There are Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, and they all co-exist very nicely in the smoky haze. (well, except for that one time.) They are united by a common desire to hear their number called, and to go home with a few more dollars in their pocket than they came in with. (this last part only happens for a lucky handful of folks . . . ) 


It’s just a beautiful picture of what our world could be . . . 

or maybe I’m just cheesy. 

PS–I didn’t win. Now I want to go back next weekend, and so on, until I actually DO win. who SAYS I’m not a hopeless optimist?!