The Reason for the Season


It’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give.

We say that to kids all the time, don’t we? I know I heard it many times over the years, when circling ideal spoils from Toys R Us catalogs and American Girl magazines.

I assumed, of course, that it meant not to focus on what I wanted, but on the gifts I would buy for my brothers and sisters. So I would go out to the Christmas fair at school or the dollar store and buy erasers and mini screwdriver kits and chocolate bars, to distract myself from the fact that I would get way better stuff on December 25.

As I grew a little older, I learned that not everyone has so much joy at this time of year. There are many who have explained how depressed they get in December, thanks often to both cold weather and a family that they wish was very different. Sometimes they are missing someone they lost, or sometimes they take note that they never even got the family they had always longed for. It is, surely, a season of shadows for many.

But this year, I am learning even more about not just giving, but gratitude.

In my job, I often see people in very low points in their lives. Occasionally my clients are in a great and exciting point in life, other times they made a big mistake they have to try to clean up; but other times, they are simply doing the best they can and still can’t catch a break.

Just yesterday, I attended a foreclosure mediation with a couple who worked hard and lived within their means their entire lives. But a family crisis left them jobless, and – perhaps soon – now homeless. Later in the evening I visited the home of a woman who was wheelchair-bound and was being sued for the loan balance owed on a car that had long been repossessed. As she told us her story in her freezing cold, dank, cheerless home, I became overwhelmed.

Her story cannot be shared here, but when I went back to my warm, seasonally-decorated home, where my husband was cooking us dinner to enjoy together, I was filled with the sense that I was a very small person in the face of the needs of this world.

I could  not shake the idea that I had to do something – I took this job to help people, after all. Both my boss and I will do something to help these neighbors, but even that will not repair all their on-going physical and emotional needs.

To compare, my issues at this moment are being frustrated by the clutter of my closet, my lack of a washing machine, and my procrastination in signing up for health insurance. My needs are so small, that when my husband was blessed with a gracious bonus this week, we actually have no idea what to do with it!

[See what I mean? Big issues, right?]

So this year, take the idiom we repeat so often to children to heart. And don’t use it as a distraction for thinking about what you want, truly practice a heart of gratitude. Give what you can. Give all day and whenever you see a need – give to charities and the food bank and the fuel bank and the homeless shelter and anyone who has a need you can see. (I can’t tell you how much less stressful it is grocery shopping to someone in need – it’s a pleasure, not a chore, I promise!)

My grandmother always used to love saying that Jesus is the reason for the season. And He is – Christmas, despite its many secular garments, is at its heart a celebration of the birth of our God on this planet. It was and is a gift, and calls for our giving to others in the small – but meaningful – ways that we can, without any expectation of something in return.

-D. E. Barbi Bee



How Much Money Do You Need?


We live in a very materialistic world. As I’ve been watching House Hunters and similar shows, I find myself amazed at what kind of money people spend on their homes, and what qualities in a home are absolutely ESSENTIAL!! They just can’t live with carpet, and can you even cook on counter tops that are not granite? Every child needs their own bedroom, plus a guestroom. And if there is only one sink in the master bath, their marriage is doomed.

These may seem like perfectly reasonable requests, and are very nice things to have. But take it from someone who grew up with carpet in the living room, vinyl counter tops, and five bedrooms for ten people: they are not essential to survive, or even have an amazing, abundant life. My parents, too, have somehow made it through 30 years of marriage with one little sink. It’s a miracle, I tell ya!

But home-buying and sorting children into bedrooms seems like a distant folktale to my husband and I. We have our little apartment, not too big, and just small enough to make us excited to have more space. When we think about what we look forward to, it’s things like a washer and dryer, a full-sized couch, and a dish washer. These are the things we know we don’t need, but really look forward to having one day, to save time (something you can’t buy), and make ourselves a little more comfortable.

It’s all a matter of perspective, they say. And I say “they” are right. For example, we often get into a discussion of money in my classes, and there is a clear disconnect between the financial world of our professors and that of the debt-laden law students. In Family Law, for example, my professor will told an anecdote about a client who made “basically nothing, you know, like $50,000.” Everyone in the class looked confused, all thinking simultaneously, “Wait, is that nothing? That is a lot more than I have. That’s a lot more than I’ve ever had. That seems like a lot. But she said it wasn’t. Should I nod in agreement?”

When you live on loans, and might make minimum wage for the 15 or 20 hours a week you work, $50,000 sounds like it could go really, really far. But from my professor’s view, you might as well have nothing. And I understand that $50,000 doesn’t go as far as it used to, but it would buy the nice groceries, an occasional outfit, and maybe even a full-sized couch.

So how much money do you really need? In this world, and in this country, there are a lot of versions of “need.” You “need” a roof over your head and food in your stomach, but you also “need” the latest fall shoes and coats. Are these both really needs? When you have very little, you think about needs a lot. You think about whether you need another vegetable in your cart, or if you need yogurt instead. You think about whether you can get those shoes through another winter, and whether you need to replace the jeans you just ripped. You also think about the things money can’t buy, but that you also need: love, fellowship, truth, and safety. In many ways, you value these things even more than the things you bought, because you can’t buy more of them if you get a raise or a new job.

I read this list recently reciting the things you should be able to buy with what you make in your 20s. Among the list are some things I certainly can’t buy, like travelling the world, and some things I wouldn’t buy, like $12 wine. But this inspired me to make my own list. This list is for myself, to always keep “needs” in persective, even if I do have money someday. And it’s also for my readers, perhaps those that have money: consider it a challenge, especially with the gimme gimme gluttony of the holidays fast-approaching, to consider what you need, what you can give, and to appreciate what you have in the first place. There are so many people in this world just making it, just squeezing by and not even sure how they did it. And there are people who make $50,000 a year, and think that is “barely anything,” perfectly justified from their perspective. They both have their challenges, their stresses: just take a moment and remember that more isn’t always better, and consider that needs aren’t always what they seem.

What do you really need?

Enough for food?

Enough for organic food?

Enough for organic, paleo-friendly, local food?

Enough to feed the neighbor downstairs?

Enough for clothes?

Enough for work-appropriate clothes?

Enough for fashionable clothes?

Enough to buy clothes for your friend?

Enough so that one spouse can stay home?

Enough so that the kids can all go to college?

Enough so that all the kids can go to private school?

Enough to homeschool?

Enough for toothpaste?

Enough for their children’s regular dentist visits?

Enough for their doctor’s fee?

Enough for their insurance payment?

Enough for their prescription copays?

Enough for a home?

Enough for separate beds for all the children?

Enough for hard-wood floors?

Enough for a formal dining room?

Enough for a backpack?

Enough for cupcakes on their child’s birthday?

Enough for an apple laptop?

Enough for a private tutor?

Enough for a game board?

Enough for a trip to the movies?

Enough for a trip to Disney world?

Enough for a trip to Europe?

Enough for gas to drive to the library?

Enough for a book?

Enough for an ipad?

Enough for an XBOX?

Enough for a bus ticket?

Enough for a used car?

Enough to lease a car?

Enough to buy a new car?

Enough to buy two new cars?

How much money do you really, really need?