trying

“More” is not always “Better”

In a culture where everything is disposable, the latest is a necessity, and bigger is better, it can be difficult to explain why you may find your self valuing “less” over “more.” It is counter-intuitive, but the effort of consciously rejecting the “more” mentality has advantages.

This exact challenge has presented itself in at least four different circumstances in the last week alone. Each time, it was absolutely true that “more” was not “better,” but this seeming contradiction had to be explained nonetheless. As much as we like to think we are logical beings, the most certain truths can seem upside-down at first. It is worth the fight to flip our heads over again.

When requesting additional time to file a court brief.

I am involved in a proceeding at the moment in which we find ourselves in the briefing phase. We submitted our brief, and the other side submitted their’s, and now our brief in response thereto is coming due soon.

Under ordinary rules, our brief is due twenty days after the other side filed its brief. However, because it was filed on a Thursday, we did not receive our copy until the following Monday, essentially robbing us of four days of precious time. We requested an additional ten days from the Court in which to file our reply brief, and after notifying the client, he asked (justifiably), “Why so little time? I want more. We gave them two extensions!”

He was correct: when the other side was filing its brief, we consented to two extensions of time for them to finish. We consented for two reasons: first, not consenting was pointless because they would probably get the time anyway, and it is not the sort of thing to make an argument over because we will want them to return the favor some day (like right now, for example). Second, we were in no rush: they needed the time to get it done and we had no deadlines in which to get this case resolved. Why press them if there is no reason? Save the fight for a day that matters.

But my client was not correct that more time is better. Just because they had more time, does not mean we needed it. Sometimes, especially when assembling a reply brief, you can end up damaging your argument by re-writing and pouring over the document too many times. The longer you have to wrestle with it, the further you stray from the key points. The judge can get lost in your rabbit trail, and you become less effective. Plus, more time puts the pressure on us to finish it. If we have two months to finish, other pressing matters will probably require us to let it sit for six weeks before we start work. By closing the window of working time, we make this a priority and we are forced to get it done.

When looking at houses to buy.

We are in the early/potential house-buying phase, and are having trouble finding a house that is the right size for us. While we have a baby on the way, and plan to have ??? more baby/ies, under no circumstances are we interested in a 2,000 square foot plus house.

We saw one house that had 2,500 square feet of living space, and we would still have to add on to build Massimo’s workshop. Although the house was brand new and well-made, we could not get over how huge it was. We simply could not justify it.

People kept telling us, “Well, you will have more kids, and they will grow and need more space,” or, “You will be shocked how quickly the space fills up! You will need it!” And while that could very well be the case some day, for now, the cost was too great and we could not justify the expense of all that space: buying all that square footage, heating/cooling all that square footage, paying taxes on all that square footage, cleaning all that square footage.

Then there is the mentality of having a large home. I tend to think that stuff is like goldfish: that is, it will fill the space of the home in which it lives. When I was younger, I could fit everything I needed in my Corolla and brought it back and forth to college twice a year. Of course, marriage, parenting, and home ownership will bring additional necessities, but I believe there is still virtue in limiting the accumulation of things. And the more space you have for things, the more things you will have, in my experience.

When my sister is making her wedding registry.

My beautiful, brave sister is getting married in August, and will promptly be moving to Germany to join her new husband at his Air Force Base. This makes the concept of a wedding registry particularly challenging. The big and little things one would typically request seem silly. “Why would I pay to ship that over to Germany?” she rightfully asks. She is one hundred percent correct: shipping a bath mat and soap dishes would be ridiculous. So she had to get creative.

First, she had to decide whether or not she even wanted a registry. What she really needs is money, to buy the things a registry would ordinarily supply once she lands in Europe. But people don’t really like wrapping cash, so there is something to be said for providing at least options to those inclined to shop, so she does not end up with a dozen crystal bowls for which she has no purpose.

Second, she had to decide what was worth it enough for her to request. While dozens of hand towels may not be worth it, this might be her only chance to ask for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, which she will have to patiently wait to use when she comes back state-side.

Ultimately, she started to get creative with it: she will have a different life in Germany, hopefully filled with once-in-a lifetime opportunities to travel and experience unique places. She decided to include AirBnB vouchers and travel gear on her registry: items she would actually get use out of. Sure, she can also include dish sets and sheets, some of which will stay here for her when she returns, but there is virtue in curating a wishlist that – though not traditional – will provide her much more joy than ordinary “stuff” might.

When collecting baby gear.

Babies are small, but grow fast. Nothing grows faster, however, than baby stuff. At the moment, I have not an atom of baby gear in my home (it is all at my parents’ and in-laws), but this little person will make an appearance in just four short months, and so will its gear.

I have gotten in more than one debate with other parents over what gear is “absolutely essential.” For some reason, like all baby advice, opinions and facts often confuse each other. (We often laugh about how similar pregnancy is to engagement, when marriage advice was dealt with the same resolution. But that is for another post.) The facts are that everyone is different, every baby is different, and what you loved or hated, our family could have the opposite reaction to. But thank you for the input, we will take it under advisement.

As of this moment, I have no idea where we will be living when we have this baby, but I have come around to the reality that we could be living in our one-bedroom apartment for at least some time. With that reality, I have attempted to whittle down our “necessities” list, which has been met with criticism. But we are trying to stand our ground, because our reasons for not wanting to live in a crowded Babies “R” Us store are many fold.

First, we value space and time over comfort. While many items are cute, clever, and maybe even extremely helpful, we have to balance those virtues against the space and time they will consume. Space is easily determined, but time is more abstract. Time is consumed when selecting or collecting the item, setting it up, cleaning it, repairing it, moving and storing it when it gets in the way, and eventually determining where it will go once the baby (inevitably and quickly) grows out of it. With both parents working full-time, there are some things that are just not worth that time.

[As a note on this, the “cleaning” part deserves a moment of attention. Many of us don’t think about the time spent maintaining our stuff. This is a consideration I came across in reading about minimalism that resonated with me, and is especially true since we have no dishwasher or washing machine. Everything we clean is cleaned by hand, which takes a lot longer. Appliances and gear which pride themselves on being “dishwasher safe” are not in the slightest attractive, especially when I see its odd nooks and crannies I will have to clean by hand! Laundry takes three times as long as someone with a washer in her house, because we have to sort it, pack it in the car, drive it to my parents’ house, binge through as many loads as possible in an afternoon, load it up, drive it back, fold it, and put it away. And all that while not being able to simultaneously sleep or do other chores, as those who do laundry in their own home can. The less high chair covers, changing table pads, and play mats are in that laundry, the better!]

Second, babies grow so fast. Like seriously, so fast. Some “essential” items are literally only in use for a month or so before they are useless! This pregnancy has already gone by so fast, I cannot imagine how quickly that first year will fly. I would so rather spend my time with my baby playing and learning, than constantly switching out baby gear he or she has outgrown. Since we don’t have space for all the first year stuff, our home will feel like a rotating storehouse of equipment if we collect items for every stage. Instead, we try to focus on things the baby will need for several months, and which can grow with the baby for years!

Third, a lot of “stuff” comes with other “stuff,” and so the cycle continues. Some baby gear is not just the gear itself, but the covers, mattresses, sheets, decorations, extensions, extra parts, etc. etc. etc. All that stuff really adds up! And again, all that stuff will also need to consume time and space, and need to be cleaned. We are not interested. Instead, we like to focus on items that are already complete, and don’t require add-ons to be truly useful. By eliminating one item that comes with add-ons, you actually eliminate a dozen items!

Sometimes, more is just more.

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Tithing, Teething, Trying

Tithing

As long as I made a steady income, I was tithing. There were probably some random baby-sitting gigs where I was paid in cash and failed to give 10%, but for the most part, it was always something I tried to do.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with the example of my parents writing that check on Sunday morning and tossing it in the offering, or giving it to one of us to offer. When my father’s parents were in town, my grandfather would give us each a dollar or quarter or whatever he had so we had something to put in the offering, too. Tithing was normal to us.

Although some may look at my husband’s and my current financial situation and assume it would be crazy to give away 10% of our small weekly checks without even so much as a tax deduction in return (We don’t make enough for it to make financial sense to take the deduction), but it was something we were each committed to before we met and knew it would remain a priority after we were married.

Why do we tithe? To put it simply: because the Bible is clear that we ought to, and that it is Good to do it. Although we can debate all day long about gross income vs. net income, passive vs. active income, and whether we should tithe from our tax refund checks, there are a myriad of examples (in both the Old and New Testaments) that all clearly say that we should give some of what God has given us back to him, to be multiplied by Him for His glory, of which I am a fan.

And this command my husband and I have been following as faithfully as we could. Until July.

Teething

This summer we had a clear financial goal: to re-fill our savings account to where it should be. Ever since our season of unemployment this winter, we haven’t been able to quite refill the tank. We had a number, we did the math: we could do it.

But about 6 weeks into the summer, things weren’t going as planned. I wasn’t making as much as I had planned, and we were spending a more than we should have. Blame it on increasing gas and food prices, summer dates, or vacations and staycations, but we (well, more I) panicked.

I wanted to save like mad. I wanted to eat like we were on food stamps, and I wanted to hoard as much much as we could until we hit that number. Like a teething toddler puts everything she can find into her mouth, I put all the money I could find into our savings, whether it was good for me or not.

And in addition to my temporary fear of spending money unnecessarily, I stopped writing tithe checks to our church.

Trying

The guilt over not tithing, though almost constant, like a thorn in my flesh, was not as bad as our financial state. Although I stopped writing those checks and did everything I could, we still didn’t reach our goal. If anything, we had less money than at the beginning of the summer. Something had to change.

I am a planner, and as all my family knows, a control freak. But no matter how much planning and stress I put into this savings project, I yielded no results

Finally, I confessed to my husband that the stress we’d both been feeling over this savings goal had also lead me to stop tithing. I said that I just wanted to store everything up that I could find until we hit our mark, and then we could start tithing again.

But this was totally the wrong attitude. God doesn’t want a piece of our extras, he wants our first fruits. God doesn’t just want us to be faithful when we have much, but also when we have little. I felt like an Israelite, when they were wandering in the desert after they left Egypt. God provided manna and quail for them, and told them to take exactly what they needed only. He said if they took too much, out of fear, there would be none the next day; it would be full of maggots by morning. I was storing up too much manna in my tent, out of fear I would be soon cut off, left out in the desert alone by my Father. I was wrong.

Massimo didn’t know we weren’t tithing for a month, and said that of course we needed to give what we’ve been holding back. “I like tithing because it’s like the blind bet in Texas hold ‘em: you don’t have to think about it, you just put it in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your cards are, you just do it.”

I didn’t think that a poker analogy would work, but he was absolutely right: it doesn’t matter about the math. When we’ve been given something from God, our automatic response should be to return a portion to him.

And of course, the next day God reassured me that everything would be fine when I went to the mailbox and got a significant refund check from the electric company and our rebate card from my contacts purchase months earlier. I also got to work an extra few days this month, out of the blue, and after I wrote our over-due tithe checks, we had hit our savings goal!

I can’t control everything, and everything we have is a gift to be given again. It seems counter-intuitive, but by giving more you actually find you have more. Investing in the Kingdom of God is always a sound idea. Keeping it for myself will give me nothing but maggots in my cupboard and a stressful summer. So even though it’s difficult, we have to try.

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce…” Proverbs 3:9

-debarbibee