My wife and I teach together, as in we-are-in-the-classroom-at-the-same-time-teach-together. I also run a small non-profit, Rhapsody Ministries, Inc., that helps missionaries through prayer and financial support and anyone else who crosses our path in need of anything from monetary help to a listening ear. Periodically, Rhapsody will sponsor a worship service for whoever happens to walk through the door. The ministry is small but effective in what it seeks to accomplish.
Along with the ministry of parenthood these ministries make for a fulfilling existence. What they fail to do is lead us toward the traditional trajectory of “building a career and a diversified financial portfolio.”
We’re fine. We don’t make a ton of money. Combined we make less than most and we receive zero benefits. If it ever comes out how much we make people kind of look at us like we’re lying, telling them a joke and they’re not sure if they should laugh, or they realize we’re telling the truth and they look at us like they’ve seen a ghost.
We live below our means. We don’t spend what we don’t have and if God asks us to give away what we do have, we find a way to give it. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about retirement even though we know we’re supposed to be worrying about retirement. I assure you our lack of worry is not out of some reckless financial irresponsibility. We are fully aware of the path we are on.
I have a business and marketing degree and while I am not an expert I do have a full understanding of financial planning, 401k’s, compounding interest, and hiding money under the mattress. We know the risks and we know these are our prime earning years that will never return. We both have our Master’s degrees and years of valuable experience gained well before this current chapter in our careers. The last three jobs we’ve accepted have been pay decreases from the job before and we know about the “opportunities” we have allowed to float on by. Each day we trust God will provide for that particular day. The day ends. As best we can we begin the next day with the same trust.
We live this way with our eyes wide open and many of the eyes staring back at us shake their heads and wonder why we are living so “irresponsibly” and why we are wasting time, why we are wasting our careers, why we are wasting our lives.
A few comments to boot…..
“Why do you keep teaching at that place?”
“The leadership doesn’t treat you guys very well so I wouldn’t trust ’em. Look at what they’ve done to you in the past. They’ll drop you cold if they need to regardless of what you’ve accomplished.”
“You work for how much money? No benefits? Hmph. They’re taking advantage.”
“Why aren’t you trying to promote Rhapsody in a way that would attract more people? You really need to sell it better to get more people in the doors which would bring in more money.”
“You guys both have your Master’s and years of experience together. You should be doing more with your lives.”
“You need to think of your family. You have a daughter now, you know.”
“You’re just lazy.”
I could go on, but why? Everyone travels their road. Everyone makes their choices. Or as Troy Dyer says in the film Reality Bites, “You ride your own melt.”
As honest as I can say what I’m writing isn’t about how “humble” I am, a need for any “Hang in there buddy, you’re doing great!” or any attempt to convince you of some perfectly pure piety.
I am well aware that better people than I are suffering because of their beliefs in other parts of the world and down the street from where I live. Me? I have it so rough I’ve never missed a meal. I could hop in my car and buy four bean burritos and a soft taco from Taco Bell with no fear other than digestional. (new word?)
When people talk to me about why we do what we do. The best way I can explain it?
My gut doesn’t turn when I do it.
When we are in the moment doing our best to inspire some amazing teenagers, when I’m preaching, when I hand money to a missionary who needs it to continue their work, my gut doesn’t turn. Does that make sense?
It’s the same feeling, or non-feeling, I get when we’re at a concert “that no Christian should attend” and a stranger comes up to us and just starts talking. Talking to us like he’s known us for years and God allows us to send him away encouraged and hopeful. It’s the same feeling when I’m preaching and know that what is being said through me is going to turn the light on for someone and it had nothing to do with me. It’s the same feeling when I share something painful about myself, but see the recognition on the listener’s face that they’ve been there as well and want to hear what my next step was to get past it… because their proverbial foot is ready and aching to lift.
I have a ton of things that frustrate me about the job(s). Things I would do differently. Things I should do differently. Things I wouldn’t do, period. People involved who in my humble opinion are in the wrong line of work. All the normal stuff of the American worker, eh? The list is long. But the fact remains that no matter how frustrated I become, when I’m doing what I was meant to do for this time in my life my gut still won’t turn.
When I was making money. When I was chasing after the temporal and attempted to bleed in some eternal at the same time to make myself feel better… my gut turned. I knew something was off. It took me years and several 50-gallon drums full of frustration, but I arrived at the following conclusion……
On its own this world has nothing to offer me. On its own this world doesn’t, and won’t ever, deliver.
And this is big……..in my lifetime it was never meant to.
I am here to do quite the opposite. By God’s goodness, and other words too holy to write, I am an eternal soul and my task is to be the one doing the delivering.
If this sounds a bit off, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. Just sharing. But I do confidently suggest that one need only to look into the face of a discouraged listener or frustrated teenager when the light comes on, to see years of their own despair due to circumstances I wouldn’t pretend to know anything about melt away.
It’s why I honestly feel very little when people who love us look “concerned” for us, they look at us with a sort of pity in their eyes. When they do that? My gut doesn’t turn. Perfect peace. And I’m usually the one inwardly harboring concern right back to them. Not at all combatively. Not at all condescendingly.
We’re content. More than content. We always wanted our marriage to be centered around Christ and making an impact in this world. As best we know how, both are being accomplished. I wish people weren’t uncomfortable with our contentment. I wish they weren’t uncomfortable with our way of living this life. I wish they would stop hoping that one day we will see their version of the light and we finally chase after the treasures of this world.
Do I have days where I ask myself, “Joel, what are your doing?” Yup. But do you know when that typically happens? When I’m wanting this world to deliver.
So as a school year continues and Rhapsody continues to evolve I’m always waiting for my gut to turn and then I’ll know it’s time to walk away and turn the page to the next chapter.
We all have choices. We can choose to take chances and make an impact or we can choose to not. We can choose. That’s the beautiful thing about God. He allows us to choose. He doesn’t force it. But we would be wise to pay attention to the occasional nudge.
I may look back on my life and think I blew it. That I didn’t take everything this world had to offer. But I don’t think so.
Every person born is given a certain amount of clay to mold with their lives. How we choose to live our lives, how we choose to spend whatever time we have on this earth will shape the clay into something in the end. No shortcuts. When we breathe our last it’s going to be our finished work of art, and each work will reflect God….. or whatever took His place.
With that I’ll close with two quotes. One from The Shawshank Redemption and one from Braveheart.
“The Shawshank Redemption and BRAVEHEART?!” Casting a pretty wide net of artistic sophistication there eh, Joel?”
Yeah. But why not? We shouldn’t be afraid to take things we can use in our lives regardless of the perceived datedness or ridiculousness of the art from which we take it. So I take it.
Take it away Red and William.
“Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”
“You know what happens if we don’t take a chance? Nothing.”