Friday, April 15, 2011

Lent-en Money

It is amazing who comes into our lives and what we learn from them unexpectedly.  Such is the experience I am processing in prayer tonight.

I have a friend who is going through some really horrific financial times. Like most working folks around here, the dip in the economy has impacted her family significantly. Unlike most working folks, she has no family or friends really to help her through.  After years of trying to live on too small a salary, she has lost her savings, her home, even her furnishings and jewelry in an effort to stay afloat.  For many reasons, some poor choices, some bad luck, but mostly health related, my friend has descended into enormous debt.  Lately,  things have gotten bleak indeed.  She daily must make difficult choices between basic human needs, like food or medicine, electricity or gasoline to get to work. I want to support her, and I try as I can, but her problems are so large, and my own reserves so tenuous, even depleted at times. It is obvious that I cannot save her from this and it makes me enormously sad.

Oddly, this friend has been one of the most generous of her time for my sorrows.  I share my lunch with her on occasion and we laugh and find joy in spite of the pain around us.  She has been a gift to my heart and a devoted visitor for mom. She has also been a wise theologian, although I don't know if she would like me saying such a thing.  She has given me a Lenten lesson I will never forget.  If Lent is about giving up something in order to help those less fortunate than ourselves, she has taught me by example and I am humbled.

In the last year, as mom's illness has raised my bills and reduced my income, I have also felt the bite of economic change.  She is more than enough to keep me cautious.  Two of her medications are not covered by her insurance and the alternatives they allow do not help her.  I have wasted hours, days, trying to get her something to alleviate her pain to no avail.  In my frustration, I keep on dropping another $40 for three pills at a time that give her, and consequently me, ease to sleep for another three nights.  I regularly spend twice as much on my grocery bill than I used to just to accommodate her special diet. I pay to get her hair washed and styled once a week, and our heat bill doubled as we no longer turn down the heat (the house is never empty anymore).  We keep finding open windows and the heat cranking, or last summer the air conditioner on and the door wide open, all new expensive behaviors since dementia.

I brought mom in when her own money ran out. Her carefully squirreled away funds fell to con artists,  some health issues, bad luck, poor choices and all the same reasons my friend suffers. Mom was deep in debt, sick and destitute. I remember all that we did, my husband and I, as a family, in our efforts to get her settled and safe. It was difficult and yes full of sacrifices all round, including my own. There are times I resent giving up the things I wanted, worked for, to do that.  I know the impact on my marriage has been tough to take for both of us.  Mom is expensive in every sense of the word. It sometimes feels as if it will never end, and if it doesn't soon, I will be joining the "bad choices" financial club.   There is no easy way to fix any of it and, once again, it is all so sad sometimes.

Tonight, as I was helping mom to bed she began talking about my friend and how I should leave her because it is too sad. "This has to stop!" she insisted. Mom won't pray for her, she told me, because my friend isn't doing anything in her eyes to fix it. I was tired and instead of  remembering it was just mom's disease being so mean, I tried to explain to mom how our friend was struggling and how really difficult it was for her right now.  Mom surprised me with her vehement insistence that "she isn't moving in with us if she becomes homeless!"  Apart from mom being correct about that unfortunate truth, I was stunned as I looked at the parallels in their situations.  Where is her compassion?  Did that rot away with her numbers? Mom has been going to Lenten activities at her church the whole season. Did it mean nothing? 

The biggest difference, my mom had someplace to go when it all ran out.  Her paycheck doesn't cover her expenses either.  If I continue to make these poor fiscal choices, will I be any better off? That mom's disease, or her fear, has robbed her of her impulse to pray for the needy is the saddest part of all.

So dear Grimelda, source of love, light , redemption and solace,
Ease our pain. Help us to keep whole as we continue on this road through sadness.  Grant us endurance, laughter and hugs.  Help us to keep our soft hearts. Give me the strength  not to give too much away in my need to care for others.  Let me learn from those before me, ancient and otherwise, and make different compassionate mistakes. 
May we still rejoice in birdsong and smiles, in sunny days with puffy clouds and the new green of ressurecting life.

And help us to remember, all of us deserve prayer, especially those who make mistakes.