Despair was a word I never thought I'd learn experientially. Yet, many years ago, I became intimate with it's meaning. At the beginning of what I did not know was a recession, I became enthralled by the possibility of making it rich quick. The books about real estate investing were utterly convincing and with my husband's overwhelming enthusiasm I embarked on a journey which ended abruptly as we crashed into a veritable wall of disaster.
Our adventure was a huge failure. Maybe the economy was in a recession but I was in a depression over the subsequent unpaid bills, lenders nasty phone calls and regret about our overall lack of financial stability. I despaired over the things I could not afford, but most of all, I wondered how in heaven's name I was going to get out of this one. The future did not look bleak, it looked blank, empty of possibility.
I saw no solution to the problem, except of course losing all I owned, which in retrospect wasn't really much. My house was mortgaged, cars not paid, no savings (because we blew it all on our fantastic investments), household items were not really worth a fortune... yet fear overpowered any sense of rational thinking and convinced me of impending doom. I was afraid of answering the phone, of opening mail, of accruing more debt, of not knowing what to do. Every pulse of my heart created more anxiety and worry. My grandmother, who was the last person I thought could understand my predicament, although she grew up in material poverty I hope I will never know, was always quick to state annoying and frustrating cliches, "Thank God you still have your health." (Hum. Now that I'm a grandmother too, I grasp her wisdom.)
One beautiful Spring evening (which I failed to appreciate because despair is blinding), as I was getting home from work, I saw a small flock of beautiful birds hovering over my house. I gave this a fleeting acknowledgment before going inside. Later, I happened to glance out the window and was astonished by the sight. "Honey, quick, come on out here!" I yelled to my husband as I impulsively leaped out the front door to see one of the most awesome views I'd ever witnessed. What seemed like a million birds had flocked to our house and covered our entire driveway and yard. Some flew, some nestled on the ground interchangeably in a Divinely choreographed dance. Clearly, our house had been selected for their blessing. They went to no other house on the block. Time stood still as we sat on our steps mesmerized by their presence. Surprisingly, they were oblivious to ours.
I never quite knew what Grace was until then, and still it was a mystery. Words never do justice to Divine communication but I think this gift was one of shear abundance. Aside from that, the message was like ether, meant for us to breathe in and become intoxicated by its subtle power. We were left anesthetized and gradually despair began to dissolve.
It must have been one powerful sermon, though I don't recall it, but it inflicted upon me a formidable faith which led to an irrational action - that's what faith is supposed to do right? I made an executive decision that in spite of our impending destitution, I was going to tithe. Tithing is the act of giving to your church or other charities at least 10% of your income.
"Mom, what the hell is this?" shouted my daughter, who was experiencing her own dose of adolescent despair and fear, upon discovering one of the sizable checks made out to our church (I was Catholic then). No amount of reasoning could dissuade her from thinking I had gone mad. I wasn't too confident in my sanity either but I persevered against logic, and I continued to give...albeit with much trepidation.
"You'll see. One day you'll wake up to find that all these problems are a thing of the past. It will happen so gradually you may not even notice as things get better." Father-in-law did his best to console me in what I thought was a most simplistic and nonsensical manner. "Yeah, right," I disrespectfully thought in response. But he was right.
Unexpectedly, some friends asked to see a house we had for sale and bought it! The apartments we had bought that had remained mostly vacant almost since the moment we bought them, rented out. My salary escalated as did my emotions. Yes, one day I awakened to find that those problems, which I had thought unsolvable had indeed resolved - not in an instant swirl of a wizard's wand, but definitely with the invisible force of Divine magic.
I am convinced life is a school, which fortunately has a playground (which is my favorite place). What have I learned? That sometimes God graces us with beauty in times of strife - we just have to keep our eyes open. I learned that the Universe does have a sense of fairness in spite of all indications that life is not - in this case we just have to close our eyes and give more of what we want ourselves (money, time, love etc.) without expecting immediate rewards. (I suspect God doesn't like us to barter or set up conditions.) Mostly, I learned that despair is useless and faith creates abundance. So does gratitude - for all the big and little things we often fail to appreciate. I learned to focus on what I have, not what I want.
Don't get me wrong. That was just one of life's little lessons, I'm not yet a bonafide scholar. I suffer from a chronic impairment - I'm human - and it seems intrinsic to the human condition that we rarely learn our lessons the first time, but eventually we get it right - I'm certain we will.
Many blessings to those of you undergoing financial hardships. At the risk of sounding like my grandmother - trust me - "This too shall pass."
Suggestions for giving: