Money Doesn't Grow In Dirt

I finally bring my part of this project to an end and give the money away...

On Thursday, April 26, I dug up the $100. [See my October blog entry for an explanation of why it was necessary to access an earthen vault to retrieve the money.]

I considered claiming the funds somewhat earlier, but during the winter some fire ants built a mound atop the burial spot, and I had to wait for the poison bait I sprinkled to bring an end to their hellish activity.

Then we had snow on Easter morning.

This is not what the Easter Bunny normally brings to West Texas. It was still too cold to motivate myself to go outside and dig for dollars. Finally, spring arrived for real. The flowers in the garden where I’d placed the money back in the dry twig days of autumn began to bloom quite nicely. No longer could I excuse further delays.

With the money now in hand, I can look back and see that I’ve learned some things during the seven months it was in the ground. Here they are in ascending order of importance.

When burying money, especially cash, always protect it well. The Zip-loc bag I used was a good start, but… The bag should have been put inside some kind of metal or plastic box. Something mysteriously sliced a hole in the bag (a money grubbing grub?) and water got into it. The money that emerged 210 days later was dirty and damp and spotted with mold. There is abundant biblical truth in this. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…” Matt: 6:19. It was a good object lesson to see the money so degraded. It made me feel almost physically ill as I tried to wipe off the currency and in my mind contrasted it with the crisp bills that had gone into the bag. What had I done? I had almost wasted everything.

The longer your money, your gifts, your opportunities are deferred, the easier it is to forget about them. For the first few months, not a week would go by without my thinking, “The money! I need to do something about the money.” This thought irritated me. It prompted me to scan possibilities for ways to spend the funds with something akin to divine wisdom. I thought (mistakenly) that hiding the money would function like having a rock beneath my pillow. I ought not be able to ignore it if I ever wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Instead, as I should have realized, the most human thing happened: I habituated to the money’s absence. Several months into my experiment it might occasionally come to mind, and then I would realize with a start that I hadn’t thought about it in weeks and I had been sleeping very well, thank you. If this continued, I might soon forget that shallow grave altogether.

What you do for God isn’t nearly as important as just doing something. Most of the time I’ve been involved in this project I believed that the only form of “success” would be to spend the money on some original idea that would somehow become self-perpetuating as it inspired others to do likewise. Just as Joonna and others expressed, the last thing I wanted to do was simply hand over the money to a homeless person or donate it to a charitable cause. Truthfully, once I read their accounts on this blog, I wanted to be like Debra and Nick and Al Hsu. I wanted to generate excitement and service to others and unexpected twists in the rendition of my plan that made it even better than anything I could have strategized. However, my wishing only led to a deep-valleyed procrastination as I insisted on doing things at a particular level of attainment that I now see was all about making myself feel good and important. Of course, I planned to give God credit, but everyone else would see that He had chosen me to do this great thing and…what hogwash.

Working together at this awkward thing known as the “church” often means supporting others who have already stumbled upon or been granted great ideas. I now believe a worthy way to spend the stash of money would be to shamelessly copy Debra and recruit students to teach poetry to disadvantaged kids. Or I could purchase Nathan’s book as Nick did and start a book study in our adult Sunday school class. Or I could play “tag” like Al. The point is that I don’t need to come up with anything new. All I need to do is find someone else who is already doing something brave and loving that “salts” humanity in places where people need it. [See my next and final revelation.]

The best thing that happened to this unfaithful-by-choice servant while the money was in the ground: God made me sensitive to what His people are doing. It was remarkable how often I began hearing of good works that others had already set in motion. Each time I would think, “Maybe I should invest in that.” Then, still enslaved to the misconception that this project was entirely about my imagination, my originality, I would say, “No, just giving them money is too easy.” Here are some entities I thought about directing the money toward:

Sanctuary Home ( http://www.sanctuaryhome.org/ ) This orphanage for children abandoned on the street in India was started by Amanda and Ray, a young couple in Abilene who learned about the need through Amanda’s email exchanges with an Indian minister. They began raising money to help the orphans, relying mostly on email and word of mouth. Soon they had enough funds for a building to be acquired, and the children were brought in. These are children whose parents have died from AIDS, heat stroke, cancer, cholera, snake bite, car accident, suicide, and the tsunami. Amanda and Ray finally made a trip to India in December and were amazed to see what has come to pass in less than two years, all of it set into motion by their working from the comfort of home.

Mission Lazarus ( http://www.missionlazarus.org/ ): Several years ago a young ACU business alum went to Central America intent on taking advantage of financial opportunities there. Instead, he saw the poor of Honduras and ended up moving to a small village there and putting all that he had into a place that serves mountain people by providing medical care and sustainable agriculture opportunities. As for his high powered business degree that was going to make him a bundle, he’s using that expertise to become a formidable fundraiser on the behalf of the Hondurans.

Dry Bones ( http://www.drybonesdenver.org/ ): This is a ministry to kids living on the streets of Denver. Some are runaways, some are homeless. Several of my students have worked with these kids during the summer and plan to return.

Eternal Threads ( http://www.eternalthreads.org/ ): This organization was started by a woman in Abilene who retired from being a flight attendant on international flights. Using her lifetime flight privileges, Linda Egle has been able to travel frequently to India and organize the importing of totes and lace crafted by village women. These attractive and useful goods are sold at church bazaars and fundraisers. The money raised is 100% returned to the women who use it to send their daughters to school. Without this ministry, most of these girls would become child brides in exchange for the dowry the poor family would receive. Some would be forced into child labor. Others would become prostitutes.

In addition… During these seven months, I also heard about 1) a woman at church whose house was burned down in a suspected case of arson by her husband and his girl friend; people at church were helping her, including offering her employment as a house cleaner; 2) wife met (and tried to help by offering rides) an immigrant family from Sierra Leone who came to Abilene to escape civil war; and 3) my eight-year-old told me about a family his class “adopted” for Christmas who had lost all that they owned in a fire.

Again, being among the dullest of the dull, it took all of the above to help me understand that there’s no need for me to start something grand from scratch with some kind of elaborate plan or hope to make it grow. There are people right in front of me that I can help out of my surplus which (if I’m honest about it) goes well beyond the $100 involved in this experiment.

Final Thoughts
This project has made me aware of how much I tend to err on the side of caution. If I don’t know what to do in life, then I “play it safe” (a misnomer if there ever was one), and do nothing. I don’t think God ever plays it safe. Safety is not the issue because whatever mistakes occur in the process of leaping into action can always be compensated for or corrected in some new dynamically divine fashion (case study: the Apostle Peter). The only thing that can’t be redeemed is stasis. It remains what it is. To be inert is to be dead to life and to the God who gives life.

So I’m going to take this money—plus more that I have in savings—and offer it to Sanctuary Home and a couple of students who are going to work with Dry Bones and two others who are going on an Intervarsity trip to work with the poor in India this summer.
*Here You Are, Thank You, 2007, pencil, crayon and pen, by Coleman Canon Haley, age 8 years, 364 days


joonna said...

Al, I think your honesty, your voice, your writing, your insight has been one of the best things I've carried from our time together at Calvin. This post just reminded me of how deeply your comments always seemed to affect me. Thanks for the blessing of this post which is for me, today, while I'm in the dry bones of grading and general misery that seems to always come at the end of a school year, sparkling spring water bubbling up for us all.


Debra Rienstra said...

Thanks for this, Al. I've been wondering what on earth--so to speak--you would have to say after all these months of letting the money lie fallow. As it turns out, your insights are not only cautionary but also inspiring. I will try to counter all the depressing news I hear daily on the radio with greater attention to the amazing seeds God is planting all around me. Thank you for this. Tell your son I love his drawing, too. Debra