We’ve hired people to do yard work and other chores over the past three years. It’s not that we are incapable of doing these tasks ourselves, but we wanted to contribute to our community.
I grew up poor. Below poverty, in fact. Same thing for my wife. We know how it feels to go hungry. We know how it feels to be excluded at school because our clothes aren’t cool, or because we can’t contribute $5 to the pizza party. As adults, we’ve dealt differently with money because of how we interpreted our upbringings. I don’t like to spend money on things we don’t need … nice dinners at restaurants, big televisions, brand-name clothes. My wife loves to give things away, whether it be %500 or $600 to someone she feels is needy, a gift certificate, a little extra donation to church, or hiring employees at twice the local wage for similar work. She once gave away all of my matching plain white plates to a family that expressed an interest.
Needless to say, this sometimes creates conflict, especially when I’m not around when a salesman calls or knocks on the door. We have bottles of some super-cleaner that doesn’t clean anything, and usually several boxes of girl scout cookies and $5 chocolate bars. Sometimes when I’m going through the mail to pay bills, I find myself having to write checks out to companies that sent us really lame kids movies and quasi-charitable firemen and police groups. On the other hand, she has to deal with living with a husband who buys things that don’t just go in the trash or get eaten: camping supplies, tools, toys for the kids. To her, I “collect” or “hoard”; to me, I spend money on things that don’t get taken out to the trash or flushed down the toilet. Our kids, for example, don’t go to fast-food places as much as most city kids; instead, they get a $3 book or $5 toy at the store. It’s a rare, rare treat that they get to drop a couple quarters into an arcade game or carousel!
In order to live with our differences, we’ve slowly began to work together on a few things: I have a shopping list when I go out, and high-ticket items go through a discussion first. More often than not, I buy online so I get exactly what we need. She knows that she shouldn’t buy from people who show up at the door or call on the phone without talking it over with me first too … not because I’m trying to be “controlling”, but because her b*s* radar doesn’t go off & people take advantage of her.
In the past twenty years, I’ve known a handful of wealthy people. Some were really stingy (one guy used to take me out to lunch and make me buy!), and others went out of their way to help people. It was interesting to me that those who were stingy also usually had a “philosophy” about money, while those who were natural philanthropists tended to “leave their philosophy to God.” I learned to like the latter kind, and when we finally began to have money, we tried to follow the best we could in their footsteps.
The first thing we did is decided we would help anyone in need with our surplus. This is kind of like the “gleaning” bit in the Bible (where the poor were allowed and encouraged to go out into the fields after harvest and take up any of the leftovers). The next thing was to remember to thank God for all we had, and not get greedy. After all, all that we have is because he provided it or the opportunity to gain it for us. We also (perhaps without laying this out clearly) set ourselves to only obtain those things we could use or that would help us raise our children. This roughly translated into tools, educational supplies, vacations and field trips, and food storage. We didn’t invest in a lot of jewelry, a nicer car or other luxuries (except for one, and it embarrasses me to this day!).
Though we knew the proper “Order of Responsibility” was ourselves (wife & kids), then our extended family (siblings & parents), followed by our community, etc … we often jumped the gun. We hired on my in-laws, who are both disabled, to watch our children. We placed an ad for a nanny, but the girl who responded didn’t seem right for the job (I suspect now she had a drug problem), but we prayed about it and gave her a job doing house cleaning. We hired an alcoholic just out of rehab to mow the lawn, hired another relative to do some filing at our business and hired needy friends and other members of the community to do work for us. Some of these people worked with us long enough to be on our payroll (so we took out taxes & everything), but others just worked with us for short times.
As expected, the more we gave away, the more we prospered. We were able to get a bigger truck (for the kids & the newborn on his way), and gave our old one to some friends who’d just had an accident with their own. Sometimes we were on the receiving end of such charity: often people would stop by with fresh produce they’d pulled from their garden. Things were great.
Things began to fall apart after almost exactly one year of prosperity. We began to be greedy and suspicious with our money – maybe not with others, but between ourselves. We began to be susceptible to “inspiration” that did (or would have done) more harm than good. Our marriage began to fall apart, causing us to waste large amounts of money on counseling, both together and against each other. Business died down. We had to lay off most of our employees. Subscriptions and interest began to pile up, but the worst thing was knowing there were families and individuals depending on us. We’d ignored two very important pieces of counsel: to follow the ‘order of responsibility’ and to stay out of debt. After we lost our business and then learned our taxes were about ten times what we’d expected to pay (because of faulty advice), the dept of pain we felt was equal to the height of joy we’d felt while we prospered. We’d been blessed in the way we’d desired, but because we had not followed the counsel of God, we couldn’t hold onto those blessings.
Yesterday a guy showed up at the door, asking if he could mow our lawn. My wife sent for me, telling me that my father in law had sent him to us. (My father in law is a good guy, and did his best to send the poor and needy to our doorstep, but sometimes forgot we were broke!). I talked to this guy, and remembered he was the one who was the only one my father in law ever fired. Last year he worked here for one day, and he was very meticulous, spending an entire hour to pull up one of my flower bushes next to the house (he thought it was a weed). I wanted to tell him “no” – I’d just finished doing bills and inventory, and knew we won’t be able to buy groceries for two more weeks if we want to get our IRS payment out … and we’re out of baby formula and other important items – but seeing him standing there, eyes looking away from me, drooling a little on himself made me feel bad. He wanted to charge $15 for our lawn, but i told him I’d pay him $10, and to come by today at 10am sharp, otherwise I’d finish it myself.
Last night I dreamt of our former next-door neighbors. They had a son who was a “good kid”, but also a really bad kid. He was kind of like Eddie Haskell from “Leave It To Beaver” – really polite, a good worker, and also the kid that would paint ball our truck, shoot blow-darts into our house, and who shot out all our windows with a BB gun before we moved here. I paid him once to mow our lawn. In the dream, the new neighbors and the kid were talking about how they were going to sell their house for $13,000, and I was trying to figure out how to buy it so we could tear it down and expand our yard. The guy who owned the house showed up near the end of the dream and was upset that they wanted to sell his house for so little, when he felt it was worth much more. (The dynamic may need some explanation: he still owns the house, and merely rents it out to the current residents).
Around 10:30 today lawnmower guy arrived. He lives a few blocks away and had to make a couple trips to bring his lawn mower, bicycle, water and gas. He started mowing a small patch of lawn we have (one that should have taken three or four swipes), and was out there for a long time. Finally, he stopped the mower and stood at the door (not sure why he didn’t knock), so I opened the door to see how he was doing. He’d hit the sidewalk and bent his lawn mower blade, and the mower wouldn’t go any more.
We spent awhile trying to bend the blade back, but it wasn’t going too well. He finally said he’d take it to a guy he knew that did small engine repair, and rode away with the blade. An hour later he came back, and we put the blade on, but the mower wouldn’t start, and the blade was still a little bent. He said he’d take it home and fix it, and I told him he could come back Monday (I didn’t want him to work on the Sabbath), and paid him half of the $10 (though he’d only mowed about 1/10th of the lawn).
A short time later he came back with a different lawn mower. He was out there for two more hours, and I thought it was weird he was staying in the front yard (our yard is pretty small). When I heard the mower stop, I went out to check on him, and dropped the remaining five into my pocket, and another $3 into another pocket, so I could give him a little more if he’d done a good job. I walked along the house to survey his work, and saw that none of the back was done yet. (At this point he’d been working off and on on our lawn for nearly four hours!) He told me “I wanted to talk to you, because I didn’t know if you wanted me to do the back, and I was thinking if you did, I could do it for another $15”. He stammered a little and said something about using his own gas, and I waited patiently and then reminded him what I’d said the day before – that our lawn was going to get mowed anyway, for free. I told him “maybe i can give you three extra dollars for the gas”.
I came back in the house and sat down. He started up his mower and headed to the back yard. I went to get a glass of water, and I remembered the neighbor kid mowing our lawn for $15. I sat down and remembered the dream I had last night. I remembered the kids dad – the one who owns the house next door – being upset that his renters and his son wanted to sell his house. A connection in my mind reminded me that all we have is not ours, it is a gift to us from the Lord. I remembered some scripture in the book of Mosiah:
“13 And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.
14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the devil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt asay: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to aimpart of the substance that ye have one to another.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are arich as pertaining to the things of this world.
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.” (Mosiah 4:13-25)
I resolved at that moment to give him twenty dollars for his work, regardless the quality, and added more to my pockets.
When he completed his work, I gave him the money and took down his number and other contact information, should any new opportunity for work arise.
I learned a very important lesson, or rather, received a very strong reminder. We might be starving. We might be hurting financially. This kid, though, is handicapped … something that won’t go away when the economy gets better … and he clearly didn’t have a lot of money … yet he canvassed the town on foot searching for work. He dragged two lawnmowers down the road in the hot sun. He never asked for water or the restroom. He had originally asked for fifteen dollars, and I talked him down to ten, and he did the work anyway.
I actually feel a little guilty about only giving him twenty.