- Hey friend! This is a book review of More Than Just Making It by Erin Odem. I hope you’ll quickly see that this powerful book is much more than her family’s story through financial hardship and bankruptcy. It is full of abundant hope for the heart of the financially frustrated.
The book launches this week. If you order now, there are some incredible bonuses you can check out at morethanjustmakingit.com!
I sat at the county health department, my one-year-old squirming at my feet, waiting for my public aid to be approved.
I was pregnant with my second child, had no job and was living in my in-laws’ basement. It was 2010, and we had just made a cross-country move. My husband had changed careers during a major recession, and we had to rely on family and the government to get by.
I recoiled a little bit when the social worker answered my questions about how WIC and Medicaid worked. She talked to me like I was about ten years old (or so it felt). She was taken aback when she went over my educational background and saw that I had a master’s degree (yeah that’s right, lady). But I didn’t feel much better when she started talking to me like an adult—because did my education level make me better than anyone else?
I don’t know why this memory sticks out to me during one of the more challenging years of my life. It was one of many trips to the WIC office, and for the most part the nurses and other staff were wonderfully helpful and compassionate.
But it came back to me when I read More Than Just Making It by Erin Odem. At around the same time, in the wake of the Great Recession, her family was going through a very similar struggle (weirdly similar, actually). She understood my mixed feelings of guilt, fear, confusion and uncertainty. As I devoured each page, it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one who has quietly suffered through financial frustration.
Her story is my story. My friends’ stories. Perhaps your story. If you’re a millennial like me who has struggled to move forward in your career and/or raise a family in the last decade, we’ve been hit hard by economic forces much bigger than we often realize.
I think I’m coming to grips with the fact that, while there’s a larger story going on economically, part of my own frustration is because I haven’t had my head on quite right about Christian finance. Through reading Erin’s book and doing a lot of soul-searching, I think there are a few sneaky lies that have weaseled their way into my thought process.
These are common lies I think we can believe in middle class American Christian culture. Have you believed any them?
1. If you manage your money well, you’ll never have to worry
Early in our marriage, my husband and I took a course on Christian financial management. It was very eye opening and helped us be much more unified in our marriage when it came to financial planning and budgeting.
Back when we had two incomes and no kids, it wasn’t hard to stick to a budget. I was pretty sure we had our life figured out.
Then we had kids. Then I stopped working. And expenses went up. And up. And up. Our income remained pretty much the same. As the budget tracker in our family, I tried to cut every corner. But even recently, an unexpected car repair drained our savings and my stress level skyrocketed.
When Jesus says not to worry in Matthew 6, there isn’t a qualifying statement: because if you manage your money well, you’ll never run out. Erin helped me realize that you can do everything “right” and still feel like you can barely breathe. I’ve followed her blog The Humbled Homemaker for years and she is one of the most frugal people I know (way more than me, haha!). But even still, they could barely make ends meet.
It’s tempting to want to pass judgment on someone else who is in a tight spot financially. If only they had managed their money better, perhaps by following XYZ plan. If only it were that simple.
Whether you’re the one in a tight spot or you’re in the line at the grocery story next to someone with government coupons, your situation probably has less to do with your financial management skills and a lot more to do with factors outside of your control.
The promise to remember is that God will take care of you. Erin recounts the many “kisses from Jesus” during her family’s time of struggle, and how it was God who pulled them through, not themselves.
That isn’t to say there isn’t value in being financially responsible (in fact, she has a lot of tips on how to do it practically). But it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Related post: Why Couples REALLY Fight About Money
2. Poverty is to be pitied
I’ve never called myself “poor.” That term is reserved for the less-thans, the “other” people who, while I might feel sorry for them, I can’t relate to.
Erin recounts her own experience: “I said I loved the poor, but I really just pitied them. I never got to know them or their stories. I made assumptions. I never stopped to wonder how they got there or gave a thought to how the cycle of poverty could be stopped” (p. 21).
That line resonated with me because I related all too easily. How many times have I written a check in order to clear my own conscience? Before kids, I even worked in nonprofit administration and development. But I still maintained this psychological barrier between “us” and “them.”
What’s wrong with being poor, anyway?
If you identify as middle or upper class, be very careful with how you look at “poverty.” Even if you’re offering assistance, the temptation is to treat the recipients like they’re some inferior race and you’re the savior.
People are people, and there’s only one Savior. It’s evident throughout the Bible that God makes no distinction between rich and poor, race, class, political background and whatever other divisions we create. Erin and her family had to walk in “low income” shoes for a while to make this realization a little clearer.
What about us? Do we need to hit rock bottom financially in order to love our neighbors the way Jesus told us to? Or can we choose to get down off our pedestals, perhaps offer a hand when needed, and offer understanding and true compassion without looking down? And could we graciously accept assistance when we’re the ones in need—because we know we’re not any better than anyone else?
Jesus said blessed are the poor, the mourning and the meek. I think I’m starting to see more clearly why.
Related post: How To Cultivate a Heart of Compassion in Your Kids
3. Government assistance enables people
It’s humbling to sit in a government aid office. But anyone in that position has their own story and reason to be there.
At the time I was in that position (before Obamacare), we needed health insurance. Public aid was the only option, as my husband worked for a small family business that didn’t offer health insurance. Being pregnant, I couldn’t get on any private plan. So to the health department we went.
It was a blessing to discover that not only would we have our medical expenses covered in full, but we would receive nutritional assistance as well. My pride crumbled pretty quickly because I knew we needed the help.
The system was designed to help people like us.
Many Christians decry public aid as a big money pit that enables people who can care for themselves, and that it is private institutions and churches that should be caring for the poor.
While there is certainly abuse and waste in this system, I applaud Erin for shaming the shame that many people attach to public aid:
I believe God can use anything to meet our needs. I witnessed Him provide for our family through assistance programs. While the Bible doesn’t specifically address government aid in America, in Mark 12:17 Jesus instructed the Jews to pay their taxes: ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ Our ‘Caesar’ is our government. When we pay our taxes, our government uses part of the money to care for the poor. That, my friends, makes me thankful to be an American (p. 160).
She goes on to say that, while the church certainly has a role, why not work together with the system that is in place, rather than snubbing or shaming it?
However broken the system might be, it helped her and it helped us. And I think for many people it is working just the way it should.
More Than Just Making It
Erin’s personal story mixed with practical advice was a breath of fresh air in this unique book. As my own family has struggled financially, I’ve wrestled with guilt more than anything else, and I think she gets that. More Than Just Making It is a reminder of God’s grace, that he cares for all of us deeply, and that because of him we are “more than just making it” no matter what’s in the bank.
Your turn: do you have a story about how God worked in your life during a time of financial struggle?