When I was growing up, my mother owned-- seriously-- the most heinous winter coat on the face of God's green earth. This in not an exaggeration; I am not speaking in hyperbole. It.was.ugly. It was a bright hunter's red wool material-- not nice, squishy, soft wool like Cana's diaper covers. Oh, no. It was scratchy and coarse and prickly and UGLY. It had a red and black plaid liner on the inside, and a cinched waist that would have done a great disservice to even the most chiseled of Hollywood midsections. It was UGLY. I wish I had photographic proof of the magnitude of its awful-ness; my words cannot possibly do it justice. But I am afraid that pictures were purposefully NOT taken, thinking that less evidence of the fashion crime would somehow lessen its consequences. (Have I mentioned that it was ugly??)
My sisters and I tried to get Ma to stop wearing it. Oh, believe me. We tried. I am pretty sure we hid it on more than one occasion, spilled grape juice on it in hopes of its demise, left it out in rainstorms, hoping the moisture would felt the wool to an unmanageable size. We tried to replace it one Christmas with a fancy new leather coat. But my little Italian mother would always insist, "It's warm. I like it. I am not getting rid of it."
*Sigh*. So, trash or Salvation Army ('cause, you know, they'd want it) aside, we resorted to the next best thing. When mom would pick me up from violin lessons, I'd pretend not to notice her flashing red beacon, waiting beside her car; I'd tell my friends that my mom must have forgotten me, and I would just walk home. Or if she insisted on wearing the wretched garment to our town's Christmas tree lighting, I would stand a few paces away and bemoan the influx of the homeless bag-ladies into our quaint little city.
But you know, something changed in my psyche in the last few months. I found myself on the market for a new winter coat. I scoured newspaper ads, ebay, online vendors. I had throughly convinced myself that if I was going to make it through this apolcalyptic winter, I must have the appropriate outerwear. And of course, with a new coat comes all the necessary matchy-matchy accessories. But then two things happened. Having not been to the library lately, I happened to peruse my bookshelves for something to entertain me. I noticed Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. It was a hand-me-down from my sister... and because it is a book about debt (or so I thought), I figured it wasn't something that would apply to me; we didn't have any debt. But I was desperate, so I decided to give it a shot. And man, my perspective was dramatically changed. I won't get into all of the particulars; it's just not that interesting. But it really reminded me of the futility of acquiring STUFF. It clutters my home, it gets dirty, it gets broken; rust and moths destroy it, robbers break in and steal it.
The other, more dramatic mind-altering moment was on January 12 at 4:53 PM. I watched the news in horror-- relieved that God had spared my sister and her family in Haiti-- aghast that He, in his supreme wisdom, had not spared another quarter million people. I read my sister's post about holding a child who was literally starving to death. And suddenly my matching mittens seemed less urgent. Writing my measly support check for them reminded me-- if I had been more guarded with the resources with which God had entrusted me, I could have written a much larger check-- and not even had to think twice about it. I had foolishly and repeatedly invested in myself, more than I had in the kingdom of God... foolishly insisting on my own way, when the God of the universe was willing to pay generous dividends. My chief purpose in being on earth is not to have nice things and create a nice home for my family; my chief purpose is to glorify our Creator. And when I really sit down and think about how that NECESSARILY must affect our finances, I am humbled.
Years ago, I stumbled across a Great Depression-era saying:
"Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without."
Really? REALLY? Do without? How, in just 80 years, did we go from THAT to having 2.5 TRILLION dollars of consumer debt in the US, $8100 for every man, woman, and child...?!?! We have hoarded all our belongings and melted them into this golden calf of STUFF. We are deceived. God, help us. We have it all wrong.
My crazy old mom had it right, for once. :) That coat may have been ugly, but it was warm. THAT, friends, is the chief purpose of coats. A quick inventory of our coat closet yielded not one but THREE acceptable winter coats. Yeah, they are kinda ugly. One of them I have had since I was 16. But it's fine. And man, I plan on wearing that coat as long as God and my girth allow. Evie and Cana are going to HATE me for it, but I am going to be smugly smiling on the inside, nice and toasty warm-- pushing my grocery cart full of bags at the town Christmas tree lighting....