Get mad — then get an education
I got mad this morning.
I got mad because I saw a really sweet couple. You know the type. She walks real slow, clutching his arm tightly, hunched over a bit. He has kind eyes and a smile that promises he has triumphed over many hard days.
I’m distracted by them. They keep indulging in small acts of physical affection and they are obviously aloof about it. Their bodies lilt together, apart, together, apart. His hand on her back. She fingers the flannel draped over his forearm. He pats her hand. I have try to be discreet, but he keeps catching my eye and smiling at me. Always smiling. I am grinning down at my groceries. I can’t help myself.
Somehow I wind up behind them in line as the last of their modest booty slips over the conveyer belt. I am seized with this urge to grab my wallet. To touch the hand holding his own wallet and say, “I got it.”
But just then the cashier announces the amount owed. I shove my hands into the pockets of my scrubs. My eyes hurry over the items in my basket. Aside from the small box of four chocolates I decided to treat myself to for a whopping $1.89, there is nothing I can spare.
“Credit, please,” he says slowly.
His wife is sitting on a bench at the end of checkout, fiddling with a handkerchief while a wet, junky cough rattles her frail body. I watch the cashier with the vacant eyes, but really my peripherals are on the man sauntering over and sitting beside his wife. I realize my moment has passed. I hear fragments of their conversation, “…Eighty seven….” “…we did get the…” “…it’s okay. It’ll be okay…” Maybe I even see him squeeze her hand in reassurance. Maybe I imagined it. As my coconut milk thuds into the bottom of my bag, it feels like my heart is vomiting, and I know that I’m not going to get in my car and forget about the couple with the sweet lilt and twinkly smiles. The couple that I didn’t help.
Why couldn’t I help? Because I don’t have enough money. Because I don’t make enough money. Because I didn’t finish college. Because I didn’t go to college at first. Because I somehow believed life would be more adventurous without a college education.
My thought process is halted by the memories. Pastor Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler. His name rushes into my head. I never met him personally, but he was popular in my church community. There was one message in particular that stuck with me… He is making a case for young marriage. He is saying there is less temptation — less of a chance to have premarital sex. He is recalling his own young marriage. He retells a story about a rat infestation in their apartment. His wife is sitting atop their bed squealing, cheering him on as he chases after the rats with a broom. It’s somehow glamorous. It somehow strengthened their bond and brought them closer.
But here’s the thing: Money problems don’t bring couples closer. In fact many, many studies prove exactly the opposite. And that’s beside the point. The point is that had I gone to school, had I earned a degree, had I taken a well-paying job, I’d have the money to treat this couple to one week without worrying about their mounting credit balance. Without wondering which child will foot the tab when they are gone. I could have — even just momentarily — let them rest their weary heads.
So I’m mad. At no one in particular, but at the thought process at large. A thought process that has ensnared many people who possess immense integrity and a strength for hard work into a life full of debt and worry. This has become a root of bitterness for me regarding the church. Not necessarily for my own scenario. Sure, I would love more fiscal comfort. And I definitely would have loved putting a twinkly smile on those brilliant faces today. But I will see to it that I have that for myself some day soon.
No, my bitterness is for others who are at that critical juncture now. The ones who are weighing the options between barefoot and pregnant, and financial security. I’m not saying financial security is better, and I am certainly not downplaying the awesomeness of barefoot and pregnant, but I am saying there is no misdoing in being fiscally responsible first. You can have both.
I am frequently blindsided by my desire to have another child. To have a secret, a vibrant little life, safe in my powerful and nurturing body. To feel the first pangs of labor. To introduce them to the world and the world to this amazing new being. To relive every single stage that I had with my first two just one more time. But I won’t. Not now. Not until we are ready. Because I’ve been there. And it breaks my heart that my youngest watches my oldest twist and twirl on stage while whispering to me “I can do that, too, Mommy” and I have to remind her, “When you’re 5… Your sister started when she was 5…” Because I’m hoping that an extra year will buy us a little more time to bulk up our salaries.
Meanwhile, thousands of other young Christian couples are having a seed planted in their head that somehow not having premarital sex trumps being financially ready for a family — or, as it was in my case — that if you are having premarital sex with someone, it is time to marry up regardless of the details surrounding the situation. The phrases “God will provide” and “If God brought you to it, He’ll get you through it” are being used as excuses to make irresponsible choices — to have God “call” us to things that we are ill prepared for. All while we mindlessly toss 10 percent of our income into a tin tray…
The thing is, earning a decent living isn’t a selfish goal. Earning a decent living ensures that someday, your children won’t be left paying your debts for you. Earning a decent living ensures that you are an asset to your country. Earning a decent living sets an example for your children which will then set them up for success. Earning a decent living helps a struggling elderly couple buy their groceries. Or a single mom buy her daughter a treat from the ice cream truck. Or a little boy in Ethiopia have a full belly. Or a little girl in China to have a forever family.
It is ignorant to downplay the value of a solid education. And I’m not saying that Christians in general don’t encourage college. At the Christian high school I attended, almost all of the students in my graduating class went to (Christian) college. But there is a sect of Christianity where the parents fear the temptations that await their offspring at university. College is viewed as the norm for the secular world and its importance is undermined. The thing they are missing is that they could help so many more people if they encourage their children to get a degree.
So I was mad today. I’m sorry, sweet couple. Someday, I will think of you and help another sweet couple with a twinkly smile. Because God made me capable of knowledge and granted me the astounding privilege of being in a country that allows women to earn an education. And so I will. Maybe then I won’t be mad anymore.