• 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.

    • Theresa, I agree with what you wrote but college is not for everyone. A career in something is sometimes the best advice. Plumbing, electrical engineering, carpentry, auto mechanic etc. Think out options before marriage and children. I would rather see everyone wait until they have something before struggle is the only thing they have. Also, a good support group is mandatory. You have worked hard to make your marriage work after marrying so young. you have a roof over your heads, jobs and your kids are loved, fed and clothed. All other goodness will follow.There are lots of ways to help others and they don’t all include money. You are helping by sharing your words.

    • We live in a world that everything is dominated by money and economics. Money can absolutely devastate a marriage. Our country was founded upon materialism and the right to private ownership of property. As to everyone going to college. In a way, I think college could be for everyone. That is to say, college or trade schools can be for everyone. But again, even getting an education requires you selling your soul. I know two unemployed lawyers, brilliant women, who do not have the prospect of paying off college loans that are around 150 thousand dollars.

      I want to live in a world where people who even take a minimum wage job can have a humble existence, can even had a kid or two.

      Money can’t buy you love, but it buys you freedom. That’s the truth.

      • Theresa

      • July 17, 2013 at 11:20 am
      • Reply

      Madge, I do agree that college isn’t for everyone. And I also acknowledge that there are plenty of college degrees available which will not produce a lucrative career – many would be better off doing carpentry, electrical work, or automotive work as you mentioned. But even these trades which pay well often do not pay enough to support a family. And especially in a culture that often frowns on the use of contraception. But that’s a whole different ball of wax!

    • I love the general idea here behind this article, preparedness -more so than education- is critical before marriage, when we are young we are naive and easily influenced by others, we see other people’s lives and struggles much more glamorous than they really are. If I give my kids (especially taty) anything I hope to give them a firm grasp on the reality of adult life, be young and make your way in life before you make permanent adult life choices. Kids are great, marriage is awesome and honestly neither one NEEDS a set amount of money before it is successful (no matter how much you earn you will always feel you don’t have enough) beig a young parent/spouse is not fun and it is a lifelong commitment and it can be a serious hinderance on a person who isn’t fully ready

        • Rose

        • July 18, 2013 at 4:46 am
        • Reply

        Well said. Im very proud of you Lise!

      • davidlacy

      • July 17, 2013 at 1:56 pm
      • Reply

      First and foremost, this is a beautifully written narrative. I continue to expect you to finish writing a BOOK due to your remarkable skill at descriptive language.

      Higher education in the 21st century is a funny thing and it’s difficult to make blanket statements about its importance in social mobility. The biggest problem is that FAR too many people see their diplomas as merely career/income advancement tools. This isn’t necessarily these folks’ faults; employers have increasingly made a college degree a requisite for employment, even if the college degree is only minimally (sometimes not even minimally) related to the job/occupation. Pumping out degrees for the sake of degrees has gotten ridiculous and has indeed led to a devaluation in the eyes of some people of really important “blue collar” work.

      Side note: MANY people coming out of universities these days are struggling to find employment, and that’s not entirely related to the recession. Much of that has to do with the shift in TYPES of careers that are being valued in this country.

      Anecdote: Between my step and half siblings, I have a lot of brothers and sisters. Some went to college, some went to graduate school, and a couple finished K-12 at a continuation high school. One step sister emancipated herself at the age of 17 and took her G.E.D. I’m not going to lie; I thought for some time that she would probably hover around the poverty line for life. Funny twist in the story; she is easily the wealthiest of all my siblings. She worked her way up at a mortgage bank in the bay area (a very expensive real estate market), and later became a broker, agent, and loan officer herself. She was able to purchase bay area property which further padded her financial assets. Additionally, her husband (a great guy) also never attended college. He makes VERY good money in a managerial capacity at an oil refinery (supposed “blue collar” employment).

      I have a brother-in-law who went to undergrad and then pharmacy school and he is also doing exceptionally well (he is not in retail pharmacy but inside a hospital and also does research). I have a half brother who never went to college but is learning engineer techniques at a naval base on the Puget Sound. He is NOT wealthy, but he does have a decent job, a loving wife and kids, and owns his own small home.

      What I can’t stand is when either side minimizes the value of the other. All too often I have heard some of my more conservative friends slam “elitist-university-education-folks.” I am also aware of college educated individuals who are downright snobby toward non-college educated folks. Both attitudes are absurd.

      However, I do believe that ALL people should value knowledge and the incredible experience of learning, regardless of the medium by which they achieve this. My step-sister is now contemplating taking some courses at a local college in order to enhance her knowledge of areas she has interest in. For me, this is the important part. It shouldn’t be about college, it should be about a desire/thirst for understanding and experience.

      I hope you get to finish school because I think you’ll value it Theresa. But along the way, your role is just as important as anyone else’s.

      And if you wrote a book — you could kiss all of your classes goodbye! 🙂

    • Value your time for what it is worth. You are only in college for a couple of years, don’t spend it on desperately earning beer money online through surveys and ad clicking scams. You should be able to say you are happy with what you are doing. It should be worth your time.

      • Rose

      • July 18, 2013 at 4:56 am
      • Reply

      Nicely written Theresa. You obviously love writing and as with all art the craft grows with the artist. I think you should write that book someday!! As for your subject matter…everyone ..no matter what their circumstances can live a charitable life. Its just that..a way of life. Marriage no matter when its undertaken succeeds when both parties are whole and compliment the others’ life. Some couples grow into those roles some have it from the start some never have it .

      • Theresa

      • July 18, 2013 at 6:52 am
      • Reply

      When I started reading some of your responses I kept thinking, “No! Wait! You’re missing the point!” but then I reread them, and I think maybe you guys “get it” more than I do. My knee jerk reaction is to defend a college education – probably because it is something both my husband and I have really had to fight to get… We are STILL fighting to get – but you are all absolutely right.
      There are plenty of successful people without an education and plenty of people with educations who are struggling to find employment. And you’re right. Being happy is the most important thing. And no ones role is more or less important than someone elses – regardless of their education. I’ve loved the dialogue here and that you all really thought about this topic and took it to heart. There is no greater reward for a columnist than that. Thank you all – you guys made my day 🙂

    • I am totally in agreement with David. Theresa, you have walked a long path on this topic, and the passion in your words is striking. I also see a book on this topic in your future. Do it! THAT may be your career!

    • Then, when I start digging deeper to find out why they want to make a lot of money, it’s almost always because they want to live a comfortable lifestyle so they don’t have to worry about money.

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