Emergency Fund vs Credit Card

Jumping off of buildings or throwing yourself out of a plane or diving off a 400 foot bridge is a crazy adrenalin rush that’s addicting. But without a safety net or parachute or harness… you can only do it once. My emergency fund is the safety net that allows me to jump off of life’s buildings — to take Life-Changing risks —  as often as I want.

So with a fully loaded emergency fund (3-6 months of my living expenses, sheltered quietly from my sticky, greedy, materialistic hands in a tidy money market account), I can take risks. I can “step out in faith” ALL THE TIME as churchy people love to say. For example, if we decide at age 35 that my husband wants to quit his job and become a full time freelance basket weaver in Uganda, or a full time missionary in Sri Lanka, or if we want to quit working and volunteer full time at a non-profit, or if I want to start a nonprofit and not get paid ever — or whatever the crazy dream might be — we can actually do those things.

We don’t want to.


But we could if we wanted to.

Because we have money to tide us over while we figure out our next steps, we don’t have to claw our way through every pay period, just waiting for the next one. That’s not really why we have an emergency fund. But it’s true. If we dream of doing something crazy, we can. This veers away from Dave Ramsey a bit. For him, ER funds are for well… Emergencies. And I 100% agree with him. Only Emergencies should be paid for with the Emergency Money. And that’s like real emergencies. Like my house burns down and I need a hotel. Or my car explodes. Or something.

But there’s a “secret levels” situation when it comes to finances. (Yes, that’s a Mario reference). And that is, when you’re walking with Jesus and you’ve “won with money” and you’re living at peace with your finances and He starts telling you to do some pretty cool stuff, sometimes that stuff blows protocol out of the water. Sometimes — rarely but occasionally — that crazy stuff just doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet. So we use our Emergency Fund, theoretically, on a “secret level” playing field. We use it only 100% for emergencies. And we also, in our minds, keep it open as Seed Money for Crazy Stuff that Will Bless Other People. We’ve never given away our entire ER fund. But it’s not beyond us. But we DO let it cover emergencies that aren’t really emergencies, like buying groceries for ourselves because we gave our whole paycheck away. (This is rare. But it just depends on what the Holy Spirit tells us to do.). It’s not really an emergency because I could have just not given the paycheck away. But it’s kind of an emergency because Jesus told me to…. and…

Jesus supersedes our spreadsheet.

Also, as a rule, first and foremost we make sure our family is taken care of. We make sure we typically are paying into our retirement funds and hacking away at Mort. And we are saving for emergencies. But sometimes, we go off course. We have to keep it exciting.

When we feel like giving over our ENTIRE PAYCHECK to a cause we are passionate about, we can. And we rarely just write a check to some non profit. Usually we buy groceries or pinatas or bicycles or college tuition or Nikes for some kid… Because we have money in the bank to live on.

Or last summer, we woke up one morning in August and decided to go to Disneyland. So the next day when his paycheck came, we just bought our Disney trip. With cash. Because we felt like it. That money was ALL OURS. It didn’t have to go out the door to creditors to pay for some emergency that had happened long ago. Because the emergencies that had happened long ago, had been paid for long ago. They didn’t haunt my mail box every month with bills and memories of the horror we experienced in our emergencies.

Now an emergency fund itself is not for buying Disney vacations. But it enables me to use my paycheck for anything I want. Because it is a safety net for my life. Knowing I have money to cover my risks makes me able to do crazy things. I can use my paycheck to go to Disneyland because I don’t have to always be thinking “well what if my car breaks down… what if this, what if that.”

When our gold colored 2006 minivan gives up the ghost, we can either (a) pay to have it fixed right that minute, and if we’re on the side of the road somewhere far from home, we can pay for hotels and airfare and rental cars until we are home safe.  (A friend just bought a minivan on credit and was SO PROUD of the warranty she got with it “for free”, which paid for all of the above. And the cost of that “Free” warranty was really just rolled into the price of the car, so she will be paying for that warranty monthly for the next five years with interest, and she might not ever use the warranty. We, on the other hand, just pay for stuff when it comes up, interest free. Simple.)

Or we can (b) buy a different car with cash that day. If we wanted. And when that happens, we will look at each other and say “what do you know? The car is broken….do you want to grab a couple lattes? Play a game of tennis? Spend the night in a swanky hotel? Go car shopping leisurely? Or otherwise chill out while we handle this minor situation with grace and dignity?” Instead of “OH MY GOODNESS! Let’s run around like crazy people screaming into the universe about how only horrible things ever happen to us and this house of cards we’ve built is crumbling right before our eyes and all my hopes and dreams are crushed!!”

Because this risk is covered, I don’t have to hastily sell my crappy car and corner myself into a bad loan. And here’s a bonus weird thing… because we know we have enough money to actually buy a nice car with cash…. we don’t feel the need to. I am perfectly content — thrilled, actually — to drive our Gold Dream because I know I don’t have to. It’s not like when I was a poor white kid and I had to wear Goodwill jeans and so I spent every second of every day praying nobody would realize they were secondhand and I just couldn’t wait to one day have enough money to buy nice jeans. Nope! Instead I feel like.. HECK YEAH this is my car! And we can retire in five seconds. Wahhoo!!!! And I love my thrift store clothes!

When half of husband’s department got a pink slip and all the families we knew from work were FREAKING OUT and taking second jobs and moving back to their home states and downsizing etc… we took a vacation. We sipped French press coffee on our backporch and listened to Train Radio on Pandora. We were, in essence, unfazed. Because with an emergency fund, you can weather the storms of life. We did shop for houses in other states. But it was FUN and empowering! We were dreaming together instead of having a nightmare together.

A fully funded emergency fund is like having a fully stocked underground concrete shelter, or whatever those people have on Discovery Channel. It means no matter what happens, you’re going to mostly be okay. Your life might change, but it’s not going to end. You might be annoyed, but you won’t be totally crushed. Struck down, but not destroyed.

Conversely, using credit cards to cover emergencies can result in an number of situations. Lots of my friends very proudly use credit cards to pay for emergencies and they swear it works for them. But we have noticed in those emergency times, those friends are still pressured. Still stressed. Still worried when the card is maxed out with a huge emergency and they have to use a different card. Still recuperating for months after an emergency. Still strapped with car payments when their car breaks down beyond repair and they’re “forced” to buy a new one on credit.

Those payments, at the end of the day, are money that they don’t have in hand and they are essentially strapped to for the rest of the payment cycle. These are the people who don’t understand how we can just pay cash for a trip to Disneyland. (But you’ll miss out on airline miles that you’ll never use! #worthit #smallpricetopayforfreedom) Sending 20 bucks or 500 bucks out the door every month to pay for “emergencies” on a credit card is that much more money that’s not being invested. That’s money that’s not even allowed to be given away.

It’s out of play.

(In fact, if I save what my friends pay in monthly credit cardpayments, I will have enough money to buy my own seat on any airline, at any time I want, to anywhere I want. Almost like…. airline miles with no strings attached.) Using credit takes money out of your control. Using credit bandages emergencies, it stops the bleeding for a time but it follows you around for months or years. Ugh that’s not freeing!!

Being free looks like DOING WHATEVER I WANT with my money every day. That’s worth the really really hard work it takes to build an emergency fund. An Emergency fund means I get to do whatever God calls me to do at any minute of my life. Or anything I personally want to do at any moment of my life.

I get to take all the risks I want. Wahoo! That’s freedom.



How To Look Like Jesus

My mom died 11 years ago and what she left — memories of her looks and smell and other things we take for granted… I immediately, apparently, buried somewhere deep in my psyche. The morning after she died it was like that dream where you’re grasping for something but can’t reach it. I couldn’t remember what she looked like.  Had to immediately look at a picture.

And I haven’t really delved into remembering those things but some stuff comes up sometimes.

Friends recommend lots of “How to look like Jesus” books to me. And in skimming them today I remember this about my mom: She could have written those books! But it would have undermined the whole point — which is to be so consumed with Jesus that you realize He is SO AWESOME and in comparison, I’m that much LESS AWESOME. It’s being like Jesus, quietly and in secret.

There’s this theme these days on Christian bookshelves. People writing about how edgy and cool they are because they do things they think Jesus would have done. I get it! I like those books sometimes! I have a blog about looking like Jesus. But the thing about those books is…people love to talk about how super cool and hip it is to live “like that” in theory(edgy and uncomfortable and below the poverty line or whatever the thing is). But there’s a whole huge group of people who have been living that way for centuries, including my mom, and guess what. People never thought my mom was cool. In fact, they made fun of her. A lot.

She was a revolutionary! And she didn’t even know it.

We had these girls living next door to us in our little (700 sq ft?) ghetto apartments with drug deals happening outside the windows at night. And these girls were in the worst of the worst of situations. Single drug-addicted mom, abusive absent dad, and all that goes with that.

But my mom! Those girls were over every single day to play with us. She provided who knows how many hundreds of lunches and snacks to them and we had them over for dinner at least four times a week. They came over bright and early at 7 every morning to play in the summer and didn’t go home until dark. And then they’d come back! They’d knock and knock and knock and when we answered they’d say in unison “Can we invite for dinner?”

How do you say no to that? Well when people are at your house every single day breaking your toys and eating your food, occasionally you do say no. But mostly you say YES. Even when it’s annoying. My mom hadn’t read any “how to be a cool Christian” books. She just knew Jesus always had room at the table for one more. Or two more. He always made room for kids. Even when there wasn’t enough food. Funny how so much in the Bible has to do with food. And how much of our life revolves around sharing our food with people.

And my mom bought them, every year, new school clothes. And she never said a word about how edgy she was. Because she didn’t know she was edgy. She was just being like Jesus.

We’d go to Target (didn’t have a Walmart :)) and she let them pick out some shoes and shirts and pants and underoos and even some little hair things or something. And we had “no money” but I’m guessing we had a credit card. Same thing happened when summer camp rolled around every year — new jammies, new swimsuits, new shorts and tanks and flips. Not a ton, but some.

And their family, such as it was, had us over a few times for coffee or whatever.  We both lived in broken apartments, together.

When I say “every year” I’m talking like… seven years.

And then one day the call came. Oh that call! So hard not to laugh. So I’m just going to go ahead and laugh. HAHA. The Pastor’s Wife at our church called to inform my mom that this year, *she* would be taking the girls shopping, which was great! but here’s the punch line… she asked my mom, “when will the government reimburse me?”, or was there a credit card somewhere from Family Services she could use?



See how hard I’m laughing?

We can’t duplicate what Jesus looks like. We can’t copy Him. We can’t scrum up a revolutionary lifestyle. We can’t read enough How To Books.

If we want to look like Jesus, He has to be in us. We can’t scratch up Authentic Love on our own. No matter how hard we try to copy him, if our heart’s not true, the more we will just look like ridiculous poseurs out for a reimbursement check.

Contradictorily, when He’s living in our hearts and changing us, we start to do weird things like make sacrifices for other people — things that don’t get a payback; things that don’t get a shout out or a dollar-for-dollar-return-on-investment.

We do weird things like come alongside two nearly abandoned girls and make an impact on their lives in any way we can, even when we have no money; even when there’s no reimbursement check, just because people are inherently valuable because they were made by God in His image. And usually, we can tell we are doing the right thing because other people are making fun of us.

It’s been 11 years since I lost my mom and I can’t remember a list of things about her but today I have a missing piece — an important piece. A lesson she never told me but I somehow learned from her. If I want to look like Jesus, it’s going to happen quietly, and probably no one will clap for me. And if we really want to change the world, we’d be wise to start with opening up our dinner tables.







My dad gives everything he has away, all of the time, and he’s been like that forever. He only BBQs, smokes, or fries food, so he’s either outside cooking or inside with windows and doors open, and that means people can smell the burgers, steaks, fried chicken, or anything else and they know my dad shares. So there’s always people at his house! Always! And there’s always enough food to feed everyone. Even if it means the good stuff runs out and so he’s just passing out canned peaches and green beans.

Every Christmas growing up, we’d pack and distribute food boxes at Thanksgiving and Christmas and then every Saturday, we’d get donations from around town of balloons and candy and doughnuts and hostess cupcakes and then we’d drive these big busses around and pick up hundreds of kids for church, and give the stuff away to them. Their parents would come too and of course my dad always gave cupcakes to them too! Because who doesn’t love a cupcake! And they’d always laugh like they were found out! Like… “old man knows I secretly want a cupcake just like my kid has… but I’m so grown up and dignified I shouldn’t have one”… and then my old man would give them a whole box. And they were so happy!

Then there’s the time it was smelt season  — we lived on a river — and all the Russian families, like 2,000 people, would come dip for smelt. It’s an oily little fish that people use for lots of things. Well they’d be camping and it’s cold and wet and smelt season is about two weeks long. So my dad had them all coming into our home to use the washer and dryer. I walked in from school and there’s a bunch of guys in their long johns drinking coffee and waiting for the dryer to finish. You just… never know with my dad! He’s always got something brewing and it always involves giving.

One time he paid for a neighbor kids open heart surgery. And my dad doesn’t have money. But he happened to have money right that minute and so… he paid for the surgery. It meant he couldn’t buy a new-old truck. But hearts are more important than trucks.

But the thing about his generosity is this: it’s not because he’s just a great man. I mean… he is… but… he’s also a human and that means he’s inherently selfish as well.  His generosity stems from something more than just the good feeling we get from giving. Because when you live for 70 years giving and giving and giving, sometimes that giving hurts. Sometimes there’s nothing to give. But my old man gives anyway. And I know why he can do it. (DRUMROLL……)

It’s Jesus.

Because Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for him, and me. (And you, btw). And that unending, unfailing, totally world changing love, lives inside of my dad. Because my dad said “JESUS! You’re awesome! Make me like you!” And so … He did! And Jesus is both inherently giving, and also inherently wealthy. So when a poor old man like my dad says “I want to be like you” Jesus steps in and gives him the power to give and in times when there’s nothing to give, Jesus provides that, too.

We don’t give so that we will be a better person, so that we will feel better and sleep nicer at night. We don’t give so we can become like Jesus. It’s the other way around. We are becoming like Jesus, and so we give. It’s not an ingredient for a happy life. It’s the byproduct of a happy life — a life that is only found in Christ Jesus! If you want to be a crazy giver but just can’t seem to get over the hump… start with Jesus! The rest will follow.