I bought deodorant the other day. Just ordinary, off the shelf deodorant. Nothing special.
It was somewhat mindless. A new scent. A different brand. But nothing earth-shattering that I was making this small purchase.
But I haven’t thrown out the old one yet. It sits there on the shelf because there’s a tad bit left. Enough to dig out with some tweezers or a q-tip. Enough to last me maybe one or two more days. I know this because there was once a time where I scraped out what I could and tried to use whatever bit I might get from the container. This was not a “fiscally thrifty” Andrea. This was “Payday is in two days and I need to smell like a professional TODAY” Andrea.
I find myself thinking this way about milk too.
Because years ago when I was a single mom and my daughter was not yet two, we ran out of milk. A crisis. The two of us were driving around an old Chevy Tahoe that had no air conditioning in the middle of the August heat in Fort Worth, Texas. Our legs stuck to the leather seats and when I moved, my skin peeled off like Elmer’s glue, but I needed milk for the baby. I had no money. Paycheck to paycheck would’ve been a dream at that point. We drove to the closest grocery store where I knew I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. In the parking lot, while she kicked and giggled in her seat, I crouched down and scrounged around the floorboards. Between the goldfish pieces and dirt, I found a few nickels, pennies, dimes. These added up and quarters felt like a jackpot. Enough for a gallon of milk.
The week before, I paid for gas in change. $2.65 in pennies, nickels, and dimes for about one gallon of gas. 14 miles of driving. Just enough to get where I needed to go.
It felt like the Lord was multiplying the change on my floorboards like loaves and fishes. The same floor mats I turned over last week somehow returned a payday again. I returned to where feet scuffed and dirt collected, and God met me with the grease still under my fingernails at the end of myself.
Then there was the time we ran out of toilet paper. I considered asking my church if I could take home one of their wrapped rolls. The ones stacked in multiple towers in the corner of the women’s bathroom. Or maybe, maybe I thought, I could just take one. I could tuck it in my purse, and no one would ever really know. But I didn’t. The guilt was already so heavy. The shame of not being able to provide what we really needed was enough. I didn’t need the additional label of “thief.” We could make it to payday. We could scrounge change. I could find a solution.
I didn’t live like this for a lifetime. Just a few short years of barely making ends meet. A few short years with a dragon of debt towering over me. Each day, another day with its stale, putrid breath reminding me that it was hungry. A few years of bills I couldn’t pay. A few years of avoiding debt collector phone calls. A few years of financial insecurity choking out my joy, my friendships, my hope, my freedom. A few years that felt like a death sentence. A few years where I faked it until I couldn’t make it anymore.
Most people didn’t know. Only those who got close enough to check my fridge and my bank account.
But here I am now, in an entirely different season. No longer a single mom. No longer watching my bank account drop below zero. No longer dreading the calls from unknown numbers. But I’m not so far from it that I don’t still feel the same panic when we get low on milk. Or when I realize we’re down to only a few diapers. I’ve been known to buy three extra jars of something now because “Well, what if we run out?” Or I buy a backup gallon of milk. A backup tube of toothpaste. The extra loaf of bread. Just-in-case shampoo. Blame-the-trauma toilet paper. I-don’t-want-to-feel-that-way-again hand soap.
I could cry when I realize that the internet stays on, my car isn’t going to be repossessed, and I can meal plan beyond the next two days. The “normal” life is a crazy abundant life. The ease of not worrying about these things is provision beyond what I deserve, what I hoped. But I don’t forget.
I never want to forget that purchasing deodorant is a simple luxury. I never want to forget the kindness of a gas station attendant who didn’t roll their eyes at me when I counted out pocket change. For generous friends who didn’t let me pay for things. For family who gave me a place to come home.
It’s not that way for everyone. I know your life might look great on Instagram, but your wallet and pantry might say otherwise. You might have the latest whatever it is that sustains cultural status, but you’re aware of the dark cloud of debt that follows you around every corner. Or maybe your poverty isn’t in material things but in those dark nights of the soul that seem to revisit again and again. Those anxieties that lay close to your skin, wrapping their hands around your throat, making your heart race and your head swirl.
There is no Cinderella story in those moments. Spinning the social media wheel only feels like a continual reminder of the life you want to have but can’t.
Don’t buy it.
Here’s the honest truth — somewhere in the midst of your suffering and dusty wallets, you have the abundance of the daily, mundane, ordinary life. The dishes and laundry that pile are the meals you do have and the clothes you can wear. The kids who kick and scream are the babies who own pieces of your heart in their own bodies. The wallets that remain empty force us to find our joy in things that cannot be valued by Wall Street and Instagram. The dirty floorboards and hands covered with car grease remind us that we’re not better than anyone. Life levels all of us at one point or another. No one is above this.
And in this, we find our humanity. “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me...” Proverbs 30:8
The food that is needful for me. We are given daily manna. Just enough for what we need today. Not always tomorrow. My impulsive desire to stock up “just in case” is the same motivation that had the Israelites gathering manna by the armful “just in case.” The answer is not having more. The answer is seeing the provision you do have. Gather enough for today, whether it be pennies and quarters or a well-stocked fridge. There is no need to fear in famine, no good to boast in feast. It does your heart no good to panic in the scarcity as much as hoarding in the provision until it rots and squirms with maggots. Today, you might feel the lack as close as the shadow at your feet. Tomorrow you may be tempted to stock up in the day of abundance thinking it will spare you should poverty knock again. The fear that kept me awake at night when my bank was overdrawn for the umpteenth time is the same fear that fuels my “back-up” overstocked shelves. It’s the belief that God won’t meet my needs. That in the end, he’ll forget to provide. That maybe he doesn’t really care after all and I’m only one day away from finding that out.
Here, in this empty, dusty, earth where we long for water, where we won’t ever accumulate enough to actually satisfy the gnawing feeling that we’re missing something, we can turn our faces again to the cross. A cross where a man hung with a crown scrounged together from the thorns of a bush. Garments stained with blood and spit. In the death of a criminal and a borrowed tomb, he took our place as the thief, outcast, and debtor. It’s in the sufficient King we find our riches and rest and look to the day of a feast without end. May we never scrounge in panic nor hoard in fear, but trust that our Father will give us our daily bread, just as we need.