Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where Nothing is Wasted, or Why My Mother is Awesome

“Waste dishonors the poor.” 
Her example also encourages
me to lead a life of empowered whimsy.
My mother is a woman of adamantine principles.  She does not shop in grocery stores that sell alcohol; as a campus minister, she has seen too many young lives ruined by reckless drinking. She does not buy wares made in China in protest of their human rights violations, and as a fast to remind her to pray for that nation. She does not shop in bookstores that sell Playboy or anything like it, because those periodicals contribute to the objectification of women. When I was a child, these practices affected how our household entered the marketplace, and her example has encouraged me to live a life of conviction. 
 My mother's war against waste, however, is even more integral to my understanding of home. Home is a place where nothing is wasted. My mother and father’s determination to be wise stewards of their resources impresses me anew each time I come home to them.  Looking around the house I grew up in, I can point out many signs of holy thrift. 
-- No air conditioning. In the twenty-seven years my parents have lived in this house, they have never had air conditioning. In addition to saving lots of money and electricity, this lack made the changing of the seasons a reality I could always feel on my skin. It also added a little redemptive suffering to a childhood full of otherwise-carefree summers. 
--In the entire house (a modest 1920s bungalow with three bedrooms and 2 bathrooms), I can think of only three pieces of furniture my parents bought new. Most of the furniture and appliances (as well as clothes, housewares, etc) came from yard sales, thrift stores, or dumpsters. 
-- When Mama decides the dining room chairs need to be recovered, she does it with fabric remnants and a staple gun.
Who needs buttons, anyway?
-- The television in the living room is missing most of its buttons.  The TV was given to us by friends from church nearly twenty years ago. My parents have a remote control, but those broken buttons are an emblem of the way my parents refuse to cast things away lightly.  
-- My mother loves dumpster-diving. (She’s not as bad as these people, though we have been laughing together over the clip).  I see every salvaged lamp or chair as a challenge to the Way of the World, and as a picture of redemption.
-- On her bookshelf, you can find volumes I, II, and III of The Tightwad Gazette.
-- Any time my mother goes for a walk (and she prayer walks for an hour each morning with another lady from church), she collects aluminum cans.  When she has enough, she takes the cans to the scrap yard in and gives the money to Baptist Collegiate Ministry's world hunger offering. 
These are just a few of the ways my mother attempts to make good use of what God has given her. The really beautiful thing about my mother’s absurd wisdom is that she does all this because she is, from heart-core to finger-tips, a minister of the Gospel. She saves because waste dishonors the poor. She saves so she can give. She saves so my parents can do their work as campus ministers, providing pastoral care, counseling, Bible studies, worship, missions opportunities, and mentorship to college students for almost thirty years. 
During this visit, I have found myself newly thankful for the lessons of a home in which nothing is wasted. Now that I am an adult and see the way so many people use their money, time, and resources, my mother seems even more extraordinary. I qualified for reduced lunches during most of my school years, yet Mama and Daddy managed to pay off the mortgage on this house in twenty years. Because of their example, I find myself, at 27, a year away from finishing a PhD, having never had a penny of debt. I want the freedom that my parents have had for so long -- the freedom to look for God’s work and rush to join it, regardless of the pay scale. 
Much groovier than anything
at Hobby Lobby
Banishing waste not only gives my parents the freedom to do the work to which they have been called, but also enables generosity. At its best, a home should teach its children about God, and I learned a lot about God’s providence from my mother’s watchful gathering and saving.  One summer, I remarked, “I’d like to learn to can salsa.” Within ten minutes, she had produced a dented but serviceable canner from the basement, several glass jars, and a box of canning lids. Tomatoes and peppers came from the garden. This summer, I mentioned that I have begun to sew regularly, and need more thread. A spool of thread generally costs between $2 and $4 new, making sewing a potentially expensive hobby.  Instead of driving to the craft store, she and I spent a happy hour going through the boxes of thread she has purchased on clearance, gleaned from relatives, and found at yard sales over the years. I’ll be returning to Texas with a rainbow of threads (as well as a groovy avocado green spool case she found in her work room). If I come to my mother with good desires, desires shaped by the home she built, she has what I need, and gives it freely. 
Nor do they give only to me, their only child. In a thousand ways, they share their money, time, goods, closets, vegetables, and wisdom with those who need it.   
Hard at work in her beautiful home.
And yes, that is a map of Narnia on the wall.
In the coming year, however, my parents will learn new forms of God’s providence. After nearly three decades of faithful work in campus ministry, my parents will no longer have an income after the first of the year.  For many years a significant portion of their income has come from the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), but NAMB is cutting much of its giving to Indiana, and so the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana has eliminated all of its jointly-funded missionary positions, including six campus ministry jobs.  God, however, hasn’t finished his work on the college campuses of Indiana, and my parents don’t plan on leaving. If they plan on eating, and on keeping the lights on in their house, they will need to couple their thrift with the money of people who will commit to support them and their ministry.  If you are looking for a place to send part of your tithe or offering, click to visit Please Feed the Bears and learn how you can give. 
And I can assure you that no matter how much you give, none of it will be wasted. 

Addendum: Mama didn't know I was writing this blog, but after I told her about it, she said I should mention that her life verse 1 Corinthians 15:58: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
She said that as much as she would hate for a cup of flour or a chair to be wasted, it would be far more terrible to come to the end of one's life and find that it had been wasted. Not wasting her material goods means she need not live in fear of wasting her spiritual gifts.

What principles or values from your parents continue to inspire you?


  1. This moves me. It truly, deeply moves me...I am a loss for the proper words....
    Your Mother and Father have done so much for so many young people. You may have been an only child, but you share your parents, especially Dad, with thousands of others.
    If I were a gozillionaire or ever become one, I would want to give them a big chunk and let them do what they need or want with it......

  2. What a lovely post, Bethany. The more I get to know you parents, the more I see the best of them in you. Love to avocado thread case, too! ;-)

  3. My parents, a country preacher and a music teacher, instilled in me a deep conviction that my life's work should be a calling. That money is secondary when you know you're investing in something larger than yourself and more important than simple financial prosperity.

  4. I might add that principle was only reinforced by Roger and Rose...and the longer I know them, the more I respect them.

  5. I love both of your parents as my own. They took Lennon and I in at our darkest hour and never let go. As well as made Caitlin and i a BCM marriage statistic. :) I will pray for ways we can help.

  6. This deeply saddens my soul. I could not have made it through my time at ISU without your parents. I still rely on them often calling out to them because I still need help and guidance. You may be an only child Bethany... but your parents treat everyone of us little freshman who come through ISU as their own children.

  7. Beautiful post, Bethany. I know your mother must be proud of you, too.

  8. Thank you for your kind comments, everyone! There's now a website with all the details about how to give and pray:

  9. Christina StreetJune 29, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    I so miss your parents and First Southern. God is so great to have given us Roger and Rose. I am so glad that I know them and I will be praying for them.


  10. What a very lovely post. I don't know your parents but in reading your blog, it was as if you were writing about my parents. My parents were raised during the Depression and never wasted anything. We never had new furniture, clothes.etc. My parents repurposed almost everything. They paid off their home in 11 years and worked hard for everything they had. They had great faith and were always very charitable. It's made a great impact on my life and I hope my children can also learn from my parent's lifestyle.