“Go, sell what you have…”

Getting compliments on your personal belongings takes on a whole new meaning when you’re about to get rid of everything you own. In recent months I’ve made more than one loose acquaintance — including my doctor — very uncomfortable when I eagerly asked, “Do you want it?” after they told me they liked something I was wearing.

A good friend who is also hoping to enter religious life this summer put it so well: getting rid of your belongings in preparation for religious life is like standing on a precipice looking into eternity with everything that has always distracted us suddenly behind us. There’s nothing left: just me and the Great Unknown. In fact, as he pointed out, everyone will end up at this moment at some point in their lives, we’re just getting there a little earlier.

I keep running back to that scene in the Gospel, when the rich young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He has kept all the commandments, but he knows there’s something more. And Jesus looks at him, loves him, and says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk. 10:21). The young man’s reaction — going away sad because he had many possessions — has always broken my heart. In the past few years especially I’ve found myself wanting to shake him. You’ve just been offered the world, I want to shout at him. How can you walk away?

But here I am, faced with a similar invitation, and every day there’s a little twinge. That little porcelain boat from the Dollar Store my sister gave to me for Christmas back in 1991 — it’s a silly trinket, but I’ve carried it around for years, and I admit to a tremor at the thought of letting go. The baby blanket my five-year-old self used to use as a royal robe when playing dress-up … my books and my piano … so many of things we take for granted, right down to the use of that comfortable word, “mine.”

Yes, even letting go of “my” friends is proving to be a lot harder than I ever expected (and I never fooled myself that it would be easy).

God doesn’t ask any of us for halves. That’s what I’m facing in so many concrete ways right now. When he asks us for everything, he means everything. (And by the way, he asks all of us for everything.) He pushes us past the point of comfort, even past discomfort, to that place where the tears start and we cry, “But I can’t!”

This isn’t relegated to those of us discerning religious vocations. We’re all called to this. It’s part and parcel of the Christian life, dare I say, of being human. When you feel you’ve done enough, you’re wrong. There’s no such thing as “enough” for the soul that’s marching towards heaven. The question should always be, “All right, Lord. What now?” Because we can’t give him everything in one action, once. We’re temporal creatures, constantly moving from one minute to another, so giving our all must also be a temporal thing, an act repeated at every moment until we finally reach eternity.

And when you get right down to the nitty-gritty doing of it? It’s epic.

 

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Profile No. 15: Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm

Profiles in the Gap

Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm

JanetSahm_KaraEschbach_Verily

I had the privilege of chatting earlier this month with Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm, the founders of Verily magazine, who kindly agreed to be included in the December profiles on Life in the Gap. In particular, I asked them about what motivated them to go after the things they were passionate about — to take the risk and launch their own business — and how we can view this time of singleness as an opportunity, not a burden. (-Mabel)

What was the catalyst for launching Verily? Did being single affect your decision to go for it?

Kara: I was in a lucrative, comfortable job in finance, and while I was happy there, I wasn’t exactly passionate about it. I actually moved to New York City to take that job, which was definitely exciting. But I wanted something more meaningful. So when this idea for a startup came up, it just sort of made sense. I quit my job in finance and switched to magazine. I’d been doing a lot of writing in my previous job, and the financial background really prepared me to run a business.

And yes, I think being single did play a role. I realized it was one of those “windows” in life – the right time to do something like this, when I had no other things tying me down. I had no kids or family commitments, no mortgage…nothing saying I couldn’t take a pay cut and work really hard to make this a success. But there are windows like this throughout life – like older adults whose kids have all moved out, life is just full of times when it’s possible to make a decision like this. So why not go for it?

Janet: I was working a good job as an assistant in New York. I mean, it paid the rent! As a new graduate I was privileged to gain some experience in the fashion industry at Elle, and I quickly saw that to become a fashion editor in that kind of publication, I’d have to devote myself to 10 years of slave-driving work. I wanted a well-rounded life, not to become the typical obsessed career woman. Still, fashion is  my love.

Even while working my assistant job, I was thinking and praying about starting my own magazine. I wanted to start a publication that had more meaning, and let me be myself. My 9 – 5 job actually gave me a lot of freedom, too … outside working hours I could write and focus on honing my talents. It really gave me the freedom to be creative.

You two launched Verily together – and it’s been a big success! Does having friends on the journey with you make it easier?

Both: Yes! We were casual friends when we first started throwing around the idea of launching a magazine, but after working together on this project for the past couple years, we’ve definitely grown closer. We’ve definitely found that friends, especially for those of us who are single, become surrogate family. They’re the people you have meals with and celebrate holidays with when you can’t make it home to see your family. A community of friends is so important to living a happy, fulfilling life. Granted, that community is always changing as people get married and move on to other opportunities, but that’s part of the beauty of it, too.

What advice would you give to other young adults in the gap who are struggling with what to do next?

Kara: It’s typical to sit around in “the gap” just waiting, instead of figuring out what it is we really want to do. So often we’re waiting for things to be obvious, or for the perfect scenario, or we feel like we have to have a plan. I took a job in New York, not because I’d always wanted to go there, but because when it came up I thought it might be interesting, and a good platform for other things. Only once I got here did I discover other things I was really interested in, that got me to this point.

My advice for anyone in the gap? Walk through open doors. Even if they don’t look like what you thought you wanted…you never know where they might take you. Expand your network, meet people, and see what comes of it.

What if discovering and pursuing my passion just isn’t an option right now?

Janet: Even if you find your job monotonous and you don’t love it, there are endless possibilities for living a meaningful and fruitful life. Get involved. Start a discussion group to talk about controversial issues. Get involved in your church. Volunteer – and do it regularly. Use this time of freedom to become a more integrated person. Join dance class, a sports team, or a language class. Get friends together regularly to teach each other skills you already have, like photography or cooking.

Push yourself. There’s so much to read, to learn, to give. The more you can go outside yourself, the better. You learn to give of yourself and to love.

So often we take our identity from who we were in high school or college. We forget that we’re still growing, that we’re always growing and changing. Don’t throw away chances to grow and develop your character and yourself.

Kara: Don’t discount your current job just because it isn’t your dream. You’d be amazed at what you’re learning and developing that you don’t even realize. And much of it will come in useful down the road. My finance background prepared me to run a business. Janet’s background gave her lots of professional development, which she is able to use now, along with her creative talents. So many skills are transferable – so don’t write anything off as a waste of time!

Money, money, money

As debates rage on Capitol Hill over the best way to address our looming fiscal cliff (or slope, depending on your side–though don’t get too smug. Either way, the trajectory is DOWN), it seems like an appropriate time to write a quick post on personal finances.

I think it was Plato who said, “The polis is the soul of man writ large.” Financial trouble of this magnitude at the macro level should indicate some pretty serious problems at the micro level. How many of us are living beyond our means, or piling up credit card debt and planning to “take care of it” later? Especially for us ladies, how often do we give in to the impulse buy? Among all young adults, how much do we spend each week on eating out, drinks with friends, or entertainment? It’s fine to get after the government for waste, inefficiency, borrowing, and any other bad money habits. Those of us who were born after 1980 should be especially concerned at Congress’ continued fallback option of “kicking the can down the road.” Still, especially for those of us who support limited government, we better be sure we’re governing ourselves wisely.

All that said, it’s time for a confession: I don’t have a great personal strategy for managing finances. Those of you who were hoping to read a how-to, I’m sorry–you’re looking at the wrong post. I know what I make each month and I do a pretty good job of never spending beyond that, I have a savings account and a 401K, but I don’t have a step-by-step plan, and my various attempts at creating one over the past few years have gone nowhere. I’m pretty convinced that both Mint.com and Quicken have it in for me, in fact.

So this post is meant to open up a discussion on good methods and tools, and I want to hear back from you on how, if you’re willing to share. What are your money management tricks and tips, my fellow single young adults? What do you see as absolutely essential to being a good steward of your money now, and how do you prepare for the future? For those of you who may be climbing out of debt now, what are some of your tips to paying down debt while getting by from day to day and building up savings? Do you have a particular resource or tool you’ve found helpful?

In my experience, most budgeting articles, especially those written for young people (usually, sigh, young women) turn out to be catalogues of what NOT to do, closing with very unhelpful links back to the writer’s book, available for purchase on Amazon. In short, I’ve never really gotten down to business and made a real budget because everyone wants to take my money in order to tell me how not to spend it.

Still, as Congress continues to squabble over the nation’s current mess, and with Christmas shopping season now upon us, it’s becoming more and more apparent  that there really is no time like the present. So please: Chime in!

Life on a Budget

Potted flowers for the dining room table instead of cut flowers.

Getting up fifteen minutes earlier so I have time to throw together something for lunch. (This should align with going to bed fifteen minutes earlier, but that remains a hill to be conquered.)

Spending at least an hour on Sunday afternoon cooking for the week ahead.

Turning down invitations to any event that costs more than a typical movie (and even then only agreeing to cheaper events every now and then)–unless, of course, it’s an NSO concert, at which point I just need a few weeks to set cash aside for it.

Strongly encouraging friends to come over to hang out, or seeking out “free” venues. (Smithsonian Art Museum, anyone?)

Revamping the old fall wardrobe instead of shopping. (Lord, help me.) To include the repair of an old pair of leather boots, rather than the previously meditated purchase of a new pair.

Maybe even doing a little bit of sewing if time permits.

Gritting my teeth and putting the extra money that trickles in now and then into savings. (It’s like eating brussels sprouts. This is good for me.)

Going without the long-desired new bedding, curtains, and remaining furnishings for the bedroom for at least a few months more. (Really, what’s the rush?)

Coupons. Yes, I admit, for the first time in my entire life I sat down on Saturday with the weekly mailing and cut out Safeway coupons. And I intend to use them, too.

And of course, allowing myself–every now and then–a little splurge. Like pizza with the roommate. Really, it’s all about the simple things, anyway.

On Food

A great point about the single life from a friend: you get to eat whatever you want. Which in this particular friend’s case has meant creating a wide variety of healthy meals and in general taking admirably good care of herself. Would that we were all so disciplined. In my own experience, it means that I have (at least once) simply skipped dinner and eaten a bowl of ice cream when I got home from work because it was all I had that I could eat quickly and without cooking. Or skipped dinner altogether. Or eaten out for lunch too many days in a row. And I could probably take out stock in Starbucks…

Occasionally I’ll get on a good streak and plan a few meals, do some heavy duty weekend cooking and freezing, and keep my fridge well stocked with healthy vegetables, etc. (I’m thankful that I can cook, even if I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. If you don’t cook…you might consider giving it a try. It’s a good money saver, it’s healthy, and–believe it or not–it’s a lot of fun.)  

Lumped in with all the half-resolutions I’ve made for this new year is the determination to learn some new recipes. It’s easy to fall into a “food slump.” I know what I like, I know where it is in the grocery store, and I know that I’ll use it up before it goes bad. (I feel like I’m constantly cleaning out my fridge and throwing away half-rotten tomatoes, dried out citrus, and molding jars of spaghetti sauce.) So I inevitably return to the same aisle, stock my refrigerator with the same items, and cook and eat the same things. I spend so much time planning ahead for other aspects of my life that it’s almost a relief not to plan ahead for food. I realize that this is a mistake–and that, like all the other important things (you know, prayer, exercise, spending time with loved ones), you don’t have time for it…you make time for it.

But I’ve got a catalogue of excuses I’ve been making for the past three years on this subject. “I can’t fit good grocery shopping habits into my budget.” “I don’t have time to cook.” “I don’t have time to shop.” “My kitchen is too small.” “I don’t have the proper appliances.” “My roommates are always in the kitchen/making a mess of the kitchen.” The list goes on. And on. And on. I’m also a little hesitant because, as with all new things, I’m a bit scared. With new recipes there’s always the possibility that they won’t turn out. And then what? Well, I’m going to try to focus on even the not-so-good meals as “adventures.” And being single is a helpful fact in carrying out this resolution–I can cook whatever I want, and I won’t have a hungry spouse trying to keep a brave face on as he swallows each disgusting bite.

So I turn to you, my readers. How do you manage your menus, grocery shopping, et al? Any suggestions for people like me who can’t seem to get organized in this area? And I would welcome any and all recipe suggestions! If you have anything you’d recommend, please post the recipe in a comment to this post.