Recently, I read an article on the Seattle P.I. blog that stated the cost of living in Seattle has increased 13% since 2009. I almost felt relieved when I read it, only because it put to rest my confusion over why, despite Mark's raise and my cutting back on our spending, we were still feeling pinched to make ends meet. I'm not squandering our funds recklessly after all...things just cost more, a lot more.
Take, for example, our heating bill. When we moved into our home 7 years ago, the cost of a gallon of oil was $1.99. We just had our tank filled a couple weeks ago and paid a mind-blowing $4.20/gallon. That's a 105% increase! We just received a quote to convert to a heat pump in an attempt to save on our energy bill, but it would cost us $12,000 upfront to make the change, something we simply can’t afford right now. Those are big, scary numbers. But thankfully, we are okay. We can make it work. We may have to dip into our savings to cover our heating bill this month, but I'm not forced to make a choice between paying for heat or feeding my children. This is not the case, however, for thousands of families across the city who are facing these tough decisions and running out of options.
As I was cleaning my kitchen this morning, I was thinking about Christmas coming up and how much I love picking out gifts for everyone in my family. I was mentally calculating a Christmas budget, knowing that we need to cut back a bit this year and it struck me that many people in our community won't have any funds this year for gifts or, in the worst cases, even for food. That number, 13%, kept running through my head. I added up what 13% of our Christmas budget would be and wondered if perhaps I should take that amount and reallocate it to something else, a food bank, a women's shelter, something that would make a difference. What if I could be that 13% difference for someone? As I scrubbed up the dishes the idea kept forming, getting bigger, becoming more doable until I finally said aloud, "Yes! We can do this!"
So what if we did it? What if we committed to giving 13% of our Christmas budget away to a local crisis organization? I know that there are other programs out there like Advent Conspiracy encouraging people to do a similar thing, but many of those programs go toward things like clean water wells in Africa. Please don't get me wrong, those are wonderful programs and third world nations definitely need our help. I've been to Africa and witnessed the devastation there firsthand and I greatly admire the work that is being done by so many organizations to help those who are in need. But there are people here in our own city who desperately need help too. These are our neighbors who are trying to hold on to their homes; our co-workers who don't have health care and are facing mounting bills; the person we sit next to on the bus who can't afford to fix their car; the parents at our PTSA meetings who are wondering how to explain to their kids why there won't be gifts this year under the tree. These are people we talk to everyday at the grocery store or the bank or the cleaners without ever knowing the pain, fear and struggle going on under the surface.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
As Christians, we should be following Jesus' example by offering to carry the burdens of others to free them from their weariness. How much more easily a person can come to hear and accept the Gospel if those who are sharing it with them have first relieved some of their worry and stress. How much more genuine an invitation to a transformed life in Christ when we lead by humbly following Christ's example.
Times are tough for everyone. We live in an expensive city that desperately needs God. We can't solve all of our city's problems, but we can make a difference for some who are struggling. We can be their 13%. I hope we can join together this Christmas in blessing our neighbors.
Ideas for where to donate: