This statement brought a flood of recognition to me, because over the last 4 months I have learned the reality of 'doing without.' I had become comfortably accustomed to the privileged life of adequate compensation, and based so much of my consumption of material goods on wants rather than needs. It is surprising how little you can actually get by on when cold hard reality slaps you in the face. When you no longer have income flowing in, you are forced into a scarcity mentality that is much more critical about what needs and wants really are. Literally, the buck stops here.
It has been pretty humbling to accept that we could not get through this alone, that we were not financially prepared or self-sufficient enough to handle this ongoing crisis of unemployment in meeting our living expenses. We never anticipated it would take this long for companies to make a hiring decision, because in the past we had moved from one company to another with relative ease. We quickly used up the meager severance and our savings in a couple month's mortgage payments, and then thanks to my wife's sister and my brother, were able to cover another couple month's mortgage payments and winter semester tuition for a daughter. And yes, we've been living on our food storage, but so much more is required. Unemployment benefits only pay out about 20% of our previous take-home pay. The loving concern and generosity of our Bishop has relieved us from so much stress and worry. Church welfare has helped with the utility companies and provided fresh food for our table, and we have been able to volunteer in a couple different venues to give back ourselves.
At Christmas we received several anonymous notes on the door with money and gift cards to the local supermarket. We learned more than how good it is to give--we learned how to receive. We had a poignant and grateful celebration of the poor baby born in a stable--mostly with good food, a few small gifts and most importantly, each other to hold on to while singing the carols and bearing our love and testimony one to another.
We approached this month of February and another $2000 mortgage payment with no idea what to do next. Our Bishop said not to worry. How could we possibly take any more from the sacred funds of the saint's welfare offerings? We cried and contemplated about what to do next. We've tried for the last couple months to sell a car, but with little response. This month we began praying in real earnest for help. And I just kept lowering the car's price by $200 every few days until it was a real deal. So Thursday I signed over the title of my little red car named "Ruby" to a very nice woman named Deepika. She and five other foreign nationals from India are on a teaching assignment in a local high school because of a shortage of math and science teachers in the USA. Deepika has a PhD in Science and has been a principal of a school in India. Her colleagues are also well educated, bright, gentle and engaging. Again I was reminded of how much I actually have, as we walked into their rented house with only two mismatched office chairs in the entire first floor. They spoke of missing their families back home in India and how different the culture is here in America and how difficult it is teaching teenagers with no desire to learn in a vacuum of classroom discipline. I realized how meager they had it, to be separated from so much with only a few other people struggling together for mutual support. I humbly felt gratitude for my many blessings of family, friends and church that cements my life together in all the right and familiar ways.
Yesterday morning I went to the Mesa Temple, to thank the Lord for my many blessings and to petition for guidance in the interviews ahead. Tomorrow I leave for an interview in New Hampshire. There are developing opportunities in Pennsylvania and California. As I sat pondering in the Celestial Room, with eastern light streaming in through the tall windows of the beautiful room, I received a calm assurance not to worry, that all would be well and that I should choose a job that would best deliver on what I wanted to accomplish in the remainder of my career. I reached for a copy of the Bible, and it opened to Joshua 24, where the prophet exhorts,
"And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat. Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord."I confess that I have served the gods of 'Accessories' more than I previously cared to admit. How much do we really need, after it is all said and done, and our excess is truly stripped away? What is really important? It is our family, our faith, our determination to do what is right. The Lord has demonstrated this to me in the past few months. I feel as though I have gained a wisdom that would not have come in any other way. When we move, it will have to be to a more spartan lifestyle. We cannot sell our home at present because we are $30,000 upside down on the value of it, so we're leaving it for our married children to live in while they finish a graduate degree at ASU for another 18 months. Hopefully the housing market will recover and we can recoup our equity at that time. We will need to move into a low cost rented apartment to manage our combined housing expense, and we'll leave most of our belongings in the Arizona house. But it's only stuff, just accessories, that we leave behind. We carry with us larger hearts, full of desire to give back to our God whom we know is aware of all the earth and blesses those who love Him.
Back in the celestial room of the temple, I witnessed even more. I sat in a plush chair, surrounded by fine things drenched in chandelier light, and watched the beautiful people dressed in white move in their family groups to hug one another, smile with joy and rejoice in being in the Lord's house. There were a couple young men with a pink tags pinned to white shirts embracing proud parents wiping tears from their eyes. There was a lovely young bride to be with an earnest young man at her side and family clustered all around, waiting for their sealing session to begin. I myself had felt the warmth as proxy for my great great great grandfather, William Bowie, whose grandson and my great grandfather, John Bowie Ferguson, immigrated from Scotland to the new frontier of Nebraska territory in the 1870's. These men I am confident to meet someday. They are not accessories to my life; they are part of my life.
I reached again to the Bible on my lap and felt the Spirit's prompting to turn to Proverbs. Which chapter? Eight. So I opened to the chapter eight and began to read:
"Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear, for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it."
I will miss my little car, Ruby. But the transaction has been for the sake of wisdom, and I feel the Lord has spoken to me in astonishingly clear terms. He has granted me an understanding heart. I hope to always retain the wisdom of these months of struggle. I have been led through my barren wilderness of sorting through the accessories of life to realize more deeply that which is beyond price: my loving wife and loving children, who in turn love what is right and are striving to be their best. It is not the car, the furniture, the house, the whatever. I love this church, the safety net it has been to my soul and family. And I love the Lord, for I know he first loved me.