May I bare my heart?
I’m now reading Howard Dayton’s Your Money Counts as part of the assignment for our Biblical Financial Studies under Crown Ministries. Irl said the first session covered basically the chapters called “God’s Part” and “Your Part.” What he didn’t tell me about was page 25, between the two chapters: the Quit-Claim Deed.
It’s basically this fancy page laid out to look like a title deed. I know what they look like because I’m safekeeping the title deeds to almost all of my parents’ properties. Of course the words were different. Not as technical as the real title deed. But more deadly.
The Biblical Financial Studies is about learning God’s plan for handling our finances. And there are two parts to it: God’s part, and my part. Like Irl wrote in yesterday’s blog, God is owner, controller and provider. We are stewards. Managers.
I agree with what Howard Dayton said on page 22:
“The basic reason we fail to recognize God’s part is that we do not understand who God is. We often have no genuine awe for the Lord who ‘stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth’ (Isaiah 51:13). We tend to shrink God down and fit Him into a mold with human abilities and limitations.”
And I am so guilty of that.
Like I said, may I bare my heart?
July 24, 2004 was a rude awakening for me. Figuratively and literally. We had a long night, went to bed around 1am, and then were awakened by the sound of shouting and banging at 4am. My parents’ house, across the yard from ours (we live in a compound), was ablaze.
My mother died in that fire. My father suffered burns, a mild heart attack and severe smoke inhalation, and was in the hospital for more than three months. The way the Lord provided for our needs was nothing short of miraculous. Specially in the light of what happened on the side.
My mother had prepared for her going with the usual plans, and yet, when we came to claim it, it turned out that the premiums she had been paying for an upgraded plan (she always got the best that she could afford) were never paid into her plan. It would cost us more to put together the documents needed for the claim than what we would eventually get.
I doubted she got insurance. She had divided her money into 3 joint accounts with my father, with my brother, and with me – plus one of her sisters who lived near the bank– so that we could just withdraw when the time came. These accounts were in the care of her niece who was then the bank manager. After she died, the bank manager asked us to submit the usual stuff for opening new accounts, and asked my aunt to sign the withdrawal slips so the old accounts could be closed.
The money was withdrawn, the old accounts closed. But the new accounts were never opened. My aunt said she never took the money because the arrangement was to open new accounts which no longer included her. The niece claimed that my aunt had taken the money from the bank, but she was acting weird, as though possessed or under a spell. Each of them blamed the other, but when we confronted them with each other, the bank manager was the one who started to contradict herself, eventually acknowledging that our aunt was telling the truth.
That was almost $20,000, at the time exchange rate was the highest (P56 : $1), amounting to almost P1.7M. It was 2 years before the bank acted on our complaint, but only because they had fired the bank manager and she had filed a countersuit. But the bank documents were clear. We had withdrawn the money. As far as they were concerned, we had taken our money out. It was a clean transaction.
So now we had properties, but not much cash. The way to turn the properties into cash would’ve been to sell. To do that, we would have to settle my mother’s estate and pay the required taxes. But for some reason, my lawyer father saw that as an attempt on our part to grab what he says are his. He accused my brother and me of just wanting to get our hands on his property. The lawyer who had been helping me put together the requirements for settling the estate taxes told me to just respect my father’s wishes, and trust God.
I had done the computation for the estate tax, and it was not as bad as people have been saying. In fact, I found it quite just, and as I computed it, we only had to sell one property, and we’d have more than enough. As I worked to put together the requirements, I unearthed more unbelievable news: my father had not been paying the real property tax for “his” properties. My mother’s ancestral properties were up-to-date, but the properties my parents had bought in the almost 30 years they were together were not. The municipal clerks started offering deals: if I pay the 6-digit total, they were willing to waive the penalties (and this did not include the largest property in another town!). I told my father about it.
And he goes out and buys a car.
I must confess that I haven’t had a decent long conversation with my father since then. It just kept going downhill. While he had been in the hospital, I managed his rental business. When he got back, he slammed me for some decisions I had made (which actually made it easier for me to collect), took back management. . . and spent the income on other projects. When suddenly he saw himself sinking (he conveniently forgot to pay the utilities and was facing disconnection), he passed it back to me. When I got the business back on track, he found fault with me again, and so regained control, much to the consternation of the tenants and my assistant.
It would have become a cycle, you know, but there was something different in the way I had been helping him. You see, my mother had been a good money manager, and he seemed to have gotten spoilt by how she could bail him out whenever he made a bad call. My brother did the same: Father needed money? Give father money. I was different. You need money? Why? Oh, bills again? Where’s the income from the rental? Okay, let me handle the business and we’ll pay off your debts from the income.
And he hated that. He wanted me to pay, but with my money, the way my mother and brother had done.
By the way, my brother finally stopped compromising his family budget, but it took a stroke. Sheesh.
This was where I began to have trouble with God. You see, it’s true what they say, that a father is a child’s first glimpse of what God is like. And unwittingly I started to project my father’s character onto God. I lived in fear of inheriting my father’s debts, which I compute to now be at least P2M, and growing.
And I started to accuse God of not caring, of just wanting to drain me, of giving only so he can get something in return.
When I saw the Quit-Claim Deed, my first thought was, “I have no property to transfer to God’s ownership.” Then quietly the image came of the property deeds I’m hiding from my father lest he start using them as collateral to get into more debt. And suddenly, it clicked.
God owns this. My father is merely the manager, but God owns all this. He will provide for the need. And my father is accountable to him, not to us.
And God will not allow me to inherit debt. It’ll be quite some time before I can stop squirming at the thought of my father’s growing tax debts that my brother and I seem to stand to inherit from him, but I know in my heart of hearts that God will not allow such injustice.
God owns this. God will pay for it. Just as God, through Jesus’ death on the cross, paid for me. And Jesus lives as my Lord and Master. He owns me. And He has not given me the right to worry because as my Master, my need is His problem. My job is simply to be faithful.
I wrote my Quit-Claim Deed in my journal. Howard Dayton says “friends can help hold you accountable for recognizing God as owner of your possessions.” Would you help me? These are the possessions I recognize belong to my God, Lord and Master Jesus:
My share in the inheritance
My children’s legacies
The computer and the Internet
The house and everything in it
Thanks. I appreciate you.