Merciful Minimalism – Buy Less. Give More.

It was a dark and stormy night…

Maybe not outside, but it certainly was inside our car.

A Long Ride Home.   Jeff and I were riding home from a company Christmas party in December of 2008, and tensions between us were running high. Although the party was generous, Jeff’s company was in its seventh year of frozen wages following the 9/11 attacks.  Citing continued financial difficulty, pay freezes were soon followed by pay cuts, leaving our family straddling a financial razor’s edge for almost 10 years.

As we rode home that evening, the stress between us was palpable. Jeff had informed me earlier in the week that we would not be able to make our mortgage payment for the month.  I was sick at the thought of what was happening to our family and scared for the future.  We had three children and had taken only one vacation in 16 years of marriage. Now the very roof over our heads was in peril. We had embraced simplicity as a lifestyle years before and our frugality allowed us to weather many storms. But this was a hurricane.  It was a very dark season in our lives.

We discussed our situation on the ride home. By this time, the effects of the 2008 financial crises were starting to manifest and it created a perfect storm. We both realized that it would take a miracle to keep us from crashing on the financial rocks like so many other families in our neighborhood and around the country. We said a quite prayer and got out of the car with heavy hearts.

A Miracle in the Mail.   Jeff asked if I had checked the mail that day.  I hadn’t.  I shuffled my way out to the edge of the drive to gather the new arrival of bills.  I felt older than my years and fear gripped me in a way I had never felt before.  It was a gut wrenching fear.  I gathered up the mail and headed into the house.

As I sorted the letters, I came across one that looked like junk mail. It was understated with our names laser printed on the front. I almost tore it in half when curiosity stopped me.  I didn’t recognize the return address or the name of the sender.  I opened the envelope cautiously wondering if it was an unexpected bill.

What I found inside changed my life.  It was a letter from an anonymous foundation.  In a nutshell, it said they had seen the pattern of our lives and wished to bless us with a financial gift.  They recommended we use the money any way we saw fit, but suggested a vacation!

Included was a check for $2,500 and a simple request that we not make the name of the foundation public. “Publically thanking God for His provision, we believe is the scriptural norm,” they stated.

I do thank God for His provision and His ability to work miracles of kindness through others.  I also thank God for the tender hearts that bent to His call and created this foundation of kindness in the first place.

A Light to my Path.   To the best of my knowledge, no one knew of our financial situation at the time.  To this day, I do not know who is behind this foundation. Nor do I want to know.  What I do want is to follow in their footsteps and become an anonymous blessing to those in need.  For me, minimalism provides the channel through which acts of mercy like this can flow.  Not for personal gain or recognition, but as a means of being the change I wish to see in the world. I want to “pay it forward” so the seed they planted grows into a tree and then a mighty forest.

Merciful Minimal.   I define Merciful Minimalism as a form of minimalism that not only rejects consumerism, but redirects the resources we once spent on unnecessary clutter, channeling them instead toward helping and encouraging others.

Merciful Minimalists live simply so others may simply live.  They recognize the reality that they have few real needs themselves and they choose to live simply with open hands. There is great power in kindness with no strings attached. Like the Butterfly Effect, we have no idea how far the impact of our actions will spread.

Giving to Receive.   Generous people find giving to be a paradox. The more you give, the more you receive. No material object can compare with the full heart you receive knowing you have brought joy, relief, or kindness to another.  It’s a mystery.  It’s woven into our DNA.  And you don’t have to ascribe to any particular faith to experience this paradox. You only need to be human. The more kindness you share, the happier you are. And minimalism helps to break the “power of possession.” As you give out of your treasure, you find your treasure only grows greater.  God’s economy is radically countercultural!

Intentional Anonymity.   What I find so awe inspiring in the gift we received is the fact these families deliberately created a legacy of kindness and mercy. They intentionally built a financial foundation through which they could give anonymously …and I think it’s safe to assume we aren’t the only ones they blessed with their merciful generosity.  It was the harbor we needed to weather the storm.  Their kindness changed the fortunes of my family.  But more than that, it changed the focus of my life and became a light to my path.  For me, minimalism provides the realization that I don’t need that much to be comfortable. By choosing to be content, I free up the financial resources to give to those in need. It’s a wonderful, dizzying circle of life!

Stacking Stones.   Those days of hardship are thankfully behind me, but the vision cast by these kind souls will forever serve as a guide on life’s path before me. I keep the letter and a photo copy of the check in a special place as a memorial, or as some say, “stones of remembrance.”   I look at them from time to time to keep the fires of inspiration burning.  And I whisper a prayer of thanks.

My hope is that I can express my gratitude by sharing their vision (while protecting their identity) and by passing the torch of merciful giving to others. May it pass to you.

Happy Trails!

~Denise

Trail Markers:

I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one.
You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.”
So you begin…I begin.
I picked up one person – maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person I wouldn’t have picked up 42,000. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if I didn’t put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less.
Same thing for you.
Same thing in your family.
Same thing in the church where you go.
Just begin…one, one, one.        ~Mother Teresa