Story of Faith & Finances: Chow

Tony Chow and Jana Cranmer Chow:

TONY: It was a struggle deciding whether to accept Wilma’s invitation to share about our giving. Besides not thinking our story useful to share, we were unsure what we were going to do for this upcoming pledging season, thus didn’t want to feel hypocritical. After sharing my thoughts with Wilma, we agreed to share our struggles with giving.

JANA: We have attended St. Jude’s for almost four years, and in this time, a lot has changed in our lives. We got married, we both completed grad school programs – one here in the Bay Area, and Tony, in Monterey, I have changed jobs twice, and two years ago, when our rent went up to an amount we could not afford to pay, we moved in with Tony’s parents in Fremont with the goal of paying off our grad school loans. We still live there, and we are living on one income. 

We have lived on the periphery of the St. Jude’s community over these years, attending church some Sundays, unable to commit much more due to geography and the demands of work, school and our families. 

This community has cared for us through several waves of change in our lives, and we have really appreciated the intergenerational friendships we have found here. Members of this community have thoughtfully supported us. The Snows have invited us to stay in their home several times while they travel, just to get a break from life at the in-laws’. After my dad passed away, Mary Souza and Jennifer Stern wrote me letters that really touched me; and the Estradas and Jennifer and Jeffrey have consistently checked in to see how we are doing and encouraged us in our exploration of the Episcopal Church. There are of course others I could mention here, but these people are representative of the investment this church has made in us, despite little return on our side. 

When it comes to giving, I actually don’t find it easy or natural to put a check in the plate each month. Others who have shared this month have said that it’s easier than they thought it would be, but I still have a feeling of dread when I know I need to write the check. While I feel gratitude for the way this church has invested in us, I still find it difficult to trust that this is the best place to put our money while the cost of living continues to rise and the housing market feels out of reach. 

TONY: In our marriage, we’ve had to reconcile our beliefs for giving, and in practice, for marital harmony.  We’ve been in evangelical churches most of our lives and have heard countless sermons and Biblical verses about giving tithes and offerings. Tithes to be meaning literally 10% to the local church and offerings anything beyond that.

Pre-marriage, it was my practice to set aside the first 10% of my earnings – or first fruits – towards the tithe. I liked doing this because I felt it reflected the right posture one ought to have before the Lord – that is, to recognize God as the source of provision, to train myself in viewing God as source of provision, and to order priorities in my heart – keeping the notion of his kingdom first. Thus, a form of spiritual discipline, and also a sense of financial discipline.

I naturally have a fear of letting go of earnings to a mysterious offering plate. I wish to feel freedom - stemming from my hearing of the verse ‘to give joyfully’. If this were the case, I would view myself as keeping 90% rather than losing 10%. That’s much better than government tax rates.

The verse where it says ‘test me and see if I will open/pour out blessings’ is always used, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable on face value to ‘test God’ and to expect material blessing. The verse probably relates more to a trust conversation in a relationship, and blessings are often not material, though never immaterial. 

In faith, together, we have made giving a priority – largely because it feels like the right thing to do, even if it’s not comfortable. We do not know what our future holds, but we have made a decision together to invest in the faith communities that have invested in us.

 

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.