In a day when people of all ages are crying out for more honesty, Erin Odom delivers. More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Financially Frustrated is neither a simple self-help book, nor a “woe-is-me” sob story. This book is rooted in the goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
The world (and sometimes the church) tells us that if we check off all the right boxes, God will bless us. A hard-working, Bible-believing, missions-minded family should never hit dire straits. Yet, the Odom family did just that. They faithfully served God with their time, money, and physical service. Sometimes God’s blessing is in the dark valley of the refining process.
Erin and Will saved and bought a home – not even a large home – and the only debt they had was the mortgage on their house. But when the Great Recession hit, they could not sell it. They lived in an area of the country where Will, with a teaching credential and a masters degree, would teach school and still not make ends meet – the pay was that low. They both found odd jobs to supplement their income. They were doing everything right, only everything seemed to go wrong. They faced marital and financial difficulties. Why, God?
In this raw (but well-written) account of the Odom’s 4-year journey, Erin recalls how she wanted to become a missionary to the poor. She remembered what she once wrote in her journal while on a trip to Peru, “People in the US are taught to dream dreams and make goals and reach for the stars. People here are just surviving from day to day. They are just barely making it.”
Erin shares with us, how God humbled her: “I said I loved the poor, but I really just pitied them. I never got to know them or their stories. I made assumptions…. It would take walking among the impoverished in my own city, listening to their stories, changing my preconceived notions, and experiencing my own humbling circumstances for those living on a low income to become real to me” (p.19). We read as God humbled the Odom’s to the point where they learned to accept money and food from a number of unexpected sources.
This book is written for three groups of people. For those, like the Odom’s, who feel trapped, helpless, and scared she shares practical tips on how to survive the lean and hungry years. She provides hope that there is a way of escape. Secondly, for those who would like to improve their living condition, even though they may be in the middle- or upper-class. Finally, for those who are doing well, financially, but who have an honest desire to love and understand the hurting people around them and how to help.
Erin shares the embarrassment of poverty – in the grocery store and in her church. Some shame was self-imposed (her pride) and some was honest judgment from those around her. Once they humbled themselves enough to allow someone from church to look over their finances, they discovered the simple truth that helped put them onto the road of financial stability (though it still took several years of empty cabinets before they got there).
They had been sure they must be doing something wrong with their spending to get them to this point, but really, they just simply didn’t have any more corners to cut – they needed more income. Their mentors said, “You don’t have a saving problem, you have an income problem.” This type of statement was made several times by different people. I found this such a helpful statement, infused with hope. It is easy to beat ourselves up, thinking we are doing something wrong, when sometimes we just don’t have the income we need. This book was a good wake-up call to remember that sometimes poverty happens, not because of foolishness.
This biography does have a number of helpful tools and resources, as well. There are chapters like: Building your Budget, Eating Well on a Rice and Beans Budget, Secondhand Shopping, and Creating More Income.
Erin shares the hope and truth of the Word multiple times, which I really appreciated. Over and over, she shows how she leaned upon the Lord. She gives much food for thought as she shares Scriptures that deal with poverty, the poor, riches, and even bankruptcy. It is not an exhaustive Bible study, but it gives a person a good place to start if they’d like to study the subject more in depth. The only thing I would disagree with her on is pp. 152-153 where she quotes Matthew 25:35-36, 40. She says that Scripture “makes no reference to the practice [of helping others] being exclusive to believers”, then quotes Jesus saying “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). Jesus never calls unbelievers “brothers and sisters”, so while the Bible does indicate that we should help everyone, this passage is probably not the best choice to explain that point.
The other thing I wished was teased out just a little more is how God helped to restore her marriage. I realize this isn’t primarily a book on marriage, but she was very clear on the stress of finances as a source of conflict in marriage. She did talk about her pride moving to humility. And how Will sought forgiveness and his longing to be a better husband. But I would have appreciated a little more clarity on the resolve of their relationship and how their marriage is growing. I also realize that her editor had to pare down a good chuck of her story but even a paragraph explaining how they grew in love toward each other in the midst of the darkness would have been helpful. This book is a good reminder of how Jesus came to help us with all our struggles.
Woven throughout this book is Scripture, prayers, and the many ways God answered those prayers. In Erin’s honesty, she reveals some secret sins of the heart. She explains how she discovered the depths of her pride, the soul-searching growth, the confusion and even anger she experienced, and the hope she found in Scriptures and through people God placed into their lives.
Erin concludes by sharing this gem: “I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all formula to make it right again. But what I can do is point you in the direction of the One who planned your life before time began. Take heart and have hope, my friend: Jesus is waiting for you on the other side of the tunnel, and He will meet you in the middle of it. He will walk through it with you, and He will be the light at the end of it as well” (p. 226).
What is your favorite money-saving tip? Please let us know in the comments below!