Saturday, October 06, 2007

Paperwork, Procrastination and Panic

Paperwork, procrastination and panic—they touch each other, each pushing the other to greater heights—or depths, depending on one's perspective. And I, along with countless others, polished the art of procrastination to a mirror finish by putting off collecting my tax information until this past week.

It all seemed so easy last spring. A simple filing procedure meant six more months until this moment. Six months! A lifetime, surely? Or perhaps just a fleeting moment.

Certainly, my conscience was twinging in June. But no . . . more important tasks awaited. A very busy summer with my father's final illness and death, the birth of a new grandchild, work on the new building plans for Krum United Methodist Church, unexpected repairs to the current facility—all demanded and received my attention. Taxes were always there in the back of my mind. I kept trying to push them out, even knowing at some point I'd have to face them.

Unfortunately, clergy taxes rank high on the complexity scale. It's not a question of getting the W-2 and a few other things together and asking for some quick help from a professional. For clergy, itemizing is not an option. It's a necessity. Everything demands careful documentation. Every contribution, every expense, all miles driven—it adds up to a lot of paperwork. I really, really, really don't like paperwork—especially meticulous work like this.

It gets worse. My husband, also a clergy person, has such a gift for procrastination that I'm often in awe of it. I look like a paragon of paperwork efficiency compared to him. Normally, I'm the one asking him to get his documentation together so it can all go to the accountant. This time, he is the one who has asked repeatedly—and kindly—for me to finish. Yes, panic was growing when I finally forced myself to sit down and work. The taxman had come.

Slowly, a picture of my financial life began to appear on my computer screen. I see where money is spent, saved, given, wasted. My panic begins to fade as my confidence grows that I can face this. I have the ability to wrestle this jumble of charts and files and odd pieces of paper into a respectable package for the accountant. As the panic fades, my gratefulness grows. I don't make a lot of money, yet all my needs have been met. I rejoice in the opportunities that came my way to give generously. I saw that the more generously I gave, the more freely God was able to give to me. Somehow in the midst of very busy work and tight finances, I managed a trip to Australia to see my first born grandchild, a quick jaunt to California to witness the wedding of a beloved step-daughter, and a sweet vacation with my husband, packed with special memories. Some money was set aside for retirement, little spent on clothes, more spent on books, my major indulgence.

The task was done. My long-suffering husband arrived home, a pizza, my favorite comfort food in hand. I felt this giant sense of gratefulness. Time to say, “Thank you, God, for Your provision in my life. Thank You for taxes, for a government, no matter how flawed, that provides freedom in thought and deed. Thank You for a patient husband and competent accountants. Thank You for the opportunity to give generously, and receive the fullness of Your powerful love.” Giving thanks. What a relief! And what a way to find the presence of God in the midst of piles of paperwork, panic and procrastination.

1 comment:

Angie Hammond said...

Until I read this article, I'd never thought of procrastination as a gift from God. But after reading this article, I think that it can be. At least it was for me with regard to my own father.

I can really relate to the procrastination about taxes part of this post since up until this year my father and I would also be doing the family taxes in Oct. just in time to start the next year's taxes at the end of Dec. And each year I'd vow that it would not happen again and that all of the taxes would be done In Feb. well before the April 15th deadline if I had anything to do with it. Of course it never happened. Something else always came up and they just got put on the back burner until they had to be done. Then we'd panic and pull an all nighter or two just to get them mailed by the Oct. 15th deadline. And always without fail, we'd get them done inspite of arguing about how to do them. You see I was in the process of learning how to be the family tax person from my father the accountant. This ritual took place every year up until this year when everything changed.

This year was going to be different I told my father as Jan 31st came and we started to receive the tax forms in the mail. I announced to him that I was determined to have the taxes for everyone done by the end of Feb. To which he replied what was my hurry they weren't due until April 15th. In any event, I was a determined woman and I began the process of gathering the paperwork and organizing it and then putting all of it into the tax program and spreadsheets. All was going well and I was ahead of the game with everything going well. I hadn't lost any paperwork or had a computer problem. Then it happened. I was so close to getting it all ready to mail, when I discovered much to my disappointment that I was going to have to pay some taxes. Of course this meant that I had indeed made some money, but the the thought of paying in Feb. instead of April made me decide to wait at least a little while before parting with my hard earned money. This just confirmed that I was indeed my father's daughter since I was now procrastinating because I was going to have to pay.

However. things continued to go well and I completed all of the taxes for the family in record time. I did those that were getting refunds first, so they could get mailed first. Then as usual it came time to get my father's done and he owed money. Of course he was ready to just file that extension like always even though we could finish his taxes and mail them on time for the first time since I had been helping him with them. It was now April 11th and his was the last return to be done. I remember the day so well now, not because it was extraordinary, but because it was the first time I could ever remember my father paying his taxes early. Yes, we mailed his return four days early and I'd accomplished my task of having the taxes done on time. We celebrated and my mother said that she just knew that the world was coming to an end because we'd even mailed them early. Little did we know that just a week after that day that our world as we knew it would come to an end.

My father died on April 18th, 2007 just one week after filing his tax return early for the first time ever. As I sit here writing this comment, I am reminded of the many times that we together procrastinated getting started or paniced over lost or misplaced paperwork or struggles with computer crashes. I'm reminded of the many hours we spent together doing the things that had to be done only to start them all over again in just a few short months. I was truly thankful on April 18th that we had finished the taxes early, but today I fnd myself thankful for all of those times that we didn't finish them early. I'm thankful for the time I spent learning from my father just how to get it all done. I thank God for all of those vacation fishing trips we took in July instead of doing the taxes. And for the football we watched in Aug. and Sept. when we should have been working. And the Oct. baseball playoffs we watched during our breaks from looking for lost paperwork.

This year the taxes were all done early, yet I find myself thanking God for all of the times they weren't. I'll miss those times spent with my father while we were procrastinating and panicing over the taxes. It was during those times that I was closest to him, and until today I'd hadn't really thought about how great a gift that time was.

So Thank You God for all of those years of procrastination! It was time well spent.