Monday, October 31, 2011

Money Monday: Utilizing What You've Got


I used to have a thing abut Mondays. They were always such a rough day after having my husband home on the weekends and then losing him to the workforce. Just as we seemed to find a relaxing sort of rhythm, the weekend would be over and it would be back to the ol' grindstone.

I don't feel that way anymore. Part of it has to do with changing the way I saw Monday and allowing myself that day to "decompress" from what can also be a crazy, busy, hectic time. Let's face it, weekends with children are not really about resting up. If we're not careful, we can stay just as busy (and sometimes more so), if we don't consciously work against allowing this happen.

So, now I let myself wear those yoga pants as I catch up on laundry, get the dishes done, change sheets, etc. It's actually become a fairly nice day to be productive and a little lazy at the same time.

However, I have a new thing to look foward to with "Money Monday!" I'm always excited for Monday to roll around so I can post the latest chapter in our money makeover adventure.

This week is no exception.

Earlier in the week, I found out that a local grocery store that lost their lease was selling most items in the store for 50% off. I was able to spend a week's worth of grocery money to buy two to three weeks worth of items (and in some instances, several months!!). I was even able to use coupons to make a sweet deal even sweeter, and it was fun to be able to purchase some high-end items I wouldn't usually buy for a normal price. It felt like another God-wink. Not too many people would dance in the aisle over scoring Lady Grey tea for $1.25 a box, but I did!

So, I was able to get a great amount of food (and household items...even pull-ups and diapers for $3.50 each) that we actually needed and a couple of things we had wanted, but couldn't justify spending the money to purchase.

I've always wanted to buy this brand, but could never justify the expense!

In addition, I feel like I am learning how to "make do" with what we've got, instead of running out to purchase what we are lacking. It's pretty atonishing how much money we've saved by stopping to think, look and then research other options.

In that great 50% off shopping expedition, I didn't buy bread and unfortunately, I found out soon after that shopping trip that we were all out. Instead of running back out and buying some, I remembered how much I enjoy making and eating homemade bread and that I had all the ingredients (including some active dry yeast due to the sale I mentioned above) to make it.

So that afternoon, I set about making two loaves of bread with my trusty KitchenAid stand mixer, Mabel (yes, she has a name...and even a decal declaring it. No...it's not strange!)  Not only will that bread more than see us through until payday, its healthy, and I got the added bonus of being able to make it with my six-year-old who loves to cook and bake. Somehow spending time with her shopping for bread wouldn't have been the same.

Plus, I wouldn't have this keepsake to remember it by....

Look at the note she left me in permanent ink

Sidenote: You don't need to own a stand mixer or bread machine to make your own bread. Time and some kneading power from your arm muscles (who needs a gym membership anyway) will do the trick. You can find recipes anywhere...but again, I'd probably start at All Recipes, or if you do have a stand mixer, you have to try this french bread recipe.

You can also get crafty about substituting ingredients that you don't have on hand. We did this last week when we didn't have buttermilk and the kids wanted pancakes (and btw, we're out of Krusteaz pancake mix too). I turned to my Taste of Home cookbook and their suggested common ingredient substitutions in the back of the book. I found that I could "make buttermilk" by using milk, lemon juice and vinegar. If you don't have this cookbook, then you can find something similiar here at AllRecipes.

And...I'm going to try to utlitize more of the "random" ingredients that we have in our pantry. I am a fan of AllRecipes.com and I stumbed across this handy tool the other day on their site. Simply input the ingredients you want to use (and any you don't), and voila! Dinner ideas!

Another thing that I did (which I do from time to time) is contact a company when a product we have of theirs breaks or goes bad. I've found that more often than not, they will make good or offer some sort of compensation in a coupon etc. And many like Jansport, Ray-Ban, and Totes have lifetime warranties on their products. All you have to do is send them back (as directed) and they will repair or replace them.

This week, my beloved Libman spray mop broke -- leaking the cleaning fluid all over the floor which was a bummer to clean up and a bummer because I had the bright idea of using a Swiffer liquid cleaner replacement cannister I had (having retired my Swiffer mop due to the constant expense of replacing the pads and fluid) and it literally leaked out on the floor and in the garage before I figured it out.

Because I have only had the mop for about 8 months and because I love it and don't want to be without it or have to spend the $20 or more to buy a new one, I contacted the company via the website and explained the situaiton.

Within a matter of days, I received an email apologing for the issue and letting me know they were sending me out a new mop....for FREE!

And not only that, after I replied with abundant thanks, they responded and asked if I would want to join their consumer focus group where I will get to try out products and offer feeback...for FREE!

Imagine that!

I'm telling you...I couldn't even make this stuff up!

And the last, whoo-hoo shout-out is that as of today, we have officially funded $1,000 into our "Emergency Fund" in savings!! Not only have we completed Baby Step #1, but we did it in exactly 1 month -- something that I frankly thought would take us at least six to do!

So, this really does work...

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So...onto a review of last night's video and discussion for week six, "Buyer Beware" The Power of Marketing on Your Buying Decisions." 

I think we all would agree that we are heavily influenced by marketing. Ramsey shared a few product slogans by starting them out and letting the audience finish them. The astonishing thing is that the majority of people in the audience (and in the room) were able to recall marketing slogans from the 70's! Now that's staying power.

According to Ramsey, we are the heaviest marketed generation in history! I'd believe it.

Why?

Because it works!

Companies spend millions (if not billions) of dollars collectively to figure out how to get you and me to spend money. Part of the way they appeal to us is by:

  • Brand Recognition
  • Color
  • Shelf Position
  • Packaging

They have it all figured out down to the music and scents that are in the stores to entice you into parting with your hard-earned cash.

And why do we fall into that trap?

Because spending money is fun. We often get a thrill or "high" from it (compulsive shopping disorder anyone?)...seriously, researchers have found that when people make a "significant purchase" (normally anything over $300, but that may vary depending on your income) creates a physiological change in our bodies. We get giddy, sweaty palms and other areas, and our heart speeds up.

(Sidenote: The "crash" of this chemical reaction is "buyer's remorse.")

To counteract making a bad purchasing decision in the "heat of the moment," Ramsey recommends doing the following:

  1. Waiting overnight before making a purchase.
  2. Carefully consider your buying motives. No amount of stuff equals contentment or fulfillment.
  3. Never buy anything you do not understand. (e.g. life insurance, investments, etc.)
  4. Considering the "opportunity cost" of your money. (What else are you missing out on?)
  5. Seeking the counsel of your spouse/accountability person.
I have to admit that I've fallen prey to the excitement of shopping. It's an event, an experience...sometimes you get a little stupid. When the dust clears the next day and you start to account for what you spent and what you actually need and more importantly, can afford, it may just require a trip back to the store for a return.

After all -- even if it was a killer deal -- if you can't afford it, you have no business buying it.

Before you rush out to buy that "something," look around your house, put on your thinking cap, and maybe even pray for wisdom. 

You might be surprised at what you find!


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Related Posts About Our Financial Peace Journey (in order):
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/financial-peace.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/my-god-wink.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/peace-like-river.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/introducingmoney-monday.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/introducingmoney-monday-part-two.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/money-monday-making-tough-decisions.html

For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/


For info on Inzolo -- an online and mobile "envelope system," tool, visit:
www.inzolo.com

For more info on The Blessed Life, visit:
http://theblessedlife.com/

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Nitty Gritty


It's pretty gritty.

Grimy.

Filthy, even.

It's my silverware drawer.

The crazy thing is that I have opened up this drawer about 20 times per day for literally months without seeing what was literally right in front of me.

 

I told you it was nasty.

I'm embarrased that it took me one second of full clarity to see what I've allowed to happen in here...coffee grounds abound, crumbs that have fallen in from the counter above, and let's be honest...who knows what else lurked in there.

Our eyes lie...even if we have 20/20 vision. And actually, it's maybe not our eyes that lie, but our brain that does. I'm not sure if it tries to protect us and potentially shield us from becoming overwhelmed by so much that needs attention and adjusting. After all, seeing each and everything in all its state of gory (or glory) could be too much for a small human brain to take.

I don't know how or why it happens, but it does.

That's why I could take out (and infrequently put back in) utensils several times a day and see this in my mind's eye...
...but then in one random moment, I can look at see the gross reality that it is actually truth.

However, those "aha moments" don't have to be all bad news. Usually, it's the perfect impetus to get us to stop what we've been doing (or denying) and take care of business.

In my case, it yielded this....


...a thorough scrubbing out of the cumblies, coffee grounds and other detrus; removable of the old contact paper and the laying down of new; running all the silverware and gadgets through the dishwasher -- even a good dunking of the actual silverware holder in soapy water.

I can now open this drawer with pride and the knowledge that not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it goes beyond that to actual daily implications. I know my husband will be glad to know that I won't be potentially transferring something disgusting to the mayonnaise jar the next time I make a sandwich.

Maybe this only happens to me, but I don't think so.

Have you ever looked at something day after day, until one day, your eyes are literally opened and you see it?

Maybe it's finding love in the best friend that's always been there (like my sister's love story), or maybe it's realizing that the image of yourself in your head doesn't gel at all with the image that you just glimpsed in the storefront window.

Or maybe someone called you on a particular thing you said or did and you didn't like the inner you that came into focus.

I would personally rather choose to have my eyes opened to my dirty utensil drawer than my dirty heart. The former is fairly easy to take care of in about a half an hour with some elbow grease and soap. The latter is something that is a never-ending quest of self-improvement and character building.

It takes real and hard work.

But just like my silverware drawer, taking a good hard look at the condition of the inner workings of my heart, and then being motivated to get down to the nitty gritty and give God permission to come in and scour off the grime and sponge away the stickiness will always result in an improvement -- for me and for those around me.

In all truthfulness, there is a part of me that longs for clarity. It's the part of me that longs for honesty and transparency. But that part of me wars against the lazy, unmotivated part of me that wants to sit around all day in yoga pants, with a dirty ponytail and a good book.

Again...it all comes back around to that "D-word" again...the one that haunts me in my sleep, I swear.

Discipline.

It's the line in the sand and maybe the only thing that pulls me back from the brink of utter slothfulness, being twice the size I am currently, and living in squalor that would make a condemned house look good.

It's a life-line, and I for one choose to grab ahold.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Money Monday: Making the Tough Decisions


It's Monday...so you know what that means....it's "Money Monday," and I get to update you on how the week has gone with our commitment to dump our debt and build wealth with Dave Ramsey's, Financial Peace University.

Before I get to what we learned in last night's class (week 5 of the series), I'll to share a couple of things that happened this past week during week 4: "Dumping Debt: Breaking the Chains of Debt."

As I mentioned in previous posts, we're in a considerable amount of debt. We have two high balances on "zero interest" cards and a home equity line of credit from replacing the roof on our house. When we finally put the numbers down and added them up, I was stunned.

And then overwhelmed.

And then felt hopeless that it could be changed.

I don't feel that way any more. Sure, the figures are still the same. But, my mindset has changed. True, the "bury our heads in the sand" approach wasn't going to last forever. However, now that we have faced those "demons" and have a plan of attack, not only do I feel hopeful, I feel like those demons are going down!!

After going through our budget, we found that we were able to free up $185 a month by temporarily ceasing to fund our retirement and children's education funds. While that is hard to do, that money will be better served to get us out from under this debt. If we focus all of our "extra" money minus living expenses on that debt, we can eradicate it in 2-3 years...maybe less. Then, at that point, we can not only start funding those important savings accounts, we can fund them even more!

We also had to make that tough decision to pull our son out of preschool and use that extra $225 a month to get us where we need to be. I really struggled with this one. We were able to give our two older children (both girls) two years of preschool -- the first years consisted of two days a week at a private preschool for "enrichment" and the second was the state-run five-day a week preschool that they qualified to attend for free. The first year was like our "gift" to them to get them interacting with other kids and providing that socialization outlet (as well as some light educational work). The second year was more material and is really a Pre-K prep program.

This year, for the first time, we didn't qualify for the free program. So, I we re-enrolled our son at the private preschool he was at last year. We shouldn't have. We struggled last year to make his tuition payments. I was so grateful when June rolled around and we didn't have to pay that expense any more. But, when we realized he wouldn't be able to go for free this year at our neighborhood school's preschool, and we couldn't afford the $400 fee, we continued with where he had been going.

To be honest, part of it is my level of comfort with the notion of "homeschooling." It's pretty much non-existent. I don't feel equipped or able -- which I know is pretty silly. I'm a college graduate. I read. I'm educated. My husband is a teacher. I just feel... inadequate. Overwhelmed. Second rate.  Plus, there is a real component of feeling overwhelmed with all my "mommy duties" plus other children who need me.

So it's not easy at all. There is so much more "subtext" to these decisions of letting go and re-routing money. Don't discount "feelings" rising up when you look at doing something similar. I would highly recommend getting third-party opinions and insight from people whom you trust. It's invaluable. My friends are the best. They told me things like, "You can do this."  "I'll help you if you need it." "He's such an easy going child (true) and he loves to do "homework" when he doesn't even have any assigned!"

Mostly I needed to hear..."you are not a bad person or mother for taking him out of preschool. He will survive."

And especially, "there are children starving in this world. Preschool is a luxury."

So very true. It's all about perspective.

When I finally got up the "nerve" to call the administrator to tell her of our decision, she was so gracious and supportive. Although I offered and fully expected to give and pay for the two-weeks notice (meaning we would have to pay for one week's tuition since this month was already paid for), she was kind and said we could stay through the month and then be off the hook for that extra week.

It's amazing what God will do for you when you take that leap of faith and do that thing you stress out about doing. I feel lighter. Especially since this morning, my son told me out of the blue, "I don't want to go to school." Since I know he tends to enjoy it, I asked him why. I didn't fully get much of an answer, but as I asked him if he would be okay with not seeing or playing with his friends at school anymore, and working with mommy on his homework at home, he nodded yes. As we walked to the entrance he told me, "today is my last day at school, mommy!"

I don't know where that came from, but it made my phone call easier.

I'm telling you...I could not live this life without God in it, over it and all around it. I wouldn't want to, either!

The crazy part is by reallocating these two budget items and paying the minimum on our mortgage (we were paying extra), we freed up $485 to pay towards our debt each month. It's almost shocking to see that amount when in my mind we were "so poor." I get that savings is important. Preschool is important.

But living is important.

And obviously, we were slowly strangling the life out of our family and future by the way we were doing things.

So, these choices are not always easy. But, I feel confident that the couple of years we will be hunkering down and paying things off will be worth the sacrifice.

And...we are continuing to see the provision of God in different ways.

One was that my sister and her family switched to our cable provider. Because they were kind enough to mention us a referral source, we're getting a $100 credit on our bill -- starting next month!! Basically, we won't have to pay a cable bill for 2.5 months! I love it! So timely...and so helpful in getting us off to this amazing start. I just had to laugh when I saw the email a few days ago letting us know that it went through.

Another is that we sold another "baby/toddler" item this past week. Another $30 to the Emergency Fund and someone else gets to enjoy it.

Also...it's getting a bit exciting to collect the day's mail. We never know what check, coupon, or freebie we might find in there! This past week, we received another "rewards card" for purchasing a certain amount of items in from a Cars 2 promotion. It's stuff I would have purchased anyway, and the $10 pre-paid card is nice and actually needed.

And finally, we went on that birthday date, courtesy of my mother-in-law. At my favorite restaurant, we ordered two entrees and an appetizer. However, we opted against ordering "adult beverages" as we do from time to time on special occasions...and if money allows. We both decided to stick with water, and although Rylie was looking forward to having a beer with dinner, he didn't order one. As we were talking, I saw one of the waiters walk towards us with a glass of beer. He asked if we would like to have it complimentary because there was a mix up with an order at another table (at which happened to be one of Rylie's co-workers with whom we had chatted when we first arrived) and they suggested it be given to us.

I had to laugh at the notion that God would bless Rylie with the beer he wanted -- without us even having to pay for it. We had a good chuckle over that one.

.....................................................

So, continuing on to week 6's lesson, "Credit Sharks in Suits." Last night at class we learned about how to deal with persistent and overzealous creditors that pester and heckle you into paying what you owe. Ramsey is definitely a proponent of paying your bills. However, he is also a fan of being proactive about how you plan to do it and not letting scare tactics dictate when and how you pay the creditors off.

He urged us to remember to set our priorities by the "Four Walls":

1. Food
2. Shelter
3. Clothing
4. Transportation

Ramsey advocates making sure that all of these things are paid first. Not only will this keep you from being foreclosed on and or going hungry, it will put you in a good frame of mind to be able to attack your plan with confidence and a measure of comfort. He said too often people will skip a mortgage payment to pay off a debt collector, but end up losing their house -- and their peace of mind.

He also share the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is a law to protect the consumer from unfair collectors -- this included calling at all hours of the day/night, calling you at work, threatening illegal actions (like garnishing your wages), etc. If you are being hassled by debt collectors, you need to familiarize yourself with your rights under this legislation.

Although good information, I'm glad that we have not been down this road of debt collection. From what people shared in our small group, it can make one of the most stressful times in your life (in debt) even worse.

One thing we did find interesting was his take on the FICO score system that we've all bought into and how we work so hard to get and keep that credit score up. He said that it is an "I love debt score and not a measure of winning financially" since it's based up on the debt load you carry, your debt history, and how often you add in new debt.

Ramsey does not even have an available FICO score because he has zero debt on which to base it. His point is that if you eventually have enough income and savings to do away with debt in your life, the FICO score becomes irrelevant. You simply don't need it, because you don't need to incur any debt.

A novel idea and definitely some food for thought.

Which reminds me...I found a FREE 18-page booklet on How to Be Debt Free for the Holidays. Every little bit helps, right?

See you back here next Monday to talk about the lesson for week six, "Buyer Beware" The Power of Marketing on Your Buying Decisions."  I feel convicted already! ☺

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Related Posts About Our Financial Peace Journey (in order):
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/financial-peace.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/my-god-wink.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/peace-like-river.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/introducingmoney-monday.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/introducingmoney-monday-part-two.html

For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/


For info on Inzolo -- an online and mobile "envelope system," tool, visit:
www.inzolo.com

For more info on The Blessed Life, visit:
http://theblessedlife.com/

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

I Breathe You In: A Tribute to Larry Dimond



This weekend, I'm grieving the earthly loss of a wonderful man of God (and just an all-around wonderful man), Larry Dimond, long-time missionary to Ireland and Zimbabwe, who passed from this world last night, Friday, October 21.

I know that Heaven is his gain and that Larry is lost in the glory of being in God's presence.

I know that.

I rejoice in that part.

But my heart aches for his beautiful wife, Ann, and his two adult children. Hannah and John Michael, and their spouses, Philip and Candace, and for his granddaughter, Haddie Ann. They are left behind (for now) to try to live a life without the man who was everything to their family.

That hurts my heart.

Yet, I know that Larry was not "everything," because their everything is really found in Jesus. I'm so grateful for this reality and that He can comfort them like no man can.

All I can offer to them is my profound sorrow and my profound joy.

It doesn't feel like it's enough.

But I know it's the only thing I can give...and it's the only thing they need to hear right now.

Yesterday, I sat down and wrote something for Larry. At that point, I didn't know where Larry's state of mind was and whether it was appropriate for it to be read to him. But, I sent it off to my father (who flew out to be there at the family's request), and asked him to share it at his discretion.

I'm not sure if Larry ever "heard" my words here on earth (not that it really matters), but I know that he can now. If you will allow it, I'd like to share them here...it's my own way of expressing my love for him and saying goodbye.

Before I do, I want to share this beautiful song a friend shared on her blog this morning. It perfectly sums up what I am feeling right now. May it minister to you as you read along.


Larry,

I have been thinking about you, Ann, Hannah, John Michael and the rest of the family so much the last few days. I hope it goes without saying that I have been praying for you and reflecting over the last twenty years that our families have known each other.

My thoughts keep coming back to one moment in particular -- maybe you remember…

It was 1997, and you guys were home on furlough. I was a 24-year old missionary associate who was home for her Christmas and her younger sister’s wedding a few weeks later.

I was lonely.

My position required me to live alone in an apartment far away from the other American missionaries. Unlike the position I had before in Belgium, there was no “fun and sassy” single scene to fill up my days and evenings.

It was mostly just me and the Lord.

Seeing my sister getting ready to be married was a privilege, but it also brought up some real struggles and fears for me.

The nice Christian man that I had been interested in had zero interest in me. Even worse, there seemed to be no prospects at all where I was. I started to wonder if I was destined to be an unmarried cat-lady for the rest of my life. And it freaked me out.

I wanted to wait for “God’s perfect choice,” but He didn’t seem to be too concerned about delivering him to me.

So, there I was….December 1997, at the altar at Northeast Assembly, bawling my eyes out and begging God to deliver me from my singleness, when you came over to pray for me.

You put your hands on my shoulders and prayed a lot of things…you blessed the missionary work I was doing in Greece; you thanked God for my life; and then you stopped.

You paused for a minute and started praying about my loneliness and desire for companionship. You prayed about trusting God for his perfect will and timing. You prayed that “although there is a season of singleness,” it would not always be the case. You asked God to help me walk through that season to the other side.

That night, I surrendered my dream and desire to be married. I knew I had to do it. I cried bitter and broken tears, but I did it. I walked back up that aisle lighter.

We even talked about it some when we came and stayed the night at the condo you guys rented up at Shaver Lake. You were so encouraging.

But little did we both know that a few weeks later, I would casually be introduced to a friend’s brother --- and nothing would ever be the same for me again.

I went back to Greece, and he went back to Oregon. We corresponded. We shared our lives. Eventually, we realized that we were in love. And after we both spent time in prayer seeking the Lord about it, we decided to marry. At some point between love and marriage, Rylie shared a song that he loved by Christian singer/songwriter, Wes King, called “In Time.”

In it, King sings about being in love, but wanting it to be in God’s timing. In the bridge, the leading up swell into the beautiful declaration of this, he sings,

“There must be a season of singleness, but there’s a help through this loneliness....these are times for us to learn…”

When I heard those lyrics…thousands of miles from home and from that night at the altar with you…I felt God’s hand on my shoulders.

He had indeed walked with me through the season of singleness in my life and through the other side. He used a phrase in a song – a phrase that you had prayed over me -- as another confirmation of His will for my life with Rylie.

You are part of our love story.

And for that I will be eternally grateful.

As I think of you and your current struggle for your very life, I can’t help but think of that sandy-haired, teddy bear of man holding my shoulders and encouraging me to trust God when all hope seemed to be lost.

It’s what I would say to you now…a sweet reminder of something you already know…that God walks with us through all seasons of our lives -- the ones of abundance and the ones of desolation.

He is as much in those times of grief and despair (and I would say even more so) as He is in the fullness of time.

May He be so close to you…yes, closer than a lover. I know He is faithfully walking with you through this season to the other side.

Thank you for being available and obedient to the voice of the Lord both then, now and always.

My life has been forever changed.

The way they were...this was a little over a year before Larry prayed that prayer over me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Caution: Women at Work!

My children amuse me.

They come up with the funniest things.

Last night as I was walking down the hallway to my bedroom, I noticed a sign posted to my two daughters' door. They frequently tape things up there (pictures, signs, etc), but I could tell that this one was new. And it looked special.

So I took a closer look and recognized my nine-year-old's writing.


It made me chuckle as I pictured my nine and six year old girls hard at work in their bedrooms styling their Barbie dolls, listening to their iPods, trashing their room, etc.

As I got busy doing whatever I did in my bedroom, I started wondering, I wonder why on earth she thought to write and post "Women at Work!" of all things.

So I asked her.

She got an embarrassed look on her face and said, "well, you know...cuz we do stuff in our room. We work."

Fair enough. And though I pressed for a little more detail as to why that particular phrase or the reason for using that wording (as opposed to "Girls at Work!" or "Children Playing!"), I didn't get a profound, blog-worthy answer.

Or did I?

I'm very conscious of my "work status," here in our home. I don't work outside of the home anymore at 40 hour (or even 20 hour) a week job. I traded in my work clothes before our second of four children were born. It was always the plan. I know that the stay home/working mom argument can be fraught with high passions and protest, suffice it to say that it was a conviction of mine to be at home with the kids while they are young.

Enough said.

However, as the years have rolled by (it's been almost seven since I left my marketing assistant job), I had come to realize that although I don't miss the office politics, awkward work mores, and the long hours, I do miss being able to go somewhere and produce something that's all mine (or mostly) that earns me a paying wage for my effort.

My work career starting early -- at the age of 14 during the summer between eigth grade and my freshman year. After that, I worked after school throughout high school and the rest was history. I always had some sort of a job -- even through college, and even after when I was "figuring out my life."

When I was in the workforce, I couldn't wait until I could trade in the panty house for yoga pants and staying at home to love on my babies. I thought I would have plenty of time to get all the housework done (instead of doing it on the weekends) and I think I was naive enough to believe that everything would be easier.

I could sleep in.

I could eat Bon-Bons and watch movies.

However....

....I quickly discovered that sleeping in would remain only a weekend luxury (and even then, we take turns) and that somehow there weren't enough hours in the day to even take a shower.

All of a sudden the office politics, staff meetings and press releases started looking pretty good.

Honestly, I just wanted to escape.

Maybe not for 8 hours per day, but even just one hour alone with just me, myself, and I.

Don't get me wrong. I love my children. I'm grateful for them. I wouldn't trade what I'm doing for the world.

But it's so hard sometimes being at home day in and day out.

I always feel like admitting this minimizes the "joy of motherhood," but it's the unvarnished truth. It's my truth.

I know that there are women out there who long and grieve for a child that has never been or was not here for long enough. I understand that for many women there is a "baby/child shaped hole" in their hearts that cannot be filled with something else.

I get that.

But it's the same as when I was a young girl watching Disney fairy tales and wishing for the day I would marry Prince Charming. Again...don't get me wrong. Marriage can be wonderful. But...it can also be difficult, and something that you totally did not expect when you watched Cinderella ride off in the white sparkling carriage with P.C. (the poor guy didn't even have a name!).

The idea of what could be is many times eclipsed by the reality of what is.

My current reality of being a "woman at work" is complicated. It's making dinner, washing clothes, sweeping the floor for the umpteenth time, carving out time to exercise, baking a cake, toilet training, repairing clothing, making time for friends, making lunches, grocery shopping, running errands, balancing a budget, writing a blog, cleaning smeared poop off the minivan's seats (I literally just did this minutes ago), helping with homework, breaking up fights, planning date nights with the hubs, maintaining a vegetable garden, reading for pleasure and not just "how to's, volunteering at the kids' school or at church, cleaning marker off the wall, changing sheets (again!)....it can go on and on...and it does.

Something always needs to be done.

This reminds me of the time my six-year-old daughter announced, "Moms are no fun, because they have to do everything and bunch of blah, blah, blah."

Actually, I'm not sure I could have said it better myself.

Because honestly, this is the way I feel sometimes. Like I'm no fun. Like what I do is no fun. Let's face it, no one bounds out of bed in the morning and fist-pumps, "I get to clean the toilets today!"

I actually loathe cleaning. I really do feel like I am too creative and intelligent to waste my efforts on drudgery like wiping out the microwave. This photo sums up exactly how I feel.


But...cleaning needs to be done. And I'm at home while my husband is out there working hard for that paycheck.

It's that dreaded "D-word" again....Discipline! (I dislike that one just as much as the "P-word: Patience.")

I know that what I do is valuable. It's essential to my family's existence.

And maybe that's what is so hard about it all. They literally need me so much. While it's nice to be needed, sometimes the weight of it can crush you.

Unless you have the right attitude.

I'm working on that. I'm working on balancing everything so that I have time to do things I want to do in the midst of all the things I need to do.

It's not easy...not by a long shot.

But, it's doable. It's something worth working at.

And maybe that's the simple profoundness of my daughter's sign.

She gets it already.

To be a woman by definition is to work. It's what we do. It's who we are. It's how we love.

For me to see her grasp that concept at age 9, and to even find value and self-worth, identification and something to aspire to in that notion is a beautiful thing.

For me...for now....all the things I do day in and day out is part of being a "Women at Work!"

Just because I don't earn a paycheck for it doesn't make it any less valuable or important. And maybe how I go about doing it despite that lack makes it even more so.

So, whether you work in the home, or outside of it, whether you have three children or none, whether your a domestic diva or reluctant housekeeper, your work is important.

You're a woman!

Let's hear you roar!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Easy Peasy Chocolate Spread



I've had a long-standing love affair with chocolate.

However, my passion and appreciation for it soared to new heights when I lived in Belgium for 16 months after college. I was introduced to "real chocolate." Chocolate made without the wax we seem to use here for preservation. Chocolate with fresh ingredients -- no chemically inspired names. Chocolate so fresh that you had to eat in within a certain time frame or keep it in the refrigerator or it would spoil. Chocolate that was so decadent and luscious, you couldn't keep from moaning aloud when you consumed it.

I soon became accustomed to picking out one delectable piece when I would go down to the Grand Place in Brussels with my friends and enjoying it completely. You only need one when it's literally the best piece of chocolate you've ever had. You enjoy and savor it. It completes you...sorry....I was drooling.

One delightful Saturday, some of us went to a wonderful warm and charming restaurant/cafe called Le Pain du Quotidien (or in English..."Daily Bread"). They have some here too in the U.S., but there's nothing like having french bread in a francophone country. Truly.

This is where I should mention that I also have a thing for bread...warm, crusty baguettes and boules. I have frequently dined on bread alone and thought myself the luckiest girl in the world. Add in some European-style yogurt and cheese and it's pretty much the best day ever!

Unless...you add in chocolate.

That Saturday as my friends and I sat around the blonde wooden communal table with our cafe au lait and bread, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Pure chocolate creamy perfection....in an adorable little crock with a knife. Intrigued, I pulled it closer and realized...wonder of wonders...that it was a spread for my baguette!

Oh the joy that ensued. I may not have spoken for the rest of breakfast. I may just have rolled my eyes in pleasure and groaned as my waistband got tighter.

Pure heaven.

This is where I tell you that this was not Nutella. I don't have anything against Nutella, but it cannot hold a candle to what I experienced that day. I'm not a huge fan of the hazelnut, so for me, Nutella is simply "meh!"

However, this dark chocolate spread was semi-sweet, dark chocolate goodness.

(Did I mention that living in Belgium sealed the deal of my eternal allegiance to dark chocolate? Milk chocolate is it's lame weak-sauce cousin as far as I'm concerned.)

Over the years since I've moved back to the U.S. and built a life here, I've thought about that chocolate spread over the years. When I my newly-married husband and I were able to travel there for a vacation, that restaurant was the first place we hit off the airplane. (He concurred with all my rapturous descriptions, btw.) One of my friends who still lives in "Belgique" once mailed me a jar of it from the store (best gift ever!)

I once found a "chocolate frosting" jar of something similar at Trader Joe's. It was good...but it wasn't quite right. I resigned myself to a life without my chocolate paradise.

Until the other night.

I was making some cake balls that I found on Pinterest. The recipe called for me melt down chocolate chips and then roll the cake balls made from dough in it. So, I melted down semi-sweet chocolate chips in my "poor man's double boiler."



Little did I know that I would stumble upon the recipe for my heart's desire. While it ended up not being the best chocolate covering for the dessert I was attempting to make, (I think you'd need some paraffin or hardening agent to make it work better and not melt off the dough balls) I found out the next day that it was the perfect consistency for spreading on bread or dipping pretzels in.

It made my week...maybe month. Sad, but true!

Here's how you can do it too...

Decadent Chocolate Spread

- 2 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
- 1 to 2 Tbsp butter or shortening
- 2-3 Tbsp milk

Simply place a heat-safe bowl  inside/over a pot of boiling water and watch carefully. The ideal is to make sure it won't sit down too low into the pot, or be too unstable where it would tip to far over to the side. You want to keep steam from escaping through the sides of the bowl, but if you lose a little that way, it's okay. Just make sure not to let the water evaporate in the pan (like I did) and scorch it.

Then pour chocolate chips in and allow to melt. You'll need to stir them every now and again. Add in 1-2 Tsp of butter (or Crisco) to allow it to spread easier. It will also create a "fat" that will help the chocolate to not stay lumpy. Add in some milk...about 2 Tbsp or more if needed to thin and melt. Stir until completely mixed and completely smooth.



When completely cooled, scoop into plastic or glass container and keep refrigerated. But don't expect it to last long.

Ours didn't!

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Introducing...."Money Monday" - Part Two


Okay...so my posts about Financial Peace University have been a bit more vague (about the actual principles) and more topical and applicable to me. I figure if I am going to give this weekly blog series a go...'Money Monday,' then I need to bring you up to speed a little.

So, by now, hopefully you know that Financial Peace University was created by Dave Ramsey, a well-known  author, public speaking and radio talk show personality. If you don't know him, don't worry about it. I didn't really either -- until our finances were so out of control, I went looking for answers. The FPU is compromised of a 13-week class that helps you "dump debt and build wealth" by his subscribed-to methodology. The class revolves around a video about that weeks' topic by Ramsey and then small group discussion time afterwards.

Something that is a bit hard to swallow at first is the cost. Most classes are about $100 -- which seems outrageous when 1.) you are poor and in debt, 2.) you are trying to change that and feel a little taken advantage of.

However, the materials you will receive, online resource center, access to the videos, the group support and feedback, facility usage, etc. makes it pretty much a bargain. Plus, it's my personal opinion that you value more what you have to pay for. You will be less likely to skip the class because you "don't feel up to going" when you have $100 invested, than if you got the class for free.

So, if you are considering doing a class in the near future, or if you live in the Fresno area and want to register in a class starting in January at my church, then start saving that $100. (Check in from time to time to see when the class gets officially scheduled.)

Also, I should say that you are welcome to attend a class one time for free to see if it's something you are interested in doing. The preview that is online on the website is also a good place to start (the first link I gave in this post).

So, now that I've shared that, let's get into the weeks that we've already completed:

Week 1: Super Saving - The Seven Baby Steps
  • Step 1: $1,000 in an Emergency fun (only $500 if income is less than $20K per year)
  • Step 2: Pay off all debt except the house utilizing the "debt snowball"
  • Step 3: Three to six months expenses in savings
  • Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRA and pre-tax retirement plans
  • Step 5: College Funding
  • Step 6: Pay off your home early
  • Step 7: Build wealth and give
Ramsey has created a plan where you can logically get from being debt-laden to having money to spare and give. But, he advocates following that plan...to get to step 3, you need to first to step 1 and 2 and so on...

As I've mentioned in previous posts, we're still on Baby Step #1, but almost there!



Week 2:  Relating with Money: Nerds and Free Spirits Unite!

This one was especially fun because he talked about how we relate to money and especially in a marriage relationship where there is usually a "free spirit" and a "nerd" when it comes to money. This is where the "money tension" comes into play and all the money fights. He talks about the importance of both parties committing to creating a budget and following it.

For us, I would say I'm more of the "nerd" when it comes to our finances. I see the total picture as the "money person" in our marriage. Rylie tends to be more of the "if I spend it, it will be there," but I think that's more of a result of him not sitting down and doing the majority of the reconciling and budgeting. He is also concerned about our financial picture and future too, but he doesn't lay awake at night thinking about how he can make a spreadsheet on Excel to plan our way to a specific goal.

He also talked about how this can impact your children and how you can start to teach them about money and how to avoid debt. All of his children were able to save up money for their own cars (which they matched) by following the principles.


Week 3: Cash Flow Planning: The Nuts and Bolts of Budgeting

This week, Ramsey talked about money being "active." And because of that, you must do a "cash flow" plan every month to make sure each and every penny is allocated. Without allocating each cent, we get these ambiguous categories or "slush funds" that end up melting away. Only when you have each and every penny assigned to a specific category will you have full financial control over your money, and not the other way around.  He gives you the worksheets and tools to sit down and hash this out. He warns that this is usually the one that creates the most tension for couples since you really have to sit down and see the reality of the full financial picture you've drawn, and have a meeting of the minds for a solution.

Although this was a tough one -- to see exactly how deep into debt we are -- it was also very freeing to look that monster full in the face AND create that game plan. There is no more guessing now. We know what we have to do to get out of debt and be where we want to be.

I've mentioned in another post, how much we are enjoying an online envelope system called Inzolo. The nice thing about Inzolo is that because it's online and comprehensive, we were pretty much able to use it to do our cash flow planning. Plus, the extra benefit is that we can then USE it for the month....AND it's dynamic, so we can make all the changes we need to as the month progresses.

We're still in the "free trial" phase, but so far we really like it.


Week 4:  Dumping Debt: Breaking the Chains of Debt

This was the longest video to date, the hardest to hear, but the most entertaining and hopeful. He debunks a lot of the myths we have about credit cards, loans and debt. He points out that our great-grandparents thought debt was a sin. Our grandparents thought it was unwise. Our parents took on a bit to help them "get ahead." We are debt-crazy and think we cannot live life without it.

I really enjoyed this one. It made me want to pump my fist at every myth he popped (and he would literally pop a balloon on stage every time) and say, "yeah!" It really gets your blood boiling when you realize how much you have bought into the marketing of credit card companies and what a crazy notion we've bought into.

I love that he gave us practical steps to get out of debt:
  • 1. Quit borrowing more money!
  • 2. You must save money.
  • 3: Prayer really works.
  • 4. Sell something.
  • 5. Take a part-time job or overtime (temporarily).
His thought is that if we are willing to buckle down and work hard and sacrifice for a short amount of time, we can then live the remainder of our lives in financial freedom.

And the end of this lesson brought us to Baby Step #2...

Pay off all debt using the "debt snowball," which is paying the minimum payments on all your debts except for the smallest one. That one you attack and work hard to eradicate. Then you attack the next one. Every time you pay a debt off, you add its old minimum payment to the next debt payment and so on, and so forth.

This is where we are almost at, and I'm excited. I can't wait to see this debt start to get hammered down. But, this one is tough too. One thing we've done right is saving for the kids' education and a little bit of retirement. Ramsey says, however, that during this time period, you stop all of that and focus all your energy and resources on to paying off that debt. And then, when it's gone, you put that money back to saving and even more of it!

Although the idea of stopping that hurts a bit, I understand it. However, the one that hits a bit harder is thinking through other areas of our budget where we could eek out more money. One glaring place is our son's preschool tuition. I won't go into all the nitty gritty, but the bottom line is that it's costing us $200+ a month for him to go two days a week for preschool and enrichment. He was supposed to be getting free preschool at our local school. But the state raised the income guidelines and we no longer qualify. So, now he's going (and enjoys it), but we could really use that money.

My husband thinks we should pull him out and work with him at home. I'm....not so sure. I'll admit my feeling of lacking in the "home school department." Frankly, it scares the heck out of me. Even setting aside some time to go through a workbook is frightening. However, I also feel guilty about taking him out of a setting (educational too) he enjoys because of our poor money choices.

However, that's "my issue," and I know I need to work through it...and especially pray about what God would want us to do. But, you can see that being committed and working hard to get out of debt is full of tough decisions. How badly do you want it? What are you willing to do, sell, rethink in order for it to happen?

That's where we are now...October 2011. We're on the journey. We're making tough decisions. But, we're getting somewhere!

See you next Monday! I'll tell you how the "dumping debt" week has gone and give you a preview of week 5..."Credit Sharks in Suits."

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Related Posts About Our Financial Peace Journey (in order):
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/financial-peace.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/my-god-wink.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/peace-like-river.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/introducingmoney-monday.html


For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Introducing...."Money Monday"




Because so much of our life right now is centered up on our Financial Peace class and starting the journey to becoming debt-free by cutting up the credit cards and solely using cash, and because a few of you out there have asked me either how it's going and to share tidbits we learn along the way, I thought I should start a weekly update on how things are going.

Truly...there is so much info to share and so many amazing and providential stories, I want to make sure I have a place to capture it all and put it down for me...and yes, for you.

See...I figure that if our journey can be any sort of inspiration or example of God's goodness, then I'm all for that. And since Monday starts with "M" too...well, that's a no-brainer.

So, every Monday, I'm going to let you know how the week went, any insights or new things we learned in our class (we go on Sunday evenings) and any progress or provision we've experienced.

When I started to write this, I realized I had way to much to share and say, so I am going to divide this into two parts -- one for today, and one for tomorrow (and yes, I realize it will be Tuesday and no longer the spiffy Monday for "Money Monday," but I'm betting you'll give me grace this once.).

................................................


This week....which ended Saturday since yesterday (Sunday) marked the beginning of week 4...has been pretty amazing.

In my last blog post about this topic (and you'll find all my related posts down below), I mentioned that God has not only provided a way for us to get replacement tires at an extremely affordable price, we also got some "free" rewards card money in the mail that just helped add some more "fun money" into the mix.

What I haven't shared it is how difficult and impossible Baby Step #1 of the Financial Peace method (getting $1,000 saved as an "emergency fund" in savings) has felt for us since we've started this process. Truly, our budget is squeaky tight. So tight we have not saved hardly anything in the last few years. There just hasn't been anything left over.

Which was the problem. We were waiting for leftovers to fund our savings...and by the time it got to the end of the month, there was nothing to save.

Now that we're allocating every penny (starting this month -- October), we were able to put $150 aside for the emergency fund. We were shocked that we had that much money to put aside (it's a lot to us). And honestly, even as we transferred it into savings to start that emergency fund, I think we both secretly were wondering just how long it would last in there. Because our track record isn't good.

We overspend.

We overdraft in savings.

We overspend that.

We overdraft into an overdraft loan.

It's a downward spiral that we've been caught in too many times. But, here's the thing...it's the middle of the month and we still have $150 in our emergency fund!  And that's not all.

Taking a page from some of our fellow "classmates," we looked around the house and found some items to sell on Craigslist. Our total take so far to date....$60 for two used and no longer needed baby items. And we have more items listed...and a few more to list.

So then we we're up to $210!

And then...on Friday...someone gave us a $500 check! Yeah...you read that right. $500! When we expressed our shock and somewhat reluctance to accept their generous gift, they said, "just put it into savings for when you need it."

What???

Just like that...we have $710 in our emergency fund with only $290 to go before it's fully-funded. And what seemed impossibly and unlikely to happen in the near future is all of a sudden attainable.

It's unbelievable!

But then, at the same time...it's completely believeable.

We asked.

We are obeying.

We are waiting.

God has said to ask and He will give us the desires of our heart. It's amazing to know that once our will (financially speaking) is in line with His, He will come alongside of us to bring blessing and provision!

And then we'll be on to Baby Step #2, Paying Off Debt with the 'Debt Snowball.'

Another thing that happened this week was a call to hear and obey the voice of the Lord to do something that seemed crazy and almost counter-intuitive to what we've been learning in FPU. This summer, our church went through the video series and book, The Blessed Life, by Robert Morris. In this series, Pastor Morris encourages believers to be responsible with their money by tithing and being financially stable enough to be able to give when God tells you to give -- and sometimes on the spur of the moment, in lavish amounts...and even when the provision doesn't seem to be there.

This has been something that has always been on my heart. I love to give money to different causes and organizations. However, we seem to have less and less funds available to do it. In addition to being amazed at our ability to allocate some money into our emergency fund, another amazing thing that we saw this month as we allocated out all of Rylie's paycheck is that we truly do have money to allocate for "charitable causes." I just know that as we are responsible and obedient with our finances, God will be able to trust us with more, because we've proven to be faithful.

Anyhow, however, this month, some expenses came up that caused us to have to reallocate that money out of charitable gifts and into another "envelope." It really made me sad to do it.

As I was in the shower last week (where I do my deep thinking), I was wishing that we could find some money to send to my aunt and uncle who were going to be leaving on a missions trip to Tanzania in a matter of days. I thought in my head (knowing our financial picture)...."if we could just send $20, that would be great. Just $20, God!" 

In that moment, almost audible, I heard that recognizable voice of God say, "Give them $50!"

"Nah...that can't be God," I thought. "That must just be me talking to myself. However...I was thinking $20. Fifty dollars seem pretty excessive knowing what our budget looks like this month. Hmmm..but what if it wasn't me?"

"Give them $50!"

"Okay...that's weird....I'm being pretty insistent with myself if this is just me talking. God, if this is you could you make sure I know that..."

"Give them $50!" 

Okay...I'm embarrased that it took me 3 times to finally get with the program, but I did. I talked to Rylie about it and without hesitation he said, "Do it...send them $50!"

So, I did. I took reallocated it from another envelope for a special event we had planned later in the month -- a date for my birthday to be specific -- and I told God...

"Here...this is for you. Use it. I trust you to either bring in the funds to replenish that envelope, or I will gladly give up my birthday date for the sake of someone else. Either way, I'm okay with it....more than okay, actually. Thrilled to be honest."

So fast forward to yesterday afternoon when Rylie's mom called me.

"Hey, Heather. I just wanted you to know that for your birthday, I want to babysit the kids and pay for you and Rylie to go out on a date. Would that be okay?"

(Insert huge smile on my face here!)

"Um, yes, Laura! Actually, that would be a complete answer to prayer!"

We continued to chat, and I was actually so overwhelmed by her gesture, that I didn't even really the chance to explain how timely and providential it was. But, I will. She has been woven into the tapestry of our financial adventure with God.

At this point, three weeks down and starting week 4, I feel like I've been overwhelmed by His love and affection. Now that I have experienced the closeness of that fellowship and can see how the "do it ourselves" mentality had really written him out of that equation and has not only dug us into debt, it has also actually hindered God from being allowed to work on our behalf. Now that we've removed that obstacle, it feels like that floodgate has been opened. And that river of blessing is so refreshing.

It's a seat-of-our-pants thrill ride because we are totally and completely dependent upon God and his provision. When he comes through for us in these big or small ways, it adds to the exhilaration.

This adventure is thrilling and yes, a bit terrifying too. But anyone can ride along.

The train is in the station....anyone else want to get on?


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*Check back tomorrow for Part 2 so that I can share the actual topical lessons we have learned.


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Related Posts About Our Financial Peace Journey (in order):
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/financial-peace.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/my-god-wink.html
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/peace-like-river.html


For more info on Financial Peace, visit:
http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/preview/

For more info on using Inzolo -- an online and mobile "envelope system," tool, visit:
www.inzolo.com


For more info on The Blessed Life, visit:
http://theblessedlife.com/

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Architecture and the Wrecking Ball



Right now, my two sons' favorite toy is an Imaginarium marble play set that my husband bought in a stroke of both genius and madness one Christmas. Maybe you've seen one. Our looks like this.


As you can see it's a kid (and adult) magnet with it's bright cheery colors and various plastic marble "troughs" that you snap together along with some colored plastic "tubes" to create a fun marble-riffic good time. As my son, Declan, will demonstrate.


video

See...any child's dream toy. And it is....

However....you'll notice that earlier I said my husband bought it in a state of "madness."  Why madness? Well, for me, this toy is also the bane of my existence right now.

The plastic pieces are rarely nicely put away in their plastic bin. This is because Declan and his little brother want to play with it all throughout each and every day. They love to beg me to stop what I'm doing and come and build it for them -- which requires a lot of brain power (I'm a bit slow in this problem-solving area) because in order to achieve maximum thrillage, you have to put the pieces together in the correct way to allow the marbles to flow freely throughout the various troughs throughout the entire structure.

Put the wrong side in the wrong place...the marble doesn't go anywhere.

And believe you me, the kids always know if I've "cut off" some part of the structure and the marbles cannot freely flow through to the bottom of it. I've spent quite a bit of time (even after more than a year of building these epic creations) pulling parts of it apart and putting it back together to make it all work right.

Frustrating as this may be, it's not what drives me bonkers.

What yanks my crazy chain is that after 20 minutes of me sitting there muttering under my breath and sometimes pulling my hair out (especially when I feel like there is something else I could/need to be doing), the boys will play with it for approximately 4.5 minutes.

And then they completely go King Kong on it and demolish it to the ground.

Often I hear this in the other room as I've gone back to doing what I was doing before, or have started on another task. I inwardly groan as I picture all that effort literally flying around the living room -- rolling under furniture and littering the area rug with all those plastic pieces.

And, no...they can't destroy it into its plastic bin. Noooo...that would be too easy.

Instead, they seem to enjoy having all that carnage laying around. It doesn't seem to faze them one bit....

...until it does.

The other day, Declan came running and screaming into the kitchen hopping around and yelling, "it hurts! it hurts!"

When I finally found what it was that was hurting him, I was stunned. There was a pretty significant cut on his big toe. It was pretty wide and deep -- so much so, that I debated taking him to the doctor for stitches. However, since I know my boy, I knew that this would most likely not be the best route for him. I was able to clean it and patch it up with a butterfly bandage and after a few minutes, all was calm.

However, when I asked him what on earth was in our house that could have created such an awful cut, he showed me.

It was one of the marble set pieces.

A seemingly innocuous plastic "lip" on one of the troughs to make a loop-de-loop caught him in just the right way to cut almost like a knife across his toe. As I explained to him how those pieces strewn around the living room could actually be dangerous (and yes, I had said it before), I saw something click in his eyes.

He finally understood that something so incredible could also be hurtful if it wasn't taken care of properly.

And as I thought about that marble set and Declan's toe over the next few days, I started thinking about how I'm really not all that different when it comes to the architecture of my life and God as the Master Architect.

I guess when it comes down to it, we're all spiritual toddlers who desperately want our Father to make us something extraordinary. And, He is good enough to do it. Yes, we thoroughly enjoy it for awhile...until all we can think about is how to rip it apart.

And when we see it lying there destroyed and havoc we've wreaked upon it, and we get cut up and wounded by all those sharp edges and sometimes even broken pieces, all we can think about is how we want to see it put back together again.

Thankfully, God is a both a better parent and architect than I am.

He is faithful to bind up the wounds and help us to start over.

I wish I were more like Him. Magnanimous, forgiving, engaging, understanding....patient.

But, I'm human me.

All that precious time that it takes my addled brain to figure out how to get the pieces to go together just right gets destroyed in literally seconds.

My patience in both building and watching the ruining runs thin.

It seems like such a waste.

But...maybe it's not about me.

Maybe it's about the fact that even though my boys know that I'm busy, distracted and tired, I will almost always stop what I'm doing and get down on the floor with them and build that sucker.

Maybe, just maybe...it's what they count on.

Momma will stop loading the dishwasher/writing a blog post/folding the clothes/reading that magazine/sweeping up the floor for the umpteenth time....and she'll play.

She'll build.

She'll sit next to me.

I don't know why it's so fun to destroy those things that take so much time and effort into building. Maybe it's our fallen human nature. Maybe it's just child-like curiosity.

But I do know that when I stand in the detritus of the architecture of God's plan and dream for me...yes, even my own dream...He will be faithful to help me rebuild.

All I need to do is just ask.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Peace Like a River



I have fond memories of being a kid in church. Does anyone else remember the song,
"I've got peace like a river,
I've got peace like a river,
I've got peace like a river,
....in my soul"
and how fun it was to belt it out at the top of our lungs at Kids Church or Kids Camp?

I do.

Although I vaguely understood the metaphor (didn't give much thought to it honestly...the song was so darn fun!), I haven't really pondered the greater depth of it until later in my adult years. I'm pretty sure that's usually the case. We get older. We go a little deeper. We gain a bit more understanding. (At least that's the hope.)

Hmm..."peace like a river."

When I think of rivers, I think of a continuous stream of water that comes out of a massive source that is simultaneously in a constant state of being filled and constantly filling its tributaries.

Dictionary.com defines River as:
1. a natural stream of water of fairly large size flowing in a definite course or channel or series of diverging and converging channels. 
2. any abundant stream or copious flow; outpouring: rivers of tears; rivers of words. 
So, by definition, a river is always moving...even when it looks like it's not. To be a river is to be in constant motion. To do otherwise would make it a trough or channel or something else.

I don't know about you, but the idea of peace being something that is constantly flowing out of The Source (God) and down to and through me puts my mind and heart at ease.

There will never be a shortage of peace when God is my source. Even if I cannot see that movement, it doesn't mean it isn't there. It may not be as swiftly-moving as I'd like, but it's there for me to jump into and saturate myself in.

I was reminded of this today in another God-wink sort of way.

As I've blogged about recently, we are taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace class. Through it, we have been challenged to spend only what we have, and to allocate every last penny of our income and follow that plan. When the money is out. It's out. No credit cards. No payday loans. No nothing.

It's been a good exercise in discipline, trust and patience. When you have nowhere else and no one else to bail you out, you are forced to look to God to meet the need -- whether it be for cosmetics, toilet paper, or food.

Or tires.

I won't bore you with the details, but counting the original factory tires that came with our 2005 Toyota Sienna, we have had three sets of new tires on the vehicle. This is obviously not normal usage. We had to replace the factory tires after two years of use. However, two years later, we were told the tires were already bad and no longer under warranty. We took it into the dealership to see what could be causing the abnormal wear and tear (only on the front two tires) and thought we had the issue resolved.  So, we put on an additional set of new tires. Fast-forward to 15 month later and my husband taking it in for the tires to be rotated.

Once again, abnormal wear and tear. Warranty negated. Front tires should be replaced.

I went a little crazy. We had just spent $600 (on credit) to have the entire front axle and various boots (blah, blah, blah) replaced. Why on earth were we still having this problem? We couldn't afford new tires AGAIN! Why should we have to shell out more money? Whose fault could this be?

On and on it went in my brain and out of my mouth...my poor husband. After talking me down, he was able to get some info from the mechanic that the front axle fix would take care of future front tire issues. However, there was still the issue of the two bad front tires and the tire company's refusal to replace or even rotate them.

Since we have made a commitment not to spend money we don't have, it became apparent that we could not going to replace those tires immediately. However, we had an out of town trip scheduled for the following day. In the old days, we would have pulled out the credit card and ponied up for two new tires for "safety's sake" and that would have been that.

But both of us didn't feel comfortable doing that. With the assurance that the tires would last us another few thousand miles, we decided that the replacement could wait until my husband got paid at the end of the month and we would figure out then how to allocate the money for the tires.

Once we decided that, we both felt an immediate peace that it would be okay. Things would work out.

We didn't think about it much again.

When I shared with, Gina, my gym buddy/running partner/friend last Friday about "the latest" with our tires and finances, she looked at me and said, "Heather...you do know what my dad does for a living?" When I said I didn't. She smiled and said, "he sells tires!"

I thought that was pretty amazing and even more so when she told me about how he deals with new and used tires and that often he puts gently used tires on their families vehicles as a way to save money. I tucked that info away and made a mental note to call him for some info.  After all, our two back tires were only 15 months old and were in "excellent condition," according to the tire shop that wouldn't warranty the front ones.

So, I called today.

I explained the situation to Gina's father (although she had already told him pretty much the deal) and I asked how much it would be for two used tires and gave him all the specs. I anticipated several hundred dollars and was astounded when he said,

"Forty dollars out the door."

"Excuse me," I stammered. "I don't think I heard you right. Forty dollars....really?"

"Really," he assured me.

"But that doesn't seem like enough," I mumbled weakly.

"Well, you can pay more," he joked.

I laughed and talked to him about bringing in the vehicle in a few weeks after my husband gets paid (or unless we get some extra income to allocate to car repair...remember, "financial peace university!").

I hung up.

I was dumbfounded.

I was sublimely joyful.

I fired off an email to my husband and parents -- telling them about the goodness of God, even the "little things" of our lives. I texted Gina and told her what a sweetheart of a dad she has and thanked her.

I folded up that little God wink in a tiny box and put it in my heart and held it close.

To that box, I later added two "rewards cards" that we got in the mail today -- promotional pre-paid VISA cards that we qualified or signed up to get awhile ago, but came today and together. $15 of "free money" to add to our monthly budget.

That may seem like an insignificant amount to you, but it's everything to me. That's $15 less of a burden on our family this month. $15 less dollars that we have to hunt, search and allocate from other important areas.

I think this is a perfect demonstration of how God provides for us. When we need a BIG miracle, He delivers (for us...it's not having to buy two brand new tires). When we need just a little bit to see us through, He delivers ($15 will fund the depleted "eating out" envelope and buy the family a Papa Murphy's pizza).

No matter if it's a BIG river, or a small one, it's still His river of provision.

I may not see it moving.

In fact, I may not even see it all.

But, it's there.

I just need to step into it.