Monday, December 19, 2011

Money Monday: Give Like No One Else




It's Monday again...and it's the last Monday of my series about my journey through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University.

If you've been reading these in sequence from week to week, you might recall that I mentioned in last week's post that I would be combining the last two lessons in this post since I had missed (and then made up) a session two weeks ago entitled, Real Estate and Mortgages: Keeping the American Dream from Becoming a Nightmare.

However, after last night's amazing lesson, I decided that I want to end the series with it -- and it alone. So, if you are interested in what Ramsey has to say about real estate (and there is some good info there), you can find it on his websiteradio show, or when you take his class for yourself.

I hope that doesn't disappoint anyone, but since I'm the master of this domain (literally and figuratively), I figure that I can make that executive decision.

So....the last lesson, The Great Misunderstanding: Unleashing the Power of Generous Giving, was my favorite in the series. Yes, most of the lessons are highly entertaining, and all are very informative. But, this brought it all together for me with a nice bow on top.

This session was all about Baby Step 7: Build wealth and GIVE!

Ramsey started off the lesson by taking us through all the baby steps as a review, but after he listed this one, he paused and told us that we can do everything he teaches and prosper, but if we don't get this lesson down, we will never truly have financial peace.

Why?

Because the "Great Misunderstanding" is the mistaken belief "that the way to have more is hold on tightly."

He showed us an analogy of the closed fist around a wad of cash. True...no money is getting out, but none is coming in either. Only an open hand can receive and allow money to leave.

He reminded us of what our true position is in this world as Christians. We are not "owners." We are "stewards" or caretakers of God's property. When we give, we are not the benevolent benefactor we'd like to envision. Rather, we are merely stand-ins and hands extended of God's largess.

When we get that, it makes it so much easier to open that clenched hand and let money flow out to those who need it. 

Why are we asked to give and tithe?

Does the God who spoke light into existence need our money?

Will our tithing (or lack thereof) break or make our local church?

As with everything, God is not so much concerned about the material as he is with the eternal.

Giving is an exercise of obedience and an expression of love and devotion. 

As Ramsey shared, "Giving moves you to become less selfish, and less selfish people have more of a tendency to prosper in relationships and wealth."

Giving is a way of life. It has very little to do with money at its true core.

It's a heart condition.

I completely and utterly believe this to be true. I've seen it at work in my own life.

There was a time when I did not have a giving heart. I was out for me and what I thought was mine and what I deserved. Plain and simple -- I was selfish. I don't think I really knew and understood that about myself until I took a Spiritual Gifts test when I was in high school.

Predictably, with my Type-A personality, I scored highly on Administration and Exhortation. I also did fairly well on Discernment and Hospitality. However, out of the entire list, there was one that came in dead last.

Giving.

Even at the tender age of 15, I knew that this was bad. Not only was it a harsh barometer of my teen-aged priorities, but I know that it was inexcusable for me as Christian.

You can't be a true lover of God and not give...because everything He is centers around His deep love for us in giving us his one and only Son.

So, I determined to do something about it.

My first step was to ask God to change and soften my heart and to help me to understand where a heart of giving comes and to learn how to be a giver. And it wasn't easy and it didn't happen quickly, but over time, I think that I can say (without being boastful) that I have learned this lesson and continue to learn it.

In fact, would you believe that I have been accused of giving "too much" at times? (And yes, when I did hear that, I burst out laughing and had to flash back to "young Heather" starting at that gifts assessment in dismay.) Because God can do what we are unable (or unwilling) to do under our own power.

Only He can take a stingy Scrooge-like heart and make it beat for those who suffer and go without. Only He can compel an entitled adolescent to step outside of her small world and start the process of truly "seeing" others and their needs. Only He can make giving away what we think of as "mine" a joyous experience as we share with others that which He has shared with us...and see it for what it is....all "His."

That's the God I serve and love. That's the God that I want to bless with my heart of giving -- the very heart He gave to me!

I am so excited to take these 13 lessons and continue to build them into our family's heritage. But this one will always be my favorite. My fervent wish is that we would dump this debt and set on a path of financial peace and good stewardship.

But more than that, I want to be debt-free so that I can give. I look forward to the day when I can overhear a young mother talk about not being able to pay her rent for the month and slip her an envelope with enough money to cover several months. I can't wait to see the faces of children that I hope to doorbell ditch presents to one Christmas -- the really great extravagant kind. I will jump for joy when I can return to Tanzania and make a significant investment in the lives of those people whose faces I still see in my dreams.

As Ramsey says, "We live like no one else, so later we can give like no one else."

Achieving "financial peace" will never happen until we understand where our peace is found. At the close of the session last night, Ramsey shared with us that the root of the word, "blessing," comes from the word, "peace."

This life is not about me.

It's not about you.

It's about Him....and receiving His blessing and passing it on to others.

I, for one, feel blessed.....to give.


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To read more about our journey to financial peace, read related posts here:
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/p/finding-financial-peace.html

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


If you are looking to take your own FPU class, you can sign up online and if you want to take the one that my husband and I are going to facilitate in January, go here!


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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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rediscovering Christmas



It's only a few days away from Christmas, and I desperately need Jesus.

Being out there in the great hustle bustle of shopping madness and hurry scurry of busyness has made me a bit melancholy -- because the prevailing sentiment I sense from those around me is one of lackluster fatigue and a "let's just hurry up and get this over with" mentality.

People are rushing around with lists and check marks, with payday loans and credit card transactions, with gritted teeth and a grin and bear it frame of mind.

A Christian friend of mine recently admitted to "hating Christmas." Taken aback, I asked her what she meant by that. She explained how this is her least favorite holiday of the year because of all the trappings and pressure to buy, do, and be. 

I understood....but my heart was heavy.

I understand how those without Christ can go crazy into materialism and the glitz of "the holiday." I can even overlook and forgive the sanitizing of Christmas into "the season," "winter break," etc. Because, really, should we expect them to know any different -- to reverence and hold dear an event which they do not fully comprehend or adhere to?

What is harder to comprehend for me is how it has come to this -- that CHRIST-ians would actually grow weary of CHRIST-mas? To me, that's as foreign of a concept as a child hating his or her own birthday? 

It's Christmas -- or "Christ" - "mass" ("mass" which means celebration).

How is it possible that we could come to despise the epitome of all Christian celebrations -- the miracle of a God who would allow Himself to be contracted through the detritus and offal of human childbirth only to arrive into a barnyard -- all to save us from the bondage of our sin?

So why all the sadness, frustration and general disillusionment with Christmas?

Because we have forgotten who we are.

We are refugees of Earth -- resettled and appointed to live out our days here until our mortal body should fail, or Jesus should come back and take us away. And, while we need to carve out a life here for ourselves and our family, this is not our homeland. 

We live for a greater purpose. We toil and endure for a greater future and eternity. We are not bound by the values and customs of those who are without Christ.

Yet, we have forgotten the very reason Christ came -- to give us freedom -- freedom from sin; freedom from death and freedom from bondage?

Freedom from "the holidays."

That freedom allows us to throw off the commercialism, the syrupy over-indulgence of materialism, the phoniness of the "holiday warm fuzzies"...all of  it can be unwrapped from our hearts, just as we unwrap gifts on Christmas day.

If you are struggling with your attitude about Christmas this year, may I offer the reminder (and the hope) that there is no "Christmas Rule Book." There is no "have to do this" or you "shouldn't do that." 

Christmas can be celebrated however you would like....

...you just need to know what it is you want...or maybe what you don't want...and start from there.

As with most areas where we've lost focus or the original intent of something important, I think we need to strip away all the tinsle and trappings and go back to the basics -- to think outside of the Christmas box and see this "season,"  for what it is...a grand party that we're invited to partake in every year on December 25th.

Garland, holly, wreaths and a bevy of decor inside and outside of your home is not required.

Not having a Christmas tree is not a disqualifier.

Running yourself ragged attending and hosting "holiday events" is not mandatory.

Purchasing a pile of toys made in China that won't be played with a month later is not necessary.

In fact, as the penned lines of the Christmas hymn of O Little Town of Bethlehem beautifully express, there is nothing required save a meek soul that "will receive Him still,"  and when we do, "the dear Christ enters in." 

Christmas is a celebration of our ability to ask Him for that opportunity. To think that we could ask the Creator of the Universe to "come to us, abide with us...our Lord, Emmanuel" holds my mind and heart captive.

I don't know about you, but I dearly need Christ to enter into the crazy of my life, and especially during Christmas. And yet, so often, we cannot wait to get Christmas over and done with and move on to a new year.

So, I'm throwing down a challenge this Christmas season: Figure out what Christmas really means to you and your family...and act accordingly:

You may delve into the mystery and wonder how a baby's birth over 2000 years ago could change the course of a life, a family, a world by following Advent or a Jesse Tree to recount the lineage and ancestry of Christ.

You may choose to downscale your gift giving, or instead, make some gifts made by hand

You might even decide to forgo gifts completely in favor of volunteering as a family, or giving a gift to others in need.

The point is that there are no rules to celebrating Christmas. You are not bound by the expectations of those around you, and yes, even by the ones you place on yourself.

Be free.

Unwrap that gift of freedom that Christ came to give all those years ago.

Push away apathy and lethargy. Put on grace and gratitude.

Let the gratefulness and joy you feel spill out of your mouth and your very eyes! Greet fellow believers with a hearty, "Merry CHRIST-mas!" as a reminder that this season of celebration is ALL about Him.

Indulge in writing "Merry Xmas," because contrary to what you've heard, the "X" is not taking the "Christ out of Christmas." It's actually keeping Him right there. The "X" comes from the Greek letter "Chi," which is the first letter of the Greek word, "Χριστός," translated as Christ.

But most of all, take the simple truth and beauty of Christmas and hold it up to the Light of Christ and then bury it deep into your heart, where no holiday sale, crowded parking lot, or those poor of spirit can touch or tarnish it.

Keep sacred that which is sacred.

The rest is just ornamental.

It's only a few days away from Christmas, and I desperately need.....only Jesus.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Money Monday: Getting Creative


So, if you follow my Money Monday posts, you might have noticed that last Monday, I went AWOL. I went out of town over the weekend (and yes, I made up the FPU video I missed), and brought back the stomach flu. It took me (and select members of the family) until Friday to feel normal. So, I figured I would give myself a free pass and then make next week's post a double-header with last night's class and then the final session of this course.

My awesome news for this week...although my FREE coffee streak came to an end (I'm not complaining because that 6 or so weeks of constant freebies was awesome!), I hit a new one! Somehow I started on a streak of getting free offers at the bottom or store receipts for completing surveys. In one week I received either free items or a $ off discount to:

- Starbucks - free tall beverage
- Old Navy - save 15%
- Panda Express - free entree (I ended up with 4 of these total due to how the week went)
- Baja Fresh - save 15%

And yes, I ate out a lot more than usual due to that out of town trip, but I almost got some sort of offer for every purchase I made...it was funny. So...just a reminder to check your receipts for goodies.

Back to our regularly-scheduled programming....

Over the Mondays, I'm sure you've noticed the different photos of piggy banks at the top of each blog post. I ran across this one last week when I was trying to purchase some items online for Christmas gifts. This Fuzzy Piggy Bank is also a DIY craft project where your child can decorate her own bank.

I like the idea of personalization.

I get a bit of ribbing from time to time about my love of labeling items with my label maker and slapping names on everything from appliances (literally slapping on a vinyl sticker) to my children's clothing. Part of it is that they have fairly uncommon names, but part of it is that I've always like both the idea of marking something as mine (all those who siblings out there know what I mean), and also the idea of identifying myself as someone or something.

In short, I want to be my own person.

To make my own decisions.

To tailor programs/concept/notions/rules so that it fits me and my family.

So, I appreciate the freedom within Financial Peace to customize it for our family and our unique needs and desires.

This goes along perfectly with last weeks's lesson -- Working In Your Strengths: Careers and Extra Jobs.

Ramsey shared some things that many of us know, but often forget when it comes to thinking about jobs/careers. He pointed out that as career coach, Dan Miller says, "money is ultimately never enough compensation for doing a job."

So, choosing a career path that offers "stability" or a "large salary," is a logical decision, it doesn't mean it's a practical or smart one. Because if you don't enjoy what you do, you will suffer in other ways that don't have anything to do with money. Worse -- you can burn out and lose that "job security" that you so desperately sought in the first place.

I liked these common myths identified by speaker and author, Marcus Buckingham, that often rob people of having fulfillment and enjoyment in their jobs/careers.

Myth: As you grow, you change.
Truth: You do not outgrow your personality.


Myth: You will learn and grow the most in the areas in which you are weakest.
Truth: You grow in your strengths. You will grow the most in areas you already know and love most.

We then learned about how to identify our motivations and passions and even learned about about the DISC Personality Profile -- both useful in helping to identify target careers.

After that, we went through Ramsey's recommendations on the best way to set about getting your dream job (I highly recommend sitting in on this class for these great tips!)

After you have your dream job, you might still have to consider the idea of working overtime or an extra job to get that debt paid down with "gazelle intensity." He reminded us that the short-term challenge of working an extra job (more time away from home/family, fatigue, etc.) will be well-worth the sacrifice as you see that debt steadily decreasing. He also challenged us to be creative in ways to earn extra income (Ebay, taking your skills online for tele-teaching or other sort of web-based jobs, etc.)

I'm still trying to figure out how to make my love of writing pay some bills -- but I am intent on continuing to try to make that happen. Until then, I'll keep looking around the house for something to sell!

What about you?


**If you are looking to take your own FPU class, you can sign up online and if you want to take the one that my husband and I are going to facilitate, go here!

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To read more about our journey to financial peace, read related posts here:
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/p/finding-financial-peace.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, December 7, 2011

The Power of the Apology



This past weekend, I ran in what was my fifth half-marathon event and eighth race since I started running a few years back. One of those half-marathons was Nike Women's Challenge in San Francisco -- a large venue of 25,000 runners (mostly women) -- and the largest I had run until...

...the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll Marathon & Half on Sunday night.

Yes...you read that right...Sunday night. It was my first ever night run (awesome concept!) down and back the Las Vegas strip.

It was my first-ever terrible race experience.

I won't go into all the gory details (I feel like I have been reliving and rehashing it all in my head and seeing other people do the same on the race Facebook page), but here's a short list of some things that made for a crazy race experience and unsafe post-race conditions.
  • Overcrowding on the course with 40,000 half-marathon participants in the wrong start corrals and a street that was not big enough to handle the participants. Later down the course, the full-marathon runners merged with us making for complete chaos.
  • Tempers were high due to participants being unable to get into their correct corral and therefore having to "catch up" to their pack and weaving around slower runners/walkers. This lead to some really ugly behavior - throwing elbows, using slurs and bad language, etc.
  • Dark streets on part of the course and runners not knowing proper etiquette for walking on the right, with participants discarding all kinds of gear in the middle of the road causing safety hazards for those behind them.
  • Running out of water and Gu on the latter part of the course and rumors of "tainted water" being given out resulting in mass intestinal illness by many runners. I was given some water that tasted terrible and started feeling sick around Mile 10. Later we would hear rumors of the volunteers being instructed to use fire hydrants and hoses to fill water cups. My sister personally saw volunteers using bare hands to dip cups and pitchers into a water bucket with questionable water. Also, I personally saw a runner being handed a Gu packet -- only to wait until the volunteer turned around and grab another handful.
  • Runners coming to a complete halt and having to cross the finish line at a walk due to the heavy traffic in the Finisher's Village and photographers snapping photos too close to the line.
  • Runners not able to get a finisher's medal (they ran out -- apparently some people were given more than one for family members (?) and some volunteers took their own for souvenirs), or given the wrong one (a half-marathon medal when they did the full or vice versa)
  • Runners not able to get a mylar blanket, medical attention or food/Cytomax because it was gone. In addition, the bananas they had were completely green and unripe. I also think this contributed to my intestinal issues.
  • Participants unable to find alleged shuttles to get back to their hotels - resulting in several miles of walking (no cabs available) to get warm and a shower, only to find that many of the casino restaurants were closed for the night. Those who found places to eat waited up to 2 hours to be served.

...And the absolute worst?

A complete and utter disaster of epic proportion inside the Mandalay Bay hotel comprised of tens of thousands of participants trying to exit the ballroom through to the casino (as we were told to go) only to come face to face with thousands of people trying to enter to see a Cirque du Soleil show that ended in a standoff a la a Clint Eastwood Western.

This is the view coming from the Gear Check (mostly runners and their families).
At the very end, you can see Starbucks to the right of the tree. You'll need it for reference in the next photo. Once you got into this, there was no turning around and going back the other way.

This is mostly attendees of that MJ Cirque du Soleil show who are trying to go the opposite way. This is well past that MJ poster in the photo above. You can see they are streaming in from direction the camera is pointed, but also to the right of the camera. Behind the camera is a huge wall of runners headed to the right, as pictured in the above photo.

See what I mean?

Scary. Utter chaos. Crazy.

There was shouting, pushing, name-calling, people trying to shove through using hotel trash cans, runners puking and passing out, other runners having to stand in the puke for an hour until the crowd could be dispersed, people needing medical attention due to lactic acid building up in their muscles from running so many miles and then being forced to stand still for so long, security personnel parting the crowd for what we thought was to give medical attention, but was really only to lead some "VIPs" through to the MJ show....

Utter disaster.

I almost stepped on two runners who had passed out and were receiving medical attention by EMTs. I was almost knocked over by the above-mentioned trash can and the angry man and his entourage who were insistent upon pushing and ramming his way through HUMAN BEINGS to get to a show. Even when my friend said, "Ow! You're hurting me," he just looked at her with a blank stare, and then his wife moved up to the front of the trash can and tried to pull it through.

I haven't been that disgusted, angry and scared all at once in a long time.

The Facebook page for the event is rife with complaints about all of these things and more. It started the night of the race and continues three days after the event. People are fuming. People continue to be sick and have been hospitalized.

It took more than 24 hours for the race's organization to start to respond to the public outcry and even then they used verbiage that very pointedly stayed away from the words "apologize" or "we messed up."

I've seen it posted many times by many people (and once by me)...."all we want to hear is is two words:"

"We're sorry."

That's it. Not, "we hear your concerns and will work to make next year's event better." 

What??? 

That's little consolation to those of us who truly felt like our lives were potentially in jeopardy as we got pinned inside a crowd that was not moving at all and was turning violent. And it's no consolation at all to those who laid on a dirty hotel ballroom floor with the shakes and vomit drying in their hair. 

"I'm sorry."

Two little words that mean so much and that can be so hard to choke out sometimes.

Two words that can mean everything to someone -- the difference between a grudge and forgiveness; resentment or grace.

I don't know why the race organizer's refuse to say those two words, but I suspect it has something to do with potential lawsuits and plaintiffs pointing to those words as some sort of admission. I honestly hope this is not the case.

Because they definitely need to apologize and assume some sort of responsibility. It's the right thing to do.

A few weeks prior to this debacle, I saw a company take the high road and pull up their Big Kid pants and issue an apology for not being prepared for a massive influx of orders due to a sale and coupon offer on Groupon. Rather than turn people away or not honor their deal, they issues a formal apology (actually several) and guaranteed to make it right for everyone who had purchased their deal.

The result was an immediate downgrade from fury to acceptance by all those who were ranting on their company Facebook page. People actually started thanking them for responding and hearing the complaints...and yes, for apologizing.

Why?

Because ultimately, we just want to know that our feelings and concerns matter. That someone or a company would care enough about their customers and participants to feel badly about what was bad for us.

This debacle has served to reaffirm my belief that a heartfelt apology is one of the best gifts we can offer someone.

It requires giving up our pride, and sometimes laying down our own feelings of hurt and confusion, but it's an exercise in being human and caring for our fellow man.

It's the right thing to do.

I have had the best example of this in my life. As a young child, I can vividly remember times when my dad lost his temper with us or maybe said something he later regretted. Rather than leave it hanging unacknowledged or even trying to "make it up" to us in other ways, he would always, always, ALWAYS, come and apologize to us. Yes, even to a seven-year-old.  You could set your clock by it, actually. Within 10 minutes of any incident, you could lay on your bed and be assured that he would be coming to make things right.

Do you know how powerful that is to a child -- to realize that you matter enough to someone (and an ADULT!) that they would say they were sorry to you?

That has stayed with me and will continue to do so for a lifetime.

Because of that example, I will never see an apology as a sign of weakness or an opening for future culpability. I will always see it as a sign of personal integrity and strength of character.

An apology tells me that you mess up...just like I do. And when I offer one to you, I am showing you that I'm not perfect either.

So the next time that you find yourself in a situation where you are responsible in some way -- intentional or not, representing yourself or someone else -- consider the amazing power of the apology.

Whether or not it's accepted is not your responsibility.

We all have the power to set someone free...who knows, it may just be ourselves.


Before the race outside the Mandalay Bay.

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Postscript:  It's about six hours since I posted this blog, and I'm happy to say that the race coordinators finally issued a statement with an apology in it. I can't speak for everyone, but I immediately felt better --less out for blood and way more in a forgiving frame of mind.


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Related Post: Run Your Race

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Frugal Christmas Gift Tags



I think I've established that I'm a Frugalista.

I'm always looking for ways to save money and to keep from spending our hard-earned dollars on things we don't need....or can make/use from items we already have or own.

Last year, I noted that I was going to use up the last of my gift tag stickers and that I would need to purchase more. However, since it was my soon-to-be New Year's resolution to try to be more frugal and use things we already had around the house, I tried to think of ways to avoid spending money on new gift tags.

I thought about making them...much like the one in the photo above. I have friends who hand-make tags from their own card stock, pens and printer ink, but that's too much time, forethought and still requires money spent on supplies for me at this point in my life. Plus, I plain just like the items of reclaiming items that are pretty much destined for the trash/recycle bin.

So, last year as I gathered up the bundle of Christmas cards we had received in the mail or were handed from friends, I faced the same quandary that I do every year.

What should I do with them?

I mean, I really hate to throw away something that a friend or family members actually spent time and money on to send out. I especially hate to throw away photo cards....I feel a bit guilty...like I'm throwing away a friendship. In years past, I will often cut out the photo part and keep it -- many times putting it on the refrigerator.

This year, I thought I would take a note from some good friends of ours and keep them in a Christmas-y box and then choose one card each night to pray over -- thereby blessing our loved ones in return.

However, that still doesn't address the issue of what to do with all those lovely images, greetings and wishes. So, last year, I had a brainstorm.

Why not make gift tags out of the cards we received and save them for next year?

So, that's what I did....

One night I sat in front of the t.v. and used my photo trimmer from Creative Memories to trim down all the cards into gift tag sized cards. (And btw, CM has a really cool tool called a Tag Maker, where you can just insert the paper and it makes a tag shape and a small hole in the top for ribbon...genius!) Some included holiday sentiments. Others were just pictures. Still others were just squares or rectangles of great design backgrounds.


As you can see, I also used my CM corner maker on many of them to give it a classier look. On some, the kids and I have used a single hold puncher tool to thread ribbon through to attach to gift bags.




And for the rest, we will use double-sided tape to affix them to packages.



All it took was about an hour of my time. No need to buy gift tags. Cost to me: $0.

I am also planning to use some of these for the goodies and treats we will be making and delivering in the days and weeks to come.

Anyone else have any other ideas of how to re-purpose cards for Christmas?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The God of Soap & Starbucks


I have been a Jesus-follower since the tender age of seven. It was then that I finally understood the story of the Cross and His death and Resurrection and what that meant for me -- of course in my 7-year-old way.

However, it was real, nonetheless.

I remember finally "getting" how much He loved me (and the world....but ME!!). I marveled at the Bible stories of the miraculous. Need some money to pay your taxes? No problem...throw out your line and reel in a fish that just happens to have a gold coin in its mouth. About to starve and watch your son do the same? Simply be obedient and use the last of your oil and flour to make a meal for a visiting prophet and voila...never-ending bread buffet!

As a child, believing these stories as gospel wasn't a leap at all. Children are predisposed to believe in wonder and to not let things like "logistics" or "relativity" or "gravity" shake that belief.

But as adults, we tend to put on our "reality goggles" and see the world and our lives through the harsh pragmatism of experience.

That's why when we read things like a story told in a letter from my aunt and uncle about their trip last month to Tanzania to install an internet tower at a Bible school, we're not sure whether to laugh or be amazed.

One of the local pastors connected with the Bible school shared a story about the early days of his vocation. He is Masai and his people live out in the Bush away from the cities. They raise cattle and by any standard, they are extremely poor.

This pastor told of "how an eagle brought soap to the same tree outside his hut everyday for three years in the early days of his ministry when he was so poor. The soap was needed to wash the clothes and bathe his 4 sets of twins."

I know some people would express disbelief that God would use an eagle to bring soap to a man and his family. Actually, that part of the story does not make me incredulous -- rather it's the notion of FOUR SETS OF TWINS!

Wow...that's a lot of soap that young family would need. And before you start to dismiss the notion of soap being important, try being without some. It's not like they have Pampers and baby wipes out there in the wild tundra. There is no Whirlpool side by side set to toss in soiled garments -- no shower/bath set up like we have here. There is water and buckets.

Soap is essential.


I love this story. I love that God cares about soap. Or rather, He cares about that Masai man and his family.

Many of us (especially in the Western World) may have never seen something so overwhelmingly miraculous. You may never have seen someone healed of a disease or chronic pain. You probably have never witnessed the dead coming back to life.

But you might have seen someone (or been that someone) who was down to their last dollar receive an unexpected check in the mail. You might have been headed towards an unavoidable auto accident, only to realize once you opened your eyes that you somehow managed to escape unscathed.

Like I said, I have no problem believing the above recounting of God's provision. I've heard enough stories of miraculous blessing in my family history and have seen my share of it firsthand.

Also...I have my own "Soap Story." However, mine involves coffee.

Starbucks...to be specific.


Where I live, soap is plentiful and easy to get your hands on. In fact, we probably have too many choices - bar, liquid, scented (Irish spring, lilac, Summer Breeze), unscented, foaming....you see what I mean.

And, yes coffee is too -- to a degree.

What's not so easy to come by when you are pinching and squeezing every penny is the special treat of purchasing a high-cost, hand-crafted espresso beverage from your local Starbucks cafe.

Before I go any further, I want to point out that this type of splurge purchase is NOT essential and it's fully self-indulgent at times -- especially when you can get a cup of brewed coffee for $1 at McDonalds, or even make your own at home. I get that in this scope of the world's poverty levels and the list of "the essentials," this does not make the list.

But I live in America, and in America, Starbucks is part of our landscape. It just is. And I enjoy a nice Grande Skinny Caramel Latte from time to time. I budget for it and I don't feel bad about consuming them in a modest manner.

But what happens when you find that you no longer have the budget for Starbucks?

You go without.

You might be a little sad as you drive by a cafe every couple of blocks, but you remain fiscally responsible. And in my case, God brings Starbucks to you.

This is what happened to me at the beginning of last month. As I was allocating our monthly money, I saw that we didn't really have the $15 that I would normally use to load on my registered card. To be more specific, we needed to spend it elsewhere.

So, since I had a few dollars left on my card, and I had two empty bags of brewed coffee that I could turn in towards a free tall brewed coffee, I decided to forgo loading my card. I was a bit sad, but since I had received and enjoyed a free any-sized drink the week before for my birthday (courtesy of the Starbucks Rewards program), I decided that I was okay.

So, I went about my business.

The next day, I was sorting through "the pile" that builds up on our kitchen counter (mail, school papers, toys...etc) and I found a $5 Starbucks gift card that my parents had brought back (along with a cool commuter mug) from their recent trip to Seattle.

I added that to my registered card balance and rejoiced that now I had 2 FREE tall brewed coffees to redeem and enough for two Starbucks drinks for the month. God was good.

The next day in the mail, I received another card for a FREE any-size coffee because I had reached a certain number of purchases via my registered card. I used that one that same day.

A few days later, I was given a late birthday present and guess what it was...a $15 Starbucks gift card!

So by then I had enjoyed a free Venti drink (which I would never buy normally) and had added $20 to my Starbucks card.

I thought that was pretty amazing.

Two nights later, I met up with a friend for coffee and when I got there, she insisted on buying my drink as a belated birthday gift.

God & Starbucks: 4; Me: 0.

Even an hour later when I got up and refilled our drinks with brewed coffee, the swipe of my registered card took the $1 charge down to $0!

God & Starbucks: 5; Me 0

The very next day, I took advantage of Starbucks BOGO offer and bought a drink for me and got the free one to take to my dad at work. As the cashier handed me my receipt, he told me that I got a free drink offer -- all I had to do was do a brief online survey. So even when I actually paid for a drink, I still got one for free.

God & Starbucks: 6;  Me: 0

I laughed when he handed it to me (he probably thought I was loony) and I told my dad about it and he thought it was pretty cool.

And then yesterday, I went to Vons to get groceries. I bought my two boys donuts and myself a latte at the Starbucks cafe inside so that we could sit and enjoy our treats while I looked through the store ads. When the cashier handed me the receipt...guess what she said?

Yep...another survey offer!!!!!!!!

God & Starbucks: 7; Me: 0

It's comical at this point. I really couldn't make this stuff up! No way.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "you can't out-give God?" I believe it with all of my heart. Because I've seen it in my own life and I've seen it in this situation.

As crazy as it seems. As "coincidental" as some people might see it....

I know better.

So, does God care about soap and Starbucks?

I don't think He does.

But, He cares about me, and He cares about you.

He will bring to you what you need...and yes, sometimes even what you want.

Why?

Because He's God...and nothing is too BIG or too small for Him.

He longs to provide for His children and to see the smile of delight on their faces when they see him do something miraculous.

All you need is the faith of a child.


(*Postscript:  It's the day after I wrote the above post, and the fun continues. Today a friend came over to drop something off and out of the blue came bearing a caramel latte from Dutch Bros. Coffee! She hadn't even read my blog post or was aware of any of the crazy awesomeness that has been happening!)

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Related post: My God Wink


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