Money got a hold on me?

Warning: I’m writing this during my class . . . so it’s pretty rough, chopped thoughts and prayers.

In class right now we are studying 1 & 2 Corinthians.  Tonight we highlighted a topic we never usually like to discuss: Money

“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”  2 Cor. 9:6-8.

What is challenging me is this:  I am a faithful follower of the tithe.  And praise God for that.  My parents, from a young age, instilled in me the importance of giving systematically and generously to God, using the guideline of 10% (the tithe).  What I’m challenged with is this:  Nowhere in the New Testament does it talk about giving 10%.  Our professor said that if we actually added up all the different Old Testament requirements for giving (sacrifices, etc), the total would be more like approximately 23.8-24%.  Wow.  Ok, I’ll be right up front.  I do not give that much.  And of course I don’t have to.  Our professor emphasized (and our pastor at Foothills emphasizes as well) that 10% is a great place to start, but do we challenge ourselves in that area?  Do I challenge myself in this area?  Am I content to give my 10% and leave it at that?  But am I missing out on greater blessing because I’m not willing to challenge myself in this area?

And, as I sit here, my husband reminds me that the question is not how much should I give, but how much should I keep?  It’s all God’s!  Do I consider that all my money is God’s and I should ask Him exactly how much to keep and the money that I keep, do I ask God exactly how I should spend it?  Ugh.  This is too convicting. 

Dr. Kim (our professor) emphasized that we need to be careful not to look around and be critical of those who have great riches (or those who are poor!).  It is key to understand that God gives to those who are gracious, so we had better not criticize those believers who have been blessed financially because they might possibly be the most generous people!  On the other hand, we should be careful not to assume that just because we don’t have a lot of money, that God is punishing us or not blessing us.  If we have money, that is not necessarily a sign of God’s favor.  On the one hand, God may give us money if He can entrust us to give it generously.  But, He also may choose to give me little, even if I am faithful.  Our financial status is not a sign of our spirituality. 

You can have nothing and be greedy, and you can have everything and be generous, and vice versa.  It is an issue of the heart.  The ONLY evidence that we are not materialistic is if we are willing to give away what we have.  It doesn’t have to do with how much we have, but whether we willing to give it away. 

Give to what God wants.  Test Him!  Why do I have such a hard time in this area?  Why can’t I let go? Because I don’t trust Him.  That’s why.  Because I don’t trust Him. That is the cold hard truth that I hate to admit.  Give.  Give it away. 

I have to admit that money has a hold on me.  It was easier to be “generous” when I felt like we had plenty of money.  But now, that neither of us have jobs and we are living on our quickly dwindling savings, I now think that I have to “hold on” to what we have and don’t have as much flexibility and freedom to be generous.  That is garbage!  Just because we have less in our savings account doesn’t mean that God has any less in His.  So what does this look like?  I’m challenged and a little confused all at once.  I want to be a good steward and not make foolish financial decisions, but the poor widow giving her last two mites did not make the most sense financially.  And yet, I dare say that God will bless her beyond measure. 

This especially hits home in our current situation. In fact, while we are sitting here in class, I was actually fiddling around on my excel spreadsheet, trying to figure out how we’re going to make this all work, living on our savings.  Ouch! How convicting.  I have to admit that I don’t know how it will all work, but I also know that are following God, and that He is faithful and has always been faithful to provide for our ever need.  So how do we know how much to give, how much to save, how much to spend?  How do we know what the future holds?  What will happen next year?  How will it all work out?

The answer? My professor is saying it right now.  Prayer.  Wisdom.  Discernment.  A free and willing heart.  Willing to give it all.  Waiting on God to show me where to give and what to give and how to give.  God please help me to hold all that we have with an open hand.  Help me to be generous.  Help me to be free from the hold that money has on me.  Help me to hear from you.  Give me the courage to trust You with our finances and trust You enough to give away more than we can “afford” to.  Help me to trust You with our future, even though I don’t know how it’s all going to work out.  Thank you, Lord, that You are our provider and that You know all things that we need.  I love you, Father

The Road to Santa Barbara: Joe & Amanda

The reason we took this trip in the first place was to celebrate the marriage of Joe Munk and Amanda Kuhnhausen.  Joe was one of Jeff’s roommates in college and long-time friend and brother in Christ.  Amanda is a family friend of Jeff’s from Bend.  Before Jeff and I were ever an item, I’d found Amanda a place to live during one summer after she’d graduated from Wheaton, while she did some summer classes at OSU.  So, I met her and her wonderful mom and she ended up living at the Red Door house where I’d lived during college.  Well, during her stay there, Joe was met Amanda.  He was hooked.  Much later, after Jeff and I were married, Joe came with us over to Bend one weekend while we were visiting Jeff’s mom.  You see, Amanda was in town.  After we’d gone to Jeff’s mom’s he took our car and went to find her.  He came back at 6am the next morning after spending eight hours talking with Amanda all night on her parent’s porch.  So, we were unwittingly the ones that got Joe and Amanda together. 

Joe is a passionate man with a twinkly-eyed crooked smile and an enthusiasm that draws you into his world.  He’s one of four brothers (bless his mother!), from the town of Hood River, Oregon.  Amanda is one of two sisters, one of two brilliant, stunning, hilarious, thoughtful, authentic, Christ-centered girls who I seriously admire beyond words.  She’s just finishing up Medical School and will find out where she’ll do her residency this spring.  She has dark curly hair and an exotic latino look even though she’s as Caucasian as they come.  With a huge white flower on the side nape of her neck and her strapless informal gathered wedding dress she looked straight off the cover of a magazine. 

But what was stunning about the wedding was the celebration of story.  For the wedding invitations (this was a very small wedding, mind you) they searched antique booksellers and found tiny, old story books, then glued in their own pages, telling all about their individual life stories, their “how we met” story and then the details of the wedding.  It was the most thoughtful and creative wedding invitation I’d ever seen.  And so, true to theme, the wedding was a celebration of story.  They emphasized how God is always telling a story in our lives, and that we are to surrender our story to His hand, letting Him write in the details, the ending, the twists and turns and conflict and resolution.  He’s the master story-writer.  And they invited us to join in their story: to contribute, advise, celebrate.  And so we did.  The celebration, of fifty-four people, started at 3pm with appetizers and stories, laughter, and fellowship, then segued into the ceremony, followed by a buffet dinner, then more open sharing, prayer, dessert, dancing and fun.  We left at 8pm, exhausted from pleasure and laughter and the sheer delight of having witnessed something sacred. 

And this is what I come away with.  Linnea, Amanda’s mom, shared about how it’s ok, when we are reading a book, to glance at the back and see the ending.  She explained that it’s ok because not all books are worth reading.  But, when we see that the story is redemptive, that the characters, no matter how they struggle, are redeemed and loved and victorious, we are willing to go through the battle with them, through the book.  Likewise, we know the end of our story!  God is victorious.  He has redeemed us.  He has set us free.  He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it.  He wins!  We win!  And because of that, we can make the journey with each other.  We are not what we will be but we are not what we once were, and because of that Jeff will make the journey with me and I with him.  Our story, because of Christ, is a redemptive story.  And because of that, I want to get involved in the life of those around me.  I want to see my God at work in your life, in his life, in her life.  I want to hear your story.  I want to read your story, to write your story.  I want to know why you tick and why you do the things you do and how God is fashioning and molding you into His image.  And yes, though we will bear his image more and more, we will never lose our image.  We are unique.  You are who only you can be.  One of Joe and Amanda’s vows was: “I promise to help you be only yourself.”  Amen to that.  I surrender the right to try to manipulate your story myself, and I promise to do all that I can to see God work miraculously in your story, to bring glory to Himself.  Amen.  Thank you, Joe and Amanda, for including us in your story.

The Road to Santa Barbara: Road Blocks

After taking pictures of Dutch’s new shoes, I had the defeating task of putting Dutch down for his afternoon nap.  You see, we’ve reached a napping road block.  I am a babywise mom* and babywise has done wonders for Dutch.  Since 8 weeks old, he has been an absolute champion sleeper.  He sleeps 12 hours straight at night took two two-hour naps each day.  What was ever better was that babywise taught us to train Dutch to fall asleep on his own, in his crib.  So, at nap night, we’d go upstairs, into the dark room, and I’d tuck him in and snuggle and kiss him, then walk out of the room and he’d play with his fingers happily until he fell asleep.  It was bliss.  Perhaps I wasn’t thankful enough at the time.  At any rate, when Dutch became 9 ½ months old, he had just learned to crawl and pull himself up on everything, cruising around on all the furniture and on walls, anything really.  When he gained this new skill, he quit sleeping.  Instead of putting himself to sleep, he now pulls himself up to standing in the crib, playing and laughing, until that gets old then he just cries and cries and cries.  No sleeping is taking place at all.  So, you might say, why don’t you just lie him back down?  He gets up.  Again and again and again.  I think I’ve laid him down 100 times and he just gets back up.  I spank his hand, say no, a few nights I’ve resorted to pinning down his hands and legs, physically restraining him until he finally gives up and falls asleep.  But he’s a strong bugger!  And leaning over the crib for that long makes my back absolute toast the next day.  So, you might say, let him cry it out.  I’ve done that too, going in to check on him only every 5-10 minutes or so.  He will wait it out.  He will stand there his entire nap time, all two hours.  So, perhaps you might think he’s not tired.  If I rock him, he’ll be asleep in 10 minutes.  So, perhaps I should just rock him to sleep at every nap.  That’s what I was doing for three weeks, but a friend insisted I was setting myself up for disaster because then I’m making it so that he can’t go to sleep on his own.   Plus, while we’re traveling, I don’t have my rocking chair and dark room.  So, the car, nursing, and walking and singing are now my sleep props of choice. I know sleep props are a no no, but right now the rules go out the window. 

Anyway (!), I certainly didn’t intend to write that much about our child’s sleep schedule.  It’s a little road block on our smooth sailing sleep journey, and it reminds me I don’t have it all figured out.  So I won’t be writing a book on infant sleep, that’s for sure.

But after an afternoon of lying Dutch back down a hundred times and finally giving up on a nap after almost two hours, Jeff thoughtfully volunteered to take Dutch for an hour or so to give me time to just read and relax and be by myself.  I’m reading The Secret Life of Bees right now.  It’s very good.  After a good hour of reading, I was recharged . . . and hungry.  Dan suggested a Japanese restaurant and I leapt from the couch . . . visions of sushi dancing in my head.  Two hours later I was sufficiently glutted with miso soup, sesame salad, sticky rice, tempura (yum!), teriyaki chicken and California rolls.  Gracious, it was so good. 

The next morning we got an early start for Santa Barbara.  Dan generously loaned us his car for the trip, so we loaded up our bags, stroller, high chair, car seat, and cooler full of sandwiches and leftover sushi, and took the onramp to I-5 South.  Our drive was supposed to take six hours.

The first half of the trip was great.  Dutch took a nap (!) and we made it to Kettleman City by noon.  I’ve already written enough of challenging nursing situations, so I’ll leave it at this—nursing in a gas station parking lot in a hundred degree car, surrounded by truckers, is almost as difficult as doing it on an airplane.  Enough said.

But we made it out and were feeling good, ready to make the final stretch over Hwy 41 and down 101 to Santa Barbara.  But then, we stopped.  Construction.  Not just any construction, construction out in the middle of nowhere, in some hot dusty hills with no exits, no rest stops, no cell phone reception, and no civilization in sight.  I thought perhaps it’d be a 10 minute delay.  We sat there in the blistering sun for an hour and ten minutes.  People with horse trailers opened their trailers and let the horses walk around to keep from getting heat stroke.  People got out of their cars and blasted their radios.  Poor Dutch.  Finally I got out of the driver’s seat (Jeff needed to do homework so he was on his laptop) and got into the back to play with Dutch, then would hop back up to drive when the line would crawl forward.  I know—it’s really such a minor thing.  All in all, it was a great trip—even though it took almost 8 hours, and Dutch was an absolute trooper.  By the time we got there he was stripped down to nothing but his onesie because it was so hot and he’d eaten his weight in Cheerios. 

So what?  So what about sleeping schedules and construction?  Why write about this?  Because now I can look back on the road to Santa Barbara and see that the hour and ten minute delay was not a big deal. We still made it safely, no one was injured, and we weren’t even late for our six o’clock dinner date with Jeff’s mom.  It wasn’t a big deal.  And it helps remind me that the same is true of Dutch’s little napping dilemma.  It feels like a big deal right now.  Mostly because Dutch’s naptime is my only free time!  (Naps are really more for mammas than for babies.)  So while it frustrates me that my son won’t nap and it feels like I spend ½ my day lying him back down on his back or slapping his hand for the 500th time for playing with the electrical outlets. . . it’s really not a big deal.  Soon, I won’t even remember it.  Road blocks are frustrating, but they’re temporary.  The other lesson?  Always keep extra Cheerios in the diaper bag, just in case. 

The Road to Santa Barbara: Wal-Mart

Well, when we found out that Jeff’s Dad’s wife was going to be out of town during our visit, I figured that I would be doing the cooking. But, I was amazed and impressed when Dan (Jeff’s dad) started making lunch—we had Campbell’s tomato soup and a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches, cut in triangles, and since it was 2pm and we’d been on the go since 9am that morning, it was the best meal I’d ever eaten. I even snuck the last triangle of grilled cheese while the boys were busy slurping their soup. Dinner was delightfully male. When Betsy (Dan’s wife) is there we usually have a huge salad, with dozens of different types of veggies, or a vegetable soup of some sort, or stir fry. This night? Barbequed ribs and boiled potatoes. Oh yeah. I dug around in the fridge and whipped up a salad. Then, surprising even myself, ate a plentiful helping of ribs and my entire potato along with my salad. Halloween candy followed for dessert. It was actually kind of fun eating like a guy—I just had to force myself to not think about completely striking out on my veggie and fiber quota for the day.

Jeff’s Dad is really a kind man. He is very unpretentious and down to earth. What you see is what you get. He loves his wife, and we could tell he missed having her there, but he cheerfully did all the housework and went to the grocery store before we came so that Jeff had his soy milk (Mr. Lactose-intolerant) and Dutch had his applesauce. Dan is also a very good match for us because he’s very content to do not much of anything. I guess it can be a downfall because we all could have spent all three days doing nothing but reading, playing dominoes, going for walks, and working on our computers. Then again, why is there anything wrong with that?

But I guess we all figured that we better do something, so we piled in the car and took Dutch to the park. This was kind of funny because Dutch was tired and out of sorts that day, so he literally just stared at us, with a droopy sort of frown on his face, the entire time we were there. Jeff slid down the slide with him, climbed up the play structures, and even pushed him on the baby swing. I held him on my lap and swung, while Jeff clicked pictures and made funny faces. Not a single smile. Not one. We played until we finally gave up—not having received so much as a courtesy smile from this child. He never fussed, he just stared at us with droopy eyes. Apparently it just wasn’t the day for the park. But afterwards, we wouldn’t give up and just go home. No, we were out to do something. Now, Dutch has no shoes and we never seem to find the time to go out and take him with us to buy him shoes. The other obstacle to shoeing our son is that Dutch has very fat feet, so none of the normal baby shoes fit him. So, Dan announced that he wanted to buy Dutch his first pair of shoes and we were happy to oblige. Wal-mart here we come.

Jeff and I are not Wal-Mart fans. Please do not be offended if you are one. That is fine. But we are not. We think it’s quite possibly the most depressing place on earth, because, and please pardon this overwhelming generalization, but it seems like no one there is ever happy, and that people are always buying things they a) cannot afford, b) don’t need, or c) really, really, really should not be eating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to reach into the cart of the person ahead of me and unload the bags of Doritos, cans of Spaghetti-O’s, boxes of Captain Crunch, and 24-packs of Mountain Dew, and replace it all with a few canisters of Quaker oatmeal and some apples. But, that’s not my place. Anyway, like I said, it’s not my favorite place in the world.

But, I have been known to shop there on occasion, because there are those certain moments when Wal-Mart is the perfect place to get that super value item you need. For example, when I need cleaning supplies, shampoo, or a pregnancy test—Wal-Mart is the place to go. Yes, a pregnancy test. You see, the 2nd stall in the Wal-Mart bathroom is actually where I found out I was pregnant with Dutch. I know, you can’t believe it. I felt sick at work and just had to know, so I used my lunch break to zip over to the local Wal-Mart where I knew I could get a pee test for under two dollars. Once I’d bought it, why wait? I darted into the bathroom, followed the directions, and three minutes later I had two pink lines. We were having a baby.

So, as you can see, Wal-Mart, though not our favorite store to frequent, definitely has its place in our life. So, when Dan suggested looking there for shoes, we shrugged our shoulders. Why not?

And, like an old friend, Wal-Mart came through. Shoes–that fit–for $9.88. And they’re actually nice-looking as well. You know what else? We didn’t wait in line, and the girl that checked us out, bless her soul, smiled and was cheerful. She even said to have a nice day and I think she meant it. Wonders never cease.