Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Being Happy With Less

I have an account on Formspring.  Basically, it is a place where people can ask you questions.  Recently someone asked me what kind of financial advice I would give to a young married couple.  Here is my reply:

 The best financial advice I could give a young married couple is "be happy with less." Oftentimes, young couples want to have or be where someone who has been married 15 or 20 years is. But those couples have worked for years to be where they are and to have what they have! 

I remember when I first got married, we had a fold-up card table as our kitchen dining table and we used my old hope chest as a coffee table. And we were happy. Completely happy because they were OUR things and it was OUR place. Even if our first home was an apartment. 

Be happy with less.

 With that being said, be wise. Look at where your money is going. Chances are there is something you have a hard time giving up. Is it clothes, eating out, movies??? In order to get ahead as a couple, you need to sacrifice.

 Ask advice from parents or older couples who seem to be managing their money wisely. It may seem humbling, but honestly, most couples start out struggling and looking back, those are very tender-building years. I'm willing to bet that most parents would be more than happy to share what they've learned along the way to help you avoid some pitfalls! Just because it seems like they couldn't understand your struggles based on where they are now, doesn't mean that they've never been there. 

There is so much more that can be said on this topic. But if you follow the general rule of "be happy with less" - I think it will help you focus on where you are, and where you need to be. Hard work truly pays off in the long run. But it takes commitment and time. Everything you earn or get along the way means so much more and is so much more rewarding if you've worked hard to get there - on your own two feet.

I think the biggest struggle for young couples isn’t to simply “meet their basic needs” but it’s this inner struggle of trying to meet the basics and “then some.”  It is very hard to truly “sacrifice.” Image is everything nowadays. So everyone wants that car, that house, that screen TV, those clothes, and to be able to do the things they’ve always done.

Unless both people in a marriage relationship are working hard to meet those demands, they will certainly catch up with you quickly!

I’ve seen many times how young couples don’t have enough discipline in their own lives but then continually ask those around them for help. And this can turn into the cry of “wolf” if couples aren’t careful. For most families are more than happy to help someone who is truly down on their luck. But if they notice they are being used or taken for granted (or even notice a lack of restraint on your part) you can bet the help will be withdrawn.

There is nothing wrong with struggle.  It teaches you a lot. What feels good is knowing that you are making it on your own – without help from others, if possible. Even if you are extremely tight – at least you’re doing it.  Don’t let the “beast” of life – the machine that tells you you’re nobody without certain things dictate how you live.

You always need to look at the bigger picture. Look down the road. If you want to have a child in a few years, start saving now. If you want to have a home in a few years, start saving now. Don’t wait until the time arrives and then realize you weren’t very wise with your money in the meantime. Always be saving a little extra for the future. But yes, enjoy life too! Just don’t be reckless.

Starting out in life with a spouse is a great adventure. Have fun – even if that means only getting pizza every two months and getting your movies at the library so you can watch them for free. Everything can be fun if you have the right attitude.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

God Has a Great Way of Keeping Me Humble

God has  a great way of keeping me humble. Of giving me compassion for others just when I might be on the edge of losing empathy.

I’m so thankful He does that in my life. Even if in the moment it’s often not the most fun. Because that’s the kind of person I want to be – the end result is that I want to be a humble, compassionate person. And to be honest, sometimes in life, I just lose those qualities. I grow a little harder. A little colder. A little less sympathetic. And God needs to remind me of a few things.

God needs to have me deal with health issues in order to feel compassion for those who constantly struggle with their health.

God shows me how it feels to be lonely so that I can empathize with the one who is all alone.

God allows some of my wishes and dreams to be dashed on the rocks in order for me to see that I am so blessed. It also shows me that I can’t simply tell someone “Just do it!” It can’t always be done.

God shows me in gentle ways, and in abrupt ways – how I need to watch my tongue, soften my heart, stop my judgement, slow my assumptions, and forgive more readily.

I am in need of grace. I have been in need of mercy. I have stuck my foot in my mouth. I have judged. I have had a hardened heart. I have failed to forgive at times. I have been proud. Yes, I have done and been all of these things. Some in moments, some lasting longer.

God doesn’t like to leave me there (for which I am SO thankful!) Just when I think I know something decisively, He shows me how little I really knew. Just when I stand my ground in firm decision; He shows me how much ground I have yet to walk.

For He loves me. That’s what a Father does. He does what is best for His child when He knows they have so much more potential to give.

This world can so easily chip away at our character. Without seeing or knowing it, bit by bit, we harden. We turn our back. We ignore. Bit by bit.

I’m so glad my Lord continues to readily soften me. Turn me back around and bend me.

I could always use more compassion, more empathy, and more humility in my heart and in my life.

*Originally published at EverydayChristian.com - August 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Soaking In the Moments

Those moments. You know those moments when they come. They are the moments when you stop what you are doing and take in your life and loved ones. You fully engage in the moment and you smile. You are happy. You are blessed. And you know it. You feel it.

Maybe it’s laying in bed and hearing your teen singing or playing a musical instrument from their room. Maybe it’s hearing your children giggle, laugh, and enjoy each other. Or maybe it’s when one of them is feeling hurt or wounded, and the other one reaches out to them in love.

Sometimes the moment comes amidst activity. You listen to the sounds in your house and they make you happy for you know one day it will be all too quiet.  Maybe it comes in the form of realizing how endearing an action or habit is of someone in your home. You wouldn’t have them any other way.

I love those moments. I love it when I can “still” myself long enough to realize how much I truly love those moments and things about the people I cherish. I often close my eyes and just soak them in.

Oh if we could engage in those moments more often! Those things we often overlook or ignore are often the very things we will one day miss. 

I love to walk by my youngest daughter’s room and see the mess on her desk. For it signals that she has been feverishly and creatively working on something. I love hearing my oldest daughter sing while she is in the shower. I love hearing my husband run up and wrestle with the girls and invite them in to a time of bonding through laughter.  I love hearing both of my girls rock out to their favorite tunes in the car or just “hearing” them around me at home. I’m so glad they are here.

These are the moments I treasure. And there are so many more. So many little things that I cling to. That I love.

I hate that life often lures me away from noticing. From relishing. From smiling and loving. And I’m so thankful that God often draws me back to what my heart craves the most. Those special and unique things that radiate from those who I love the most in this world.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Everyone Needs Someone

Everyone needs a champion in their corner.  Someone who cheers them on and is a great source of support and encouragement.  Unfortunately, for a lot of people in this world, they feel they don’t have that person.  Oftentimes they feel very alone.

We can all offer something to someone.  A little bit of cheer. A smile. A hug. A touch.

Why don’t we do it more often? Why don’t we interact a little bit more with that stranger at the store who looks like they could really use a friend? Or that person at church who always slips in and out quietly – unnoticed by most?

Everyone needs someone.

If you are that “everyone” who really longs for “someone” – don’t despair. Don’t give up. Ask God to bring you that gift in your life.  You know, often, we get frustrated because we continue to look to the wrong people to fill us up. We try to force something that was not meant to be.  Instead, we need to look in new places for those fresh voices of cheer who can strengthen, reinforce, and uplift us. Maybe it’s a new church. A new social group.  A different family member (or someone outside of our family altogether.) Sometimes we simply need to be pushed to go outside of our normal thinking a little bit. We need to reach out a little bit, in order to be touched.

There are so many people in this world. So many hurting and lonely people. But so many people with huge, giving and loving hearts as well.

Seek out love. Seek out friendship. Seek out kindness. It’s out there. Sometimes we just have to go walking outside the comfort door of our heart a little bit to find it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When There Are No Words

Sometimes I search for something to say. I want to say something. Anything.

I feel the words inside yet they won’t bubble out. They won’t form complete sentences and I’m not sure what it is I want to say, much less what it is that I feel.

Then God gently nudges my soul and tells me that maybe He doesn’t want me to say anything at all. He wants me to be still. To be silent. To wait. And to listen.

So often we want an action point. We want a “to do.” But God wants us to pause.

There are times that He purposely allows us to struggle for words. He purposely pulls thoughts and words out of our reach so that we have time to sit still. Time to take a break. Time. Time that we would get no other way because we steam forward continually on our own.

In those moments – in those times – God is still working. Still moving. Still attentive to our needs, our wants, our cares. He simply wants us to slow down. Clear our hearts and heads. Shake off the excess clutter that the world can throw into our brains and lives and  “collect.”

Collect ourselves. Collect HIM.

When there are no words – maybe we strive too hard to find them.  Maybe we work too fast, and struggle too much to come up with “something” – anything in the quest to move onward, upward, and forward. We miss the message. His message. His moment for us.

Next time when there are no words – let it be. Let it go. And let Him invade. When it’s time – HIS TIME – they will come. And they will be just right.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

10 Ways to Truly Enjoy Life

1.     Enjoy that dessert. You don’t have to have 2 cookies – but you can totally enjoy one. You don’t have to have a huge piece of pie or cake, but a small slice hits the spot. And yes, every once in awhile when it’s something that is one of your favorite sweet delights – eat the big piece.

2.     Laugh. Laugh often. Smile. When life gets a little stretched and ridiculous – laugh about the craziness of it all. It will help you relax and put it all in focus.

3.     Make time for what you love. If you love to sew, make time for it. Take pictures? Make time for it. Don’t decide you’ll “get to it” after other things. Make your joys a priority.

4.     Give. Give something to someone else. It feels good. And give often.

5.     Be content with what you have. That small television is good enough. You don’t really need the big one. And the out-of-date washer and dryer? If they are still running well and getting the job done, you are blessed. A content heart is a joyful heart.

6.     Love. Love freely. Love on strangers and love on familiar faces. Touch them, hug them, love on them.  Love is like a yo-yo. What you give, also comes back to you.

7.     Remember to live life like a child. Dance. Play games. Jump on leaves. Get lost in a book for hours. Put off the chores. Ask questions.  Forgive easily.

8.     Let it go. Let that grievance go. Let that stupid driver go. Let the unkind remarks go. Just let it go.

9.     Do things. Go to the local fair. Fly to another city or a distant land. Take a class. Go to lunch with a friend. Become a volunteer. Do things frequently. It gets you out of the house and into the world. It gets you out of your own world and into someone else’s….

10. Obey the Lord. His laws are for our freedom not to give us chains.  They spare us from heartache and pain. They provide guidance and they give us focus.

These are just a few things that can help you live a more enjoyable life. What would you add to the list?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What If We Were Made To Be Ordinary?

I’ve experienced some discouragement in the past year with a few dreams and wishes in my life. It seems I’m on “hold” in some areas of life and in others – well, they just aren’t measuring up to expectations. MY expectations.

The thought occurs to me – what if God doesn’t have excellence in mind for our life? What if He simply has “ordinary” on our agenda?

We grow up being told we can be anything we want. Sometimes we are told how special we are and that someone just “knows” we are going to do great things in life. There can be a great let-down when those great things don’t come to pass. Sometimes, they are simply “good things.”

I know many people who are very content to live life quietly. They don’t want the front seat or the job that gets all the attention. They are joyful simply serving in the background. Then there are others who seem to need the accolades, the attention, the recognition. They thrive on it.

We all have dreams. We all have hidden wishes and desires for our lives. A lot of times those wishes and dreams come attached to some sort of image that we want to live out. Discontent can rush in when we are disillusioned. We never got that basketball scholarship we wanted. Someone else got the promotion at work. Everyone else was invited to the BBQ but us. We can feel rejected, not good enough, and a little (or a lot) lost.

Everyone has these feelings and moments in life. They often just don’t share them because – just like you – they want to be perceived a certain way. But they still have them.

God doesn’t plan that everyone become President. It’s not everyone’s calling to become famous or wildly wealthy. In fact, most of us are on the path of ordinary. We are normal. Everyday people. Hard working.  Common.

But it’s okay. Because those are just words. And they are images that WE see. Reputations that WE give each other. The good news is that God sees all of us as special. He has excellence in mind for every one of us and each one of us holds high esteem in His eyes. Just because society doesn’t think that certain jobs or positions in life are worthy – doesn’t mean that God doesn’t.  And oftentimes, it’s in the “ordinary” that we learn true humility and contentment. It’s in those times that we discover our true identity instead of attaching that identity to someone or something else in life.

We might be on the road to an “ordinary” life. We may not have grand adventures or amazing peaks and valleys in our life. But we can have rich joys, deep loves, and contentment that flows through our veins. We can find causes and relationships that surpass any worldly recognition that we may have sought.

And just when we least expect it, God may come calling. For it’s the “ordinary” man and woman that He loves to use the most.

*Originally used at EverydayChristian (August 2011)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's Just Not Funny

There are some things I’ve never joked about. Words I’ve never uttered.

“Get in the car now, or I’m leaving without you.”

“Yay. The kids are back in school!”

“Anyone want a free kid?”

To me… those thoughts, those words – they just aren’t funny.

I very much wanted to give birth to my children. I very much wanted them.

I pray deeply for my children. I worry about them and I’m protective.

I enjoy my children.

So words that mock who they are as people and how much I value my time with them…well….they just aren’t humorous to me.

I remember when my kids were little and strangers would admire their cuteness in a grocery store. The common thing I heard was, “What shelf did you get this one on? Where can I get one?” Or…. “Can I have one?”  I would always emphatically state that they were not for sale. They weren’t up for grabs.

You see, my children heard me. They heard me take pride in having them in my life. They saw my face and felt my heart. And that’s what I wanted.

My children are priceless. Precious. They give me deep joy. Sure – they aren’t perfect. We’ve argued. I’ve cried – they’ve cried. We irritate one another. But even through those moments, I would never ever joke about getting rid of them. Not for a second.

God gave me a gift when He allowed me to become a mom. I never want to spit in the face of that gift. I want to be worthy of it….even though I know I’ll never feel truly worthy.  But being a mom and having children is something I asked for and it’s something I take extreme pride in.

I want my children to live life knowing that they are valued and worthwhile. I never want them to feel like they were a nuisance, burden, or that my life was more fun when they weren’t around. My words and attitude can convey that message to them.

My children are irreplaceable in my heart and my life.  And I will never joke about them not having a part of it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Playing It Safe

God has been speaking to my heart lately about not trusting Him enough. Which sounds a bit odd because I have had such a strong and steady faith ever since I was a little girl. But, yes, that’s exactly what He is telling me.

You see, I’m a “play it safe” kind of girl. I like my comfort zones. And although I do stretch them at times (when forced), I don’t often “risk.” Let me explain.

I’m a very frugal person when it comes to money. I shop sales and clearance racks and often have a “set” amount in my head that I won’t go over for jeans, tops, shoes, etc. I always ration my money and have a certain amount left over from payday to payday – just in case.  Which sounds smart and wise in theory right? But by doing this, I don’t often take leaps with my finances and trust that God will provide.  I’m not talking about spending recklessly, but just trusting Him if something comes up.

Also, when it comes to life – I often play it safe. Which also sounds wise in theory. But how can I exercise my faith and trust that God will take care of me if there is no risk involved?  When I stay in safe territory, things are controlled so God has no room to work. No room to show me His deep love for me by providing, rescuing, or showing off for me.

So although I may have been feeling like my walk with the Lord has been steady and unwavering, in reality, sometimes it’s simply been “safe.”

Realizing this doesn’t instantly make me an adventurous person. But it opens my eyes. And it shows me that God wants to work in ways that maybe I’ve shut off from Him in the past. The exact things that Satan causes me to fear might be the exact ways that God wants to do amazing things on my behalf.  I need to re-think my “safe” ways of living and my closed off heart from those things that may seem edgy or risky to my heart and I instead, need to truly listen to see if God is prompting me to go to that unchartered territory.

I need to trust Him with those things that scare me. Otherwise, there really is no sense in me having faith in Him – if I don’t exercise it.

I know my God loves me. I just need to give Him a chance to prove it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This Might Make You Look a Little Silly

I knew someone once who didn’t care about wrecking his or her image. They just had fun and loved life. They would put on funny outfits and laughed as everyone laughed with them. They would make funny faces at the kids or try things they’d never tried before – not caring if they looked foolish or not. They just enjoyed life.

I want to enjoy life like that. I want to get caught up in the moments presented to me and take advantage of them, not caring if I look a little awkward or funny. I want those around me to enjoy the time they spend with me. I don’t think that every moment needs to be about laughter and having a built-in “party” but I do think we should soak as much as we can out of those moments.

If we are presented with a beautiful sunset, let’s soak in and ponder all of life in every moment we have with that sunset. If we have the chance to wrestle or dance with our kids, let’s not pass it up but engage in all the goofiness and fun of the moment that they want to spend with us. Let’s truly soak in life.

We only have so many chances to create a memory with our kids.  We only have so many chances to do something out of the ordinary, or to give the gift of love to someone else. Life goes by fast. Faster it seems…each year.

I think back as to how many times I passed something up because I didn’t think I’d be very good at it. Or I didn’t feel comfortable because I knew I’d probably be laughed at or I was worried about feeling embarrassed.  What if I’d said “So what?” What if I’d grabbed those chances anyways? Chances are that I would have been laughed at. I might have been embarrassed. But I also might have felt complete freedom and joy in experiencing the thrill of a moment. Or a lifetime.

The older I get, the more tired I get about worrying about my “image.” I grow less and less concerned with what others will think of me if I do something silly or goofy. I can laugh as my kids laugh at me. I can see what they see and know that someday, that might be a tender moment and memory for them in the simple fact that I was genuine and let my walls down.

Yes, I want to be authentic. If that means looking ridiculous sometimes – then that’s going to have to be the way it will go. Because I intend on rocking out to music in the car with my kids whether or not there is a car full of people right next to us. And I intend on doing many more things on this adventurous road of life.

You know, as I look back on it, I never once thought my friend was stupid, immature, or ridiculous. I actually admired him. I thought how great he was to have so much fun in life. I wished I could feel free to enjoy life’s crazy moments as much as he did.

Hopefully, that’s a lesson learned.

(Enjoy this short video clip of my kids getting me (and our whole van) to act silly with them on our mission trip to Guatemala last June. :))

Monday, November 7, 2011

Capitalizing the "H"

When I write about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or refer to Him as “Him” – I always capitalize. Always.

It’s a matter of respect for me.

If I speak of a man and say “he” – I don’t capitalize. It’s not that I don’t respect the said individual, it just is that it’s not proper grammar. But when it comes to my Lord and Savior, I always, ALWAYS remind myself when I’m speaking of Him, that He is Holy. He is my Savior. He is in authority over me and it’s as if I’m bowing down in my heart to Him when I capitalize.

To me, it’s almost as if I’m taking His name in vain if I don’t capitalize.

You see, I idolize God. I worship Him. I adore Him. And I never want to forget that He is my King. That He is powerful. Ruler over ALL.

For me, capitalizing is one small reminder of where my heart lies and to whom I have given it over to.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I Am a Vessel

Sometimes when something happens to me in life and it hurts or stings – as a writer, I think, “ I could use this pain to write an article and encourage others!”  Other times, I think, “Nooooo!” You see, it occurs to me that sometimes God allows something to happen in my life for that reason alone.

He wants me to be a vessel.

Oftentimes, it’s a delight to be used by the Lord. And if I had greater strength, I’d say it should ALWAYS be a delight to be used by the Lord. But humanly, many times, it just plain stinks. 

In order to encourage others, you have to go through things first, yourself. And in order to empathize and understand, you have to first feel. Those are tough territories!

We all go through “crud” in life. Some of us more than others. I choose to allow myself to be vulnerable and transparent with you, so that you can find hope amidst your pain, joy through the journey, and strength when you are feeling weak. I choose to share with you my failures and weaknesses so that you can feel a little less alone.

I am a vessel. God’s vessel. I hurt, I cry, I put my foot in my mouth, and I get embarrassed. I just choose to funnel most of it on to you instead of hiding it out of sight.

I don’t enjoy the trials and challenges that hit me or my family. I don’t welcome them in the least. But I do try to find great lessons in them. I do try to rise above them somehow so that they won’t be repeated.

So sometimes this vessel may ride on rough seas – sometimes smooth. But always, always directed at the lighthouse so that the light can shine on you as well and that when you come behind me, your ride won’t be quite as hard.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When It Happens To Everyone Else But You

For most of us, we have a burning desire deep within us. It usually involves a deep-seeded wish or dream for our lives. And it can get super discouraging and frustrating when that dream does not become a reality (or takes forever to become one.)

I remember when I first wanted to become pregnant. I remember someone I knew got pregnant on accident. They weren’t even trying. And I was trying and getting frustrated because I wasn’t. I remember crying when I heard this person was with child and then I felt so guilty – because…what a gift they had been given! It didn’t matter that they hadn’t been trying. It was still a beautiful, wonderful gift.

The thing is, my time came not that long afterwards and of course – as God does, it was perfect. My daughter was perfect. And looking back, the waiting period wasn’t really that long.

It’s the same way for lots of us on many different levels and issues. We’re waiting for that job and someone else gets a brilliant new career without even hunting for one. Or we dream of a home and someone else stumbles onto one and is given a superb deal.

It’s life. And when we want something so badly, it brings that issue to light and we notice much more often; who is getting it but us. It feels like it’s everyone else. But it’s really not. It’s just our impatience and discontent.

I’ve found that when these times happen to me and I get discouraged and feel hurt, God reminds me of a few things.

1.     It may not be happening to me, because as much as I want it, I’m not quite ready for it yet. God is preparing us and getting us ready for that new dream or wish.

2.     I need to change my attitude. Often, my heart is just not where it should be. This is different from God just preparing me for a change. When my attitude is not right, He is waiting for me to change.
3.     The answer may just be “no.” None of us want to hear this or like hearing it. But it’s truly possible that what we want won’t happen. And if this is the case, I firmly believe that joy is still possible. God may bring something even better into our lives that we hadn’t considered or use us right where we are at. And if we do #2 above (change our attitude) we can find a hidden blessing right where we are. One that we would have missed if we hadn’t allowed God to impact our hearts.

4.     Our job isn’t quite done yet. We have a purpose and a job to do wherever we are. And it may be that God did plant a dream in our hearts and He fully intends to fulfill it. But we just aren’t quite done with the job we are already doing yet. We haven’t quite finished whatever calling God had wanted us to fulfill in that spot yet. So we can live fully in the moment, yet still be investing and praying about the next step He has in mind for our lives.

5.     God wants to see how much I trust Him, and how much I want something.  If I give up easily, then I often don’t get a blessing that He could have bestowed on me. But if put all my faith in Him and continuously pray; believing that He WILL answer – God delights to do “above and beyond all that I could ask or hope for.”

For me, these have been some of the possible options in life when I feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines waiting for something while everyone else easily gets what they ask for (or didn’t even try for.) It doesn’t always make these times in life easy. Waiting can be confusing and cause doubt. But ultimately, if we inspect our hearts and analyze our motives while asking God for wisdom and discernment – I firmly believe He won’t lead us wrong.

So don’t get discouraged. Lift your head up and stay the course if your dream or wish is something that is truly important to you. Hang in there. For God’s timing is always perfect and whatever happens, there is great joy to be discovered in His answer.