Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baby Step 1- CHECK!

About a month ago, actually less than a month ago, John and I decided to get our finances together and stop wasting so much money. We delved back into the Financial Peace Planner by Dave Ramsey, and began Baby Step#1, which is to build a $1000 emergency savings fund. Our goal was to hit that mark by the end of September and we did it. We actually hit it early in the week!!!

We managed this through very careful budgeting and planning. We have eating out very little this month, which is HUGE for us. I really enjoy cooking if I have a plan, so it is working out for me.

The next step is to pay off debt using the "Debt Snowball" technique. We owe similar amounts on the van and our credit card. Our plan is to tackle the credit card since we are quite close to the end of our loan term on the van any way. According to our plan, we'll be finished with this step by March 2011!!! How exciting!!

Taking control of this situation has alleviated so much stress. I regret so much that we have owned this book for six or more years and never heeded the advice. We have wasted thousands of dollars and failed to be good stewards of our resources. I am glad that we are finally on the right track!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Feeling like Fall...

Gee, I wish the weather would cooperate with my inner calendar that says, "It is fall! Let's see those glorious leaves change, let's feel the chill in the air, let's sip hot cider, let's snuggle under the covers." But no!!! Our weather has been ridiculously warm. Ninety degree days need to be gone by now!!!

After the great flood, God promised “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. 22 As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night” (Genesis 8:21-22).

Thank God for the promise that the seasons will continue to change, for the assurance that we will experience the glory of spring's new flowers, the intensity of summer's sunshine, the beauty of fall's colors, and the cleansing snow of winter. Even if the seasons do not change on my timeline, I know that God's plan is so much greater!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dearly loved children

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children”- Ephesians 5:1

This verse means a lot to me as a mother and as a Christian. Paul calls us God's "dearly loved children." If we think about our relationship with God as a parent-child relationship, then this makes perfect sense! As parents, we know that our children are seldom perfect, even though we've modeled the expectations we have for them. If you watch my kids in a restaurant, please know that I've never taught them to behave that way!!! Sometimes I wonder whose children these are because MY children would never act like animals. But, I keep correcting them, sometimes gently, other times with less patience, and slowly but surely, they change.

God demonstrated for us perfect love, grace, and mercy. We, his dearly loved children, continually mess up. We don't love others the way we should, we are selfish, we are mean. None of this is consistent with God's teaching. Our actions defy all of the goodness He wants to see us show. Whose children are we? Where on earth did we learn to behave in such a way? But, like a patient father, He keeps on loving us, forgiving us, correcting us, and giving it another go.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Keepin' it simple, sweetie!

Busy morning with little time to gather my thoughts! I started to write that I had nothing earth-shattering to say today, but then I thought twice. Maybe I'm fresh out of wit and wisdom for the morning, but God's Word really is earth-shattering. So, how about I just keep my big mouth closed and let Him do the talking today?!

Philippians 2:1-2, New Living Translation
1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Hope to see my Frankfort friends at First UMC tonight for Wonderful Wednesday!!! If you aren't in Frankfort, find a church to visit tonight. Have fellowship with other Christ-followers. Love one another, and work together with one mind and purpose: to know Him more!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Shadow of Your Wings

For whatever reason, I'm a tad cranky this morning. I'm overwhelmed at work. I had a meeting at 7:15 this morning that will likely result in added work. I am behind in grading and planning (again). I have a gillion responsibilities that I need to tend to here, and I'm just not really motivated to get these things done. The test scores will be out soon and I'm worried about them. Our faculty meeting yesterday stressed me out. I feel that I will never accomplish all the things I need to do, and if I do get them done, I won't have done them well enough to please the powers that be.

It is hard for me to write this morning. My heart is heavy with worries and my mind is feeling fuzzy from lack of focus. So, I turned to the Psalms. That's what I do when I get all bogged down. I love Third Day's song, "Your Love Oh Lord." It comes from Psalm 36. That's what I read this morning. Here's my favorite part:

"5 Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. 6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord. 7 How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. 8 You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights. 9 For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see.

10 Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you; give justice to those with honest hearts.
11 Don’t let the proud trample me or the wicked push me around. 12 Look! Those who do evil have fallen! They are thrown down, never to rise again (New Living Translation)."

Even when I am feeling low, when I feel discouraged, when I feel persecuted, when I am afraid, I can cling to God's unfailing love. What a spectacular promise!!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Of grace and coupons

In our quest to get our finances under control, I've become an even more avid coupon clipper than I normally am. I love coupons. Love them. In fact, last night, I discovered that you can log in to the Kroger website and have coupons loaded directly to your Plus Card, no need for paper copies. Isn't that groovy?

Most of my deep thoughts occur while I'm drying my hair in the mornings. Now, my hair is pretty short, so that doesn't leave a lot of time for deep thinking, so sometimes my ponderings don't get fully worked out. Also, it's really early (i.e. before coffee) when I'm doing this thinking, so sometimes it doesn't always make sense later. This morning, I was reflecting on the awesomeness that is the whole Kroger card coupon phenomenon, and it occurred to me that God's grace is kind of like coupons, but a whole lot better.

Coupons are awesome. You get to save money on things you were planning to buy anyway. However, they can be kind of tricky to use. You have to pay close attention. They expire, for one thing, so you have to use them while they are still good. They aren't universal, either. If you like Kraft dressing, but have a coupon for Hidden Valley Ranch, you have to decide if it is worth it to save money on a product you don't prefer. Some people don't even think they are worth the effort and time you spend in clipping, organizing, and planning for their use. Amazingly, some people don't even use coupons! Those folks think it makes you look cheap to use them. Mind blowing, I know.

I know by now, you are thinking, "Where is she going with this? It doesn't seem at all that coupons are anything like grace!" Bear with me!

If used correctly, coupons are essentially free money. You didn't have to do any work to earn that $1.00 taken off your grocery bill just for submitting a little slip of paper. That's one way coupons are like grace. It's free! You don't have to do anything to earn it. You just have to claim it!

Now, I also said I thought about how much better grace is than a coupon. For example, God's grace never expires. You never have to take a lesser kind of grace just because that's all that is offered. God's grace isn't limited to certain "brands" of sin because it is good for all of them!

Here is one final thought on this topic. I said there were some people who felt like coupons weren't worth their time, or they didn't want to use them because they didn't want to appear cheap. Hmm...can't you think of some people that don't really have time for God? They don't need Him or his grace because they like to think their works are sufficient to balance out their sins. Or, they don't want to appear weak by claiming redemption through God's grace.

Maybe that analogy worked for you, and maybe it didn't. The bottom line is this. If you were going through the checkout line at the grocery store and found that the person in front of you had already paid your bill, would you say, "No thanks, I really don't need your generosity." I think not!!! God is offering you a huge voucher to cover all of your sins. It is free of charge, and the value is immeasurable. All you have to do is claim it!

Want to know more? Read Romans 3:22-26.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reflections on 9/11 (Psalm 46)

I am a big advocate of writing in your Bible. Perhaps that's the English teacher coming out in me. I like to write the date on a passage when I've read something that really struck me. I'll also make notes about things I think, question, or realize. I take notes from the sermons I hear. I date them, write the preacher's name, and then scribble the main points. I like to do this because it makes my Bible like a journal. I can see a scripture with a date and some notes, and I'm able to remember what I was thinking about or going through at the time.

On September 11, 2001, after a long day at school watching an unprecedented tragedy unfold on TV and trying to help my sixth graders make some sense of the whole thing, I came home and pulled out my Bible. It literally fell open to Psalm 46. Today, I found where I had marked that passage with a big star. I studied that for a while. Here is the Contemporary English Version of that passage.

God Is Our Mighty Fortress

1God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble. 2And so, we won't be afraid! Let the earth tremble and the mountains tumble into the deepest sea. 3Let the ocean roar and foam, and its raging waves shake the mountains. 4A river and its streams bring joy to the city, which is the sacred home of God Most High. 5God is in that city, and it won't be shaken. He will help it at dawn. 6Nations rage! Kingdoms fall! But at the voice of God the earth itself melts. 7The LORD All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. 8Come! See the fearsome things the LORD has done on earth. 9God brings wars to an end all over the world. He breaks the arrows, shatters the spears, and burns the shields. [a] 10Our God says, "Calm down, and learn that I am God! All nations on earth will honor me." 11The LORD All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.

I remember reading it over and over. In the midst of fear and uncertainty, it provided me a much needed reminder of God's power. Verse 10 is one of my all time favorites. In the NIV, it says "Be still and know that I am God." The New King James Version italicizes "am" which makes it seem like God is reminding you who is in control, just in case you were wondering. The Message says, "Step out of the traffic!"

At the time, that really helped me calm my questioning heart. I didn't know why any of this was happening, and I sure didn't know what would happen next. I wanted answers I could give my students and myself; I wanted desperately to help heal the hurt. But I couldn't. All I could do was be still and know that God is God. He is All Powerful! He was in the midst of the devestation and heartbreak in New York City. He was present in Washington and Pennsylvania. And though these events were certainly not of God, He could still be our fortress. We would find comfort in Him if we sought it.

Nine years later, our nation is still healing from the events of that day. Families were destroyed, and many innocent lives were lost. We questioned, "Why?" How could God allow this to happen? I could never construct a coherent answer to why, but I could find peace in the midst of it all. It still helps me to think about the words of the psalmist. "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1,NIV)." . He wants us to turn our hearts to Him. He yearns for relationship with us. He offers us peace and freedom. The Lord Almighty is with us!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Inferiority revisited and dismissed

Do you remember Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live? Al Franken played him in the 90's. Stuart was a hopelessly neurotic self-help guru. He would look in the mirror and recite his affirmations. The most famous one was, "I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." It even became the title of a book of daily affirmations.

If you know me very well, or if you've read my blog much, you are well aware of my inferiority complex. I'm so worried that I am NOT good enough, NOT smart enough, and that people aren't going to like me. My lack of self-confidence extends to nearly every aspect of my life...work, marriage, parenting, friendships, you name it...I know how very inadequate I am and one of my biggest worries is that I'll get caught. Someone is going to find out that I am not really as smart as they originally thought I was. I'm going to get busted for being not nearly good enough.

Feeling inferior is a huge stumbling block in my service to God. I worry that my Bible study lessons lack substance. The questions I'm asking aren't good enough, or they are too personal, or no one wants to talk about the topics I've chosen. I'm hesitant and apologetic and ineffective. I often doubt myself, and so I don't step up to the service that I feel called to do.

Today, when I was doing my morning devotions, my scripture was from the first chapter of 1Timothy. Inferior me was especially drawn to verse 12: "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him" (NLT).

Take that, inferiority complex! Jesus thinks I am qualified to do His work. In fact, he has created me to do just that. He has given me special gifts and talents to use in His service. Paul goes on to talk about what a terrible person he had been before he came to salvation, and how easily his past could have prevented him from serving God. Instead of looking at his failings as an excuse, he claimed God's mercy and grace and used his past as his primary qualification as a servant of Christ.

So, if Jesus has redeemed me and appointed ME to do His work, what do I have to feel inferior about? I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, HE loves me!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

OUCH and AAHH!

Today, K-LOVE's Encouraging Word came from Isaiah 58:9. I like to read the passage, look at it in context, and even see how it "translates" in different versions of the Bible. I did that this morning, and instead of getting a heaping helping of the feel-goods, I got a serious dose of conviction. Here's why (bold print is mine):


Isaiah 58 (THE MESSAGE)
Your Prayers Won't Get Off the Ground
1-3 "Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side. But they also complain, 'Why do we fast and you don't look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'


OUCH!!!!! I am afraid that I resemble that a little more than I would like. I am busy, busy, busy! And it's all good stuff I'm doing. I'm doing the right thing, serving in the church. But am I doing it for the right reasons? Am I doing it out of vanity, to preserve my reputation as a good Christian girl? Are my good works sincere, motivated by my love for God and His people? Or are they just the thing to do?

I have to examine myself, my deeds, my motivations. I have to pray and listen. If I read the passage right, I probably ought to fast. Ouch again!

But it wasn't all OUCH this morning. There was a defite AAHHH this morning, and here it is If I dedicate myself to knowing God, to loving Him, to being in relationship with Him, if I allow Him to guide my paths, and if I worship and serve him with a pure heart, here's what will happen (still from The Message, bold print still mine):

9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones. You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past."

I absolutely love that part!!! What better motivation to get my head in the game???

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Be content whatever the circumstances

Tonight, our church begins our mid-week services again. We eat (a definite plus for me and my family!!!) and then the children do their programs while the adults have several study and fellowship opportunities. John and I are leading a study on the Biblical principles presented in the songs of the Rolling Stones. Big stretch, I know.

Tonight, we are studying about finding contentment. Our song is "Satisfaction." The scripture we will study is Philippians 4:4-13. I have been thinking about those verses a LOT lately, especially in light of our quest for Financial Peace. I have actually been studying that scripture for a while. Here's one part that I especially like...


10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

I don't really know what it is like to be in need. I know very well what it is like to be in want. In lust. In greed. In envy. But not need. I haven't yet learned the secret of being content,but I'm working on it. I am striving to find joy in the plenty that I have, and not yearn for things I want but certainly do not need.

I remember learning Philippians 4:13 when I was a little girl, and reciting it often when things got tough. I used it out of context, though. I clung to it when I had a test that was going to be hard, or when a friend hurt my feelings. I would spout it when I was going into a competition that I really wanted to win, or when I was facing what I deemed a "crisis" in my young life. I didn't really think of it the way Paul intended it. Jesus is not a safety net, a band-aid, or an emergency response team.

Christ is the source of all my strength.He is the very essence of my ability to do anything.

Let me remember that today and everyday. Apart from Him, I can do nothing. Through Him, all is possible.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back from beyond...

Beyond what? I'm not sure, but I was far beyond blogging!!! Since school has started, I've been a madwoman. With five different classes, three of which I've never taught before, I've been overwhelmed. I am one month into the year and starting to get myself straightened up.

Anyway, as you can tell, the WHY NOT challenge was a bust. Whatever...I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

Now, John and I are undertaking a new challenge together. We've decided to tighten up our finances using the Dave Ramsey method. We have his book, The Financial Peace Planner, and would like to take his Financial Peace University course, but that's not in the cards for the time being. Instead, we're following his advice on our own.

The first "baby step" is to establish a $1000 emergency fund. We were halfway there anyway, so we decided to aim for the end of the month to have this in place. This weekend, we counted our change...and found $115 in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Cha-ching! I had a stash of money from my dad ($100)...my fun money is how I regard it. Alas, it is not fair to squirrel it away for selfish purposes, so that goes in the bank, too. Add to that our YMCA membership ($66/month), my Sun Tan City membership ($20/month), our Sonic habit ($5-10 a week), and the bottomless pit of eating out, and you can probably see that we'll have NO trouble saving that money.

For two smart people, we sure have been awfully stupid with our money!