Saturday, October 25, 2014

Giving your finances to God

I often feel like we have an unfair advantage when it comes to trusting God with our finances. After spending two years doing missionary work with a group call FOCUS, Nathan and I had first hand experience at seeing God come through. As missionaries we raised 100% of our salary, which came from donors. The entire two years taught me so much about the power of asking for help, praying specifically for my finances, and the obvious-seeing God come through.

I remember one instance where I was going to be $500 dollars short that month. I went to the chapel to pray specifically for the $500. A few days later I got a check in the mail for exactly $500 from a donor who I had contacted about 6 months prior. At the time she had been unable to donate because she was without employment. Little did I know that she had promised God that once she found work she would give a certain percentage of her first paycheck to me in thanksgiving for God finding her a job. Well that job came for her at the exact time I needed my $500. After that I really started trusting God with finances and in the two years of missionary work Nathan and I could tell you dozens of stories like the one above.

Then we got married and were unemployed. We lived week by week and kept trusting that God would provided. Except, it didn't look how I would have wanted it (a nice 8-5 job with benefits) but instead looked like a bunch of little jobs that came out of no where. We lived like that for the first 6 months of our marriage and while it was tough, there was also a freedom in it because we had no other choice but to trust God. Again we saw checks being sent to us from refunds from over a year ago, people giving us gift cards, etc. One day after the next God came through.

Fast forward to now where we are living on one income. At times I think what is harder than trusting God with our finances is giving Him control of them. When you have a steady paycheck coming in every two weeks it gets hard to imagine how God could work within that, because its such a "set" number. Even though we have steady income, we live on a tight two week, cash only, system. When the cash is gone, we wait until payday to get more.

With the new baby coming we have been doing some big projects around our house like new carpet, paint, etc. In August when we began these renovations I sat down to look at the budget and thought "no way can we afford this." I just couldn't see on paper how it was going to work out. So we began slowly and bought things little by little every two weeks. Interiorly, I was struggling with "should I get a part time job?" Its such a temptation for me to go back to work. I came from a working family with a working mom and I'm the only SAHM in my family. I feel constantly lazy because I don't work. But then I know that this is what Nate and I have decided is best for our family. So in my mind the thoughts of "you should be working, you should be bringing in something to pay for all these renovations" rang constantly. Then finally after taking it to prayer for a few weeks it went away. I started to have peace about just giving our finances over to God and letting Him show me how He would come through.

Let me tell you:
We had budgeted $120 for new light fixtures------went to the store and found them on mega clearance and got all 6 for just $36.00!

We had budgeted $150 for a new ceiling fan-----again another mega sale and we got one for $59.99!

I had secretly been wanting a combi double stroller to go with our combi car seat. But they are so expensive and I knew we just couldn't swing a new one. And a used one is next to impossible to find. But, this past weekend I found one on varagesale for half the price of a new one.

Nathan's car is in need of a new battery. Sometimes it starts, sometimes it doesn't. We keep pushing it down the road because we didn't have the money for it this month, which meant I took him to work many mornings! I went to our neighborhood social Tuesday night and guess who won the door prize? ME! And the prize was a gift card to auto zone where we buy our car batteries.

Yesterday I sat down to look at our grocery money for the week and plan meals. Since we had spent so much this two weeks on renovations it had left us with $10 for groceries. The good news was we were pretty stocked up in our freezer. The bad news was Nate's family was coming in Sunday for lunch and I wanted to feed them a nice meal. I began planning and going through the cupboards to see what we had and what I could come up with. I told Nate we were going to have a "scrounge" week since we only had $10. Then I went to take Abigail for a walk and out of the stroller fell a thank you card from a friend. She had given it to me last week at the park but I had forgotten about it. In it she thanked me for the clothes I gave her (Abigail's old ones) for her new baby. Out fell a $20 Hyvee gift card! So now our grocery budget for the week is $30 and I can easily provide the meal for my in laws.

So yawn, yawn, why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to not just trust God with your finances, but give them over to Him. Here's the thing-Nathan and I are in no way struggling in your typical sense when it comes to finances. No, we can't afford vacations right now and we can't just go buy things whenever we want them. We are not starving by any means, but we do have goals-make a loving, safe home for our family; send Nate to grad school without taking out any loans;me stay home with our kids. And God still cares enough to give us light fixtures and double strollers. He cares about the details. I've had so much fun waiting on the Lord to see where He will provide next. Its almost like this crazy game where I try to imagine how He will come through, but then its always so random (winning the door prize!) that I can't believe it. Every month on paper our finances don't make sense and every month God comes through in the small and little things. And every month we let Him, we don't go out and panic and get more jobs. Instead we just bring our needs to Him.

After 5 years of marriage on a budget I would say that my list of how to do it would go like this:

1. Cash only
2. Eat less meat
3. Plan means according to only what is on sale
4. Give it all to God and watch Him come through

God wants to come through and provide for us but we have to let control go. Challenge Him, try relying on Him for your finances for a week, or a month. Go to Him first when you see you will need something. Be specific. Tithe. We never hold back tithing no matter how tight it is because the money is not ours in the first place. Giving it away always makes me less attached to it, even though it hurts some months.

What I desperately don't want readers out there to do is to roll their eyes at this post. "Sure, thats fine for you to trust Him with your light fixtures, but we have series debt, medical bills, etc." Please, if He can come through for us in the details and the small things, He can come through for you in the big things and He wants to. Trust me, I've been there when I've had more bills than money coming in for the month and God always came through. Give Him the stress of your financial situation. And wait for Him to come through, which is often the hard part.

Another thing I want to mention is our discernment to allow our parents on both sides to help us financially. My husband wrestled with it early on because he felt that as the man of the house he should be the sole provider and taking "hand outs" from our parents just felt juvenile or irresponsible. He took this to prayer and what God told him was "How can you accept things from your Heavenly Father if you will not accept things from your Earthly Father?" Ever since then we have humbly allowed our parents to help us financially. Its typically with big things-my grandpa left us a down payment for a house when he passed away. My parents gave us new hardwood floors as a house warming gift. Nathan's dad has lent us money for his grad school until we got reimbursed. Recently my parents gave us money to put with ours for a down payment on a new van. Its humbling because I would like to say we did this all on our own-but we haven't. The truth is that our culture tries to make us all so independent and that's just not How God works. The Trinity is not independent from one another, but a communion of self giving and receiving love. We are made in that image and so its only natural to rely on our family. We hope that because of their generosity we can one day do the same for our children.

So thats my story. God is showing me He cares, He can come through. How have you seen God provide for you? I'd love to hear stories!

Monday, October 20, 2014

So long Halloween

I tried, I really did. As a family we often talk about walking the middle road in all things. So as Abigail gets older and is more aware of Halloween we began to try to find that middle road. We didn't want to be Catholics that rejected it all together. There are some aspects of Halloween I like (dressing up, candy). After losing Caleb and having all the joy sucked out of life, Im a firm believer that if there is joy and you can celebrate, then you should because life is just too short. So we were trying to find the good and toss out the bad sorta thing-dress up, but keep it nice and simple, not bloody or sleazy (and yes Im referring to our 2 year old-there are some costumes ever for her age that are awful).

I'll be honest and say I was really excited for this year's Halloween season. I'm 3+ years out from Caleb's death and holidays are finally returning to more joy than sadness. I was excited for Abigail to dress up and actually get excited. I was looking forward to her face as she collects her bag of candy. Simple joys, but so precious to me because I'm always aware that they could be gone in an instant. I knew we wanted to try out an event in the area at a local Wildlife park. I had heard that it was scary, but that if you came between certain times it was geared towards little kids.

So we went-and we painfully paid the $20 out of our small 2 week cash only budget to get into the event. Looking at the map I got excited-there were train rides, a s'mores station, story telling, hay rack rides and trick or treating stations. These are what memories are made of, right?

First stop-the train. Abigail was very excited to ride but once we got going the whole trail was filled with awful Halloween decorations. And really, I should have expected it but I think I was picturing more "Fall" decorations than Halloween. Fake people hanging from trees, people walking along the trails with fake blood, witches and devils everywhere. It was awful and the whole time I wanted to shield her eyes-because it was all so demonic and nothing "fun" about it. But I thought "maybe its just the train ride, on to better things!"

And so we went to the tick or treating stations. There were 12 and each one had a little themed station that you walked through after getting candy. I think 11 out of 12 were themed "cemeteries." As we walked through there were fake tombstones everywhere with phrases like "worm food now," or "Rest in Pieces." And at first I had to laugh, because the irony is that this event was located right by the cemetery Caleb's is buried in and we were actually planning to go visit him after this event. So fake cemeteries all leading up to the real one we would walk though at the end of the night.

As we went through more of the stations I got more and more mad. WHY is this how we decorate for Halloween? WHY is it acceptable to put phrases like "worm food," and "rest in pieces" as a decoration? Because its not some made up thing or joke-its the reality. Caleb's body is in pieces  and is getting eaten by worms. I challenge any mom out there to stop and think about that happening to their child and try to still function. I hate it, I hate death. I don't need more reminders of what is actually happening to my baby. By station 4 we were done. We started just getting the candy and skipping the walk throughs. We left the whole event shortly after and the wave of grief it brought on was hard.

We made our way to the actual cemetery and it was like a breathe of fresh air. It was peaceful, calm, beautiful at sunset. A little hard because since the last time we visited, two more babies have been added to the group. But you know what the phrases on the tombstones in a real cemetery say? "Behold I make all things new," "Do not let your hearts be troubled, you have faith in God, have faith also in me." " Let the children come." Hopeful phrases that calmed my heart and reminded me that while my son's physical body is decomposing, his soul lives on, that death is not the end.

In conclusion-Halloween Im just done. There is no reasonable way I can teach my children about a hopeful death while participating in the scary death side of things. So for now we still plan to trick or treat each year and dress up, but no more events or secular things like that. How can I teach Abigail that cemeteries are not a place to be feared and that death has been conquered if I let her participate in  this idea that death is "spooky?" The whole thing felt demonic and I wanted to run as far away from it as possible.

Alright, rant over. For me and my family we will be celebrating a Fall theme with the one night of trick or treating thrown in. I wonder how many others who have lost someone close struggle when they see the morbid Halloween decorations? And please stop with the skeletons-enough! They are the bones of a dead person, not some cute costume to dress your baby up in. Again, rant over.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What a weekend!

This weekend Nathan and I led our pregnancy retreat for couples in Des Moines, Iowa. It was a special weekend because not only did we get to lead the retreat, we also did our first ever training session with the diocese so that they could lead the retreats in the future without us there. AND the best part of the whole weekend were our hosts that we stayed with for 2 nights. Maria and Mark (their blog here) generously opened their home to us and fed us delicious food all weekend. I met Maria when she first e-mailed me after her daughter's stillbirth. For over 2 years we have been e-mailing back and forth. Now, finally, we got to meet in person. It was one of those weekends where I got to step back and see God work, not only in our lives, but in the couples' lives that we ministered to. It was also great because anytime Nathan and I can evangelize together is energizing. It always reminds me of when we were on our FOCUS team together and brings back all those great memories.

So the weekend came and went, and now its Sunday night and I'm exhausted. This was our last "official" ministry event for probably the next year. We will hopefully be bringing home a baby in January, and Nathan finishes school next August. We feel God calling us to take a step back and work on some of the "behind the scenes" stuff for our ministry such as non-profit status, figuring out how to copyright  our curriculum, and working on some local pregnancy loss materials. I'm a little sad to take a break, but I know it's needed. We have done a lot since last March - radio interviews, two retreats, speaking engagements, and newspaper and magazine articles. Looking back over the last few months, I can see how God's hand has been opening doors for us left and right. I had someone comment that "the Lord is really blessing your ministry." And my first thought was "He's not blessing it, He's desperate for it." Not that God can be desperate, but I think He is giving favor to Nathan and I for this ministry because His heart is breaking for all those hurting from pregnancy and infant loss. It's a terrifying vineyard to do ministry in, and one that I often want to run from. But I know God wants us here, and that keeps us going.

So, look for some updates on our blog - over the next few months. And please continue to pray for us and whatever God leads us to do next in this ministry. One last thing - we worked closely with Deacon Joel this weekend for the training. Him and his wife write at their blog, Check it out if you do not know about!