Friday, July 26, 2013

On Your Mark... Get Set... Jump...

When Matt and I started Jones House Creative four years ago, we leaped confidently off of a cliff from this wonderful place of assurance and strength. We had a lovely reserve in savings, a retirement fund that was growing, college savings for our kids, and I had confidently written a blog on finance for the past three years.

Matt and I had a plan.  We had a word from God in the direction of the business.  We knew it would be hard, but we were also excited about the adventure of it.  Like Abram setting out from Ur, we had this lovely confidence that God had gone before us.  We were heading to a new land, a new frontier of owning our own business.  But about one second after we jumped off of that cliff, we abruptly realized that the free fall from job security felt a lot more like dying than soaring to new land.  The looming disaster beneath us felt like the only thing we could see and it was hard to remember that there had ever been land beneath our feet.  Everything fell apart.

Interestingly, the same thing happened to Abram.  For Abraham it was friction with Lot, selfishness and sin that ended in the and Sodom and Gomorrah, famine that lead to the ugly "mix-up" with the Pharaoh of Egypt where Sarah was taken to his harem, and then barrenness for 25 years after God had promised, and the illegitimate child scandal, and abandoning the child and mother to die in the wilderness.  What a horrible journey!  How much he must have missed the nice safe cliff of Ur behind him.  We certainly did.

Yet the thing that has always astounded me about Abraham's story is Hebrews chapter 11:8-19 where every failure of Abraham is recounted, but seen through the eyes of faith...
"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called..."
"By faith he dwelt in the land..."
"By faith he waited..."
"By faith Sarah also received strength to conceive..."
"By faith Abraham, when he was tested..."

I look at the story of Abraham and I see hardship and failure, but when God looked at Abraham he saw faith.  So much so that Romans 4:18-22 says that Abraham "being fully convinced that what He [God] had promised He was also able to perform."  Abraham believed God and it was "accounted to him for righteousness."

What a summary of His life!  How different from my own perception of Abraham's life!  And how different from my perception of my own journey. I have to say that for the past four years, everything about our journey has felt like failure.  I can sugar coat starting your own business, but the reality is that there is a natural free fall when you step from the ledge of security to being self employed.

Unfortunately, if you are a perfectionist with a strong ideal of how things should go and what should be happening, the natural fall is going to feel like a lot like failure.  And for me, the by-product of that perfectionism and perceived failure was shame.

And shame has silenced me for the last 3 and half years.  Shame that I just couldn't figure it out, scheme it out, plan it out. Shame that my faith was so very rocked by the lack of firm ground beneath my feet.  Shame so crippling that I felt like I no longer had anything to say.

Imagine if that had been Abraham's response.  You see, even my response to Abraham's story is so telling of my position in my own story.  Shame keeps you from seeing the big picture of what God is doing because you can't let go of the last failure.  Shame paralyses you by trapping you in the past and the fear that it will happen again.

The story of our business has a lot of facets, but I have to say that until I learned about "shame resilience", I haven't wanted to share any of them.  And that "shame resilience" has come in large part with the realization that there is no perfect.  There is just our very real, very lived out story and that God truly has been with us every step of the way.  His view is a lot different than mine, and I think the whole time I was worrying about the ground below me and the shame of falling rather than flying, He has been championing our faith and marking each difficulty with a milestone of what He sees in our hearts, rather than our finances.

Every part of our journey through life is a story to be shared, and thanks to God's wonderful grace and learning to give it to myself as well, I am no longer ashamed to tell it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Home and Back Again

Three and a half years since my last blog!  That actually made me laugh out loud when I saw this tonight.  Three and a half years to start a business and get that tiny little frail sapling to be strong enough to carry our family.  Three and a half years of seeing miracles, and being stretched, and questioning and standing, and finally coming to a deep place of knowing our God and His faithfulness in ways we never would have before.

So... three and a half years later, we are still at the helm of our beautiful business, Jones House Creative.  Matt and I get to work with the most amazing clients and people.  We have beautiful people who work with us and for us.  We have so much to be grateful for.

I have wondered many times over the last few years if I should be sharing my journey as I walk through it, but every time I started to, I felt as if I were picking at a wound rather than sharing hope.  I felt raw and exposed, and like my faith has been shredded and healed, and then strengthened again.

I'm definitely not writing now to say that we have arrived, but I also think that I finally have some perspective on starting a business that is worth sharing.  Perspective that has been hard won, but I never would have gained it without both the pain and joy of the last three years.

So, I've been thinking and praying about how to start... how to share.  And I don't think I want to only talk about finance anymore.  I'm thinking that I need to be sharing, because my soul needs write, to share, to shine His light in really dark places like finances and debt... but I also want to write about the good and about life.

I think a change might be in order for this new beginning, and the great thing is that I know this great designer.  He has very little free time, but he has agreed to design me a pretty new home on the web.... my very own :)  Full of smiley faces and flowers.  I can't help myself.  Maybe He can call it and anniversary present for our 14th anniversary next month.  Love you baby!  No pressure.

In the meantime, I will be here, starting to unpack my suitcases from the long journey of getting a small business off of the ground.  I've found some treasures and some extra baggage we didn't count on finding or on keeping.

It's always good to learn, to grow, to wonder and then finally to return home.  I'm so glad to be here on this side of the journey and I'm so glad to feel my story again.  It feels like a spark inside of me has flickered to life again.  And I guess that what has truly returned my spark is not that I have arrived anywhere at all.  I'm not at an end.  It's not easy.  But it's that God spark to share what I have been given.  It's not much, but I have always known that my story is for sharing. I just had to travel a bit to find the words to tell it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

His Hidden Heart

Last winter was one of the most brutal that I have ever experienced in Oklahoma. The first frost came early in November and spring only made it's appearance in May. We had ice storms, snow storms, and lots and lots of cold rainy days. It was a very long, very hard winter, and it also happened to be one of the hardest times in my life. I went through an 8 month period of health problems where I felt like I was walking through thick, heavy mud each day. I would get up in the morning completely exhausted and barely have the energy to make it through breakfast before I had to sit down again. For a person who usually bounces up to meet the new day and lives passionately, it was a nightmarish existence for a while there.

In the midst of my health issues, we were in the most finacially challenging place that I had ever been. Matt was struggling to find his feet in his business, and it felt like we were desperately paddling to keep our heads above water. I used to joke to him that the reason I had stopped blogging was that all I had to give anymore was faith. I had no energy, no wisdom, no creativity. All I had was my Heavenly Father's promise that He was with us and would never leave us, and I clung to his hand like I had never had to before.

It was on one of those dreary, cold days of winter that I was coming home from somewhere. My heart was heavy, as it often was, and I was crying out to the Lord. As I turned onto my street I saw something amazing. We live in a neighborhood where every mature tree was cleared when they went to build the houses. It is one of the saddest things about our neighborhood to me. But just accross a little field that they left clear for telephone lines, there is a neighborhood with wonderfully mature trees. As I looked down my street, one of those beautifully tall trees caught my eye. It was naked from the ravages of winter and exposed in its boughs was the image of a heart. And my heart stopped.

I just began to cry, because for me, the message that God was sending me was loud and clear. In the midst of the winter of my life, His heart was being revealed for me. He loved me and was with me in my lowest of lows. And I knew in that moment that if I had never had a winter in my life, I would never see the depth of His heart revealed to me. God wasn't inflicting winter upon me, but as He so often does, in the time of desolation He was showing His faithfulness to me in a way that I will never forget.

All week this week I have been thinking about that tree. Fall is fast approaching here, and with the cooler weather, I have been a bit apprehensive that I would go back into what I went through last year. But everytime I see that tree covered in the beautiful green of summer, swaying in the cooling winds, I feel hope. And I feel a promise in my heart that no matter what comes, His heart is with me. In the glory of summer, it is the strength that upholds me. And in the barrenness of winter it is the revelation that carries me. The sight of that tree is like a sweet secret. I know what lies beneath, because in the middle of my deapest winter... God revealed His heart.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

... and back in again.

For some reason I decided to check my blog today. I don't know why because if I haven't been here, then no one else has either. However, just reading the title of my last blog made me laugh so hard that I just felt inspired to write. Actually, I feel inspired to write often lately, I just don't. So anyway, "Out of hybernation" seems like such a funny joke when I then proceeded to not blog again for like 6 months.

But I do have to say that the last few months have been such a wonderful contrast to the months before, that I do actually have the reserve to want to share my heart and thoughts with the world again. Definitely shocking.

I don't want to promise too much. For instance, don't start calling all your friends and neighbors and checking everyday. Maybe just sign up to follow me and then you will get email suprises in your inbox from me. But I'm not promising suprises either, so don't buy me a return gift just yet. Or you can just buy me a present as a bribe to write. I'll take that. But don't blow your budget to do it, because that would be the opposite of my mission and then I would feel guilt... but I probably would write a blog about you. So if that is your mission, then I am open to gifts :)

OK, I'm just being silly today. But I truly do hope that your budget is still working for you, that your home is full of peace, and that your bills aren't lying in a mountain somewhere. Just the thought of that makes me itch to come over to your home and help you dig out. But you do have two hands, a head on your shoulders (good or otherwise), and Fall is as good a time as any to wake up to reality and start again. Hmm... I think I may have written the last line just for me.

So, if I'm beginning again, so should you. It's time to get in there and figure out what your summer vacation really cost you, how to pay for your kid's Fall clothes, get a plan for affording Christmas this year, and escape from the cave you may have been hiding in. It's actually a lot less scary outside of the cave than it is inside the cave, especially if the bears sleeping with you are debt and financial hardship. Grrr... I think I'll go get my financial gun. I'll be write, I mean right back :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Out of Hybernation

Spring is in the air. My flowers are beginning to bloom. My whole world has turned green overnight, and I have finally decided to come out of hibernation.

We had so much ice and snow this past winter, it seemed like everything died and it was hard to even imagine that it used to be green. There were days when I would drive down the street and everywhere I looked was this interminable color of grey and bleak yellow. And at some point in the never ending winter, I think I doubted the spring. I lost hope, or rather let go of hope. I always knew where to find it again, but I just didn't have the strength to look.

Yet even in the bleakest part of winter, which by the way is not the snow. I actually love the snow with it's merry adventures, and winter gear, and hot chocolate afterwards. No matter when the snow comes, it feels like Christmas. The harshest part for me is when the snow is gone, but the ground is still frozen and dead and the temperatures have plummeted to unbearable lows. It was in those harshest days when I felt the winter creeping into my very soul. I lost my joy this winter. As if someone had siphoned the life from me, I couldn't seem to find the energy to keep going. I lost me.

At one point, as I starred at the grey fence which surrounds my yard, and the crushed yellow grass that surrounds my home, I felt as if everything would be right again in my world if I could just see beauty again. I remembered why I planted my rose bushes in the first place, and I craved their beautiful presence back again. But the winter wind kept on blowing, and my soul sank lower into it's snowy banks.

And even though spring has come again, as I look at my rose bushes, I see that they have fared a bit like my soul. My very most favorite rose bush died this winter. It was a Rio Samba and it looked like a firework display of color when in full bloom. Brilliant reds, oranges and yellows when it was blooming, and then the flowers would fade to pink and white as the blooms aged. The result was spectacular, and my heart is sad that it's gone. And in my low moments, I have wondered if some of the fireworks that make up me are gone too.

Every rose bush in my garden had to be severely cut back due to the cold. I have never had to do such a severe pruning as I have had to this spring. Every single bush suffered, and it just confirmed what I had felt all winter. As I suffered inside, they were sufferring too. They were supposed to be hibernating (or whatever it is that flowers do in winter), but parts of them were dying too. And I'm pretty sure that parts of me died this winter as well, or maybe it just feels that way.

Yet as I watch the shoots of life coming from the very roots of my roses, I can feel the stirring in my soul as well. My roots go down deep, I have survived this winter, and beautiful things are coming. I'm not the same person, but I also know that the roses in my garden that have survived this winter, will survive any winter. And somehow, I believe that the same is true of my soul.

I'm beginning to dream again. I want to write again. I want to work in my garden and plant plants. And the good news is (for this blog anyway), I'm ready to talk finances again. I think. But then again, I'm just a grumpy bear fresh out from hibernation. Maybe I should climb a honey tree or two and get back to you. Just kidding. I am considering a site overhaul, if I can get my sweet husband to work nights for me and design it. But he's in demand right now (Praise the Lord!!), so it might take a while.

In the mean time, I hope that spring has come to your heart as well. But if you are still waiting, I pray this will be an encouragement:

"To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal
...a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance
...a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace."
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

My prayer is that this new season would be a season of life for you and for me, a season of planting, healing, laughing and dancing. It's a good time to come to life and it's a great time to come out of hybernation.

In memory of my Rio Samba:

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Long Tunnel (part one)

Have you ever driven through a tunnel under a river? One of those long, long tunnels where all you hear is the seams in the road, and the fluorescent lights make the world turn a sick yellow color? At a certain point in the tunnel, the light from where you started from disappears, and if it is a particularly wide river, you may not yet be able to see where you are going. This is a great moment to NOT think about the amount of water pressing in on you or the little tiles popping off the walls as water sprays through. It's a great moment not to panic.
It's also a moment that perfectly encapsulates our financial world last year. I know I fell off the blogging cliff (so to speak) and many of you may of wondered where I went to. Well, I have been under the river, clinging to faith that the tunnel will end and trying very hard not to panic. It's kind of difficult to write in that place. It's difficult to write about the sunshine and roses and the beautiful secure place that you came from. And it's difficult to write about your yet unseen destination. I found that the only thing I could do was to trust my sweet heavenly Father who was in the driver's seat the whole time saying, "We're almost there, Tracy. I've got you. You're safe with me."
The beginning of our tunnel was the decision for Matt to go full time in self-employment with our business Jones House Creative. It was really exciting at the beginning (as all adventures are) and also very clear. From the start of the tunnel, we could see accross the river to the other side. We felt like God was leading us and the tunnel of self-employment didn't look at all scary. It just looked like the next step in the journey for us.

However, it was at about that mid-way point when reality of our situation set in. I don't think I actually panicked (that often), but I also found that the only thing that I knew for certain about finances anymore was that God had us. I didn't know where our next job would come from, or our next paycheck. I didn't know what we would do when our savings ran out, or even how we would pay for Christmas. It seemed in so many ways that we had picked the worst year to start a business. The economy was (and is) struggling and many companies are cutting their ad campaign budgets completely.

There were several moments where I just wanted to turn the car around and head back to the side of a salary and steady income. I know how to budget a salary. I know how to save money... but how do you budget and save when NO money is coming in? There is no budget that will work on a $0 income. At some point last year, we both realised that this is why people get small business loans to start their business. Starting a business is hard.

However, Matt and I have a commitment to not being in debt, so we decided that we would not get a small business loan, and we also decided to live within out means... no matter how small that means was. Either God was with us in the journey and was going to take care of us, or we were in the wrong tunnel. There were moments, when it really felt like we might be in the wrong tunnel, particularly when we had bills due and were waiting for a client to send their payment. There is so much about my plan for budgeting in self-employment that is excellent, but I have learned some amazing lessons this year which taught me that it didn't go far enough. For instance, having a budget as a guideline is wonderful, but if your client is two weeks late in paying, or even six months late, you need a contingency plan.

I now have a budget and a super trimmed down bare bones budget for months like that. I look forward to sharing all of the tips and insights that I have gained in the coming while. I feel like there is always a lesson to be learned in the journey of life, and if God has given you a voice or a pen, then pass that lesson on for the people that are behind you. It may only be the lesson that tile number 214,508 marks the half way point... but to the next person through that tunnel that information may be a life preserver.

We still are not on the other side of the river yet with Matt's business, but we are starting to see some signs of light. First of all, Matt LOVES what he's doing. He gets to be creative all day and his clients really love working with him and use him again and again. He has some corporate clients now and is doing consistent work for them. Ladies, I don't know about you, but there is so much that I will go through and even "suffer" to see my husband fulfilled and happy in his life. It truly makes the journey easier.

Secondly (or thirdly if you want to break up the first point), we were able to pay all of our bills last year, not go into debt and even to end the year with money in our savings! When we looked back on that fact at the end of the year, we were both amazed at the faithfulness of our God. It feels so tight and hard sometimes when you are going through the difficult times, but you always see God's hand in hindsight. I wish I lived with future hindsight. I would never worry. However, maybe that is what faith is anyway. It is knowing the end from the beginning, not because you can see it, but just because He said it is there.

And maybe that is the real secret to the tunnel analogy. It feels like a tunnel when you are constantly looking for an escape from your current situation. When will the end come? When will you be delivered from what you are going through? But if you change your perspective and embrace the fact that the journey of self-employment is really the destination... all of a sudden you aren't trapped under the water, you are celebrating the fact that you aren't drowning and are still alive.

Our family has food, we have a home, our bills are paid... the tunnel didn't spring a finance destroying leak. God was absolutely right when He led us into this adventurous tunnel and He's right when He says that He will keep us safe, but the challenge for all of us is choosing to believe Him before we get to the end. "Future hindsight", hmmmm, also known as trust, or faith (or foresight, as my husband pointed out, but I don't think that makes my point nearly so well). I think when we get to the end of the tunnel we may find that faith was the destination all along.

In closing I want to share a short story from Hebrews 11:7 in the Message Bible:
"By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn't see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God."

And from Hebrews 11:1,
"The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Toys in the Cot

Have you ever wanted anything so badly that you were willing to “throw all your toys out of the cot” to get it? You may not be familiar with that expression, but my Mom has used it for as long as I can remember to say, “a big fit to get your way.” Now when it comes to your money and that thing that you want is something that you want to buy, it may not take that many toys to get it. But the question remains, how hard will you push to get your way?

Now with a two year old, a four year old and a six year old in my house, I know a little bit about strong will, determination, and a lot about fits. It’s something I work with almost everyday: Training the will of a child to submit to guidance. It is so difficult to stay consistent in this very important lesson of childhood, yet I often think of the end result and that helps me in my daily effort.

One day, my son will be making a decision and will feel the heart of God cautioning him not to choose that path or buy that thing and instead of pushing to get his own way, he will yield. He won’t think of me in that moment, but I think often of him in that moment. For me, that is the true “why” in discipline and training. I’m not just training my children to hear and obey my voice. I’m training them to hear the Holy Spirit and to respond to His voice. If the only thing they learn is to submit to their own will and desires, they will fight the restraint that the voice of God sometimes brings.

In that moment when you are standing in a store, staring at the object of your desire, trying to justify the expense, coming up with all kinds of schemes on how to pay for it, or not bothering to scheme at all and just reasoning that you’ll put it on credit and figure it out later, desire is ruling your heart. It is a tricky moment. I encounter it often :) Unfortunately, I know you do to.

Sometimes, your desire clouds out all the other voices… reason, your budget, the Holy Spirit… and you buy it anyway and try to feel good about your decision. And then sometimes you stand there with that absolute disquiet in your spirit, and you have no idea why. You have the money, you want that item whatever it is, and your spirit is just absolutely saying “No”. Do you yield?

I have learned to, and a lot of it has to do with this story…

When my brother, Brad, was about 5 years old, my Mom, Brad and I were shopping in K-mart. My brother found this “wonderful” toy that he just had to have. He came to my Mom, full of desire, with the toy in hand. My Mom looked at his sweet face of longing and felt that deep groan (that every parent knows) when you realize that there is no way out but tears. She didn’t want to buy the toy and knew she needed some wisdom, so in that moment she just turned to the Lord and asked for it.

“Bradley,” she said to him. “Let’s ask God if He wants you to have that toy.” She took his hand in hers and then just simply prayed, “Holy Spirit, will you show Bradley if he is supposed to get this toy.”

“Now, I want you to go walk around and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to you.” My little five year old brother went traipsing off, toy in hand, to decipher the voice of God, while my Mom prayed like mad, “God, please, if you’ve never spoken before, please speak to my five hear old son!”

After a few moments, he returned. “Mom, I don’t hear anything.” My Mom looked in his little face and in her heart she knew that the Lord was wanting to take this moment to teach Brad a lesson. “Bradley,” she said holding out both her hands, “I want you to give me your toy in this hand. Now in my other hand, I want you to give me your desire.” So, my little five year old brother placed the longed for toy in one hand and then in pretend, placed his desire in her other hand. “Now, why don’t you try asking the Lord again and listening for what he wants to say.”

Brad walked away, but in just a few minutes he was back. A huge smile was spread across his face, and with absolute joy he said, “Mom, God said I’m not supposed to get the toy.” There was peace in that moment. There was sweet release from the hold of desire that comes with hearing the voice of God. Toy laid down, my Mom, brother, and I left the store that day without buying anything. My brother was just so excited to have heard from God. My Mom was just so grateful that God speaks to five year olds. And I had just learned the power of surrendering desire.

So what do you do in that moment of wrestling between the Holy Spirit and your desires?… You walk away. Leave it alone and surrender your desire. God doesn’t always say “No” and if you fear that He will then it will make it very difficult to trust Him. But here is the truth: God always has your very best at heart. He will never turn away from doing you good. And if He is saying “No” then there is an amazing reason that you may never know.

However, I have had times when I yielded to the “No” in my Spirit and had the thing that I wanted go on sale the next week. I have heard “No” and seen the Lord do miracles in giving me the very thing that I was going to buy. But I have also had Him quiet my heart and my desires so that the thing lost it’s lure for me and I was thankful that I didn’t waste my money on it. However, there are also moments when He says “Yes” and then boy is it fun to buy that thing. I always feel like when I have a big “yes” in my spirit like I got the golden stamp of approval and that item is going to last forever. If this is what He has for me, then whoohoo, it is going to be perfect for me and my family.

Obviously, I don’t wrestle over everything I buy. Honestly, that would be miserable and I would probably quit shopping… Ok, no I wouldn’t. But it is in the moments of submission when I have to know how good God’s heart is for me. It is in those moments when my soul is in conflict that I am so glad that my parents taught me obedience so that I can walk away and turn my desires over to the Lord. Now I’m not giving you a free pass if your parents didn’t teach you obedience. After all, it’s never too late to learn, and your heavenly Daddy is a much better teacher anyway. I just want to give you a tool for the next time you are tempted to “throw all your toys out of the cot” to get your own way. Walk away, let go of that desire, and surrender to whatever God has for you. It is always good, even if it doesn’t include the new car, or new throw pillows, or the newest released DVD.

Just like Brad, you may even find a joy in the “No” that you never dreamed was possible. It may be that hearing God’s voice and learning to trust him was the whole point anyway… the toy was just the object lesson. And as you stand there staring at your object lesson, it might help to realize that no matter how big your desire, God’s hands are big enough to hold it… you just have to take the simple step of surrender. Two hands… In the one hand: Lord, do you want me to have this? In the other: Lord, I’m giving you my desire. Powerful stuff. I dare you to try it. Who knows, He may even say “Yes” :)