Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oompa-Loompa Wisdom

I am white... not as an ethnicity (although technically that is true too)... but rather as a very pale, ghostly winterish shade of hiding under sweaters for the last 6 months white. I was especially white sitting next to my darling mother today who has just returned from a glorious beach vacation. "Wow, look how tan I am," she rejoiced as she held her beautifully golden arm next to my, what all of a sudden appeared to have turned bluish-white, arm. It was a very cool day here in Tulsa, so maybe that's why I appeared a little blue.... or maybe it's just my skin crying out for sunshine. So far, the distress signal has gone unnoticed as we have had rain everyday for the last two weeks. Will summer ever come?

Last week, as I was thinking about my brilliant whiteness and praying for summer, I decided to try to do something about it. I hate tanning beds and had recently watched a movie where they had gone for mystic tans. Of course in the movie (Bride Wars), the tanning goes horribly wrong with Anne Hathaway's milky white skin going an awful Oompa-Loompa-ish orange, but I felt optimistic about my chance of success. I decided to make an appointment for a mystic tan.

I organized with Matt to have the children and dressed in a hideous getup to protect my skin after the mystic tan. Apparently, very bad things will happen to your skin if you get it wet after mystic tan, and unfortunately for me, it was still raining in Tulsa. So, covered in a huge rain jacket, pants, long sleeve shirt, socks and shoes and no makeup, I arrived at the Tanning Salon. The teenager working behind the counter took me through the paperwork and then started on an extensive tour of the salon. I'll spare you the details, it was really only the ending that I remember anyway... the part where she says, "The best deal for you is to get a month membership because mystic tan only lasts for 5-7 days." 5-7 DAYS!!! I thought it would at least last for a month. "For how much?" I hesitantly inquired... "$30 for a single application. But you can join for a month for $75," the girl added cheerfully.

Now, I had gone to great lenths to be at this appointment. I was excited to have color on my skin, even if it was fake color. I had even been praying all week asking the Lord to provide for my mystic tan. It really was the desire of my heart, and I knew it was a small thing for the Lord. Yet as I stood there and realized the stupidity of paying $30 for a tan that would last for a week, everything became clear. "I'm so sorry," I said to the girl," but I need to cancel my appointment." I felt silly, I felt a little dissapointed, but I also felt really peaceful. And as I walked down the steps to my car, I felt the Lord speak these words to my heart, "See, I provided." I just started laughing. He did provide. Only, He didn't provide the money, He provided me with wisdom. God knew my real need, and He answered my prayer.

There are so many times when God's provision doesn't come in the form that we are expecting and asking. He is absolutely faithful to take care of His children, but sometimes His answer is to give us the wisdom to walk away from a situation that is just a financial drain. There are times when you absolutely need a financial miracle, but that miracle may come in the wisdom to handle your finances better. Or that miracle may come in the form of additional work. I love how God takes care of us, because He does it from outside of our box with the perfect view of the big picture of our lives. Who knows, in His perfect big picture of my life, maybe He knew that my skin would turn oompa-loompa orange with mystic tan, or maybe He just knew that the lesson that I learned through that experience was infinitely more valuable than a $30 tan.

Whatever the reason, I know that God was working for my good in all of it. I asked Him to provide, I gave Him the desires of my heart, and in including Him in that process, I allowed the miraculous to be part of the frivolous. After all, mystic tan is not high on the priority list in the budget. It's actually a total waste of money, but God didn't say "No." He could have put a check in my spirit about it, but He didn't. Rather, He took the opportunity to teach me a wonderful lesson of faith and His provision, and I left that salon closer to Him and rejoicing that He had provided. I wasn't tan, but I was totally content.

Even today, as I looked at my blue-white skin next to my Mom's golden glow, I remembered again His "provision" at the Tanning salon and it just made me smile. Maybe God likes me pale... well, that seems like a stretch. I think He just likes me listening, and asking, and including Him. He likes being in relationship with me, and in that relationship comes everything I have need of, whether that is peace, or patience, or finances, or grace for a situation, or wisdom. He doesn't just GIVE me what I need. He IS what I need and in relationship, He gives me Himself for my need. That is why God isn't a vending machine, and faith isn't making out my Christmas wish list of desires. Faith is believing that He IS and that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) In other words, I believe in God and His goodness, and He comes into my situation and brings His goodness for my needs. He doesn't "reward" us with stuff. He "rewards" us with Himself.

So even though I didn't get what I thought I wanted, I got more of God. I had a great laugh feeling His peace and presence all the way home from the tanning salon, and my heart was totally happy. I learned a wonderful lesson and my heart opened up in trust even more. He is so good and He only gives good gifts to His children. Who knows? Maybe His good gift to me was that my Mom didn't lean over today and say to me, "Wow, look how brown I am next to your orange arms." When I needed His provision, He provided me with wisdom, and I think there may be some areas where that is God's answer for your need too. Because without His wisdom, we are all just one bad decision away from Oompa-Loompa land.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spreading Your Budget Too Thin

Is there such a thing as having a budget with too many categories? It sounds funny because many of us DO have extra categories that we would love to be able to fit into our budget. But what if you are able to fit them? I know that in the past that I have often mentioned to be specific and realistic with your list of expenses. If you are spending money on something, it is important that it is included in your budget, or it will be going on the credit card and creating debt. However, there is a difference between a budget and a wish list, and I want to talk about that today.

Recently, a lady was talking to me about how tight her budget is. "I just don't have much wiggle room," she complained. But as we continued to talk she revealed that she has categories for everything in her budget: her hair, getting her nails done, her house keeper, Christmas, vacations, birthdays, anniversary, yard work, plus all of her bills. Honestly, her "budget" sounded like my wish list. She had planned for everything thinking that she was being smart with her budget, but had left herself with nothing left over. Now, she has the funds to be able to do that; however, she has also maxed out her budget to the point where she feels like she has no money (yes, I know that may sound crazy to some of you who would die for a manicure or even a vacation, but to others it will make perfect sense... so hang in there.).

The issue here is that she has come to view the optional, fun things that only come from abundance as mandatory for her life. By putting these "extras" into her budget she is giving them a place of importance that she may feel is valid, and yet they really are not essential. Sometimes you can forget that spending that money is optional just because you have it set aside for that purpose.

For instance, instead of looking at her budget as tight with no wiggle room, she might consider adjusting some of these optional things. She could drop her weekly manicure, or iron her own laundry and thereby cut back on her dry cleaning budget, or even reduce her savings for Christmas (and then spend less at Christmas). I feel like I am picking on her, but many times we are all guilty of thinking that a certain thing is just not "optional". One of my dear friends insisted to me while I was doing her budget that even though she was in debt, "Getting coffee is just not optional." I laughed with her, because coffee may not be optional, but buying a Starbucks Latte at almost $4 each several times a week is definitely optional.

We all get these blind spots that we think we just can't live without. However, when those blindspots are sabotaging your budget and causing you to constantly feel like you don't have enough, then it is time to re-evaluate what is actually important. That $4 Latte three times a week is an additional $50 a month that is coming out of my friend's budget! That is an extra $600 a year that could be going towards her debt. It is funny because when your perspective changes, everything becomes optional.

Even if your budget is tight and it seems impossible to squeeze in anything else, there still may be areas that you have locked yourself into "having" to have, that are really not neccessities. Another friend of mine insisted that she just had to have money for eating out. "You could save a lot of money by cooking at home," I suggested. I could tell by the look on her face that no matter what I said she was still going to do what she wanted to do. Eating out for her had become a "neccessity", yet if she really was as tight as she said she was, then she would have seen eating out for what it is: a luxury. So.... tight, but not that tight :)

And that is exactly my point. If you feel like your budget is tight and you are always barely making it then you may need to give yourself some more "wiggle" room at the expense of your luxury categories. I am not even suggesting that you cut them out all together. One Latte a week would still reduce your budgeted amount by $35. Or perhaps, have your home cleaned every other week, or even once a month. How about limiting yourself to only eating out for lunch ~ a time when many restaurants reduce their prices for the lunch menu, you are less inclined to order as much as dinner, and thus your bill will be significantly lower? That way you can still get the flavors you love and free your budget up as well. If you are already paying for a cell phone, you may consider cancelling your home phone number? Most people are using their cell phones more these days, and that extra $25 a month (at least) for a land line, may well be a luxury that you will never even miss.

Along these lines, I have a confession to make: I don't have a hair budget (or a nail budget for that matter ~ although that would be lovely... and stupid for me... I have three children after all. My nails are constantly destroyed). It is something that I would love to add into my budget, but there just isn't room at the moment. We have prioritized our budget and really the only place that that money could come from is savings, and I am not willing to do that. So, when I need my hair cut I just have to believe God for the money for my hair.

And you know what? He is wonderful at taking care of me. He knows my needs and is the one who is providing for me, whether through my husband's work, or my side work, or whatever the source... it all comes from His hands. Every time I need a haircut it is an opportunity for me to believe God and see His faithfulness. You may also need to cut some of your luxury items out of your budget and just start specifically believing God for His provision for those items. Can I encourage you to then wait for His provision and don't put it on the credit card. It may just be a great lesson in faith and in seeing the faithfulness of God, or His faithfulness may be revealed in you not needing that luxury as much as you thought you did.

It is wonderful to have a budget, but it is also OK to leave things (especially things that are Luxury) out and then IF you need those things you can pull that money from your Gift budget, or Entertainment budget, or even from Clothing money. I am not saying to put it on credit card, or to be foolish about things that you regularly need and that need to be included in your budget. I am just saying that there is such a thing as spreading your budget to thin, and in that thiness it often becomes unlivable. Giving yourself a little bit of wiggle room will often stop that burn out and the spending free fall that often comes after budget burnout and that lands you back in debt.

Instead of labeling your Latte budget as "Latte budget", how about "Free money". Sometimes just changing the title may help your heart to relax in what you have to spend and in not feeling so tight. It may seem like "semantics", but giving yourself permission to spend that money on other things than Latte's (and then having the boundary to stop spending when the envelope is empty) can really help your heart to keep going with budgeting. It may be a choice like, "Do I want to be able to buy my coffee out next week, or do I want that new book." You may decide to check it out from the library instead of buying it, or you may decide that you can make coffee at home next week. But in that freedom to choose and to wiggle, you will feel freedom. You are still within your budget, but you aren't locked into too many itemized categories. Call it all Free Money or Entertainment Money instead and then wiggle away :) Or you may just decide that you don't need the coffee or the book, and instead you put that money into savings. And that is the whole point.

Your budget is a guide to your financial journey. It should never be prison, so don't get locked into too many categories that only seem essential. Determine the categories that actually are essential and then put more money into savings. After all, budgeting isn't just for your wish list of wants today, it is for your dreams for tomorrow. and I promise you that when you are able to put down the cash deposit for your new home, or pay for your children's tuition to university, or take your dream vacation... you won't miss the Latte's at all.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Outside of My Box

This past Tuesday, I had a divine appointment. It just so happened it was with my hair dresser. My hair dresser is a wonderful girl named Claire. One of the things I love about Claire (besides her wonderful skills with hair) is that Claire lives outside of the box. I have the feeling she always has. When I first met her she had pink hair, and this wonderfully spunky attitude. But underneath her unconventional exterior, Claire has faith like a giant.

She told me at this past appointment that her friends are always suprised that she is a Christian. "Why are you suprised?", she asked a lost friend recently. "I've just always felt accepted by you, not judged," her lost friend replied. In my opinion, Claire is the perfect missionary. She is full of love, anchored in her relationship with Jesus, and absolutely real.

So, I was sitting in her chair, and she starts talking to me about God's provision in her life. Her car broke down last week and she had to put $700 into repairing her car. Thankfully she had that money in savings, but it was money she was going to use towards attending her brother's wedding. So, she simply turned to her heavenly Father and asked Him to provide. When I sat down in her chair, she had just gotten off the phone with her brother who told her that he wanted to pay for her ticket to come to the wedding! "You don't know how extremely serious my brother is about money. This is totally a miracle." I completely believed her.

God has done incredible miracles for Claire. She has just been through one of the worst years of her life after surviving a heart breaking divorce and her Father's unexpected death (she is only about 30!). She has a son and is now raising him as a single Mom. And yet even in all of the heart break, I still see God's smile all over her life. And so does she.

As she was rinsing my hair, she started talking to me about being a giver. "I used to be a hoarder. I would worry about needing it later. What if I run out? What if I don't have enough? But you know what? I would just end up never using it. The clothes would end up being out of style, or it would just sit in a closet. Now, I just look for opportunities to give things away. It's amazing, because I will give a purse away, and God will give me an awesome purse instead. It just makes you want to keep giving, because God keeps giving."

As I listened to Claire I felt God say to me so gently, “I am not in your box.” I honestly wanted to cry. I felt His peace come all over my heart, and the tension that I have been carrying about our finances melt away. Until that gentle reminder from an unexpected source, I hadn’t realized how much I had let go of my Father’s hand and become dependent on my own resources to meet my needs.

Matt and I have started a new business, and though the business is going well, it is still hard going. This past month has been especially tight financially. I do have a wonderful plan for living on a commission based income (which really does work). However, sometimes things happen outside of our plan. There are things that no matter how hard you try to cram EVERYTHING into your budget, will still surprise you. As they say: life is full of surprises. Unfortunately, surprises often happen outside of our plans, beyond our budget, and outside of our box. Fortunately, God does not live in our box. He is not contained within our budget and He is not limited by our income in His ability to provide.

As Claire began to cut my hair she said to me, “Tracy, God knows exactly what you need. Just ask Him. He will provide.” And in that moment, I realized that I have done a lot of juggling with my budget, a lot of thinking about my finances, but I haven’t actually asked God specifically for our needs. Many times we ask God to provide in general, but there is really something amazing about praying about the specifics. It’s almost like we target our faith rather than just casting it out there for whatever. So, as she blow dried my hair, I asked God for His provision for my much needed Dentist appointment. I asked Him to provide for the other things that have been on my heart. And I asked Him what I could give away that I have been hoarding.

And in that surrender, I felt faith arise inside my heart. Jesus said in Mathew 7:11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Sometimes we get so locked into our boxes that we forget that there is anything outside of it. We forget about our wonderful Father, and as a result we lack simply because we have never asked.

So this week I have been asking, and I have already seen his amazing provision (outside of our budget). He provided for my hair appointment (What an awesome blessing!). And even for my dentist work through some side night gigs that Matt got at the last moment. I have seen God’s hand this week, and I too have felt His smile again. It has been such a good reminder because no matter how much I plan, I scheme, I work, I earn… God is not in my box. And thankfully, He’s not in yours either.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Lesson in Trust

How ironic that I celebrated my 1 year anniversary of this blog by not blogging for two weeks? I can hardly believe that it has been a whole year. Honestly, I have really missed writing lately. There seems to be so many other things fighting for my time and my attention... cute, cuddly, hungry, sticky things during the day. At night, it's just finding the balance between time with my sweet husband, my part time job, cleaning up from the day, laundry, taxes, (did you notice I skipped right over the 15th of April and tax season?), helping Matt with our new business, and the wonderful world of blogging. It's all been a little much and consequently I haven't been writing. I haven't been working on my book either.

There has been a lot of other things going on in the Jones household, and I am going to talk about them as I go along. God has been teaching me a lot lately. A lot about faith. A lot about His goodness and trust. A lot about me.

Have you ever noticed that lessons in trust are not easy lessons to learn. I remember in university doing this "trust excercise". It was supposed to help build teamwork and confidence in your team mate. You would stand with your back to your team mates and fall. You had to trust that they would catch you. I remember standing there when it was my turn and thinking, "I don't know these people at all." I didn't really doubt that they would try to catch me. They weren't mean (as far as I knew). I just doubted if they would be successful in their efforts. Would they put themselves in harms way if it looked like I was going to hit the floor? Honestly, I hated the trust excercise. I never did hit the floor, but I didn't like being out of control. I didn't like trusting strangers. I really didn't like that I felt scared.

Unfortunately for me, I think there are remnants of the trust game throughout our lives. So many things are beyond our control. So many times it seems like we are falling backward only to find the arms of our wonderful God, gently catching us and making our world right again. This last month has felt like that for me. I have felt a little like I was falling blindly, praying for Him to catch me, and when He finally did this past weekend I just wanted to weep in relief and surrender.

Why do I doubt His faithfulness? Why do I question what extreme He would go to to catch me? Is is posssible that I still don't know Him for who He really is? Do I still not know the incredible love that He has for me? It is only when I lose sight of His goodness that fear creeps in. But as He rights my world once again, I feel foolish for ever doubting Him. I regret the wasted moments that I gave to fear instead of to trust. I may not have known or trusted the other students who were given the task of catching me, but I do know my wonderful God. And He is big enough for me.

Which totally reminds me of this Geico (insurance) commercial which cracks me up every time. So since this took kind of a serious turn, here is a little humor for you at the end:

Thankfully, with God it is the other way round.
God bless,