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."