Friday, July 30, 2010

Times They Are A-Changin' & Favorite Photo(s) Friday

The fact that today is already July 30 blows my mind! Ever since returning from our travels to the Homeland, things have been in hyperdrive. More evenings than not are spent socializing, attending meetings (my husband, not me), discovering new hobbies, and trying to keep our dogs at least mildly entertained in between going here, there and everywhere. We are daily reminded that this is a very uncertain season, but in that I pray we continue trusting in and depending on the Lord for wisdom, patience, and guidance~

We attended a get-together this past Tuesday to bid farewell to yet another couple who are moving on from Louisville and our church family. I only wish we could have gotten to know them a little better through our small group and other times of fellowship, but the time we have shared has been sweet. Both husband and wife are such glad and willing servants to others, and I know that they will be such a blessing wherever the Lord leads them. They are moving back to Austin where they are from in hopes of finding job and ministry opportunities there. The gathering on Tuesday was personally bittersweet as I was reminded that my husband and I aren't currently among those with set plans of when and where we are going next. For reasons still unknown to us, we are still in Louisville and searching for a cheaper place to live here in the city, rather than scheduling a time to move away due to a ministry opportunity.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."~Jeremiah 29:11-13
Make me to know Your ways, O Lord;
"Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day long."~Psalm 25:4-5

This coming weekend marks a significant turning point in the life of our church. I mentioned in a previous post that our pastors were in discussions regarding a potential merger with another local church. After months of prayer and transition meetings, we will be having our first worship service this Sunday under our new church name. Our pastor will still be the lead preaching pastor, and I will still gladly assist the lead worship pastor in leading the music on Sunday mornings. In addition to the anticipation of what's in store for us as a church body, my husband is also going to be teaching the youth this Sunday! In all of the transition team meetings he has attended, we weren't expecting to be told that the congregation we are joining with has around ten students ranging from ages 11-16 with no dedicated teacher. Is this why the Lord has had us linger for longer than we had anticipated? Maybe, but regardless of what we don't know, what we do know is that my husband has been given an opportunity to teach. I am eager to see what comes of this open door to leading students, and personally thrilled that he is finally going to be able to exercise that gift of teaching I love so much about him! (And I might have jumped around the room when he first came home and told me he was going to be teaching...just maybe.)

In the midst of this season of changes and uncertainties, my husband and I couldn't think of a better time to try out new hobbies! My newest hobby, thanks to my lovely church friends, is crocheting. Several friends have already been either crocheting or knitting, so I thought I would give the bandwagon a try. Lessons learning in my attempts? 1) Just because you're skilled at one craft (i.e. scrapbooking) does not mean you will magically perfect another craft on your first attempt! 2) Crocheting is good for one's personal sanctification; an excercise in extreme patience and taming the tongue! And while I have been sitting on the couch at night, cursing the yarn and needle in my hands, my husband has been busying himself at our craft table. On any given night of the week when we don't have an event planned, you will find him at the craft table surrounded by paint supplies and an army of miniatures. He purchased these miniatures to paint, which are also part of larger and complex tabletop game. This is something he has wanted to invest in for years, and the game is one that can be played with just one other person or an entire group of people. Allow me to boast about my husband for a moment - I have been amazed at his skill! He is able to take a paintbrush and make these figures come to life! He's offered for me to try my hand at one, but I just know I would make a royal mess out of one of those 25mm miniatures - so I just sit back impressed at his work :)


In conclusion to this slightly schizophrenic post, I want to share a song that has been playing in my head throughout the week. As we take this season of waiting a day at a time, I am increasingly more aware of my desperate need of grace. And rather than praying for more grace, I have asked the Lord to make me more aware of His grace that is sufficient and abundant for today's every need. He gives more than I am often aware of and is good to show me such need:

In every station, new trials and new troubles
Call for more grace than I can afford
Where can I go but to my dear Savior
For mercy that pours from boundless stores.
CHORUS: Grace upon grace, every sin repaired
Every void restored, you will find Him there
In every turning He will prepare you
With grace upon grace.
He made a way for the fallen to rise
Perfect in glory and sacrifice
In sweet communion my need He supplies
He saves and keeps and guards my life...
To Thee I run now with great expectation
To honor You with trust like a child
My hopes and desires seek a new destination
and all that You ask Your grace will provide...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Overcoming the Money Funk ~ My Financial Testimony (So Far)

Upon receiving the call from the car place last Friday afternoon, I sent my husband a text with the news:
"Well, they found more wrong than just the brake pads...After all parts and service, it's going to be about $350..."
He immediately called me at work to ask how I was doing and if I was okay with the amount. Whether or not you pay with cash, check, or throw it on the emergency credit card, $350 is no small chunk of change (at least not in the minds of recent seminary grads!). After hearing the tone in my voice when I assured him I was fine and we would just have to take the hit, my husband who knows me so very well was quite surprised at my level of calmness. In the midst of a season when we are on a tight budget with one income, more than likely moving apartments to one less expensive in November, him searching on an almost daily basis for church postings, I didn't snowball into what we have affectionately come to know as "the money funk."


For quite some time, years perhaps, I have viewed the idea of a financial testimony as something one can't declare until they have arrived at the end goal (whatever that end goal may be). I would hear stories of individuals and families reaching the enormous goal of getting themselves completely out of debt, and would think to myself, "Hopefully some day my husband I will have a story to tell, too." Call it the results of my upbringing or the fruits of an ungrateful and worry-filled heart, but I have always been a "glass half-empty" kind of girl and very short-term thinker. If I'm faced with something unexpected, especially something higher in cost than seems affordable, my immediate inclination is to downspiral into "the money funk." Definition: my reaction is panic rather than calmly thinking things through, freaking out rather than exhaling, and trusting (believing) in that moment that the Lord is our Provider and is sovereign even over this financial matter.


While there are definitely long-term goals to work towards and achieve, my perspective on the here and now has been shifting recently. Through the small goals achieved, through taking financial matters one day at a time, through maturity and trusting Him more with each passing day, I have learned that I am already in the midst of a financial journey and testimony! My gratitude for my husband and his perspective on finances and debt has deepened as he has been such a calming factor when I am prone to react with anxiety. I have also realized more than ever that we can derive so much wisdom and encouragement from others who have made the financial decisions (both the wise and unwise they have learned from) that have led them to where they are currently and what they hope to accomplish in the near or distant future. Through putting all of this sound advice together, spending extensive time confessing my lack of faith in the Lord, submitting my selfish and limited perspective to Him, I have come a long way from where I was! Below is a list of things I have gleaned from others and learned during this journey thus far. Keep in mind that my husband and I still have debt and we are still far from where we would like to be, but these pointers have been of significant help for me to keep in mind as I take things one day at a time:

1) Don't become overwhelmed and paralyzed with the total amount - Breaking it down helps begin setting and achieving those smaller goals. And for those who have control/anxiety/stress issues and struggle with daily trust in the Lord, let this one speak for itself. Trust Him and be a faithful steward of what has been afforded to you. This is a daily journey.

2) Remember that there are always others who are much worse off than you - my husband reminds me continually (sometimes daily) of all we have to be thankful for, for all we have that we don't deserve!

3) Snowball technique - The snowball technique helps break down the total debt by paying off the amounts from smallest to the largest that you owe. You might have to consider varying interest rates with this one; you might be paying off your smallest debt while another one is accruing interest at a pace that may cancel out all your efforts! Example: the principle I still owe on my car is similar to what I once owed on my credit card. I focused on the credit card because the interest on my car payments was both fixed and a lower percentage.

4) Set aside a certain amount in savings whether big or small - For some individuals, the task of setting aside a lump sum is more achievable in the short-term than it is for others. For us, savings and being in seminary didn't exactly work so well together... My goal was to get a small amount into our savings account and gradually add to it even if in small increments. Some months that small increment was maybe $15-20, while other months it was $50-75. Although our savings account is still meager compared to some (most), I am comfortable with the dollar amount and know that we can pull from it for emergencies if necessary.

5) Itemize your income tax return - So the first year I received a pretty nice income tax check in the mail, I didn't know what to do with it! I was overwhelmed and stressed out about not blowing it on something unnecessary. Thankfully, my husband intervened and we walked through some of the things we wanted to purchase, as well as some small debts we wanted to tackle. After applying what I learned then to this year's income tax return, not only were we able to pay some things off, but I was able to put a chunk in savings and contribute to our health savings account! Even if you think you're being too meticulous, itemizing will get you much further than just buying something on a whim or not thinking through the other specifics of your current finances.

6) Do your research on a reputable, pre-approved credit card - Oi...I'm still suffering the consequences of my first experience in getting a credit card. In my immaturity, I did not do my research, did not ask questions to those older and wiser, and ended up getting a credit card with a horrible interest rate and embarrassing rewards program. I kept roughly the same balance for about four years, only able to pay the minimum monthly payments, and continually felt like I was sinking further into debt quicksand. Thankfully, I was recently able to get approved for a better card which came with a special feature of 0% on balance transfers and purchases until next year. For my personal financial status, this is not only helping me pay off the balance much faster, but my credit score increased - again, do your research! Depending on your financial history, opening up another line of credit might actually hurt rather than help your credit score in the short-term.

7) Take the advice of others, weigh their opinions, and seek wisdom in applying to your own situation - Especially if you're young like we still are and feel like a kid trying to figure out this whole adulthood thing, set aside the pride and ask questions! Family or friends can provide such valuable wisdom! Whether overcoming their own financial mistakes, setbacks that were outside of their control (i.e. medical bills), or those who have been financially wise for most of their adult life, we can derive so much wisdom and encouragement from those who have gone before us!


So this is where we are at thus far. This financial testimony comes from a woman who still lacks maturity, is still figuring things out, and is still in debt. However, even slight progress is progress! I am more at peace with where we are at financially, and I can actually pinpoint areas of focus now, whereas just a year ago all I could see was this overwhelmingly high dollar amount far out of my reach. While each day comes with its own struggles, I know that our financial testimony can speak of the Lord's provision over our lives. My medical bills could have been much higher, my undergraduate loan could have been much higher...I could go on and on. My perspective is shifting from one was characterized by continually reacting in fear to one who is daily learning to trust Him and learn what it means to be a wise steward of what He has given. Mine and my husband's financial testimony is part of a much greater story, and that alone is enough to change one's outlook~

Thursday, July 15, 2010

15 on the 15th ~ Memories from the Land of Bluegrass

As a recap of our trip from bluegrass to bluebonnets, I was originally going to post a "Thursday Thirteen," but couldn't keep the list narrowed down! I finally worked the list down to 15, so I decided to stop there. This is by no means an exhaustive list of my favorite memories from our trip to Texas, but highlights the those that will always come to mind when I think back on our time spent with friends and family:
1. Stopping to buy shoes in Memphis because my husband didn't bring any
2. The very first night of our trip - my aunt boiling a pot of hot water on her stove for me to stand over with my sinus-infected head, and my uncle throwing in some Vicks's Vapor Rub which ended up filling the whole house with its minty aroma
3. Swimming with Nali who apparently believes herself a water rescue dog
4. Time spent with the Panda Family - the kind of time with friends when you just pick up where you left off, as if you'd never been apart
5. Reuniting with friends who date back 10 years, and meeting some new who didn't feel like strangers

6. Almost two hours talking with my brother face-to-face, amazed at the growth and progress I see in him
7. Tex-Mex & Steak (they can go together since both are of utmost importance)

8. Wearing my husband's deodorant for five days because I thought I left mine at home, only to discover it in the bottom of my suitcase six days into our trip
9. Traveling with my mother-in-law to four different Walgreens locations in search of the perfect Victoria, TX t-shirt

10. Sitting with my husband's grandmother for over two hours looking at old family photos, some dating back to the 1950s or earlier

11. Meeting my mom's horse, Endy, only to spend more of our time with his buddy, Speck, since Endy was apparently less than impressed with the carrots we brought

12. Catching my first fish! (And being secretly jealous that my husband caught five)

13. Many morning coffees on back porches as if it's just an understood family ritual
14. Sweet time with family - the kind that seems to stand still it's so relaxing and you just don't want it to end!

15. 46 hours logged in Green Gale with my husband, my best friend ~ we shared hours of conversation and music (and no 25-lb. dog attempting to jump into the front seat)

The time away was so good for us. We savored every moment with everyone we were able to see and found it hard to leave each destination point. One thing we know for certain upon arriving back here after being gone: 2 1/2 years is far too long to be away from family! So Lord-willing, our next trip home will be sooner than December of 2012. Just days after we came back and were unloading the suitcases, I saw something an old acquaintance posted online, something that has stuck with me this week: remember where you came from, and be thankful. I was reminded of where I came from, reminded of dear friends and family who have been influential throughout the years, and yes, I came home deeply thankful. I returned to our "normal" here in Louisville with a deep and refreshed sense of gratitude for both mine and my husband's history. In some ways Texas will always feel like home. Regardless of where the Lord takes us in the future, our peace and rest have been renewed as we continue to wait for what is still so uncertain~