Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Power of a Favor

One of the things that is hard to gauge on the necessity scale is babysitting. Now if you are a non-parent don't run away yet, keep reading.

The Occasion

There are occasions that we could take Keller with us and skip the babysitter, usually we take him. Then there are other occasions that we could take him but it would be easier not to, one of those occasions is a Bible Study we attend. Although in the past we have brought him and kids are welcome to attend, we have usually opted to leave him at home. For us it helps us focus on the study and it helps him get to bed on time.

I never really thought about it being an extra expense. Up until recently we had a dear friend watch Keller at no charge. Now she is busy on the nights of the study and we are paying a sitter. Now don't get me wrong, we are choosing to have a sitter and it is someone who loves and cares for Keller so we are absolutely ok with this decision. What struck me about the situation was that we have never paid for the privilege of having this consistent time together.

I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to our friends who watches Keller and there are several. I can not say that enough. For the folks who have done this for us THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

The Challenge

It isn't until you are on the other side of the fence that maybe you can appreciate the things that people do for you. So here is the challenge -

1. If you are the recipient of a free service make sure to show your gratitude to the person serving you.

2. If you have the opportunity to provide a free service occasionally, do it. It means more than you know.

3. If you are the service provider please know that you are appreciated more than thanks or payment could ever show! Thank you!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And we're back!

After a few days of not updating I am back in full force. As a family we have just been busy. Friday was game night, Saturday we were all home together all day, Sunday was church and then the week was off and running.

During our time together we have spent some time reviewing our "normal" budget and also finishing up a book on values (Never Mind the Joneses by Tim Stafford). As a family we live what we would consider pretty simply. We enjoy being together as a family, eating meals together and just being a part of the local happenings in our neighborhood. However, we could live simpler. We could ditch the TV, scale back our cell phone plan and even cut back on entertainment.

To Cut Back or Not to Cut Back?

Why don't we? The simple answer is we don't want to and we don't have to. That sounds a bit selfish and it is. There are some things that we are privileged to be able to have or do. It becomes selfish when we want "our stuff" over being able to give generously to others, participate in our community and serve God.

The idea of this fast is to draw closer to God by giving up some of those extras. It has helped. We are able to see where we spend our money and see where we could be more active in giving generously, participating and above all our service and relationship with God. There are some things in our lives that we are being more intentional about and honestly, we aren't missing the extras near as much as we thought we would.

Be Intentional

So, take a look at the extras in your budget. Are there things that control you? Would you be wiling to give up those things if it meant being able to serve God with all your heart? Can you be more intentional about putting God first?

Luke 12:34
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Using the Pantry...

I will admit, I don't cook. The best reason for this is that my husband is a professional chef and I cannot compare (trust me on this one, his boxed mac and cheese tastes better than mine!). However, we are going to hang out with some friends and are taking an appetizer along. Steve has class so I volunteered to make the appetizer. After a long silence and deep breath he agreed that this was okay.


Now, in an attempt to stay out of the store and stick to the challenge I have been reviewing our food situation. There are things in our pantry that I have never heard of before and then there are the everyday items. There are also the "sometimes" items like cupcake wrappers and ginger candies.

After a search of the pantry I realized there is enough stuff in there for several different appetizers and none of them will take away from our regular daily menu. I am so excited. Who knew that those shelves had "extra" stuff on them!?!

I am once again reminded that we as a family have more than enough. We are not struggling to eat. What a great blessing to not only eat but have more than enough and be able to share it with friends.

The Challenge

So, go to the kitchen and take a look. Do you have extras? Are there items that you know you aren't going to use that you could share with others? Clean out that pantry! Plan a meal with neighbors or friends. If you don't feel like doing that, please take your nonperishable items to your local food pantry. There are plenty of families that would be happy to have your extras!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I like all things convenient. It is probably one of the reasons I like living in the city, everything is just around the corner. The only problem with this is that it allows me to spend all the time, there is always something to "grab" on my way home.

Well, today was my first collision with convenience. For the third day in a row I left my trusty headphones at home. On any normal day in my life I would just stop by Walgreen's on my way to work, spend $10 and go about my day. Not today. Today I just walked to work and didn't stop.

I learned two things about myself today. First, as previously noted during this fast, planning ahead pays off. If I would have put my headphones with my bag last night before bed I wouldn't have even been tempted to stop. This seems like a simple thing but in the evening when I am focused on getting the little guy to bed and making sure the house is in livable condition, planning ahead is not a top priority. I should work on that.

Second, I realized how much my surroundings impact me. This is not earth shattering in any way, but it is eye opening on this particular day. My surroundings enable me to by lazy and acquire more "things" than I need. Do I really need two pairs of headphones. Obviously not since I only have one set of ears.

So the challenge for today is to take a minute and really think about your surroundings. Where do you live? Where do you work? What conveniences do you use more than you should? You might be surprised like I was about how much you have conformed to the world around you.

As Christians we are reminded to be mindful of these things:

Romans 12:2
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Monday, August 18, 2008

In a Box...

This commentary may be a little off topic but has been weighing on me so here we go!

Several people have asked us if we have seen or felt the results of our fast yet. Well, to be completely honest our goal has been to let go and let God (yes as cliche at it may seem, it is true). We entered this fast time expecting to learn, nothing more. We expected to learn about ourselves in regards to our needs and wants and to learn about God and His desires. Now that I look back on that it is a bit limiting to tell God you only want to learn about needs, wants and desires and nothing else. As if seeing Him move in other ways was not allowed.

Well, once again God reminds us that He cannot be contained by our rules and guidelines. God showed up in a big way. We have done our share of learning and we are beyond excited to share all those things. BUT we have also been humbled by those who have given to us, blessed by those who have shared with us and re-energized in our exploration of God's word. All things we did not expect but are grateful to have.

So, next time you commit to seeking God be preapred, when you seek you will find, even if it is more than you bargained for!

Just as Jesus said

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Matthew 7:7

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reaching Out...

Another one of the goals for these 45 days is to focus on others. When we laid out the guidelines we had in mind "our neighbor". That is a big guideline and encompasses just about everyone. I have been feeling overwhelmed by this portion of our fast and have spent some significant time thinking about it. How do you serve "your neighbor" and still uphold the other goals of the fast (most directly, spending)?

And the excuses begin...

I feel like we volunteer regularly. I am on a greeting team at our church and Steve and I co-teach a class once a month. We are generally helpful to people we know providing meals in times of need or helping out in other ways.

But what about people we don't know. The more I think about it the more I realize that this is an area that we are pretty weak in. We have a general sense of who our immediate neighbors are and what they do for a living, but we have never gone out of our way to serve them. Why? Well, I guess I always thought it took money but really, it takes time. It costs me nothing to make some cookies and drop them off to someone. Or actually set a date to have the neighbors over for dinner, we have talked with them about doing that after all. We have no difficulty with the introduction, it is the follow through where we are hung up.

Take Action!

So, that is what I am going to do. Sometime in the next 7 days I am going to go to our neighbors (Amy, Andrew and their son Owen) and get a date on the calendar for dinner. No more procrastinating and making excuses.

Is there something you have been putting off or just making excuses to not do? It's time to seize the day, for we know not how many we have left!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Answer is not always Yes!

One of the goals of our financial fast is to spend some additional time focusing on what God is doing. Besides additional time praying as a family I have also spent my morning commute doing some additional Bible reading. In an attempt to keep our goals front and center I wanted to share with you some things I have learned.

This week I have been reading about Solomon building the Temple. The Temple was amazing. If you have never read about the beauty of the Temple pick up a Bible and read 1 Kings 5 - 9, you won't be disappointed!

Sometimes the answer is No!

However, what really struck me is what happened before the Temple was built. Initially David wanted to build the Temple. God told David no, but told him that his son, Solomon, would be responsible for building the Temple.

1 Kings 8:17-21

17 "My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel. 18 But the LORD said to my father David, 'Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart. 19 Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, who is your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.'

20 "The LORD has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the LORD promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel. 21 I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with our fathers when he brought them out of Egypt."

With the completion of the Temple God fulfilled his promise to David.

Waiting for an Answer

Sometimes God says no, wait, I promise I have something else in mind. If God can tell David to wait and then faithfully fulfill His promise even after David's death, then why do I have such a hard time accepting that God does the same for me?

Our time spent fasting is about waiting. Waiting to fill our own desires, even if they are good ones like David's desire for the Temple, and faithfully listening to God. Right now we are waiting and I am encouraged that God will fulfill his promise to be faithful to our family, just as He was to David.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What is a necessity?

Webster defines a necessity as

1) The quality or sate of being necessary
2) Something necessary: requirement
3) Neediness.

During our fast we have had to decide what was a necessity. For us we have based that decision on definition 3) neediness. Do we need it? A lot of times the answer has been no and a few times the answer has been yes. Then there are the things that fall into a grey area.

Steve asked me "Since we are on this fast can I still get a haircut?" I immediately said yes. I didn't even think about it. But is a haircut truly a "need"?

What is a need?

Now maybe this seems nit picky. Maybe I am being an extremist and blowing things way out of proportion. So here were some things I thought about after the fact and what I determined.

- We could skip the haircuts this month and wait until the fast is over.

- Steve could get out the clippers and try to cut his own hair (which has some amount of risk involved).

- Steve does work as a chef and will need to wear additional head covering if he doesn't cut his hair.

- We do normally budget for things like this.

Around the World

What was still bothering me was that when I take a look at the word necessity and I can't justify a hair cut being a need. It does not nourish body or soul. You can always go another couple weeks without one. However, eventually you will have to get your haircut.

Weather it be a home cut or a salon cut, hair gets cut in every culture around the world. Maybe you don't trade currency for a cut, maybe rice or fruit but it is a basic human activity to be groomed according to cultural standards.

Next time you "need" something think about people around the world, maybe we all have a lot more in common than we thought!

Friday, August 8, 2008

From Good to Bad...

So maybe I am not a big fan of this fast. I went from feeling somewhat euphoric about it to being almost sad.

There are some things that our family loves doing together. From February - October we do baseball. Pitchers and catchers report, spring training games all the way through the world series. Steve is a die hard St. Louis Cardinals fan. And, our son will be too, this will be one area where he will have little choice in the matter.

That being said it is a big weekend. The Cardinals versus the Cubs in Chicago and we can walk to Wrigley Field. To top it all off someone we know has tickets for Sunday night and offered to sell them to us and offered up free baby-sitting. I came >this close< to justifying this purchase. "Steve and I could use a date night." "We haven't seen the Cardinals play all season." "Steve deserves the break from homework" (don't you like how I make it all about him!). It was not to be. I said no and stuck to it (reluctantly).

So what have I learned:

-I can say no. Not only can I say no I can say it politely and without putting anyone off.

-Steve is an optimist. When I told him his response was "I have homework to do Sunday nite." Way to keep things in perspective!

-There will always be other games. Sometimes I forget that the rush of excitement I feel about something is just a feeling.

The Rest of the Weekend

So instead of the game, what will we do? Well, I can almost guarantee the game will be watched. We also have small group that night and we will really enjoy seeing our friends after last weeks break. The time will be well spent and the game, well, GO CARDS!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I have a confession to make...

I have a confession to make. I am actually enjoying our journey. I know, I know. How can a person that is withholding extras from their life enjoy it!?! Well, it is easy to enjoy when it hits you that the extras in life are not what makes life better or worse.

For example, there is an ice cream place that we frequent in our neighborhood. (And when I say frequent think several times a week!). We haven't stopped by since we started our journey. And although a medium sized vanilla custard in a regular cone sounds wonderful, it won't change the outcome of my day!

What is fun about those trips it that it is a family occasion. We all get our shoes and hats and stroll over to the ice cream stand. Steve and I catch up on our day while Keller points out every dog we see and says "woof, woof" in the tiniest voice you've ever heard. THAT is what makes getting ice cream fun. Spending time enjoying each other and our peaceful little neighborhood with nothing else on our minds. I hope tonite after dinner we can enjoy a nice walk and just enjoy each other's company!

Take time to think about what makes your doing so fulfilling. I expect that if you think about it long enough you will find it isn't the event or the stuff you buy, but the people you are with.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Can you resist?

The Setup

If someone asks you out for dinner and you don't have it budgeted will you offer to cook instead? If someone asks you out for coffee are you comfortable ordering water? These are questions that I am asking almost on a daily basis now.

We live in a big city and people here go, go, go. In addition to being on the move, people here love to spend time in community. It is one of my favorite things about the city. I absolutely love getting together with friends and neighbors. However, getting together for most of the people we know includes spending a significant amount of money. Now $5 at Starbucks and $15 for lunch here and there is expected but what I am noticing is that these occasions are more than once a week and that not only adds up quickly but might take away from the idea of community.

The Question

If the underlying idea is to spend time with one another then why does it always have to be "going out"? What happened to dinner parties and game nights? Walks to the park and tea on the porch? Why do we feel almost embarrassed to suggest an alternative to "going out"? Simply, we are consumers. The city, my favorite magazines, even work tells me I am not enjoying life if I don't have big plans every weekend. If I am not out consuming something I am missing out.

The Challenge

So, that is today's challenge. When someone asks you to dinner think about inviting them over. When someone wants to grab coffee maybe grab a water bottle and take a walk at the park as an alternative.

As part of our fast we have to seek alternatives to going out without giving up the community. I miss those cups of coffee and dinners out and I will be glad when we have the flexibility to say yes to some of those things. But, I am learning that community is less about location and more about just being together.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Realizing how selfish you are is one of the most humbling experiences a person can have. This is where I am at this morning.

It is one thing to just "give up" something but it is another to focus on replacing that which you gave up with something else. That is a little confusing. I guess what I am trying to say is that this exercise of not spending and not focusing on me and trying to focus on others is a lot harder than I had originally thought.

For me it isn't so much the not spending that bothers me (after all, that extra dessert that I am not having is a good thing!). For me it is difficult to shift my focus to something else, which is part of this 45 day journey.

The first time I experienced this was the birth of our son. It was a huge adjustment to go from doing what I wanted to being on a schedule and meeting the needs of an infant. Now, 15 months later, we have fully adjusted and I can't picture our lives any other way. Adjusting to having an infant to care for didn't happen over night. It was several weeks of trial and error and learning and relearning.

So perhaps that is our lesson for today. The ability to stop being selfish and start having a more outward face will be a process. So here we are, admitting that we are selfish and that we will start to focus on the joy of the journey.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Word on Fasting...

Part of our commitment to this financial fast is to grow closer to God. We have taken the time to research biblical fasting and want to share some of those thoughts with you.

Fasting from Food

-Biblical fasting is almost always associated with giving up food (Matthew 4:2).
-The word used in the New Testament (nestis) translated literally means not to eat

We believe from our reading that a true biblical fast involves giving up food in some way and replacing those eating times with personal prayer and time with God as demonstrated in scripture.

So why use the word fast now?

The idea of a fast is to give up something that sustains you and seek God earnestly. This is what we are trying to accomplish. Giving up the activities/money that we think sustain us and seek God by praying, serving and reflecting.

We are in no way trying to replace a biblical fast with this financial fast.

Read up on fasting

If you are interested is fasting we would encourage you to read through scriptural examples of fasting. Here are some scriptures that talk about fasting or where fasting is found as part of a biblical event:

Judges 20:26--Israel fasted for victory in war.
1 Sam. 1:6-7--Hannah fasted for a son
1 Sam. 7:6--Israel fasted in repentance
2 Sam. 1:12--David and his men fasted in mourning for Saul, Jonathan, and the fallen of Israel
2 Sam. 12--David fasted for mercy upon his child
1 Kings 21:27--Ahab fasted for mercy
Ezra 8:21-23--Ezra and the people fasted for help and protection
Nehemiah 1:4--Nehemiah fasted in mourning and for help upon Jerusalem
Nehemiah 9:1,2--Israel fasting in mourning and repentance
Esther 4:16--Esther and friends fasted for victory
Isaiah 58:6-8--The fast which pleases God
Joel 1:14; 2:12,15--God commanded fasting and repentance
Jonah 3:5--The Ninevites fasted in repentance for mercy
Daniel 9:3--Daniel fasted for wisdom
Matthew 4:2--Jesus fasted when tempted in the wilderness
Matthew 9:14-15--Jesus said his disciples would fast
Luke 2:37--Fasting was part of Anna's service to God
Acts 13:2--Fasting was part of the ministry of the workers at Antioch
Acts 13:3--Ordination was accompanied by fasting
2 Cor. 6:5--Fasting was one way Paul approved himself as a minister of Jesus Christ
2 Cor. 11:27--Paul fasted often

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sweat the small stuff...

It's all about the small stuff, really. The momentum of the start of our fast is helping me stay focused. Perhaps when we get to day 44 I will feel differently, but right now I am really learning a lot, even if it has just been a day.

I was first hit by the spend bug in the afternoon. Over the last several weeks we have taken a ton of pictues of our son. All I could think about was getting home, sending the photos to a print center and having them. Well, you have to pay for printed photos so I had to rethink this.

- I did not NEED the prints RIGHT NOW. Photos are great things to have but how many times do you print off a photo and it sits in the photo pack and never gets displayed or shown? This is my first lesson in spontaneous spending, it is better to have a plan instead of purchase, then plan. Plan first.

- I wanted to SHARE the prints, except one of the people I wanted to share the prints with is someone who stores photos online. Seems silly to print something that will just collect dust at someone else's house.

The Save

-Instead of printing photos I decided to go through and see what photos we already had. Sure enough. I have several empty albums and photo frames and several printed photos collecting dust. They are all in one place now ready to be sorted, put in frames and displayed.

-I put some photo albums together online (for free!) and sent them off to friends. I am sure they will be happy to see the photos and if they want a print can let me know.

The Lesson

-Plan before you purchase, you will end up with less stuff cluttering your house and more time to do other things.

-Simple living is easy when you are a good steward of the things you already have.

-Instead of selfishly spending money on more stuff (which would have included uploading pictures, sending them to a store and making a trip to pick them up) Keller and I spent 45 minutes chasing each other around the dining room table! I'm sure he had more fun, I will never forget it and we both got some exercise!

-I am thankful. God has really blessed us with a lot and I need to be aware of what I have, be a better steward of it and remember to say more prayers of thanksgiving.