Raising Money as an Act of Faith

Mike and I are currently, as we say, in a season of raising support. This means we (mostly Mike at this point) contact people we either know or who have been referred to us by current ministry partners, asking them to contribute to our ministry. “Ministry partners” are those who commit to pray and to give financially to our mission work with Cru. To continue as full-time missionaries, we must not only have a consistent amount of incoming financial support; we also need to increase the amount of monthly giving we currently receive.

Almost 5 years ago, we lowered our salary due to a shortfall in the donations we were receiving. That decision kept our Cru staff account in a healthy range, but we now earned less money than we did prior to having children. But God sustained us, as He does. And since last October, we’ve seen significant amounts of new financial support committed. Mike has worked consistently on our ministry partner development, pursuing new supporters and increases in monthly giving.

Just this month, we are bumping our salary back up! I have not felt deprived during this season, and transforming into a one-car family over 6 years ago definitely reduced our expenses.

black and white calendar

So we’re thankful. Thankful, sure, for extra salary as a missionary family. And thankful for how the Lord constantly provides.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to raise money for your salary by asking others to contribute? Not just for a week-long mission trip or a summer of serving others, but for decades?

In a nutshell, it’s a wild ride demanding we act on our faith. After I returned from Romania as a 23-year old, I didn’t anticipate continuing to serve with Cru–at least, not for the foreseeable future. I looked for a job at the end of 1997 and early 1998, without the help of the Internet. I substitute taught; I worked for 2 weeks at a children’s science museum in Alabama. (That’s a whole ‘nother story.) Then I decided to return to full-time ministry; I wanted to invest my  life, and Cru was what I knew.

After completing a summer of staff training, I got back on the support-raising trail. I’d had to raise funds to cover my year of ministry in Romania, but that goal was short-term (just one year) and much lower. Now, I needed to ask people to commit indefinitely to joining my ministry partner team. This was much more difficult.

But it happened quickly, within just a few months. Then I reported to my ministry assignment at Mississippi State University. I had actually exceeded my monthly goal by $50.

It lasted only a brief time, though. Within a few months, I had lost a big portion of my support. One individual, who’d committed $60 in monthly giving, donated one month–then nothing. When I called to check with him, he replied that he didn’t realize the extent of the financial commitment he’d made and could no longer give.

red phone

Another family, who’d offered to give $90 each month, contributed one month. I contacted them, too, to be sure they had the necessary paperwork–only to hear the husband declare, “We’re doing the best we can!” and then hang up the phone.

Yet another couple, for whom I’d worked briefly during high school, committed to a $50 per month donation. They gave one month, skipped the next, then gave one more month. I remember contacting them about whether they wanted to continue, but I don’t remember the conversation. They didn’t make any more donations.

A different couple committed an amount that finished my monthly goal–and they gave it in a large lump sum to cover the entire year. “Come back and see us next year,” they said. I called them when I returned to my hometown a year later, and they informed me they’d decided to give toward other needs instead. That dropped me down another $72 per month.

There were others, too, who gave a bit, then stopped within a few months. Or who told me later that they’d only intended to commit for a year. Within one year of reporting to my assignment–by the fall of 1999–I began receiving short paychecks. I had my bottom wisdom teeth extracted at the end of 1999 (the only time I’ve been under anesthesia), and hadn’t even come close to reaching my insurance deductible. That $900 expense cut into savings at the same time I was receiving 2-digit paychecks.

During the spring of 2000, I remember getting a $24 paycheck and discovered I had $19 in my Cru staff account. I’d paid off my used car, didn’t have school loans, and had few expenses. Still, I dragged my wet laundry back from the washing machines in the apartment complex, draping it over kitchen chairs and open cabinet doors to dry. I saved several dollars a month that way.

laundry between buildings.jpg

Eighteen years later, I continue to serve with Cru. How did I come back from all that? I raised support. And raised more support, and raised more support. And as I stepped out in faith to do the work God had given me to do, He was faithful to provide.

I pray that God will make me as faithful to Him as He is to me. 

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Our Frugal Fast From Netflix

In January, I persuaded my husband to commit to a Netflix fast for one month:  from January 13 to February 13. Our subscription payment came due on the 13th of each month, which determined the dates of our fast.

We don’t have cable/satellite/dish and haven’t since 2004. If I had my preference, we wouldn’t own a TV. But since we do (and I don’t think it’s all bad), I want us to consider how we use it–and how much money we spend on it.

black and white 2 boys in flowers

Our family possesses one TV–only one–and we’ve never had a TV in our bedroom, save for a few weeks during our first year of marriage, before we sold a small extra TV Mike owned when we got married. We limit screen time for the boys; they have a budget of 4 half-hour shows from which they can choose during the week.

Most weekends, they watch no TV–and they don’t own or use tablets, iPads, cell phones, or the like. Although Woodrow has learned to use my phone to take photos, mostly of the fish he and Garfield catch…Once in a while, we allow them an extra half-hour show on a weekend afternoon. Or even a movie, such as the one we watched on Mother’s Day evening.

We have an Amazon Prime membership, and with that comes access to Prime Video:  movies and TV shows we can watch at no extra charge. During our Netflix fast–which, incidentally, stretched from one month to a total of 4–the boys used Prime Video to view Popular Mechanics for KidsWild Kratts, and Thunderbirds Are Go. And the Mother’s Day movie? The Nut Job, also accessed via Prime Video.

board cinema

As we neared February 13, and the end of our one-month Netflix fast, we easily decided to extend it for another month. Then another, and another. May 13 approached, and I understood that my husband hadn’t committed to an indefinite departure from Netflix. So, that day, Mike reinstated our membership (for streaming videos only, the only Netflix subscription we’ve had).

For those 4 months without this service, we saved over $40 in a painless way. And I have to say, I didn’t miss the extra TV options. It actually felt freeing. A couple of times during this season, Mike and I found a movie on Hoopla (a free service provided by our library for e-books, audio books, movies, and TV shows). This gave us extra entertainment choices, all for free.

colorful guitars

Entertainment deserves a category in our budget, but a small (and sparsely funded) one, I think. For now–this month, at least–Netflix gets a spot in that budget. While we have it, we’ll enjoy it. Going without it for a time makes us more appreciative of it now. Just yesterday, the boys (gratefully) watched an episode of Magic School Bus that they’ve gone without for months.

Have you embarked on a “frugal fast” from anything in particular lately? Did you save for a special goal–or simply to spend less on luxuries?

Wear It Well Wednesday: Little Black Dress

Typically, my WIWW posts celebrate hand-me-downs as the guests of honor. Today, though–because I’ve kind of run out of cast-off outfits to showcase on the blog–I’m sharing about an outfit that I actually DID purchase.

The black dress I’m wearing in this photo still fits the bill, though, because I bought it secondhand at a local store (“resale emporium”) called D’Echoes. I’ve also sold some items in the past at this particular shop. They carry a range of more high-end designer pieces, as well as funky retro stuff that’s actually old. This dress falls into the “funky retro” category, at $20.

little black dress

It came home to live in my closet back when Woodrow was 1–which means I’ve had it 11 years. The skirt is pleated, and there’s a cute little bow on the side. This is how I do LBD.

I’m also wearing the heels I purchased last summer in Colorado for $8 at a thrift store. My jewelry:  bracelet–gift from the husband; necklace–gift from my sister; watch–last year’s anniversary gift, also from Mike (of course, nobody else buys me wedding anniversary gifts). 

I notice now how much the shoes show off my tan line (such as it is) that ends at the ankles. Last year, Woodrow looked down at my bare feet in the pool where we were swimming that day and declared, “Your feet are glowing!” Yep, they’re pretty pale.

black dress hands
Aiming for “elegant hands” here

I’ve worn this dress to judge a scholarship program, to church, to an evening  wedding…and I plan to continue getting my $20 worth out of it.

*For more info on how I spend almost nothing on clothes, check out this post of mine. 

Serving, Volunteering, and Meeting My Own Needs

I’m finished with volunteering. I uttered those words about a year and a half ago to more than one friend (okay, I think it was just 2). I had devoted so many hours to planning for and leading the Cub Scout den for my younger son. I wanted more freedom in my time, in my schedule, to help and serve whenever the opportunity arose–instead of in some formal, official volunteer capacity.

bag of plastic eggs
Plastic eggs the boys and I stuffed for an Easter egg hunt/outreach at Cru headquarters in March.

Such as…when a Cru colleague who lived out of town needed help one weekend cleaning up the condo she owned and rented out in Orlando, to prep it for the next tenant. I relished watching the boys pitch in with competency and confidence as we scrubbed and vacuumed and swept that day.

Or when a friend needed help packing up her family’s home to move from Orlando to another Florida city. I spent a few hours one Saturday morning emptying closets and bedrooms and loading kitchen items into the moving van (and came home with lots of dishes she no longer wanted, which we use daily). Or when we have frequent opportunities to make a meal for a family with a new baby.

pink polka dot cup

I just wanted to be a helper of others, without any title or specific role. Hence, quitting “volunteer work.” In February 2017, I handed over the Cub Scout role to my husband, who continues leading Garfield’s den. My schedule now held more blank space, and now I could say “yes” to more. Saying “yes” to some opportunities necessarily means saying “no” to others–life can be mutually exclusive that way sometimes.

I found myself even wanting to do actual “volunteer” work once in a while, and more than the quilt tops I sew that become sleeping bags for homeless individuals. (I currently have 4 of those waiting to be hemmed and mailed.) I have a need to help meet needs, and I believe God designed me that way.

So, last November, after hearing a woman at our church discuss her service with a faith-based non-profit called Jobs Partnership, I went home, found their site, and sent a message. I wanted to explore the possibility of assisting with their programs, geared toward helping unemployed (or under-employed) people gain “soft” skills to become more marketable.

watercolors from website

I knew I wouldn’t have the availability to serve as a coach, a months-long commitment involving meeting at least weekly. But I checked lots of boxes on the online form to indicate interest in helping in other ways. Right after the new year, I spoke with Beverly, one of their coordinators. And we put me on the calendar to speak on April 24 to the Jobs Partnership participants on the topic, “Communications.”

That was last week, and I just want to say–It was so much fun! Truly, I feel a part of me comes alive when I get to do public speaking, especially if it’s rooted in the message of God’s Word. {When I wrote a letter to myself on my birthday this year, I told myself to do what makes me come alive–so I’m doing it!} We discussed speaking the truth in love, being good listeners, being slow to anger. In the presentation, I included several personal stories of successes and failures in communication in various work roles.

garden spot

Such as one particular day I arrived at the school in my hometown where I’d been substitute teaching after returning home from Romania…I didn’t have a full-time job; I was young and single, living at my parents’ home. So I grabbed hold of every subbing opportunity I could find in order to make a little money.

On this day, I’d come to sub for a teacher heading to a conference. He had requested me as a sub through another person, instead of face to face or over the phone, which is how I always got requests for sub positions. I had eagerly written this job down on my calendar. Only, when I arrived, I discovered a different sub arranging worksheets for the day with the teacher before he left for his conference. He didn’t realize I’d gotten the message, or didn’t realize I’d planned to be there. I don’t know how the wires got crossed, but they did. I stayed calm, though, disappointed as I was. I knew I could risk other jobs at this school if I acted less than professional in this situation. So I listened, showed understanding, and went home. Then I prayed and cried about it.

pinecone heart

The Jobs Partnership students stayed engaged throughout our discussion; one woman even approached me afterward to talk about editing and proofreading. I left with my cup overflowing. In a few days, I’ll serve with Jobs Partnership again–this time, working on interview practice.

Because helping meet a need meets a need in me.

 

Re-purposed Soap: From Nothing to Something

The plastic grocery bag of Ivory soap crumbles had lain in the cabinet under our bathroom sink for close to a year. Periodically, I would wonder what I could do with those bits, left over from a Cub Scout soap-carving activity. After the boys of Garfield’s Scout den had practiced on these bars of soap (Ivory is evidently best for soap-carving), they were more prepared to earn their Whittling Chip, which would afford them the privilege of owning and carrying a pocket knife.

And I was afforded the bag of soap flakes and flecks. I wanted them, don’t get me wrong. My frugal, use-it-up, reduce/reuse/recycle bent wanted to rise to the challenge of re-purposing the remains of the soap bars. But I was at a loss.

soap bubble

Finally, I did what all wannabe crafters do when seeking helpful household hints:  I searched on Pinterest. And I discovered this post, which details the process of transforming soap scraps into “new” soap.

The steps are easy to follow, plus the soap was already mostly grated. It didn’t take much elbow grease to get the pieces melded together and deposited into a muffin tin to “set”:

soap scraps in tin

There’s another soap carving planned for another den of Scouts this spring, which my husband will lead. I hope to be the recipient of those leftovers, because I’d like to try this once again. Next time, I might add a little more water when mixing the scraps. Incidentally, if you wonder about germs on the soap, the crumbles get microwaved on high with a small amount of water to make them easier to squish into new bars. I figure the heat killed any lingering baddies.

Here’s the end result, after a few days of setting:  4″muffins” of soap. Although they look more crumbly than I expected, they hold together better than they might appear.

soap on a plate

One “new” cake of soap has already been used in the shower:  so far, so good. They aren’t pretty enough to give as gifts, I suppose, but I think of these soaps as gifts even so. Go with me here…

As a follower of Jesus and His Word, I believe God the Creator spoke the whole universe into existence. There was nothing–and then there was something. Lots of something. He formed this world for His glory, and we get to enjoy it, too. It all belongs to Him, and He graciously allows us to delight in it.

God made something out of nothing and then gave it to us as a gift. These soap crumbs seemed like nothing, and a different Cub Scout leader might have tossed them in the trash (not the Lees!). To be able to form something useful and purposeful out of seemingly nothing feels like a gift to me. And it connects me more with the heart of our Creator and Savior.

 

Grace and Truth at the Soccer Field

I pulled the back of my t-shirt higher up my neck, hoping to prevent sunburn as I faced away from the sun. We were at our first soccer game of the day; Garfield’s team–coached by Mike–had so far held the opposing team to zero. But they faced a tough challenge.

Our boys have always played with the YMCA, which emphasizes participation and learning over competition. Our boys love to win, of course. Mike and I love that we don’t have to travel out of town for games.

This past Saturday, the family members of both teams set up our chairs and water bottles on the same side of the field. Nobody wanted to face into the sun. Our cheering for our own children’s teams got all jumbled together. That is, except for the two teen girls (big sisters of the players, perhaps) who evidently had experience playing soccer and loudly commented on the strategy of Garfield’s team. To each other, to parents of that team. Not only was their knowledge of the sport evident, their low opinion of the Lions’ strategy was evident, too.

mic on stand

As the two girls commented freely on “the coach’s strategy” while critiquing the team against which their little brothers played, one of them yelled, “The stupid coach keeps telling them to kick the ball out.” Loudly. Loudly enough that, sitting 8 or 10 people down the line from her, I heard it.

Stupid coach? 

My heart started to thud, and I wondered if I should talk to her after the game. I wondered if I wanted to, if it were the right and appropriate thing to do.

In the meantime, I cheered my heart out for those 2nd and 3rd grade Lions. They lost, and I kept cheering for them as they came off the field. As I cheered, I’d also been formulating a rough draft of what I might say to the teenager who’d screamed out the “stupid coach” comment.

red and white crane

I considered how I might approach her and be honest while remaining calm. Standing my ground and holding her accountable while also being gentle and respectful. In other words, speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

I felt my hands shake a bit as I stuffed our chairs into their pouches. Many of the fans had left at this point. But not the 2 teen girls. I walked over to them, asking the brunette if I could speak to her for just a minute.

Me? she asked. I nodded, smiled, told her my name.

Then, anticipating she might accuse me of simply being upset that my son’s team had lost, I started out this way:  I know every game has to have a winner and a loser. I’m so proud of our team and how they played, even though they lost. (Voice is quavering a bit, because it’s so important to me to get this right. Not to blow it by letting emotion take the reins.)

But…I continued…I heard you yell out “stupid coach.” Like most coaches, my husband volunteers his time to come out to practice, to attend the games. I’m not an expert on soccer, and you are free to have whatever opinions you want to have about our team and our coach. But I don’t think what you showed is the spirit we want to show to the players on the field. It’s taking it too far, in my opinion.

When I read Peaceful Parenting in January, I noted that the author recommends always endeavoring to speak in a calm voice, even when upset, because it helps everybody to remain calm. I put that into practice, very intentionally, in speaking with this girl at the field.

woman with glasses

She stayed quiet, looking at me with an expression that broadcast “I’m embarrassed but trying very hard not to show it, because I must look cool at all times.” I’m sure I wore that look as a teen many times.

I finished with this:  I know I said inappropriate things as a teenager, and I’m thankful for the times people called me out on it–because it taught me that words have consequences  (I’d really planned ahead to use that phrase). I just think what you said today was taking it too far, in my opinion.

With eyebrow cocked, she said OK, and I smiled and nodded and returned to my family and our mountain of stuff to load in the van.

I felt victorious for the rest of the day. Hard things are worthy things, I read in a book called The Homeschooling Housewife. I didn’t shirk a hard task, and I showed restraint. I endeavored to confront (in a non-confrontational way) with grace. To speak the truth in love. 

 

Spring Cleaning for Heart and Soul

I read once that it’s easier to simplify than to organize, so when I approach spring cleaning, that’s my plan. Thus, I’ve been ridding myself of a few things lately. Take a gander at this whatnot (a piece of furniture whose name my boys and I learned reading one of the Little House on the Prairie books). I bought it while shopping with a friend at an antique fair back in 2003. Here’s how it looked before the spring clean of 2018…

dirty whatnot

And then after…Can you  count how many things I eliminated from these shelves?

clean whatnot

Along with extraneous things from what was always intended to be a nature shelf, I’ve gotten rid of other items, too. A former Cru colleague, battling cancer, has been eliminating cosmetics with risky chemicals from her make-up bag. As I’ve kept up with her story online, I’ve gotten inspired and, last week, tossed two lipsticks containing an artificial preservative that I decided I’d rather avoid.

In March, our boys each lost a tooth. As they grow, the necessary replaces the outdated.

But clutter on our shelves–or other things that hang around even when we don’t need them any longer–isn’t the only mess that makes life messy. I often find I need to clean out my thoughts, to purge ways of thinking or things upon which I might dwell, in order to bring clarity. In order to clean up the space.

blurry window

Comparison of myself to other women, to other mothers, or of my children to other children…

Jealousy of another woman’s success when it’s the exact kind of success I want for myself…

Irritation that may arise from taking things personally that were never meant to be personal…

Carrying around the burden of regret or condemnation from a long-ago mistake, one that I know is forgiven…

And yet, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 assures me, I am always, always a new creation in Christ. And Romans 8:1–Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Operating out of some need to prove myself… 

A few years ago, when both Woodrow and Garfield participated in the same Cub Scout pack–before Woodrow graduated to Boy Scouts–all 4 of us attended a Scout fundraiser together. During this particular shift selling coupon cards in front of a grocery store, the leaders (myself included) had asked the older Scouts to step aside and allow the younger ones to get practice approaching people in order to make sales.

Woodrow was one of those older boys who’d been sidelined during this one-hour shift; his turn would come later. He wasn’t thrilled about waiting, but he cooperated. As he sat off to the side, an older man walked out of the grocery store and looked upon our Scouts and our table and heard the cheerful cries from the boys, begging him to buy from them.

boys at dawn

Instead of purchasing a camp card, he elected to make a donation. He dug in his wallet to give each boy a one-dollar bill. He waved one over to Woodrow, who hesitated to retrieve it. After all, he was following our instructions to wait his turn at the fundraising. But this man didn’t know that–he looked at me, somewhat appalled that Woodrow wouldn’t jump up and grab the dollar with gratitude. I felt embarrassed and hurriedly ushered Woodrow to accept the dollar from the man.

Yet I didn’t need to feel embarrassed (or ashamed of my son or his behavior). The man didn’t understand our fundraising plan, and any judgment he may have made about my son was formed without having sufficient information. But still, I let that judgment (perceived or not) prompt me to nudge my child into something I’d just asked him to wait to do until the next hour.

What did I have to prove? To this man or anybody else? Nothing. 

robot

Giving my thoughts over to jealousy or annoyance or comparison reminds me of the game of Tic Tac Toe…nobody ever wins. (Unless you play with a toddler.)

But I find I must do something with those thoughts. So:  I confess them to the Lord. I talk to Jesus about what I want, and what feels as though it’s missing, and what I’ve used to try and fill those spaces. With clutter. 

I want things to go my way, and I want life to feel good, and I want to be understood. And when I feel anxious or irascible or defeated because I don’t experience what I want, I talk to the Lord–usually on my knees and usually gripping my holding crossI clean house. 

And I discover that the “simplify instead of organize” adage holds true for my thought life, too. I sometimes waste much energy attempting to organize those thoughts, when, really, I’m in need of simplifying. Just like with those baby teeth my boys lost–those teeth that had to make way for something new–the necessary replaces the outdated.