How Much Should I Give? vs. How Much Should I Keep?: Growing Toward Faithfully Frugal

I have supper in the Crock pot right now:  split pea soup. I am finally–FINALLY–using up the remainder of a bag of dried split peas we bought at a bulk store long ago. As in, almost two years ago. I know, I know…those peas are old.

boys on rocks in stream

But I have set my course to fix meals from the freezer and pantry, using up what we have and stewarding well what’s already been purchased (or, in some cases, given). Instead of allowing those split peas to languish for another year, I’m putting them to use.

I’ve been spurred on by a short little e-book I recently read…Faithfully Frugal:  Spend Less, Give More, Live More, by Kari Patterson.  You can find it at Amazon, which is where I bought it.

I’m so inspired by this book. The author delves into the teachings of Scripture in regards to our relationships to money and how we view it–and the Christian’s purpose of frugality:  Christian circles think of building wealth SO THAT we can be generous. But God says to be generous SO THAT you can build wealth. More and more, I find myself convinced that the way to store up treasure in heaven is to give it away on earth, to “give both mites,” as the author writes, referring to the poor widow in the New Testament who threw her final remaining coins into the Temple offering and was pointed out as an example by Jesus for her wholehearted giving.

money planted in dirt

Patterson doesn’t imply that we give away all our possessions or take a vow of poverty or allow our children to starve by “giving both mites.” She explains that our giving, when we give God our whole hearts and entrust all our money to him, can move from religious obligation to relational opportunity. We push the entire pile of our money over to the Lord, allowing him to call the shots and viewing it as HIS money. And this is worship.

“The joy is found when we give both mites,” she declares. She writes that our goal should not be MORE money–acquired by scoring a deal or saving a dime, getting all the stuff we want as long as we get it at a cheap price. Our goal, as Christ followers, is generosity.

open hands with money

“Our enemy,” Patterson states, “is not debt, high prices, inflation, or a recession. Our enemy is greed…” With her words, she compares the concepts of foolishly frugal and faithfully frugal, and she references the Biblical parable of the rich fool. From Luke chapter 12:

16 And he [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

The person Christ calls “fool” in this story likely scrimped and saved and worked hard in order to amass such an amount of earthly wealth. But his end-goal was for the here and now, seeking gains for self. Faithfully frugal, conversely, seeks gains in eternity, for others and not for self.

My heart for living simply and frugally has been refreshed; I’m renewed in a desire to ask of the Lord:  How much should I keep? instead of How much should I give? 

presents

Now cue the cooking from the already-bought foodstuffs in the pantry, trying to be faithful with what we have in order to free up more resources for giving. Patterson gives enormously helpful practical advice in her book, too, regarding taking steps like this.

So instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the store last week (which I find so much easier to use), I bought 2 whole chickens. I cooked one in the Crock pot and had Mike pick the meat from the bones. I frankly find that process disgusting, but he truly doesn’t mind and even wanted to do it. Then I took the “frame” (the foodie word for the bones/carcass), dunked it back into the Crock pot–which, by the way, is getting quite the work out–and made bone broth with it. I now have plenty of nearly free broth for use in dishes from chili mac & cheese to chicken pot pie (made last night) to the soup I’m making today.

There’s a deeper sense of purpose, a heightened awareness of the sacred nature of serving, when I labor long in the kitchen knowing I’m nourishing my family and increasing our capacity for generosity, too.

One question Patterson poses to her readers on the journey of becoming more faithfully frugal:  What one non-essential item could you go without this year? How might you answer?

“Giving is the only antidote to materialism.”–Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle 

 

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Daring To Hope: Book Review

Earlier this summer, I joined the launch team for a new book called Daring to Hope:  Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful, by Katie Davis Majors.

A few years ago, I read the first book penned by Katie Davis (who was not married at the time), called Kisses from Katie:  A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption.  In it, Katie tells her story of quitting her cute, comfortable life in Tennessee–cute shoes, cute boyfriend, cute car–to move to Uganda, where she wanted to serve God by serving people. Initially planning on teaching there for a year, Katie stayed–adopting orphaned children, fostering others, and caring for the sick and needy and desperate. She started the organization Amazima Ministries which ministers to people through education, medical care, spiritual nourishment, and job opportunities.

And now, she has written this second book. As a member of the launch team (I didn’t have to audition for this or anything; I just expressed interest in it and then received the invitation to join), I received an advance copy of the book–which goes on sale October 3. I read it in Mississippi while my family sheltered there to escape Hurricane Irma. It stirred my heart, to say the least.

Each and every single believer in Jesus Christ–I’m convinced of this–must walk through the dark forest of questioning God’s goodness at some point. For most of us, I believe that happens in ways both big and small throughout our journeys of faith. But usually there is one period in life, some particular barren season, that forces us to wrestle with the doubt (or even disbelief) of God’s goodness.

hands in lap

We may sing the praise song “God is good/All the time/And all the time/God is good,” and we may declare that to others. But still, we will face a crisis of faith sometime in our lives where we gaze at our circumstances and dare to exclaim, “How can you be good in this, God? Where is your goodness in this place?”

When I worked with Cru serving students at Mississippi State University, one of my co-workers shared this thought:  In order to get to great faith, we must go through great doubt. I believe those times of wrestling and questioning are ordained by God, deepening both our trust in Him and our fellowship with Him. If we continue pursuing Him as He pursues us.

For me, the season of the most raw and gut-wrenching doubting of God’s goodness entered my life while I lived as a missionary in Romania. I was single and young. And I felt so alone, isolated, and unknown there. Although I appreciated our tiny team, we didn’t connect relationally as I had hoped and expected (and, in a sense, been led to believe). I watched other teams like mine when we visited each other or met up at Christmas time, and I felt cheated. Those teams had inside jokes and seemed to enjoy each other’s company in a way I didn’t notice with my own team. I had a roommate who also came from the States, but we worked with different ministries. At times I sensed she didn’t want to open her heart to a friendship with me because she knew I would leave one year later.

Early in my year there, after an argument (and subsequent tears and reconciliation) with my Romanian team member, I stood in the parking lot of my apartment building and thought–This doesn’t feel like home. Yet I’m not supposed to be back in the U.S. right now. So…no place feels like home. Throughout the year, God would remind me that my home was with Him. Through that year, I felt the ultimate question of God’s goodness–Is He always good? And is He always good TO ME?–regardless of my situation–was settled. I still, throughout my life, ask God to show me His goodness at times. Or to help me recognize His goodness in circumstances that hurt and hurt and don’t let up. But that question, on the whole, has been answered.

After all, as we heard a pastor in New Zealand state almost 13 years ago, the truly important questions of life never even arise until we step into faith in God. Is God good? Does He have a purpose for my life? Why does He allow pain? We’re never required to ask those if we never enter into faith.

woman and child with basket

And it’s this overarching topic that Katie Davis Majors, my sister in Christ, asks of God in her new book Daring to Hope. She especially cries out to God regarding the hope she nurtured for a woman dying with AIDS, who lived with Katie and her baker’s dozen daughters while Katie cared for her needs. Believing God to be capable of miracles, Katie hopes and prays and trusts for healing. Yet this friend dies. And Katie asks–God, why did you let me hope so hard when you knew that you would allow her to die anyway?

Yet through this heartbreak, Katie grows to know Jesus in more intimate ways. She fights her way toward gratitude–and toward hope. She writes, “In the dark season, He doesn’t leave. In fact, He draws near. He whispers that loving people is not in vain because in loving people I know more of Him, regardless of the end result.”

We can wonder why; we can wait; we can wrestle and struggle and question and yet still cling to Him. And that, my friends, is the life of faith.

**You can pre-order Daring to Hope at the Amazima page here.

DaringtoHope_Preorder_900x900

 

A Storm By Any Other Name

Wilma. Andrew. Hugo. Betsy. Allison. All these are past names of hurricanes, some more well known than others. It was 1995 when a hurricane sharing my own name made an appearance in the U.S.

I lived through quite a few hurricanes as a child, most notably Hurricane Frederic in 1979, when I was 5. This storm tore apart the low-to-the-ground tree house Daddy had built for my brother and me and left a giant pine tree toppled onto our roof.

In 1985, Hurricane Elena swept through south Mississippi. Our home at the time didn’t have air conditioner, but losing power meant we lost the ability to use our multiple box fans. My nana, a widow since I was age 3, left her home in town and sheltered with our family in our house out in the country.

In early September 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, some Cru staff–including my husband and I–joined a non-profit group serving people impacted by this storm.

Newly pregnant with Woodrow, barely able to keep in touch with my parents (whose cell phone coverage was nonexistent during the storm and spotty immediately after), I felt frustrated with helplessness. When I heard from my sister, who’d spoken with our parents, that Mama and Daddy had run out of ice and almost depleted their food supply following Katrina, I cried on the phone with her. Katrina pounded south Mississippi and south Alabama as much as the New Orleans area back in August 2005; my parents–and grandparents–went without power for many days. For a short time each day following the storm’s devastation, they’d run my grandparents’ gas generator so as to have a little time with the air conditioner. I felt paralyzed to do anything to help. Even if we drove from Orlando up to Mississippi, bringing food and water, we couldn’t buy any gasoline there to get back home.

So when the opportunity arose for a team of Cru staff to serve hurricane evacuees in Lafayette, Louisiana, Mike and I jumped on board. We linked up with a ministry helping to connect churches around the country with people rendered homeless due to Katrina. Church families participating in this program agreed to house (for free) a certain number of people in need in apartments for 3 months; they would also assist with food, accessing available government benefits, transportation, and job searches.

Our job was to coordinate the matching up of people with churches. Most all the churches volunteering to host people existed outside the state of Louisiana. And most all the people we met sheltering at the Cajundome in Lafayette didn’t want to leave their state. Who could blame them? But most churches in Louisiana were already at capacity, helping and serving those whose lives had just been invaded by this storm.

But the evacuees’ time at the Cajundome arena would soon come to a close, and these folks needed to find housing. We stayed 10 days and watched people (mostly from New Orleans) drive away in church vans and buses headed to Chicago, Little Rock, Georgia, and Texas.

Although rewarding in some ways, this work was intense and often stressful. I had multiple nightmares during our time in Lafayette; once I dreamed that the Finney family–mom, dad, a couple of teenage children, one of whom was diabetic–whom we’d dropped off at the bus station so they could travel to a sponsoring church in Marietta, GA, had missed their bus. In my dream, they were walking down highways and across bridges to get several states away, from Lafayette to Marietta. They’d shared with us that, after the hurricane, they’d walked out of New Orleans, where Mr. Finney worked as a bursar at Tulane University. I don’t remember how far they walked, or how they landed in Lafayette, but I woke up in a panic, thinking we needed to jump in our rented mini-van and go find that family walking their way to Georgia.

Today, though, over 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, my family and I face a different storm. Hurricane Irma has already begun to make its presence known, and the four of us will evacuate from our home in central Florida this afternoon. Starting out with a full tank of gasoline, we’ll set our course for south Mississippi, to stay with my parents. There’s stress involved in this, too, but our boys are excited to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

allison and boys on swing

I’ll bring some photo albums, baby books, home school gear, along with the basics we’d need for a quick road trip. We don’t know what we’ll find when we return, but stuff is replaceable.

No matter the circumstances–storms within or storms without–I want to turn to Jesus and cling to Him in any of life’s storms. No matter their names.

Nahum 1:7 The Lord is good,

a refuge in times of trouble…

My First Very Own Clothesline

In May, I received the Mother’s Day present that I’d requested from my family:  a retractable clothesline.

We have a backyard now at our current home–as of 2 years ago–and I wanted a clothesline to go with it. There’s an old metal post that used to belong to a clothesline at one end of our yard; it’s fixed in concrete, so that precluded moving it to a sunnier spot for erecting a new clothesline.

The boys created a tree fort using the rusty old post as a base for the wooden pallets we picked up for free last year–with the vision of making some kind of tree house. The pallets languished in the yard for many months; then one day, I spotted the boys creating this in the backyard. Using ropes, strings, and a cord from a broken set of window blinds, this is what they created:  a two-story play place in the shade. So at least that old post is good for something.

boys tree fort

So, in the absence of an actual clothesline, for a while I hung laundry over the chain-link fences surrounding our yard–or at least big pieces such as towels and sheets. But invariably it would get blown off. After the second time in one day that I was forced to kick off my flip-flops and hop the neighbor’s fence to retrieve the rogue laundry, I gave up on that practice. And, yes, I know it sounds a bit tacky to hang one’s drying laundry over a fence (although portions of our backyard fence aren’t shared with the neighbors’ yards). That’s kind of par for the course in our neighborhood, but still:  It did provide a reason to skip fence-line drying of clothes. I returned to using our clothes dryer along with the dryer balls I made a couple years ago. 

Then we visited Travel Country Outdoors one afternoon, and I spotted the retractable clothesline option, primarily meant for camping. I asked for one for our family. I unwrapped this gift in May, then we left for the summer. In early August, Mike installed it using 2 trees in our yard. It’s affixed to one tree; I pull out the cord, stretch it across the yard, and hang it on a hook attached to another tree.

clothesline 2

I grew up with clotheslines in the backyard of our country homes; the featured picture at the top of every blog post is of my parents’ clothesline. And now I have my own! Solar power for the win.

clothesline 1

Journals: Source of Encouragement for this Season of Life

A couple months ago, back when we were still in Colorado, I posted a question on Facebook:  What books would my fellow home school parents recommend to give encouragement for a new school year? I received a few suggestions but haven’t pursued reading any of them yet.

I keep a cache of blog posts that never fails to provide the proverbial shot in the arm when it comes to my having energy and motivation for persevering with home schooling. I re-read those throughout most school years. But recently I found a home school pep talk from a different source:  journals.

typewriter in black and white

I have kept journals for decades. Over the years, those entries have progressed from statements such as “I hope my best friend and I both get our guys!” at age 16 to processing my thoughts about loneliness and eating struggles while living overseas. Apparently, regular writing has been proven to offer mental health benefits. Therapists, counselors, and social workers often encourage their patients to journal for the cathartic benefits of it.  There are many ways to journal, and no one “right” way. But I know I’ve been helped by writing down my personal stories–and even by returning to them later to read where and how I’ve grown.

I’ve also kept journals for my boys for years. I don’t create elaborate memory books for them, and most of our photographs are on the computer instead of in photo albums. But I diligently fill journal pages with stories, milestones, and prayers concerning their lives.

And it was these journals that have refreshed me in important ways for this season of life and schooling and parenting. Here’s some of what I gleaned.

dawn-nature-sunset-woman

Last year, we’d finished lessons for the day. I sat at the kitchen table jotting down what we’d accomplished before fixing lunch. Woodrow looks up to tell me that the golf ball he’d rolled across the floor had produced two shadows. I took notice of what he’d pointed out and asked if he knew why that was.

“Because there are 2 light sources–one from the kitchen window, one from the living room window. Two light sources, 2 shadows,” he explained. We’d never studied this. But he noticed, and he made connections from what he’d learned to real life. That same day, he told me at lunch that a person weighs more where gravity is stronger. He then described why and finished with this tidbit:  “Maybe the reason we all seemed to weigh more than we thought on the scale at Publix two days ago was due to a gravitational wave.” I’m not all that sure what gravitational waves do, and I don’t think Woodrow is, either. But, again, he showed me he learns things I don’t necessarily teach and makes connections between learning and life around him.

I also found this little joke Woodrow came up with that I penned in his journal:  “What did the round spoon say to the square spoon?” What? “My life is POINTLESS!” Once while I was working on laundry, he and Garfield were in the throes of a competition with a catapult I’d helped them make, flinging LEGO men with it down the hall and then measuring how far each piece had gone. During my chores and their play, Woodrow approached me and said, “The only way to fail is to give up.” This young man can teach me a thing or two about perseverance.

wooden spoons

Years ago, Woodrow cheered up his little brother (who was very distraught and angry about a notebook I’d bought at Big Lots–go figure) by reading him a story called “The Fuzzy Duckling.” Except he replaced certain words in the story with “stupid” and “dummy,” which I would never actually encourage–but I chuckled to see how Garfield laughed and laughed at his brother’s antics. And I cheered Woodrow’s taking the lead to bless his little brother in a way that would connect with him.

When Garfield was about 5, I gave him free time during a school day so I could focus on a task with Woodrow. I noticed him enter the kitchen and grab an empty cereal box from our recyclables stack, then he returned to the living room. After finishing with Woodrow, we checked on Garfield. He’d used instructions from a library book about bridges, along with some fishing line and the cereal box, to make a drawbridge. He couldn’t read, but he’d followed the schematics (a word my older son taught me) and successfully created this drawbridge from materials he could find on his own.

Last year, we discussed how wars begin and how countries establish their geographical boundaries, all over lunch one day, and the boys initiated this. Home school lunchtime conversations prove to be replete with depth at our house.

bridge

As I reflect on these stories and memories, I’m reminded that God created the human mind to learn, and my boys are learning. In fact, learning is always happening. So in two days, we’ll begin a new school year, and the learning will just continue.

And I’m encouraged.

 

 

 

 

One Last Summer Road Trip

While Mike worked in Chicago last week, I got the idea–in the midst of home school planning–to visit family in Mississippi again before we begin our new school year. One of my nephews, my sister’s oldest, started pee wee football this year. I thought it’d be special both for my boys and for my nephew if we could watch one of his games.

My boys have never seen a football game–at least, not the North American kind. But the game wasn’t the focal point; squeezing in one last family visit before we start school and Scout activities for the fall was our aim.

calvin and allison on ferris wheel
Garfield & me riding a Ferris wheel earlier this summer in Colorado.

We’d planned to leave last Friday morning, drive all day, and then stay at my parents’ home in south Mississippi that night–then driving another few hours to my sister’s home the next day. Our plans changed last minute, though, when my nephew’s game time switched from Saturday afternoon to Saturday morning. We ended up leaving Thursday afternoon, arriving in Mississippi near midnight, then driving again the next day to my sister’s house. We stayed with my sister and her family for just under 24 hours, then drove back to Mama and Daddy’s to spend Saturday night. All totaled, we spent about 27 hours in our van over a span of 4 days.

bus on beach

Even after all our previous travels this summer, even after being home for just over 2 weeks, this trip was worthwhile. Because making memories is worth it. Because relationships are worth it. Because watching my children grow a friendship with their cousins is worth it.

Also I felt brave and accomplished making such a long road trip with just the boys, no other adult to share parenting or driving responsibilities. Woodrow and Garfield really are great travelers. They listened to 4 books in the Boxcar Children series that we played over the Hoopla app. They didn’t watch any DVDs or TV shows, but we did tell stories and jokes and listen to music. And we had a couple of talks about big topics, too–after all, I had a captive audience right there in the backseat.

During some of the time in my hometown this past weekend, my boys got to pick okra with their grandmother at a fellow church member’s garden. They bought some goodies at a yard sale for their cousins. They visited with their great-grandmother. Prosaic as these acts may be, they are precious gems, too–milestones in building into my children a life of memorable experiences and family love.

map water coffee

I cherish the fact that I could give this to my children this summer, this one last road trip before schedules change for the next 10 months.

Even mini-vans can be part of an adventure.

The Anti-Spiritual Discipline

I’m planning for our new home school year this week. For the past couple of years, I did a great deal of long-term planning at the outset of the year. For example, I set up units for art {art history and art appreciation + creating some of our own art along the way} for the entire year. Last year, we studied 6 Renaissance artists, and I printed out examples of each artist’s work, put together activities corresponding to each artist, researched books, ordered supplies. Last year, I used plaster of Paris for the first time as the boys and I practiced painting frescoes.

Last year, I also set up our music study for the entire year. I wrote up math lessons, based on the program we use, that would cover several weeks for each of my sons. All this, of course, required hours of work, and I did it while Mike worked a conference in Chicago last year–while I was flying solo as a parent.

I read a book earlier in 2017 about a year in the life of a home school family. The author commented that it’s very difficult to do something besides parenting when you’re never NOT parenting. That week, I was never NOT parenting but still managed to complete tremendous amounts of work.

wooden colored pencils

For this year, this week, Mike is also in Chicago. But this year, I don’t have the stamina or wherewithal or energy to plan out activities for the entire year and print out all necessary pages and pictures of composers and put them in neatly organized folders for each unit. Right now, this week, I’m also never NOT parenting, and I just can’t do it all. In fact, while I write this, the boys have stopped me to give me a hug (always welcome!) and to talk about playing Life and to ask if they could spin in a chair that’s in the room where I’m sitting on the floor.

I’m tired from the travel to and from Colorado. I’m trying to claw my way back to the disciplines of regular exercise and regular time alone with God. I shared with a friend recently that the hardest pursuits in life to re-establish after losing one’s rhythm are the ones that require the most discipline. In May, I also received some disappointing news about a new turn I’d hoped my life could take that might open up new possibilities. Other than acknowledging this at the time (in the midst of packing and prepping to be away for 10 weeks), I didn’t give it much attention until this summer–when Woodrow and Garfield attended one week of the Cru summer programs for kids while in Colorado. That week, when I’d anticipated trying to find some equilibrium that would help draw me back to the healthy habits of time with Jesus and working out consistently (instead of sporadically), I ended up spending much of that time feeling depressed, as I now had solitude and opportunity to reflect on a disappointment that truly challenged my hope.

boy on beach pink shirt

Between drop offs and pick ups for the boys and their camp activities, along with regular chores and errands, and working on some Cru stories, I watched a series on Netflix and cried. And I did spend some time in prayer and in Scripture, but it didn’t seem to stick, because the next week, I barely prayed at all. My journal, where I write prayers, lessons learned, things for which I’m grateful, has been sorely neglected this summer. It’s evidence my own spiritual well-being has been neglected this summer, too.

So here I am…exhausterpated. I made that up, and I kind of like it–it communicates more than “exhausted,” I think. I’m content with doing ENOUGH planning for the school year for now, leaving some til later; I’m content with understanding that I’ll need to complete the rest of the planning as the school year goes on. It’s freeing to know I can take a different approach because I need to give myself a bit of a break.

clipboard and coffee cup

One of my favorite Bible verses is Galatians 5:25–“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Keeping in step with the Spirit involves receiving God’s grace, and I’m doing that by recognizing I don’t have to do everything all at once in order to prepare us for a meaningful year.

This time of year, the enemy also sends lots of accusations and temptations to compare myself and my children to others. I feel this time of year I leap over one hurdle of Satan’s lies only to find another one right in front of me. To face this, I need to keep working at renewing my priority of making the main thing the main thing:  hemming my day in with prayer, with fellowship with Christ.

We often call prayer, journaling, reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture “spiritual disciplines.” But there’s a method I’ve sometimes employed at trying to “grow” myself that is not a spiritual discipline at all:  berating myself.

chess mirror

I have never once successfully beat myself up into doing something good or into doing a good thing better. Many of us probably grew up in the era in which correcting children involved making them feel bad in hopes of getting them to do good. I just don’t believe that works. God doesn’t treat His children that way; He confronts us with our sin, yes, but He never speaks to us with words like “You’ll never get this right if you don’t try harder!” or “You just keep ruining things over and over and over!” 

This is not an approach I’ve taken with my own children, and yet it’s also a habit with myself that has taken years to break. Even now, I’d say it’s only mostly broken. But I’m saying it to myself again:  Berating myself is not a spiritual discipline. 

My 2017 word of the year was and remains “heal.” As we begin a new school year, I’m hoping for some renewed healing.