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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Diapers to the Rescue

If you’re like me, sometimes when you read of or hear about a non-profit organization or outreach, you make your way online to peruse the charity’s website. To find out what they do, what needs they seek to address, whom they target. Then I click on the “donate” or “get involved” or “ways you can help” tab to find out what items might be on the organization’s wish list. Don’t you do that, too? No? Maybe it’s just me.

On the wish lists of many charities that serve families in crisis, you’ll find “diapers” prominently listed–and typically the larger sizes of diapers.

So for the most recent project undertaken by my women’s group (before my family headed out to Colorado), we raised funds to purchase diapers for Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

baby room with changing table

We collectively provided over 1000 diapers, in larger sizes, some specifically for nighttime use. All were disposable diapers (even though I used cloth diapers for my boys and remain a proponent of this option). The reality of living in crisis means not often having a washing machine available, which rules out the usefulness of cloth diapers. Living in Colorado this summer reminded me of the convenience of having one’s own washer and dryer. Our apartment complex housed a couple of laundry rooms, but many, many times–after walking down the steps and around the corner, holding tightly to my quarters–I found the washers all in use. Back upstairs with my laundry basket I went. (We just got home tonight, by the way, so it’s back to using my own laundry room again!)

I managed this less-than-convenient situation for a couple of months this summer. But if I’d had to take a load of my cloth diapers to a laundromat every other day all those years ago–instead of simply opening the doors of our laundry closet in the townhouse where we lived when the boys were little–I’d have given up on cloth diapers.

baby-cloth-clothing-color-41165

So…our donations to Orlando Union Rescue Mission, per their request and for very good reasons, consisted of disposable diapers.

But why diapers, you might ask? This article gives an insightful, thorough explanation of the reality of “diaper need,” and why providing them to families in survival mode is critical. I could explain it here, but the article mentioned above does a much better job.

It’s fulfilling to know that, with something as simple as diapers, a handful of other women and I could pitch in to help fulfill a wish–and meet some pretty big needs.

Looking to support families with diapers in your area? Check out the National Diaper Bank Network for locations near you. 

Running for Her Freedom

On Saturday, my family participated in a 5K race here in Fort Collins, Colorado–all 4 of us. Mike and the boys ran; I volunteered to pass out cups of water to the runners and walkers.

Here we are, after the race, and after Garfield received the trophy for finishing 1st in his age division with a time of 23:57. {I wore leggings with my shorts because it was 64 degrees when we left our apartment a little after 6 AM.}

aruna 5k
Aruna 5K, July, Fort Collins.

Garfield also ran a 5K on Father’s Day this summer (which you can tell if you look closely at the shirt he’s wearing in this photo). This kid blows me away! He genuinely loves to run. He’s found something at which he excels, and I want to keep providing him opportunities to pursue it. We’ve discussed having him join a kids’ running club when we get home to Orlando. I want to take care, though, that we don’t inadvertently squelch the fun in the name of competition.

I ran for a few years back in my 20’s (plus that 5K I did on Easter weekend with the boys this year–only so I could give Garfield the chance to run. He’d asked to run a race, and I didn’t think he should do it by himself, at least not on his first try). I ran multiple 5K races, plus two 10Ks as well back in the day. But my best time for a 5K was 27:29, a far cry from Garfield’s best time (so far) of under 24 minutes.

run for the angels 5K
5K with the boys, April in Orlando. Yes, it’s that same one-leg-behind-the-other pose. And I promise I’m not grimacing, although it appears that way. Garfield (he’s the younger brother) ran this one in 27:04; his Father’s Day 5K time was 25:58. 

Back in the peak of my running days, I lost a toenail and also learned at a doctor’s appointment that my pulse had gotten down to only 49 beats per minute. I ran for discipline, exercise, and to enjoy pursuing–and reaching–a fitness goal. I liked what it did for me, but I did not particularly enjoy the act of running.

Garfield, however, does. He runs for delight. He finished the race this weekend and told me he was going to get back to training on Monday. And even though Woodrow does a fine job himself–his race time today was just a hair over 30 minutes; plus he beat Mike by a few seconds, which had been his goal at the outset, to “whoop” his father, as he put it–nobody in our family has a hope of keeping up with the littlest member of our family.

This makes me so happy for my child, I almost cry thinking about it. It makes me so proud of him, but more so, it thrills me to see Garfield developing into his own unique person.

And this particular race gave us more than an opportunity to get up early and run. The Aruna 5K races take place to raise funds in order to help free women from human trafficking in India through the Aruna Project. Aruna 5K events take place all over the country–and you can even organize one yourself.

The Aruna race here in Fort Collins this weekend was led by a Cru staff couple who wanted to open this opportunity up to Cru folks while out here for our U.S. staff conference. Hundreds and hundreds of Cru staff and their families ran or walked in this race, living out our faith:  All people are created as valuable, made in the image of God, and therefore caring for them (and their freedom) is vital.

Asian little girl happy with water bubble

Helping free women from sex slavery, having an outdoor experience as a family, and seeing my boys run their best:  All this fits into the dreams I had for our family before our sons were even born. Serving together, exercising together (I didn’t run today–but we’ve taken lots of bike rides and hikes this summer, too), being out in nature together…it does this mama’s heart good.

 

Happy Half-Birthday to Me

Today, July 10, is my half birthday:  halfway between age 43 and 44. Sometimes I still pause and catch myself thinking, “Oh, yeah. That’s right–I’m 43!” I see some wrinkles around my eyes and then remind myself, “It’s OK–I AM 43, after all.”

I don’t actually celebrate half birthdays, but I did get some cheerful news this past weekend that almost seemed like a half-birthday present.

easter egg candy in dish

Several years ago, when the boys and I attended a weekly afternoon program with our home-school co-op, I coached a few P.E. classes. For my work, I got paid a modest amount. During the last semester of P.E. coaching, I actually took on a total of 3 (instead of one or 2) P.E. classes, since the other home-school mom serving as a coach was experiencing difficulties with her pregnancy.

During that semester, I made extra–more than I had anticipated. Which was a thrill, because I’d been saving those funds–one dollar per student per week–for a special need. With the unexpected extra money from taking on Hannah’s P.E. classes added to what I earned from my regular classes, I was able to reach a goal sooner:  that of funding an orphan’s release from institutional living in Moldova.

lock on bridge

Moldova, listed as the poorest nation in eastern Europe, sits next door to Romania, where I lived for a year after college. Romanian is also one of Moldova’s national languages. Since Moldova abuts the eastern border of Romania, and I lived all the way across the country, I never visited Moldova. But in the past few years, I’ve read much about this small, formerly Communist nation. When I volunteered for a season with the ministry Samaritan Village (helping in a resale boutique called Transitions that supports the ministry), we watched a documentary as part of our training. From this film, called Nefarious:  Merchant of Souls, we learned that Moldova is sometimes referred to as the “engine of the sex slave trade.” Teenagers aging out of the orphan system have often been prey to those who would buy and sell them.

bike and rider

In the midst of this, a ministry called Sweet Sleep aimed to serve orphans–being part of God’s work to place the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). They worked with churches in Moldova to train believers in foster care and facilitate the transition of these orphans from institutions to families, whether as adopted children or as foster children (Many children relegated to life in Moldovan orphanages have a living parent. The reasons for this are complex and complicated and far beyond what I could describe here). Sweet Sleep’s focus on partnering with Moldovans who already love and follow Christ appealed to me. Plus, I felt the urgency inherent in orphan care in Moldova, as the country made plans to close most of their orphanages.

Here’s where the good news comes in:  I received a newsletter from Sweet Sleep this past weekend, detailing how–after 14 years of serving in Moldova–they’ve reached their goal there. Most of Moldova’s orphanages have closed, the focus in Moldova for orphan care has shifted to indigenous adoption and foster care (instead of orphanages), and the program developed by their partners (Baptist Union of Moldova and church partners in the U.S) is up and running. I explained to my sons that missionaries seek to work themselves out of a job, and that’s what’s happened here. Moldovan families are caring for needy Moldovan children; more children are growing up in families instead of in state-run institutions. And I got to play a part in that. 

love boards

One of my dreams is to polish up my Romanian skills and go visit Moldova–experiencing its culture, history, people, and beauty for myself one day. No matter a country’s woes, there’s always something magnificent to enjoy in each and every place. But even if my visit to Moldova never materializes, the good news from Sweet Sleep was still a great half-birthday gift.

 

 

My Selling Experience with thredUP Online Consignment

For nearly a year, my women’s group (formerly called Women of Vision) has raised funds to support gospel-centered humanitarian work around the world. Our upcoming project stays closer to home, though–we’re raising money to purchase disposable diapers for the families who receive services at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

One way we’ve earned cash for these giving projects is by selling clothing–mostly at brick-and-mortar consignment stores. But at the end of last year–New Year’s Eve, to be exact–I filled a bag near to bursting and mailed it to thredUP, a consignment shop selling items online.

After taking armloads of clothing, shoes, and accessories to Style Encore (a national consignment store chain with 2 locations in Orlando) in December, I took what remained and re-sorted it to determine what I might ship to thredUP. Good:  They accept clothes that are older than what Style Encore will buy. Also good:  ThredUP lists all the brands they accept (such as J Crew, Gap, Express, much more), so I could check on their website before I included a certain item in the bag.

It took over an hour to check each item against their list of accepted brands, but I was willing to invest the time–especially since this fundraising effort cost us nothing. After sorting and organizing, I filled the bag I’d requested from them. Good:  ThredUP sends the shipping bag to you for free, and then you get to ship it back to them for free. I got that bag slap full, in hopes of making more money for our group’s efforts.

thred-up-bag
Full thredUP bag ready for shipping. Cute polka dots, no?

Within a few days, I received an email message confirming that my bag had been delivered. In a few weeks, I got a message with the results of the processing they did of the bag’s contents.  Several items they accepted upfront and offered an amount for those (buying those items from me outright in order to sell them on their site). Fourteen more items they agreed to consign–meaning they would sell the items on their site on my behalf. They would make a profit, and I would receive a portion of the sale, too.

As items sold, I received a message informing me of each sale. (Another good.) With each sale, though, there was a waiting period before I could cash out (not so good). And they set a time limit on how long my items would remain for sale on their site, which is typical for any company or store that agrees to consign items on a seller’s behalf.

When the time began to run out on my consignment items, I logged in and lowered the prices–they give that option (good). I currently have $29.85 in my account–which could be used to purchase pieces on their site. I’m choosing to cash out {obviously}, which means I request the money be sent to me rather than spending it at thredUP. Two options for this:  Have the funds sent to a PayPal account, which charges 2% in fees. OR have it transferred to a Visa gift card, which carries no fees. I chose that option.

toilet planter
Something good where you least expect it…

Now, if you’ve been following the time line, you’ll notice that, from start to finish, this process spanned about 4 and 1/2 months. If you need to raise some fast cash and have some nicer, newer clothes to sell, this is probably not the method for you. I do believe it’s worth it for what we’re trying to accomplish, but this procedure does require some patience. If you are willing to wait, however, you might find this a pleasantly surprising way to turn some unwanted pieces into a bit of mad money. ThredUP also sells children’s clothing, so you might go that route, as well.

You have the option to request your items be returned to you if they are not bought, but that will cost you. Otherwise–and this is good–the unwanted pieces are donated.

By selling clothes and other items that dropped in my lap free of charge–from friends and family–our group will pocket over $29 to assist in our diaper-buying efforts. All it cost me was time. This selling option gave us money that we wouldn’t otherwise have raised. For that, I’m thankful, and I’d be willing to do it again.

 

 

4 Things I Learn from Being a One-Car Family

Today, for the first time in well over a week, I went to the grocery store. My husband’s car pool situation didn’t work so well this week, and he had to drive by himself each day. He elected to work from home today {Friday}.With access to our van, I could therefore drive to the store so I could restock the fridge and pantry.

In March, we celebrated–and I do mean celebrated–5 years of functioning as a one-car family of 4. Half a decade! For families in larger cities, where public transit is more available, this might not seem such a feat. For other families, managing a household with 2 drivers and 2 children but only one car sounds unreasonable. But we do, and (for the most part) we do it well.

boys catching wind
The boys catching a breeze in the backyard one day.

This all started in the fall of 2011, thanks in part to many of the books I’d been reading–from works by the well-known Christian author Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President:  Politics for Ordinary Radicals and The Irresistible Revolution, to a book called Radical Homemaking:  Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by author Shannon Hayes. [Side bar:  I cannot recommend Radical Homemaking highly enough! It’s NOT a feel-good book about decorating and entertaining as a happy wife. It IS a manifesto of sorts about the value of being a producer more than a consumer, and how “homemaking” frees us up to do that.]

I was yearning to simplify our lives in radical ways. By driving less, I knew we could accomplish that:  less money spent on car insurance, upkeep, gasoline, tolls; less pollution contributed to the environment. That fall, I began praying that my husband would come on board with the idea of being a one-car family. At that time, we had a small 4-door car and a mini-van. I stayed at home with the boys, and many days the van simply sat in the parking lot of our townhouse complex. I didn’t broach the topic with Mike so much as I mentioned, once in a while, what the benefits might be of ridding ourselves of a vehicle. And I kept praying.

Months later, as I again offered my thoughts of how we could probably get by with one car, Mike showed interest. He’d been considering it. We had a thorough conversation about it, and we agreed to give it a go. We sold the mini-van and kept our Hyundai Elantra. In case you don’t know, this model of car is small. But I loved driving it! It was peppy. It got totaled in a wreck in 2014 (no worries; the boys and I were fine, and Mike wasn’t with us at the time), and I still miss that little car that the boys had named Gray-ie. (Our silver van was named Sylvia; our current mini-van, purchased after the Elantra was totaled, is white. The boys named it Igloo. I never get a say in these things.)

air boat ride
Waiting for an air boat ride almost 5 years ago.

My plan (casual comments and lots of prayer) had worked! Incidentally, I tried the same tactic a couple of years ago regarding getting rid of our TV–to no avail. Let it be a reminder to me that prayer is not a magic formula, and that my husband is NOT EXACTLY like me.

In these past 5 years, I’ve been learning some lessons from this one-car lifestyle. Here are 4 of them:

  1. Living a simple life requires intention. Simple living isn’t synonymous with “easy” living. In our middle-class, North American culture, one must be deliberate about saying “no” to the never-ending influx of stuff. In terms of vehicle ownership, we’ve also had to be intentional with planning:  car pools, schedules, dentist appointments. Once Mike had to leave the boys’ soccer practice early to get to a Cub Scout leaders’ meeting. He took the car, while I stayed at the park and fished with the boys after practice concluded until he came back to pick us up. There are many instances where one of us drops off the other (with or without children, depending on the event) and comes back later to pick that spouse up. We have to be committed to figuring things out in order to make this work.

    wilson and calvin on floor in pallet
    The boys (AKA Woodrow and Garfield) enjoying their living room fort years ago.
  2. Being interdependent on one another is good. And it’s not the same as being dependent. Choosing to own only one vehicle means that there are times when we need to ask for help. Whether it’s Mike’s talking with co-workers about carpooling (which typically benefits both parties) to sometimes asking for a ride or even borrowing a friend’s extra car after Gray-ie got totaled but before we bought Igloo, we sometimes find ourselves needing to seek out others’ help. You know what? That’s how the life of Christ-followers is meant to be lived.

    We seem to value individualism and independence so greatly in our society that we often do almost anything to avoid putting ourselves in the position of needing. But the early church didn’t seem to live this way:  Acts 2:44-45:  “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

    Every person within the body of Christ both has something significant to offer as well as a need to receive what others can offer. Sometimes our family simply needs a friend who will drive my husband home from work or drop off Woodrow at Boy Scouts.

    And what can we offer? In late February, a homeless mom and her 2 daughters stayed with us for 3 days while they transitioned from a shelter to an extended-stay hotel. I did their laundry, gave the mom a pair of my underwear (she had only one), and drove her to and from work on a Saturday. On that Sunday, I babysat her 2 children–one of whom was sick–while she worked, and Mike drove her to and from work. I can offer my home, my time, my decent abilities at cooking to provide a meal… Philippians 2:4…do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Friends and fellow Christ-followers do this for us, and we do it for others, too.

    boys rain boots

  3. Living according to my convictions and priorities is worth the work. I studied Environmental Biology in college, primarily because I loved God’s creation and believed this reflection of His beauty and creativity should be protected, that caring for the world He made also helped care for the people He created. So it matters to me how my family lives on God’s green earth. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it…” I believe He holds us accountable to that. How are we treating His earth? 
  4. We do what we can. I can’t do everything, so I do what I can. Do you know the story of Katie Davis, from her book Kisses for Katie? In her own words, this very young woman quit her comfortable life, moved to Uganda, and began serving there:  teaching school, adopting orphans, caring for the sick. I read her book in my late 30’s and felt the longing that it stirred in my own soul. But I can’t quit my life as it stands now. I can’t drop everything and move to a developing nation, unless God leads our family to do so. Instead of daydreaming about what I might do, I try to pay attention to what I CAN do. We CAN survive and even thrive with one car, saving money which frees us up to give more generously, causing a bit less pollution in our world. We do what we can.

    Fellow Christ-followers, how might God’s Spirit be tugging at your heart to take a step of faith in living simply–in doing what you can? I’d love to hear your thoughts because I love being inspired by others.

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

When my grandfather died in February, my husband, sons, and I drove back to my hometown in Mississippi. We spent several days there, grieving together and telling stories about Papa. While staying at my parents’ house, I asked my mama for scrap fabric to make more quilt tops for a charity called My Brother’s Keeper Quilt Group. In 2001, I made a quilt top and sent it to them for their volunteers to turn into a 7′ x 7′ sleeping bag for a homeless person. Then in 2014, I pieced together another quilt top and sewed one in 2015, too. 

I like the act of hand sewing, even though I’m not particularly gifted at it. I find it soothing, and the fact that I can see a finished product at the end is refreshing. I don’t often get that experience of easily-visible accomplishment in my role as mother and home school parent. When Mike and I lived in New Zealand as missionaries to college students (pre-children) I helped one of our teammates by taking apart a bride’s maid skirt so it could be sewn into a new dress. I didn’t have a seam ripper (a specific sewing tool) then, but using a pair of scissors, I carefully took apart every stitch in that skirt and kept the fabric intact. This slow, simple task had a calming effect on me–and it helped our co-worker, as her wedding quickly approached. (The new bride’s maid dresses turned out beautifully, incidentally.)

There’s something healing about a steady, mindless-yet-mindful task like hand sewing. And I wanted to do more. So back in Mississippi, Mama took me to the closet where she keeps stacks of fabric she no longer wishes to use and began pulling out piece after piece. Into the mix, she added multiple large sections of fabric given to her by a retired teacher who attends church with my parents. This woman (who taught one of my brothers in first grade) wanted to get back into quilting after her retirement. But a diagnosis of terminal cancer prevented her from pursuing this. She didn’t want the fabric to go to waste, so she called Mama and asked her to come choose some pieces for herself. Many of those found their way to me.

Back home, I began sewing. The large fabric pieces made creating a 7′ x 7′ quilt top go quickly. I put together two of them, after buying more thread. We went back to Mississippi for spring break–so the boys could play with cousins and so I could spend time with my now-widowed grandmother–and Mama helped me hem the edges of the two tops with her sewing machine. Actually–let’s be honest–she did all the hemming with the machine. Here are the finished products, folded and stacked and ready for mailing.

quilt top 2017 2

I love that these quilt tops are a hodge podge of color, print, design. I love that they don’t have to look any particular way–they just have to be 7 feet by 7 feet. I love that, by doing something so satisfying, I can contribute to helping homeless people stay warm.

quilt top 2017 1

I had so much fabric left after these 2 tops that I have begun sewing a third and probably will make a fourth one as well this year. I’d love to see all that discarded fabric put to good use.

I thread the needle, and then I pull the needle through the fabric, stitching pieces both large and small together, bit by bit. Over time, I build something useful. Maybe that’s part of what appeals to me about sewing–building something useful.