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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New Life for an Old Dress

At the end of this month, Mike and I will mark 15 years of being married. That’s longer than all of elementary and middle and high school combined. So much has happened in all these years.

colorful cogs

Eleven days before our wedding was to take place, our florist quit her job. She arranged floral displays at a theme park in central Florida, and there was no other florist employed there who could take over where she left off. I learned of this when one of her co-workers called me at work to break the news. This woman offered to meet me at a grocery store to pick out flowers, but I declined. She mailed back my check, plus the 2 tin buckets I’d brought to the florist for her to use for the flower arrangements I’d ordered.

We’d already planned for the bridesmaids to carry bouquets of artificial flowers, made by my mama and sister. Mama and Rachel also made boutonnieres for the groomsmen. I’d planned to have only Mike’s boutonniere, my bridal bouquet, and 2 arrangements of blue hydrangeas as actual flowers. Because:  budget. But after the original florist quit, I settled for using real flowers only for my bouquet. A neighbor of one of my co-workers worked with flowers, so I paid her $50 for a bouquet featuring a huge hydrangea bloom in a delicate pale blue. All in all, losing our original florist turned out to be only a minor setback.

For our wedding, I borrowed a veil (from my friend and bridesmaid Nicole); I also borrowed shoes from my sister. I wore my great-grandmother’s pearls. That covers “borrowed” and “old.” To represent the “blue,” I switched my regular nose ring out for a tiny stud with a blue stone in it. (I’ve had a nose ring since I was 25, in case you didn’t know.) The little blue stone fell out in a matter of weeks, but it did provide the traditional “blue” for the wedding ceremony.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…My “new” consisted of the wedding dress that my mama sewed for me, and she did it in the span of only a few days during a visit to Orlando.

allison wedding day (1)
That’s my Daddy in the background, which is probably where he prefers to be when a camera comes out.

Many years after we married, after our two boys were born, and I realized that we weren’t having any more children (and that I wouldn’t have a daughter), I decided to do something with my wedding dress apart from hanging it in our bedroom closet.

I sought out opportunities and came upon the Mary Madeline Project.  This group of volunteers sews wedding and bridesmaid dresses into burial gowns for babies who die in the neonatal period at hospitals, as well as for stillbirths.

I have a family member who lost a baby at around 18 weeks gestation; volunteer sewers provided him with a burial outfit, although it was not connected to the Mary Madeline Project. I’m so thankful for that gift to the grieving parents who lost their baby boy. I’ve never personally had to face such a loss, but I believe (if I found myself in those circumstances) I wouldn’t want to have to exert energy on selecting burial clothes for a newborn if I could simply receive those as a gift.

i will always love you lock

So that’s the route I took–I boxed up my wedding dress and mailed it to the Mary Madeline Project. Later, when I received their thank-you note detailing how the fabric of my dress would be used, I cried–not because I missed my dress nor because I experienced second thoughts about having given it away, but because I imagined myself in the place of those parents. And I felt gratified knowing my wedding dress would find new life in honoring the short but significant lives of premature or stillborn infants.

In all these 15 years of marriage, I remain grateful that I could pass along the wedding dress my mama made for her child so it could hopefully bless the parents of other children.

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.

 

 

Something New Saturday: Chocolate Sourdough Bread

I first discovered chocolate sourdough bread (also known as sourdough noir) in a novel my friend Meg gave me for my birthday this past January. I’d never heard of it until I read about it in the pages of Stones for BreadAnd I determined that I would bake it.

As the name implies, it’s bread (not cake) so it’s not as sweet as a typical dessert. The recipe included in the novel (and one that I found online) called for dried fruits as well as chocolate and baking cocoa, along with sugar. I used mixed dried berries for our loaf.

I’ve made sourdough bread for years–just the plain kind which I bake from scratch using a homemade sourdough starter. We use this bread for sandwiches, French toast, and everything in between. Even homemade croutons. I also brought my big jar of starter out here to Colorado with us–which took some amount of care, let me tell you. Sourdough noir, however, is anything but plain. It’s also a good deal more complicated in how it’s made, as compared to the regular sourdough bread that I bake by rote at this point.

sour dough noir
Finished product:  chocolate sourdough bread.

I liked the results, and the boys really enjoyed it, too–we toasted slices of it for breakfast and snacks. Smeared with some Kerrygold butter, it tasted delectable. I do plan to make it again. Next time, I’ll use semi-sweet chocolate chips, instead of a bar of dark chocolate broken into bits.

chocolate sourdough with butter

Since we’ve been in Colorado, I’ve even used my sourdough starter to make pizza dough. It was moderately successful, but I’m keen to try again–just as I am with the sourdough noir. 

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard

Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.