A Little Risk Brings Sweet Reward

A certain Ukrainian proverb goes something like this:  He who doesn’t risk, doesn’t drink champagne. In English, we’d probably say Nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

Either way, the point seems clear…If we take no risks, we’ll have no reason to celebrate.

champagne

Which is why I listed Write + submit, submit, submit! as one of my 2018 goals. Every time I offer something I’ve written for publication–whether for a paying market or not–I’m risking rejection. I recently started some additional work with Cru, and it involves writing (and being edited by other people). I’m still rounding the learning curve in both these new roles, so I make mistakes. Of course. 

I took a risk in raising my hand to volunteer for this ministry work, just as I take a risk in submitting my writing.

The risk pays off, even if only in experience gained. But sometimes the risk results in other gains, too.

mug and magazine

Woman’s World magazine published a little blurb I wrote in their “Circle of Kindness” feature; you can read it in the June 11 issue (see it up there?). I’ve often written stories about kindness, and this one tells of a good deed performed as a service to me. I’ve sent at least 7 stories to the “Circle of Kindness” feature; now I get to see one of them in print.

The other little present in the photo? A gift from the Distinguished Young Women of Mobile County scholarship program I judged (along with 4 other individuals) this past weekend in Alabama.

As a high school student, I competed in this program (called Young Woman of the Year back then) and earned enough to pay for 2 semesters of college. I’ve judged programs in Florida and Georgia and invested thousands of hours volunteering for this program over many years in Florida. Although I no longer serve any particular program, I always appreciate an opportunity to judge.

There was a bit of risk involved with this, too. Months ago, feeling that I needed to unearth more outlets for myself (apart from serving my family and serving with Cru), I contacted a volunteer with the Distinguished Young Women program in my hometown. I asked her if she would mention me as a potential judge if she interacted with volunteers from other programs in need of judges (so far I haven’t been able to judge in my hometown).

That request could have come to naught, but she did pass my name along, and, in March, I received a phone call asking me to judge in early June this year. If you’re reading this Ms. Audra, thank you! 

If we take steps of faith in obedience to God’s leading, that’s the victory. Obedience in itself is a blessing. This weekend, God heaped on a few extra blessings, too. Now I’m off to celebrate–not with champagne but with herbal tea in my new Distinguished Young Women mug.

Cheers!

 

 

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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.

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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. 

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. 

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.

 

5 Must-Haves for My Frugal Household

On our way back to Orlando from sheltering at my parents’ home in Mississippi last fall–to escape Hurricane Irma–I read a book called Faithfully Frugal (and blogged about it here). It provided much encouragement to keep pressing on with frugal living–but, more than that, it pointed me to the heart motives and reasons for maintaining a frugal lifestyle.

painted egg

And one of my 2018 goals is to continue in the journey toward faithful frugality. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my go-to items that help equip us for simplicity in the Lee house.

  1. A clothesline. This provides a savings of less than $100 per year for our family (which I estimated based on a few blog posts I read–it will vary from household to household). But the money saved last year by using a clothesline covered the cost of the shoes I bought to run a 5K with the boys. I appreciate using the sunshine and breeze to accomplish the work (for free) that our clothes dryer would otherwise do. This process is good for the environment, too. In our townhouse–where clotheslines were disallowed–we used a few folding dryer racks instead.
  2. A library card. This gives our family access to free books, movies, and e-books–vital for a home schooling family. We do own a number of books, but the library offers a plethora of resources–and my children are learning to use the library. One of Garfield’s favorite things to do is sit in the reference section of the downtown library perusing guidebooks of collectible toy cars.

old books

3. Cloth napkins. We don’t buy paper napkins. Well, maybe once every couple of               years…for a birthday party or Scout event. We’ve received lots of beautiful cloth              napkins for gifts, and last year we bought a set at Kohl’s with our $10-off-anything-in-the-store coupon–because the set we’d bought with a gift card (received as a wedding present) had finally worn out after almost 15 years of use.

4.  Castile soap. I use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (currently the lavender-scented variety) in a number of ways:  for homemade laundry detergent, dishwasher gel, and foaming hand soap. I ordered this 3-pack of foaming soap dispensers in January–so far, so good. I think the recipe for liquid hand soap that accompanies these dispensers calls for 80 DROPS of essential oil–for one batch of soap! Too much. I leave out the essential oil entirely, because the castile soap already has a scent. The dispensers are reusable (no need to buy bottle after bottle of Soft Soap or the like for your bathroom counter), and the fact that the dispensers cause the soap to foam means less soap gets used with each hand-washing. I’ve even used castile soap in homemade toothpaste. 

colored eggs in nest

5.  Hair clippers/scissors. We received a set (pair? just one?) of Wahl’s hair clippers as a wedding gift from Mike’s parents almost 16 years ago. To add to our hair cut supplies, we purchased a pair of hair cut shears (about $14) from a beauty supply shop, along with some oil to keep the clippers in working order. This small investment pays off every month. 

Hopefully, these simple-living tips will inspire you on your own path of money-saving ventures that fit your life and family.

 

Wear It Well Wednesday: Red Jeans + Black Shoes

When I found this pair of red skinny jeans in the box my sister-in-law sent me from her recent closet clean-out, I had a feeling they’d work well for me. And they do! They are so comfortable, the kind I like to throw on our bedroom chair at the end of the day and then put back on again in the morning. (I home school, so I can do that.)

I recently wore this outfit to church and had fun putting it together–particularly because I didn’t know how well the top would go with the pants.

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The jeans are actually a pale shade of red, and the shirt features some pink/coral detail. But I am very happy with how this pairing turned out! Besides the hand-me-down jeans, the shirt and tank top (worn underneath) were Christmas gifts from about 3 years ago–as was the clock necklace I’m wearing here. I also have on the “Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.” cuff that my parents gave me for Christmas this past December.

Since I wear both my cowboy boots and the shorter, tan boots so much, I decided on a different pair the morning I wore this combo to church–the black semi-high heels I bought last summer at a thrift store in Colorado. I own 5 pairs of shoes:  two pairs of boots; one pair of athletic shoes; a pair of Keens sandals; and these black pumps.

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The Mary Jane-type shoes cost $8, so for the entire outfit seen here, I paid just that–$8. And that was money spent on a secondhand item. As I like to say, If you love God’s earth, buy second first!

And speaking of love…it’s Valentine’s Day! It’s also the first anniversary of my Papa’s death; I’ll call my Nanny and send her my love today. Go hug your loved ones or send them your love. And do something you love. This week, I submitted 2 stories I’ve written to outlets for possible publication. We’ll see what happens! I love the gift of anticipation, too.