What Do You Mean There Can’t Be Two Chiefs?

One Christmas morning years ago my husband gave me a book called The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, by Dr. Laura Schlessinger.  I looked at him, laughed and distinctly remember asking, “Is this is a joke?”  The mere receipt of this gift was so impactful that, to this day, I actually remember where I was sitting in my family room when I opened it and that’s saying a lot since I can’t remember what I did yesterday.  When I saw the look on his face, I knew it wasn’t a joke.  I guess he felt like I needed some help.  I set it aside, but as is my way, my curiosity got the better of me and weeks later I picked it up, prepared to read it and complain about everything written within its pages.  Much to my surprise, Dr. Laura was right on … example after example she took on the whiny, overbearing wife, the wife who struggled for the upper hand in the marriage, and put her in her place, which I soon discovered, was not the head of the household.  Even more surprising was that I found myself in more of the examples than I wanted to.

So began some self-reflection for me.  For someone who has trouble admitting failure or someone who can defend a point of view to the death even when it their own mind they know it’s completely wrong, is not as easy task.  It was more important that I “think” I’m right; whether I was or not didn’t even enter into the equation.

When I first started coming to the church I currently attend, I had just read this book.  This topic fascinated me to the point where I thought it would be interesting to have a Women’s Bible Study on this very subject; find out if there are other wives out there who felt like me and struggled with this.  When I approached the then Associate Pastor’s wife about it, she chuckled and referred me to the Senior Pastor’s wife, whom she fondly referred to as the “Right Reverend Mother.”   Nine years later, I am still pulling for a small group on this topic because I consider the “Right Reverend Mother” one of my mentors.  I go to her often when I need advice on tweens, teens, college kids and yes, submission!  She is my fellow melancholy but as an outsider, who knows my family, she gives unbiased feedback and has the wisdom to redirect me when she sees I might be wandering.  She has been on both sides of this sticky thicket of a topic, so I keep trying to “encourage” her that this would be an awesome small group!

It’s really not hard for me to see fairly quickly and with pretty good accuracy who “rules the roost” in a husband-wife relationship; my mentor says I may have a gift of discernment.  Unfortunately, it’s also easy to see what happens when the wife dictates the course of the family.  We live in a culture that demeans men and their role in order to put the woman in a higher place.  Remove any marital aspect out of that statement, and it still never ends well; it’s just tearing others down to build oneself up.  It’s amazing when you actually pay attention to how men are portrayed on television.  It’s quite blatant and it’s no wonder our culture is a mess.  Our young men and women are getting their direction on how to treat one another and what their roles should be from television shows or even from what they see in the home.

My own mother cooked and cleaned, worked a part-time job, and as is usually the case, was the primary care giver of us four girls while my father worked to support his family. So what broke down between her generation and mine?  Why, when I was first married, was I so hell bent on making sure I was the complete opposite? Did I grow up seeing what she did and think that I was going to be different?  I would cook when I felt like it, clean when I felt like it, iron what?, etc.  If it didn’t get done, then oh well!   For those of you who know my mother, she is a feisty, opinionated, food-bearing, w/a tad OCD Polish lady who took good care of my sisters and I and my dad; and still does.   I’m sure she may see her role as mundane some days, like many of us see those same roles in our own lives, but it works and has worked and I know that my dad would do absolutely anything for her.

Years later, I would come to watch these roles exhibited in my in-laws 50+ years of marriage.  They live out Ephesians 5:21-33.  Their devotion to one another is rare.  I have no doubt that my mother-in-law has a say, but I also believe she knows that my father-in-law’s place is as the leader of the family.  There is a reason God put this order and it’s not a bad thing.   Our husbands are our covering.  We may come across as “I can take care of this myself”,  but if we’re honest and get out of our own arrogant way, I think we want to be taken care of.  It’s our nature and while it took me years to figure this out, it’s okay!

I look at the different areas outside of our families where this authoritative structure should also be in place, school, church, government, etc. and is not.  The dysfunction is rampant.  There seems to be little to no respect for authority and that starts in the family.  I am convinced now more than ever that feminism has played a significant role in the demise of the American family.  I worked outside the home from age 17 to age 34, took a break to stay home when children 3 and 4 arrived, and went back at age 40.  I am not a feminist, I do not hate men, I do not think men oppress women, I know I can do whatever I put my mind to and I like to work, go figure.

Recently Candace Cameron-Bure (DJ Tanner from Full House) was getting a lot of flack from feminists about a small comment she wrote in her new book about being submissive to her husband of 17 years.  One video clip I saw was of a panel discussing this issue, consisting of feminists and non-feminists.  The non-feminist panel member could not even complete her statement (which ironically was Biblically based) because the head of the panel cut her off, stuttering and stammering her anger that there are actually women out there who think this is okay (like we’re living in the dark ages).  The venom with which she spoke with was so disturbing that I had to “Google” her to find out what could possibly have caused her to be so angry.  If feminism is supposed to be a good thing, why did this woman seem so unhappy?  I was not surprised to find that dysfunction wove it’s way though this woman’s childhood and adult years.

Does being under my husband’s covering mean I don’t get a say?  Have you met me?  I have a say and I always have an opinion!  Just ask my husband, my parents, my sisters and my friends.  But admittedly, the best and most peaceful times in our 24 (soon to be 25)  years of marriage are the times when I have submitted to my husband’s leadership.  Those early years were pretty rough.  It was my way or no way and when I look back, it was not a good thing.  We could have saved ourselves a lot of aggravation.  Those lessons I learned are important to me to pass on to my daughters.

So I still find myself occasionally reverting back to my old ways of trying to get the upper hand, but the difference is that now I can see it when it’s happening and at least try to stop my stubborn self.  All it really takes is that I just have my say, leaving those big decisions to be made to my husband, remembering how much calmer and happier I am.  And he can vouch for just wanting me to “be happy”.

Years ago, I loaned that original copy of The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands book that began my period of self-reflection out to a woman at our church and is usually the case, it was never to be seen again.  My hope is that it’s circulating.  In the meantime, a replacement copy went on my Amazon Wish List a few years ago and I’m happy to report that it’s back in the house again.

 

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I Do Believe That’s One Of Our Apples…

I guess I thought I was doing my part in raising our kids to be self-sufficient. My two oldest think they are because they had lived (recent graduate) and are living (junior year) away at college. I suppose in a way they did function as if they were independent, because the good Lord knows, I can count on one half a hand the number of phone calls we, their birth parents, received from them. The threat of turning off their cell phones if they didn’t respond in a 24-hour period usually prompted a courtesy check-in call from them which I know was done on “the way to class” so they wouldn’t be subjected to any call longer than a walk from the dorm to their next class.  They love to remind their two younger siblings how “tough” they had it growing up. They enjoy telling them how I made them make their own school lunches when they were just barely able to reach the kitchen counter, how they had to clean the bathrooms, eat foods they didn’t like (ask our oldest about the time we had him eat an apple), how they never received an allowance for any chores they did and how I didn’t tolerate grades below a 90.

When I was that age I was not only making my own lunch and cleaning bathrooms, but also doing laundry, making dinner, mowing the lawn which also included enduring numerous blisters from raking said lawn because for some reason my father never bought a mower with a bagger or if he did have one, we never knew where it was. I also had to take in and unpack the groceries week after week and eat whatever was made for dinner which was always something my father liked, never mind what any of us kids wanted. I never made my kids eat cube steak the way my dad likes it, DRY! As a matter of fact, I don’t even think my kids know what cube steak is.

I will admit when they first left for college I wondered if they would get up in time for their early classes, if they would eat healthy, if they would go to bed at a decent hour, how often would they do their laundry, would they study? I never really worried about them making friends because they both take after their father and get along with everyone. But because of that I did worry that they remember why they were there and not buy into this “whole college experience” malarkey that some parents want their kids to have. Your father and I are helping you pay for an education whereby the goal is to choose an employable field of study, attain a job in said field of study, earn a living and stay out of debt and out of our basement when you are older. After their first couple visits home I could see they were still alive and well and that they must have figured it all out, although I’m pretty sure my son knew before he left for college that he wasn’t supposed to do all his laundry in one load, as evidenced by the white socks and t-shirts not being so white anymore. Perhaps he thought he was making good use of his time saving skills?

My daughter’s recent visit home from college began with her dropping her bag in her room and noticing that her bed was not made. She came to me asking where her sheets were. I told her I had washed and dried them but they were still sitting in the dryer. Instead of her offering to going down two flights of stairs to get the sheets from the dryer she gives me a sigh, my guilt sets in and I retrieve a set of sheets from the closet and she begrudgingly makes her bed. Thankfully I had gotten rid of the Care Bear and Barney sheets before she got home.  It is getting late at this point (we had been at a very long swim meet and ate dinner very late) and I am now in bed, literally about to fall asleep when I am awoken by same daughter now asking where her “big blanket” is. “Probably in your closet?” I say groggily. “Oh.” she turns and leaves my room not to be seen until mid-day. I am wide-awake again.

The next afternoon I come home from work to find her watching America’s Next Top Model or Boy Meets World, both of which I am convinced are in programming cahoots with the college break schedule. I come home to a sink full of dishes that held whatever food concoctions she has made in the two hours between her awakening and my coming home.  Those in my family know that one of my pet peeves is dishes in the sink when there is a perfectly good dishwasher nearby that is ready and waiting to receive the remnants of breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I think my kids suffer from dishwasher dementia. They are unable to determine if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty even though the big red light tells them so, because they know if they are indeed clean they might be asked to unload and that will create a snafu in their attempt to do as little as possible, so instead they play dumb and resort to putting them in the sink and exiting the vicinity as quickly as possible.

Day three of her visit she awakes, comes downstairs, looks around the kitchen and proceeds to tell me how her friend Jenny’s mom makes Jenny and her brother breakfast EVERY morning when they are home from school. I respond with an eye roll and tell her there is yogurt in the fridge. I can’t keep up and frankly after four kids, I’m tired. I was 23 when my first was born and 35 when the last one arrived. Something happened in that 10+ year time-frame…I think I got old!

So she spent her time with us, eating, studying, watching TV, napping, along with a constant reminder that she needed some supplies (aka groceries) that she wrote on a list that she subtly placed on the part of the counter where she knew I would see it. “Who’s paying for this?” I ask. $60 less in my checking account, she flashes her big smile at me and I follow with yet another eye roll.

So I got to thinking and asking myself what exactly is my job? If I didn’t bring the washed, dried and folded towels up from the basement and restock the towel “less” linen closet, would the kids resort to pulling pillowcases and placemats from the closet to dry themselves? If I didn’t replace the toilet paper on the roll or have extra rolls waiting in the wings, would they just sit there and wonder before panic sets in and they begin to yell in desperation? I wonder too how small they can let that sliver of soap get before they don’t think to reach under the vanity located directly across from the shower for a replacement bar? And my personal favorite … witnessing this game they play to see how much trash can they balance precariously on top of itself before thinking, “Hey, I should probably take that out.” And then decide, “Nah, I can make it fit in there.”

Now in all fairness my kids are great, but I don’t like to tell them that too often. Exhorting does not come naturally to me, as any fellow melancholy can tell you; some might see me as awkward if they ever caught me in the act. And in my defense, I think part of the problem with a lot of kids today is that their parents make them feel “too great” and these kids are growing up thinking they are the end all be all…narcissism, I think is what it’s called. We don’t make excuses for our kids and expect them to make good choices, knowing full well that will not always happen. But they know regardless that we love them…unconditionally. Part of our job is to get them ready to leave the nest. So without wishing time away, I admittedly look forward to seeing how they will function when they are really self-sufficient, out on their own, out from under our covering, how they will live with their spouses, how they will raise their families and how they will run their households, because as I have discovered after almost 25 years of marriage , which my father-in-law said the day he married Tim and I, “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”

But that’s whole ‘nother story …

Is It “I Do” … Or What I Didn’t Do?

There are very few shows I DVR on television, as the selections are slim pickings these days.  They are Duck Dynasty,  Last Man Standing, Say Yes to the Dress (NY and Atlanta) and Four Weddings.

Four Weddings is a show where four brides who don’t know each other go to each other’s weddings and judge them in different areas (i.e. dress, venue, food, etc.).  Whoever scores the most points wins a honeymoon.   For the amount of money that is spent on some of these shindigs, it boggles the mind that they have to enter a contest to try and win a honeymoon.  Which begs the question of any reality show, “why are you REALLY doing this?”  I think we all know the answer.  That being said, if my wedding 23+ years ago was being judged by the standards of this show, I would have been the first contestant to come out scoring in the negative.

They have expanded this show to areas other than New York City and Jersey, which is a good thing because some of these brides are B-R-U-T-A-L.    I found that the Boston area, California and southern brides were the kindest towards one another.

Let’s start with the dress.  I first saw my dress in a Brides magazine, found out where it was sold locally and took at trip to the Wedding Gallery, a store that when I drove by years later was turned into a fish taco place.  It was the first dress I tried on and the one I ended up buying myself for $500.  The average dress on these shows is around $2,000-$5,000, although there are many that are upwards of $10,000+ and many where the brides want multiple dresses for the day.  Strapless was unheard of in the 80’s and now you’re considered “old-fashioned” if you don’t have enough skin or your figure showing.  Nothing says beauty and grace like asking the bride how she wants to look on her day and she replies, “sexy”.  Really?  No offense, but I don’t care to see your valleys and alleys as you’re walking down the aisle or out on the dance floor.  Save that for your husband and spare us the show please.  My three daughters all know how I feel about this. They know I have absolutely no problem with strapless dresses at a certain age and as long as I don’t see their “business” we’re cool.

I watched a Say Yes to Dress episode quite some time ago where a young bride had augmentation done JUST for her wedding, waited until 5 months before the big day to get a dress and was quite distressed when told that the sample dresses (which she had to choose from for time purposes) were mostly B cup sizes and didn’t come in DD.  She was distressed because it was most imperative that she be able to “show off” her “ladies”, as she called them.  I about gagged.  Where have we come as a society when the goal of finding a wedding dress includes showing your “ladies” off.  What are we mothers raising?

Did you know many weddings have themes now?  If so, mine would have been standard minimalist, competing with the likes of Hollywood Glam, Country Chic, Tree Hugger Extraordinaire, etc.

Cocktail hour … well, I don’t know where to begin on this one; big hairy deal apparently. These days you can have your own signature drink created and made available to your guests.  Now I don’t agree with a cash bar, however, if you come to a wedding where the comments are that you can’t have a good time because there is no alcohol, perhaps you have other issues.  I must say there is nothing classier than guests in a drunken stupor at your celebration and even more so, a drunk bride and/or groom.  In addition to the beverages, many of these receptions have full-on hors’ d oeuvres and carving stations, something that would resemble a buffet dinner somewhere else.  I’m guessing my veggie platter and cheese and cracker platter would have been a sure flunk!

As mentioned above, food is a big hairy deal.  I’ve told myself that when my children take the plunge, food must be a priority.  It’s nice to see on this show that they still have buffet, family style and sit down options.  The buffet doesn’t score big period, unless the food choices are exceptional and HOT.  Some of these brides had never heard of family style, which is what I had, and sit down, the most expensive option to have and which seems to be the favorite with the caveat that the food must be five-star.

Most brides on this show frown upon live music.  Guess that leaves the Polka band out!  DJs are in, but they must know how to get people out on the dance floor, because nothing says reception flop like an empty dance floor.  Thank goodness my dance area was so small that it appeared full most of the time.  I did like our DJ because he played real music, not music that guests felt the need to bump and grind to.  I’m sure grandmas and grandpas would appreciate not seeing that display!

Entertainment does not necessarily include the music these days.  Apparently it’s common to have special guests at your event.  You can have impersonators, belly dancers, acrobats, fireworks, flash mobs, etc.  Who knew? I guess we must be constantly entertained because of our short attention spans.

It’s fascinating to see where these brides (and grooms although we never see them) decide to spend the money on this one-day event.  You’re judged harshly if you don’t have enough flowers (and don’t even think about having fake flowers) or if you don’t pull you theme off.  I, the minimalist, can fix that, don’t have a theme!  See, I was ahead of my time. One episode had a $160,000 price tag on the event, the most expensive of the four weddings in this particular competition.  She was the most opinionated of the brides and despite all of her attention to detail, did not win and actually came in last place.  How’s that for a kick in the chops?  Her one-day event cost twice as much as my first house! And her husband joked during their vows about sleeping in his car to pay for the day.

Now let’s get to the last portion which should be the first portion … the actual ceremony, you know, the portion which actually legalizes the union.  Prepare to be judged if your ceremony is (1) in a church, (2) in a church or other venue with a long service, (3) in a church or venue where the officiate speaks in a foreign language such as Greek or Latin, (4) in a church or other venue without much décor.  Notice a theme here?  Don’t get me started on making your guests suffer through a ceremony lacking air conditioning or worse yet, having an outdoor wedding! We’re not spoiled, are we?

It’s a shame that we’ve grown up in such a self-centered world and we think the world revolves around us, especially on this special day.  Do we raise our daughters to believe that this day is all about them instead of being about their commitment to their future husband? Believe me, if during your planning, you think that your guests will remember everything about your wedding, trust me, they won’t.  Remember, we have very short attention spans. It’s a very important day in your life, a day to receive God’s gift to us, His covenant of marriage. Your guests are mere witnesses to this important covenant.  My husband kept telling me not to focus so much on the day but rather our lives afterwards, but I was a naïve 21-year-old and didn’t listen. And therefore, the day after I thought, “Now what do I do?”

I guess it was to think about everything I didn’t do?

The Case for Mitt Romney

by Joshua Mertzlufft
‘Boldly cautious’ is the phrase that I would use to best describe the campaign for president that has been led by Willard Mitt Romney. He has proven to be a leader that the average working class American can rally around because of his goal of solving the puzzle that is our economy.

Mitt has been extremely bold throughout this campaign season, acting not simply like a candidate trying to gain popularity, but rather in a very presidential manner. His statements on major issues that occur, his demeanor both in public and in official debates, and his treatment of foreign policy show his ability to fill the role.  He has also held an unusually high level of respect for his opponent, although what he receives in return is a constant character assault. Romney has shown that he knows what he’s getting into and that he could handle the presidency well.

Romney certainly hasn’t hidden the fact that he has had an extremely successful business career, and that he wants to apply business principles to the federal government, such as balancing budgets by reducing overhead and unnecessary programs. For anyone, seeing that the nation is moving down a road to financial instability, it would be wise for the next president to prioritize the stability of the dollar and the economy that backs it.

He also proved bold in his ideas to mend the economy, refusing to support tax rate increases.  Even his VP pick, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, shows that he’s truly placing the economy and the shrinking of the government at the top of his list. The shrinking of the government is something that is absolutely crucial if one wishes to see the overspending eliminated. Yes, one can argue that increasing the tax rate can help reign in the deficit, but anyone who observes history knows that as soon as the government gets more money, it’ll use it to justify an increase in spending rather than using it to eliminate the deficit. This is why Mitt has been correct to say that raising the taxes will not help get our nation out of the hole we are digging.

Romney has not been making abstract or unreal promises to the electorate or attacking his opponent in ways that irrelevant to the election or the presidency. Sure, he’s said things like the old ‘on my first day in office’ phrase, but what has always followed has been something that he can do on his first day in office, such as seeking tax cuts, treating China as the rule bender it is, and repealing Obamacare. The former two of these are easy. They only take a simple statement. The latter is a more intricate situation and it takes a greater understanding of the American government to see how a president can ‘dis-implement’ a law. Simply put, the legislative branch makes the law and then the executive branch chooses to enforce the law. Should the executive branch choose not to implement, even if the bill is already signed, it would take a great movement in the political world to overrule the non-implementation.  This great movement is something that Romney knows would not succeed even if someone did try to start it, so he would be able to effectively repeal Obamacare.

I would like to take a moment to dispel a major myth being popularized by his opponent. Romney is not a ‘stingy rich guy’ that does everything in his power to avoid taxes. In fact, by performing even minimal investigation of the man’s history, you can find that he is quite the opposite. Sure, he did only have about fourteen percent of his income paid as his federal income tax last year, but by simply asking why, you can find that he donated thirty percent of his income to charity and only claimed half of that donation total for the associated tax deduction, therefore paying more in taxes than he technically could have.  Between taxes and his charitable contributions, he only keeps about half of his total income. I don’t think anyone can count that as unfair; after all, most Americans won’t even give a full tithe at church on Sunday. Time and time again his character is that of a generous man and a good steward of his assets.  You can tell that you have a good candidate on your hands when his opponents and the media try to make overwhelming deals out of miniscule slips or non-issues.

Federal taxes withheld from my paycheck have increased over the last two years while I’ve continued to make the same amount and remained a college student, so you understand that I’m not earning anything close to the seemingly lofty poverty line. That’s proof that taxes don’t just go up for the wealthy. The nation really could use a president whose primary goal is to make room for the American economy by getting the government out of the way.  We need someone who holds themselves to their beliefs and won’t change once in office. Mitt Romney has shown that if elected, he will be that president.

Josh Mertzlufft is senior physics major

Did I Mention it Had a Spoiler?

Flashback 27 years and I am on the used car lot of Jim Doyle Ford with my Dad looking at this sweet looking Ford Escort GT.  I know, you’re laughing right now, but this Escort was a manual and to an 18-year-old girl that qualified as a sports car.  Plus it was black and it had a “spoiler”.  So my Dad, who repeatedly asked me, “Are you sure?” co-signed on the loan (because apparently the bank didn’t think I could make the payments on my own), and drove my first car back home while I followed in the family K car.  Did I mention that my Dad had to drive it off the lot because I didn’t know yet how to drive a stick?  How’s that for impulse buying?  This purchase proceeded to become the worst car I ever bought.  The tires we found out afterwards were not only almost bald, but quite expensive to replace even in today’s economy and after Tim (my then boyfriend) called Jim Doyle to scold them for selling a car with tires that couldn’t possibly have passed inspection, they generously agreed to pay to replace one of them.  It leaked so much oil that I was forbidden to park in my parent’s driveway nor was it unusual to see it smoking when I parked under the 190 overpass to go to work downtown.   It sounded like I was inside a military tank when I drove it and it got the shakes whenever it reached a certain speed.  I just dumped more oil in it and hoped it would get me where I needed to go.  I just didn’t care because … it had a spoiler!

Have I made stupid choices with money … is that a rhetorical question?  Of course I have.   My biggest one as a single person was on that Ford Escort GT.

When Tim and I were newly married we traded in that Escort for brand new electric blue Plymouth Laser with pop-up headlights.  Of course we put it on a five-year payment plan, but did I mention it had pop-up headlights?   A couple of years later when we were in our first house, we found out how difficult it was to get my giant pregnant self out of a car that seemed like it drove right on the blacktop and it wasn’t the easiest car to get a newborn out of what they called a back seat.  So we put an ad in the newspaper and sold it outright.   A father bought it for his son.  But what was fascinating to us was the pile of cash that he brought to our house that sat on our kitchen table for the shortest time ever before we had to turn it over to the finance company that still held the note.  We turned right around and took another five-year payment plan out on a more family friendly four-door sedan.    I only knew of one person at that time who paid cash for cars and that was Grandpa Joe, Tim’s grandfather and master mechanic.  That was an anomaly to me, something I could not imagine doing.

We were consumers who never asked, “How much?”  We just asked “How much down and how much per month?”

Those were some of the early-on choices we made that were perhaps not in the best interest of our long-term financial plan.  We never got ourselves into trouble with money.  We lived within our means.  Sure we had credit cards, paid promptly, took the one-year-no-interest on home improvements, etc.  but always paid them off within the year and had excellent credit.  I was and still am a stickler for timeliness.  I have my parents to thank for that.  We grew up in a modest home.  My parents didn’t give us everything; they gave us what we needed.  We never got the cool Trapper Keepers that our friends got for back to school.  We got knock-off Bastad clogs and fake Jordache jeans.  It was big deal to save enough money to go down to Studio One in the Southgate Plaza and pick out a pair of genuine Levi cords from their never-ending floor-to-ceiling cubbies.  I put my first pair of leather Nike’s on layaway at Liberty Shoes and went dutifully with my babysitting money to make weekly payments until I could finally bring them home.  If I wanted something bad enough, I would save.  I had to, because I didn’t have a credit card in my possession yet and oh, what a joy it was to buy “brand-name” clothes!  My father was aghast that anyone would pay that kind of money for a pair of sneakers or jeans, but my parents’ frugality was probably what helped me not go off the deep-end with spending when I started earning my own money.

So when Tim and I got married, we never did anything that was crazy overboard spending, but after so many years we found out that we didn’t have a plan either.  We couldn’t figure out where the money all went because we were both working full time.  It was all the little stuff here and there and after years and years of living like that, it was no wonder we had little money.  We were like 70% of Americans, and lived paycheck to paycheck and thought that was normal.  We finally got tired of being normal.

About three years ago I started listening to this guy Dave Ramsey guy on the radio.  I thought I found him by accident, but God knew what He was doing.  I had never heard anyone like him before; he is a “tell it like it is” guy who isn’t afraid to share with millions of listeners about your stupid financial choices because he made a  lot of those stupid choices himself and has made it his life’s work to change the American norm of being forever in debt to the weird concept of being debt-free.  I bought his Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace books and read them in record time.  When I read these, if Tim was in the room, I would say, “Listen to this …” and kept talking to him about it until he read them as well.  We had pretty much stopped using credit cards at this point and had no debt except the house, so we were very interested in this emergency fund concept and retirement.  But this guy has this “Dumping Debt” piece of his teaching that is flat-out phenomenal.  He debunks all the myths the world wants us to believe is just how it is.  Of course he makes total sense but were there people who actually lived like he was teaching, no car payment, no credit cards, cash only, etc.?  Sign me up!  Wait, is there a budget involved?  Ugh, I should have known there was a catch.

The real stick in my craw is this whole budgeting issue which is a big hairy deal in working your way towards being debt-free, but I have to tell you, it was the best thing we could have done.   I am the bill payer in the house, but Tim is the budgeter.  He can work  rework numbers that make my eyes glaze over to the point I start to hear the ocean.  But between his number crunching and my wanting to save for a rainy day, we are now telling our money where to go; making it behave.   Just getting a handle on that is fantastic.  We use a cash envelope for groceries now which I think is where our biggest over expenditures happened.  I never charged groceries in my life.  To me that seemed as strange as charging gasoline.  Our bodies and our cars would have ingested, digested and expelled before we even received the bill to pay for these things!  But I did write checks and debited groceries before going to cash and it really wasn’t any better.  Even though it was still coming out of the checking account, I still overspent because I didn’t physically have the cash in my hand.  It’s amazing what happens when you hand over cash you’ve grown fond of instead of a piece of plastic.

Flash-forward to the present where I am no longer swayed by spoilers and pop-up headlights.  I am no longer impressed by trying to look “cool”.  It’s less stressful living a simpler life, not trying to keep up with Joneses.  I’m not competing or comparing.  When God wants to bless us I know He will in His time.  Does that mean we don’t like to have nice things?  Absolutely not.  I like them as much as the next person.  I’m just not going to get all wrapped up in what the world thinks we have to have in order to be happy.  Sometimes it’s a struggle not to just go out and get take-out because I don’t feel like cooking or buy the kids something we know they don’t need, but they would enjoy.  But we stop and think now before we make purchases and in some cases learn to sacrifice because we now know it’s so much nicer to sit on paid-for furniture and eat paid for food.

When we stopped using credit cards and started paying cash, it was incredibly freeing.  Where we once would head over to Sears in an appliance emergency to charge a washing machine on a no-interest-for-a-year plan because we didn’t have the cash on hand, we can now go to a local appliance store and pay cash.  The emergencies are no longer emergencies … just inconveniences.   Where we told our kids we would only be be able to help them with college their first year, we have now been able to help them every year.  Having a plan (Tim prefers “budget”) makes all the difference.

Last year one of our Pastors asked Tim and me if we would be willing to bring this Financial Peace University DVD-based course that Dave Ramsey teaches to our church.  We jumped at the chance, because we see where the country is heading and we see how people are struggling with finances every day.  This became a passion for us because it’s our hope for people to be free of that struggle so they can enjoy the blessings that God wants to give them.

The biggest blessing for us that has come from this shift in thinking about money is in our kids.  At one point our two oldest kids I’m sure wanted to stick something in their eyes every time they heard us say the name Dave Ramsey just so they could exit the room.  However, they are finally getting it.  They are seeing by our behavior what happens when you have a plan.  We are changing our family tree!  No doubt they will make mistakes, but they now have the foundation where they have learned what God wants them to do and parents who encourage them to stick with it no matter what their friends are doing and buying no matter how hard it might seem at the time.  If they stay the course, I’m sure these mistakes will be few and far-between.  The sacrifice will be well-worth it in the long run and … they won’t be so easily impressed by the spoiler.

Quantum Physics and Preparing a House

Me:  “What is Quantum Physics?” 

Josh (with a sigh):  “Mom, it would take me way too long to explain it to you.”

Our eldest child, and only son, was selected to do physics research at Cornell University this summer before beginning his senior year of college.  He was pretty excited, we thought because… well … it’s Cornell!  Recalling a conversation years earlier, we remembered that one of the best tracks Josh said he ran on during high school was at Cornell.  Financially he would never have been able to go to school there, so in addition to being able to do research there he also looked forward to getting himself back on that campus track.

Josh Skype’s us about once a week and updates us with stories of thin films, particle accelerators and cryogenic something-or-another.  He talks about something called CHESS, a word that sounds like its right out of the 1980’s War Games or Real Genius movies, but is actually an acronym for Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source.  And yes, I had to go on the website to see what it stood for.  Notice I said “stood for”, not what it meant; like I could even begin to understand this field of study.   Seriously, I feel like I’m getting dumber the more he speaks about these things.  I had to ask him if a guy named Lazlo comes and goes through his closet.

So we’re on Skype and for those who are as technologically inept as I am, on this program you not only see the person you are talking with, you can also see yourself in the lower corner.  So he’s chatting about these thin films that are a millionth or trillionth or something pretty thin of the thickness (or is it thinness?) of a human hair and I look at myself in the lower corner of the screen and see this middle-aged woman who squeaked through Coach Wagner’s trig class in high school, with this completely blank stare.  This child would read calculus books for fun in high school!  At this point, I’m thinking to myself, how can it be that I birthed this child?  I know how … my husband is an architect, my dad is an engineer, my father-in-law is a pastor, and my brother-in-laws are architects, engineers, and construction and facilities managers.  Clearly, those are the genes that run rampant in this child.  I’m now trying to determine if he has any of my traits in him at all.  I think he can make a decent pancake?

Josh likes to dabble in a bunch of things.  So much so, that we have had many a “chat” with him about staying focused on his studies for his first three years of college.  He was heavily involved in student government at the time and also doing some website design.  So right after one of our “chats” he called us to tell us that he auditioned for and was selected as a member of the college choir.  Tim and I looked at each other and without saying a word are both thinking, “What part of “focus” does this child not understand?”   How does one who is studying Applied Physics become a choir member?  For 19 years we didn’t even know he could sing!  He taught himself piano and guitar, but singing?  He tells us that singing is relaxing for him because he’s in such a difficult field of study at school.

I think that Tim has always been a little stricter with Josh than he is with the girls and when I ask him about it, he matter-of-factly states, “You’re darn right I am.”  Josh, as the man and future head of his home, needs to get his house in order before everything God has planned for him following college comes along.   Josh says what he’s doing now in his life is, “preparing his house.”

So if God blesses him and doing all of these different things, a lot which I don’t understand,  helps him to get his house ready, who am I to question?  I’m simply a mom, trying to let go of her first born so he can leave the nest and fly to his next home.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll pick up “Quantum Physics for Dummies.”

Giving and My Wrestling Match with God

“The world, and sometimes even the church, are impressed by people with wealth, fame, beauty, popularity and high levels of education and accomplishment. Yet, these are not the criteria God uses when He chooses people to be used by Him. He isn’t looking for flashy, charismatic, powerfully gifted, highly accomplished people to do His mighty works. Instead He is looking for simple, ordinary women and men with a passionate longing to seek His face and do whatever He asks of them.” – Ruth Johnson author of “We Have a Dream.”

I’m ordinary.  I had an ordinary childhood, was an ordinary student, athlete, daughter, wife and mother.

In the years that my family has been coming to Crossroads, I’ve heard many testimonies of what God has done in people’s lives and wondered what I was doing here.  I don’t have a testimony.  I grew up in a close-knit family with two parents who celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary this year and three sisters who I look forward to growing old with; sisters that I can disagree with without fear that grudges will be held.  God brought a man into my life 26 years ago (23 years married this year) who would give the shirt off his back to help a complete stranger, the father of our four healthy children, two who make me feel young and two who make me feel old.

At our previous church, they would have what were called “Temple Talks” once a year.  It was a time when people in the congregation would talk about how God has blessed them because they tithed.  I dreaded listening to these stories and pretty much tuned them out.  If I could have made myself disappear I would have, but they never told us ahead of time they would be having these talks, plus my father-in-law was the pastor and it was pretty much noticed if we weren’t there.  I dreaded it because they were talking about money and I thought the only reason they were speaking, was to ask for money.  I felt like they were bragging about their good fortune, when in actuality what God was doing through them, was planting a seed.  At the time, however, I felt convicted.  And no one likes to be convicted, including me, the stubborn 2nd born child of German and Polish heritage.  The folks who spoke at these “Temple Talks” were mostly “mature” of age and I thought, “Well of course these people can tithe, they’re older and have money.  I’m a young person with a young family and I have no money,” or so I thought.  So I sat through these talks year after year until I heard from a couple our own age, someone Tim had grown up with in the church.  Surely they weren’t tithers?  How could they be, they were our age.  That was when I first understood about “taking a leap of faith”.   This leap for me came soon after because around this same time the church was having a roof replacement campaign and you could “buy” a nail or shingle.  Tim said he wanted us to “buy a shingle” and a shingle was $500!  He wasn’t serious was he?  He was and I wrote the check a little begrudgingly, as I didn’t fully “get it” at this point; but the seed had been planted.

Never would I have imagined in a million years that I would share my thoughts about this topic.  God has a sense of humor that way.  Pastor Pat told me that when things come too easy for people, there tends to be less conviction and passion with the teaching.  Some of us just don’t accept and we wrestle with God.  This struggle makes our passion and conviction stronger.  I never thought of myself as wrestling with God, but I certainly know I struggled and didn’t just accept.  After all, I am a melancholy-choleric, a behind-the-scenes, just let me do my job and don’t-make-a-fuss kind of person who needs an answer for everything.  And, was about as stubborn and tight-fisted as they come.

One of the many things God blessed me with is a VERY patient husband.  Tim knew from a very young age, growing up in the church, with a father who is a pastor, what it took me decades to figure out; that what I have isn’t mine.   Every year when it came time for the stewardship program and these Temple Talks, we would disagree.  “We need to be doing this Janice,” Tim would say.  “NO,” was my response.  I clearly had submission issues as well.  Tim has always been the primary financial provider in our family even though I did work outside the home at different times.  But I was the one who wrote out the bills so of course I would know what we could afford to give to the church.  He wanted to give by faith.  I wanted to give by what I thought we could afford.  We gave, but we were not tithers because of me.  I was not a cheerful giver … I was a reluctant giver.

When we moved out to Lancaster in 1998, I went from working full-time to part-time and after our third child was born two years after living in our new house, we decided it was time for me to stay home.  How on earth were we going to do that with only one income?  You know what, we did.  It can only be by God’s grace that we were able to do that.  There is no other explanation.  I would sit there dumbfounded, trying to figure it out.  If we’re able to do this with one income, what on earth happened to the money I earned all those years?  It was, very literally, non-existent.  We never needed it to begin with because God had provided.

Something I learned from this journey so far is that holding money tight did me more harm than good.  Trying to keep up with those fictional “Joneses” was really exhausting and we weren’t getting ahead.  I was forced to look in the mirror and conclude that money was my stronghold and I was robbing God.

A short while after we were at Crossroads, Tim said he wanted to give a Christmas offering to the church.  I of course thought he was crazy when he told me the amount because I could have thought of at least ten things we could have used that money for, so you can imagine how confused I was with the feelings of peace I had after writing that check.  God however, did not think Tim was crazy, and a short while after we gave that check to the church, Tim received a bonus from his employer.  I mention this only because when we looked at what the tithe would have been on that bonus had we waited until he actually received it, it ended up being exactly what we wrote the check to the church for weeks earlier…10%.  God again had not only set me in my place, but He provided.  Sometimes I feel like the Israelites in the dessert.  All of these signs and wonders occurred, yet they (and I) still doubt.

One of the things that Crossroads does that I had not experienced previously, is allowing us  the opportunity to hear from pastors from across the world like Pastor Paul, Pastor Santhosh and Bishop Frances.  These pastors not only put things into perspective for me, but they make the needs outside of my own life more real.  This is when I became passionate about using our financial blessings not only inside, but outside the four walls of the church.

Back in 2010, our daughter Emily went on the Youth Mission Trip to Mexico.  She called us from one of the airports on the way home to check in with us and I happened to ask, jokingly, if she still had her flute with her.   She got really quiet and trying not to cry, said she lost it on the bus to Puerto Vallarta.  This was an expensive instrument, the first instrument any of our kids owned, but Tim did not want her memories of this trip to be marred by this loss.  She still had one more year of high school band, so when she got home, we called the music store thinking we would rent for the last year and just happened to ask if they had any flutes for sale.  When the woman on the other end of the phone said that one was coming in on consignment, the exact same make and model of the flute Emily had lost, I about dropped the phone.  This flute that was coming in was actually only 1 year old and played by a young lady from Iroquois.  Tim had the opportunity to speak to the mother of this young lady and told her the story of what happened to Emily’s instrument.  They sold us that flute for half of what the instrument costs new.  These kinds of things continue to happen for us, and me, needing to have an explanation for everything, have none.  When these things happen, I still catch myself saying, “Isn’t that weird how that worked out?”  My good friend Karen is right there to correct me and remind that it’s not weird, “It’s God!”  There are so many stories, like these, of provision in my life simply because I believe we are obedient.

My friend Sandy told me how giving was never something she questioned throughout her life.  Her future husband John, asked her during their courtship, if she could really afford to tithe as a single mom.  She said to him matter-of-factly, “I can’t afford not to.”  She may not think so, but her life is a true inspiration for me of grace and strength.  And I’ve never been a single mom, but just hearing that was confirmation for me of how being obedient at any point in life pours out the blessings spoken of in Malachi 3:10.

One misconception I think we have is that when we tithe, we will in-turn, be blessed financially.  The blessings our family receives are far beyond anything monetary.  Our eldest son is studying Applied Physics in college.  I honestly didn’t even know what that was before he enrolled.  I’m told it’s an engineering based physics.  He has shown interest in government, something he felt called to become involved with in college.   Our eldest daughter, who although I sometimes believe is the cause for my graying hair (refer back to lost flute) is probably the most well-rounded child I know.  She just finished up her freshman year of college and the adjustment that I worried about, went extremely well for her.   She is her father’s daughter with the same fun-loving and outgoing personality I wish I had growing up.  God is providing opportunities for our children that we would have never been able to provide on our own.  There is a 7-year gap between Emily and Sarah.  When I told Tim that we were pregnant with Sarah, his first response was to go lie down because he immediately started thinking about how old he would be when this next child would graduate from high school.  Little did we know that another one would be coming 2 years later, rounding out our table of six.  When I think about that 7-year gap and how tired I am some days, I now know that was a blessing that God gave to us.   Sarah and Abby came into our family during God’s perfect timing and purpose.  Sarah was just the happiest baby …an absolute joy.  I think God knew that we would need that at that point in our lives.  She is almost a teenager now and her smile still lights up a room, but sometimes it comes with “moods”!  Abby, our baby, is a true last born … she is a free-spirit, the life of the party.  Sometimes too much “life” but thankfully she takes everything in stride.  They are growing into everything but ordinary.

We are not financially well-off by any means; not even close.  We still have our “discussions” about money, but the disagreements are far and few between these days because I learned something, I learned that the world doesn’t revolve around me.  The world is a lot bigger than me and my problems.  God doesn’t need our money.  We give because He gave.  I learned that if my hand is tight-fisted, nothing goes out and nothing gets in.  It was a big leap of faith for me when I finally discovered that my cup truly does “runneth over”.

MALACHI  3:10

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.