Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Good Gifts

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:11

I know I've whined and cried enough on here the last few posts to have effectively communicated that our world is sorta stressful right now, in a lot of ways. I haven't mentioned the specifics of our budget, but it's certainly one of them. With Ryan in school and the economy so rough, money is tighter than it's been in a long time. We've both felt really convicted that we need to be spending less and saving more and it's been a tough adjustment.

There was a time when money being tight was a constant in our house. Those were the days when I considered paper towels and fabric softener luxury items and vacations were only taken to the grandparents' homes. I don't really want to go back to that life. But, I do want to be a good steward of the money that God has entrusted to us, and that is one of the reasons that we have felt an urgency to significantly reduce our spending.

Why am I telling you this? Here's why. There is something that I miss about the days when we were totally broke. This is that being broke allowed us to see God's provision in an extremely tangible way. I'll never forget when we first came to Wake Forest so that Ryan could finish school on the campus of Southeastern Seminary. You wanna talk about broke, we were broke. But, every month, many times a month, we saw God provide for us in ways that were nothing short of miraculous.

One morning Ryan and I had a conversation before he headed out the door for work where we were discussing our desire for a bookshelf. I commented that I was tired of the stacks of milk crates that were all over our apartment and I just wanted a bookshelf. He agreed that would be nice and then we both reminded one another that a bookshelf was not something that we could spend money on anytime soon. I remember after he walked out the door and I set about tidying the living room, that I commented to the Lord that if he did decide to send us a bookshelf, I'd really like it to be big enough to store our videos too! That was back in the days of VHS tapes and our Barney collection was growing quite extensive.

That afternoon, when Ryan arrived home from work, I was tired. With a toddler and a newborn, I was always ready for him to come home at the end of the day. You can imagine my reaction when he told me that he was going to go next door and help our neighbor load up his moving van. This man had just graduated from seminary and he and his family were headed to Canada to be church planters. I remember standing in the kitchen and being torn between knowing Ryan should be helping but desperately wanting relief. I also vividly remember Ryan walking in about 30 minutes later and saying, "You're not going to believe this, but Jim can't fit everything on the truck and he wanted to know if we would want to have their bookshelf."

I remember when Ryan and the men carried it into the living room and my delight when I saw that it was a large, wooden, beautiful bookshelf that had a base cabinet perfect for storing VHS tapes. We have had that shelf for almost a decade now. We've moved it 6 times. We've even painted it. It sits in our attic now, filled with many of my homeschooling resource (and all of our old VHS collection). Ryan has tried to talk me into getting rid of it several times. But I can't. I simply can't. Because it is a reminder to me of how much God cares about the details of our lives and how he really is a good father who wants to give good gifts to his children. I know that the best gifts are not "things." But, I also know that God used that "thing" to give me a very tangible expression of his love for me. He knew my heart in that matter and he chose to meet me where I was that day.

Recently, since Ryan and I have been watching our spending so closely again, I have had the opportunity to recognize that same type of provision. There are two things that have happened in the past month that have reminded me that if we chose to deny ourselves and honor God with our money, he will honor that.
One thing I have been stressed about has been getting everybody adequately clothed for the spring/summer. The last several years we've just gone out and bought what we needed without a second thought. But, this year I felt strongly that we needed to be more frugal. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when my mother-in-law came this week with a huge bag of clothes for Abe. They were a gift from one of Ryan's cousins who has twin boys about 6 months older than Abe. I know that if we had gotten that bag of clothes a year ago, it would not have been nearly the delight to me that is was today. I am certain that they were a gift from God at a time when we could use it.

Our other little treat was in the form of entertainment. I found out in November that the Little House Musical was coming to Raleigh. I desperately wanted to take the kids. Ryan and I had decided to purchase tickets for each of them for their Christmas stockings, but when I went to order the tickets, I just didn't feel right about spending the money. Then we decided to wait and order them for Valentine's Day. Again, I couldn't do it. I'd get to the point where my total would come up on the Ticketmaster page and I would stop. I just felt that this was not a way that we should use our money in this season.

So, you can imagine my delight last month when, out of the blue, Ryan got this e-mail asking him if we would like to be Little House Ambassadors. Basically, that means I spent the last few weeks carrying posters and flyers everywhere I went. If I went to the grocery store, I'd hang a poster, that sort of thing. I mentioned the play on my Facebook, blog, and e-mail loops. In exchange, we received 4 free tickets and got our additional 2 tickets at a discount. In addition, we got to go to a little meet and greet with some of the cast after the show.

Now, you can't tell me that wasn't the Lord. He knew how badly I wanted to take my family to see one of my all-time favorite stories. He also knew how much I wanted to be obedient with our finances. Those tickets were nothing for him, but they were pretty special to me.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that I serve a genie in a lamp sort of God. I don't believe that I can wish for whatever I want and expect him to give it to me. I don't want that sort of God. But, I do think I serve a God who knows me intimately and he sees my pitiful efforts to honor him with my life. I do believe that he loves me, and that he does want to give me good gifts. And sometimes, those gifts just might be something you can touch!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Eight, is that possible?!?

So, Isaac turned 8 this month. Impossible! It seems like just yesterday he was an itty bitty baby. Okay, maybe that's a stretch since he weighed in at 10 pounds, 6 ounces TEN days early. But, it does seem like yesterday he was a newborn. I just have to say, I love that boy. He is so sweet and tender. He frequently asks me how he can help me. Not to mention, his laugh is contagious. I can't wait to see what God is going to do in and through his precious little life.

Here he is on the morning of his birthday.

Now, I have to confess that I really enjoy birthday parties. I enjoy planning them and just between you and I, if I could have a small eccentric business, it would definitely involve children's parties. I try very hard to use a lot of imagination and a very little bit of money when we do parties. I use coupons and ingenuity and try hard to keep the costs minimal.

Isaac's party this year ended up being one of my favorites so far. He and I decided on the theme of time travel a couple of months ago and that evolved into a Magic Treehouse theme. It was so fun and the kids totally got into it. I was glad that they did, because I was nervous that they would think it was a little hokey.

Ryan crafted a "treehouse" in the garage from a cardboard box and the kids climbed into it over and over. Each time they did, the lights went out and a fan and strobe light went on. Then the treehouse "landed" in a new time period. I would read a rhyme to give them clues about where they had landed and then we would head to different parts of the house or yard to do activities in that place. The kids had a blast.

Here are some photos of the day:

The "Magic Tree House"

In prehistoric times, they hunted, gathered, and opened "dinosaur eggs."

Here they are, decoding hieroglyphics in Egypt.

Here are the pharaohs that they mummified.

We went to 6 different places, but our last stop was in Medieval times where the boys practiced their sword fighting and archery before Sir Isaac opened gifts and ate cake and ice cream.

The boys enjoyed wearing the medals they won in Ancient Greece.

Change of Scenery

It has been a long winter here in NC. It was mild compared to the Cincinnati winters I grew up with. But by NC standards, and after being here a decade, it seemed like a long winter. Ryan and I have longed to take the kids and hop on a plane or a boat and go somewhere fun. Limited time and resources have prevented making that dream a reality, but 2 weeks ago, we decided we had to leave the zip code and spend some family time together.
Since we were only planning 36 hours out, we needed someplace cheap and relatively close.
We called Grandma and Pa late Saturday night and said, "we're going to the beach Monday morning, wanna go?" My mom would never be one to turn down a trip, so they agreed and we went halfsies on a 3 bedroom hotel condo for two nights. We ended up heading to Myrtle Beach, which is just under 4 hours from our house. It's not our favorite beach destination, but we knew the weather was going to be lousy and the hotel rates there were dirt cheap. Plus, there were plenty of indoor activities, so we went for it.
We packed our groceries, took the crockpot, and we didn't leave the hotel until checkout time. It was just what we needed. Everyone had a fun time, and we remembered how much fun we could all have when we take the time to do it.

Abe, cheesing poolside

Hanging in the Lazy river.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the water slides.

Even Pa took a ride down the slides.
Abe spent one evening playing with Abby's googles. That boy makes me laugh, often!

Busy, busy, busy!

Things here continue to be CrAzY! Ryan and I keep re-evaluating life and trying to decide what in the world we can slash, eliminate, quit, etc. to make things a little calmer. So far, we've come up with almost nothing. Many of our commitments will end at the completion of the school year, and we will not be recommitting to all of them next year. It's a constant balance between caring for our family, providing community for our children, and ministering to other. It seems like right now, we're drowning in our commitments. But, I think that we're just in a naturally busy season of life and in some ways we need to accept that.
I really think things are magnified by the fact that Ryan is currently taking classes to finish the degree he started 18 years ago. He's doing great and he finished his first quarter today! But, it's taking a lot of his time and energy, which means he has less time to help here. It's certainly affecting all of us, because he is typically so engaged with us and he is a huge help to me. He will be finished in August if he continues at his current pace, but it is brutal for all of us right now.
One thing that has come to an end is Isaac's Upwards' basketball season. I'll be honest, we are SO not a sports family. Part of it is because that's just not what we enjoy. Part of it is because we have never really felt that it is the best way to invest our time, our children's time, or our money. We know lots of families who have benefited greatly from sports and have used their involvement to shine a light in the lives of others. It's simply not something that has been a good fit for our family.
This year, when Upward Basketball season rolled around, Isaac asked us if he could play. We had allowed him to play 2 years ago, in Kindergarten, and he did NOT enjoy it. But, since he was interested, and it was a small time commitment, we agreed. He definitely was more engaged than the last time, but he was also glad to see it end. His timid personality did not lend itself to aggressive ball handling, but he definitely came a long way in just 8 weeks. He gained some confidence and began to understand the basics if the game. We were very proud of him and his effort!

Isaac and his good friend Ian, whose dad was Isaac's coach. Thanks Coach Ryan!

Checking out his prize at the Upward's Awards Ceremony.