Money Talk

I’ve heard that my generation doesn’t want to address the topic of money. If I’m being honest, a year ago, the thought of managing money as an adult seemed so daunting that I, as well, wanted to let it be. But money “runs the world” as they say and it can not be ignored. I started reading a book about money, took an Economics class, and did a lot of writing in my “money book.” It is still complex to me, but it doesn’t seem impossible anymore.

My first introduction to money management came through Sunday School when I was about 7 years old. I don’t recall what the lesson was about, but afterward, we decorated paper wallets that had three envelopes stapled on. There was a saving envelope, a spending envelope, and an envelope for tithe. That Sunday School teacher will probably never know how much that one craft shaped my viewpoint on money. It was used for years and I still use a different form of that envelope system.

Growing up makes the saving and spending envelopes become more compartmentalized, though. There are regular payments and bigger items to save for. It also seems like wish lists grow, as well. I don’t believe it is possible to keep all of this straight without writing out a budget. (Even then it can be hard to keep all the numbers straight!)

Financial advisors are always suggesting that people save a good chunk of their money. I have rarely had a problem putting this advice into action. In fact, I have taken it too far at times. Taking an Economics class redefined the way I view money though: it is meant to be spent. I learned that if you put money into a savings account, you lose money long term. That blew my mind. I’m not arguing against saving here, though. It is wise to have some money put away in case of an emergency or ready to use if an incredible dead comes up. I am saying that there should be a balance between saving and spending.(Also, investing savings might be a better place for your money than the bank.) A good way to look at savings is as putting away money to spend in the future on something bigger\ better\ needed. At the same time, we should not place our security in having money in the bank. God provides for us as we walk the road He is leading us down.

Spending money can leave our wallets so quickly. In the American culture, it seems like everywhere we turn someone is trying to get us to buy something. Magazines, websites, and even social media show off enviable items to us. They show us the life we want. No wonder so many people are in debt! If we bought everything that caught our eye, we would spend far more money than we possess. I have a running wish list, but I have been trying to not focus on what I don’t own as much. Elisabeth Elliot offered wise words when she said, “By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.” I try to spend money on experiences versus things (specially specialty drinks that are gone in an hour!). An experience will enrich me. So for me, buying a piano or a camera is okay, because they will be used to create experiences and grow my hobbies. Travelling or seeing a play are also experiences worth spending money on. Clothes on the other hand do not usually hold as much importance to me because I already have enough of them.

The tithe category can also be called giving. The New Testament actually replaces the Old Testament %10 with what we feel lead to give. (Which often would end up being more than %10– probably why so many people stick with the number in black and white.) This category actually effects all the other categories. It opens our hands so we hold our money more freely; makes us more willing to give to others. It also gives money meaning. We see that we can make a difference in someone else’s life and give to organizations that will share the love of God.

I hope my generation will invest time into thinking through how they will spend their money. It is just another area that we have been given to steward. Creating a budget is a lot of work, but money will enslave us if we don’t make conscious, sometimes hard, decisions about how we will spend it.

 

Meaning in the Mundane

When I was a kid and my mom asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I gave her a schedule with a different occupation for each day of the week. Dolphin trainer and teacher were two of the ones I remember. I am a dreamer by nature. As a teenager, I was obsessed with dramatic interior design, bright color, and traveling. I wanted to go to other countries on mission trips. I wanted to create a blog and write a book that would influence the way people thought. I was the one who created a plan for my friend and I to follow so we wouldn’t waste our summer. I was the one who planned out exactly how we should redo the basement and what items I needed to decorate my room with. I took for granted all the business trips we went on with my dad and all the times we visited family.

It’s coming up on three years now that I have not traveled much, though. I guess you could say life after high school has redefined how I see the “good life.” Being “stuck” in one place for so long has taught me the value of the area I call home, Central Virginia. High school kids who grew up here often say there is nothing to do here. But as my Literature teacher pointed out this past semester, where ever you go, you will find it boring after being there a little while. Traveling and seeing other places and people is exciting, but living is mundane (even in other places).

Still, home has a special allure that traveling never can. It’s subtle, not flashy; comforting, not thrilling. The efforts to invest and put down roots can bring a special kind of contentment and joy. The mundane is a balance of restful and industrious, while being something expected. It is at home that we see the benefits of consistent labor. A garden takes consistent care. If it is given care each day and each week, it provides fruit, veggies, and beautiful flowers. The same goes for life. When we invest time and energy in the everyday tasks and whatever is placed in front of us, a beautiful life is made.

The big, exciting, perfect life is just not all it is cracked up to be. Simply reading that sentence won’t make you believe it, though. In fact, sometimes I don’t believe it. (Especially after spending time on social media!) The younger version of me who wanted adventure, a beautiful life (and house), and to serve God in a big way is still here. Just now I have less opinions and impatient drive and a little more grace for the detours that are life. Most of my goals are good, but when given too much control of our hearts and minds, even good things become bad things.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

Yet, goals and dreams are good things, so what were these authors getting at? I think they were asking us to examine why we are living the way we are. At the beginning of the day, do we love Jesus more? More than our desires? More than our goals? When Jesus is enough for us, not only do our goals take on new meaning but the mundane is transformed. It goes from boring to a sacred– we begin eagerly anticipating that God will move in the everyday. We can enjoy the big adventure moments of life, but we don’t need them to find joy in life when Jesus is at the center of our hearts and minds.

Detoxing Life

What if quitting could be the best decision of your life? I read an article a while back by Bob Goff on how to live and love well. There were many radical, but brilliant, ideas presented. One of them was a little too radical for me though, and it’s been rolling around in my head ever since.

Mr. Goff said that every week, he cuts something from his life. Quits. Not just bad things either. He quits good things. (Like giving to a humanities organization..) Maybe he’s on to something. It is a great example of the important role detox plays in life, though.

We humans tend to let responsibilities, thoughts, and habits build up. This is a problem because even the “best quality” buildup still adds weight and makes life tough. It can also make it almost impossible to say yes to new opportunities. To say yes to one thing, you must say no to another thing.

The same goes for the mental, activities, and even the physical world. Since the Fall, this earth we call home is increasingly full of toxins. Our bodies absorb these toxins and they build up. Left un-dealt with, they will bring about sickness.

To live life to the full, some things must be removed, and other things must die. We humans are not invincible or all powerful, so we can only handle so much stuff in our lives. We will enjoy life and be able to give more freely when we have been keeping it lives “clean.”

So what is it that needs to be removed for you? What needs to die so that you can continue moving forward? What buildup of emotion do you need to work through?

Goodbye Shame, Goodbye Guilt

It hit me the other day just how much our society likes to measure us up. It starts with school. Each assignment is measured according to a number and letter system. The higher the number, or lower the letter, the better. It seems like a lot of life includes some sort of grading system like this. It becomes part of our mindset to try to perform well and wonder how we measure up. When we start viewing God as though He’s grading us, though, things go awry.

A big part of why we see God like this is because we focus so little on the relationship, and instead, end up focusing on the action part of faith. We do all the right things because we’re supposed. But living as though God were waiting for us to mess up so He could be mad at us is not good motivation for living a moral life.

In any healthy relationship, the people involved feel free to be themselves. The same thing applies to a relationship with God. He won’t hate you if you mess up, but He will convict and encourage you toward real holy change. Patience is an incredible attribute of God we can easily forget about.

We will mess up; we will sin. This is a fact, not something any one of us can defy with the most meticulous work. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8b) If that isn’t encouraging- that we are loved even when we’re at our worst- than I don’t know what is.

You and me will never be “too far gone” to approach the throne of grace. Any moment is a good moment to talk to God. And maybe by realizing His forgiveness and love for us, we can begin to let that define how we see ourselves.

It is the enemy who wants to destroy us with guilt and shame and fear; God brings peace and joy and love. That is the kind of relationship and life we are offered.

Waves That Crash

Over three weeks of the semester have passed. In this time, I’ve made friends and learned some fascinating things, but most of all I’ve been drained. A roller coaster of emotions and stress has drained my energy. Maybe you noticed that I haven’t been posting as often. This is the reason why.

This place of feeling tired isn’t new, and I find that my reaction each time it visits is to carefully control my activities and to dread the coming day or week. To an extent, I think stuarding the energy we’ve been given, along with every gift, is wise, yet always holding back and dreading is no way to live. (Especially in God’s upside-down kingdom.)

A couple summers ago I worked at a summer camp for two months and was beyond exhausted all the time. God came through for me in a way I had never experienced, though. Looking back, I know His strength is the only reason I made it. Each day I made it through and the days added up to two months.

By the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to ask for daily bread. In other words, the sustanence for today. Another beautiful truth we are reminded of is that His mercies are new every morning. God doesn’t give us the mercies we’ll need for the whole week at the beginning. Each morning we can look forward with eager anticipation to seeing how God will provide.

I’m learning a lot through this trial, especially about relying on Jesus each day, but that does not negate the dilemma of having less energy. Therefore, for this semester, I will post when I can but that probably won’t be every week.

Hope this post finds you well,

Sarah

The Time Before Marriage

Growing up is strange and one of the most mysterious parts to me is dating and marriage. Dreaming lots of dreams for the future is part of growing up and that includes many you have no control at all over. The dream of marriage is one of those, in my opinion. American culture has placed so much value and attention on being in a relationship, and I have to wonder if it’s healthy. I watch old TV shows and they show a man pursuing a woman. It is so sweet and gets my mind and heart desiring that kind of story- right now. An appreciation for a sweet love story is good, especially in light of how it is a picture of Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5:22-32) When it becomes an obsession, though, it’s no longer so good and sweet. I believe God has a different plan for his people when it comes to the time before marriage.

I was not the girl who planned out her wedding at age 13. In fact, at age 21 I still can’t tell you what colors I’ll go with for my wedding day. (Of course, that’s assuming I will get married.) As a teenager I made multiple lists of characteristics I wanted my future husband to have, though. Looking at these long lists now, only a few of the items still stand.

  • Loves God and has an growing relationship with Him
  • Is a good leader
  • Loves people well

These are fairly general characteristics (yet it’s quite obvious when someone has them). There is a reason why they are so general: God can bring a man into my life who has a million little “perfect” characteristics that I would never ever think of. Honestly, some of the characteristics God would choose, I would not have appreciated as a younger me (including my-age me). (Also nobody is perfect, so that must be kept in mind.) At the end of the day, or life that is, God is much better at writing love stories than I am, so I don’t have to try to create the exact person I’m looking for on a piece of paper.

Even more than love stories, though, God is good at writing stories period. They’re never perfect- just look a the stories in the Bible! So living the single life is more than okay. (Despite what you may have heard at church or elsewhere.) Article after cliche online article tell us how life works and when the best time is to go to college, get married, have kids, etc. Life isn’t calculable enough to fit into any article- it’s amazing and beautiful and diverse- at least when we let God take the lead and stop trying to fit into those guidelines.

God is still good to those who don’t get married. In the season before getting married, and maybe even before seriously dating, is one that stretches our trust in God. So do you believe God is good no matter what? Is God good even if you never say, “I do”? I think that’s a good place to start. Falling in love with Jesus isn’t so much the replacement for a romantic relationship, but the bigger, better, authentic version. To live life everyday out of Jesus’ love makes everything sweeter, whether or not you’re dating or married.

Maybe, just maybe this season isn’t to be treated as one of waiting. What if we viewed it as a time to learn about and use the gifts we’ve been given? What if we learned to live and love well? What if we grew a trust in God so strong nothing could shake us? What if we stopped waiting for marriage to save us, and let Jesus save us and bring us into a fuller life right now?

2016: Heart Change

I almost didn’t write a review of this year. It seemed like it would be a waste of time. But looking back periodically can be a good idea- you will see lessons learned, and how God worked. This past year it felt like Jesus led me along in the things He wanted me to do. Which is probably the way it’s supposed to work… and honestly it’s a lot nicer than trying all the time to make things work out. At the beginning of the year, I was just coming away from all my dreams being crushed and was in a very fragile, defeated place. From there the year turned out to hold what I had been praying and hoping for for years.

My brother, a couple of friends, and I went to College for a Weekend during the Spring semester, which is exactly what it sounds like. After spending most of my time at home for many months, it was a big event. Eating on campus, going to class, attending convocation are a few of the things we did (plus lots of walking!). My friend who didn’t like concerts, and had said she would never go to one, decided she wanted to go to the Rend Collective concert that weekend. Despite my own reservations about the band and attending a loud concert, we went. I’m so glad I took the chance on buying that ticket because God met me that night through Rend Collective’s ministry. Not only were they not burst-your-eardrum loud, but they took time to tell everyday, encouraging stories throughout the show. They pointed out that life is hard, but God meets us in the hard stuff and helps us fight it. Lyrics only backed this message up: “When my fears like Jericho build their walls around my soul, when my heart is overthrown, Your love is my battle cry, the anthem for all my life.”

When I got home from the concert, I was scrolling through social media only to see that one of my long-time friends was in distress-  her older brother had passed on that evening. Other than making big tears flow down my face that night, this affected me in two big ways:

1. The way he lived. In less than 25 years he fit more life in than many do in 3 times that. He loved Jesus and people so well. Over 5000 people came to the viewing. Like, what? Crazy! And they all had a story about what he had meant to them. I remember his transition to this way of living too, because he wasn’t always like that. Jesus was to blame. Through it all, he kept pushing through depression and anxiety. That gave/gives me hope.

2. The way my friend and her family responded. My friend’s mom said her response to the news was, “Lord, bring him back to life. I know you can.” They went through grief and questioning God, but never let themselves question His goodness. His young widow, who had watched him go, wrote a blog post explaining how she had searched out the sovereignty of God a few years before and came to this: that God knows what will happen if we make a certain decision, kind of like how an adventure video game works. That knowledge was a comfort to her now. These things greatly impacted my faith and how I view life. (I wrote a post during this time.)

Life’s Healing Choices was a small group series at my church for healing your hurts, habits, and hang-ups. I went for my anxiety, and boy, did it stir it up the first session! I decided I wasn’t putting myself through that level of anxiety on purpose again. With the encouragement of my leader, though, I sought God each week with whether I should attend the sharing session. It was during this time that I learned to do what God asked of me again. I hadn’t fully trusted Him in a while and I was slowly taking steps of obedience- one at a time.

All this time I have recounted so far, I was in emotional pain. But, I was watching God answer my prayers. I would pray verses that the Lord had led me to over myself, family, and friends. There are so many instances when God worked and/or gave me direction, but more often He also changed my heart.

When summer approached, I had 2 projects in mind: making a quilt and learning how to keep plants alive. These long-term goals taught me the importance of enjoying each step of the journey. I also watched a series of lectures on nutrition. This sparked my interest.

My doctor had recommended I have the Body Code/Emotion Code done to release old anxieties (so I would stop slipping into anxiety so easily). I ended up going twice, and learned of many past experiences that had shaped me. This gave me a bit of insight into why I think and act the way I do and also gave me the freedom/ space to change.

My dad was let go from his job, but God gave so much peace during that time. It ended up causing my dad to get a different (healthier for him) job, my mom to get a part-time job, and all of us to grow closer.

College was something I knew God was leading me toward, and I was excited, but I was also quite scared. While anxiety-wise it was the best semester yet, I still fought enormous battles in my mind. God was fighting for me, though, I could tell. That was my main comfort. My favorite part of this semester was that I got to go with my brother and we even were in one class together (along with a friend of mine). Being with people on a weekly basis did me good on so many levels.

Right now, the Lord is giving me a strong desire to dig into His Word and live out my faith. This includes the idea of missions, which I am letting roll around in my mind.

“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” -John 15:14-15

The main running theme this year was having faith in God. From that root, God worked on my heart, diminished anxiety’s power, taught me to enjoy life more, and brought healing in countless ways. I’m so very thankful for all this year has held!