What do I do with the money issue?

I love money.

There, I said it.

I’m not supposed to say it, especially since I also love Jesus. You know, that whole Bible verse about not being able to love God and money at the same time. And the other one about the love of money being the root of evil. It’s not something any God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Bible-reading person should admit to.

And yet. I can’t deny it anymore. wpid-20150423_131110.jpg

I love money. I love earning money for work well done. I love having enough money to pay our bills and buy things we need/want and give to others.

But I also hate money. Especially when there’s not enough. Or someone else has what I perceive as too much money.

Then, I want to find a way to live without money. To simplify my life in such a way that I don’t need as much money just to get through the day.

I love money. I hate money. And I get so frustrated trying to find the middle ground, a place where I can be grateful for what I have without developing an insatiable desire for more.

Money has always meant security for me. If we have enough to pay the bills, then I breathe a bit easier. If we’re cutting it close, I worry. Paying bills and buying groceries and doing the checkbook math give me anxiety until the next payday. And when we come up short, I grasp at any opportunity, however slim, to fix it.

In January, I applied for a part-time work-from-home job I wasn’t qualified for because our income was unexpectedly lower. In the first part of this year, we used our credit card for the first time in years to make up the difference until our tax return came. And because our tax return was later than we expected, the weeks held more anxiety than I wanted, and I was thinking about money. All. The. Time.

Things are better now. Not great but better. And I’m still thinking about money a lot.

How much we have.

How much we need.

How much we’ll get.

It’s a tough spot. In our house, my husband makes the majority of the money and I do the bill paying and budgeting. (I’m terrible at the latter.) My husband has such a generous heart. He always wants to give. And I’m such a worried hoarder that I always want to keep what we have. Just in case. Thankfully, we don’t fight about money. Though, I’m sure we could.

But it’s a problem for me, the whole money=security thing. And I’m tired of pretending it’s not.

Tell me I’m not the only one pretending I don’t love money.

In case that’s not a shocking enough confession for you, let me also say this: I’m a sporadic tither. I used to be pretty great at it. Ten percent or more in the offering plate every time I or we got paid. I believed what they told me, that if I gave God a little, I wouldn’t miss it. And I didn’t. But there are so many weeks that the math doesn’t add up, and I can’t understand why God would want me to write Him a check if it meant I couldn’t feed my family or pay the heat. Yeah, it’s been that bad at times.

What’s the answer? Somebody tell me because I don’t know. I want to do good with what we’re given, and I know I fall short. A budget is a start. Using my talents to earn money is another step.

But what about that whole trusting in God thing?

Last week, in church, we talked about “blessed are the poor,” the words Luke uses. Not the “poor in spirit” that Matthew uses. And the prosperity gospel nonsense of belief leading to material blessing. I have seen God provide for impossible circumstances for our family, in ways we could not have imagined. But I have also seen faithful Godly people struggle to make ends meet for a very long time through no fault of their own. And let’s not even talk about global poverty and the kind of faith among the truly impoverished that puts mine to shame.

I can’t undo that I live in this country. That my husband and I have college degrees. That we have two kids. That the “cost of living” is what it is where we live. (Sure, we could move. But there are always trade-offs.)

So, what can I change?

For starters, my heart. (Why does it always go back to my heart?!) I can choose to not let money be my god by trusting God no matter what. And I have to kill my pride by submitting to a system that helps me track where our money goes. I like to think we spend our money wisely, but I know better. We aren’t extravagant, I don’t think. But we aren’t disciplined, either.

Somehow, there’s a balance between being wise and being gracious. A writer friend recently said that he and his wife don’t make any decisions based on money, either earning it or spending it. And they’ve been in a place of deep debt with desperate need for income. We made that mistake once, and it cost us dearly.

Maybe to tame the money beast I have to acknowledge my fears. What is it I’m afraid of? And why do I think money keeps that fear at bay?

I don’t have any great wisdom for you today. I wish I did. I just felt like I had to put into words what I’ve been wrestling with in my heart and my mind.

Maybe you struggle this way, too. If so, just know you aren’t alone. If not, then maybe you can share your experience with us.

What do you think? How can we relate to money without loving it?

A book that bares its soul and offers connection: Review of Scary Close by Donald Miller

For all the controversy he generates, I need the reminder that Donald Miller is just a guy trying to make sense of his world and himself through his faith, experiences and relationships.

scary closeOne thing I admire about him as a writer is his willingness to share his failings as well as his strengths, to acknowledge the controversies but not necessarily apologize for his words. It’s been a long time since I read one of his books but his latest, Scary Close, to me, felt like an honest, heartfelt baring of the soul. The Donald Milller I thought I knew from previous work is not the same writer of this book. That’s encouraging.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

A writer like Miller might be tempted to withdraw and stop telling stories. But Miller opens up, however reluctantly, and talks about how relationships changed him. Healthy ones and unhealthy ones.

He writes much about his relationship with his now-wife Betsy and what he’s learned and is still learning about intimacy. I like to think I’m pretty good at going deep in relationships but Miller’s words challenge me to discover the real me behind the mask I wear.

Scary Close is written memoir-style but the truths Miller shares, what he’s learning about intimacy, are lessons for all of us to consider.

I’m glad my husband read this book before I did so that now we can talk through some of the things we read. Miller’s words make me want to improve my relationships across the board and offer the kind of vulnerability he’s received. (After reading Bob Goff’s generous and gracious foreward, I was so moved by his use of the word “love” that I told a friend I loved her. I don’t usually do this for people who aren’t family.)

Though Miller addresses topics like dating, marriage and parenting, his words apply to relationships as a whole. I love the hope he offers for those of us who have gotten the intimacy thing wrong.

Miller offers grace and encouragement for the journey.

Why we’re better together

15 people. Teen-aged to middle aged. Families. Couples. Solo travelers. This is the demographic that makes up our team heading to Kenya this summer.

It’s been a long time since I was a member of a team taking a trip, longer still since I was part of a group traveling internationally. Most of my recent travel has been as a couple or a family, with Phil doing much of the planning (or us collaborating) and the decisions and finances ours alone.

On those distant-memory trips, I was a college student, serving at a children’s home in Oklahoma or in a community hit by hurricane in North Carolina. I was traveling with other college students in Europe, some trips pre-planned, others a little more spontaneous.

Once, I ventured off on my own to walk through the museum at Wimbledon, where the tennis tournament is played. I was slightly obsessed with Pete Sampras at the time and needed to see the actual place, as long as I was close. I remember boarding the train and leaving my friends on the platform in London. I shed a couple of tears because I wasn’t the sort of person who was confident about traveling on her own. But I recovered and set off on a memorable adventure. Relief filled me when I was reunited with my friends. (There was another time when I rode the train by myself from Grantham, England to Edinbourgh, Scotland to meet my friends who had set out a day ahead of me. Together, we then traveled to the Isle of Skye. But I’ll stop now with the memories before I become homesick for a home that’s not a home.)

Solo travel is not my preferred way because I don’t always trust myself with the details. Also, there’s no one else to lean on if things should go wrong. But teamwork takes some getting used to if it’s been a while, and for a recovering control freak (that’s me!), teamwork takes patience and trust, things of which I am often in short supply.

Let me tell you about my recent teamwork experiences, though. They are making me believe, again, that solo travel is not my preferred way through life, either. That life is better together, even when it’s hard.

Zack Minor | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Zack Minor | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Our Kenya team recently organized and planned and pulled off a silent auction and luncheon as our second fund-raising event. I confess that when it comes to fund-raising, my efforts are dismal. I don’t like to sell things and since we live in an area that’s not our home, we can’t even beg our families to support us, at least not when we’re selling things. In our efforts to raise money through local events, I have felt like our contribution has been minimal. I beat myself up about whether we’re doing enough to help. Many of our friends are part of the church and would already support the team. And our families are supporting us in other ways (namely, watching our kids while we’re gone, for which we’re hugely thankful).

It is easy for me to feel like I’m not giving enough because my standards for myself are so high. Combined with insecurity and a desire to please people, I constantly feel like I’m not pulling my weight. And not just with this team, but with any team I’m on. My value is linked to my perspective of how I’m contributing, and in my eyes I’m always coming up short.

Maybe everyone else feels that way, too, I don’t know. What I do know is that my view changes when I consider all the different and necessary ways each member of the team contributes.

Prior to the auction, several of us were collecting donations. Some did shopping for food and other supplies. Others worked on publicity for the event. There were people prepping food in the days leading up to the event. And on the day of, there were people setting up the auction items, baking the potatoes, preparing the toppings. There were people serving food and organizing the auction and cleaning up trays and washing dishes. At times that day I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but at the end of the day, when nearly all the auction items had been claimed, I was satisfied.

Because it was truly a team effort. Sure, I didn’t have anyone there who was bidding on items, but I had people who had contributed items. And the items I had collected for the event were bid on by someone I didn’t know. And maybe I couldn’t help set up but I washed dishes (along with a dynamite team of teenagers who dried dishes and who make me think the teenage years, when they come, are going to be just fine).

The mark of a good team is having a variety of skills and abilities present and everyone using those skills and abilities to help the team’s cause. My job as a member of any team is not to do all the work but to do the work I’m able to do and to let other people do the work they’re able to do. I hope that doesn’t sound like a cop-out, but in recognizing my tendency to control, I’ve learned that it’s okay to not do it all, even if I think I could do it better. (I can’t.) wpid-img_3661.jpg

That same weekend my friend Alison and I taught a writing workshop on blogging at a one-day conference our writers’ group puts on. A few days before, Alison was sick with some kind of super-illness and there was a chance she wasn’t going to be feeling well enough to lead it with me. We’d designed the workshop to suit our styles and expertise: I talked about some of the philosophies and principles of blogging while Alison focused more on the technical side of things. It’s a great workshop (if I’m allowed to say so) that balances a lot of information, and the thought of teaching the whole thing myself terrified me because I don’t understand the technical side of blogging the way Alison does.

Fortunately, she was well enough that day to teach, and the workshop was better for it. We each did our part and did it well. We make a great team.

And it’s the same in my marriage, when I let it be. Phil and I are a team. We’re working together toward the same goal. We each have qualities that contribute positively toward our marriage and what needs to be accomplished. One example: yesterday while I was out of the house, he organized the dirty dishes for me, sorting them so like items were with like items (and yes, we have enough dirty dishes in our house that they need to be sorted so they don’t overtake our entire kitchen). I don’t understand why it’s easier for me to wash dishes when they’re sorted, but it is, and he knew that and it helped me get a better handle on the cleaning.

On the days when I think I’d be better off going it alone, whatever the circumstance, I think about the value of team work. About inviting other people into my life. How much better it is to work alongside people and share the burdens.

We’re better together, you and I. I hope you know that, too.

What is your reaction to team work?

Are you open to sharing the load or are you more of a control freak?

How do you invite other people into your daily life?

The ‘whole’ truth {a stop in the #OneWord365 journey}

Not far from our place is a house overlooking the river. A few months ago it was for sale, and it wasn’t on the market long. A ranch-style house, it wasn’t as spectacular or flashy as some of its neighbors, but its location is prime. I didn’t think much of it until we drove past one day and the house was gutted and the roof was off.

The new owners, apparently, are taking the frame of the house and turning it into something of their own. They’ve added a second story and a bay window and what the house is becoming is unrecognizable from what it was when they bought it. ow_whole

Transformation can feel like this–a tearing down and a rebuilding–and that’s the theme so far of my OneWord365 journey this year.

In becoming “whole” I’ve first become a whole lot more broken.

But Love has pitched his mansion in

The place of excrement;

For nothing can be sole or whole

That has not been rent. — Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop, by William Butler Yeats

I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention, a chronicle of her marriage. She quotes this poem by Yeats, and I can’t stop thinking about it. That to become whole I must first be torn.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few months and that’s what this process feels like sometimes. A shredding of who I thought I was, of what I believed. A ripping apart of the falsehoods. An exposing of the inner wounds. I leave the office sometimes having shed more tears in an hour than in the weeks prior, and though I am often exhausted by the emotional and spiritual toll of the work, the days afterward are healing and I feel more like my true self. More whole.

How it works, I don’t completely understand. How healing comes from brokenness, wholeness from pieces, I don’t know. But I can feel it inside. Every time I am torn by the pain of the past, every time I bring it into the light, I am one step closer to the me I lost.

I am almost glad I didn’t know this was part of the journey. I might not have started it had I known.

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

This L’Engle book is convincing me that her life and words have much to say to my own. I am a late bloomer when it comes to reading her work, and this is an unconventional place to start, I would guess. A Wrinkle in Time sits on my shelf in the to-read pile but I needed her words on marriage more.

She says of the union:

And what I must learn is to love with all of me, giving all of me, and yet remain whole in myself. (103)

This, too, is a mystery. I knew when I got married that two became one and something new was created, but I didn’t understand that I could still be me, too. We are two individuals living in communion, and I do not have to give up who I am to be his wife.

The losing of me is no one’s fault except my own. For many years, I couldn’t tell you what I liked. I wouldn’t make my own decisions or form my own opinions for fear of losing friends. Even in my early Christian experiences I felt the need to conform to be part of the group. Though I might have had my own thoughts, they were masked depending on the situation.

I remember a time in college when a bunch of us were sitting around talking about movies we loved. After someone named one, I would declare, “That’s the best!” I must have said the words a dozen times for a dozen different movies until someone called me out: “They can’t all be the best.” I didn’t even know I was doing it. A few years later, a friend asked me what my favorite cake was. She was going to bake it for my birthday. I had no answer, so I told her white cake with white frosting. (How boring is that!?) No offense if that’s your favorite, but it wasn’t mine. It was just the safest choice. (For the record, the answer is Boston Cream Pie. Or ice cream cake.)

Becoming whole means accepting me for who I am and who I could be. It means discovering my wants, needs and likes and not being afraid or ashamed of them. I feel like I’ve only recently begun to get to know myself. Some days I’m sad that it took so long, but I’m trying to be grateful that it’s happening at all.

A few years ago after our marriage crisis, we attended a one-day marriage workshop that my husband helped plan at his school. One of the therapists leading the workshop led us in an exercise to build a bridge or some kind of structure using uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows, I think. I have no gift for envisioning a strategy but Phil immediately had a plan. We set to work and when the time was up, we hadn’t gotten as far as some of the others. I was feeling bad about our seemingly failed attempt when the therapist went around the table pointing out the positive attributes of each structure.

“Phil and Lisa’s might not be very tall, but it’s solidly built. It’s going to hold up over time.”

Those weren’t her exact words, but the thought behind them. They were perfectly timed, and she had  no idea what we’d been through. I hang onto those words, still, for me and our marriage and the path that we’re on.

I may have gotten a late start on knowing myself, but I’m building a foundation that will support something I can’t yet see. It’s not about how tall or fast or soon but how firm the foundation. How solid the frame.

I may yet discover more tearing down, more shredding that needs to be done. Maybe that’s always part of the process. But I’m looking forward to the piecing back together. The rebuilding and restoring.

Most of all, I know now that broken isn’t always bad. Nor is it the end.

Sometimes broken has to come before whole.

A guide to surviving Valentine’s Day

I love a good fairytale. A happily-ever-after romance. Pretty sure I always have.

But life is not always happily-ever-after. Even great marriages have their low points. And all relationships have flaws.

I haven’t been the hugest fan of Valentine’s Day, although it has its charms. (Conversation hearts, anyone?)

love

I’ve been single, separated by war, and married on Valentine’s Day, and none of those statuses made it any easier to stomach. Because sometimes Valentine’s Day makes us think that love has to be perfect to be worth it. Or that romantic love is all there is to life.

That it falls on a weekend this year somehow intensifies the feelings about this holiday. (I use the term loosely.) Whether you’re single and happy, single and miserable, attached and blissful, attached and unhappy, married with or without children, living your marriage dreams or slogging through a nightmare, I want you to survive Valentine’s Day. I want you to know that love is work and relationships are hard and it’s okay.

A few years ago I blogged a list of realistic love songs about marriage.

I want to add to that list with songs, books and articles that will make your situation, whatever it is, feel normal on Valentine’s Day. Few of us live a fairytale every day, and especially on Valentine’s Day, it’s good to be reminded of love in all seasons of life. Feel free to add your own.

My friend Courtney wrote this book called Paper Hearts. And while it might look like a lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day romance, it is so much more. You can read my full review, and I think you’ll be encouraged by the story. It is what real love is like. (Also, check out the video that goes with it.)

Grab a tissue to watch this Casting Crowns video of their song, “Broken Together.” That whole idea of “you complete me” is good for the movies, but this song tells a much more realistic story.

Specific to Valentine’s Day, here’s a great reminder that our day doesn’t have to be perfect to be good: The One True Thing About the Perfect Valentine’s Date by Kelly Flanagan.

Still have those tissues? Check out the story of Ian & Larissa Murphy in their book Eight Twenty Eight or you can watch some videos and read some articles about them here. A humbling story of sacrificial love and the goodness of God.

And if you have a lot of garbage in your relationship or your past, check out this post by Gary Thomas, which encourages us that our broken pieces can turn into beautiful windows.

So, there you have it. My guide to surviving Valentine’s Day. Let me know what you think if you check out any of these resources. And please, add others in the comments section!

When the falling was easy and the getting up is hard

In the late ’90s, a British band called Chumbawamba filled the radio waves with these words:

I get knocked down

But I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down

It was a drinking song, mostly, with a festive beat perfect for party atmospheres. (I was present at a few of those back in the day and now I’m old.)

Such confidence in the words: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”

But they’re such a lie. Not that I expected to find truth from a band whose name sounds like a bubble gum brand or gibberish.

The truth is getting knocked down hurts.

And getting back up again is hard. 

And sometimes, it’s tempting to want to stay down. Because what if I get back up and then get knocked down again? Won’t that hurt more?

To say our family experienced a fall seems an understatement. Like saying Humpty Dumpty tripped. I’m not sure I realized at the time, now four-and-a-half years ago, just how far we’d fallen. Or how hard it would be to get up again.

And I certainly didn’t consider that falling, which seemed to happen so fast, meant we’d somehow have to make up the distance between where we landed and where the fall happened.

Staying down never seemed like an option. But that was before we started climbing.

climb

For the inexperienced and untrained, climbing requires strength, muscles we might rediscover along the way. And it might take time. We’re not going to climb a mountain or crawl out of a pit in an hour.

It might be days, weeks, years.

There will be pain. Fatigue. Disappointment. Discouragement. Bitterness. Despair. Blame.

But no matter how the fall happened, the circumstances that led to it, the final step over the edge, the reality is it happened. And time can’t be reversed so it was otherwise.

When you find yourself at the bottom of a pit, for whatever the reason, the only way to go is up.

Staying down is admitting defeat. It might as well be a death sentence.

When we’re down, all we want is a way out. Rescue. I want someone to throw me a rope and lift me out of my trouble.

But even then, I don’t want to be the one to do all the work required to get out. I still might have to hold on and climb. I still have to believe it’s possible.summer

I want to think that getting back up after falling down is glamorous. That restoration is immediate.

What I’m learning is that it’s less like a dramatic movie rescue and more like clawing your way up out of the dirt. It’s a slow crawl into light. It’s squinting at the brightness when all you’ve known is darkness. It’s finding your feet again and re-learning how to walk. It’s pressing on, even when you slide back and feel like you’re losing ground. It’s inner strength and internal drive. It’s heart, mind and body working together to get to the place you were before.

And beyond.

When I think about our situation, I don’t want to go back to where we were before the fall. I don’t want to fight for what was but to strive for what could be. I want to climb out of the pit, rest on the plateau and then tackle the mountain.

Still, it takes work.

And for some reason, I didn’t expect that part of it. Or I wanted it to happen at a quicker pace. Or on my terms.

But all significant change takes time.

Seeds take root and become plants, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The tallest trees were once seeds and now stand as living testaments to the beauty of growth over time.

Buildings begin with a solid foundation, then walls and support beams and a roof. Who would decorate a house on the inside before the roof was finished?

Even Jesus’ resurrection from the dead required a whole day in between. (Couldn’t He have risen immediately? I’m not debating theology here, just curious.) And the Kingdom He started with that revolutionary act is still being built.

Why should my own resurrection be any different?

So maybe Chumbawumba had it right after all.

No one will get through life without falling.

It’s what we do after the fall that matters. <Tweet that>

Will we stay down and curse the ground on which we lie? Will we search the skies for rescue, praying and hoping for help to come, for someone else to do the hard work of getting us out? Or will we choose to start climbing? To determine to NOT stay down. To dig our hands into the rocks and dirt and pull with everything we’ve got. Will we struggle to the top, weary and with shaking arms and legs, having spent every ounce of strength, with bloodied and dirtied hands, covered in sweat?

Will we hang on just a little longer when everything in us wants to let go? (There is a time to let go, but make sure it’s the right time.)

hang on

Because while it’s true that restoration makes us new, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It is grueling work to get back up and not stay down.

So whether you’ve fallen or grown discouraged or are on the verge of giving up on something or someone, consider how far you’ve already come.

Measure the distance between the ground where you fell and your proximity to the light. Choose to keep going toward the light, whatever that might be. A dream. A goal. Healing. Wholeness.

Get back up again.

Don’t let anything keep you down.

Things I cannot change| #hardestpeace {a link up}

I don’t know much about Kara Tippetts except that she’s fighting cancer and fighting for life every day. Maybe you’ve heard of her. She recently wrote a public letter to a woman who has scheduled her death. And she’s written a book called The Hardest Peace. I haven’t read the book, but in promoting her book, she’s asking for stories. Stories of others’ hardest peace–where we’ve learned to expect grace in the midst of life’s hard (the subtitle of her book).

I’m not fighting her battle, but we all fight our own battles, and grace is for all of the battles, for all of the fighters in all the arenas.

And the battle I fight is against the things I cannot change.

Namely, the past.

Sure, it’s the past, but I blame it for my present and worry that my future will be radically different because of things that happened then. Things I cannot change.

So peace for today eludes me because I haven’t made peace with the past.

I’m not sure what that looks like anymore.

I used to think it meant surviving it. And survive it, I did.

Surviving the hard times used to seem impossible. There were days I was certain I wouldn’t come through it alive or anything looking like human.

But it’s four years later. And I’m still alive.

I wonder, though: Am I living?

We got through a hard time in our marriage, and we’re so much better for it. But now that life has settled back down, now that the crisis has passed and urgency worn off, I find myself drifting into seas of bitterness, oceans of regret. If I’m not careful, I’ll drown in them.

Peace, then, is what could keep me afloat.

And peace, in part, comes from letting go.

I learned this to a point last year when I released some things, big and small.

But I don’t think I really let the past go.

And that doesn’t mean that I have to forget it, exactly, or pretend it never happened.

Maybe it has more to do with this thought Tippetts shares in her book:

hardest peace

Finding peace means recognizing that I don’t get to control all the things that happen to me. That maybe–certainly–there’s a larger story being written. One that doesn’t include a perfectly planned out (by my standards) life. As a writer, I can relate to these words. There are scenes in my stories that are hard to write because they wreck someone’s world, but it’s for the greater good.

I need to trust that the same is true in the story of my life.

The hardest peace. What a challenging thought. That peace doesn’t always come easy. But that it still comes.

Do you a have a story about finding the hardest peace? Share yours, too, and link to it here. Then head over to the contest for the book release here and enter to win prizes, including copies of the book.