Next Adventure: Corvette!

Welp we did it.

Tonight we bring our first Insane Purchase home. A red targa top C5 Corvette. Basically unbelievable.

It all started a few months ago when husband admitted he absolutely hated driving the gold minivan when “everyone else” was buying $80k trucks (on credit.) I don’t see the problem. (Haha. Poor guy).

He got increasingly annoyed and finally burst out “I HAVE TO GET A NEW CAR.” I was thinking hip SUV so our three kids + friends + gear would fit. But he wanted “his own” car. (actually, that’s a lie. I was thinking “HECK NO. We need to give all our money away! We can’t be selfish!”)

That killed me. We don’t do “mine and yours” …except for underwear. We just do “ours.”

So we passive aggressively annoyed each other for two months while I felt abundant guilt for not using that money for something better. I felt guilty for not giving that money away. I felt guilty for not using that money to start a nonprofit that could give college scholarships. I felt guilty for not using it to pay off the mortgage faster. I just felt guilty. I mentioned all these ideas to my husband who has gotten really really good at saying Yes to me (and to God!)… and he kept saying no. He really, really wanted a car. After I got bitter, I prayed and realized something!

I supernaturally had a change of heart. God hadn’t told us to use that money for anything. If He had, we would have. He would have prepped us before hand, but He didn’t. God did tell me, though, to honor my husband and love him like crazy forever, which would be WAY EASIER if he was happy, lol. Also, to be fair, three years ago we made a long term goal sheet and the one we are technically on now is “get a new car.” HA! I guess it’s meant to be.

Usually I’m the one jumping off cliffs doing insane things. This was the first time he ever proposed something illogical. I didn’t know how to respond. Once I realized my generosity shouldn’t only include the poor and oppressed, but also my own family and especially my husband, I was able to wrap my head around a ridiculous purchase. I want to love him the way Jesus loves me: like crazy.

So we opened up dialogue and started car shopping. He wanted a Cadillac like the one we sold to get out of debt. Made sense. Except he wanted one that was crazy expensive. And I felt guilty again.

While I let him talk, I secretly set a budget I  liked that fit with our savings account and still allowed us to have an emergency fund, and I got on craigslist. In an hour I found that Corvettes are affordable if you buy an old one!  A few pictures and BAM. He was sold. I was sold. We had found The One!

I texted our financial advisor just to get his take. We crafted a plan and I showed husband the car I had found. We test drove it that night, and he was grinning from ear to ear, he even said “whoop!” If you knew my husband, you’d know that is a miracle. He’s a stone faced kinda guy. And honestly, in the last six years he’s sacrificed so much to take care of us, his cool car, his awesome house, his social life… and I mostly see those as necessary sacrifices — I mean, he’s married with three kids! Time to grow up — But also, he’s worked so hard and we still live in American culture. He deserves a splurge! (As do I! That’s why we flew to NYC and saw Hamilton. :))

That particular car was overpriced for blue book and also for our wallet and the guy wouldn’t budge. So we got back on CL and found a better one across the state exactly in our budget. He’s picking it up tonight.

I did ask myself, can we use this car to be a blessing to others? The answer is a big fat yes!!!! Sharing is caring. It’ll be our mom’s night out car, our guys’ night out car, our neighbors’ date night car. We’ll bless people with it. I know we will because that’s how we hold all our stuff. House, yard, bbq, truck.. chickens lol; it’s all for sharing. Yay!

But to see him smile that big, after so many years of sacrificing for our family and for our savings and for retirement etc etc… to see this weight lifted from his shoulders like “YES, we made it.” That’s so so worth it. He drives it home tonight and you bet I’ll be waiting in the driveway ready for a ride!

WHOOP!!!!

 

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How to Budget (so you can afford to see Hamilton)

Whew NYC was amazing, obviously. We ate our body weight in cheesecake, got to see Hamilton in a magical turn of random amazing events (that there were randomly two tix for a previously sold out show one of the nights we were there, and we had the money to buy them immediately), and didn’t use airline miles because we paid cash for the whole thing.

But the best part was that we went with not a care in the world and we came home without a care in the world. Because we used a (drumroll) budget.

Though budgets are easy to make, they can be tricky to live by and can seem overwhelming on first pass. So here’s a free, cheap and easy way to make a budget! Works every time!

  1. Get two pieces of paper. On the first, write your hopes, plans, and dreams. If your big dream is to be debt free, you can write that, but don’t stop there. Think about when you were five, ten, fifteen. What did you want to do when you grew up? End world hunger? Save the whales? Be an astronaut, live in NYC, start a school, whatever. Write it down! Start asking yourself, what would you do with a million bucks? Those dreams are not unattainable. In fact it’s those dreams that are about to drive you into a new reality. WRITE THEM DOWN and stick em on the fridge. Step one, done.
  2. Ask how much per month you want to save and how much you want to give. That comes first. If you’re a ten percent giver, figure out that number and write it down. Another 10-20% should be saved (at least). Bam! Your first two line items, done.
  3. Figure out where your money typically goes. I printed off three months of bank statements and got my highlighters out. Painstakingly highlight with different colors all the major stuff (groceries, restaurants/coffee, rent/mortgage, utilities, child support, random shopping/amazon) etc. You’ll immediately see some trends.
  4. Think about other expenses that don’t show up on your bank statements. Anything you pay cash for? Jot it down.
  5. Categorize your spending. On the second page, make a list of all expenses in one column and in a second column, write what you typically spend per month per item (three mos of data will give you a more typical overview than one month will).
  6. Write your monthly income on top of the second column, and begin subtracting all those numbers. You want to have money left over 🙂 You probably won’t. That’s okay. That’s why we’re budgeting.
  7. Take a deep breath. The fun is about to begin. You might want to stop and rest just from the shock. If you’re doing this in real time, I bet you feel super guilty for how you’ve been spending. Been there! Can you see how your dreams really are possible if you just stopped spending on dumb stuff and started dumping money towards your dreams!?
  8. Judge your categories. If you’re spending $1300 a month on food, ask yourself if you’d rather do that, or would you rather start that school, feed that family, coach that soccer team? If you can squeeze a hundred bucks out of your food budget, do it. If you can cut your food budget in half, do it! Realize here, food and groceries are two different animals. Don’t lump restaurants into your food category. That’s separate. Just by distinguishing what you spend on restaurants vs grocery store can help you retire like twenty years early. For the cost of two average restaurant meals, I can feed my family for an entire week, OR TWO.
  9. Judge every category. Can you tighten any of them? (yes, you can. lol.) For instance, could you live without internet? (do you have a local library? If so, then yes you can). Can you downsize your smart phone? Do you NEED all that data? Do you need that many cat videos? Or would that money be better spent feeding hungry kids? Who do you want to be? The lady who watches cat videos, or the lady who ditched her cell phone so she could impact the lives of kids?

Now the even FUNNER part! 🙂 Judging yourself and making necessary changes.

  1. How often do you shop for silly things that aren’t important? Take note! If you spend $300/month at Target for things you can’t remember, maybe acknowledge you like to spend on silly things, give yourself a $150 Target budget and commit that other $150 to savings or giving.  If you’re super badass, cut out the whole Target shenanigan.
  2. Check your habits. If you love Starbucks but realize your four weekly lattes are hitting almost $100/month, cut it to one a week (or one a month) and make your own hip drinks at home. There’s plenty of coffee snobbery to be had in your own kitchen. Get some artisan beans, a fancy press, and some new fancy coffee friends to tell you how fancy you are. Put the rest in retirement or give it away.
  3. If restaurants are a sore spot for you, OPEN YOUR OWN, of sorts,  in your own house! Splurge a little on awesome food, and then invite a million people to come eat it! Many, almost most of our meals, are made for and with other people! We have the coolest dinners and it’s SO MUCH MORE FUN than a restaurant with all that salt and MSG etc. You get to know your neighbors and friends way better and you get to learn to cook.
  4. I learned from the Frugalwoods to swap your breakfast for oatmeal. Wahoo! Some raw oats and milk with cinnamon and berries and honey is on point for breakfast and it costs something like .001 cent per serving.

Once you get your budget weeded out, you’ll start finding extra moolah everywhere. If you still don’t have enough to get by, consider adding another job. If you’re really in dire straits, and I completely acknowledge that many people are living in circumstances where a budget like this just isn’t possible, seek wise counsel. Find a financial counselor who can help you access resources while you wade through all this.

Have fun. Budgeting means giving yourself permission to spend the money you’ve earned. Keep your dreams at the forefront and consider the cost of every expense. Is running the A/C to the tune of $200/mo worth not being able to feed hungry kids or fly to Europe for a month long trip?  If yes, run it. But if no, then don’t!

It’s your money!

 

 

World’s Best Cheesecake

A few years ago, we were facilitating Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class. We had been out of debt for some time at that point, trying to maintain our investments at the 13-15% mark. We had just put 20% down on our new home and maintained our 3-6 month emergency fund in the meantime. But Christmas was nearing and we wanted to do some crazy End of Year Giving to (let’s be honest) make us feel great inside.

Our friends sort of invited us out for cheesecake after class. Like, they invited other people and we overheard, so they felt obligated to invite us, too. The relationship was already strained — I mean, they were *attending* a financial class we were *teaching.* Which is just plain awkward.

We declined because we literally had ZERO DOLLARS IN THE CHEESECAKE ENVELOPE. And if there’s no money in the envelope, we don’t spend it!

I mean. We didn’t even *have* a cheesecake envelope. We have a taco envelope. A date night envelope. A Bar Down the Street envelope. A haircut, weave, manicure, and Fancy Cheese envelope. But no cheesecake envelope. And i’m never willing to move Fancy Cheese money into anything other than Fancy Cheese. I just love cheese too much. Same for haircare and gas and groceries and especially tacos.

Really, though, we were getting ready to make a huge donation to an awesome non prof and weren’t eating out.  We didn’t tell them that part. We just said we didn’t have the money that day, but they could come have a float at our house if they wanted!!

They didn’t want.

So they did what any grown up would do. They made fun of us! They said, so loudly, and so many times to so many people who didn’t care, that Dave Ramsey wouldn’t let us eat cheesecake (I’ve never forgotten that!! Dave Ramsey won’t let me eat cheesecake! HAHAHA. It just sounds like a screenprint on a mall t shirt, no?) And rolled their eyes like we were so dumb for not throwing our hard earned money out the window instead of investing it in boring old mutual funds where it would eventually earn MILLIONS of dollars over the next decades, or giving it away to sex trafficking victim after-care, which is where that money actually went.

Silly us.

But since then, I’ve had this insatiable urge for cheesecake! And not just any cheesecake, but really expensive cheesecake. (It’s something Jesus is working on in me — this restitution/getting even/showing our worth thing. Please, let me enjoy this snarky blog post. He really is working on me. But snarkiness… just feels so good in the meantime!)

So when husband asked me where I wanted to go last weekend, I said, To Eat Expensive Cheesecake. I confessed that I just couldn’t shake the cheesecake comment, even though it has been a couple years!! And where would we find the best and most expensive cheesecake!? In New York!

So we booked our trip to NYC!! And we plan on eating the very best cheesecake we can find. Lots of it. Every day we are there. And I plan on leaving insane tips. And I plan on eating some $300 cheesecake with some people at the local Gospel Mission. I’m sure at some point I’ll cross paths with Derek Jeter and he will eat some cheesecake with us too. (Why wouldn’t he!? I mean, he’s amazing. We are amazing. And the cheesecake, I hear, is amazing. A trifecta of amazing!)

I have big plans for my brand new cheesecake envelope.

Because when you say no to enough shitty cheesecake with mediocre company, later you get to say YES to awesome cheesecake anywhere and anytime you want with amazing company (like Derek Jeter. Maybe a cool guy at the Mission. Either way, it won’t be with people who make fun of us).

 

Emergency Fund vs Credit Card

Jumping off of buildings or throwing yourself out of a plane or diving off a 400 foot bridge is a crazy adrenalin rush that’s addicting. But without a safety net or parachute or harness… you can only do it once. My emergency fund is the safety net that allows me to jump off of life’s buildings — to take Life-Changing risks —  as often as I want.

So with a fully loaded emergency fund (3-6 months of my living expenses, sheltered quietly from my sticky, greedy, materialistic hands in a tidy money market account), I can take risks. I can “step out in faith” ALL THE TIME as churchy people love to say. For example, if we decide at age 35 that my husband wants to quit his job and become a full time freelance basket weaver in Uganda, or if we want to quit working and volunteer full time at a non-profit, or if I want to start a nonprofit and not get paid ever — or whatever the crazy dream might be — we can actually do those things.

We don’t want to.

Yet.

But we could if we wanted to.

Because we have money to tide us over while we figure out our next steps, we don’t have to claw our way through every pay period, just waiting for the next one. If we dream of doing something crazy, we can. And if we have an emergency, like my house burns down and I need a hotel, or my car explodes, we can just write a check to pay for it. And still do the crazy thing we want to do.

I’m starting to realize there’s a “secret levels” situation when it comes to finances. (Yes, that’s a Mario reference). And that is, when you’re walking with Jesus and you’ve “won with money” and you’re living at peace with your finances and He starts telling you to do some pretty cool stuff, sometimes that stuff blows protocol out of the water. Sometimes — rarely but occasionally — that crazy stuff just doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet.

Jesus supersedes our spreadsheet.

When we want to help someone else with groceries, or throw a giant BBQ, or write a check to a nonprof that’s ending slavery, or buy new shoes for a basketball team, WE CAN because we aren’t spending our paychecks on bills anymore, AND we aren’t trying to save to cover emergencies. We already did that. So now we get to play.

Also, as a rule, first and foremost we make sure our family is taken care of. We make sure we typically are paying into our retirement funds and hacking away at Mort. And we are saving for emergencies. But sometimes, we go off course. We have to keep it exciting.

When we feel like giving over our ENTIRE PAYCHECK to a cause we are passionate about, we can. And we rarely just write a check to some non profit. Usually we buy groceries or pinatas or bicycles or college tuition or Nikes for some kid… Because we have money in the bank to live on.

Or last summer, we woke up one morning in August and decided to go to Disneyland. So the next day when his paycheck came, we just bought our Disney trip. With cash. Because we felt like it. That money was ALL OURS. It didn’t have to go out the door to creditors to pay for some emergency that had happened long ago. Because the emergencies that had happened long ago, had been paid for long ago. They didn’t haunt my mail box every month with bills and memories of the horror we experienced in our emergencies. We also had an emergency safety net so that we could use our paycheck for fun, knowing the safety net had our backs.

Now an emergency fund itself is not for buying Disney vacations. But it enables me to use my paycheck for anything I want. Because it is a safety net for my life. Knowing I have money to cover my risks makes me able to do crazy things. I can use my paycheck to go to Disneyland because I don’t have to always be thinking “well what if my car breaks down… what if this, what if that.”

When our gold 2006 minivan gives up the ghost, we can either (a) pay to have it fixed right that minute, or (b) buy a new one right that minute.

And when that happens, we will look at each other and say “what do you know? The car is broken….do you want to grab a couple lattes? Play some golf? Spend the night in a swanky hotel? Go car shopping leisurely? Or otherwise chill out while we handle this minor situation with grace and dignity?” Instead of “OH MY GOODNESS! Let’s run around like crazy people screaming into the universe about how only horrible things ever happen to us and this house of cards we’ve built is crumbling right before our eyes!”

When half of husband’s department got a pink slip and so many of the families we knew from work were FREAKING OUT and taking second jobs and downsizing etc… we took a vacation. We had a safety net. We could enjoy our freefall instead of wondering when we were going to crash. We sipped French press coffee on our backporch and listened to Train Radio on Pandora. We were, in essence, unfazed. Because with an emergency fund, you can weather the storms of life. We were dreaming together instead of having a nightmare together.

A fully funded emergency fund is like having a fully stocked underground concrete shelter, or whatever those people have on Discovery Channel. It means no matter what happens, you’re going to mostly be okay. Your life might change, but it’s not going to end. You might be annoyed, but you won’t be totally crushed. Struck down, but not destroyed.

Conversely, using credit cards to cover emergencies can result in an number of situations. Lots of my friends very proudly use credit cards to pay for emergencies and they swear it works for them. But we have noticed in those emergency times, those friends are still pressured. Still stressed. Still worried when the card is maxed out with a huge emergency and they have to use a different card. Still recuperating for months after an emergency. Still strapped with car payments when their car breaks down beyond repair and they’re “forced” to buy a brand new one on credit.

Those payments, at the end of the day, are money that they don’t have in hand and they are essentially strapped to for the rest of the payment cycle. These are the people who don’t understand how we can just pay cash for a trip to Disneyland. (But you’ll miss out on airline miles that you’ll never use!) Sending 20 bucks or 500 bucks out the door every month to pay for “emergencies” on a credit card is that much more money that’s not being invested. That’s money that’s not even allowed to be given away.

It’s out of play.

Being free looks like DOING WHATEVER I WANT with my money every day. That’s worth the really really hard work it takes to build an emergency fund. An Emergency fund means I get to do whatever God calls me to do at any minute of my life. Or anything I personally want to do at any moment of my life.

I get to take all the risks I want. Wahoo! That’s freedom.

 

How To Look Like Jesus

My mom died 11 years ago and what she left — memories of her looks and smell and other things we take for granted… I immediately, apparently, buried somewhere deep in my psyche. The morning after she died it was like that dream where you’re grasping for something but can’t reach it. I couldn’t remember what she looked like.  Had to immediately look at a picture.

And I haven’t really delved into remembering those things but some stuff comes up sometimes.

Friends recommend lots of “How to look like Jesus” books to me. And in skimming them today I remember this about my mom: She could have written those books! But it would have undermined the whole point — which is to be so consumed with Jesus that you realize He is SO AWESOME and in comparison, I’m that much LESS AWESOME. It’s being like Jesus, quietly and in secret.

There’s this theme these days on Christian bookshelves. People writing about how edgy and cool they are because they do things they think Jesus would have done. I get it! I like those books sometimes! I have a blog about looking like Jesus. But the thing about those books is…people love to talk about how super cool and hip it is to live “like that” in theory(edgy and uncomfortable and below the poverty line or whatever the thing is). But there’s a whole huge group of people who have been living that way for centuries, including my mom, and guess what. People never thought my mom was cool. In fact, they made fun of her. A lot.

She was a revolutionary! And she didn’t even know it.

We had these girls living next door to us in our little (700 sq ft?) ghetto apartments with drug deals happening outside the windows at night. And these girls were in the worst of the worst of situations. Single drug-addicted mom, abusive absent dad, and all that goes with that.

But my mom! Those girls were over every single day to play with us. She provided who knows how many hundreds of lunches and snacks to them and we had them over for dinner at least four times a week. They came over bright and early at 7 every morning to play in the summer and didn’t go home until dark. And then they’d come back! They’d knock and knock and knock and when we answered they’d say in unison “Can we invite for dinner?”

How do you say no to that? Well when people are at your house every single day breaking your toys and eating your food, occasionally you do say no. But mostly you say YES. Even when it’s annoying. My mom hadn’t read any “how to be a cool Christian” books. She just knew Jesus always had room at the table for one more. Or two more. He always made room for kids. Even when there wasn’t enough food. Funny how so much in the Bible has to do with food. And how much of our life revolves around sharing our food with people.

And my mom bought them, every year, new school clothes. And she never said a word about how edgy she was. Because she didn’t know she was edgy. She was just being like Jesus.

We’d go to Target (didn’t have a Walmart :)) and she let them pick out some shoes and shirts and pants and underoos and even some little hair things or something. And we had “no money” but I’m guessing we had a credit card. Same thing happened when summer camp rolled around every year — new jammies, new swimsuits, new shorts and tanks and flips. Not a ton, but some.

And their family, such as it was, had us over a few times for coffee or whatever.  We both lived in broken apartments, together.

When I say “every year” I’m talking like… seven years.

And then one day the call came. Oh that call! So hard not to laugh. So I’m just going to go ahead and laugh. HAHA. The Pastor’s Wife at our church called to inform my mom that this year, *she* would be taking the girls shopping, which was great! but here’s the punch line… she asked my mom, “when will the government reimburse me?”, or was there a credit card somewhere from Family Services she could use?

BAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHA HAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHA.

See how hard I’m laughing?

We can’t duplicate what Jesus looks like. We can’t copy Him. We can’t scrum up a revolutionary lifestyle. We can’t read enough How To Books.

If we want to look like Jesus, He has to be in us. We can’t scratch up Authentic Love on our own. No matter how hard we try to copy him, if our heart’s not true, the more we will just look like ridiculous poseurs out for a reimbursement check.

Contradictorily, when He’s living in our hearts and changing us, we start to do weird things like make sacrifices for other people — things that don’t get a payback; things that don’t get a shout out or a dollar-for-dollar-return-on-investment.

We do weird things like come alongside two nearly abandoned girls and make an impact on their lives in any way we can, even when we have no money; even when there’s no reimbursement check, just because people are inherently valuable because they were made by God in His image. And usually, we can tell we are doing the right thing because other people are making fun of us.

It’s been 11 years since I lost my mom and I can’t remember a list of things about her but today I have a missing piece — an important piece. A lesson she never told me but I somehow learned from her. If I want to look like Jesus, it’s going to happen quietly, and probably no one will clap for me. And if we really want to change the world, we’d be wise to start with opening up our dinner tables.

 

 

 

 

 

Generosity!

My dad gives everything he has away, all of the time, and he’s been like that forever. He only BBQs, smokes, or fries food, so he’s either outside cooking or inside with windows and doors open, and that means people can smell the burgers, steaks, fried chicken, or anything else and they know my dad shares. So there’s always people at his house! Always! And there’s always enough food to feed everyone. Even if it means the good stuff runs out and so he’s just passing out canned peaches and green beans.

Every Christmas growing up, we’d pack and distribute food boxes at Thanksgiving and Christmas and then every Saturday, we’d get donations from around town of balloons and candy and doughnuts and hostess cupcakes and then we’d drive these big busses around and pick up hundreds of kids for church, and give the stuff away to them. Their parents would come too and of course my dad always gave cupcakes to them too! Because who doesn’t love a cupcake! And they’d always laugh like they were found out! Like… “old man knows I secretly want a cupcake just like my kid has… but I’m so grown up and dignified I shouldn’t have one”… and then my old man would give them a whole box. And they were so happy!

Then there’s the time it was smelt season  — we lived on a river — and all the Russian families, like 2,000 people, would come dip for smelt. It’s an oily little fish that people use for lots of things. Well they’d be camping and it’s cold and wet and smelt season is about two weeks long. So my dad had them all coming into our home to use the washer and dryer. I walked in from school and there’s a bunch of guys in their long johns drinking coffee and waiting for the dryer to finish. You just… never know with my dad! He’s always got something brewing and it always involves giving.

One time he paid for a neighbor kids open heart surgery. And my dad doesn’t have money. But he happened to have money right that minute and so… he paid for the surgery. It meant he couldn’t buy a new-old truck. But hearts are more important than trucks.

But the thing about his generosity is this: it’s not because he’s just a great man. I mean… he is… but… he’s also a human and that means he’s inherently selfish as well.  His generosity stems from something more than just the good feeling we get from giving. Because when you live for 70 years giving and giving and giving, sometimes that giving hurts. Sometimes there’s nothing to give. But my old man gives anyway. And I know why he can do it. (DRUMROLL……)

It’s Jesus.

Because Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for him, and me. (And you, btw). And that unending, unfailing, totally world changing love, lives inside of my dad. Because my dad said “JESUS! You’re awesome! Make me like you!” And so … He did! And Jesus is both inherently giving, and also inherently wealthy. So when a poor old man like my dad says “I want to be like you” Jesus steps in and gives him the power to give and in times when there’s nothing to give, Jesus provides that, too.

We don’t give so that we will be a better person, so that we will feel better and sleep nicer at night. We don’t give so we can become like Jesus. It’s the other way around. We are becoming like Jesus, and so we give. It’s not an ingredient for a happy life. It’s the byproduct of a happy life — a life that is only found in Christ Jesus! If you want to be a crazy giver but just can’t seem to get over the hump… start with Jesus! The rest will follow.

Place Settings: Ensuring there’s room

Found a 12- person dining room table on Craigslist for $100, plus 6 chairs to add to our 4 existing chairs (which were also free) for an additional $35.

Score.

So our $135 dinette set seats my family of five very comfortably, except that we all cram onto one end of the table each night at dinner, leaving five chairs totally lonely and empty at the other end. Sometimes I swear I see a tumbleweed scoot across that side of the table.  It’s… deserted. (But not always!!)

We bought the World’s Largest Socially Acceptable Dinner Table so that we could invite lots and lots of people into our home. I heard a sermon three years ago by a friend who said they “always have room for one more,” in a theoretical sense, I assumed.

But it stuck with me and so when we moved from our condo, Giant Table was first on my list of things to purchase. And when we bought the chairs and recovered them (for 20 bucks!) I scrawled prayers and blessings and scriptures on the bottom of each seat for every person who would ever sit in them. (Even the people who disagree with me politically. Even the people who disagree with me spiritually, socially, and physically — i.e. the people who refuse to eat my amazing homemade pies because of “concerns about sugar”– a concept that is increasingly foreign to me. Just Kidding. I get it. And admire it. I’ll be no-sugar again one day. ;))

My heart was that everyone would always be welcome here. Is that hard? Oh. My. Goodness. Yes. ‘Specially this November. Ell.Oh.Ell.

But that’s the Table Christ asks us to set. Not just at Christmas. Because that’s the Table He set for us. Everybody’s welcome to share in His Supper of Redemption. (even the people who need Redeeming. #mindblown Which is all of us #mindblownagain).

There’s no “clean up before you show up.”

It’s just, “Show Up; I made you really good food and anticipated your arrival, as proven by my abundance of place settings, and I’d love nothing more than to sit by you just as you are right this minute.”

And it’s hard for me to read books and blogs and magazine articles about this New (slash, original) Christianity where we identify with the suffering and hurting, because I think… is this hip now? Whew!  Because we were poor. POOR. And you know how lots of church people treated us? Like we needed to look better, cleaner, fancier, so we could be like them! It’s just not true. We don’t need churches full of people who look just like us. So I’m glad it’s posh to be friendly to the underdog. That one was a long time coming. But it’s kind of annoying.

Yes let’s give to the poor and the oppressed, by golly, let’s do it until we have nothing left to give. And then let’s do it a little bit more. But let it be lovingly, rooted in… tender care for the sake of the person… not judgement — which is oddly kind of intrinsic in the nature of giving (we don’t give to people who seem to not be in need)–  so we can feel good about our giving.

Can we give in a way that brings hope and shines a light on the identity of the person we are caring for? As they are right this minute? Not in an attempt to get everyone up to our standards? Like… (I’m guilty of this) … when we see someone who lacks something… we find the thing they’re lacking and then we give it to them. Like, that levels some sort of playing field. Like… now they’re fixed. It’s just not true. I’ve gained more in sloughing off my material stuff than I have in acquiring any amount of stuff. Yet we see people lacking STUFF and we remedy them buy giving them STUFF. That doesn’t make people whole.

So let’s stop doing that.

Because the people we care for (all of humanity)…. already look like Jesus… because they’re made in His Image. Our job, ?am I wrong?, is to call out the parts that look like Him. To speak Truth over souls who are lost. To untangle deception and confusion and lack. Not to bandage pain with the list of “what it takes to make a person whole: socks and food and a job and toys for kids.” And I think we’ll find the people we *think* need “charity,” are quite different than the people to whom we dish out charity out to. (as if charity were something to be “dished.” bah).

What if instead we assumed everyone was on a journey toward Christlikeness and so we loved everyone up and spoke Truth to everyone and encouraged everyone and listened to everyone and created relationships where everyone could share their pain and then we could lead them to the One Who Heals Our Pain. And we went out of our way to build relationships with people who are not like us… and with people who ARE like us. Instead of thinking, you lack things that I have; allow me to help you acquire things like mine; goodbye.

And yes oh my goodness yes, we have to fill real needs. That’s first on the list! If a person is hungry or in need of water or clothes or whatever. Yes duh do that first. But let’s stop stopping there. Let’s stop with “oh you need a job you need food you need shelter let’s get you fixed up and set up so you look like you will function…ready, go!” Instead… what if we started with our hearts. What if we started with relationship. Looking into people’s eyes (not just those who “look poor”). My point is. We are all broken. Let’s get to the business of loving everyone. Poor or not.

Jesus teaches me to remember, there’s room for every single person at this table. I’m not the host of this shindig. I didn’t buy this Supper Table. Jesus did. And it wasn’t a Craigslist find. He bought it With His Blood (whoa #preach) And so HOW dare I judge whomever He invites to sit there?? (Spoiler alert: that’d be everyone — EVEN those church people who tried to shine us up so we could look like them).

We all have a place setting at the Table. And it’s my job as a follower of Christ to learn to hear the stories of ALL of those seated around me and LOVE THEM for who they are, and love them for who Christ is making them to be, and to encourage them in that way  — knowing that I AM SO messed up! And Christ invites me *anyway.* And after hearing their stories, it’s my job to share His Story.

 

Dinner at the Mission

Had dinner at the Gospel Mission last night.

Our hometown Mission is doing something I love: bringing a measure of dignity to those they serve. Our Mission’s cafeteria functions like a restaurant. Pretty tables, nice lighting, a choice of two entrées, several desserts, and wait staff and host.

Bringing dignity to people we serve means we see the humanity in everyone and therefore, the Jesus. Brings value to the life around us.

BUT! There’s more to be done! Serving at the Mission is fun. Fulfilling. I get to go home feeling #blessed. But it’s not deep enough.

Last night we were served ourselves at the Mission. We didn’t serve anyone else. We only had dinner there. Like real patrons. Kids and I waited in line with everyone else. Put our name on the list, and sat when we were called. And here’s what was different.

When I serve at the Mission or ANYWHERE, really, whether it’s the park or the hospital or VBS, there’s a level of respect I’m given. I’m the server, you are the served. I am the one dishing out, you are the one accepting. I have the power, you are at my mercy.

No Bueno. Yuck. I’ve always always hated that. You just can’t get real that way.

The remedy: knock it off. Ditch the treats. When I was in line at the Mission, I was one of “them.” I hate that word. I was not the one with the power. I was on the ground floor with everyone else. I was just normal. As far as anyone knew, I couldn’t make rent and my boyfriend was long gone.

But the fake respect was gone. The fake acting, smiling, congeniality, loyalty, eggshells were gone. And those things don’t exist in high doses in real life service anyway but they are there. There’s always an element of fake best-behavior. And I’ve always hated it.

This way, we visited with each other as equals. Because spoiler: we are equals (sheesh). People talked to me about how my kids looked hungry. How they used to drive their kids around until they were asleep. How they used to take them to McDonalds.

When I was doing the Park ministry, bringing food and having a picnic with a small group of people, it eventually erupted into a programmed Feeding Frenzy Program. At that point, when we were feeding 250 people twice a week and I was wondering what on earth I was doing, a lady named Danielle told me “this is nice what you’re doing; I see what you’re doing. It’s nice, but if you really wanted to know us, don’t bring us anything, just have a coffee with us and ask us our story.”

To which my brain responded “Oh hell no.” because that!? Would be terrifying.

And it stung like a thousand bees because I knew she was true. And scary because when we do that, we have to get real. When we can’t hide behind a bag of treats, we have to see that the people we are talking to are normal. Made in Jesus image. Just fine. Maybe even GASP we could share OUR  burdens. (now I’m just talking jibberish). No but really. I’ll know if I have a real relationship with someone because I spill my guts. The marriage stuff, the money stuff, the kid stuff, the past stuff, the fear stuff. I’ll spill that when I’m in a real friendship. Did I ever do that with anyone I’ve had a servant relationship with? HECK NO.

Then I have to ask… are those really relationships worth having? If they’re not even real? There’s two options. Stop serving. Or start serving like Jesus did. Hands open, heart open, in your face, wanting relationship. For real.

How my four year old and his homies are paying tuition for a year of schooling in Haiti

By selling cookies.

Lots and lots of cookies.

Like I’ve said before, we have time on our hands because we ditched our Entertainment Budget. Turns out we have more fun when left to our own vices and with Uncle Benny out of the picture.

For instance, we hear about things like Unforgotten Project at church and instead of heading straight to lunch at a restaurant or zipping off to the movie theater, we go home and think. A lot. Haha. Sounds boring but what happens is this: my kids have quietness in which to ask questions. A lot of questions. So many questions.

And we have nothing distracting us from answering said questions. So it goes like this: Kids: why don’t we pay for these kids to go to school?

Us: Idk, why not?

Kids: Because we have no money.

Us: Ah! You’ve got to work to earn money! What can you do? Is there anything you know how to make!?

Kids: COOKIES!

Us: YES!! And we can sell those cookies at an incredibly inflated mark up! And use the money to pay for your friends’ schooling. Shall we?

Kids: Yes we shall.

And so I send a text to six friends, asking if their kids want to help. Everyone brings an ingredient. And we get to the business of healing the world. One small corner at a time.

Those playmates bring cookies to their grandmas, who are doubled over with joy at the sight of their kids serving someone else. And they buy said cookies for outrageous prices.

It’s not about the cookies.

And then my mama friends see that they’re making a difference, so they bring said cookies to work! And more people get inspired. And my husband bring a sign up sheet to his macho work friends. And they’re on board. And in less than 24 hours, we have made two dozen cookies and raised $70 for our friends in Haiti. Dollars that will pay for education which means there’s an end in sight. This is not a funnel of aid. These are dollars that purchase freedom from need.

And that’s how we change the world, one boogery cookie at a time.

Small and silly? Not to my kids. And not to the kids in Haiti who get to go to school. And not to the moms of the kids in Haiti who for a year can worry a little less. And not to this mom, who watches my kids interacting with the world, and seeing, and noticing, and feeling, and responding. And changing.

 

Miss Mabel and Haitian Education

My kids, at 5, 4, and 2, are too young, I’ve been informed, to go on a Missions Trip.

Ell. Oh. Ell.

First I gotta say, I use the term “missions trip” pretty loosely. That term carries lots of connotations depending on who you talk to. I’m not interested in my kids going to a foreign country for a week and loving people under the condition that they start thinking and acting like they do. It’s just not my cup of tea.

I am, however, interested in gently and quietly stepping into another culture and learning from people who are different than I am and allowing my kids to serve others but also be served. Humbly. I’m interested in getting dirty and asking questions and risking my bank account and learning from other moms across the globe and sharing some pain and finding some healing. Together. And I am interested in sharing the Hope I have because I HAVE been through some stuff and I DO have a relationship with The One who Heals no matter your culture or history. He is Jewish. For the record. Not white. And certainly not rich. (Except that He owns everything. But he was also born in a barn and buried in a borrowed grave. He’s so counter everything! I love Him! 🙂 ).

So they’re simple minded, these kiddos of mine, eating the same sandwich every day and happily content coloring and glittering pictures for friends’ birthdays. They ask, on average, 4856 questions a day. And they laugh non stop. They carry on conversations with strangers in the grocery store and compliment backpackers on their dred locks. Yeah, they definitely know nothing about happiness or joy or learning or how to assimilate.. (Which would get most of us off to a great start on our missions trips!) pfff.

Better to stifle them until they are twelve and then teach them — if they’re even interested by that point–  to be socially loving and accepting “the right way.”

Yeah Right!!! My kiddos *are* little missionaries. Heck my kiddos are big missionaries. Miss Mabel even said so.

Ohhh Miss Mabel! By the time we met Sweet Miss Mabel, she was running our church food pantry. Every single day. She’d run all over town in her gold minivan picking up donations of bread, milk, eggs, fresh produce, and anything else you can think of. Then she’d pass it out to people as they needed, making sure no one in our community was hungry. That’s a big job.

And she didn’t cringe as she let my kids “help” her. She didn’t follow them around fixing everything they did and sighing at the extra work. No. they’d bring their little boxes of pasta roni and their little dried beans and Miss Mabel would stop everything to be with them. She’d shuffle them to the back room and let them painstakingly unload and sort groceries. My 3 and 4 year old! They’d pick out food from a box of donations and she’d coach them as they found the rightful spot on the shelf. She always took time for my kids, making sure they got to serve even if it meant slowing down big time. She never told them they were doing anything wrong.

In fact, quite the opposite! She told them they were missionaries.

And even though it wasn’t perfect, she saw the relationship with them first. She saw the sparkle in their eyes that, if stifled, would never return. She saw that they, too, could look like Jesus and that Jesus in fact commanded that the little children be allowed to be with him and what was He always doing? Serving, talking, listening, praying, walking, fishing, synagoguing, or otherwise kicking it with people. For shame if our kids aren’t allowed to do the same things.

Miss Mabel knew that Jesus did one of his biggest miracles with the help of a little boy and a basket of fish and bread! What if Jesus’ friends would have been successful in keeping the little boy away? Be lots of hungry people and an empty couple of chapters in our Bibles.

So I for one am over it. Done with red tape. We can offer what we do have, and that’s some lunch. Er… dessert. Kiddos are doing their OWN missions trip.

We are baking cookies and selling them and the money goes to the Unforgotten Project. It’s a project near and dear to our hearts, founded by a friend a few years ago. This project works to provide SUSTAINABLE aid to the people of Lastic, Haiti, focusing on education among other real needs like water security. One day, the people of Lastic won’t need Unforgotten Project because they will be self sufficient — the sign of a real good nonprofit with the people of Lastic, not the nonprofit, at the center.

So last time we did this, we got about a dozen four year olds together and baked up a storm. Probably made 200 cookies. And raised $245! Enough to send TWO KIDS TO SCHOOL FOR A YEAR.

My kids are too little to live missionally? Take that, nay sayers!!

This year, we are doing it again. Bigger. More cookies. More chocolate chips. More four year olds. More two year olds. More boogers. But still in our quiet little kitchen where we don’t need a permission slip or a passport or a high five.

Because my kids aren’t going to change the world. They already did for two little kids in Haiti. Not just that, but they roped in a dozen other families who are now aware of Unforgotten Project and the great work it is doing.

And so in the memory of Miss Mabel and with the power of the Christ who fed 5,000 families with the only thing a little boy had to offer — some lunch — we’ll bake these cookies until we have no more clean clothes 🙂 And pray that they will be used for far more than we could ask or imagine.