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).

 

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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 a full time missionary in Sri Lanka, 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. That’s not really why we have an emergency fund. But it’s true. If we dream of doing something crazy, we can. This veers away from Dave Ramsey a bit. For him, ER funds are for well… Emergencies. And I 100% agree with him. Only Emergencies should be paid for with the Emergency Money. And that’s like real emergencies. Like my house burns down and I need a hotel. Or my car explodes. Or something.

But 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. So we use our Emergency Fund, theoretically, on a “secret level” playing field. We use it only 100% for emergencies. And we also, in our minds, keep it open as Seed Money for Crazy Stuff that Will Bless Other People. We’ve never given away our entire ER fund. But it’s not beyond us. But we DO let it cover emergencies that aren’t really emergencies, like buying groceries for ourselves because we gave our whole paycheck away. (This is rare. But it just depends on what the Holy Spirit tells us to do.). It’s not really an emergency because I could have just not given the paycheck away. But it’s kind of an emergency because Jesus told me to…. and…

Jesus supersedes our spreadsheet.

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.

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 colored 2006 minivan gives up the ghost, we can either (a) pay to have it fixed right that minute, and if we’re on the side of the road somewhere far from home, we can pay for hotels and airfare and rental cars until we are home safe.  (A friend just bought a minivan on credit and was SO PROUD of the warranty she got with it “for free”, which paid for all of the above. And the cost of that “Free” warranty was really just rolled into the price of the car, so she will be paying for that warranty monthly for the next five years with interest, and she might not ever use the warranty. We, on the other hand, just pay for stuff when it comes up, interest free. Simple.)

Or we can (b) buy a different car with cash that day. If we wanted. 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 a game of tennis? 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 and all my hopes and dreams are crushed!!”

Because this risk is covered, I don’t have to hastily sell my crappy car and corner myself into a bad loan. And here’s a bonus weird thing… because we know we have enough money to actually buy a nice car with cash…. we don’t feel the need to. I am perfectly content — thrilled, actually — to drive our Gold Dream because I know I don’t have to. It’s not like when I was a poor white kid and I had to wear Goodwill jeans and so I spent every second of every day praying nobody would realize they were secondhand and I just couldn’t wait to one day have enough money to buy nice jeans. Nope! Instead I feel like.. HECK YEAH this is my car! And we can retire in five seconds. Wahhoo!!!! And I love my thrift store clothes!

When half of husband’s department got a pink slip and all the families we knew from work were FREAKING OUT and taking second jobs and moving back to their home states and downsizing etc… we took a vacation. 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 did shop for houses in other states. But it was FUN and empowering! 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 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! #worthit #smallpricetopayforfreedom) 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.

(In fact, if I save what my friends pay in monthly credit cardpayments, I will have enough money to buy my own seat on any airline, at any time I want, to anywhere I want. Almost like…. airline miles with no strings attached.) Using credit takes money out of your control. Using credit bandages emergencies, it stops the bleeding for a time but it follows you around for months or years. Ugh that’s not freeing!!

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.

 

Groceries: The Final Frontier

I have a love hate relationship with groceries. I love to eat them.

But I hate to secure them. I hate to cook them. I hate to plan for them. I hate to store them. I hate to pack them in from the car. I hate to count how much they cost. I hate to wash them, soak them, open them, clean them, bake them.

Eh.

And I hate that they are the last thing standing between me and my fully funded Roth/paid off Mortgage/Retirement at 45. Or whatever that dream was again.

But they taste so good.

When we paid off $100,000 in debt in two years, we did it by controlling each category of our lives at once, like a ring master jaunting around a circus with a 15 foot whip demanding the submission of hungry lions and bears that would threaten to devour him with one wrong move. SNAP!

Not really. I’m not a circus person. Creation care/ animal rights and all of that.

But we ARE pissed about money (I’m learning it’s more of a pissed-at-the-culture, actually) and we have been for some time now. Pissed in a Crack That Whip sort of way. We like to make our money do exactly what we want it to do, all of the time, in every single corner of our lives. We like to scream at it and boss it around. And we don’t take no sass.

When we were dumping debt, we ate beans and rice and rice and beans until our house smelled like Azteca. (yum).

But then we got FREE!!! And when you get FREEE sometimes you forget how you got that way.

Enter the $200 a week grocery budget. (YIKES mama!) Because we are an affluent family of five living in the suburbs with a six figure income and zero debt except the loan we have on the house, we deserve an $800/month grocery bill right!?!?

Ha. Ha. Ha. No.

What we do deserve is to walk in freedom, which means spending whatever the heck we want on food.

And I want to spend less. Like. $440/month less.

This isn’t my first Food Rodeo. The beans and rice schtick was one blip on the Food Graph for me. Since I’m pretty globally minded, I spend a lot of time thinking about how everyone else is eating, and more importantly, surviving. We spend more than an average amount of time questioning what we eat and why we eat it and how other people all over the globe are getting along with their food choices — their own or choices that are made by their circumstances. And why on earth we think we are entitled to stuff our faces (and throw so much away) when other people starve.

This is what keeps me up at night.

And it’s pretty depressing. Always. The $200 a week budget is pretty new…. and it came out of me being lazy. I like to go out to eat and I like to buy things already at least partly cooked. Because in this season of my life, I’ve allowed myself to think cooking is hard and time consuming. LOL. It’s not.  I used to LOVE cooking. But I lie to myself and choose convenience over work.

And I feel guilty about $200 a week. Ugh so guilty. Starving people in China, for starters. But there’s more to it than that. I’ll type that later.

Because the point I want to make is this: This week our budget is $65 a week! And then every week after that it will be in the $90 a week ballpark. That’s less than a buck a meal or thereabouts per person. Ish. Since we have five-ish people here (some are quite small so I’m really counting them as fractional-people. HA!). And there’s room for coffee and maple syrup and cream for my coffee. Yum.

And that’s not bad at all.

The Food Stamp Challenge, where you see what it’s like to eat using food stamps on the  amount the government provides, allows for approximately $25 per person per week (between $1-$1.25 per meal). For us that would be $125/week. Ish.

Sigh I remember the day our Real Life Grocery budget inched up to $125 a week. (It had been at 80). Rejoicing! I could finally afford to buy Oreos once a week.

So we did the Food Stamp Challenge, several times on accident, since our budget was already set at or below that mark. And once on purpose, when I felt guilty for having the $200 budget. And now we are at it again, but from a different angle. From a more pissed angle, if you will. Because this time, I want to fully fund my roth every year AND pay off Mort AND do it on one income, AND we are getting closer and closer to 40, AND our kids want to play sports AND we like to fix up our house AND our kids are growing and so it’s kind of like Now or Never.

The Dollar A Day guys, whom you can watch on Netflix, bring to light some of the challenges the rest of the world faces with food economics. It’s really really hard (slash impossible) to live on one dollar a day, but millions of people do it. So if they can do $1 a day, I am making myself do THREE TIMES that amount. Even that feels guilty. But because while sometimes as a family we challenge ourselves for the sake of gaining empathy for others, this exercise is more of a once for all change I’m making for the rest of our lives. I fully intend on doing the dollar a day challenge for week or two or a month, probably when my kids are older, so we can learn something.

My greatest fear is raising entitled brats.

But for now, we are making a final life change choice that is sustainable long term. Because we’ve done it before. I just got distracted by #RotisserieChickens and #Alfredo. And OREOS!

So for this week so far, I’ve been back in the kitchen cracking that whip. Limiting the meat big time and amping up the plant protiens — quinoa, rice and beans, and hitting the Amazing Egg pretty good. Taco bar, homemade broccoli cheddar soup, homemade bread, homemade graham crackers! (we have littles!), lots of carrots and celery and egglplant and zucchini (yum) and bellas.  And salads out my ears. Yes…. it’s good to be back in the kitchen.

Just like all of this Freedom stuff, there’re secret bonuses to be gained along the way. Yeah we are putting an additional $440 bucks a month into my Roth (Woot Woot!! Which doesn’t translate to stock piling riches for myself. It translates into being free at a younger age to spend money and time making the world a better place in completely my own way. When we don’t have to work a 9-5, because we are only spending $12k a year on survival, and our Roths can support that, then we get to spend time and money loving people and feeding them and talking with them and learning from them) but I’m cooking with my kids. We are eating PLANTS. (Almost time to plant our own garden again… and chickens will be laying this summer.) But we are gaining SO MUCH MORE JOY than what we had with the $200 budget!

It’s fun to eat out and it’s easy to bake some Costco Alfredo. But it’s CRAZY FULFILLING to get up at 4 and bake bread for your kids. And it makes my house smell AWESOME. It’s amazing to stand in my kitchen and help my babies wash and cut veggies. And it’s filling to eat all these plants. I feel like I’m learning to be a slightly better human, from a Creation Care standpoint. (Not because I think the Bible says we can’t eat meat. haha no. But because there’s a LOT that goes into our food before we get it in our bellies, from mistreatment of farm workers, slave labor, animal abuse, altering of ecosystems, pollution at large, etc. As a family we are learning to take care of this world, and that’s hard. But we are trying.)  And from a physical angle I don’t feel as tired and gross anymore because… no processed food (even though we typically don’t hit that very hard anyway…. unless we have $200/week to spend… ugh).

Wahoo. I consider this corner of the budget #conquered.

 

PS please don’t assume I’m judging people who spend $1000 a month on groceries. Or whatever. I just choose differently. We are all learning our own stuff. Enjoy your Costco Alfredo and cheesecakes. I’m enjoying my homemade super healthy CHUNKY MONKEY SMOOTHIES every single night at $.15 a pop. HAHA. And we can all hold hands and sing together on Sunday. 🙂 I just won’t have to go to work on Monday. 🙂

 

 

New Year! New Budget! #MyLoveLanguage

Getting ready for January in our house means going over the past years’ budgets vs. expenses and seeing where we nailed it and where we blew it. It’s my absolute favorite time of the year.

Turns out we nailed it pretty well! Came in almost 100% on budget, which means we have successfully disciplined ourselves into Financial Awesomeness.

In fact I was just complaining to my mother in law that I had to hurry up and buy husband’s Christmas gift if I wanted to use the debit card, because I have until noon on payday to use the card before he literally pays all of the bills, cashes out our spending money, and sends the remainder over to our Financial Advisor to put into Locked Up Savings.  From there, if we want money, we have to explain ourselves to our dear friend and advisor who totally spends more time walking us through our naivety than we pay him for. (Or we can hack into another savings account that is not Locked Up, but we agreed not to — we spit shook and everything.)

It’s great in all the months that aren’t December. But this year, I wanted to go off budget (gasp) and buy him tix to see Dave Ramsey live, which for us will include a hotel and some restaurant splurges and some lattes. HAHAHAHA. Yes really, Dave Ramsey tix were my splurge. It’s the only time I’ve ever gone off budget. And because we are on Baby Step 6 I figured it was okay.

Anyway, it’s self policing discipline. It’s ruthless. But it is that discipline that took us from a 5-figure negative net-worth to a six-figure positive net worth in just five years.

This is how we live on a little and have lots left for giving and saving:

In addition to doing a real, hardcore budget every single month of our lives, this year we also did a January BallPark Budget. The rationale was that, then we could look at big numbers and make more informed choices. $200 a week for groceries, which is what I wanted, comes out to $10,400 a year! Insane! Inappropriate! Uncalled for!

So here’s what we did.

First, we figured out our anticipated net income for the year. We based it on the last several years.

Then we figured out a ballpark Necessary Outgo. 25% for giving and investing, ala Dave Ramsey (#BigChief #TheBest).  Then add up our absolute minimum yearly expenses: We just copied the budget from the year we lived on beans and rice and made our own soap and didn’t buy coffee and used all our excess to pay off $100k in debt.

THEN, we subtracted all of that from our anticipated BallPark Post-Tax Salary.

That left us with a hefty chunk of change with which to enjoy our lives and family, change the world, update our home, and pay off our last debt, which we lovingly named Mort.

We named a big chunk “Extra Mortgage Payments,”and we were left with the excess to do whatever we wanted. We started reaming  and came up with awesome ways to spend the leftovers. Now that we are debt free, I did add in fun stuff like PREMADE Dishwasher soap!  And… COFFEE. Yes coffee was first thing to make it back into the budget.

This year, we’re going to do lots more hiking and backpacking, (SEE we’ve learned to have loads of fun for FREE). Like, twice a month. Plus seven trips to my Old Man’s (free sans gas and whatever we buy for him while we are there; but we do all grocery store food and no dumb souvenirs), and some babysitting costs for #$2datenight (we pay our sitters well because they’re worth it…without them, we don’t go on dates.) Maybe a car trip to the Grand Canyon, or some other National Park (backpacking and grocery shopping, not resorting). I found some places where we can buy mosquito nets or chickens or lean-tos or sewing machines and have them delivered to people in non-developed countries, along with education on how to use the items, so families across the globe can maybe make enough to support their families, maybe avoid horrendous diseases, and maybe make it another day. So, definitely some money going there. Finally, this year it will also include a slew of functional home updates to make this place more energy efficient long term, as well as tricking out our garden.

I’m telling you this to encourage you to make a BIG PICTURE BUDGET. Because looking at $1200 per year is more fun than looking at $25 a week. If you can teach yourself to view that daily latte as a choice between … a latte and a VACATION, then you can more easily say no to the latte. ($3 times 365 days equals $1095 bucks. Enough for a fun roadtrip or weekend getaway, at least. Especially if you do it on grocery store food and car camping). If your spouse is indulging in a daily latte, or a daily tin of chew, or a daily lunch out, that could be another $1000 or more. That’s $2000, a fun vacay right there. Or maybe you prefer the daily latte. Whatevs. Just sayin.

All this money doesn’t come all at once (dang it.) So that means we won’t actually see all of the money until the end of the year. But we were able to assume that, some stuff (home energy improvements) we wanted to do at the beginning of the year, so we’ll fill up that cookie jar first. Then start working on the Grand Canyon cookie jar. Etc.  So… then we have to go BACK THROUGH the budget and reallocate the money monthly. We know that a couple times a year, we get weird checks (like a tax return) so we decide what that money will be used for. Etc. Extra mortgage payments most likely will happen monthly, and most of the giving. But those vacations and day trips might come from something like the tax return or another random check.

A little cumbersome but at least I am more willing to say NO to Pad Thai when I know I’m saying YES to the Grand Canyon.