Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Christmas Lesson - Learning God's Generosity in a Lean Season

My husband is an amazing and generous man. He's generous with his time, his advice, his heart and with his money. Money never really meant much to him. Understand, he likes nice things. He has NICE taste in things. He never likes to buy less than the best (usually most expensive). But he isn't greedy. He doesn't need to keep up with the Joneses. He likes nice things, he's willing to pay more for them, but he doesn't really "value" money as some do. I say this meaning he doesn't really think about money. He doesn't worry (too much) about money. And he is generous with what money he has.

I am not generous. I think about money, a lot. I worry about money. I fret about money. I think of ways to earn more money. I try to spend less money. I am, above all, cheap. Not thrifty. Thrifty is for those who like to get all the value from a dollar. I am cheap, I care less about value and more about how far I can make a dollar stretch. I would love to give to people, but I always think I can't.

Years ago, while I was still working full time, my husband and I took a class called Crown Financial Ministries. It challenged us to tithe. Yup, the full 10%. Ouch. We both worked then and made reasonable money (I taught public school, so not an extravagant salary, but not bad for a couple 25 year-olds). We were always broke, but my hubby said we should go for it. I wanted to ease into it, slowly. Increase by about $10 every couple weeks to make sure we could afford it. He said we needed to trust God and give it a shot.

God is good, and we never felt any more struggle financially when we started tithing. It was a large extra expense, but it was not felt. I would love to say we struggled even less, but that isn't true. However, we struggled no more after increasing our giving ten fold. We were amazed.

Fast forward a few years. I had quit my job, dropping our income by more than half, to be a stay at home mom. I then began having even more babies, numbers 1 & 2 were already born while I was employed, we are now awaiting the joyful arrival of number 6. We had far less income, still we always managed. Times got hard and we missed a few tithes and I felt extremely guilty, yet God always showed His love and kindness. Each year during tax review I would discover that we were still on target with 10% even though we missed a few "payments" (this is because I round to the nearest $5, sometime $10 to make my life easier). I have now been unemployed for 7 years. Our income is back to where it was when I quit.

Sorry for all the prattling on, but you need to understand, this has been years of growing, all "culminating" if you will at this Christmas season.

As I said, my husband is generous. When the bell ringers are out, he gives each of the kids a buck or whatever change is in his pocket do drop in, I stress over the extra $2 in change I give them to donate. When a friend's family was struggling he hid $100 bill for them to find, I worried we needed that money. When someone needs, he doesn't think much about it. He does. He's not irresponsible, he's just giving. I'm not. Or I wasn't. This year God changed me, in a huge way.

For months leading up to Christmas I began to realize I couldn't always think the way I had about money. I would not buy tennis shoes when I really needed them not because we didn't have the money, because I was afraid we wouldn't have the money. That may not make sense to you, but that's how I thought. I always worried there wouldn't be enough. As this year wore on, I began to realize I needed to let go of the stress and buy things when they were needed and trust God for the outcome.

Going into Christmas has always been a stress for me, I worry about all the others we have to buy for, the parents, grandparents, etc. It adds up quickly at $20 here, $20 there. This Christmas was worse. I realized in October that the Christmas bonus we always counted on for gift buying wasn't going to happen due to company changes. I panicked. I worried. I bought a few things ahead to relieve the December burden. But I worried. Then God blessed me.

God gave me a change to go shopping for a needy family. Our church had groups shop for different families and my group got a family that I knew. They were going through some really tough times, not just financially. Our group spent around 9 hours trying to stretch every penny to bless this family with the somewhat small resources we had. I found myself volunteering to buy coloring books for the family. This was one thing they had all asked for that I didn't want to waste our precious allotted money for. I found myself saying I'd buy them, figuring it would be good for my kids to shop for other and the extra $20 would hardly be noticeable. (This is not typical thinking on my part, remember). I briefly wondered if my hubby would care, then knew immediately he wouldn't. This is how he thinks all the time.

I came home late that night exhausted and feeling so good that we were able to find almost everything asked for and get some donations for other items that would allow us to spend our allotted dollars on more "fun" stuff. We found coats and snow boots to be donated, freeing the money further.

When I returned home, I received a message from a sweet friend at our church that someone had recommended our family for this same program. What?!? We didn't have much this year, true. But with grandparents and aunts and uncles, my kids would be super blessed. They would not do without. We had enough to buy them some stuff and the rest of the family would spoil them. How could I accept this? Others, like the family I had just shopped ALL day for, needed it so much more. I was nearly in tears. I didn't know what to say. I just couldn't accept this. It wasn't pride, but a huge sense of being overwhelmingly blessed that made me want to say no.

I talked with this friend who recommended that think about it, but suggested that sometimes God wants us to learn to receive. She said we are often giving of our time and our resources and should consider receiving. I prayed about it, wondering if God had a lesson for me. I really didn't want to do it.

The next day, while I was pondering the dilemma, I was excited to find a coat for the mom of the family we were buying for. It was used, but nice and I knew that it might be gone before the person in charge could get there to buy it with the church's money, so I bought it. I didn't even worry about it. This is so not me.

After buying the coat, I could tell God was working on me. He wanted me to agree to this opportunity to allow the church to bless my family. I still didn't want to do it. I didn't think was pride causing me to want to refuse, but figured that God was working on me somehow. I reluctantly agreed.

As my husband and I went shopping for the kids, I found myself less burdened than usual for getting them just the right stuff. We had a little extra cash come in that we set aside for that purpose so I had the needed money. I found myself thinking very little about cost. I usually worry, "$19.95 is a lot to spend for this". I didn't do that. I encouraged my husband to buy things I would usually feel knots in my stomach over. Odd.

As the weeks progressed, I felt no stress over buying gifts for the parents and siblings. I didn't worry over how much it was going to cost to buy such and such a gift card, etc. I even encouraged my husband to buy the more expensive items when necessary,THIS IS NOT ME!

When time came to shop for my husband, a horrible chore (sorry honey) because he is very particular (remember, he likes nice things), I didn't worry. I decided to buy him some odd and end things, not to worry over getting just the right this or just the right that and I didn't worry about money. Again, God blessed me with a little extra unexpected income that I set aside for the dear hubby's present. I can't say that I bought him the coolest gifts this year, what I can say is, I tended toward the more expensive rather than less and even impulse bought something I knew he'd never splurge for.

I began this Christmas season with dread, but found that shopping was more joyful that it had ever been. I finally got into the sense of buying something to show them I care and try to pay attention to their interests, instead of buying just the right thing. This Christmas taught me the JOY of giving over the DREAD of giving. We still spent less this year than in previous years, tried to be aware of not overdoing it on the kids, but the burden was gone.

I suppose many of you that know me will read this and be surprised by what I say about myself. I wouldn't really want to share these insights about myself normally. However, I felt this really needed to be shared to show how God can take a stressed heart like mine and turn it toward Him and those I love during this holiday season.

By the way, just days before Christmas, when all the shopping was quite nearly (miraculously) finished (and wrapped before Christmas Eve I must add), my hubby got a Christmas bonus. God is Good, all the time!

Holiday World 2011!

Holiday World 2011!

Baby # 6

Baby # 6
Welcome to the world and welcome to our crazy family!

Fort Benning

Fort Benning
We finally made it to Georgia!!!

Just a day at the park!

Just a day at the park!

My Hero!

My Hero!
I don't do dead things. Fortunately for me, God gave me boys!

Much awaited 2009 PJs from Daddy!

Much awaited 2009 PJs from Daddy!
Daddy and Grandma make Jammies every year for the kids, They love it!

Christmas in PJs

Christmas in PJs
Don't I just have the cutest kids?

2010 Jammies

2010 Jammies
Once again Daddy pulled it off. They look cute!

Round 2 birthday parties

Round 2 birthday parties
Cake number 1 of 3 done. I am so not an artist, but I think it came out pretty well!

My Girls

My Girls
Borrowed dance clothes, my girls sure look cute.

Couped up

Couped up
More images below showing the children feeling a bit "couped up" from the long winter!

Chickens: Take 2

Chickens: Take 2
Cute chicks!

The robot cake. I am glad my kids' standards aren't as high as mine!

Tree Climbers

Tree Climbers

Summer Fun!

Summer Fun!
Hi Daddy! Hope you are having fun at work!

This one is so bad, I had to label the cake so you would know it's not a cow!

Dressed for Church!

Dressed for Church!
Come as your favorite Bible character night!

Too cute for words!

If the boy wasn't so tall, I could get a picture of his face!

Establishing the pecking order!

Babies!