Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blessings Missed

When I was a kid, I didn't have much. I mean, I had plenty if you were to compare my family to, say, a starving family in Ethiopia living in a single room. At one point, though we were pretty close.

When I was a baby I lived on a bus. Not a nice, cushy, touring bus either. This bus got so run down that the school system didn't want it anymore, so they donated it to a church. Then it got so run down that the church couldn't use it either, so they donated it to my family. Believe it or not, at the time it was a step up.

I could go on, but that's not really the point of this post. Times were hard then. I suppose plenty of people in my situation would have become cynical and depressed. Thanks to my parents, though I was taught to focus on the positive side.

The thing I learned most from being without is that God answers prayers. I suppose some would say, "Why didn't you pray to be rich, then?" An excellent question, and there were definitely times I wondered the same thing. I also wondered why God wouldn't give me a sister when I prayed for one. I suppose the answer is, "God in His wisdom knew what was best for me at the time, and being rich (or having a sister) wasn't it."

Now that I'm an adult I have moved to the other side of the tracks, so to speak. My husband has a good paying job which makes it possible for me to stay home with our children. We are able to live comfortably within our means. We are not in debt (unless you count house payments).

As I was driving in my 5 year old minivan (the cars my parents drove were at least 10 years old, if not older), I was wondering about the blessing of God in my life. I reminisced about the good old days and wished that I could see miraculous answers to prayer again, like I had as a child.

There's a verse in the Gospels that says (pardon my paraphrase), "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get into heaven." (I love references to sewing) The more blessed I am financially, the more obvious it is to see this truth.

You see, there is this facade that comes with earning money instead of having it given to you. It makes you think that you got it on your own. It's easy to believe that your hard work and dedication are what gives you the life you live.

When you know something is impossible, and you pray for it anyway, and God gives it to you miraculously, it's so easy to see the source of your blessing. But, when God gives you an amazing job, and works it out so that you're paid enough to cover all of your needs and then some, it's easy to forget the true source.

As I pondered all this I realized... There are so many things that God is doing for me, things He's given me that I haven't even thought to pray for because He's been doing such a good job taking care of things that I haven't even noticed anything missing. It's like praying for a glass of water while standing under a waterfall.

I know, with the recession and all, that there are a lot of people who are not in a very good position right now. I'm sure to some of them, this post comes off as arrogant and condescending. I'm not trying to rub it in anyone's face. I guess all I'm trying to say is, trust God. He knows what's good for you. He knows what you long for, and He is, even now, ready to pour it out. But you have to be ready to receive it. God is good, and He will not give you anything you can't handle. So, if you're wondering when His blessings are going to come, perhaps it's time to look around and start counting the ones He's already given you. Maybe, while you're busy tallying up the ones you've already received, He'll flood you with the ones you've been praying for.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gas discounts: breakdown

A friend recently emailed me about a great deal that one of my local supermarkets is running right now. If I spend $25 on groceries, then I can buy a $50 gas gift card for only $40.

A few hours later the same friend sent out another email that another local grocery store had an even better deal on gas.

Being the savvy shopper that I am, I already knew about both the deals, but her emails prompted me to look even deeper into the discounts to see if it's really a good deal.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that, for me, the $10 discount on gas cards would be a better deal. Here is the breakdown:

I can get gas at my local warehouse store right now for about 3.28/gallon. If I buy 17 gallons of gas, it will cost me $55.76. Of course, there is usually a pretty long line and I would have to go out of my way whenever I want to get gas. (I don't always remember to top off my tank while I'm there to fill up the rest of my car with massive quantities of paper goods.)

If I use the first store's promotion, I can get a gift card for almost any big-name gas station. The lowest gas price in my normal, routine driving radius is going for $3.34/gal. At this price I can get 17 gallons for about 56.78. With the $10 discount it comes to 46.78. I could probably find a lower price, but this is a station I know I can get a gift card for.

The second store's option accrues cents off/gallon type reward points based on the purchase of certain types of groceries. It is affiliated with a specific gas station. The closest of these stations is currently selling gas for about 3.37/gal. With a 10 cent/gallon discount, I can get 17 gallons for $55.59.

Keep in mind that this deal is only good on the first 20 gallons of gas, so its a good thing I don't drive anything with a larger tank. Otherwise I'd have to stop for gas more often to get the full discount. Also, if I accrue enough reward points for a 40 cent/gal discount, my 17 gallons of gas would cost me $50.49.

Of course, as I started looking into these details I thought about another issue. Would I be paying more than necessary for my groceries just to get gas points? If I spend more money on products because I'm shopping at my grocery store instead of one of the "marts", then I'm not really saving any money.

I know that the first store already charges a lot more for their groceries than I can get elsewhere, so the only way the $10 discount would be worth it is if I can use a bunch of coupons on my purchases and only buy things that are on sale. The second store is only slightly cheaper, but the things that count toward gas rewards are name-brand items that I wouldn't normally buy. When all is said and done, I guess if I want to save the most money I'll have to stay on top of this all the time.

Or, there's the option I haven't mentioned yet. (Aren't I sneaky for keeping this information till the very end). I could always trust God to take care of me, as He always has. I can relax and enjoy life and not worry about saving a few pennies here and there. Of course, I'm not advocating a total waste of my resources. I'm just saying that unless I can get a really amazing deal I'm not going to spend hours of my life worrying about a couple of dollars I might be able to save.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

Well, it's over.

Our annual day to think about what we are thankful for is past... now it's time for our materialism and greed to take over in a grasping, mad rush to buy up all the wonderful things we think we need.

Unlike a lot of posts, I haven't really rehearsed this one in my mind. I got up this morning and decided to write this, so it probably won't be as poetic as some of my other, well thought out posts.

I opened my email this morning and found about 50 messages from different businesses announcing their black Friday specials. I couldn't help but feel a little dirty. To think that our nation has capitalized on the materialism of Christmas this way. I had to explain what black Friday was to my son a few days ago.

Instead of venting, I'd like to issue a challenge. Before you go into a store today, think of ten things you are thankful for. I'm talking about 10 things for each store you visit. Or, if you're a cyber shopper, make a list of 10 things before you log onto a new store. Before you plunk down your hard earned money, think about a few things...

1) Are you buying this for yourself because you think it will make you happy?

If so, do you remember what you bought yourself last year around this time? Odds are you'll get a quick fix and then, like an addict, you'll want more.

2) Are you buying this as a Christmas gift for someone you are close to?

If you really have a good relationship, there is probably something more personal and meaningful you could get them. My best friend and I decided were were going to exchange gifts that were either second hand, or hand-made this year. Because, if you really love someone, it will mean so much more to receive something with meaning, than just another trinket picked up in a rush.

3) Are you buying this for someone you have on your list who you just want to show some appreciation to?

A lot of us have folks on our Christmas lists who we aren't really close to, but want to give a little something to make them feel appreciated. I have a lot of people like that on my list. My children's teachers and coaches, ladies who have mentored me, the folks in leadership at my church who serve me every week. While I don't hang out with them one-on-one very much, I still like to show them my appreciation each Christmas.

Instead of buying a bunch of made in China junk for a couple of dollars, why not make them something. Last year I made a salt scrub for the ladies in my life. I think it took me about 10 minutes to mix it up. The most expensive part was the oil I used. I've found pretty jars in thrift stores for as little as 50 cents. For the men in my life I made chocolate dipped pretzel rods. My children made them for their uncles. If they can make them, anyone can. If your reason for not making something is that you don't have the time, then you probably shouldn't be standing in long check-out lines on black Friday.

4) This is probably the hardest one to admit, and the most prevalent in our society... Are you buying something to impress someone?

The truth is, if you're trying to impress someone it's not going to work. It never does. If you're trying to prove that you're rich, then you certainly can't admit that you bought it on black Friday at a deep discount. If you're trying to make someone like you, you should know by now that you can't buy love. The best way to impress someone is to be so confident that you are no longer tossed around by someone's opinions. The best way to make someone like you is to show them kindness. The fact of the matter is, people who make you feel inferior or push your affections away are most often struggling with their own self worth.

So, I hope you enjoy your Christmas holidays, but please, please don't get sucked into the vortex of materialistic holiday greed. I love you all too much to let that happen without at least a small attempt at rescue.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Sliding Scale of Maturity

I have a 14 year old now. I'm in my second year of parenting a teenager, and so far I'm enjoying the challenge. I have to admit that I don't always enjoy it, but overall it's been exciting.

Having a teenager provokes more introspect in me, and once again I must blog about parenting as if I'm a pro. Bear with me... In time I may re-read this and think, "Boy was I waaaay off." For now though, I will try to pen what has been going on in my head.

I think we, as parents, think of maturity as a sliding scale. We look at our teenagers and think, "They're so young," or, "They still have so much to learn," or even, "They're going to hurt themselves." The truth is they are young. They still have so much to learn, and they may even hurt themselves in the process. However, we still have to let them become independent.

Think back to your teenage years. You knew everything. If you were even a little bit mature you could listen to your parents, but you still thought that some of what they said wasn't necessary. Throughout your life you learned that your parents were usually right. Overall you were somehow able to figure out this thing called "life." Although you weren't completely unscathed, you somehow flew the coop and even lived long enough to have your own children.

Now you look at your teenager and all you can think about is protecting them from their own immaturity. This is where the sliding scale comes in. The fact is, they are mature in their own right. We have to accept this. We cannot compare their maturity to ours. Of course we are more mature. Of course we have more life experience. But this does not negate their maturity or disqualify them from trying out their wings.

I'm not a youth pastor. I don't have a degree in psychology, but I have been friends with a lot of teenagers. From my position as a friend I have seen their frustration with parents who don't value their opinions. I have seen their rebellion against parents who are trying to micromanage them as if they were still in single digits. I have also seen these "kids" fly the coop and run away from the restrictive bonds that were placed on them as soon as they were of legal age.

Unfortunately the results aren't always good. Some of these "kids" who couldn't stand their parents those last few years of high school left the church and I see them in pain, wandering down a path I wish they wouldn't have chosen. I pray for them and hope that they will eventually come back as the Bible promises. I know their parents were trying to help them, but they were so micro-managing that it drove them apart.

I heard once that Dr Phil recommends that people should wait until they're in their 30's before they even consider getting married. It's as if he's reached an age of maturity where the scale is even more ridiculously off balance. It's more obvious when you hear this kind of comment. It's ridiculous to think that you have to wait until an obstetrician considers you of "advanced maternal age" to even think about having a child. Unless of course Dr. Phil was saying that it's fine to bring a child into the world, but you're just not old enough or mature enough to commit to a long-term relationship until you're in your thirties.

I prefer to lean toward Dave Ramsey's point of view. I've listened to his radio show for a while and often some well meaning parent will get on and ask for advice about helping out their adult child who is struggling with life. Dave asks them how they made it when they were that age. Time and again these parents will say that they were married, having children, and living on their own income. At which point Dave reminds them that these "children" are perfectly capable of doing the same, but that they choose not to because it's easier to act immature and let Mommy and Daddy take care of them.

I guess all I'm saying is that it's time to start trusting your teenager to make decisions. Gradually let go. Even if it means letting them mess up. Even if it means allowing them to get hurt by their own actions. At least it will happen when they have a soft place to fall and not when they're miles away and can't come home.