Monday, August 27, 2012

BNN Challenge update: Finding a balance

So I joined in the BNN challenge when a friend suggested it because I had been feeling convicted about the way we live and this challenge seemed like a great way to make some changes. The first month I had an accidental purchase (some clearance tank tops at walmart for the Fin), but I started paying attention and avoiding the places I tend to mindlessly spend money, and cut off all my email notifications and I was set. I was really quite surpised how easy the challenge was. Life seemed easier. Slower. I didn't have to stress about getting out into town to every store I wanted to stop at and try to remember everything I needed to get because get this: I didn't need anything. I didn't have to fight with the kids and the crazies at WalMart because I stopped going to WalMart. Brilliant. I like this life.

We also did some purging (and I'm getting the itch to purge again!) And this first month was also the month we sold the car. Shannon drives his Harley and we live on base. His office is 4.2 miles from our home and he is deployed for months at a time. I do not have a job outside the home, but we had a car, a truck and 2 motorcycles. So we became a "one car family" and again, to our suprise found this to be not a huge deal. Who knew? Over 2 months into the challenge, we found ourselves asking why do we have one vehicle that gets 17 mpg, no warranty, due for all its major service? Why didn't we sell the truck and pay off the newer car, with the better gas mileage and newer everything?? Ummmmm. Yeah. I don't know. We thought it over and obsessed about it a little and decided that using the truck as our main vehicle we were using a lot of gas and spending more money than we'd like. We decided to trade it in for a used Jetta Sportwagen tdi- a diesel engine that gets around 50mpg on the highway and about 40 in town. It's super practical and one of our friend's actually asked if we had a grandparent visiting. That's cool. I rock it. I still don't know if this was a good decision. Should we have kept the Kia? The truck? Should we have bought the VW? I don't know. But I do know that we are totally cool with one car. We really don't need two. And in the end- that's what we have. One car. And we're sticking with that.

Aside from some heavy whining from the girl child, the challenge has been pretty insignificant. We've spent ALOT less money than we usually do, just by not buying stuff. Again- who knew?? And we've been able to give a lot more away and pay more on the motorcycle loan, have that paid off in a few short months and then start throwing that money at my student loans.

So, if I talked to you in the first 3 months, I probably told you all of this. Easier than I ever imagined. Not a big deal. And I DO talk about it quite a bit. I was actually told by a friend, who was upset with me about something else at the time, that I was obnoxious about it. She didn't say those words exactly, she used many more words, but obnoxious sums it up neatly. She didn't understand the whys. She thought that it was me being "holier than thou". And to be clear, in sharing about the challenge, that is never my intent. I mostly share so that its out there in the world and this alone provides me with a great deal of accountability. But I also share because I want to encourage people. But I find more and more that alot of people don't want to be encouraged. Some do. Some don't. And those that don't are the ones that either don't want to think about the way they're living or they don't know me very well. They think that I am doing this challenge because I think I'm holy or pious or good. Believe me friends, I am none of these. I have the Spirit in me and He is good, but I am just me. Flawed as the rest of you. Struggling with selfishness, pride, insecurity, irritability, general sinful tendencies. And I am fully aware of my own sin. I am only less of these things when I am more focused on Him. And this challenge is one way that I try to focus on the Lord. This is a way that I try to fight my selfish nature and depend less on the things of this world to bring me joy. This is a way that I try to live out the Gospel. If I can spend less on ME, I can spend more time, money, energy on HIM.

We know Jesus was moved with compassion for the weak, the harassed, and the helpless (Matt. 9:35-36). We see in the early church that the needs of the poor and distressed was a constant priority (Acts 4:34-35; Acts 11:30; Gal. 2:10). And frequently we are commanded to love one another not only with kindness but in the concrete actions of generosity and material support (James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:16-18). Is it okay for me to just think about me, me, me all the time? Am I being a good steward of all that the Lord has given us? No. No, I'm not. I never have been. That's what this challenge is all about. Spending less, paying off debt, positioning ourselves so that we can live differently. This is only the about face. This is only the shifting of direction. It's a long, long walk before we actually start looking like what we want to look like.

Early on one of my fellow challenge participants who had fallen off the wagon asked me if I thought that we had made the challenge an idol. I was like "say what?!". Ridiculous. But fast forward to month #4 and I finally get what she was saying. Shannon has left again, marathon training is in full gear and school has started.  The kids have outgrown their shoes, we're preparing for seasons to change and so many of their clothing is worn out (these are rough and tumble kids) and I want to make gifts for my friends and I don't have the supplies I need and I found myself on ebay all the time. The thrift stores here aren't all that great and as I was looking for pants for Finley (she's outgrown ALL of hers) shoes for both of them, and running shoes for me that were used but not used (floor models) I started to see what she was saying. It became work this month. The challenge had become harder. Because there were things that we really did need. My child came home from her first day of school with blisters on her feet because she wanted to wear tennis shoes so she could participate in gym, but hers were too small. She is starting gymnastics and we tried on her old leotard- um, let's just say NO. Too small. Lots of butt cheek exposure. And finding these items became a task in itself. And a friend pointed out that she felt bad shopping at the thrift store for childrens clothing because she only bought the best items. And she can afford to buy stuff elsewhere, so she felt like she was taking those items from someone else. Oi. I can't help but agree. I broke down. Tired of dragging my kids through thrift shops and finding few or no items worth buying, I went to target. We got Wyatt 5 shirts on clearance for $2.14 each. We went to the PX and bought them both tennis shoes- that fit. And pants- that fit.

We also bought a new wireless router. Ours pooped out. And we don't have cable. We're down to just netflix and this works great. It's cheap and has plenty of kids shows and stuff for Shannon. I'd love to have nothing and just have the kids watch their dvds, but we're not ready for that. Shannon is just now okay with not having cable. So, we need the router for the netflix to work. I was given one by my very generous friend, but it's not compatible with our operating system. So I just bought a new one.
So I've been thinking about these purchases. Stressing. Feeling guilty. Feeling ashamed. Hurrying in and out of the store in case I see someone I know and I have to explain myself when I realized that I was worried about the wrong thing. I was worried about the rules. I was worried about other people and their perception of me. I was worried about failing. I had let the challenge become an idol. The Lord doesn't care that I bought my children shoes that fit and pants that fit and replaced my router. He probably DOES care that I care so much. And for the wrong reasons. I actually feel so much better now that I've just replaced the things that needed replacing. I'm not concerned about them anymore. We  carry on with life now. And we aren't spending mindlessly. I'm so much more aware now and likely to think of the differences between things I think I need and things I actually need. So I've fallen off the wagon. But I think its in a good way. I'm finding balance in a real life way that you don't find in a challenge. Is it an impressive feat, have I managed to not buy a single thing new and avoid all temptation? No. No I haven't. But in a short 3 1/2 months, my mindset has changed. My habits and tendencies have changed. And although we've had a rough couple weeks where I got off track with the challenge and turned it into something it was never meant to be, we're back now. I've decided we need balance. And although I should change the challenge name to the "Don't buy stuff you don't need for a year challenge" it doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it??

(Megan says every blog post needs a picture. Here you go.)

So for anyone that has actually read this entire post (I'm guessing Megan Daigle stands alone as the sole person to make it all the way through...), we're still doing the challenge, but I'm trying to get back to the original intentions. I've allowed the stress of the past couple weeks with Shannon leaving, the Have to Half run, school starting, and reaching the midway point of marathon training just wreak havoc on my peace. I'm asking the Lord for my peace back.

Lord, we love you. Help us to love you more.
Lord, we need you, we can't change without you.
Please give us peace in the life we live. Lead us to live a life more glorifying to you. A life that pleases you. Help us to understand how to find balance in this pursuit. Help us to make sense of the discrepancy between our life and the lives of millions of others that live in poverty, distress, and pain. Thank you for the gentle reminders you give me daily. Thank you for your patience. Help us to live simply so that others may simply live. Help me to desire YOUR approval- not anyone else's. YOURS. Change my heart, Lord.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Couch to 5k launch day!!!

February 14th of this year, Analisa and I challenged our friends, neighbors (anyone would listen, really) to give THEMSELVES a gift and commit to the Couch to 5K program. We convinced Stephanie, the leader of Stroller Warriors, our running club, to allow us to put on this program. We had upwards of 70 women join the facebook page. About 40 something show up to that first workout on Valentine's day. And over 20 ladies complete the 8 week program and participate in a local(ish) 5k.  I know, I know, that's quite a bit of loss, but this is a 3 day a week walking/running interval program for non-runners, and you can't MAKE anyone follow through with their goals no matter how obnoxious encouraging you are. Believe me! I can be VERY encouraging!  
I can't tell you how proud we were on race day when our former couch potatoes showed up and kicked some 5k booty. It was a pretty fantastic day. As we cheered for them like crazies, we reminisced about the first few weeks of workouts. These ladies that could barely run for 45 seconds straight, were now running 3.2 miles!!! In JUST 8 weeks!!!!! 

It was the same program Analisa and I both did to start ourselves off running. I had never run over a mile in my whole life before I started this program, and now 17 months later, I've run 4 half marathons, I'm running another this Saturday, and we're training for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. The first half I ran, was in March of this year- 3 DAYS shy of my one year anniversary of starting the Couch to 5k program. 

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 139. In this reading, one of my favorite verses is "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Can I get an amen??! If you don't fully grasp this scripture- go from never running ever. Living a pretty much lazy life. Eating junk food and generally not taking care of yourself for years and years. Then do this program and go from not running at all to running miles. MILES. With an "S" at the end. Multiple. We are so wonderfully made that we can go from sedentary lives to active lives with really not all that much effort. About 30 minutes a day for 3 days a week for 8 weeks. That's really not too much. Praise God! What resilient amazing bodies we have!

Anyhow, so today our running club launched another Couch to 5k session. Analisa and I have passed on the leadership to the wonderful Candice Carnes and Shannon Reynolds- two of our graduates from the first C25K group! It felt weird not to be heading up this group, but we've got marathon training and the Have to Half monthly half marathon series on our plates and we believe these two ladies not only are going to do a fantastic job, but they deserve the opportunity to lead this program. As much as the C25K was obviously to benefit these ladies, Analisa and I both feel that we got so much out of it. It was amazing to be a part of these ladies' experience and to watch them all do something that they didn't think they could do. It was great to see all the new Couch to 5k newbies out there today. We had a great turnout and I'm just so stinkin' proud of all these women that I don't even know!!

If you're interested in putting aside your excuses and making a change, we'd love for you to join us. For those of you that aren't local- find some buddies and get started with the program outlined here.

Shannon and her "deployment spouse" Katie
Candice and her awesome husband, a wounded warrior that has his own inspiring story (He'll be running right alongside his wife soon- even though he was told walking on his own wouldn't be likely!)
The "pow-wow" before the run. I wish I had a picture of just the newbs! But these are all the Stroller Warriors that made it to the workout today. 
Whitney gets seriously nervous before the race! 

Kara has been officially crowned a warrior after finishing strong!!
 I don't have pictures of all the ladies, but here are some fun shots!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thanking God in the goodbyes

We just got back from dropping Shannon off for another trip. And by "just got back" I mean "just got finished cleaning the kitchen and the bathrooms and picking up the kids' rooms and starting a load of laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and putting away a basket of laundry after dropping Shannon off" because that's what you do when you get back at 5:30 in the morning and you can't go back to bed or worse- the kids won't go back to bed. Of course not- it's light outside. Or less dark. An hour and a half later and it's MUCH lighter, so all hopes of going back to bed are lost. And, I've already made the bed.
So as I was picking up I was thinking about this life we live. The fact that the kids just happily waved goodbye to daddy as we drove away. We didn't get out of the car and hang out and wait for the bus because our kids are nuts on a good day- get them out at the battalion parking lot at 5am and we've got a scene. So we shared some goodbyes and scooted out of there, stopping at the Dunkin Donuts for the second time in as many days tear free like it was just another day. Another day much earlier than most, but just another day. And I thanked God that my kids are resilient military children. This is the life they know and it includes saying goodbye to daddy from time to time. My daughter asks to move often- she likes to imagine what her next house will be like, what the weather will be like where we live next and what her new friends will be named. It's like she was made to be a military kid.
When I got home I picked up his shoes, his paper, dirty paper towels he tends to just leave on the counter when he's in a hurry. I washed his coffee cup for the last time for a while and put it up in the cabinet where it will sit until he returns and I just thanked God for him. I know that over the next couple months these are things I'll miss because these are the footprints he leaves behind in our house. This is a part of my routine. Every morning I wake up and tend to the children, then I tend to his footprints. I can tell if he was running late by how much he leaves behind or what he fails to leave behind. This is a part of our communication and our connection, whether he realizes it or not. These are my duties as his helpmate and the wadded up paper towels on the counter and crumbs by the toaster and facial hair clippings in the bathroom sink that irritated me to no end early in our marriage are now things that I tend to with ease and joy even. Because now I know how I miss these things, these footprints of his, when he's gone. I know that when they are NOT here, it's because HE isn't here. I thank God for this change in perspective over the years.
He returned from an Afghanistan deployment in mid January. He's been home for a little over 6 months and now he's gone again, to Central America this time. But this trip is different. This trip is shorter. This trip is for a mission that is closer to his heart. This mission is aimed at helping people in a way that is more tangible and real to him. I thank God for trips like these. These trips are just long enough to remind me to cherish the time we have together as a family, but not so long that they are overly burdensome. The light at the end of the tunnel is already visible on a 2 or 3 month trip. It feels weird even thinking of it as a deployment, when it's only a few months. However, a phone call with my grandmother reminded me that this is not normal. To the military community, all our friends here, a trip like this is nothing. A trip like this, like I said, feels strange to even call a deployment. But when I told my grandmother how long he would be gone, her response was "Oh. That's a long time. I'm sorry." And it reminded me that for MOST people, a few months apart is not a short trip. For MOST people, a few months is a long time to be separated. I thank God it doesn't feel so long for us.
From time to time I worry that about this perspective. I remember the sobbing mess I was the first and second time I dropped him off for a deployment and I can't even remember how I made it to my car. I'm not that same young woman anymore (I've got the gray hairs to prove it!!) and sometimes I worry that is a reflection of our relationship. I know I love him even more now than I did then. So have I grown cold?? How does that work?? Then I also remember what I didn't have back then, so many years ago. I didn't have the confidence that many separations have instilled in my ability to take care of things in his absence. I didn't have the experience of welcoming him home safe and sound several times. I didn't have the kids and the dogs to occupy my thoughts and time and all my mental space (they're seriously ALL up in my space ALL the time). But most importantly, I didn't have the peace that surpasses all understanding and guards my heart and mind (Phil 4:7).  I didn't have the faith and the hope that can only be had when you know that the Lord has a plan for for you and your life (Jeremiah 29:11) and when you know that the Lord cares you and asks for your burdens (1 Peter 5:7). I thank God for this peace. I thank God for being my constant companion. I thank God for this family, this husband, THIS life.
Father God, I know that your love for me and my family is too exceedingly great for me to understand. I thank you for all the blessings in our life, for each other, but mostly for you. I thank you for changing our hearts from what they were we first became a family. I thank you that you're not done changing us. I ask for your protection over my husband and my family in his absence, but more so I pray that your will be done and that our hearts will remain yours regardless of circumstances. Forgive us for any fear or anxiety we have given into. Forgive us for looking anywhere else but to you. We give it all to you and take comfort in your arms, may we remain there forever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Buy Nothing New Challenge (BNN)

So, May 1st of this year a group of us took the plunge on a challenge- a challenge to buy nothing new for a year. I had considered blogging about this adventure back then, but we formed a facebook page to support and encourage one another and I figured that was an easier way to get motivated and stay motivated. However, I've found that I talk about this challenge ALOT with people that aren't doing the challenge and thus aren't on said facebook page.

I've been feeling like blogging, and not just about my crafty adventures or running adventures, or my buy nothing new adventures, or our conversion to Catholicism, but all of it. So that's what I'm doing. So at least Megan Daigle can read these posts and be filled in and then when she calls from all the way across the pond and we have a total of 5 minutes to talk uninterrupted- she can stop asking me questions and she can start spending that time telling me all about her life! Love you, Megan.

I wanted to post about my hair the other day. I know, you're upset now that you missed out on a post about my hair. Hush, hush, dear, I'll get to it another day. But I couldn't because it wouldn't make any sense without knowing about the BNN challenge. So this post is a background post. A post that I should have made, ummmm, 3 1/2 months ago when we started :)

So all the ladies that have joined in on the BNN challenge have written their own guidelines to suit their families. Here are my reasons, my goals, my guidelines:

The BNN challenge for me is a smaller part of a bigger change I'm making as a result of conviction I've been experiencing lately that came to a head after reading several books, particularly "Radical". It's more about living a more biblical life than saving money, in fact, saving money is one of the areas of our life that needs to change. We save too much.

Changes I want to make in my life 
I believe debt, the way we use it, is unbiblical. Student loans WOULD be different, but not so much the way I used them. My student debt was about half consumer debt. My graduate school was paid for, except for books and fees, I did not pay tuition as part of my assistantship at the University. No tuition, and they paid me a salary of $12,800 a year to teach 2 freshman courses, a little over $15,000 the second year. However, I chose to take out loans so I could live in a nicer apartment, eat out, buy a scooter, continue to shop and live life like I was accustomed to doing prior to graduate school. So honestly, my student loans are about twice what they NEEDED to be for me to live in DC during that time. I could have easily gotten by on less if I had chosen to do so- I could not have done it without loans- I wasn't permitted to work another job as part of my assistantship agreement, but I didn't need as much of the money as I borrowed. 
The Bible has plenty to say on debt, it is a desperate act of the poor- not a means to living lavishly.
Proverbs 22:7, "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender" 
"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”Rom 13:8This is a good article on debt-
Giving to the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the orphans, the widows, is mentioned so many times in the Bible, it cannot be ignored, yet we tend to ignore it. 1 Tim. 6:17 Tell those who are rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone, but their pride and trust should be in the living God who always richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 1 Tim. 6:18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. 1 Tim. 6:19 By doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven--it is the only safe investment for eternity! And they will be living a fruitful Christian life down here as well. We give, but we could live differently and give so much more.
Find my satisfaction in the Lord, in my family, in my friends, in time spent together, not in "stuff". "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21 Clean out my house, clean out my garage, less stuff means less messes to clean up, it means it's easier to find things when I need them, it means the laundry is more manageable. I'm sometimes overwhelmed by all our stuff.
This should be a goal of everyone, religious or not. This is kind of a no-brainer that is easier to ignore than to think about. But math tells me that if I consume less, I'll produce less waste. 
So, anyhow, the BNN challenge is a tool to help me in all of these goals. By spending less money on STUFF, we can put efforts towards paying off debt, which will free up more money to tithe and give, and in turn assist in focusing my heart on the things that matter. 
Buy nothing new for a year- except for the following:
-Medicine/medical supplies
-Necessary items that are unsanitary to purchase used- underwear, mattress (when Wyatt needs a big boy bed). However, they must also be NECESSARY- do I NEED new underwear? Or do I WANT it? I'd like a new bathing suit, and it's not super sanitary to buy it used, but I don't NEED a new one. I have one that fits and one that doesn't fit, but can be altered.
-Necessary items that are not available used/should not be purchased new for some other legitimate reason: Oil for the car (you have to buy that new, right?), running shoes (this is a no-no. But I don't need new running shoes until they have 500 miles on them or extreme wear, i.e. ripped sole). I'm not sure what else, but I'm sure I'll encounter this- and if it's NECESSARY and not available used, it may be purchased. 
All other items will either be purchased used, traded/bartered for, or done without. If my growing children need clothes/shoes/etc I'll purchase used. Household goods- purchase used. However, if *I* want something in the clothing/shoes/purse category, it will be purchased used with money acquired through the sale of things I no longer want or need. I can sell stuff on ebay or on Craigslist and reserve that money for personal purchases. 
Other personal restrictions:
-Chick-fil-a no more than 1 visit/wk.
-Dunkin Donuts no more than 1 visit/wk.
-Ladie's night out/date nights allowed! let's be real, I don't do this often enough for it to be an issue, and they are both good for fellowship/relationship building 
-Gifts will be handmade or purchased used (antique/vintage items for friends that are into that.
-School supplies are consumable and will be purchased new as needed.
-Haircuts are allowed, but NO MORE HIGHLIGHTS. No more $140 trips to the salon.
Alright, now that it's out there, and we're already a 1/4 of the way through the challenge!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A VERY productive day...

It's been one year and 3 months since I posted anything here. We moved on base and so I was storing up pictures of all my projects and planning to post once we got settled and then the computer crashed :/ Devastating doesn't cover it. Didn't have back up. Stupid, stupid, stupid. So in addition to documents and family photos lost, all my projects were gone, also. So I just stopped blogging. But today I had a really really productive day. Dropped the kids off at playgroup at the CDC, ran a quick (and by quick I mean ridiculously slow because the heat is KILLING me) 3 miles, then met up with a friend doing the Couch to 5k program and did her workout with her, went straight to the garage and finished up two projects and started another, had a surprise visit from a friend, showered, finished another project, etc. Nothing ridonculous happened today (read: no dog barf, no trips to the hospital and the A/C functioned allll day!). All in all a fantastic day.

I wanted to share because it's just that exciting to have a productive day around here! Soooo, dusting off the old blog- maybe it will encourage me to DO more :)

I picked up this rocking chair at the Semper Fi Fund yard sale. Of course I forgot to take a before picture because I was just took excited that I actually had a minute to tackle the project.  It was brown before. Now it's pink. It's cuter pink. I swear.

 Isn't it sweet??

Here is a mirror I picked up the other day. It's about 4 feet tall and HEAVY! It was a varnished wood, I thought it would be great in a distressed green. Now who wants it?? I have no place in my teeny home for a 4 ft mirror. I'm contemplating the entry way over the table thingy, but it's bigger than the table and I think that might be weird... 

This picture I picked up yesterday. For $5!!! The lady actually looked at me like I was nuts when I brought it to the counter. Like WHY?!?!?!! I told her I was going to make a chalkboard out of it and she said "good luck with that" lol. 

In your face thrift store lady. It's awesome!!

And that's it for today and possibly this year. Happy Thursday!