Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Money, Money, Money

Some of you may have noticed the absence of a post from me last week. I can only say that it was a very rough week for my family...... not because of anything that caused physical pain, but because of stress inflicted upon us by the good old...........

or more accurately....... the lack therof.

As you know, last week was Tax Day- that day we all dread each year. Well, this year, it hit us harder than normal. Due to various circumstances we were hit with a MAJOR payment, one that we really couldn't make right now. That required us to set up a payment plan with the IRS.

Just when we were wrapping our heads around that bill, we were hit with yet another.

Several weeks ago my car decided that it was time to take a break. I told you about that experience in This Post. Our local mechanic examined the car and told us that it would need a new motor, a major expense, but one that we knew we would have to pay. Flash forward to last week when we got the call from the garage that the car was repaired and ready for pickup and we found ourselves facing another bill of over $3000.

It really shouldn't have surprised me when I opened my copy of Happy Women Live Better last week and found that the happiness trigger for week 4 was "Financial Savvy".  After all, God always seems to send us a message just when we need it most.

Yes, money, or the lack of it, can cause stress, but it can also create happiness. Getting that unexpected windfall can trigger a euphoric feeling within us. Our mind starts making mental lists of things that we can purchase, we begin planning shopping expeditions, and ultimately, we make those purchases and bring home our items. But then what?.....

The money is gone.

We have the items we bought, but it isn't long before those things too lose their luster. The clothes fade, don't fit, or go out of style. That chair or rug that we bought gets a stain on it. That beautiful piece of jewelry loses a stone or is broken or misplaced.

Ecclesiastes 6:7 says

All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.

That is how it is with money. We tend to work and work and work, all the time trying to make money to buy something else that we think we need. Yet no matter how much we get, we always seem to want more. And then we are hit with circumstances such as those that my family experienced last week when we just need more money in order to deal with problems that are thrown at us.

So what do we do?

Do we cry and moan about our situation?

Do we just throw our hands in the air and give up?

No, I think we need to learn to be happy with what we have, accepting the fact that God will provide what we truly need. In her book, Valorie Burton offers some good advice about how we can actually use the money that we do have to make us happier. 

1. Live below your means- At the beginning of Lent I posted This Post about my personal spending freeze on craft supplies. I am happy to say that I made it! I did not purchase one scrapbooking or paper crafting supply though I was tempted. I have decided that, for now, that freeze is going to continue. I have a lot of paper and adhesive and I am sure that I can find what I need for the projects that I have time for. I am also trying to find other areas where I can cut back and make do with what I already have.

2. Buy experiences, not things- I can totally understand this one! When I look through my scrapbooks with my children it is not the THINGS that I remember. It is the time that we spent together that matters most: the trips to the zoo, the yard sale where my children kept dressing up in the clothes that we were trying to sell, or the family garden where they harvested their first green beans, planted and picked by their own tiny hands. Those moments and memories are worth more to me than any amount of money.

3. Buy time- BOY, do I need to do this one! I am always saying, "I wish I had more time for...." I am sure that you do the same thing. Sometimes there are actually some tiny little things that we can do that will GIVE us time by only spending a little money. 

Let me give you an example. 

I was raised in the "pre-dishwasher" era. My mother spent many hours with her hands fully immersed in sudsy water washing dishes. Once I was old enough to assist, she scooted a chair up to the sink and let me rinse the dishes in the other side of the sink and place them in the dish drainer. Once I was even older, I took the task over completely. 

When I married my hubby our trailer was not equipped with a dishwasher. Our first home had one, but it was so old that we only used it for storage. A few years ago we remodeled our kitchen and I suddenly found myself the proud owner of a brand spanking new dishwasher. The only problem was.... I refused to use it. Why would I? After all, it might use more water and that would increase the water bill, right? It also required electricity, so the electric bill would increase. 

The frugality in me kept resisting until one day my two teenagers finally convinced me to give it a try. It didn't take many sessions of loading the dishwasher, closing the door, and going on to do something else to convince me that it was OK to spend that little bit of money as long as it provided me with a return in the form of more time. Time that I can spend relaxing with my daughter in front of the television, reading the latest book for my Bible study, or going on a leisurely walk in the fresh air. 

I would love to hear from you. As I attempt to help my family find the money to deal with these unexpected debts that we face, do you have any advice for us? Have you faced a similar situation and, if so, how did you deal with it? I have faith that God will provide, but I also want to do my part. I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


This week I felt right at home reading about the next happiness "trigger" in Valorie Burton's book: service.

You see, I have always been one of those people who just couldn't say that simple two letter word: N-O. "Ms. Baker, we are starting a committee at school. Could you be a member?" "Stella, we are doing this event for the youth at church. Would you be willing to come and do crafts?" It finally got to the point where it was a personal joke between my husband and myself. It is usually a toss-up about which one of us will actually take on the one last task that will put us over the edge and, for a while, overwhelm us.

It came as no real surprise to me that "SERVICE" was one of the triggers that showed up on my list when I completed the online survey. I think that is why I got into teaching in the first place. I really like to teach a lesson or do an activity that is the incentive for personal growth within a student. When I see that light come on within one of my students I know that I have actually played a part in their growth- that knowledge gained.

The Bible, of course, is full of references about service. There is verse after verse about using your strengths to help those who are in need.

As I read through some of them this week, some of them really stuck out to me.....

Isaiah 58:10 says:

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 

Sometimes I really doubt whether I am doing anyone any good. Do the little things that I say or do REALLY matter? Is anyone REALLY affected by them? The answer is a resounding YES!!!

I think first of my students, as those are the people with whom I spend the most time during the week.

This is my twenty ninth year in the classroom and, over the course of those years, I have seen many changes within my students. There are more of them than ever who lack self-esteem. Just today, as my classes were working on poems about what made them unique, I had at least two students who told me that they could not think of anything positive about themselves: no personal strengths, no talents, no abilities. It made me so sad. Students such as these are definitely afflicted and hungry for attention and praise. 

When I see a student who is need of a little boost in confidence and I take the time to sit and talk with him or her about the weekend or about what they have planned for after school, I am affecting that child. When I give one of my students the 50 cents to pay a forgotten library fine, it may seem like a small thing to me, but to them it may be a big thing. 

As I get nearer and nearer to retirement I sometimes find myself asking, "Why should I go on?" It is because of the ones that I do reach that I stay. 

1 Peter 4:10 reads:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

This is another reason that I believe I am in the right place when I am in the classroom.  I can remember being in high school and sitting with the younger children on that long bus ride home, keeping them company and talking with them about their day. I can remember helping with 4H lessons, camp, and vbs at church. With each small task that I undertook, God was grooming me- grooming me for the role of teacher.

My mom kept a little keepsake book throughout my years in school. You probably have seen them- a pocket for each year to hold keepsakes, a place to record things like height, weight, favorite teacher, and favorite subject. One of the last lines at the bottom of that pocket was the one that read, "When I grow up, I want to be a _____________." As I flip through that book I notice that every single year, with the exception of 1, I had written "teacher". I think that I always knew that God had blessed me with the ability to teach others, whether it be teaching them to read those tiny little sight words that begin the journey toward reading, teaching them to simplify a basic algebraic equation, or teaching them about God's love and forgiveness.

As I near the end of my teaching career, I find myself looking for the next route, the next gift that God would have for me to share. I know that my real teaching days will never end, but I want to continue to be of service to him throughout my entire week. I am praying that God would help me find whatever that service might be in the years after I leave the classroom. 

A while back, I heard the following song by Sidewalk Prophets and I immediately felt an affinity for it. I know that it is not entirely about service to God, but I took the words to mean that I need to do everything I can to help others see God within me, and that includes serving him, never witholding of the talents that he has given me. Listen to the words and I hope they can be a blessing to you as well. Please leave a comment telling me what their message is for you!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Evolving Update

Back in January I posted about my One Little Word for the year "evolve".

If you haven't read the post that started me on my journey for the year, you can check it out HERE

I thought it was time for me to give you a bit of an update. It is also my way of making myself accountable for actually making some progress.

  1. I have decided to embrace my hair color--- not the one that I have been using to cover the ever-growing amount of gray. I am talking about my own personal hair color, INCLUDING the gray. I have not colored my hair since January 21. I have been growing it out and haven't had a trim either. (I really do need to schedule one, but I am kind of liking having a bit more length.)
  2. I am reading a book about finding happiness and I am trying to make a definitive effort to find and keep my happiness and my smile more evident on a daily basis. You can read more about that in THIS POST. You can also follow along with my weekly posts about the "triggers" that we can all use to help increase our happiness level.
  3. In my effort to give to others I have been trying to do more "little things" to help others: paying library fines for students, dropping off goodies at the local traffic department to thank them for their hard work this winter, opening more doors for others, and just making time to be there when people need me.
  4. I have also kept a promise that I made to my children a VERY LONG time ago. Before my husband and I married I made a cross stitch stocking for him. I had been promising my children that I would also make one for them. I actually started them several years ago, but I had never found the time to actually finish the stitching and assemble them. I promised myself that THIS would be the year. I am happy to say that I have kept that promise!

Now we just have to wait until Christmas to hang them!

I wish I had some good news to report about my weight loss, but it is holding pretty steady. I just can't seem to give up some of the foods that I really enjoy and I haven't found time to add exercise into my daily routine. I am NOT giving up though!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Trigger number 2 in Valorie Burton's book is a smile. Now we're not talking the little "lift the corners of your mouth" grin. We are talking about the full out "open your mouth, show your teeth, and maybe even laugh" type smile.

I always thought of a smile as a symbol to the world that I WAS happy; I had somehow forgotten that my smile could also BRING happiness to someone else and cause it to be reflected back on me, thus helping actually make ME happy.

Now, I have to be honest here. I am normally a fairly happy person, but I must admit that there are days when I allow the dreariness of life, the negativity of others, and the circumstances of my daily experience to rule my mood. There are days at school when I am trying too hard to be the firm taskmaster, keeping my students under control, and ruling the classroom. It is hard for me to do that while smiling.

Sometimes a small group of students will act out and do something that is totally immature and I will feel that "look" coming to my face. You know the one I am talking about.... the one where the brow crinkles, the mouth is pinched, and sometimes the head is even tilted down so I can peer at the guilty culprit over the top rim of my glasses.

Then there are those days when I have a really great activity planned and the students really get into it: learning, enjoying it, and (unbelievable to some) being happy! At those times I have noticed that I smile- one of those great big smiles that even has a laugh with it. When that happens I am definitely happier!

Proverbs 17:22 says:

 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. 

Dried up bones? The imagery packed within that phrase is mighty! I certainly don't want to have dried up bones! I would much rather have a joyful heart, displayed within the smile on my face.  

On most days I can muster a little grin at least, a "Good morning," when I meet a student in the hall, and sometimes even a full out smile when one of those same students utters something they did not intend to be funny. 

But..... what about those times when we find it difficult to smile, difficult to be joyful and happy? Valorie suggests that we do the following: take a breath, smile, and then...... pray. Pray to God that he will help us remember that there is joy in life, that even from our stress and affliction we can grow and experience even more of God's love. Pray to God thanking him for blessings that he has given us. It really can work!

I am reminded of the evenings when I leave school after a particularly difficult day- I may feel beaten and bruised, I may not have been able to reach the students, I may even have received word of yet another meeting or duty that I needed to fulfill. Just when I feel at my worst- God can send me the comfort and strength that I need.

You see, I keep my car radio tuned to KLove. It never fails that on one of those "tough days", when I am at my very lowest, the perfect song will come on the radio and God will send me a reminder of his strength and love. When that music fills the air and God's love warms my heart, a smile will burst out on my face and I utter a, "Thank you Lord!" or even an "Amen."