The past few days have been incredibly emotional for me, and over money of all things!   I’ve been angry, sad, confused, hopeful and determined.  Determined to get answers to a problem with my parents tax return.  Determined to fix it …. whatever “it” was. 

The tax preparer didn’t have answers at the ready, but according to her calculations my 92 year old dad and 85 year old mom owed over $12,000 in taxes this year.  On social security … are you serious??

After many questions, back and forth emails and phone calls I finally learned that the tax owed was as a result of an old investment partnership that went belly up, sold at a loss at auction to satisfy the bank loan that was in default.  

This investment was a benefit that yielded dividends during the good years.  The bad years at least provided my folks with tax write-offs.  Unfortunately, the property held under the partnership sold at auction last year for less than what was owed the bank.  The partners all received capital gains resulting in a whopper of a tax bill … but no cash.  

I’m sure this was a great shelter while dad was working and had all his faculties.  When mom was doing the books at his practice and still had her sight.

Today I just see it as a burden that neither of them is equipped to bear, at their stage of life and current, painfully fixed income.

When I was little I remember dad striving, toiling, always working.  I never understood his drive to make more ever more, and to use tax shelters to try to keep more of what he made.   

This too was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

I’m firmly convinced that the only way to live is God’s way.  Honor Him with your first fruits. Save for what you want.  Spend on what you need. And be incredibly generous.  The simplicity of biblical money management is far better than the alternative. 

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Unpack That

The sun is shining.  We have our answer, and that answer is that God has us right here.

Time to finish settling in, roll up our sleeves and get back at it.  

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Time to Move

God has blessed our decision. After several years of foot dragging, excuses and one half-hearted attempt to sell our home, it finally happened. We felt drawn towards the Mill Village and talked about it often. We would ride through the neighborhood periodically, looking at all the houses, checking to see if there were any new For Sale signs out. During that time people had been fixing them up, selling, updating and flipping. The market had gotten significantly better in D5. So when we finally made the decision to sell our home  little over a month ago, God blessed it.
God has been guiding our decision. Part of the pull has been to prepare for the future … to put ourselves in a financial position to go into full time ministry if and when whenever God opens that door, whatever full time ministry looks like. It meant simplifying our lifestyle, making biblical financial decisions and sticking to them through these past few years. Living on less, paying debt down, then off completely. Basically, choosing to honor God with our finances and making wise decisions.  The last hurdle and largest expense, our home. A home that is way bigger than two people need.  In order to reduce overhead, we would need to downsize. God is allowing it.
God is orchestrating the details. When He’s in it, you do what needs doing in faith and watch Him put all the pieces together. There were many hiccups and hurdles in this process of of buying and selling, lots of unknowns regarding where we would go during the transition from one home to the next. For someone like me who typically has to be IN CONTROL of my situation and surroundings, there was incredible freedom and peace in trusting God with this process and not rushing ahead of Him. He worked it out. All of it.
God puts trustworthy, faithful people in our lives to guide, ground and help us. From the godly encourager who patiently talked me off the ledge more than once, to the feisty little realtor who has earned her commission and then some, to the friend who texted me one night to say a sign had gone up in front of what will be our new home, to the sweet friend who gave up a full day to help me pack boxes … God has blessed us greatly through these relationships.  So good!
God is the anchor in the storm …. I rest in the shadow of His wings. Because life happens, evil abounds and sickness strikes always at the worst possible time. Even though momma is still very sick and has shown no improvement, God is still God and He is always good. I am so grateful for the ability to juggle responsibilities and go to the hospital at a moments notice, I have a car and it runs.  I’m ever grateful for my sweet husband who is my lifeline, for my brothers who have stepped up in ways to lead the charge, staying persistent and present, asking the right questions and pushing to get mom the best care, for my amazing cousin Alicia who made special arrangements to see both my parents while visiting from the west coast. For my friends who pray and encourage me throughout the day. God is in all of this, in the tears and fears and anger over mom’s illness and the uncertainty of her future. He is sovereign and an ever present source of strength.

As I pack these last boxes today in preparation for the move out tomorrow, I am amazed at God’s goodness. How He ever even allowed us to get this house to begin with.  I look back on the many milestones and life events shared here over the past 6 years, the memories of family functions, celebrations, weekly life groups.  Deep, meaningful back porch conversations.  We’ve laughed here, cried here, studied and worshipped here. We have been blessed beyond anything we deserve.  We deserve nothing, have earned nothing. Yet here we are, closing a wonderful chapter and turning to a brand new page. 

 Jesus, author of our lives, continue writing our story.  Lawrence Street, you’re getting new neighbors and we can’t wait!

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From Foolish to Free

I first read “Radical” and “Crazy Love” as a brand new Christ follower.  Both books rocked my world. The idea of abandoning everything commonly accepted as normal and desirable in our American culture for Christ was way out there. In their respective works, David Platt and Francis Chan each do a great job of shaking us and waking us from the stupor of the comfortable.
If you read “Radical” or “Crazy Love” you either had momentary shivers of improbable excitement at the thought of selling it all and going to share the gospel in the far reaches of Africa … or you were stabbed with pangs of guilty apprehension because deep in your heart you know you’d never let go of your stuff, and you’d never ever go to a third world country.  Regardless of your reaction, David Platt and Francis Chan echo the heart of Jesus in their writing.  When HIS life ….. HIS words impact your heart and penetrate your soul, then living a life of sacrifice and purpose focused on His mission isn’t so radical or crazy … it’s a natural response.  Action is required.
Americans in general have skewed attitudes about money, possessions and what we think we need to be comfortable. The pursuit of bigger, better, faster, prettier has turned us into a people living far beyond our means, often living paycheck to paycheck, dissatisfied, always in the hole,  juggling credit cards just to have basics like food and shelter.  
Slaves to the lender.  Been there.  In our previous marriages, Mark and I and our respective spouses were poster kids for making ridiculously poor money choices. Needless to say, back then God was not a part of our money conversations. Like most people, we were all more interested in getting what we thought we wanted than honoring Him with our finances. 

Scripture is rich with instruction regarding the handling of money, wealth and possessions. In both the old and new testament being in debt is viewed as a negative.  Plus, God is very clear (and obviously concerned) about the condition of our hearts when it comes to finances and generosity.   (Want to know a little more about what God has to say about all this?  Just Google “Money Bible Verses”.  Bible Study Tools has put together a pretty good list of verses on the subjects of money, possessions, debt and giving.)

Good news though …. it IS possible to reverse the damage done by years of really terrible, awful, unhealthy money attitudes and decisions.  Financial freedom  won’t happen overnight, but it can and will happen if you begin to apply biblical financial principals to your everyday life.  
For us financial freedom began with choosing to do things God’s way and wanting to honor Him with our finances. On this journey we’ve allowed Him to shape our attitudes about money … where it comes from, Who it belongs to and what it is for. We tithe and have become cheerful givers. We’re learning to loosen our grip on possessions. We’re making sacrifices to live more simply. We’ve paid down and paid off debt. We’re becoming more content with less. We’ve asked God to streamline our finances so we can be more generous. Our desire is to be obedient, and to prepare for whatever is next …. to be in the position to respond to whatever God calls us to do, wherever He would have us do it.
Now, with our current home under contract downsizing and debt reduction is becoming more real, and radical is beginning to feel just right.

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I am counting down.  A weekend away.  2-1/2 days of whatever, wherever, with my man.  Quality time with my husband ANYWHERE is my love language … quality time with my man back where it all started makes me giddy!  

This is the best gift.  It can’t be put in a gift bag or box.   You can’t wear it.  You can’t stick it on a shelf.  You can’t place a price tag on memories.

NorCal holds one of the sweetest spots in my heart.  This is where God brought me to get my attention.  This is where my life in Christ began.  And it’s absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

Thank you Baby!  Is it too soon to pack?


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The Fields

Our church has a very clear and biblical vision and mission.  As it should be.  

One God, one Church.  Jesus was clear in what our role, as His followers, is in this world.

If anyone is confused as to why we exist, or as to what our purpose is, the answer is simple.  Love God, Love others.  Live like Jesus, love like Jesus, leave what Jesus left behind.  The only thing that matters is people finding Jesus.  

After all, why wouldn’t we share His love, grace and mercy?   It is that hope in Jesus that we so tightly embrace, that saving grace, undeserved yet so lavishly poured out on us.  A way back to God the Father.  Redemption.  Salvation.  Eternity in a restored, right replationship with our creator.  If we know the way, why is it sometimes hard to walk in it and share our faith with others?

Our church shares the love of Christ in so many different ways.  Everything we do is with purpose and intentionality.  The sharing of the gospel.  The simple gospel. So that others will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ .  Unfortunately sometimes we find ourselves facing the choice to get in the trenches, to get messy with people, but we crumble, withdraw, wimp out. 

I can tell you from first hand experience that real life- change happens through relationship.

When I was far from God, broken, hurting, seeking and asking questions, feeling like something in my life was missing but I hadn’t a clue what was wrong ….  it was the people that God brought into my life that made the difference.  These were the ones who weren’t scared to answer my hard questions.  They weren’t intimidated or fearful to engage with someone who was lost.  If they didn’t know the answers to my questions, we would study God’s word together to find the answers.  They were open to relationship so that Christ would be known.

We give our partners at LifeSong Church opportunity to be missionaries … gospel bearers … over and over.  We do it together, because we are much better together.  Whether we are serving hot dogs, installing insulation, painting a house, delivering meals, opening up our homes for lifegroup or any number of good things, it’s that gospel intentionality that we must take, the relationships we must cultivate, that carry hope into a hopeless world. 

It may be intimidating to go door to door.  It might hurt your budget to live with an open hand.  It might be hard to dig in and answer the hard questions.  But the investments we make over and over will yield kingdom results.  As a church, and as individuals.

(Artwork by Darcy Kent)

“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”

‭‭John‬ ‭4:35-36‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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“Faithful, Available and Teachable”

Some years ago I had the honor of being a part of Leadership Greenhouse at LifeSong Church.

Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what that was. I wasn’t qualified or deserving, but God was working on me. He gave me an opportunity. The next move was to take it and follow through to see what He would do.

These three words have become a mantra over the years. Faithful. Available. Teachable. It sounds like the burden to be faithful, to make myself available, to remain open and teachable is all on me. That’s true in a sense, but the reality is that being FAT is simply not sustainable without a close, intimate relationship with and continual pursuit of Christ. We are all so flawed and broken, we just can’t maintain this attitude on our own. There are so many factors that work against us in the flesh. Every day we are reminded that we live in a fallen world. That’s why it’s so critically important that we choose to stay connected, surrendered and submitted to Jesus DAILY.  
Think about it. We can serve God, the church and others faithfully and with enthusiasm in our own power …. for a while. We might start out with pure and eager hearts, but very subtly corruption can start to creep in and take over like kudzu. The sin of pride can threaten our faithfulness. Is approval or recognition our real motivation? Are we in the game for our own glory? If so, it’s not long before we’re disappointed, angry, jaded. When we make a mistake, does the fear of failure cripple us? Satan says “this is too hard” … and yes, choosing to deny self and follow Christ IS HARD. The temptation is to throw in the towel. If Jesus isn’t front and center, if our love for Him isn’t behind everything we can easily lose interest, get mad or scared, give up, lose the faith.
How available do we make ourselves to be God’s instruments? We are a busy people. Our calendars are slap full, leaving little margin to give ourselves away. Between work outside the home, chores around the house, kids, parents, grandkids, personal wants, unexpected problems, commitments we choose (and those placed upon us) and trying to carve out a few minutes of desperately needed down-time We. Go. Wide. Open. At the end of today, we’re already behind on tomorrow with zero time and energy to even think about anything beyond what’s on our plate. Maxed out, over capacity and unable to respond to anything else. (Sound familiar?) For others the problem may be the total opposite. There’s lots and LOTS of margin, but we are lazy, or we lack confidence, or feel unequipped. We mistakenly think that the little we might offer Him wouldn’t really make a difference so we do nothing. We muster up our best excuses, expecting God to accept our justification instead of giving Him our all. Maybe it’s our poor financial decisions that have stretched us to the point of snapping that disqualifies us and makes us unusable. With hard hearts, full calendars, poor self-image, wrong views of God, bad choices and more we can easily exclude ourselves without even realizing it, making ourselves unavailable to Him and others.
Someone who thinks they already have all the answers makes for a bad student, but someone who is humble is receptive to change and learning new things. If we aren’t interested in growing in Christ, we won’t. By honest self-evaluation, by seeking God’s wisdom and guidance through prayer, through the study of scripture, by surrounding ourselves with wise counsel, by allowing Jesus to shape and stretch us …. we not only remain teachable, but our capacity increases. Choose to do nothing and what we get is stale, stagnant and distant from God. It’s up to us to stay in training and flex those spiritual muscles. The work of the Holy Spirit is squelched in a heart that is unyielding and unwilling to accept instruction.

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”

‭‭1 Samuel‬ ‭12:24‬ ‭NIV
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

‭‭John‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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