THE NEW EWE

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"

Luke 15:4-6

May 19, 2010

LIFE IN THE FOLD:

Some subjects are easier to write about than others. Finance is something that has been on my mind here lately, and I've been hesitant to write about this because I know that people get really touchy when it comes to handling money. They don't like anyone telling them what to do, and will often get very defensive if they think someone is trying to give advice on how to better handle their finances. But honestly, we all need to be reminded how to be better stewards of our money from time to time.

In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul probably gives the very best advice regarding our attitude towards financial circumstances. He doesn't specifically name money here, but if we would adopt this attitude toward material possessions and money, I believe that we would all be happier people. We wouldn't constantly be thinking about what we do or don't have, what we wish we had, what other people have that we want, what we think we deserve, or what we buy just because we want it regardless of whether or not we can afford it.

Paul says, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

Christians often quote the scripture, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" in regards to spiritual situations. And those words can apply to any and all situations. But when Paul originally penned those words he was referring to having plenty or being in want, being well fed or hungry. He had learned that regardless of his situation, he could be content because God would give him strength.

I've been on both ends of the spectrum. Growing up, we had lots of times when we were facing great financial need. During those 7 years when my mom was battling cancer, there was a lot of medical expense. There were times when we didn't have much money for groceries. We didn't have much a lot of times, but someway, somehow God always provided for us. And at times, it came in ways there were very humbling and even a little humiliating. One time the community held a benefit singing for our family at the high school gym and took up a collection for our family. It was very touching and very humbling that they would do that for us, but always was a little embarrassing. There were times when we got free groceries offered to low income families. During a few desperate times, we got food stamps; but only long enough to get back on our feet, then we'd go off the program. I know that Janie and I both got free lunches at school. But even during the most difficult times, there was always contentment in our family. Daddy and Mama got by the best they could, but always made us girls feel safe and provided for. Our house was the home that people liked to visit. There was always singing and laughter in our home, and our home was a place of prayer. Each night before going to bed, our family would gather in the living room and pray. We prayed before meals. When Mama would be in pain in the middle of the night and couldn't get relief, we'd call her brothers and sister and they'd come down and we'd pray until the pain abated and she could sleep. I think perhaps the contentment in our home came not from what we did or didn't have, but from having God in our lives and allowing Him to put joy in our home.

In my adult life, there have been times when I've struggled financially. I lived in a tiny old mobile home that should have been condemned for about 10 years. Did I like it? No, but I couldn't afford anything better at that time. Was it embarrassing and humiliating? You bet it was! I can tell you story after story about my years there; the black snake in my living room, the rat I saw, the huge gaping holes in the wall around my bathtub, the way the floor was rotting underneath my bathtub and the tub sat at an angle, the rusted out tin used as under-penning used around the outside of my trailer, and the list could go on and on. But I made do with what I had, and when God blessed me with something better, He blessed in a big way.

When I bought a new mobile home there was a lot of work involved in getting the land prepared, septic and sewer put in, water lines dug, a road made to the trailer site, grass planted in the yard, etc. I had an overwhelming amount of help and didn't have to pay for any labor or for the equipment. My step-brother was able to get the heavy equipment I needed for one weekend, and he and my cousin worked long hours getting everything done. A friend's husband sowed grass and fixed my yard for me. A cousin and his wife found a small front porch with steps made out of treated lumber that someone was no longer using at their mobile home, and the guy gave it to them for free for me to have.

God's timing for us to have things is not always ours. But if we'll wait on Him, then He will do things that will far exceed what we could have come up with on our own. It's when we think we have to have everything right now that we get into financial trouble. And it's when we refuse to use discernment on whether something is a want or a need that gets us into trouble. There are a lot of things that I'd like to have, but I don't need them. Does that make it wrong for me to have them? Not if I can afford them.

I'd love to have a piano! And I don't want just any old piano. I don't want one just to say I have one. But I'd like to have a good one with a good sound. There's nothing more frustrating than to play a piano that's out of tune, or has keys that stick or no longer work. I don't want a piece of junk just to have one, but want a really nice piano. It would be easy to justify buying one by thinking, "If I don't keep up with my playing, then I may forget how and lose that talent." But I know that Jon and I can't afford it right now. We've gone to a couple of home and garden shows where a lot of Tulsa businesses have booths set up in the Expo Center. Both times there was a display of pianos and keyboards, and both times we stopped and looked at them. And both times the salesman told us about the special they were having and that we could get it on credit. All we had to do was fill out a short credit form, and we could make small monthly payments. But Jon and I know that buying on credit is a bad habit to get into, and we're not going to make "wanted" purchases like that.

When I was single, I didn't trust myself with a credit card. There were times when I struggled financially and would consider getting one, but knew that it would be too easy for me to put purchases on it. Afterwards, I might still have times of being short on money but then I'd have a credit card bill on top of my other problems. I knew that using one wasn't the right solution for me at that time.

Now Jon and I have a credit card, but we make sure we don't put more charges on it than we can pay off each month. I believe there has only been one time during our marriage that we carried a balance over to the next month. Neither of us want to get into a habit of making purchases on the card that we can't pay off when the bill comes due.

That's a trap that too many married couples fall into. They want things, so start putting it on a credit card, and eventually end up with a bill so large that they'll never get it paid off. Or else, they max out one card and feel desperate, so end up getting another credit card and putting charges on it. You end up with balances that are so large that you can't pay them off; and what have you got to show for it?

I think each couple has to find what works best for them financially. What works for me and Jon may not work for you. I have a bank check card, but Jon doesn't have one. I put groceries, gas and things I purchase on the bank card. I'm responsible for paying bills and balancing the check book, so I know when I use our bank card whether or not we have the money to make the purchase. But with Jon not having a card, we don't have to worry about him using it and not telling me and us overdrawing our bank account. Jon uses his credit card to purchase gas or anything else he needs, and we pay the bill off when it comes each month. This is what works for us. I know that some couples have separate checking accounts. It works for some to use the same account and both use a check card. If what you're doing isn't working, then find a solution that will.

Financial difficulties can bring a lot of stress to a marriage. If one person likes to spend every dime you have in the bank, and the other person likes to save, you have to talk about it and work out a compromise. And before making unnecessary purchases, ask yourself if you can really afford it. If it's just a want and not a need, and you don't have the extra money, then don't get it! And don't think that your kids have to have everything in the world that you think all the other kids have. It's okay to say "no" sometimes. Kids don't have to have everything their heart desires; just as parents don't either. "But my kids will be mad at me." So what?!? You're the parent and you're kids are going to get mad at you sometimes; that's life! And really, are you doing your kids a favor by giving them everything they want? Are you doing them a favor by buying everything you want and getting into debt? What kind of message is that sending them? Do you want your kids to be financially responsible, or to be so deep in debt that they're continually stressed? You not only teach by your words, but by your example.

Okay, I can sense someone pointing their finger at me and Jon and say, "You just don't understand! After all, you went to Singapore for three weeks last year and are planning a big trip to Yellowstone next month." That's true.

But when we went to Singapore, it was a business trip for Jon and he got all his expenses paid; flight, hotel, and all his food. He got paid during all his traveling time to and from Singapore and worked long hours while there. His overtime paid for my flight. I didn't have to pay for a hotel since I shared a room with Jon and it was paid for. Our breakfast was included in with the hotel. Most mornings, I'd wait until around 10:00 to go down to breakfast then wouldn't eat lunch. If I did eat lunch, I'd go to Subway or McDonalds which were right by the hotel. We also had been told to take some snacks on the plane with us, but we ended up not eating them. We had some small bags of crackers, chips and cookies. Some days I'd eat one of those for lunch. We would go out for a nice dinner, but only had to pay for mine. We took a lot of pictures, because we figured those would be the best thing we could have to look back at to remember our trip. We ended up only buying a couple small, inexpensive things as keepsakes. That's how we went to Singapore. When we got home we weren't in debt and had my part of the trip paid for.

The second time Jon went to Singapore, I had planned on going back with him. But I found out that week that I was going to have to have gallbladder surgery. We already had my flight booked, but knew with my surgery coming up and not knowing how much we'd have to end up paying, we knew it wasn't sensible for me to go with Jon. We cancelled my flights and I stayed home. Was that what we really wanted to do? No. We don't like being apart and we both would have rather that I went with Jon, but we knew it wasn't the responsible thing to do.

Sometimes the responsible thing to do isn't the fun thing to do. But a mature person knows that sometimes it's best to be wise than to be in debt.

Jon and I wouldn't be taking this trip to Yellowstone for our 5th anniversary if we didn't know ahead of time that we can afford it. I spent hours online checking room prices, trying to find the best deals for us. We are staying in some nice places part of the time, but are also staying in a Motel 6 and Super 8. We plan on taking lots of pictures to have as memories of this trip. This is a trip we've wanted to take since we got married, and wanted to do something special for our 5th anniversary.

I've been guilty of mishandling finances in the past, and still do at times. Jon and I are in a position where we can afford to go out and eat, and probably do that more often than we should. Jon likes to blow money on electronic stuff, and I like to buy shoes and get pedicures. The wise thing to do would be to put that money in savings. But during the first couple years of our marriage we had some challenging financial times. I'd take a pad of paper and calculator with me to buy groceries and add everything up before paying to make sure I had enough money. We didn't eat out, buy new things, or spend frivolously. We had to count our pennies and scrape to get by at times. It wasn't fun and I hope we never have to do that again. But we got through it without racking up a credit card debt or borrowing money. We did without things and managed. It makes being financially secure now where we can be a little frivolous with our money from time to time a little sweeter.

I think sometimes the reason couples don't receive God's blessing on their finances is because He knows they aren't responsible enough to handle it. That doesn't mean that God is being harsh, but is actually being loving. If your teenager gets a speeding ticket, and you pay it for them; then they speed again and get into and accident, and you fix their car back up for them; then they speed and something else happens and you continue to bail them out each time, will they ever learn the dangers or consequences of speeding? Or will they think, "It's okay, dad and mom will take care of it and bail me out whenever I get into trouble?" What happens if they speed and cause an accident and someone is hurt because of their negligence? Were you doing them a favor by taking care of everything and bailing them out time after time?

It's the same way with us financially. If we get into debt, then God blesses us so we can pay off the debt, will we learn our lesson; or will we assume that He's going to take care of it every time and go out and blow money and get into debt again? If God were to bless you so that you could be financially secure, would you learn from your past mistakes and cut up your credit cards and stop spending frivolously; or would you go out and celebrate by going on a big spending spree?

We need to learn that contentment doesn't come in what we own or how many material things we have. We can have a nice house, big boat, 2 new cars, a closet full of new clothes, expensive jewelry, pedigreed pets, maid and lawn service, a new piano, and all the things your mind can imagine you'd ever want; but if you're never satisfied and always wanting more, then it's not going to bring you joy. Money can either lower or raise your stress level, depending on how important it is to you. It's easy to become so focused on wanting things that we forget what's really important.

I'd much rather Jon and I be in good health and be able to enjoy our time together, than to own a lot of things. If God chooses to bless our finances so we can live in comfort, then I'm thankful for that. But I also want to be a good steward of my finances. I want God to know that He can trust me and Jon with our finances. Do you know what has been the biggest blessing to us the past couple of years that we've been more financially secure? It's not in being able to buy more or do more or have more. It's in being able to give financially to others and help them out in small ways. Over and over again from the time I was a child, I've had people give to my family, and later, to me personally when there was a need. To now be able to give back and help others is one of the greatest blessings ever! I'm so thankful that God has blessed me and Jon so that we can bless others. And I pray that those people will one day be blessed so that they can give to someone else and be blessed.

May we all remember Paul's words and strive to live by them and keep them close to our heart. For when we do, then regardless of our situation, we will truly be filled with contentment.

JON'S PERSPECTIVE:

We often hear the scripture, "And all these things will be added unto you." But there's a first part: "Seek ye first, the Kingdom of God." I've written about that before, so I don't think I'll go into it in depth. The short version is this: If we are seeking after the Kingdom (or perhaps 'kingship') of God, all those things aren't so important.

Almost every kid some Christmas will open a great, expensive toy, toss the toy aside, and play with the box. The expensive toy isn't that important. They just want to play. Whether it's with a toy, or a cool box, they don't really care what it cost. Jesus said (Matthew 18:4), "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." When I couldn't have cable TV, I was able to humble myself, and read a book. Okay, it's not a perfect fit, but I think it works.

Jesus said that The Lord would take care of us, and we shouldn't fret about where our next meal would come from. But He also told a great parable in Matthew 25 about servants who were given money by their master. Two of them worked hard to make a profit off the money they were given. The third didn't waste the money, but didn't work to earn anything either. The third was punished because he hadn't done anything. We might not need to fret about how we'll eat, but God does expect us to be responsible, and to do what we can.

ON THE MENEWE:

Pizza Dip

2 (8 oz.) pkgs. Cream Cheese

1 jar pizza sauce

2 c. mozzarella cheese

1 1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese

mini pepperoni

Mix half the pizza sauce with the cream cheese, on cup each of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and some of the pepperoni. Spread into a dish. Pour the rest of the pizza sauce on top. Sprinkle the rest of the cheeses and pepperoni on top. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until bubbly. Serve with wheat thin crackers or tortilla chips.

LAMB TALES:

For several years my sisters kids have teased my sisters and me about having the "Horton hips". Now honestly, we come by it naturally on both the Parton and Horton sides of the family; probably more so on the Parton side. But since we were Horton's before getting married, the kids refer to them as "Horton hips". One of my nephews recently commented that his 2 year old daughter was going to have the Horton hips. It's one of those family jokes that has been on-going for quite some time.

So we decided to put that name to good use. My sisters and I have wanted to publish a family cookbook for quite some time. Recently, I collected recipes from my sisters and their families and put together a cookbook that has been published. The title is aptly named, "How the Horton's Got Their Hips." The book is dedicated to the memory of our mom, because we all got our love for cooking and spending time around the kitchen table with family from her.

This is a nice cookbook filled with great recipes, and we are using the proceeds for the upkeep of our family homestead in Missouri. If you'd like to order a copy (or 2 or 3), I'd be happy to mail it to you. The cost if $12.50 and you can make your check payable to me. As soon as I receive your check, I'll get the cookbook in the mail to you. If you're interested in a copy, email me at: shepherd@grayengineers.com and I'll send my address to you.

THOUGHT TO PONDER:

Life can't always be sunshine and blue skies; the rain is what makes things grow and bloom.

OUR HEARTFELT THANKS TO YOU:

We love you!

Loretta & Jon

E-Mail: shepherd@grayengineers.com

http://www.graysheep.org