Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Death of a Coward

I'm scared of a lot of things - heights, losing loved ones, large bugs/spiders - and while I wouldn't necessarily call it a "fear," I also have a strange aversion to raw meat.

But I'm not a coward.

I will draw the distinction for you... EVERYONE is afraid... scared... fearful. No matter how strong your faith is, the human side of all of us is terrified of something. Usually more than one thing. And usually something that we have to face every day. Cowards are the people who allow other people to be hurt because of their fears.

You might be thinking of people who are faced with a split second decision of whether to take a bullet for someone else and decide not to, but the decision of whether to be a coward or not is much less dramatic and much more widespread.

My last boss was a great example of a coward. I don't really feel bad saying that because I have significant amounts of evidence that was the case. He would consistently find someone to blame for anything that might be perceived as negative on his behalf. In fact, we had a joke about not missing meetings, because you would most certainly be blamed for something in your absence. The fact was, he was scared of being inadequate. He was a coward because he let him fear allow him to blame and manipulate others.

Sometimes being a coward means NOT taking action. Not standing up for someone who is being blamed or made fun of or ridiculed. And how do we justify this? "Oh, it's one of those political things..." You hear it in churches, workplaces, even families. Whenever someone doesn't want to do what should be done it's "politics." This literally drives me crazy. I refuse to be a part of the political game, which anyone who knows me can tell you (and a few people who don't know me, but once witnessed me telling a Senior Vice President of our company that he needed to "get out of my face" when he tried to intimidate me). I would contend that "politics" is a code for "we're keeping the status quo, for our own benefit." And if rising in the ranks and not rocking the boat are your objective, by all means, fall into the "politics" of your organization. But I can tell you that when I left my last job, the CEO requested to meet with me, wanted MY feedback on the organization, to thank me for my work and find out if there was a way I would stay.

Everyone is scared of commitment. Cowards cheat.
Everyone is scared to be a parent. Cowards leave.
Everyone is scared of losing their job. Cowards place blame.

Embrace your fears, give them to God, and let your coward die.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Too Nice.

A couple weeks before Nate and I started dating, I was on the phone with him while I was at a friend's house. She motioned for my attention. I covered the mouthpiece. She asked me, "Do you like him?!"

"Who?" I said. "Nate?! No! He's too nice!"

I later found out my phone covering skills were subpar, and that Nate heard all of that conversation, which he still likes to remind me of occasionally to this day.

Nate being "too nice" has been an issue in our relationship more times than I can count. When I'm trying to get out the door at Starbucks and he's trying to set up a time to give the barista our copy of the movie "Role Models" because "you just gotta see it, man!" When he got totally ripped off buying his car, because he believes the best in people. One of my favorite "too nice" moments was when a young man stopped us outside Walmart and asked if we'd contribute to his sports team. He had a bucket with some change and few dollar bills, and a generic looking poster with some clipart on it. Nate said, "Oh man... I only have a $10..." He glanced at it for a minute and handed it to the young man. "Thanks man!" the guy said, walking in the store. Nate took a few more steps toward our car, pondering the odd scenario. He looked at me and said, "That guy's going to buy crack with my money, isn't he?"

"Almost definitely," I responded.

But what I love about Nate is that he shrugged, and then chuckled.

In more serious times, I've angrily told him "WHY are you still helping those people? WHY do you think that this time will be anything different, when they've let you down so many times in the past?"

Nate looked at me when I said that, and said simply, "It's okay that I get let down... I will keep trying and keep helping and if that also means I keep getting let down... that's fine. Because maybe, one these times, I won't get let down."

I was probably right when I said that Nate was "too nice," but I hope everyone someday has someone "too nice" on their side. Christmas is a great time to go above and beyond... forgive and forget... and be "too nice" to someone who doesn't deserve it. I've been blessed to know and love many "too nice" people, who inspire me every day to be a little bit nicer.  :-) I'd challenge you this holiday season - and moving forward - to allow yourself to risk your own personal disappointment or sadness, in order to be "too nice" to someone who you usually aren't. Maybe you'll be let down... but maybe you won't.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Best Mom Contest

I have been very careful to not say, "When I'm a Mom, I will always..." or "When I'm a Mom, I will never..." because I had enough sense to know that huge generalizations don't have a great success rate. For example, I really wanted to have a natural, drug-free labor and childbirth. Until, of course, I was actually in labor. To be fair, I was induced with Pitocin and made it until about two hours before delivering, before my husband (who I had thrown up on and told pretty intensely that 'we are not talking during contractions anymore') and the nursing staff convinced me to get the epidural when I was vomiting in pain and my BP reached 180/110. I knew another person who said she was "devastated" that she couldn't deliver drug-free. I, on the other hand, had the nursing staff cracking up when I said, "What is this crap about the joy of natural childbirth? I'm getting one of these EVERY time I have a baby!" But nagging at the back of my head was the thought that maybe I could have made it without the drugs. That maybe I would have been a better mom if I would have.

And let's just be honest fellow Moms - we don't exactly make it easy on each other. For example, my daughter wears cloth diapers, so I am by default a better mom than anyone whose child is in disposables. ;-) I'm totally joking, but isn't that what it feels like sometimes? One mom says, "I breastfed my child for a year" and another mom chimes in and says, "Oh, that's nice... I did two years... like the World Health Organization recommends." And then another mom is like, "Oh, you might have seen me on the cover of Time magazine breastfeeding my kid before his little league game." It makes sense then why everything seems like a contest.

My mom was a young mom, and I know she felt a ton of the pressures of being a good mom and doing things just so. One of her best friends was an older Mom, though her daughter was the same age as MacKenzie - her name is Paula, and she is seriously one of the coolest people ever. Paula and my mom led MacKenzie and Kate's Girl Scout troop, and when my mom would fret over this or that, Paula would smile and say, "Our only job in raising kids is to make well-adjusted adults." Paula always encouraged Kate to dream big. Kate was always incredibly creative, sometimes not fully dressed when it might have been appropriate, and told people in Kindergarten that when she grew up, her goal was to "be Chinese." Everyone laughed, but now Kate is studying Asian Studies in college and has done semesters abroad in Asia and Europe. She's a pretty darn well-adjusted adult! I try to remember Paula's mantra and take being a Mom both terribly seriously and not seriously at all... at the same time. In the Best Mom Contest... let's all help each other win.

At the end of the day, it's all pretty petty. I read this awesome, awesome blog awhile back about how moms should stop nit-picking each other over silly personal choices and look out for children who ACTUALLY do not have loving and caring parents in their lives. It was beautifully written and a great reminder that cloth-diapered, disposable-diapered, breastfed, formula-fed, epidural, natural labor... we're all doing the best we can, and at the end of the day all we can do is try our best and be a Godly example for our children.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Raising the Stakes

It's probably a fundamental flaw in my personality, but I can make a bet or a contest out of just about anything. So can my dad. So unfortunately, most of our lovely family outings turn into some kind of blood sport. Mom's idea to pick apples and stroll through the orchard became "Race you to the end of this row of apple trees," and Monopoly became... well, let's just say that we don't play Monopoly anymore. And my husband and mother will drive us crazy to no end when they won't buy into our contests/competitions/bets. It's not always a bad thing, though, to be a person who shines when the stakes are raised.

I feel like, aside from God's calling, our decision to help plant the church in Normal has been a "raising of the stakes," of sorts. I'm not comparing it to one of my goofy bets or made up competitions, but it is an opportunity to do more... to give more, to serve more... to invest so much that we just can't afford to fail. And that's a scary feeling. Usually when you push your chips to the center and say, "I'm all in," it's a matter of a few agonizing seconds to find out the result, but it in this case, it will be over a year... and then years after that!

And even though I love the pressure, I've had my moments. When after our initial investment in the project, I sat at the computer, agonizing over financials and Nate said, "Are you worried?" and I hissed in response, "I just wrote a check that depletes a huge chunk of our savings to a church that only exists in our imagination! And I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm about five months pregnant. We should all be a little worried!" - Not my best moment.

But I can tell you, God has provided through and through. Unlike a game of poker, when you're "all in" for God, you are assured in your bet. I can't explain it to you, because it doesn't make sense. You can't understand it... you just have to live it. So, go all in for God. Give more, serve more, invest everything you have in God's call for your life. When you raise the stakes for God, He will honor that... and you'll work harder on your end to accomplish the vision. :-)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On-the-job Training

Every time I've started a new job, I've really wanted to dive right in. It's just part of my personality. I don't want to sit and watch 500 tutorials... I just want to dig in and get things done. Never has this passion for on-the-job training served me better than on my recent journey into parenthood.

Blakely Grace Morrison entered the world at 3:50 pm on September 20. When they put her on my chest... the moment that I had dreamed and fantasized about for nine months (and really, even before that)... I panicked. I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't even admit that. I should say that it was love at first sight and I cried delicate tears of joy (that's what my husband did), but that's not what happened. They put her on me, and she was like a perfect, tiny little stranger laying there... a tiny little stranger whose college will easily cost me six figures in 18 years. But while I don't know if I could call that moment love at first sight, I did feel an incredibly strong urge and dedication to care for her in the very best way possible. When Nate asked if he should stay with me or follow Blakely to the nursery, I urged him to follow Blakely and not let her out of his sight.

Over the past two weeks, my love for her has grown every single day, and my days have been full of on-the-job training. The first night we were home from the hospital, she woke up every 15 mins. Literally. And if SHE didn't wake up, my husband would jolt up with this crazy Vietnam flashback PTSD-type reaction to imagined crying. Within a few days, we had given up on the recommended bassinet, opting to let her sleep in her little glider, and Nate could swaddle her so tight that Houdini couldn't get out of that receiving blanket. I've done some bizarre things, and most of my daily tasks, while using my electric breast pump - chatted on Facebook, eaten a grilled cheese sandwich, talked on the phone... And I've been topless in several places that I would never have imagined myself topless, outside of a couple of weird pregnancy dreams (What? You know you had them too if you've been pregnant), including church and the back of our car. I've had every type of bodily fluid on me, probably at the same time, and been strangely okay with it. I've already moved from the differentiation between burp rags, washcloths, clothes, blankets, and wipes to "does this wipe stuff off?" If yes, proceed. I went from being certain that I wouldn't leave the house with Blakely until her first round of vaccinations at two months, to taking her to church at three days old. That, folks, is called on-the-job training.

Even though I read books, watched videos, and took Lamaze class... nothing can really prepare you for the experience of parenthood. I'm just starting... but I already love the on-the-job training. :-)

Friday, September 14, 2012

The New Face of Need?

I almost didn't write this blog, because I feel like it's a little awkward. I grew up and was taught from a young age, you don't talk money with people. How much people make, how much people spend... It's rude. And uncomfortable. And rude. So, I was trying to come up with a way to write this blog and make it anonymous, but there's just not a way to do it. So in true Ali... nay, in true Morrison fashion, I'm just putting it all out there. If you're uncomfortable, please feel free to click the x in the upper right corner (or small red button in upper left for you Mac hipsters - the iPhone 5 is coming, BTW, in case you've been underground).

Okay, so here's my awkward announcement. My family is needy. At least, the government would be cool with it if we thought we were. As most of you know, we've recently moved to a one-income family model, as we add person number three to our household size. As we've done that, I've had several people tell me that they "wish they could afford to do that" and several other comments, indicating that people think I make significantly more money than I do. The fact that people I am certain have higher incomes than I did were saying this got me nervous, so I started looking at statistics on income, government aid, and other factors. What I found was pretty startling.

If I took home $30 less per paycheck, our household would qualify for full WIC benefits. WIC provides women and children with free healthy groceries, baby food, formula, etc. There are also special healthcare discounts and benefits for this group. Sadly, we're not that close to qualifying for SNAP benefits where we could just get $400 worth of HoHos and Mountain Dew a month (in addition to the WIC benefits), but I digress. Or maybe I don't digress, because our household doesn't spend $400 a month on groceries, and maybe it might help people on aid to try to live on a budget. I was also kind of horrified that many government benefits count "resources" against you. So a low income family that is able to save some of their earnings is at a disadvantage to a family with the same income level who maxes out their budget. Speaking of budgets, and since this is a full disclosure piece and if you wanted, you could go Google WIC benefits and see how much I make anyway, here is the Morrison three people, one income budget.

Monthly Income: $2,380 (net - with the poor people's holiday of the elusive third pay day factored in)
Mortgage: $456 (escrowed with taxes and insurance - owe $50,262; house worth approx. $55,000 - $60,000)
Water: $58
Garbage and Sewer: $15
Gas and Electric: $102 (budget payments, so the payment is even throughout the entire year)
Auto Insurance: $60 (switched to Progressive - about one step above liability on both cars)
Food: $375 (this is both groceries and occasionally dining out and other household items like detergent)
Clothing: $25
Phone: $95
Health Insurance: $290 (this is private health insurance through my employer for me, Nate, and Blakely)
Student Loans: $106
College Fund: $20 (every little bit will help)
Tithes and Gifts: $200
Gas and Auto: $275 (yay Aveo)
Netflix: $8
Internet: $35
401K Contributions: $110 (My employer matches 75% of that amount)
Car Registration: $15
Amount left for savings/entertainment: $135 (I accredit the small amount we spend on entertainment to the bizarre things that we encounter in our every day lives)

And there you have it. And this isn't a theoretical budget, it's our real budget that we've lived on for the past year (with some flaws and hiccups, of course). But when Nate and I got serious about paying off the debt we owed, we began living the one-income lifestyle. With his checks over the last year, we've been able to:
  • Pay off his Grand Prix (nearly $10,000)
  • Start a college fund for Blakely (nearly $1,500)
  • Supply an emergency fund ($1,000)
  • Purchase my Aveo with cash ($5,000)
  • Increase savings for medical bills and to be able to take time off together when Blakely's born
  • Accumulate no consumer debt
So am I embarrassed that the government thinks I'm right on the brink of need? Yes. But not for our family... for the government. I'm not patting us on the back (okay, maybe a little), but my goal in writing this obviously isn't pride. I hope maybe seeing these numbers inspires someone to start living in a financially responsible way - a gift that will continue to give for generations! Many people are quietly and successfully living debt-free/financially responsible lives, able to give to the needy (not me - the real needy), the church, and other worthy groups, as well as living with less stress, because they are on a plan. I know several families who are a continual inspiration in this area, as I hope we can be too.

If anyone who reads my blog has questions on where to start, how to spend less on certain budget items, or really anything else, I'd love to help. Because if I'm going to be a cheap nerd, I'd like to be a cheap nerd who helps people.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Keep it Simple

A few days ago, Nate and I were discussing our understanding of God. Ya, you read that right. We’re not hot mess hillbillies all the time. Anyway, I was telling Nate how in a lot of ways my understanding of God and his will has come almost 360 degrees.  As I tried to learn more about God and the Bible and the church, and as I accumulated more facts and more viewpoints and more arguments, I began to lose the essence that is God. Now, even though I still have that knowledge and those secondary sources, I retreat back into the simplest understanding of God.

Nate agreed with me and said, “I really think God is best understood by children.” As we kept talking, I couldn’t help but agree. Nate pointed out that children don’t struggle with things like “all powerful” or “all loving.” It’s the adults who push back, with “Then why did this happen?” or “But you don’t know my past.” God, while being all-powerful, all-loving, all-merciful… is also incredibly all-simple. As adults, we live in the age of asterisks. The website shouts “FREE!*” and then tiny print at the bottom confirms all of your fears, that it is not even close to free. When we’re conditioned to search out the “buts,” an asterisk-free God is sometimes hard for us to fathom.

Along those lines, I can be really hard on people who I say are “Team Satan.” Every Christian knows a few “Team Satan” cheerleaders – not that they support Satan, but just that they give him credit for every one of life’s hangnails. I give these people a bad rap because I really feel like this mentality often dismisses accountability, both for us and for others. I also think that giving Satan more credit than he deserves is a dangerous path to go down. But last night, I found comfort in temporarily joining the ranks of Team Satan.

Last night, life hit me like a sack of bricks. And please don’t think I’m whining because I am truly, truly blessed. But making decisions that seem to defy this world’s logic, even when I know that it’s God’s will, has never been my strong suit. I like to make spreadsheets that show in black and white that I am making good decisions. But as far as I know, they don’t have a program like that yet that factors in spiritual callings. As I ran around the house trying to be as productive as possible, I heard doubts, put there by myself and others, echoing in my head.

I heard the voice of someone who makes more money than me saying, “Wow, I wish we could afford to be a one-income family. Maybe someday we’ll make enough money to do that.”

I heard the voice of well-meaning people asking about our move to Bloomington, “So are you moving for… your job? Or… Nate’s job?” And me stammering out a half-baked answer like I’d never spoken before, because I apparently still can't articulate God's calling in our lives.

I questioned myself, “What if you didn’t budget this right? What if you don’t have enough money to live off your savings for the next couple months?”

The doubts went even further beyond that, and I fell asleep sobbing. This morning I woke up with a simple thought: those thoughts weren’t from God, they were from Satan. Yes, I woke up a member of Team Satan, and honestly, that was the one thought that made me feel better. It was the simplest understanding. Until there is Excel: Spiritual Guidance edition, that can factor God’s will into my pivot tables, I have to be able to keep it simple. God is good. He encourages and provides. Anything that doesn’t do that, is NOT from God.

So as you live, live simply. Our God is complex, but not complex to understand. He will provide, and there’s no asterisk after that.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Perfect Family

Though I haven't taken time to write about it, Nate and my transition from couple to family has been weighing on my mind a lot. Specifically, how we will transition from a rather quirky duo to a family unit. This is particularly paralyzing when I consider the family I come from. We had our moments, but we were darn near picture perfect most of the time. My dad worked hard and came home each night to a meal homecooked by my mom. My sister and I were neatly groomed and often dressed in my mom's sewing creations. We were generally polite and well-behaved and knew when to be quiet.

Well crap. I don't think I can do almost any of that. Firstly, Nate is staying home, and I'm working. It just makes sense. I'm not going to try to squeeze us into the box of the typical one income family. My cooking? It sucks. I can make crockpot meals like a boss, but that doesn't mean that when a recipe calls for wine in it (which we don't have) that I don't look up a substitute (orange juice - which we also don't have), and then finally just throw some Hawaiian Punch in there because ya know what, that's close enough for our unrefined palettes. I do feel passionately about clean children with brushed hair, but if I had to make their clothes, they would be about six pieces of Scotch tape from naked. And I'm pretty sure that my husband thinks the difference between casual and dressy is whether or not a superhero is included in the ensemble.

I started to think about our transition from duo to family again last night. Nate was teasing me about something before bed as I was digging through our linen closet trying to find my Tums. When he had irritated me thoroughly, I took advantage of the fact that he was just wearing shorts and that the tweezers found my hand before the Tums. When I was tired of listening to him, I wielded the tweezers Zorro style and swiftly plucked a few of his exposed chest hairs, causing him to cry out in pain. Ya, we're going to be that family. His retaliation involved farting on me. When I think about this, I'm mildly horrified for the family we'll become. But I think recognizing that we'll never be the family I grew up in has given me freedom. Freedom to reimagine what a family looks like and what it means to truly be a perfect family.

And a secret that everyone seems to forget is that some family is always doing it "better" than you. Even the family I grew up in had it's moments. We actually were reminiscing (and laughing very hard) about one the other day.

When I was about seven and MacKenzie was five, one of Dad's co-workers invited our family to their Family Christmas Concert. Ya, they had a family Christmas concert. They were a really nice conservative religious family who homeschooled, which involved all of them playing their instruments like Yoyo Ma. Just knowing that, you could already tell they were "winning" this perfect family contest.

Anyway, we come in to their home/concert hall and listen to some lovely Christmas carols by the children's string quartet, led by the Patriarch's hammer dulcimer and their mother on piano. Oh, and they were all wearing matching dressy Christmas garb. Now, we could have quietly taken a loss on that perfect family contest, but MacKenzie had something else in mind, as per usual. As the adults enjoyed appetizers prepared by the Mrs., MacKenzie and I went to play with their daughters who were our age. I remember the daughter my age and I were playing with dolls, but I was also glancing back at MacKenzie and the younger daughter. Now only MacKenzie knows EXACTLY what happened that night. I believe it started with some innocent bouncing on the bed. But everyone at that party/concert knew how it ended. MacKenzie's knee to her nose, a screaming wail from the tiny violinist, and blood gushing all over her Sound of Music VonTrap Christmas apparel as MacKenzie looked on in shock, along with the rest of the invitees as people ran to see what had happened.

I still remember when we left, the family's dad said, "You might want to make sure MacKenzie is okay... she saw a lot of blood tonight..." Ya, because she broke your daughter's nose.

It's moments like that in my family's life that gives me confidence for my own family. I will do everything in my power to give my family hope, structure, faith, and instill values and responsibility. But being the perfect family? I'll just disqualify us now.

Friday, August 31, 2012

WWJVF? (Who Would Jesus Vote For)

As you probably know, unless you've been hiding under a rock (and I've been trying)... It's approaching election season and the mud-slinging is in full-force. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some drama, mud-slinging action... but I prefer when it's on Jersey Shore or Toddlers and Tiaras than CNN. When Ronnie yells, "Come at me bro!" I get significantly more excited than when Mitt Romney says, well, anything. In fact, the state of politics makes me sad. And not just the state of politics, but the state of our country's PERCEPTION of politics.

The age of the internet could have... SHOULD HAVE... made us better citizens. More thoughtful voters. But all I ever see posted from people are insanely one-sided articles with half truths mixed in.

To give myself some credentials, or maybe a lack thereof that would actually be more convincing, I've never voted. I know, I know, it's my right, it's my duty. And I should. I fully acknowledge that I should take the time to make an informed decision and vote. I have several issues with this, though.

1.) I am painfully liberal when it comes to social issues and painfully conservative when it comes to fiscal issues... or as I like to call it, I'm a member of the "Don't Tell Me What To Do" party. Don't tell me who to marry or how to manage my body or health or who my money needs to go to... Just don't. You're my government, not my mother.

2.) I don't like the kind of people who run for office. It takes a "special" kind of person to run for public office. I don't even really know how to describe the personality type... but I know that it's something I'm not a big fan of in people. When I look at two people running for office, it's like I'm picking between hanging out with a dude wearing a fanny pack or a Miami Heat fan. I really don't need to know more. If you're running for office, wearing a fanny pack, or a Miami Heat fan... I'm pretty much turned off at that point... Sorry. :-\

3.) This might be the biggest one...
I don't know how/if my faith should affect the way I vote.

I've come to realize that my faith is desperately ingrained in who I am as a person, which is how it should be. But I really struggle what that means when it comes to politics. Does that mean that since I believe that God values every life, I should only vote for a candidate that's pro-life? What if he makes crazy douchetastic statements about rape victims? Do those cancel each other out then?

Should I vote for someone who has the best family and Christian values? I feel like George W. Bush was pretty solid in those areas, but I think I can say with little resistance that maybe he wasn't the best president we ever had.

Should I try to eliminate issues of faith in the election? But if that's not important to me, what is?

I have pretty strong opinions on just about everything... but I really don't on this. I'm genuinely confused how these convictions should mingle. I believe in the separation of church and state, but I don't believe in the separation of life and faith... So you tell me... Who would Jesus vote for?

I probably won't vote yet again this year, imagining Barack in a fanny pack and Mitt cheering on the Heat... I guess I'll just convince myself that Jesus wouldn't approve of our constrictive two-party system to help me sleep at night. :-)

Monday, August 13, 2012

No One's Ever Good Enough: Why Legalism Can't Work

I want to tell my blog readers a story that breaks my heart. It makes me angry too, but the class and compassion with which it’s been handled doesn’t afford me the privilege to go around cursing about it. This is the story of my friends, who I will call “Edward and Bella,” only because I think it’s funny to reference them as Twilight characters. Edward and Bella are actually originally from the south, but moved here after Edward got his Master’s degree and found a job in Peoria doing Youth Ministry at a church in the denomination he was raised in.

Edward and Bella are amazing friends and Christians. Bella is one of the few people that I really feel comfortable opening up to because we both share a growing faith, but can still laugh and take jokes too far, and just enjoy life together. Edward and Bella have one of those marriages that you can just TELL is so strong and grounded in Christ. They also have a lot of compassion for the youth of their church and truly enjoy leading them. I’ll stop raving, but I want you to understand those things before I tell you this story.

As backstory, Bella did not attend church until she was about 12, but she immediately became interested and involved, and accepted Christ and was baptized, by sprinkling, at 13. Her and Edward met in college, started dating, and she accepted his denomination’s views (one of which was immersion baptism) as they moved forward in their faith journey. Bella knew that her conversion story might be perceived as an issue, but when Edward was interviewing for his first job, it never came up. For the past year, they’ve been working with a small youth group, trying to be deeply involved of the lives of the teens. Three weeks ago, they went to Wednesday night class that only two students were at. Edward had a lesson planned about Psalms, but one of the girls had just gotten some disappointing news and they ended up discussing it for almost all of class. 

This girl had applied and interviewed to be a Junior Counselor for a local non-denominational kids church camp. She wound up being turned down for the position for several reasons, one of which was her take on baptism, salvation and the link between. The student was hurt, upset, a little angry. Bella, Edward, and the two girls started talking through this issue. They told her how sorry they were, how unfair it was that in the process of trying to be all-inclusive the camp did, in fact, exclude her because of her beliefs. They talked about what she could say in the interview next year to further clarify her beliefs, etc. 

Throughout this conversation, the girl told Bella and Edward three times that she could not understand how people could think differently than her. So after the third time, Bella spoke up and told the girl her faith journey and sprinkling baptism story. They were both receptive, and Bella and Edward talked them through how different churches do baptism, how sometimes churches have baptism celebrations (perhaps once a year), etc. They also said that they believe that full immersion baptism is the best form of baptism and that's what they’d teach people and kids. But they wanted them to understand that there are intelligent Christian people that have been brought up with different beliefs. Edward and Bella encouraged the students to come talk to them if they had any further questions or if their parents did.

A few days later Bella and Edward got an e-mail from an elder of their church, requesting that both of them go to a meeting with the elders. 

At the meeting, some of the elders said that, because of her conversion story, they were not assured of Bella’s salvation. Two of them said they felt that “salvation is found in the water.” So basically, they told her (and her husband) that if she died that night, they would not feel assured that she would go to heaven. Even though she had been teaching their kids. Even though she invested time in them and their church. They said that if they'd known about this at the hiring process Edward wouldn't have gotten the job. Edward and Bella expressed that they didn't mean to hide anything from them. If they had felt like they had something to hide, they never would have mentioned it to the youth. 

Bella offered to get re-baptized to be completely obedient to the Word and to their leadership, but not for salvation. She explained it to me this way, “At the point when I knew Edward was pursuing being a minister, I knew my history and baptism style might be a problem. I struggled with this. I knew. I knew I was saved. 100%. I had felt the Lord with me, I knew I had the power of the Holy Spirit in me. My life isn't and never was perfect, but I did know that I had the security of the redeeming blood of Jesus.”

The church elders, however, said if Bella wasn’t being re-baptized in order to gain salvation, she wasn't doing it for the right reasons. When the elders said this, Edward said that he believed that Bella’s baptism was relevant and that he doesn't necessarily believe that baptism has to be the point at which one receives salvation, referencing churches that do baptism ceremonies once a year, etc. The elders had a huge problem with both these points. 

Edward and Bella left the meeting on a civil note. Two weeks later, they got back to Edward and Bella with their decision to let Edward go. 

The grace and compassion that Edward and Bella have maintained through the whole experience has been breath-taking. It’s honestly made me re-evaluate my level of compassion and forgiveness in every area of my life. They have peace, because they have Christ. And because they stuck to their beliefs instead of selling themselves out.

When you run a church…or a life… on legalistic principles, instead of love, NO ONE can ever be good enough.
So please pray. Pray for Edward and Bella. Pray for the elders in their church. Pray that their youth group will ask hard questions that will make the elders, their parents, and the whole congregation think just a little bit harder about what a life in Christ is.

If there’s one good story that comes out of this, though, besides Edward and Bella’s inspiring grace, it comes from one of the students there for the discussion on baptism. Before Bella knew what the final decision on Edward’s job was, she pulled the student aside to apologize and clarify. Bella asked the girl if she had any questions or was confused or upset by hearing Bella’s baptism story.

“No...” the girl said, “And really… even if immersion baptism is the only legitimate form of baptism… how could God expect you to know that, being only 13 and raised in a church that didn’t teach that…?”

Bella and Edward have planted a seed in that church that will grow and flourish in love. And they will plant many more in years to come, in future positions of ministry and leadership.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

14 months

Today one of Bridgeway's church plants, Second Chance Church was at our service in Pekin today. It was really pretty incredible to see everyone back. When we stopped to talk to Matt Robinson, he said something about being excited about how God's moving in our lives, and I agreed. But as I got time to sit down and think about just how drastically God has been moving in the Morrison household, I knew I needed to share this. With everyone.

I don't know why I haven't really, truly considered this before, but maybe it's because I have such respect for Matt and his family. I should say, that in the process of planting their church, I thought they were crazy. Matt moving across the country, taking a low-paying hourly job, Brooke being pregnant... You guys seemed crazy. Except I'm learning more and more that when you're called by God, it's usually at least initially to do things that make no sense. So when Matt said something about God moving in our lives, I had to sit back and think.

I'm going to take you to about 14 months ago. That's a calendar, plus a couple extra pages. Or if you spring for a nicer one, it might just be a calendar... you know, the one that wraps up the year for you and gets you to February of the next year.

The Morrison household was far from bad, but also far from good. I want to show you a quick snapshot:

  • Married just under a year. I'd say we were relatively content, but also nearly always at odds about something.
  • Over $8,000 in debt, in the form of a $260/month car payment for Nate's Grand Prix. Meanwhile, my 1999 Firebird was basically falling apart
  • Gave "what we could afford" to our church
  • 50% stocked emergency fund (about $500)
  • Both in jobs we hated
Now, here's what that looks like now:
  • Married just over two years. We regularly pray for each other and truly remember that we are best friends, first and foremost.
  • Nate's car is completely paid off. The Firebird has been replaced by a slightly lame by exceptionally reliable Aveo, that we paid cash for.
  • Give "what we can afford" to our church - over twice as much at 14 months ago (our income has not increased), and we've been able to give sizable one time gifts as well.
  • 100% stocked emergency fund - plus finishing up a savings fund for medical bills and maternity leave. We've also put over $1,000 in a college fund for Blakely and have about $150 set aside for Christmas gifts so far.
  • Both have new jobs... and Nate a new purpose, education plan, and career goal.
These things didn't happen over night. Not even close. But they all happened because we said "yes" to God. And to be clear, this doesn't look like the following conversation:

God: "You should really pay off your car loan."
Us: "Yes, God."
God: "And get rid of your smartphones."
Us: "Yes, God."

It looks much more like this:

God: "I have big plans for you, and I want you to be very ready to take the next steps when the time comes."
Us: "Uhhh...?"

But God doesn't leave you and continues to lead you from that point. He lets you deal with consequences of your actions because he LOVES you and wants you to succeed. I know one thing that was really hard for me about 14 months ago was our one year anniversary. Nate and I had always talked about starting our family after a year of marriage. At that point, I looked at our life and cried. We weren't in a bad spot... we just weren't in a good one. I didn't have a permanent job with insurance and Nate was just starting a new job. We had no real savings and a huge car loan over us. Shortly before that point, I had overdrawn both of our accounts to pay for an $800 repair on the car that we still owed $8,000 on. I KNEW that wasn't how I wanted to bring a child into the world, or how I wanted us to live, for that matter.

As we handed more and more of our lives over to God and continued to act in obedience to him, things began to happen. He was moving... he was moving US to push forward, push through, push ahead. When I told my boss at Cat that I was taking a job with another company, she seemed shocked and asked how much I would be paid. I honestly answered, "a little less than I make here." But I knew God had other things for me. We cut our living expenses literally in half. We began paying off debt. We began giving more time and giving more money.

So much has happened in the past 14 months... a baby, new jobs, new cars, new budgets, new callings... Where does God want to move in your life? Where are you now and where could you be in 14 months? Let God move you! Your life will never be the same.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Seven Hints for Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Nate went grocery shopping with me at Aldi's a few months ago, when we started working on our food budget. I told him to pick out a few snacks. He came back dangling Benton's Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, like a dead animal between his fingers.

"These are NOT Oreos," he said. I just looked at him. "Your dad would be so sad if he knew these were going in our cupboard... but proud too, I guess."

To back track, most of you know that I'm kind of a budget Nazi. Until a couple months ago, we would do really well on our budget... except on food. And no, not because we eat a lot. We would spend HUNDREDS of dollars on food... groceries, going out, gas station snacks, etc. And just so you know, you probably do too. Especially if you're not tracking that spending. When Nate and I made a decision to give more of our income to the church, we knew we had to cut, cut, cut... and the one area that was really left to do that was food. I'm still in the process of refining it to an art, but I wanted to share some tips with everyone that I've learned along the way!

1. Don't waste your time with grocery coupons.
I know this seems weird, but don't bother with coupons, especially if you're short on time. Tip #2 will save you significantly more money than cutting coupons. There are a few exceptions for this one. For example, if you are die hard about getting a specific brand of product, then cut coupons for it. But overall, unless you are an extreme coupon-er with lots of time and an eye on coupon doubling deals, etc. just buy generic stuff. Like Benton's chocolate Sandwich cookies.

2. Meal plan and prepare... Stay realistic!
Sometimes I convince myself that I am going to make a really great meal that take a lot of time and energy. And I'm ALWAYS lying to myself. So if I buy things for this one, amazing meal, it's money down the drain. I'm not Martha Stewart. I suck at cooking, and I don't enjoy it at all. BUT. I'm kind of a crockpot wizard. The word "crockpot" makes real cooks/bakers/chefs cringe, but it makes my life wonderfully easy and cheap. I wake up about 20 mins. earlier, and prepare something to throw in the crockpot on low for 8 hours. Most of these meals you literally throw a bunch of crap in a pot, and that's it. My husband thinks that I've developed a modicum of cooking skill... Nope, just turned on my crockpot! But, to make sure I have the crockpot crap in my pantry, I meal plan. Usually on Sundays I'll find a week or two worth of recipes online, and then make a grocery list from that. Depending on how much I have left over and how well I plan, two weeks of groceries have cost me anywhere from $50 to $80. I copy all the links of the recipes into a calendar and then hop on my laptop every morning that week to see what I need to make and how. It's a glorious thing.

3. Pick your favorites.
So you don't become resentful of your budget shopping, pick a few favorites that you won't skimp on. I buy pretty much everything generic. However, I like name-brand toilet paper and I'm a sucker for Biore facewash. If I can have those two things, I'll put up with Benton's chocolate sandwich cookies. Maybe you like a certain name brand cereal or type of shampoo. Pick your favorites, then buy everything else generic.

4. Have back-ups.
Nate and I still like to go out to dinner, but I hate when it's only because I look through our pantry and declare that we have nothing to eat. So I always buy a few staples, like canned soup, bread, cheese, meat, condiments, and mac n' cheese. Even the best laid meal planning plans can fall through, so I keep back-ups on hand, so we're not running to McDonald's twice a week.

5. Take coupons as your date.
I know I said that grocery coupons aren't worth it... but restaurant coupons definitely are. Sign up for EVERYONE's email list. Cut coupons out of the newspaper or those coupon mailers. If you don't want/need anything for a holiday or birthday, ask for restaurant gift cards. Nate's pretty much trained to ask, "What do we have coupons/gift cards for?" when I ask him where he wants to eat. Also, if you're going out on a weekend, hit the place up before the lights dim and the prices double.

6. Try meatless.
Meat is always the most expensive thing on my grocery list. I try to add a meal or two a week that doesn't have meat. Soups, pastas, etc. will always be less if they are vegetarian.

7. Be resourceful.
I almost always substitute something in my recipes. Why? Because I don't want to pay an arm and a leg for ginger root when I need a teaspoon of it, nor do I want to find a month's worth of recipes that use ginger root. There's lots of websites that say what you can/cannot substitute in recipes. I try to keep staples around that seem to be in a lot of my crockpot recipes... canned corn, canned mushrooms, condensed soups, bread crumbs, vinegar, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. If the recipe calls for something wild, I see if one of these staples might be able to take it's place. If not, and the item is pricey, I skip that recipe.

Hope these hints were helpful! Let me know if you have any tips of your own on this!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I'm so old

Some days, I feel really old. And I'm only 23. That's not old. But that's my number age. You know that awful show where they make ugly, frumpy-dressed people stand in a glass box and people say how old they look? And it's a 30-year old and everyone is like, "I'd say at least 47..." and then they take them out of the box, tell them how old everyone thinks they look, they weep, and then they get a new haircut and veneers on their teeth?

I feel like that. But there's not a haircut or any amount of cosmetic dentistry that could make me feel younger.

Yesterday was kind of like some weird time warp situation. It was awesome, because we got to hang out with some old friends, but it was pretty odd too. Nate and I had lunch with a friend of his, who Nate hadn't seen in a while, but they used to be BEST friends and hang out all the time. We sat down at the table, and Nate pulled his phone out of his pocket.

"Did you get a new phone?" his friend asked.
"Oh," Nate said looking over it. "Not exactly. We downgraded."
"Why?!" his friend asked.

Apparently (I was looking down at my menu), Nate made a motion for money by rubbing his fingers together... but all I saw were fingers waving in my general direction, so I yelled, "It's not just me!!" So that's a good way to start a meal.

Andi told us about how he's dealing poker and playing video games and watching TV... and that's it. And that he's considering trying to get on as a dealer on the World Series of poker tour. And that he has about 5x our mortgage payment saved up to go to gamble in Vegas. I kiiiiiiind of wanted to put my hands over Nate's ears and say, "Andi! Stop talking about your bachelor's paradise life!" But I'd never do that, and Andi's a sweetheart.

BUT... as soon as we got in the car, I jumped Nate with questions. "So do you want to go be a dealer on the World Series of Poker tour?"

"Um... we're having a baby?" Nate said. "So no..." (He seems to operate much better in the literal or the extremely abstract like 'what if you were Spiderman' but not so well in the in-between.

So then we went a did old people things, like looking at carpet and blinds.

THEN, time warp part two. We went to a baseball game with a bunch of our friends from high school to celebrate one of them being back from the Navy. It was so awesome to see everyone, but it was also really weird. The sister of the guy who was coming back went with Nate to prom the year before we started dating, and the brother of the guy I totally had a thing for around the same time, so that's a good, awkward start. Plus when we actually used to hang out with them, Nate and I were both SUCH different people. Nate was carefree and irresponsible, and I was the "let's go do something crazy" girl. Now as everyone is deciding if they want to start the game with a beer or margarita, I'm trying to decide if it would be more polite to hit people with my butt or my baby belly as I wedge myself down the aisle.

As I did wedge myself down the aisle, I thought about saying to the cute girls in the tube dresses, "I used to wear dresses like that." I'm not sure why I was obsessed with how cute they looked, because surely they were not obsessing over my two-in-one khaki mom shorts/tent combo, but I was.

For some reason, the part that made me feel most old is when the guy that I used to have a thing for showed Nate and I a picture of his latest purchase: an over-sized shower head that strobes nine different colors of light. NINE DIFFERENT COLORS. And as Nate laughed and kept talking to him, I thought to myself, I will never have a strobe light shower head. I'm an old woman, and even if I had a strobe shower head it would just mean Nate yelling to me in the morning, "Hey! You left the strobe on in the bathroom again!" Plus our house has a really small bathroom and it would probably only increase risk of seizure or injury.

As we left, Nate held my hand.

"Did today make you feel old?" I asked.
"Everyone grows up at different times," he said.

Indeed. Indeed they do.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Only God Can Judge Me? Aw, You're Funny.

A few of my Facebook friends... generally the younger male variety... often get stuff on my newsfeed that I'm like, "Ew, get that off." My younger brother-in-law floods my newsfeed with pictures of scantily clad young women's photos that he's commented "Looking good, cutie! ;-)" on and the like. I particularly gagged over one the other day. It was pretty standard: duck face, seductive(?) eyes, limited clothing, taken via bathroom mirror. And the caption was... wait for it... "Only God can judge me." Hahahaha!

Now, before you think I'm a totally terrible person (if you don't already think that), let me explain. I agree that God is the only one worthy of judging us, and he will do so for each of us. I also agree that it is not our job to judge each other, but instead to love and support each other and hold each other accountable. But seriously?

Everyone's going to judge that picture. Guys are going to make a judgment that she's hot (maybe) and probably easy. Girls might judge her as cool because she's a rule breaker or dislike her for being promiscuous or even for seeming like competition. And parents might declare her a bad influence or think she's stupid.

That caption should have said, "I know that some people are probably going to say mean things about this picture, but I really just want someone to tell me I'm pretty." Because, guess what? We're all getting judged, all the time. Not by God. By everyone around us. And kudos to the person who says they don't care what others think of them... You're lying, but kudos.

If people didn't judge each other, we'd all wear jeans to our job interviews. The truth is, perception can be wrong, but it's still perception. If people THINK you're cheating on your spouse... to those people, you might as well be. And it's ugly and it's unfair, but especially if you call yourself a Christian, you need to be aware of how your actions are perceived by others. I'll give you an example, which is totally unnecessary and only semi-related, but I hope you'll enjoy it.

In college, Nate's freshman year he was on a floor with mostly upperclassmen. One baseball player on his floor, who I'll call Craps McGee, one Saturday night became incredibly intoxicated. Sunday morning he woke the entire floor up with his screams.

"Guys! Guys! I'm pretty sure I took a dump in my closet last night!" And indeed he had. He was so drunk that as a 20 year old man, he pooped in his closet like a disoriented boxer puppy. Well, fast forward a year. My parents joined a Eureka parents organization and at some event introduced me to a couple of parents, telling me that their son was a couple years older and played baseball. Immediately, I know that it's Mr. and Mrs. McGee, mother and father of Craps. And I can't think about anything else.

Now say... say that Craps wanted to share his faith with me. He came up to me and said, "Hey, if you're free this weekend, I'd love if you came to my church."

I'd probably say, "Oh, I'd love to, but unfortunately, I'm pooping in my closet this weekend." Because I judged him for his insane level of intoxication. And that's not right of me, but it's how the world works.

So yes, I whole-heartedly agree that God's judgement is ultimately all that matters, but if we ever want to be a leader or a role model, we need to guard or behavior and attitudes so that we are able to effectively reach the people that God calls us to reach.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to Be Rich - Part Two

By popular demand (okay - actually Holly Kidle just wanted to read it), I am continuing my "How to Be Rich" series with part two. As a recap, your first three steps were:

STEP #1 - Appreciate all of the things you have
STEP #2 - Realize that you "need" very little
STEP #3 - If you're on a payment plan, you can't afford it (exception - mortgage)

Check them out here. Okay, let's move on!

STEP #4 - Make a list of your debt. It should be real, and it should be scary.

Debt is relatively easy to forget about. Most people don't walk around stressing about the balance on their car loan or student loan or even their Old Navy credit card. But I would challenge you to make your debt visible. Make a list on your refrigerator of who you owe, how much, and the interest rate. Pay the minimum on all of them, except the one with the highest interest rate, and throw all of your extra money at that one. SAVOR crossing them off as you pay them off. No extra money to throw at debt, you say? On to number five.

STEP #5 - Create a budget. And follow it.

Budgets scare people. I'm not sure why. You're spending money whether you keep track of it or not. Right? There are four gazillion tools out there for budgeting. I love (love, love, love) www.mint.com It's amazing. Do it. Right now. Or, there's Google doc templates for budgets and tons of other resources. Get something down on paper. Start with charitable giving and your monthly bills that can't change (electric, water, sewer. debts). Then start throwing other bills and expenses in there. As you add an item to your budget, challenge it. I switch auto insurance companies (or at least compare) every 6 month pay period. I just switched from Allstate to Progressive, and I switch my homeowners insurance to get the discount as well. You all know about our agonizing sacrifice of smart phones, but now we have $70 freed up each month. And please stop saying, "But I work so hard, I deserve it." or "Even that lady on welfare has an iPhone!" Um, why are you trying to compete with a lady on welfare? If she's on welfare and has an iPhone, she's obviously not a financial wizard or someone to benchmark your budget on. Anyway, as you add each item to your list, assess it's usefulness versus cost and try to cut. At the end, you should have money left. This is your money to pay off debt. Not to go on a cruise. Not to go to the movies. To pay for things you already have, but have not yet paid for. Does this suck? Yes, very much. But you're the one who had to have that iPad.

STEP #6 - Invest your money, beyond your savings account.

My savings account has the minimum $5 in it. Pretty much always. That's because savings accounts are kind of the greatest sham ever. How much interest do you make on your savings account? I bet you don't know. I make 0.15% on money in my savings account. So if I keep $1,000 in my savings account for a year, I earn $1.50. Hence why it is empty. I keep my liquid money (that might need to be spent, transferred, etc. in a relatively short time frame) in my credit union (always better than a bank) checking account. Any "savings" I put into an relatively liquid investment account. I use a Cat Power Account. It's return rate is almost 10x a credit union savings account, with no management fees. And here's the kicker... free checks...BUT... they are invalid if written for less than $250. So that helps keep their use to emergencies, as I have intended. When I stumble across a large pile of money (or get a tax refund) and my emergency fund is well stocked, I invest. I'm not a pro at this, but mutual funds are always good. Sites like Fidelity and the like are pretty good/easy. I also have a 401K that I contribute to regularly and a 429 college fund started for Blakely.

So here are the next three steps on living rich! Go forth and prosper.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Call Me Jonah.

I used to think Martha was my power player in the Bible that I could relate to, but I'm a little bit horrified to realize that I'm more of a Jonah. Now, you probably don't understand this if you had the same Vacation Bible School understanding of Jonah that I had before today. He ran away from God, he got swallowed by a whale, he was saved and followed God's will. That's not so much the part I relate to. It's the part after that. It's a lot of scripture, so I'll give you my synopsis.

After Jonah agrees to God's plan for his life, he goes and preaches to the city of Ninevah, known for skinning people alive and letting them slowly die, and tells them that God will surely destroy them. And here's the amazing thing: they listen to him. They all repent, the people, the king, everyone. And God spares them. Isn't that awesome?

Except, here's the thing. If I'm Jonah... and I actually kind of am... I just did three days in a whale for essentially not going above and beyond in my faith, and now these crazy skinner/killer people basically got off with a warning. I'm Jonah. I didn't kill anybody, I'm a good person, I helped bring these people to faith... and now they've faced NO consequences for their actions.

I'm going to stop right here for a second. Okay, have you ever realized that someone annoys you or you even dislike them because you two are a lot alike? Meet my dad and I. I love him to death, but he can annoy and irritate me more than most people, and I've begun to realize that it's because we use the exact same tactics. Or maybe you've recorded yourself singing or speaking in public and you think you've done pretty well... and then you watch it and feel immediately like you need to destroy the recording. This is kind of how I felt listening to Jonah's story. When a.) Jonah goes to a desert to pout about other people being forgiven and b.) when God gives him a tree for shade and then kills it as a lesson in hopes of bringing him back and Jonah's like, "Ya, I AM mad about this, and I'd rather be dead right now"... I'm thinking, "What a jack-wait a minute..."

I try most of the time not to complain about things. Mostly because I hate when other people complain, so I think it's only fair. But, when I do complain... I don't really complain. I pout. In the most visible and epic fashion possible. Where it makes other people uncomfortable. And I don't pull this pouting skill set out too often, but when I do, watch out.

Why isn't Ali eating any food? Why is she sitting as far away from everyone as possible? Why is she refusing sunblock or aloe for her sunburn? Why is she visibly grimacing when people make jokes?

Oh, she's just pouting. She'll be fine in a while.

You could offer me a new car mid-pout, and guess what? I wouldn't take it. Because I'm busy being miserable and I don't want a new car to mess with that. Short of a desert, I'm Jonah.

And my mom said after the message that she couldn't understand why Jonah, who had a hand in bringing these people into God's presence and into faith, would be upset that God working through him actually worked.

But I get that.

I've helped people out, and then disliked them more than before. Actually, at least twice in my life, I was able and felt called to be a blessing in someone's life, and then later felt like they were judging my generosity. I definitely went full-Jonah for about 24 hours, and I think I still go semi-Jonah from time to time when I think about it. And I know some people don't struggle with this at all, but Jonah's story is MY story. Sometimes I think that life would probably be easier as a Ninevite human skinner, probably like Jonah did. But I know it wouldn't. I know that I need to embrace not just what God calls people to do, but his reason, his love, his purpose, his timing... the reason he created such diverse people with different strengths and weaknesses and struggles.

I told my mom once (when I was struggling) that I genuinely believe that everyone does the best they can in their lives, all the time. Because, why wouldn't they?

Even though I don't want to believe this... I still kind of do. I truly think that we're all people fighting different battles.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is Your Mom Disappointed?

Yesterday, my mom brought my friend a cake at our workplace for her birthday. See below.

Whenever my mom bakes something for people unfamiliar with her baking, it gets oohs and ahhs, lots of questions, and inevitably "this is too pretty to eat!"

I also usually field the following questions:
"Did she pass her baking skills on?" or "Do you like to bake to?" (No and no.)

Which sometimes results in my least favorite question that people ask:
"No? Is she disappointed?"

I invariably got asked this question yesterday. Luckily, it was from a sympathizer, who wanted to tell me about her torturous pre-teen years canning tomatoes with her step-mom to prepare her for wifedom, but I still don't like getting that question.

I usually say, "No, she's not disappointed. We get along great, but we have very different strengths and hobbies."

And I really don't think my lacking domesticity bothers my mom. Well, it might bother her. One time last winter my car wouldn't start, and there was a -20 windchill. When she showed up and we were waiting for a tow-truck, she asked if we could clean out the back to my car. The answer was no... but I've never felt like my mom was "disappointed" that my house is generally messy, my cooking is generally subpar, and I'd rather poke sewing needles in my eyes than use them to whip up some home-sewn craft.

If anything, I'M disappointed. A lot of my childhood memories revolve around these things, so I kind of felt most of my semi-adult life that before I had children, I would have to learn to cook, clean, sew, bake, do laundry beyond throwing any and all dirty clothes in the washer and dumping some detergent in... but it quickly became apparent to me that would probably never happen.

And please don't say, "Oh, I never wanted to do those things when I was younger either! You'll get better!" That's SORT OF true. I can make crockpot meals now, because it's cheaper than Chinese take-out. But will you ever hear me say, "I just found a new recipe I can't wait to try!" No. And if you do, I'm mocking my mother.

But when I really think back on growing up, it wasn't because she cooked or baked or sewed that she was the best mom... It was because she took care of me. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And that, in whatever form it may take, I can do for my children.

I hope that they never have to field a question like, "Oh, you hate writing? Is your mom disappointed?" or "You're not a good student? Is your mom disappointed?"

But if they do get asked those questions, I hope they can respond with confidence in the same way I do, knowing that their parents love them, acknowledge their unique skills and abilities, and could not be disappointed by them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The KFC Martyr

I like to think that I'm a darn funny person, so it pains me to say that the most laughs I've ever received from my parents, sister, and husband came from this great one-liner:

"I'm not stubborn."

You would have thought I reinvented the knock-knock joke or something. These people that knew me best were ROLLING on the floor with tears STREAMING down their face. Fine, whatever. I'm stubborn. I didn't realize though, how stubborn I was perceived as being until January when I went to the ER for dehydration. About 10 hours after leaving the ER for treatment, I was back at work. I only told everyone because I did miss one day... and the tape from the IV was still stuck to my arm. My favorite co-worker expressed her genuine concern at my idiotic behavior and my boss just smirked and said, "Ali loves to be a martyr."

At first I thought this was a compliment. Martyrs are really great, brave people, so passionate for a cause that they'd die for it. But hold on... I don't think most martyrs, at least sane ones, love to be a martyr. They're just willing to be. And it's for one cause. If there was someone so stupid that they'd lay their lives down for every opinion they have... crap, that wasn't a compliment. To be fair, if there's a gene for stubbornness, I have it bad. You see, I'm the granddaughter of the KFC martyr. My grandpa didn't eat or purchase KFC for 35 years. THIRTY. FIVE. YEARS. And he loves fried chicken. But you see, thirty-five years ago, some person at some KFC pissed my grandpa off. And he was done doing business at KFC. All KFCs. Forever.

Would he go to a KFC in China? Answer's still no.

Not to mention my dad, whose going 12 years strong on his boycott of Old Chicago after they had bad service on my sister's 10th birthday. My grandpa told Nate a while (I don't even remember who about), "Well, if you don't like him, I don't like him!" which in our family is a great compliment, but I think it just kind of disturbed Nate (as it probably would most people).

Don't get me wrong, in many areas of my life, my stubbornness has served me well. My first weekend at Eureka one of the douche-y frat guys saw my friends and I walking around campus and invited us to play beer pong. I didn't even say anything. He looked at the look I was giving him and said, "Okay, she's not in, apparently." So in terms of peer pressure, being stubborn is a great asset. No means no - because I said no. I think it's also helped me professionally. Ya, I probably come off like a huge jerk from time to time, but at the end of the day, I get things done. Because I don't care if your Vice President, Senior Vice President, Senior Executive Vice President, or the cleaning lady. I want you to have answers for why you want me to do things a certain way, and if I think I have a better way, I expect you to explain why you still want to do it your way. This makes me sound like a miserable employee, but at the end of the day, even if a leader doesn't know it, that's the kind of employee that they want and need.

Though it's hurt me too, my stubbornness has actually helped my faith in a lot of ways. I stand firm for my faith, and I'm not shaken because stubbornness is just a part of me.

But as I think about all of the things that I'm stubborn about... all of the things I fight for... all of the things that I beat myself up about if I give in on... I feel a little silly. I'm working to become more deliberate about choosing which things are worth being stubborn about, and which things I should just let go. Because really, a martyr who will die for anything, really isn't a martyr at all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Sometimes Rocky Road: Relationship Advice for Anyone

My husband is my favorite person in the world. As I type this, he's laying next to me asleep and snoring, with crazy hair, blowing his stink breath on me. And he's still my favorite person. We're about a month out from our second wedding anniversary, which is also our seventh anniversary as a couple. Yes, that's right, we're one of those crazy high school sweetheart couples that made it through. That fact usually elicits a few "aww"s. Even just telling people we've been together since we were 16 usually gets response like, "You have the relationship I want!" or "You're so cute!" But to be honest, while finding my soul mate at 16 saved me heartache in a lot of areas, it's a lot less adorable-ness and a lot more work than most people understand. Discover yourself as a person, graduate high school, make college plans, decide on a future career... all while nurturing the most important relationship in your life (other than God)? Sure, no problem. But when you make a metal alloy, the metals lose their individual characteristics, and the atoms of different sizes and shapes combine, creating something entirely new... and stronger. I want to share with you a few things I've learned about our relationship that are a little less "aww," that you need to know and know how to deal with, if you want a successful relationship.

1. Your relationship will struggle if God isn't at the center, no matter how hard to work.

I am a hard worker. And I'm stubborn as heck. But all of my hard work could never match the blessing of what God has for Nate and I as a couple. I think Nate and I had God in our relationship for most of our seven years, but we always tried to make him feel like the awkward third wheel. "Oh, hey God... we were actually just going to a movie... Come along? Well, okay." But I think that about six months ago, we truly took the step to put Him first, each other second, and let everything else fall into place. That decision has been a blessing above and beyond what I could even imagine.

2. There will be moments when nothing seems sacred anymore.

I remember the first time Nate and I farted in front of each other. Is that weird? Because we both do, and for some reason, we love that story. It was about 6 months after we started dating, and we were actually celebrating Christmas at my parents' house. My mom had made double chocolate cheesecake, which apparently is both a delicious dessert and a colon cleanser. We started talking about how our stomachs hurt, and I did it... I farted. And he chuckled like it was the most adorable thing he had ever seen/heard. Fast forward six and a half years and my farts are usually met with total disgust or even a non-response. Seven years has taken the mystery out of just about everything, but that's okay. Mystery is for puppy love. When I was first pregnant, I think I had a trimester's worth of morning sickness in about 24 hours a few days prior to finding out I was pregnant. I woke up at about 2am on a Sunday, horrified, and RAN to the bathroom to sit on the toilet. In the process of expelling everything except my soul out of me, I ALSO started vomiting. I was already on the toilet, so I just threw up all over our small bathroom's floor. These delightful sounds beckoned my husband and he ran towards the bathroom. "Oh God..." he said, looking at me with huge eyes, as everything that I had ever consumed shot out of both ends Exorcist style. I began to sob, and he told me to get in the shower, and he would clean it up. Now, that alone should win him husband of the century, but as I cried in the shower and he cleaned up my vomit... I said something that wins him husband of the millennium.

"Nate," I whimpered softly.
"Ya honey?" He said, being the champ he is, cleaning up my puke.
"I think... I think I s*** the bed."
"You think what?" he said slowly, sure he had misheard.
"I S*** THE BED!!" I sobbed loudly. "I woke up and it was too late!"

Ya, please say "Aww" to that people. Because someone that will clean up multiple bodily excretions of yours in one night is more adorable than a Nicholas Sparks book, hands down.

3. You can tell a lot from the fights you have.

When Nate and I first got married, we had a HUGE fight. Probably one of our biggest. And I left. I just left. And it was late, probably midnight or so. I didn't have anywhere to go, but I had to just get out of there. I was SO mad. He kept calling my cell phone, and on about the fifth call, I had burned through a lot of gas, so I picked up.

"WHAT" I said.
"I know you're mad," he said.
"Oh, you think?" I yelled sarcastically.
Nate responded softly. "If you don't want to see me, then come home, and I'll leave for the night. It's late and I don't want anything to happen to you."
I wanted to yell at him some more, but how can you even respond to that with anything but love?

4. You'll want to give up.

Nate and I don't use the word divorce. We've never fought to a level where we'd even have used it, but we don't even say it jokingly. But about three years into our relationship, we wanted to give up. It was at the point where you've been together long enough that everything seems boring, but not long enough that you've truly invested in each other. We were also making huge life choices, and in the process, trying to figure out if we were making decisions for "me" or "we." We spent the night on the phone, talking about whether we really wanted to be together, and I think at one point, I hung up on him. At the time, he was on his cell phone at Kroger. About 30 seconds after I hung up on him, leaving our relationship in an uncertain place, he ran into his ex-girlfriend. They chatted for a bit, and she told him that they should hang out that night. "Ya, sounds good," he said.

To this day, I am so thankful that Nate paused a couple seconds, turned around and said, "Actually, my girlfriend and I are fighting right now... Tonight's probably not the best time for us to hang out."

5. Money can ruin everything.

I've only given Nate one ultimatum in our entire marriage (other than the 40 or so I jokingly gave about him proposing). But I've only given one seriously, because I think ultimatums are tacky and if something is that wrong, than you should probably just leave.

Nate really didn't have a lot of good examples in how to handle money, and his spending habits showed that. He was in an apartment he couldn't afford, paying everything on an always-nearly-maxed credit card, and it just wasn't good. I knew that, but I was trying to let him deal with the situation himself. That is, until I found out about the second credit card he had opened when he maxed the first one's limit.

When he realized I knew, he started crying before I even said anything (ya, I guess I'm that big of a b-word). But God gave me calmness and I actually hugged him, even though I wanted to punch him in the face. "You know we can't get married if you don't get this debt paid down," I said. "We need a good start to our marriage." And I hugged him tighter. A year later, we owned a home together, and got married with no consumer debt.

So those are five kind of crappy things about relationships, but in the end, if you're with the person that God has for you to be with and you're prepared for those circumstances, your life and relationship will be a BLESSING. It's not all roses, but when you have someone to lay next to you snoring and blowing their stink breath on you that you can truly thank God for, you don't mind fighting for that relationship.

Happy Two-Seven Year Anniversary, Nate! <3

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why We Will Tithe - Hint: It's Not Because of Nate's Professor's Legalistic Views

For anyone who missed my last status update... Nate took on his professor on an issue that came up in his class. Nate's professor said, "If you say you are a Christian and love God, but don't tithe (at least 10%) then your words mean nothing." I'll be honest, that really ticked me off. Part of me wanted to remind Nate that the professor is the one who gives him grades, but most of me just wanted to watch Nate pour over scripture and think carefully about the matter at hand. If a pastor told me what this dude said when I first started attending church, I think I would have probably told him that people like him were the reason I'd never wanted to attend church in the first place. I'm not a fan of the hard and fast rules on non-salvation issues, and I'm also not a fan of people sounding so judgmental and legalistic. PLEASE don't let this dude tell that to the single mom who's trying to rediscover her faith or the person who's been laid off, but gives freely of their time since they don't have the financials to tithe.

That being said, for some reason his words bothered me more than they should have. And longer than they should have. And on one end, it didn't make sense. I'm a Christian... I don't give 10% of my income... I know that my words don't mean nothing to the God who created me and loves me. So it wasn't that part that bothered me. Professionally, I try really hard to take criticism/advice well. And people have given me some really stupid feedback, to be totally honest. Feedback that I could have thrown away without a second thought. But I always make a point to examine what they've said. Poor communicators will give vague and unhelpful advice, but I make it a rule to take time to get to the bottom of what they're really saying, or what grain of truth I can get out of it. Was it the way I handled a specific situation? Was it verbal or non-verbal? Even the worst advice or feedback I've been given has usually given me insight in some small way.

I still think Nate's professor was wrong in his magical black and white 10% statement, but I began thinking about why it was bothering me. I prayed about it and realized that God and I hadn't talked money in a while. And I had never really felt called to give more, to be totally honest. Feeling called, I started our household budget over, with 10% taken off the top for a tithe.

To be honest, it's hard to cut my budget. We operate on a pretty lean system. We've ditched smart phones, don't have cable, pay for the cheapest Netflix package ($7.99 a month), call Comcast what seems like every stinkin' day to keep a reasonable rate on our internet, and keep our house too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. We live debt-free, other than Nate's student loans (in the process of sloooooowly paying off) and our mortgage (less than $475 a month, including insurance and taxes). As I went through the categories, I could think of a lot of reasons that now isn't the time to up our giving...
  • We're having a baby - we have to buy stuff for it, plus medical bills, plus we're trying to contribute to a college fund for her.
  • We're moving - we feel called by God to move to Bloomington, so we're doing it, which could mean increased housing expenses and uncertainties 
  • We're finally in a really good place with our finances
But when I got to the end of the budget, I had done it, coming out about $6 short a month. But if God can feed thousands from almost nothing, I'm sure he'll provide $6 a month or opportunities to save $6 in other areas. And I thought about all the reasons we SHOULD tithe.
  • Nate's studying for and feeling called to the ministry, and tithing shows our respect for the system and our faith in God to provide
  • Our daughter will come into the world knowing where our values lie
  • We will be asking others to help financially support our vision for the church plant we're participating in, and if we're not giving absolutely all we can, how could we begin to ask others to?
  • It's God money, anyways... he's just trusting us with it.
So, I continue to swear up and down that Nate's professor is wrong, and I do truly believe that. But his words and others' feedback allowed me to take time with God to re-evaluate our giving and be at the tithing level in September. When I talked to Nate about it this morning, he said "Sure, let's do it"... quickly followed by, "Is it only 7am? Why are you waking me up?" He had spent hours in scripture to debate this topic with his professor, but at the end of the day, Nate is the first to faithfully submit without question. Speaking of questions... does anyone have $6 I can have? I'm going to need it this month. ;-)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Moving Boxes of Rocks

Good, bad, or otherwise, I've never been an overly sentimental person. This is not new information to most people who know me, but as my reading audience has expanded, I think it's only fair to start with that. I didn't cry at my wedding (I did throw up, but that's another story), I never understood why people wanted me to go to my senior prom so badly (I didn't, and honestly will never regret it - I married my date, and we've done much cooler things since then), and I didn't even attend my college graduation (it was raining and I didn't feel like driving 35 minutes there). The same is true with physical places. When we graduated high school and my friends sighed and said, "We may never come back here..." I wanted to throw a praise hand up, say hallelujah and get out of there.

But I try to respect the sentimental. I have to, because my mom and sister are very much the sentimental types. I remember when we moved from our first house to the house my parents live at now, I was about 10 and MacKenzie was 7. I didn't know if that girl was going to make it through the move. First, she didn't want to move, which, fine, I get. Then, she wanted to take her rock collection with her. Her massive, extensive, heavy rock collection. And here's the thing about her rock collection... NONE OF THEM WERE EVEN COOL. In our old house, we had large stone landscape in a lot of areas, instead of gravel or mulch, and MacKenzie, the little recluse, would spend hours examining the rocks, and select a few... probably every day... to bring back inside with her. I believe the final compromise was "one small box of rocks" got to come to the new house, which I thought was beyond generous - to load a moving van with a box of rocks.

I might have met my rock collection last night, though. Last night, Nate and I went over to our church's ministry center in Morton to help load stuff up and clean, as our church moves into their first permanent location in Pekin. Prior to now, our church met at the Morton High School, then Morton Cinemas, then Tremont High School... and along the way we acquired our ministry space in the Field Shopping Center in Morton, where the pastors' offices are located and we have a space for meetings, student ministry, and other outreach. I think in a lot of ways, that space has been the site of more spiritual growth for Nate and me than any other area. As I swept the large open room in front, I thought about all of the youth groups we had there - my first message to the students on honoring their bodies, telling them my struggles with depression, Nate's first message on love and acceptance, Nate first expressing his hope to pursue a call to ministry, and talking with students and getting to know them and their struggles and their hearts. I also thought about my grandparents attending church there for the first time for one of our Christmas Eve services. As I moved into Connie's office and started sweeping, I thought about how she had mentored Nate and I there, or even just taken time to laugh with us. And as I vacuumed Dale's office, I thought about how terrified Nate and I were while we sat in there for marriage counseling, and how we came out of the sessions more terrified, but also more empowered and devoted to making a marriage work than ever before. As I cleaned these spaces, I started to get upset. "This place means too much to me to leave!" I thought, for probably one of the first times in my life. I wanted to shout to everyone to bring everything they had moved back into the building... or figure out a way to move the whole building, or something. I wanted to take it ALL with us. I didn't just want to take one small box of rocks.

But at the end of the day, those milestones aren't in the walls or the carpet or the chairs or the desks. Just like MacKenzie eventually realized that her childhood and memories weren't in those rocks. The milestones, the memories, the growth - they're in the people. Those things happened because of God and because of the people who worked to do his work in the world and invest in people who want to do the same. Where we're moving... God will be there. He's already there, working through the same people, through new people, and bringing more people to do his work every day. If I mourned that building, I'd just be mourning a big collection of rocks... and that would just be silly, right MacKenzie?