Sunday, January 25, 2009

Aspirations of a "Recessionista"

The other day I was talking with my mom and she told me there is a new word floating around. The word is "recessionista." Which obviously, means a woman who takes on these times of financial trial with grace and style. I figure I will never be a fashionista, and using that same definition as my logic, I will never be an exercise-ista, a mom-ista or an art-ista (wait is that already almost a word?). Well anyways, there are plenty of things I just don't think I will ever do with style, and certainly not with grace. So when my mom mentioned the word recessionista to me I was instantly intrigued. I think maybe I can do that! When Ryan and I first got married, we had a very tight budget. He worked two jobs and I worked one. We had moved to California from the more affordable Washington State and really had to work hard to get the bills paid. We never struggled, which I would consider being in a place where we couldn't pay the bills (and to date we have never struggled in that respect). But we did have to be creative with our money and content with very little. Examples of my humble beginnings, setting the foundation for the recessionista I hope to one day fully become, would be: 1. cheap dates like going for walks, or pretending we had a million dollars and then pretending to spend it. 2. Getting a small cash allowance to spend on whatever I chose and 3. using Quicken to keep track of every dollar spent. Over the years things got better for us financially and we stopped worrying so much about how much we spent. At one point when things were going well we considered upgrading to a larger house but we decided against it. This decision ultimately allowed us to go to Israel last year and travel the world thanks to a good amount of home equity from our home which was very affordable for us. In Israel I continued on my journey. I learned to 1. walk instead of drive 2. buy local produce and plan my menus around the good deals rather than plan a menu and then purchase my food. 3. air dry my clothes 4. say no to my kids sometimes 5. make my own bread and soup 6. avoid the mall.

And then of course that brings me to this year, where Ryan is working three jobs (which I am grateful to God he has them all!) and we are still feeling the crunch. I am so happy to be in this country and so happy to have a roof over our heads that it matters little to me that we have to give up some extras. I am hoping that counts for the "grace" part of the above definition. Now for the style - I am working on that. But here are some habits I have added just this year. 1. I go to the dollar store - we have an amazing dollar store near our house that has organic produce, yogurt, canned tomatoes and even rose bushes sometimes. I also get toothpaste and tortillas there and wonder why I ever bought those things at the regular grocery store. 2. I go to the goodwill - I figure this is being hip like Jack Johnson and reusing, reducing and recycling. I bought a brand new stock pot there last month to make homemade chicken stock in for a few dollars. I also spent my five dollar allowance on a $168 dress with the tags still on it - not too bad. 3. I barter with my friends. I will cook you a meal if you provide babysitting for my kids, sew me some pillows, or cut my hair (apparently all I really know how to do is cook a meal).

Some good ol rules though that I think any respectable and aspiring recessionista should follow are: 1. get all books and DVD's from the local library or from your friend's houses (but ask first). 2. Borrow whenever possible 3. Realize the huge difference between what we need and what we want. 4. Remember how fun riding your bike can be with your kids or how adventurous it feels to hike with them (without spending a dime!). 5. realize that popcorn on the stove is so much better than microwavable. 6. tythe if you go to church 7. no matter how little you can set aside, even if it is a dollar a month, make sure you have some fun money! One dollar can buy a piece of Sees candy, a Tuesday night at the dollar theatre, a McDonald's ice cream sundae or a cucumber to slice and put over tired eyes (convincing someone to take your children and make the house quiet could cost you a little more unless you barter).

So there you have it - a little glimpse into my life and my newfound purpose. Let me know if you, too are an aspiring recessionista and please do tell your secrets!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Confession: Sometimes PW's don't want to go to church

Tonight we had church and I just didn't feel like going. I really would have rather been at a spa on some far away warm island getting pampered with a massage and a glass of lemon water.

Let me explain how the last two days have gone in our house. First of all, our one year old has learned how to remove his diaper whenever he feels like it, and he really does prefer to be naked. Yesterday, he removed his diaper and peed all over the living room floor before I could get to him. I also this week found that baby Ben likes to hide food in the sofa cushions and in particular he likes to store bits of mashed banana and crushed cookies in there. Then the other night one of my sons, who is a complete germophobe wet the bed at 2 in the morning (this is rare) and required me to remove all the sheets and covers and replace them with clean. He even made me disinfect his bed posts in case germs travelled through the air from his wet sheets onto the bed post. This morning, I showered and grabbed a towel to wrap my hair in, and decided that the towel had an unmistakable urine smell to it. I have no idea why a towel would smell like urine, but given the last 24 hours and the fact that I have three boys makes me believe anything is possible. I pulled the "pee towel" off my head and switched to one that smelled a bit more like fabric softener. Today the baby decided not to take a nap and was as a result very tired and cranky. Or maybe hysterical is a better word for him. Then 10 minutes before it was time to leave for church, while I was brushing my teeth (I feel I should have that right, dont I?) baby Ben took off his diaper again. Only this time, he had pooped in that diaper. He then sat (he likes sitting) on a pile of laundry, a stuffed chair and on the carpet of my oldest sons room.

I ended up getting a babysitter for the baby and he got to stay home and (I later heard) was out cold in bed by the time the opening prayer was given at church. Somehow I made it out the door with the other two fed and clothed and alive despite constant bickering and a tendency to get into fist fights. I made it to church and I even enjoyed it. I believe God was present and I was challenged by the message Ryan gave. But if we at Soma Church believe that God is in everything we do and we should not separate the sacred from the mundane in our lives....well.. my thought is that He would also be with me on an a spa...with the scent of lavender and the sound of soothing spa music lulling me to sleep.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Whose side are you on?

My friend in Jerusalem recently sent me a link to a site in Israel that is basically an open forum for people to write their thoughts. This particular stream of letters consisted of hundreds of passionate commentary on the events unfolding in Gaza. Everyone wants to be heard and everyone wants to be right. However, the more you know of the story the more it seems that no one is right in this situation. Gaza is controlled by terrorists and therefore Israel has closed its borders to ensure that terrorists or their weapons do not get in or out of the city. Israelis defend their right to retaliate against the rockets sent into their towns from the terrorist group, Hamas and they believe this is the only way to finally take care of the situation. Palestinians believe that they do not have power and do not have freedom to come and go as they please. They believe that Israel has made it impossible for them to establish their own state and government and they believe they are oppressed and harassed by the government. Israel has promised land to the Palestinians and yet continues to build settlements in the West Bank and therefore uproot the indigenous Palestinian people and create refugees of them. Certain Palestinians have taken to terrorist acts to retaliate against harsh treatment and oppression, "wounding" the government and the Jewish State by killing, injuring and frightening innocent people. Our friend says that "terror is the weapon of the weak." However, many Palestinians see what is happening in Gaza as terror- except that there is power and government behind it. Other than that, there are hundreds of innocent people being wounded and killed in the name of self preservation and defense. I believe that there is a political solution to the problems in Israel but it would take a large amount of compromise from both sides. I wish I could choose a side and say that one is justified in its actions or that one is more peace loving but I cannot. Last year I carried a heavy burden on my shoulders while living in the Middle East. It was not the burden of the language barrier, the large presence of weapons, the cruel treatment from others or even the possibility of being victim to a terrorist attack. The burden I bore was the tension, the hatred, the eye-for-eye, tooth for tooth mentality that people hold in that part of the world.

The commentaries I read through last night were all written by Christians. People who share a faith in Jesus Christ and believe that his death and his love and forgiveness has saved them and given them new life. Some of those believers we call "messianic Jews." They are Jewish by culture and while their brothers in the Jewish faith are still awaiting the messiah, they believe He has come in the person of Jesus. The other believers who have written are Palestinian believers of Jesus. Many of the Christians in Israel are in fact, Arab. And because Christianity actually outdates the Muslim faith, many of those families have believed for centuries. Neither the Messianic Jews or the Palestinian Christians are warmly welcomed in Israel. Many of the messianic believers that we met were very quiet about their faith, afraid to be shunned and even hated by their fellow Jews. Much of what I read was positive - human beings trying hard to reconcile what they believe about forgiveness and about protecting the innocent, with their cultural identity and upbringing. However, both "sides" are quick to send bitter accusations at the other with little desire to take personal responsibility for the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Ultimately, innocent people are being victimized on both sides and an ideology of hate is being propagated on both sides. Thinking about this, and praying for this situation brought to mind a verse in the biblical book of Joshua before the fall of Jericho. A man with a sword appears to Joshua and Joshua asks "are you for us or for our enemies?" And the man replies "Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." It made me wonder what God must being thinking of all this. It seems to me that he must be so grieved by the pain and suffering happening and by the hatred that is stirred up. He must long to bring the hearts of His children into repentance and healing.

But of course I can't ever fully know the heart of God...As a follower of God here in the states I can only pray for my brothers and sisters around the world - on all sides. And personally I cling to the verse (although maybe out of context) in Micah that asks "What does the Lord require of thee? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Throwing Stones

I know that I continue to use our experience in Israel in my blogging, but the experience is still fresh in my mind. The emotions and pictures in my head of last year are still vivid and still provide a constant backdrop for life here in Orange County. One constant burden on me in Jerusalem was the Palestinian-Jewish conflict. Given the news these days, I am sure it is now a burden for many. Ryan talked about the "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" tribal mentality in the middle east that prevents peace from ever happening. It is heartbreaking to think that there is no real "hope" for people to truly live side by side in love as long as there is no forgiveness. Until one side lays down it's arms and says "I will pursue peace, even if it kills me" I personally don't see an end to the conflict. Of course life has given us examples of people who have done this - Martin Luther King for one. And as Ryan also pointed out, a Middle Eastern man named Jesus who did lay his life down in the name of grace and forgiveness.

My commentary though is not so much a result of the current Middle East unrest, as it is from an unrest in my own soul right now. When I came back to the states I vowed to learn from our experience and to realize that if someone throws a stone my way, I cannot throw it back or else a cycle will begin that does not follow the path of Jesus. Of course by even writing this blog I guess it could be perceived as a stone being thrown. My perspective is that I have been hit recently and sit wounded and questioning. I wrestle with what the right thing to do is and am sad to find that some consider our family even worth the effort to hurt us.

Since returning to California our family has run into several strange and painful situations that we have not understood. People from our past church who we considered family and who we cherished as brothers and sisters in the faith have stopped talking to us. I have personally run into people who have turned and walked away from me in the local mall. I was actually so stunned one particular time that I followed the person thinking they didn't recognize me, only to have them make it obvious that they didn't want to talk to me. We have had emails from people requesting that we do not contact them or pursue friendships with them. This past week a friend confessed she had heard in the rumor mill some very hurtful and untrue things about Ryan that helped me to understand a little bit the behavior we have encountered. I honestly don't know which emotion rings stronger in me...the sense of deep hurt and betrayal that someone would spread such blatant lies about us or the equal sense of hurt that people would take those lies as truth without ever checking our side of the story.

I feel hit on several sides by stones right now and of course I ponder my response. Our family has worked for many wonderful churches and pastors and consider them mentors and friends. We are welcomed back at those congregations with open arms. We believe that all believers are a part of the same mission to show the world the love of God and one of the best ways to do that is through the love and forgiveness that we extend to each other. I believe that many followers of God strive to do this and perhaps including even the people who have recently thrown stones our way. I can't think the worst of them that they realize what they are doing to injure so gravely a part of their family in Christ. So what do we do? I fantasize about locking everyone in our former church together along with our family until we can all come to a true reconciliation. I think it is best perhaps to say nothing, although by writing about this I have already rejected that option. I could throw a stone back but we all know where that will lead and truthfully I have no desire for that. I could take the moral high ground and say that we have been above reproach at all times but that is a very frightening stance to take - since the only people Christ ever seemed to have issue with were those who "claimed" the religious high ground. I could apologize for apparently doing things that, whether real or perceived, have led people to be cruel to us. I honestly don't know that to do. The only thing that I can take away from it all is to look into my own life and to make sure that I guard against listening and believing things about other people without talking with them personally about it. I need to ask God's forgiveness for the stones I have thrown and to admit I have indeed thrown them.

Being a pastor's wife comes with a high price some days and one of those things is that we are de-humanized by others. People forget that we are, in fact, human and that we bleed and hurt just like everyone else. We aren't perfect and you can't expect us to be. And when our husbands are under scrutiny and when they are slandered and hit, it might as well be us as well. If anyone reads this who has been hurt or angered by Ryan or me I welcome dialogue and the opportunity to weep and wrestle together until true reconciliation can come about. Here's to a new year and hope for peace.