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Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Confession

A lot is going on in a hospital the moments after a baby is born. There's crying, talking, measuring, cleaning, repairing, crying, and the list goes on. The chaos, however, isn't only external. In the minutes following Bryton's birth my mind was flooded with an overwhelming number of thoughts. There was the relief that the labor was... over. There was grief that the pregnancy was over. My initial thought was, "Why isn't he crying?" (Which he did shortly following my verbal plea for him to do so.) There was the heaviness of the responsibility, and there was awe of the miracle that happened in that room. There was thoughts of joy and elation, and thoughts of fear and worry.
The fear and worry came about three seconds after the nurse handed me my precious child, put him in my arms, and he looked up at me with those beautiful big eyes and those large sweet cheeks. He was, in my opinion, the closest thing to Heaven I've ever touched. In a word... perfect.
That's where the trouble arose. My thinking in my "motherly way" that my child was perfect triggered a 300 level theology class I took in college. In this particular class we had a whole unit devoted to our "total depravity", being born into it, coming into this world sinners, and aside from God's dear grace, leaving it sinners. Yet, as I held this precious child in my arms I thought, there is noooo way." (Though in my head I knew it was true.)
Fast forward 14 1/2 months, and I'm well aware that my child is far from perfect. Trust me. Perfect to me, of course, but not perfect in behavior and character. He's told "no" and does the opposite, purposely. He fights us when we try to lead and guide him. He can be selfish and he sometimes cries and gets mad when he doesn't get his way. It doesn't take long for the innocence to fade. And that brings me to my confession:
I have felt for months, literally, months, that I should be on my knees on that alter praying my heart out for the salvation of my precious baby boy. I do it daily at home. I'd be lying if I said it hasn't already kept me from sleeping at night occasionally. I even faithfully prayed for him when he was still growing in my belly... when God was knitting him together. But not one time have my knees hit the alter for Him. And if Jesus is all that I say that He is, and if this faith that I profess is as vital as I preach, then why are my knees... not... on.... the... alter?
My desire is for him to love Jesus with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength. My desire is that he'd find him early and not have to fall in the muck of life before he sees the light. My desire is to see my precious baby yearn for Jesus with a zeal that I can't even understand. The one thing I desire most for my baby, I can't give him.
A dear friend mentioned "free will" to me today. I wish I could take his away. I wish I could shake him and point him down the path he should go. But I can't. All I can do is... pray.
So, why am I not doing it?
Now, when he's little and in the nursery, my hands are free and my distractions set aside for me to frequent that alter. Now, when my praying publicly won't confuse him or guilt him into a fake decision. Now, when my heart is broken and he has his whole life in front of him. Why do I sit there?
I'm so excited about the possibility of another baby. Another to hold and cherish... to grow up and love, a sibling for B... the completion (we think) to our family, but when my heart was broken the other night, my thoughts were, "If I knew that he/she would never find the salvation and grace offered through Christ, I'd prefer not bring that person into the world. Better he/she not exist then spend an eternity in Hell." Seriously. That was my thought.
But I can't know what choices my children will make. And though I can lead and guide and encourage them wholeheartedly, I can offer them all of the opportunities in the world, I can offer them Christian counsel and resources, the choice... is... theirs, and I don't think God would have it any other way.
The desire He has to know my children is greater than my desire for my children to know Him, as hard as that is for me to understand. But their free will, and hopefully, ultimately choosing to follow hard after Christ, will be the most satisfying and sweet fragrance to Lord Jesus, and also to their momma, who have literally been praying for both of them since before they were born. Maybe soon on the alter.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January and Serotonin

I'm submitting a theory that people in the midwest gain weight, suffer signs of depression, and find themselves to be forgetful during the winter months. It has to be so, and if you ask me, the sun is at fault.
Yep, you heard me. The sun. Anyone who knows me knows my theory. I love the fall, so Thanksgiving Day it can start getting "cold", and it can proceed to be cold until January 2nd. (I struggled a long time between January 2nd and December 26th, and I may even be leaning more towards December 26th.) On that day it should immediately return to at least 75 degrees and sunny 14 out of every 15 days.
You see, serotonin likes light. Serotonin is also the chemical in our bodies that controls our mood, our appetite, muscle contractions, sleep, and cognitive functions like learning and memory. Since there is a much smaller amount of sunlight, there is a much smaller amount of serotonin. Thus, there is no wonder we find it harder to concentrate, more difficult to have healthy sleep patterns, eat the right foods, and just be in a good mood. I don't know about you, but my moods suck this time of the year. I find myself grouchy, and it tends to be hard for me to get out of the 'funk' once I'm in it.
Granted, this year I have things to look forward to nearing the summer months, but it doesn't make fighting the darkness any easier.
So I'm an advocate for serotonin... I'm cheering mine on to come out of hiding ;)

Friday, January 22, 2010

This Long Time Illinoisan Has Had It

Two things are certain. You will die, and you will pay taxes. And if you don't pay taxes, then you will spend much of this life in prison.
Ahhhh taxes. They give us new roads, clean roads during inclement weather, they support those who cannot always support themselves, they provide schools, and many other services that benefit the taxpayer themselves. That is, unless you live in Illinois.
No, it seems in Illinois, after many years of corrupt government officials, we don't support school districts or our children. No, we support lavish meals and weekends away for the officials themselves. We short school districts millions of dollars leaving the school district short changed and stuck with the responsibility of 'figuring out' how to manage what could be yet a longer period of time with no funds. In many cases that means cutting jobs and programs.
It's happening all over Southern Illinois.
I saw it happening in Marion on the news the other night.
It has littered the front page of our newspaper several times.
And the effect that it could have on a small town, fatal.
Seriously. Let's cut MORE jobs in a county that already has a painstakingly high unemployment rate. And I'm not just talking some minimum wage positions, but middle class families in southern Illinois are getting ready to see their income literally cut in half. So, the effect on the family is monumental. The effect on the children is even larger.
Now, mom and dad have half the income by which to live, and little Susie and Johnie are in large classrooms, getting very little personal attention from the teacher, are not being benefited with the extras like music and art, and athletics... well... they suffer as well.
As a parent, I'm outraged. As an employed adult, I'm outraged. As an individual, I'm outraged.
Just tonight I saw on the news the campaign money for each of our candidates for governor. It ranges in the millions of dollars. Wow... millions of dollars in southern Illinois towards schools would save many much needed jobs and would bring up many children whose education and skills learned from it will boost our economy in later years. But are they worried about that? Apparently not.
I apologize. I don't usually get on a soap-box, and personally, I'm a substitute. My job, though much more competitive with less teachers, is safe. But the opportunities for my children are not. The lively-hood of many friends and co-workers are not. And personally, I'm slightly irate that in a short month I will be going to file my taxes, to make sure, mind you, that the government gets every penny that is theirs, but I've lost faith that the money that you and I will pay in taxes will be soon seen serving our community.
My heart hurts for the children who will reap the effects of ignorant and irresponsible decisions made by people who were trusted and elected to be their role-models.
It's a shame.
-A

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Watching People Laugh

I love to laugh... you know... those really good laughs that make your side hurt and make you gasp for air. I love those, but I think just as much as I love those, I love watching people around me smile. Particularly, for this post, I love watching my husband laugh at my son, to see them enjoy one another and play together. Lately Bryton has been doing this thing... that Aaron taught him of course, that Aaron thinks is hilarious. I'm not sure why we think it's so funny... here's a mild version:

video

But anyway, it completely cracks Aaron up... and I love to watch it happen. There is a great joy that comes with watching those you love enjoy each other. And for that, I'm very thankful.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Utter Despair

I've been there as an individual. There have been times in my life where I didn't understand God's timing, or my circumstances, or mostly, why God would allow my circumstances. Aaron and I have been there as a couple... finances, life decisions, waiting when everything in us says go. It's frustrating and awful and depressing. It's dark and hard and uncomfortable.
These times are often offset by other times of utter joy and happiness and even contentment. It's the "as planned" part of life... no surprises, smooth sailing, even enjoyment. They are so different. I dread thinking about the future despair I may have to endure. I cringe. It makes me feel sick inside. God has always been faithful to deliver us from the desperation, but it doesn't make the circumstance any easier while enduring it.
There's one thing I've learned from my moments of despair, it's hard to deal with on your own. There is a reason God calls us to build one another up (Ephesians 4:29), He knows we'll endure trials and testing in our lives, making our lives not always a sunny mountain top experience as we'd all wish it would be. People have made all of the moments in my despair. People have either been an encouragement or a frustration. They have been a help or a hurt, all depending on how they approach our situation. So, I've learned a lot about what has helped us and what has hurt us when we were hurting the most.
It's amazing how God pulls that information out.
Just today I've been approached but three different, yet desperate situations... all with ones we care about:
1. Ones we love trying, still, to get pregnant.
2. Another friend who lost his grandmother.
3. Yet another friend who's mother is in the hospital, again, and is very ill.
All different. All grieving. And my heart breaks on a whole new level for each one of them. The Lord is teaching me a great deal about empathy and compassion. My heart feels as if it is literally breaking for those we love. I, of course, pray for these situations, but more than anything I want to be the solution to a need for them. Need a friend... call me, visit. Need a distraction, let's go away for the weekend. Need a lift? I'll take you. Need a meal... a laugh... a shoulder... you got me. It's the desire of my heart to see their hearts lifted. It's the desire of my heart to witness them walk from their dark times to the birth of the baby, to the peace of salvation and to a celebratory recovery.
I long for community in which we can mourn with and rejoice with, share with and love with, encourage and hold accountable those whom we love and who in turn love us. That is the 2nd commandment given us by Jesus, right? Love God first. Then, love your neighbor as yourself. I never thought I'd feel the heartbreak... or the rejoice, and I'd never claim to understand their situations... but I'd love to try... to walk with them through it... as I know they would us if, or, er, when it will again happen.
Jesus has so blessed us with amazing friends. I only hope we can be to them as they are to us. Together fulfilling the commandment to, indeed, love one another.
Love you guys.
-alicia

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Couponing, Budgeting, and Finance Management :)

Ever since I can remember I've worried about money. Really. I'm not kidding. For example, when I was little, I'd lie to my friends parents when they had asked if I had eaten so they wouldn't have to pay for me to eat somewhere. Or, if we'd go out to eat I'd consistently order the cheapest thing on the menu, or tell my parents I wasn't hungry. I did not want people spending money on me for fear that it would cost them everything.
Fast forward to adulthood, I was married at 20 and took over the responsibility of handling our family's finances. It didn't last long, as I'd sit and cry when writing out bills and checks. There was no method to the madness, it was just getting used to seeing a very small number in our checkbook and praying another bill wouldn't come in until that number went up. Ugh. I did not enjoy it.
While we were on the road, there wasn't much to worry about with finances. We put into our savings every dime we could, because everything we made had to go back into restarting our lives post-road, and though our savings account was beautiful when we left our on the road experience, one car down payment and one down payment on a house, plus furniture pretty much wiped it out. So, back to paycheck to paycheck and worrying about finances.
While we lived our short stint up north we took a class called Financial Peace, a study by Dave Ramsey. Watching the videos were convicting and enlightening all at the same time. It all looked so... easy. We asked questions like, "Why did we never think of that?" Everything made perfect sense, and showed us how far short we were falling.
We worked hard to create a budget and stick to it, but it was difficult with me not working and with life ever changing. The budget fell on the way-side.
I've tried a few times since then, and never really found myself successful... not even for a little while.
Here in the past year or so I've found an interest in couponing. I don't do it as much as I could, but it almost became a game to see how much I could save. It felt good to see on the bottom of my receipt that I'd saved my family $20 on my shopping trip, or even more. It has become a game to me, and has revolutionized my shopping experiences.
And then it happened. The magic words that have rocked our world since the end of 2009. "I get a basement, you get a baby." My initial reaction was utter disappointment. I knew what it would cost to finish the basement (think, oh, $15,000). And I knew that, even with me working, we are living paycheck to paycheck putting nothing away. But, this was my shot at a baby. We're going to give it all we've got.
So I started making phone calls to waterproofers, talking to my dad about the finish - work, and started trying to work out the financial details. I sat down and worked out a budget for our family... using just Aaron's paycheck, so that my paycheck could go completely and utterly towards childcare and then towards the basement. After tithing, setting money aside for our new church building and paying bills, it turns out, if we budget carefully and I shop carefully, we even have money out of Aaron's paycheck to put in our savings... like over $200 a month! I was shocked! Where was that money going every month? I felt an unbelievable amount of conviction for handling the money so poorly. I gave myself a pretty short -leash for grocery shopping, thinking it'd increase it if I had to, but two things have completely revolutionized my shopping. Number 1 - sorry Wal-Mart, you are out, the grocery store is in. Sure, there are times I HAVE to shop at Wal-Mart, but if I'm there twice a month now it is rare. Number 2 - Meal Plans! It's amazing how much money you can save when I make a meal plan for 10 - 15 days at a time, based on what I already have in the house, and then what is on sale at the grocery store. I went from spending somewhere over $400 a month on groceries to much closer to $250. Meeting my budget gives me a great amount of satisfaction. It really is a game to me!
Which brings us here. We are far more "strapped" now than we've ever been, saving for a basement and a new baby. We have more reasons to be more worried than ever financially. And I feel the most peace than I ever have about our finances. I know when the next check comes where every dime of it will go. Aaron and I both get "blow" money, which I've not allowed myself in a VERY long time, so I'm looking forward to getting my nails done in February ;) We're looking at a car to better fit our hopefully expanding family, and we're looking at it from a perspective of not increasing our monthly expenditures.
Sure, we still have a long way to go, when the basement is done and the baby is here we'll work our socks off to pay off the one car payment we have (our only debt besides our house). Then we'll rock our socks off to get our 6 months of living expenses in our savings... but I'm excited about it. And for the first time ever, I really believe we can do it.
Best of all, we're starting the Dave Ramsey study for the youth, Generation Change, at the beginning of February, teaching them how to give, save, and spend. Best to get to them now before there is debt. I hope it gives them financial peace all of their lives. :)
-a

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And so the funding begins

Well, as most of you now know, the plan (which is always molding, changing, etc) for the year of 2010 is two fold. First, finish the basement. A bigger feat than we once thought, it does still seem as though it will be possible and able to be financed and paid off within the next, say, 3 years maximum. In fact, the way it currently stands (of course, this is liquid and ever changing and evolving), is that we are going to have the waterproofing finished, try to have it paid off by August (this will be a huge feat for us), so that we can continue with the rest of the finish work to have it paid off by mid 2012. (Hopefully after a tax return comes in. Hopefully our tax situation is corrected by then. Don't know what I'm talking about, well, message me on FB or something when you have time. It's a doozie.) So anyway, the plan is by Jan 1, 2011 to have a comfortable, usable, wonderful finished basement to live in and play in.
Along with this plan of course is the sub-plan, or the other part of the "deal", as we have so lovingly called it. Hopefully, or, as the plan currently sits, beginning summer 2010 we may be 'working' on Gregg family member number 4, hopefully to be welcomed lovingly into our family sometime in 2011. If I could choose, I'd hope for May or June 2011, but as long as we're all healthy and lively, I will never be one to complain.
So there you have it ladies and gentleman, two very large goals for the next year, or two, of our lives.
Now, with very large goals comes big plans and some sacrifice. We're saving every extra dime to pay that basement off as soon as possible. (Which we've not even officially started yet.) I finally sat down this year and budgeted out our finances to the closest possible penny to see where we stood. The good news, I actually have a peace that we can "make it" every month, AND, I find it challenging and rewarding to stay within my "budget" every month for groceries, etc. It's almost like a game. Sadly, it's only January 9th, and I'm ashamed to see how much of our money will ill accounted for up until this budgeting went into place. So far so good (as if 9 days shows much) on the budget, even with extra expenditures coming out. It's tighter now than usual, but I know it'll pay off in the long run, and once this basement is paid off, I'll be able to see what can actually go in our savings monthly, instead of unnecessarily going to Wal-Mart instead. (Which I don't shop at near as often anymore... seems I save more on groceries at Kroger.)
So, all of that said to get here... it's January 9th, I substitute teach, and I'm looking for income, most specifically for the summer, but for now would be fine too. The stipulation, one week off in the summer for church camp. Which, if I achieve what my plan is (hence, my plan, which never seems to work out) then I'd be working 3 or so days a week somewhere over the summer OR babysitting four or 5 days a week in my home, so it wouldn't be horribly hard to get that time off. If I could start that now, and sub on the days that I didn't work, I would certainly entertain that. I do love that Bryton sees Miss Tara, and behaves there, and would love to keep him with her, at least a day a week or so over the summer, so we'll see how it all works out.
So anyway, there's the plan, Stan. Anyone have any summer employment ideas? Would love to hear! I'm always open for suggestions ;)
On another note, currently planning the girl's retreat for this year. I'm trying to make it equally as appealing, but completely different from last years. In fact, I'm going to attempt to do that as many years consecutively as I can, so that the same girls don't have many of the same experiences on retreat. I believe, again, this is ever changing, that this year's theme is pointing towards "Godliness: Integrity and Character as Imitators of Christ". We'll see how that comes along.
So that is the news in the Gregg household. No offense, but as excited as I am about the upcoming events in our house, and filling you in on them as they unfold, I feel like many of my lasts posts were updates. Seems the creative tank has been dry lately. I can feel the juices churning though, so keep checking back. It shouldn't be long.
Until next time -
Alicia