Thursday, 27 April 2017

Continuing to Dream Big and Not be "Normal"

I came across an article this week that stated "Drowning in Debt is the New Normal in Canada".  This article went through case after case of regular, normal families with good jobs, who own homes, that are in really bad situations.  The writer said, "The reality is Canadians would be shocked if they could peer into the private financial lives of many of their closest neighbours and friends."

How did this become the reality of so many people, (including us at one point)?  The author said it was the "normalization of excessive debt", "the trappings of a middle class lifestyle...built on a foundation of debt and bad decisions".  It went on to say,  "Most clients in significant debt trouble today would not be in those situations had they simply funded their lives by cashflow instead of credit."  That simply means, don't buy it if you can't afford it.  

Many would get lines of credit because they have lower interest rates, which he said the banks give to people "inexplicably" when they know it's going to get them in more debt. They then pay off the credit card with the line of credit, but within a few months, the credit card is right back up to where it was before.  Then, with minimum payments only, the holder of the card takes potentially years to pay it off, if ever, leaving them in what seems like a hopeless spiral.  In cases like that, bankruptcy was the only option, which means everyone loses as those they owe money to will never see it.

The author described scenario after scenario like this.  He said, "Keep in mind that the above situation is very normal for us. This is something we see every week."  Week after week?!  Almost as if he was asked, "How did this happen?", he goes on to say, "Increasingly, life has simply become too unaffordable for many. The temptation to spend is too great, and access to cheap debt too easy. When the gap between what people need or want, and what they can afford with their incomes becomes too great, credit is used to fill the gap. Interest kicks in, and the cycle begins."

That's basically it isn't it?  People thought they were doing the right things, but it always comes down to the temptation to spend.  Cheap debt is out there and when the income isn't there to get what you want, credit is used to fill the gap.  Then, as he puts it, "interest kicks in, and the cycle begins."  That awful cycle.

His article doesn't end on a "This is what you should do" type of ending.  Sadly, he just says, when he has just finished describing the awful cycle, "Unfortunately, that's a lot more 'normal' than you think."

We are determined (or as the blog was originally called "debt-termined") to not be normal, at least the way he described normal.  By God's grace, we made huge steps forward last week.  We are encouraging our kids to not fall into the traps of overspending, to make wise choices now.  This week the older boys got work in a green house nearby.  So that's a big answer to prayer as they both need the money for upcoming school, but we also want them to start dreaming big - a house, a car...all debt-free!  Imagine?  Once my daughter is done paying for all her piano studies, than any money she makes will go towards those same things.  We trust that God will supply all their needs and that they won't fall into the traps of cheap debt.  Is it possible to dream this big?  We think so.  

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A Time to be Born.....

We have had lots of "ups" recently and if I could stay on top of the mountain all the time I would prefer it.  But life just isn't that way.  If Ecclesiastes could be written in modern terms it would say, "There's a time for ups and then there's a time for downs."  As much as I would prefer the ups, the downs are an amazing part of life, too.  They really show us how deep our emotions go and bring out new feelings we didn't know existed.

On Sunday we had the amazing experience of watching our young mommy kitten give birth to 5 little kitties.  My little 8 year old daughter and I were her "catwives" as we kept encouraging the poor labouring cat to "breathe through her contractions".  Which she did!  She never once meowed, but breathed heavily as if she'd gone to "cat lamaze labour classes".  Whenever kittens come into our home, everyone just goes nuts and it is kitten mania for weeks.  It is my favourite thing to be a part of as I love kittens, too, but sadly, the joy was short-lived.

We went out on Monday night to get a few things with the whole family.  I had had a feeling earlier on in the day to make sure the kittens were behind a locked door, but then had forgotten to mention it to anyone.  Our new indoor dog had seemed interested in the kittens, but had never done anything when we were around.  Her fascination with them concerned me.

When we got home from the store, I started putting the kids to bed.  Suddenly my 8 year old comes running into the hall crying.  Her pillow was on the floor covered in blood and there was a dead kitten beside it.  The other ones were missing, eaten maybe?  We ran downstairs and she went into the family room so distraught only to find the other ones all over the floor in there, also dead.  What a terrible thing for a little girl to witness!  It was chaos as we threw the dog into the mudroom, tried to get the older boys to clean up the mess quickly and comfort all the crying children.  It was a scene no one wants to remember for a long time.  The crying wouldn't stop!  The youngest kids just couldn't believe it.  We were all in shock.

But this is the strange part.  I'm so glad, in restrospect, it happened.  I haven't seen such compassion between my children before.  My oldest son held my daughter as she cried and cried.  He took full responsibility (though it wasn't his fault) and tried to comfort her through his own tears.  Even though it was a terrible thing to witness, it showed my kids what loss is.  They haven't experienced that very much so it is hard for them to empathize with those who have had serious tragedy.  The next morning we talked about a little boy who had been run over at school last week.  We talked about how the mom of that little boy must be feeling.  We had lost cats, she had lost a son.  They could suddenly be more empathetic.

We read the Ecclesiastes passage, too - remembering "there is a time to be born and a time to die." Was it the little kitties time to die?  I wish it hadn't been, but they didn't make it.  We're pretty sure the dog never intended to eat them, she was just playing with them the way she does with all our stuffed animals.  Once again, farm life is hard, but it teaches so many life lessons.  On the one hand, it makes us want to get rid of all the animals to avoid the pain they bring.  On the other hand, I'm so glad for each experience the animals have brought our children, even the ones that have made us sad.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A Day to Remember

Yesterday will go down as a day to remember.

A year ago we were in hot water.  Work was not coming in as it had in the past.  We were at an impass with his controls business because we needed more money to continue the development.  We were at a real loss as to what to do.  RM was starting to question himself and the demon of depression was knocking at our door.

We were always being prayed for and we were praying for ourselves as well, but it was a dark time nevertheless.  That summer was when I started a serious 40 day fast where I ate, but significantly less.  I was praying for direction for my husband.  I didn't know how to help him anymore.  We knew he probably should get a "real" job, but where and how would we ever get a job that wouldn't impact the family too much?  On day one of the fast it was suggested we apply at the local college.  That same day I came home to tell RM what my friend had suggested and he, not knowing of our conversation, had already applied, with only a few hours left in the application deadline, to a job that was perfectly suited to him and his skills.

He got the dream job and has loved it!  We hated seeing him gone, but we knew it was a gift.  He was out of the house for 3 days of the week.  That was perfect.  It gave him 2 days at home to manage the farm and work on other projects.  Initially, it was only going to be an 8 month contract.  God seems to only give us enough light for the step we're on.  It didn't matter - we took it!  As the 8 months were coming to a close, the college found out what I've known all along - he's got a vast amount of talent, knowledge and expertise.  They didn't want to lose him.

Then, another department noticed him and wanted to grab his know-how as well.  So they tried to steal him and bring him into the teaching faculty.  As of yesterday, it's official - he'll now be working in both departments.  He'll have full-time hours in his dream research job and then will be teaching two courses in the industrial automation department.  We can't believe it.  In one day he got two jobs. Full-time and part-time!  This could mean future benefits for dental, etc. which we haven't had in 12 years.  Not only that, but the college is very close the the university where my son will be attending. We didn't know that when we first applied for the job.  We didn't know our son would be accepted into the local university.  But God did.  He had all things perfectly arranged before we even knew we would need them arranged!  Now, in the Fall, my husband and son will drive to school together, every morning and every evening.  They'll be together all the time, talking, debriefing....forced time that only God could put in their busy schedules.  I'm in awe.

But the day didn't end there.  We also got paid for the towers.  The tower contract came only a few weeks after he got the college job.  He somehow managed to work at the college and build towers through the whole winter, which tells me he's used to working full-time and part-time already!   Because of all his hard work today we'll be able to put a huge chunk of the mortgage away and be completely "debt-free" except for the remaining part of the mortgage which is slowly disappearing.  It should be faster now with regular work!  During the time of no work, paying down any kind of debt seemed impossible.  Now, by Dave Ramsey's standards, I could have called in and said, "We're debt- free!"  We aren't quite, but so close.

On top of all this, we are still quite hopeful that he could still get work from his own personal engineering business, no guarantees of course, but we're hoping.  If that happens then we'll be well on our way to being completely mortgage-free.

I've written about miracles before, but this is huge! We had to stop and just thank God for His goodness last night.  We know it's nothing we've done, only His blessings being poured out on us. We were definitely in a time of testing.  I didn't love it.  I struggled on and off all the way through it.  I'm not sure if I was the greatest example as we endured the unknown path ahead of us.  I complained, I cried out.  I wanted freedom when I wanted freedom, not when he planned it for me...or if he planned it for me.

Malachi 3 says, "And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need."  That is what has happened.  He has opened the windows of heaven for us.  Yesterday, it literally poured and poured buckets of water.  It looked like Niagara Falls as our pond overflowed and started down the hill in a waterfall.  Earlier on in the morning I had read the kids the verse that described some quarreling wives as dripping rain.  Two very different images came to our minds last night - the negative image of rain when it is associated with a nasty wife and then the other image is the pouring from heaven of blessings.  As the rain pounded down outside, we felt like it was a sign from God, "See?  I'm going to pour my blessings down on you, just like this rain."  As the rain fell, we sat there and we literally counted our blessings: the two jobs in one day, the tower money - giving us the ability to pay down almost all the had poured that day!!!

Interestingly, I also had read the story of Joseph yesterday to the kids.  We literally read the part where Joseph in prison, but was at first forgotten by the butler and then two years later remembered by him when Pharoah had his strange dreams.  Joseph was taken out of his prison that he had been in for so long. Joseph never knew how long he was supposed to be there.  He never knew why he was there in the first place because it hadn't been his fault he was thrown in jail!  Yet, while he was there, he thrived. He became top-prisoner!  He made the best of the worst situation.  I look back, did I?  I know I had my dark times.  Yet, I remember all the lessons along the way and I remember starting to love prison. I'm not completely out, but I am climbing towards the close I can almost feel it.

God directed us to the those Scriptures yesterday without me even planning it.  Of all the Scriptures! Of all the times!  It's amazing!

Today, we will worship as a family like we've never done before, thanking God for His tremendous blessings to us.  I look outside and, no exaggeration, the fog is lifting and the sun is rising, trying to make its way through the clouds....

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Fear-free Living

Yesterday I shared with the kids a devotional I'd read about faith and fear.  The two emotions are definitely at odds with one another.  What struck me was the description I read in Hebrews about Abraham, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would alter receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going."  Abraham did not know where he was going and he just went!  That is faith!  When I read it, the idea of that kind of a faith really excited me and I tried to pass on that enthusiasm to the kids.  I wanted them to see living a life of faith can be exciting, an adventure, even when we don't know what is ahead!

The devotional went on to describe a life of faith like a journey.  The author said, "You must also be willing to take your ideas of what the journey will be like and tear them into tiny pieces, for nothing on the itinerary will happen as you expect."  Kind of reminds me of having a birth plan.  They are good to make and bad to make.  If things don't go as you hope, then you can be very disappointed. You almost need to be willing to just see what happens.  It's been like that with my son and his whole university entrance experience.  I really thought it would be smooth sailing once it was decided that was the route he was going to go, but it has been anything but smooth sailing.  However, at the same time I've been oddly enjoying how much he's been learning through this as well as myself.

Here's an example I shared with someone yesterday that really showed me all the ups and downs are worth it.  I am not great at math even though I took it right into first year university myself.  I wasn't surprised when my son struggled.  He was more literary-minded like myself and loved to read, write and communicate with others.  But he really needed these math courses.  At first they were all graphs and equations and complicated algebra.  It was awful, but then this last module he's been doing have all been on spreadsheets, calculating investments, interest, annuities, amortization...all things a big boy will have to know one day how to do.  Never in a million years did I think I would hear him talk using those terms, let alone understanding them.  It was almost as if the course writers knew this one child in their class would need this if he got married one day and they then wrote it just for him.

When he talks to me now, I can picture him sitting at a table with his future wife describing their finances and I know now he'll be able to make wise decisions just because of this one course he's been pushed to take.  He's learned things I never would have been able to teach him and even though this was a course we both hated a few weeks ago, we are both so grateful for it now!

The devotional summed it all up in these words, "Your Guide will not keep to any beaten path.  He will lead you through ways you would never have dreamed your eyes would see. He knows no fear, and He expects you to fear nothing while He is with you."

That is for sure - I wanted to stick to the path that was beaten, even though one of my all time favourite poems is called "The Road Less Travelled"!  I would have chosen a gr. 2 math course to get him in, not this one.  But here I am on this awful math path and now I'm so glad we're on this unbeaten ground!  HE KNOWS NO FEAR.  God is not a God of fear and HE EXPECTS ME TO NOT BE FEARFUL EITHER.  Oh.  Newsflash.  No fear because He is with me.  How do I forget that so easily?  I told my friend yesterday, "Remind me when I get like that again to remember what I learned!!!!"

Fear-free living.  It's a command.  I better follow it.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Faith vs. Fear

"The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones." Prov. 15:30

Boy, did I need good news this week.  I say that I've conquered fear, but as always, Satan is so good at taking a new tactic and I get side-swiped.  I guess what I had better say is, I'm learning to conquer each it comes along.

Well, lately, the new fear was my son and his future.  I was starting to lose it.  I was becoming a basket case.  My husband wasn't happy with how I was handling my concerns.  This is where I am amazed at our marriage.  He is so strong when I am so weak.  Then, of course, when he is struggling, I am able to be the strong one.  It was definitely his turn to be my support.  

I knew my son's life was in God's hands.  I knew it!  So why was I so fearful?  Once he had started to take this on-line math course, I guess I just thought everything would fall into place, but it wasn't. The math was way harder than he expected and he would daily come down with questions for me, half of which I couldn't answer.  I had learned to not panic. I had learned at least to stay calm when he talked to me.  I never wanted to pass any of my fears on to him.  If anything I was his rock.  I was his moral support, always pointing him to what I knew of God, hoping to always give him hope.  I should have lectured myself.

And I did, but then doubts would creep in, so many doubts.  Doubts that my own son had, "If I don't get in, what will I do?  If I can't handle this, how will I handle university?"  They went on and on and I was feeling tormented by them myself.  I would regularly bring them to my husband and he always reassured me and tried to calm me down.  My own son was fasting for his future, daily surrendering his life.  I was getting up early to pray.  I was regularly in the Word.  But, I think I would surrender his life, and then grab it back.  Why else would I be so fearful?

I found that verse in Proverbs 3 days ago.  I wrote my son's name beside it and I asked God for good news.  I needed good news!  Isn't that a neat coincidence that this weekend is all about good news?! The news is that Jesus came so that we don't have to be enslaved any more by sin or by fear or by anything!  But, I was still acting like a slave.  Finally, I recommitted him, every day, by faith, all week, even though I didn't I always have a fully surrendered feeling, I did it anyway.  I knew if I didn't the fear was going to win.  I also went to the worst case scenario with my husband and guess what, it wasn't that bad.  If he didn't get it, so what?  It meant he'd either wait a year to reapply or that God had a different plan for his life.  I just needed to relax!

Last night we had Bible Quizzing practice.  All the quizzers had gone home, so I quickly scooted the youngest up to bed.  I was still upstairs when I heard my husband shout at the top of his lungs a holler I knew was a happy one, but what was he so happy about?  I ran downstairs to find out.  There was my son, sitting at the computer, with my husband near by and I heard, "He got in! With a scholarship!"  What!?!  Our son received his acceptance letter by email and had just checked at that moment - he was in awe.  We were in awe!  

I ran and grabbed my Bible and showed Jesse the verse about good news, how I had prayed for that this week.  I sure needed that good news, my bones were not feeling refreshed and I was in a bad spiral.  This news came in the nick of time!

My 6 year old came in wondering what the fuss was.  I told him to ask our other son what the good news was, "I got accepted into university!"  "That's great!  I'm so happy for you!"  Why would a six year old care about his nearly 18 year old brother?  Because he has daily prayed for him.  He has heard my son's cares for weeks and sometimes I'll suggest things they pray for, but lately, I've just said, "Pray what comes to your mind."  He daily had prayed that he would get in, that God would help him with his math....the sweetest prayers.  I'm sure they helped!

So today, I woke up with a much happier feeling in my bones - that fear was gone.  It was a great lesson once again in fully surrendering, leaving my concerns with God, listening to my husband, trusting even when it didn't make sense.  

I know Satan will try another avenue of fear on me in the future.  It's definitely my weakest area...clearly.  I will once again try to remember this latest lesson in fear vs. faith.  Had Jesus stayed on the cross and in the grave, then I would have lots of reasons to keep being fearful.  Praise God He rose from the grave so I no longer have to be a slave to fear.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Learning to Rule Our Spirits

I meant to write about one other seminar I listened to at the homeschool conference.  It was on angry children.  I have a couple of those who just get easily angered either at me or at one another.  I wanted to pick up a few tips.  It was a fantastic seminar and was given by a Biblical counsellor who had been counselling for years.  Sadly, she said, there is no quick fix.  Rats.  She also said there is no 10 step plan.  Darn.  It is a slow process of trying to figure out and study your child and get to the heart of the matter.  Fine, fine, fine.

With one child, I had tried to do all the things she suggested, but one thing really jumped out at me - he always gets super frustrated during math. He acts out instead of calmly saying, "Mom, I just don't get this."  I could deal with that if he would just say that!  But no, he falls apart.  She was suggesting there is more going on behind the scenes.  He feels badly that he doesn't get it and doesn't know how to communicate his panic, his concern, his feeling 'stupid', so he acts out.  It's hard for me to be patient and try to figure him out, but that was her advice.  Be a student of your child, she kept saying, and try to get to why he's lashing out.

This same child has been struggling with pain - sometimes pain in his feet, sore muscles, a headache....I wasn't sure if it was a virus, or lack of sleep, or perhaps just running around the farm and overdid it...whatever it was, I didn't want to hear about it.  I figured he was possibly making up an excuse or something and I wasn't super compassionate.  Sometimes, as homeschool moms, we have more to prove, so we can tend to push our kids even harder so that our homeschooling doesn't get questioned.  I was pushing.  I had to stop and say, "Are you ok?"  No, he wasn't.  He wasn't feeling well.  The lights went on for me and I realized his behaviour was definitely tied to the fact he was not 100% and perhaps hadn't been for awhile.  Right then and there, I stopped everything and I prayed with him that God would show me how I could help him.

We decided we would do whatever it took to help him feel better.  I immediately put him on a super clean diet, no sugar or processed foods, and took out all grains for a short time.  It's only been a week and a lot of his aches and pains have cleared up.  I think he just needed to clear out some of the toxins that can build up in your body when you aren't as careful with what you take in.  He feels better and is more able to focus.  We went for days without the same behaviour issues.  I'm trying to be more aware of my children's physical and emotional needs. There's definitely a connection to behaviour when you are feeling rotten or sad or just not paid attention to.  That seminar was a good reminder to slow down, take stock of where my children are all at individually and really look for connections. Their bad behaviour could in fact be the only way they know to tell me they are struggling.  I'm listening much better now.

In the meantime, even as I study my child and he learns to calm down, we keep going to Scripture to see what it has to say about anger and quick tempers.  There is a LOT on anger in Proverbs.  So we've been memorizing and reading many verses on the subject.  Even if you are upset, you can't lash out at Mommy, nor can she lash out a frustrated child.  My favourite verse this week was, "Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city."  Proverbs 16:32  That is the goal - to rule our spirits instead of letting them rule us.  What a challenge!

I thank Jesus so much for the power of the resurrection.  Living that kind of life where you learn to rule your spirit is only possible because of what He did for us on the cross.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Grateful for Weekends, Winter, and Work

All weekend long, I heard my older daughter saying, "I'm so happy!  I'm so happy!"  Why was she so happy?  Because the weather had turned warm, she was out by the fire pit roasting hot dogs, wearing no coat, feeling the warm breezes and just hanging with the fam.  She was having an eternal moment all day.  I cannot believe how weather can impact mood.  You don't even realize how winter can really take its toll on you.  We are also in the second week of having finished the towers and we're still so happy they are gone!

We were finally able to get started on all the things that have been neglected for so long - the huge wood pile that needs to be moved, all the junk that has been accumulating around the farm needed to be taken care much stuff.  The boys love to collect scrap metal.  Over the winter they collected $200 worth of scrap that they put towards their summer camp early registration fees.  I love that. Junk pays!

What really struck us, though, was how grateful God gave us the towers in the winter time.  Now that it is spring, we are outside working all the time.  We've had tower orders in the summer before and that is awful - working in the hot, hot workshop is a form of torture.  Had we received the tower order in the warm weather season, it would have certainly impacted all that we would have longed to get done on the farm.  I guess what I'm seeing is that God answers our prayers when we ask Him to help us be productive.  He allowed every day in the cold season to be used.  Normally we would sit in our warm, cozy house (well, I use the term "warm" loosely!) and not want to do anything, but with the deadline of March 31, we found ourselves working the whole winter.  I love how God orders our days!  Now, there is a certain freedom to get our work done outside without feeling like we're not allowed.  No, we feel free to work.  Does that sound strange?

Then, yesterday, with my second charge of children, the younger 3 - we went off to the Niagara Symphony!  They performed a concert about dinosaurs to orchestral music!  My kids were fascinated. It brought back all sorts of memories when I used to do things like that with the older kids.  The price was really good as they were trying to get young kids to see the symphony, but still it wasn't free. When I first asked RM, he didn't even hesitate - "Go," he said.  It's an investment that is well worth it to expose them to such beautiful music.  It's very inspiring and showed them a different type of art and skill that you don't see very often.

On a completely different note, it looks like we are making a huge shift in farming.  Retirement is drawing near for my husband.  He isn't ever going to truly retire, I'm sure, but as every year passes and his income earning years come to a close he realizes he needs to make sure there is a retirement plan.  What has God given us?  Land.  Where do we live?  In the fertile area of Niagara.  What do people love to grow here?  Grapes.  So it looks like we are going to attempt a new crop.  Nothing has gone in yet.  There is a lot of work to do ahead of time before anything even gets planted, but things are now in the works to do so.  My favourite verse as we've thought and prayed about this decision has been, "Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense." (Prov. 12:11)  That is our prayer, that we will not follow worthless pursuits, that we will use the land God has given us for His glory, and in doing so, that He will continue to provide our "bread".

Well, I'm off to fold a mountain of laundry.......!