All There

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“Wherever you are, be all there.”
Jim Elliot

Last Friday I shared our financial goals. Briefly, we have credit card and car debt in a snowball plan, are using cash only for everyday purchases and are adding a little in savings every pay check.  Once we pay those debts off we’ll decide whether to sell our present home and payoff this mortgage or move to downsize the mortgage. That’s it. On a day to day basis, as long as I stick to the cash only plan, there’s not a lot of thought that goes into carrying out these steps.  I am impatient though for the end goal. I like a project that takes up more focused energy.  This is more like a small lifestyle change. Which is fine and also takes focus but doesn’t take a lot of daily effort.

Another goal is becoming more minimalist.  I love to de-clutter and would love to get down to the bare bones of possessions and distractions.  There are some aspects of minimalism that won’t work with our family right now but there is still a lot I can do to live with minimal distractions.  Again this is a process and will take patience.  In the mean time I need to pace myself and not neglect my other responsibilities.

Each of these areas can become a distraction to what is right in front of me. Namely my children and my family.  I can spend inordinate amounts of time reading about minimalism and financial peace on the internet, day dream about the next home and become increasingly unproductive in daily life.  The preventative is three-fold: patience, presence and a plan.

I need to be patient through the process of achieving these large over-arching goals and I need to practice being present to the moment. This often requires a plan.

Patience

Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Without getting angry or upset.  Keep calm and carry on.  This area requires prayer and deep breathing especially when dealing with people.  Patience in waiting for a certain day or goal to be reached requires steady work towards the goal.  I struggle with the day to day but hope to be able to look back to see how step by step we’ve reached our goals.  Patience indeed is what it will take.

Presence

Sometimes being present will require focusing on the next step of each of these goals and that will feel like progress but, I need to set aside dedicated time to that.  Being present means I am “all there” when interacting with my husband and “all there” when listening to my children. This means, eye contact, no phone in the hand, and pleasant interaction. Sometimes this will mean putting down what I’m doing to be present to interruptions the beautiful people in my life.

Jesus was a perfect example of this. While He walked on this earth he was “all there” in every situation.  He was completely in the moment interacting with those in front of him. If he needed time alone to pray He went off by himself.  His disciples on the other hand tried to shoo the children away and day dreamed and argued about who was greatest. Mary was praised for sitting and learning and being present while Martha was rebuked for her worry. There is a lot we can learn from Jesus’ example.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus exhorted his followers not to worry about tomorrow, but to focus on today, and to trust God for food and clothes and shelter. Our most basic needs provided by a loving God. Being present though takes practice a constant capturing of our thoughts to the moment.

Elisabeth Elliot talked of interruptions as God ordained. In her book Keep a Quiet Heart she states this about interruptions:

I think I find most help in trying to look on all the inter­ruptions and hindrances to work that one has planned out for oneself as discipline, trials sent by God to help one against getting selfish over one’s work.Then one can feel that perhaps one’s true work—one’s work for God—con­sists in doing some trifling haphazard thing that has been thrown into one’s day. It is not a waste of time, as one is tempted to think, it is the most important part of the work of the day—the part one can best offer to God. After such a hindrance, do not rush after the planned work; trust that the time to finish it will be given sometime, and keep a quiet heart about it.

I read this article recently that teaches specifically what can be done when feeling overwhelmed at home or at work and how to bring peace back to your day by becoming present.  Please don’t be put off, if you are a Christian, by the eastern religion aspect of this, there are good tips for redirecting our thoughts back to what’s right in front of us.

Being present becomes, then, a way to handle any problem, any distraction, any stressor. It allows everything else to fade away, leaving only you and whatever you’re dealing with right now. -Leo Babauta

Planning

Having a plan helps in staying present and gives a sense of productivity. This is another area I am growing in.  Each day I like to know what’s ahead of me so I can stay focused on what needs to be done.  But, to always hold that loosely so I can deal with interruptions (see above). I’ve tried many ways to plan my days and weeks over the years and have not found one way that consistently works well for me.  I’ve always envied admired people who plan their days and flow from one task to the next in quiet efficiency.  Productivity is the outcome, they are able to teach 10 children, write books, finish home projects and keep their house clean with ease. At least they make it look easy.  I ebb and flow, I have seasons of productivity but often end up distracted by internet, social media or other things.  There are tools I’ve come across recently that help both to stay with a task at hand, not let distractions take over and to have a plan to help minimize distractions.

One is called The Pomodoro Technique. This utilizes a simple timer and breaks the day up into 25 minute segments.  The technique, I think, works best for school and office work but,  its basic principles work well for homemaking and homeschooling as well.  The idea is to have each task broken up into pomodoros and plan your day according to that.  After each 25 minute segment you have a five minute break and after 3 pomodoro’s you take a longer 30 minute break to regroup before the next set of pomodoros.  I like the idea of using a timer but have not bought into the complete plan of tracking all work done this way.

Another tool I came across recently is from a blog post on Study Hacks by Cal Newport who shows us how to plan our week through a narrative rather than bullet points of daily tasks. Check it out and see if that is something that might work for you.

Next week school starts for my two youngest children. One will be in Middle School and one will be home schooled for fourth grade.  I will not have  much time for distractions but I hope with these tools I will be able to practice daily and weekly planning and stay present  for peace and productivity while being patient for the long term results. I was going to title this: Practicing Patience, Presence and Planning Produces Peace and Productivity but too much alliteration. Let’s just be All There!

 

 

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Friday Finances: Getting out of Debt

  Wealth after all is a relative thing since he that has little and wants less is richer than he that has much and wants more. –Charles Caleb Colton

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Wealth is relative I know to some it may seem like we have a lot, to others on the brink of nothing. Money matters are generally off limits in polite conversation especially how much debt you have, how much money you make and how much money you have in savings or invest each year is not something to talk about, especially if you are among people of either extreme wealth or poverty. I’m sure I’ll be breaking all the rules with this post as I  get personal and lay out our finances for the world to see. If you stumble across this post and are looking for investment tips as a day trader or the best IRA to start your retirement fund this won’t help you.

I’m going to give a little personal history share some strategies for getting out of debt and managing daily spending  and give you some personal encouragement if you happen to be in the same predicament as we are. We are simple, frugal, people but honestly haven’t handled our money sensibly over our 23 years of marriage even though we’ve been trying to live within our means.  In the early years we were living slightly above the poverty level still trying to find our niche in the working world and it was extremely hard to make ends meet. At our lowest we made $24,000 one year in the late nineties. Miraculously, as the new millennium hit, our income increased 3 fold over the next 4 years and we’ve now broken the 100,000 per year mark. Now that we’ve caught up with the Jones’ including all their debt we want to go a little further.

To put things in perspective though we live in the richest country in the world in the richest county in our state and make the median income. We live in a nice neighborhood, drive nice cars, and have plenty of food in our refrigerator. We are able to take occasional modest vacations. We sponsor a child in India, give to our church and try to be generous with others. We are not even close to the poverty level anymore.

On the other hand we have very little in retirement, struggle to save money and live pay check to pay check.  Our debt to income ratio is 39% when looking at gross income, much higher if we look at take home pay. We have an interest only mortgage and interest only home equity loan and negative net worth. Our interest only term on the home equity loan is up next year and we have 6 years left on our interest only mortgage.  We want to pay off the lesser debt and either increase our income to the point we can afford a conventional loan on our present home, or sell and move into a smaller more affordable home to drastically decrease our debt to income ratio. Then start saving!  Wayne is eligible to retire in 15 years. that seems crazy, especially because we have very little saved or invested.

We’ve put our car loans and small credit card debt into a snowball calculator and will have those paid off in 2.5 years. That’s a conservative estimate, we hope, if we throw everything we have at this debt, it will be sooner. Once those are paid off we can either make the decision to sell our home or convert to conventional loans and just stay put. We are also building up an emergency fund and trying to save for those yearly lump expenses like Christmas, taxes and vacations. If we don’t have the cash we won’t spend the money. That’s the plan

Why haven’t we done this sooner? How did we get here to begin with?

Simply living beyond our means doesn’t quite explain it.  The short story is that in 2005 at the peak of the real estate bubble we sold our small 1300 square foot home in a not so great neighborhood for a ridiculous price(450,000, cleared 150,000) and bought a home almost twice as big in a great neighborhood, for a ridiculous price (559,000), with the hope of always having rental income from the basement apartment in the new house to afford the mortgage. For about 2 hours on September 15th, 2005 we had no debt and a nice nest egg. If we had bought a home with a conventional mortgage at about 200,000 less  we could have, by this time, been almost 1/3 of the way through the term of the loan and would also probably have a positive net value. We knew that interest only loans were not a smart financial move, how and why we agreed to that I’m not sure but, there’s another aspect of our journey into debt.

Two months after  moving into the new and improved home the bubble burst and the value of our home dipped about $30,000 we still had enough equity over the next 1.5 years to be eligible for and able to finance two international adoptions through a home equity line of credit.  We are so grateful and truly see God’s hand in this. At just the right time we were able to leverage our assets to give two children a home and forever family.  So I’m not going to say that was a bad decision!  We can talk the joys and struggles of adoption another time. Financially it put us in a lot more debt than we would otherwise have had but it was the right decision at just the right time.

Over the next few years much of our discretionary income went to therapy, surgery and other things to care for our adopted children.  During that time we drove two cars into the ground and it really seemed that financing cars made a lot of sense. We haven’t had car debt in 15 years and Dave Ramsey might disagree but to have two relatively new cars and not to have to worry about reliable transportation gives peace of mind. A few unwise decisions though, have put us in over our head such as taking retirement money to put wood floors in and using credit cards to finance vacations.  This finally caught up with us and we’ve reached the breaking point.

We have a plan though and a desire to work the plan. We are years behind some of our peers but I am hopeful that we can turn our situation around.

Today is the first payday with our new cash only system.  I cashed a check, allocated money to envelopes titled food, fuel, clothing, household, and miscellaneous (for things like eating out and coffees or sweet frog) and hope, for once, the money will last till next paycheck. Thankfully I was also able to put some to savings and giving first.  It will take careful planning and mindful spending but I hope as it becomes habit to use only cash for every purchase it will get easier and our goals will be realized.

 

 

 

 

Diving In, Taking Risks

A few years ago we had a Roemersberger family reunion.  Wayne Roemersberger, my husband’s grandfather and namesake, moved his family to Alamogordo, New Mexico in the 1940’s to work at White Sands Missile Base.  Grandma Sharon, my husbands mother, grew up there with her three siblings.

During the reunion we spent a day at White Sands National Monument. White Sands is other worldly, I’ve never seen anything like it, “Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield”.  The gypsum does not absorb heat so even on the hottest of days you can walk barefoot up the dunes.

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We had a wonderful day diving into the hills, sledding down the dunes, enjoying the view. Usually hitting the soft soft sand.

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Life isn’t always like that.  We don’t always hit a soft spot, sometimes diving in hurts.  We avoid risks because we are afraid of the hurt and vulnerability that it brings. In her book Daring Greatly Brene’ Brown encourages us to be vulnerable.  Asserting that to succeed in life, whether it be in business, relationships or creative pursuits, we have to let go of perfectionism and enter into the “arena”, be real and take risks.  The compelling thing about her book is that it is not a pet theory or hypothesis, it is based on years of research with real people from all walks of life.  From the cover flap her work is summarized:

Brown explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy empathy, innovation and creativity.  She explains that when we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.

In my own life I can see now, how I’ve avoided vulnerability in personal relationships, business pursuits and creative pursuits.  I’ve insulated myself from criticism and never step too far into the arena for fear of getting hurt.  In some pursuits I’ve had a pattern of quitting before I fail.

The title of Brown’s book was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote from a speech he gave in France in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I’ve been inspired by many around me who have entered the arena and are doing great things, embracing their vulnerability in the process. In my own life I see many areas in which I’ve had great courage, in many others though, I’d like to step further into the arena. Even if I don’t hit that soft spot.

Frugality Versus Simplicity and Those Inspiring Minimilists

“As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. It is not the things you have that make you happy. It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good. ”
-Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Little House in the Big Wood

I love the Little House on the Prairie books, they give a glimpse into a simpler time. When you have to fit every thing you own in a covered wagon minimalism is a necessity.  Each girl had one small box for their treasured possessions. Except for those boxes, a little china shepherdess and Pa’s fiddle, their possessions were  utilitarian. They found joy from a ring of violets on the prairie, starlit nights, fiddle playing and real glass windows. I’ve romanticized that era, but probably wouldn’t have survived, I love me some AC in the summer and indoor heat in the winter.  The simplicity and inherent minimalism of that time is attractive.

It’s no wonder minimalism and simplicity are  making a come back. It’s easy to become buried in possessions and commitments and lose sight of what has true value. From tiny homes and living off the grid to living with less there is a new wave of simplicity by choice not just necessity. I’ve been following The Art of Simple for a few years now and always gain inspiration to purge possessions, live with purpose and focus on the moment.  Recently I stumbled across The Minimalists, ah these guys! Wise beyond their years, and living lives free of many of the trappings of many their age who are consumed with success and appearance and lots of toys.

Love their message. I was so inspired I gave away two car loads of stuff and threw away two trash bags full of old photos and put the rest in a bin to sort and scan when I have a full day to do so. I had already purged quite a few things this spring. My home is not too cluttered, yes I have a few piles but I am no hoarder. Yet there is all this stuff, stored, displayed, in drawers and closets, 24 years of marriage and five kids worth of stuff. The stuff gets easier and easier to let go of though.  I crave minimal, I crave simplicity I’ve been living frugally my whole married life. Now with two married and the third not too far from independence we are looking to down size in a few years. I’d love to be able to fit all our stuff in a covered wagon before we move!

This new kick (hopefully a never ending way of life) got me thinking about simplicity versus frugality. At first glance they might seem identical they both encourage debt free living and simple lifestyles yet frugality does not always equate to a minimalist mentality. In fact the opposite can be true.

Frugal people can live very complicated, cluttered lives. They go to great lengths in their bargain hunting, practice the most energy efficient ways yet, their time is used up and their space, mental and physical, is full to overflowing. They never part with anything that might be of use someday. They always think their stuff is worth more than it is. I’m not talking about the coupon clippers that have managed to keep their grocery budget in check. Or those who keep track of every consignment sale to get the best value in slightly used clothing and baby items. I admire these people actually, I’m quite in awe.  These aren’t the people I’m talking about though, it’s the ones who go to every free clothing give away and take home 5 bags full of clothes to add to their already overflowing closets and drawers or bring home stacks of books from the library sale without an empty shelf waiting to set them on.  The ones who think they are saving money by buying stuff they don’t need on sale  when actually they are spending money on stuff they don’t need. The ones who find security from full shelves and comfort from their collections miss out on the freedom of less. Instead of security they become slaves to managing stuff.

I’ve been there to some degree, I’ve made purchases I regret, bought  appliances and gadgets I thought I would use, have emotional attachments to much of my stuff and have imagined my things are worth more than they are. My family is not free of this vice.

Even worse despite being frugal and living fairly simply we have debt. At almost 50 we have little savings and lots of debt and negative net worth.  What can we possibly add to the conversation?  Hope for our peers. I know we are  not the only ones who have reached mid-life without financial security.

We have a plan and for once I feel we are on the right track. How we got here is not your typical buy lots of stuff to keep up appearances, we have some noble reasons for the predicament we’re in but we’ve still made mistakes. We are renewing our money sensibilities and look forward to the day, in a few years time, that we can say we are free and financially secure.

The Minimalists are not the first guys with a message of simplicity and freedom.    Over hundreds if not thousands of years the same message packaged a little differently and delivered by different people has been preached.  I’ve needed the current reminder though and have found others sharing the same principles. I look forward to this journey and I’ll share it with you.

Renewed Sensibilities is more than minimalism, though it will be a major theme. I’ll talk about the many facets of life and how to respond sensibly.

Here are others I’ve read over the years:

Proverbs

Philippians

Your Money or Your Life

The Tightwad Gazette

Dave Ramsey

The Art of Simple

The Minimalists

Becoming Minimalist

 

The Sacred and The Secular, Renewed Sensibilities

I’ve updated my about page with a gravatar profile? I think? WordPress links to things and I just fill them out and sign up not really knowing what I’m getting myself into.  That, however is totally beside the point.  I’ve explained my self with these words: Simply living in the space I’ve been given, using my sensibilities to grapple with the secular and the sacred and how they intertwine.  At almost 50 I find myself re-evaluating many things; life, love, family, religion, vocation, nutrition, education,everything that life encompasses while living in a 1st world country.  It’s a luxury really and one I try not to take for granted.

My tagline, the definition of sensibilities goes like this: the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences; sensitivity. The ability to respond. I may not always respond rationally, or logically or even coherently but you can be sure I will respond hopefully with sensitivity. I will probably contradict myself, I will probably offend some people, but I am going to put myself out there (eventually haha, I’ll try not to wait till I have it all figured out to promote my thoughts cause we know that will never happen).

Secular: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis

Sacred: connected with God  or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.

And never the two shall meet.  Or do they?  I like to read and recently the relation of the sacred  and the secular has come up in two different places. The first is a book that I am loving titled “The Supper of the Lamb, A Culinary Reflection” by Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest. He exhorts throughout to enjoy all things secular with a sacred delight. In his chapter on wine, before actually talking about wine, he says this:

“So with all things. Creation is God’s living room, the place where He sits down and relishes the exquisite taste of His decoration. Things, therefore, as things, are inseparable from God, as God. Separate the secular from the sacred, and the world becomes an idol shrouded in interpretations; creation becomes too meaningful to make love to .  As religion devoured life for the pagan, so significance consumes the world of the secularist. …Without a Giver, they never become themselves”

Then he exorcises the demons with this prayer:

“…Deliver us, O Lord, from religiosity and Godlessness alike, lest we wander in fakery or die of boredom.  Restore to us Thyself as Giver and the secular as Thy gift.  Let idols perish and con jobs cease. Give repentance and better minds to all pagans and secularists; in the meantime, of Thy mercy, keep them out of our cellars.”

I love his humor! This dear man died a year ago and I found this remembrance of him which also praises his sensibilities:

“I was weak in the knees for a way of worshiping that did not pit the “things of earth” against the “glory and grace” of Christ, but was capable of seeing them—the humblest of elements—charged with such glory. This is what makes The Supper of the Lamb remarkable both as a work of theology and as a cookbook: “The world is no disposable ladder to heaven. Earth is not convenient; it is good; it is, by God’s design, our lawful love,” Capon wrote. For Capon, discussing the physics involved in the preparation of a perfectly smooth gravy—down to the details of what sort of whisk does the job best—was of a piece with celebrating the goodness of God who created it all for delight, who means to lift all the good things of this world to grace, to that

unimaginable Session
In which the Lion lifts
Himself Lamb Slain
And, Priest and Victim
Brings
The City
Home.”

 In another book, more clearly religious  titled “Made for More, An Invitation to Live in God’s Image” Hannah Anderson helps us see our womanhood as more than the roles we play and more as image bearers with possibilities beyond what we imagine in which the secular and the sacred do mix.

“And yet scripture does not differentiate between sacred wisdom and secular knowledge….Because of this, imago dei knowledge is by necessity more than a dry, crusty intellectualism; it is more than a “worldview.” At its root, imago dei  knowledge is the capacity to wonder-to look for God’s fingerprints everywhere and then to stand in awe when you finally see Him.  Imago dei knowledge means searching for Him with childlike curiosity, wide-eyed and eager to discover who He is and the world He has made.”

So it seems in life that all things secular, be it knowledge, food, wisdom or wine, are truly connected to God and therefore sacred when we recognize God as the creator and giver of these gifts.

Sound Sensibility: Rain

The patter of the rain is a balm to the soul, a soothing presence.  Today’s rain is a steady beat not a sprinkling nor a down pour just a persistent patter. When I woke I laid in bed and saw the trees swaying in the wind before the rain came.  I couldn’t hear anything though.  I longed too open the window wide to listen to rushing, rustling leaves warn of the pending storm.  I didn’t want to wake my husband who still slept soundly by my side so I just watched and imagined what it sounded like. I thought about how insulated I am to the outdoors when I’m in my modern home built of sticks but warmed and cooled by mechanics to avoid the extremities.  Sometimes I miss our West Virginia home that was on a hill laid bare to the elements no AC only a Pellet Stove to warm.  On windy days there it sounded like the roof might blow off.  In the summer the windows were always opened wide hoping for a cross breeze to get some relief.  The best part though of living in sight of “The Ridge” was sitting on the front porch and watching a summer storm roll in then, scurrying inside when it hit and watching through the large picture window and listening with other windows wide open.  This morning I came downstairs and opened the windows and let the solitary sound of the soft rain soothe my soul before the cares of the day took over.

Water whether the patter of rain or the waves on the beach or a flowing river has an effect on our sensibilities.  If you like the background noise of water this noise maker might be a welcome presence.  My noise calibrates a variety of noises to your liking and hearing ability.  I don’t understand all the science but perhaps it can be a way to extend the effect long after the rain outside has stopped.

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