By Grace Alone

The real life struggles of a Christian mom

Adventures in Couponing July 11, 2009

Several months ago, my husband started expressing his desire for us to start spending less and saving more.  (This may or may not have coincided with a certain Democrat being elected president and vowing to “reform” health care.  But that is another story for another blog.)  He has repeated this preposterous suggestion many, many times.  And every time, my flesh (sinful nature) has done a good job of ignoring it.  After all, his job is pretty secure, he’s not making less money than he did a year ago–why should we cut back?  Shouldn’t I be doing my part to stimulate the economy and support my local retailers?  (I really want Gymboree to survive this economic turmoil.)  It seemed crazy for my husband to ask me to make sacrifices, and not even so I could use the saved money for something fabulous, like an iPhone or a cleaning lady.  Just for the sake of spending less and saving more.  He must be nuts, right?

After some conversations with my wonderful friends (if you don’t have godly, truth-speaking friends in your life, may I suggest you get some immediately?), I realized that this was a huge area of disobedience in my life.  My husband is asking me to do something.  He is not asking me to sin.  In fact, the thing he is asking me to do is perfectly reasonable, probably a good idea, and (gulp) would be glorifying God by thinking less about my own selfish desires.  I knew it was time for the S-word:  submission.  I couldn’t bring myself to submit right away, so I started by praying that God would convict me and enable to submit and obey.  And then I turned to my local expert on honoring your husband by spending less money:  my friend Lynette.

I’ve been giving Lynette my coupons out of the Sunday paper for months.  I had no idea what she was doing with them, but I knew I needed to find out.  I broke the sad news to her that she would no longer be getting my coupons and asked her to share her secrets with me.  Thankfully, she is very supportive of my saving money AND my submitting to my husband!  She taught me a few key strategies:

1.  Stop being married to specific brands.  I was shocked when I compared the shampoo I usually buy with some much cheaper alternatives.  I’ve been having shampoo tunnel vision for months, and my hair doesn’t even look that great.

2.  Track the cost of items that you buy on a regular basis.  When they go on sale, stock up.

3.  Keep your coupons from the Sunday paper, and then use blogs such as Common Sense With Money, Money Saving Mom and NWA Deals to find out how to maximize your savings by combining coupons with low sale prices.

4.  Don’t be afraid to shop at Aldi.  (I haven’t conquered this one yet.  Maybe when the kids go back to school in the fall, and I don’t have to take three kids with me everywhere I go.)

This concept of combining sales and coupons is amazing!  It is definitely worth spending some time on.  In my first week, check out what I got . . . serious bargain-hunting bloggers always take a photo:

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Pringles for 49 cents, family-size boxes of Special K for $2.50 each, Edy’s ice cream for $1.33 each, and deodorant for 38 cents!  I also got a pint of Starbucks ice cream for 50 cents, but I gave that to my sister-in-law, because seriously, how much ice cream does a girl need when she has baby weight to lose?!?

Back when I was just dipping my toe into the pool of obedience but not ready to jump in, I read on a stay-at-home mom’s blog that she thinks that her job is to save her family as much money as possible.  I thought, “Poor thing.  My job is much more enjoyable–spending our family’s money and having fun doing it.  Oh, wait . . . hmm, maybe that isn’t supposed to be my job . . . oh bummer, this woman is right!”  Now I have a new view on my job description, though sometimes I miss my old job.   I can’t wait to see what my new strategies will accomplish when it comes to lowering our spending, and (more importantly) pleasing my husband and letting him know that what’s important to him is important to me.  I want to honor my husband with my spending, following the example given to us as women in Proverbs 31:

An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.

Proverbs 31:10-11

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Unthankfulness July 1, 2009

Do you know how many times my children have opened their dresser drawers and exclaimed, “Clean clothes!  Washed, dried, folded and put in my drawer!  Way to go, Mom!  Thank you!”

Zero.  Usually, all I hear is, “When are you going to wash my Transformer pj’s?”  Sound familiar?

When I read Jerry Bridge’s chapter on Unthankfulness (see previous post on his book Respectable Sins), I realized that I must look the same way to God as my kids do to me.  God has done so much for me and continues to sustain me every day, and I seldom stop to thank Him.  God has rescued me from guilt, sin and death by delivering me from the domain of darkness and transferring me to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).  He has blessed me in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).  In addition to spiritual blessings, He has given me every ability or skill I have, a loving husband, three healthy children, friends, a home, possessions, food . . . everything I have comes from Him.

How often do I thank God for my mini-van?  For the ability to go to the store when we run low on food?  For the privelege of gathering with other Christians openly every Sunday to hear the Word of God preached?  It is not often that I exhibit a sincere attitude of thankfulness.

I read an article on happiness recently in Good Housekeeping magazine.  It said that when we buy something we want, we have a high level of satisfaction, but only for a very short time.  We quickly become used to having that item around and take it for granted, and our sights turn to the next item we want.  This is so true in my life.  I remember last year, when I desperately wanted to replace the ceiling fan over our dining room table with a beautiful chandelier.  Finally, I got my chandelier, and I loved it.  For about a week, I looked at it all the time and felt happy and thankful.  Now, how often do you think I still notice my beautiful chandelier?  Pretty much never.  Rather than being thankful for what I have, I turn my attention to that sofa I’d like to replace.

Jerry Bridges reminded me in this chapter that my unthankfulness is a sin.  Sound harsh?  It’s true.  In Ephesians 5:20, we see the command to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Bridges writes, “Failure to give Him the thanks due to Him is sin.  It might seem like a benign sin to us because it doesn’t harm anyone else.  But it is an affront and insult to the One who created us and sustains us every second of our lives.”

Bridges also writes about giving thanks in ALL circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  This is a personal challenge for me right now, as someone I love very much is facing a battle with cancer.  I found comfort in Bridges’ discussion of this topic, encouraging us that giving thanks in difficult circumstances can only be done by faith in the promises of God.  We can only obey I Thessalonians 5:18 because we know Romans 8:28 is true:  For we know for those who love God all things work together for good.  In the midst of heartache, we can thank God for the good we know He can accomplish through any circumstance.

 

Being a little girl’s mom February 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 10:57 am
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After a few years of experience as a boy mom, they tell me this one’s gonna be a girl.  As excited as I am about buying pink, I’m a little nervous about this.  (And not only because I spent most of my adolescence yelling hurtful things at my own mother.)  The other day when I was praying for my kids and their marriages and future spouses, I was reminded again of the weight of responsibility that comes with raising a girl.  When raising my boys to be godly husbands and fathers, I can point to their father and say, “Look at how hard he works to support his family.  Look at how he helps me when he gets home and cares about spending time with you.”  Thankfully, my boys have a wonderful example to follow.

But this little girl will learn the most about being a wife and mom from MY day-to-day example.  What will she see?  Will she see laziness and selfishness, or diligence and service?  Will she see respect or resentment toward my husband?  Submission or manipulation?  Patience in disciplining my children, or a lack of self-control?  Will she learn to be frugal and wise in her spending habits, or will she see me rationalizing and spending on my own desires?  Will she see me seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, or will she see me seeking after the things of this world?

I am not perfect.  There are sin patterns in my life that I know my daughter will see, and I pray that God will protect her from following when I am a poor example.  I know that God is probably bringing a little girl into my life to provide even more accountability than my sons already have.

 

Thou shall not covet December 2, 2008

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 7:38 pm
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“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”            Exodus 20:17

We recently studied the 10 Commandments in BSF (more to come on that later), and one that I was particularly struck by is the tenth commandment.  My struggles with materialism and discontentment are well-documented on this blog, and I know covetousness is a temptation for me.  When I was studying this commandment again, I started to think about what positive thoughts or actions should replace the sinful ones.  That is, what thoughts should replace the sinful thought of coveting my neighbor’s house?  (Or shoes.  Or purse.  I manage not to covet my neighbor’s donkeys, but I do covet their cleaning leady.)

I started to wonder what it would be like if, instead of feeling envy and discontentment, I could, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually be happy for someone who has something I wish I had.  Because to be honest with you, it has been a long time since I’ve walked into a lavish home and thought about how happy I am for the person who lives there.  I know it will not come naturally to me, but it seems like a good way to battle covetousness.

God gave me an opportunity recently to apply this new lesson.  I was visiting the home of a friend, and another friend warned me ahead of time that I should be prepared to envy her Christmas decorations.  On the way to my friend’s home, I prayed and thanked God for my home and the Christmas decorations He has provided for me.  (It sounds silly, but I really like Christmas decorations.)  I prayed that I would be able to admire my friend’s decorations and sincerely be happy for her.  And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I had a wonderful time in her home and was able to enjoy her beautiful decorations in a much more joyful way.

So thank you to my friend who warned me about the upcoming temptation . . . and for those of you who see me regularly, could you please warn me when you have a fabulous new purse, adorable shoes, or new furniture, so I can properly prepare my heart not to envy you?  I’m on the remedial track and need advance warning!

 

Proverbs, Part 2 August 27, 2008

I’ve been reading Proverbs this summer and finally finished.  It was excellent!  (Of course.)  Here are some of my favorite encouraging and convicting verses from the second half of the book:

Proverbs 14:29:  Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. Very convicting–the last thing we need around here is more folly!

Proverbs 15:28:  The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. I really stink at pondering how to answer.  I prefer to pour out whatever comes to mind.  I want to ponder like the righteous!

Proverbs 23:12:  Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. This one is for me and for my kids.  I’ve been praying for a verse for our part-time homeschooling next year, and I think this may be it.

Proverbs 27:14:  Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! I stink at waiting even more than I stink at pondering how to answer.

Proverbs 29:17:  Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. What a fabulous promise!  Did you see that, moms?!?  He said REST!!

Proverbs 30:5:  Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. What great truth and comfort.

Proverbs 31:11, 26-27:  The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

I’ve been inspired by the Proverbs 31 Woman for a long time.  This month, verse 11 stood out to me with regard to my spending habits.  The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. Can my husband completely trust the way I handle our money and run our household?  Am I doing all I can to make sure he has “no lack of gain”?  Or am I adding to his stress as he works to keep up with my spending?  (Answers:  No, No, and Yes.)  What can I do differently to be more worthy of his trust and add to his gain?

 

Proverbs July 21, 2008

Filed under: parenting — Marissa Henley @ 8:10 pm
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A wise woman (my pastor’s wife) pointed out recently that there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, and perhaps we should be reading one a day each month. So in July, I set out to read Proverbs. I’m a little behind the one chapter a day schedule . . . probably on the two-month regimen. But it has been fabulous. I’m amazed at how the Holy Spirit has brought specific verses to my attention at just the right time. Here are some verses that have stood out to me:

Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understand, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Prov 2:3-5. Am I searching for wisdom from God or for earthly riches?

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. Prov 10:20-21. For the sake of my children and others around me, is righteousness or foolishness on my tongue?

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. Prov 11:28. I think you all know this is an issue for me.

A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly. Prov 12:23. This one has me evaluating what I write on my blog.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. Prov 12:25. Feeling weighed down? I do often.

A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. Prov 13:1. I want to be receptive to my heavenly Father’s instruction, so I can teach my children how to grow in wisdom as well.

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Prov 13:3-4. Ouch and double ouch. That darn snooze button betrays me every time.

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. Prov 13:24. I’m sure this one doesn’t need explanation if you know I have a 2-year-old.

As you can see, there’s all kinds of good stuff there. I encourage you to read Proverbs with me–if you start now, you will have a head start on August!

 

“Calm My Anxious Heart”–Greed April 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 2:20 pm
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I read Linda Dillow’s chapter in “Calm My Anxious Heart” on greed several weeks ago and have been mulling it over in my mind ever since. Several things stood out to me:

  • Everything I have belongs to God. (More on this below.)
  • The main issue is the condition of my heart. Am I content or always wanting more? (See Matthew 6:19-21–where is your treasure?).
  • No one can serve two masters–whom do I serve? Am I so busy taking care of my stuff that I don’t have time to serve God and His church?
  • Possessions are to be used for God’s kingdom, not gripped tightly or adored. What am I holding on to too tightly? Or what daydreams about possessions consume my day? How can I better use what God has given me to serve Him?
  • “God can rid your heart of greed, but it is your responsibility to remove yourself from situations that promote greediness . . . stand in your house and look around. Where does greed have hold of you?” (p. 97) For me, this means throwing out catalogs as soon as I walk in from the mailbox (when does looking through the Pottery Barn catalog ever lead to feelings of contentment?!?), limiting the time I spend browsing through the mall, and being careful about spending time with people who cause me to be tempted in this area.
  • “Listen to your heart. Listen to your words. Look at your actions. Are you teaching your children to be grateful for God’s blessings?” (Sorry, don’t have the page number for this, and my book is currently in Europe. I wish I was with it.)

The most striking thing for me in this chapter was when she talked about everything we have belonging to God, and therefore, the question is not “how much will I give?” but “how much should I keep?” If I adopt this “How much should I keep?” attitude, it radically transforms how I view my finances. Back when we were barely making it financially, prioritizing our spending was easy–pay taxes, 10% to God, keep the rest to pay our bills, thank you very much. But now that there is more than what we need for the bare necessities of food, clothes and shelter, things seem so much more complicated.

What does God want me to keep His money for, and what does He want me to do without so I can keep less and give more? Does He want me to keep enough for a new car or an old one? Does He want me to keep His money so my kids can have clothes from children’s boutiques or Target? Does God want me to use some of His money for an XM radio subscription so I can listen to commercial-free 80’s music? (I had totally rationalized the relatively small XM radio expense until I thought about it this way.)

Now that I think about it, it isn’t complicated. I just don’t like the answer. It seems clear to me that God wants me to use some of His money to provide what our family needs, to create special memories with our kids, and for Noel and I having time alone together to strengthen our marriage. I hope God doesn’t mind my spending His money on the safest minivan money can buy (but He probably doesn’t need the sunroof), and I hope that someday He’ll let me keep enough to pay someone to clean my house (if I use the time to glorify Him by serving others and/or educating my kids).

But God probably doesn’t want me wasting His money on things that only glorify me, and that is where most of it goes. He isn’t concerned with what others think of my home decor, my purse, my clothes or my shoes. He doesn’t care if my kids have real crocs or generic ones. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I do care and went to great lengths to buy generics that look the most like the real ones. Kid shoes!! What am I thinking?!?) He’d probably like for me to realize how much eating out is an idol for me and how I shouldn’t be so lazy that I spend His money on Chick-Fil-A anytime I don’t feel like making a sandwich.

A disclaimer in case you’re still reading . . . I don’t think there is anything inherently sinful about children’s boutiques, crocs, new cars (in the interest of full disclosure, I drive a 2008 Odyssey with sunroof), Chick-Fil-A, or XM radio. It’s just that greed is an area in which the Holy Spirit is relentlessly working on me, and He is convicting me about several areas in which I am wasteful with God’s money. If you are seeking God’s wisdom pertaining to your finances, and He provides the money for you to have an XM radio subscription, you will not receive judgment from me . . . and enjoy singing along to some Chicago for me, will you?