Monday, March 31, 2008

Lessons from Jackson

The other day my husband and I returned home to find that our precious one-year-old Shih tzu had ravaged a pair of Nathan's underwear. Nathan discovered the evidence as Jackson and I were curling up in bed. He picked up what was left of the garment & asked Jackson calmly, "Jackson, what did you do?" Our sweet pup, realizing that his fault had been found out, immediately turned over onto his back in surrender as if saying, "I know I did wrong - I'm sorry!" Nathan held the evidence closer to drive home the point. Jackson crawled closer to me for protection, fearing that the worst might come - a loud, resounding "No!" He looked back at Nathan, still holding proof of his disobedience. Still hunched close to the ground, Jackson climbed into my lap, begging to be held and forgiven. We have a great dog. How could I not scoop him up and give him some love? He was so meek. 

So often I find myself in the same situation as Jackson, knowing that I did wrong and desperately wanting to climb into my God's lap for comfort and forgiveness. Just as Jackson couldn't hide his disobedience from us, I cannot hide mine from an omniscient God. Time and time again I forego the better things that God has for me to chew on some dirty ol' underwear in the hamper. If I'd only looked past it, I would have seen that God has greater blessings for me! How thankful I am that God continually scoops me up and gives me some love when I just surrender to him. 

I'm not your average employee

When your are eating out on your employer's dollar, do you spend more or less? I would say the average employee is more likely to spend more knowing that they do not have to pay the bill themselves. I am the opposite. I am very mindful when The Soderquist Center is purchasing my meal or anything really. Partially because I work for non-profit where "every little bit counts" but partially because it's not my money to spend. I stopped to ponder whether or not I would spend differently if I worked for a for-profit organization. But high expenses just get passed along to the customer/client. That doesn't sit real well with me either. I am more likely to eat a big steak dinner on my own dollar than that of someone else (except maybe my parents - some habits die hard). 

But as I was discussing this with a co-worker, a thought hit me. I will spend my money frivolously because I know that I am the one it impacts. But that's a lie. The money and possessions that I have are not mine but God's. Now, I do not want to give the wrong impression. Nathan & I are by no means squanderers of our money - but there's always room for improvement. If I would manage my money with as much care and thought that I manage my employers, how much more could God do with it?! Ultimately, it does not just impact me - it impacts the person on the street who desperately needed the $20 that I just spent on a ridiculously portioned meal or the mission trip that I cannot take because I can't seem to give up the latest "must have." God has a bigger purpose for my finances than just my personal pleasure. Granted, I do believe it is biblical to enjoy the fruits of our labor - but I believe true joy comes from giving. Nathan and I daydream about the day that we can go to a restaurant and leave a $100 tip for a deserving waiter. Or meeting the needs of a neighbor by providing the funds that they cannot find. As Dave always says, "Live like no one else so you can live like no one else."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What's next?

Nathan & I went to Kansas City this week for a Renew Retreat that I was coordinating for The Soderquist Center. While we enjoyed our time with each of the couples, it was somewhat bittersweet. This retreat marked my second to last project to coordinate for the Center. It's hard to believe that my time there is almost complete. But I'll save my reminiscent post for another day... Today my thoughts are more on what lies ahead rather than behind. I have my resume in a variety of companies' hands. There are a few jobs that sound like great fits, but nothing solid yet. I have had many interviews, many conversations, a few rejections - those are the hardest. The job-search process is cause for deep soul-searching and faith-testing. I look forward to the future post stating that I have been offered a job and will no longer have to worry about whether the 2 years I spent getting my MBA was worth it! Until then, I remain hopeful & trusting that the right fit for me is out there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

To Florida and Back

I really am a Southern girl. I enjoy a relaxed pace with time to enjoy life and possibly a glass of tea. This past weekend I visited my sister in Lakeland, Florida, located between Tampa and Orlando. Let me tell you, I am not cut out for the busy life of a big city! 

It was so great to see her and her husband and finally be able to visualize the world that they live in. It seemed so bizarre to me that people actually live where palm trees grow naturally - I thought they only grew at resorts! The traffic there was unreal to me - the way cars swerved in and out, the fact that red lights were merely a suggestion to stop, and the shocking evidence of a fallen world that exists in a traffic jam. The pace at which my sister and her husband live their life left me exhausted - I am envious of the energy that they have to keep going 24/7! I love experiencing other people's worlds, though, because it always leaves me reflective and in a mode of self exploration. I really do love my life and feel utterly blessed to be where I am. Now please do not misunderstand me - I am not saying that Florida was so horrible that I just couldn't stop thinking about how wonderful my life back home was. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip; I think I just had time to stop and reflect upon things that I had taken for granted. 

I truly believe that I have the best marriage in the world. After nearly two years of marriage, I can still honestly say that Nathan is my favorite person. We get a long great, rarely fight, have open communication, and truly love each other for who we are. He is a great man. I love Northwest Arkansas. It has a pace that suits me but is rich with business and activity. I think it is so neat to live where the largest company in the world is. I am exposed to aspects of business that you don't get anywhere else! I have great friends. It took me a little while to adapt to my new life in NWA when we moved here, but I have grown to love so many people here and feel blessed to have such rich relationships that I know will only continue to deepen.

This post goes nicely with the title of my Blog - Meanderings. Just a quick moment of reflection and personal revelation that God has blessed me richly and for that, I praise Him. Life is good.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Passport to Financial Freedom

So my husband drives a scooter. He has a Vespa GT 250. It's a great money & gas saver and he really loves to ride it. However, cold weather and rainy days prove to be problematic with such a mode of transportation. He has been more than patient and amiable this winter season, but I hated to hear stories about how he rode out to a client meeting in 20 degree weather and had to defrost his hands before he could focus on the meeting. Thus began our search for a second vehicle for Nathan. We began our search a couple months ago by looking at brand new Honda CR-V's. This would have been for me, of course, and we would have had to finance this vehicle 100%. We decided that maybe we should wait until I have a job to purchase a $25,000 car. However, after a month or so, we again realized that this one-car, one-Vespa situation was not going to work for our family.

Enter Dave Ramsey.

We have been going through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University with our Community Group this semester. It has really shaken our whole view of money. We are learning how to 
manage our money instead of our money managing us. We have been very blessed - the only debt we have is our home mortgage. Why would we willingly choose to change that? So, with a new perspective on debt, we decided we probably shouldn't take-on $25,000 of debt if we didn't have to. We began looking at cars in the $10,000 and below range. This would allow us to only take on about $5000 if debt instead. That seemed like a great compromise. But once again, the voice of Dave rang out in our ears saying, "Don't be stupid!" There seems to be a common theme amongst men. Once they get interested in something, it seems to consume them. My wonderful husband is no different. Suddenly saving money became almost like a game to him. We started at $10,000 then moved to $8,000 then moved to what we could pay cash for then landed at a $4,000 1997 Honda Passport with 180,000 miles on less than ideal condition.

Passport to Financial Freedom

Nostalgia overcame Nathan when he laid eyes on his new ride. You see, this was the car of his dreams when he was 16. Now I must back up and paint a picture of the place we found this car - QC Auto Sales. (It just screams "class" already, doesn't it?) We had found the car on and called QC to set up a time to come look at it. It was being kept at their overflow lot in the ghetto of Fayetteville. We reached the lot before the salesman did and took a quick peek at the Passport. When the salesman finally arrived, he was an Iranian man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth - did I mention that he was smoking in a car that they were trying to sell? Well, we take the car for a test drive. Nathan is sold - this is the car he wants! But dealing with used car salesman is very similar to playing poker. With our poker faces on, we tell him we'll think about it and drive off. We had just watched a Dave lesson on how to negotiate. So, we begin to plan our attack. The next day, Nathan goes to the bank and withdraws 37 one-hundred dollar bills. (Dave had taught us the power of cash.) He walks into QC Auto Sales with a big wad of cash and says, "I want the car and here is $3,700." (Looking back, we probably could have offered a lot less - but hey, we're new at this! $300 is still $300!)

Shady Dealings

If you haven't quite realized the type of used car lot that QC is yet, the rest of my story will give you a clearer picture. Nathan sat down with the salesman to fill out the paperwork, including the Bill of Sale. As they were filling it out, the salesman looked around then said in a hushed tone, "You know, since you are paying cash, I could write $2,500 on this and your sales tax would be less." Somehow the text about how it's a felony to mis-represent the sales price didn't seem to catch this guy's attention. Needless to say, Nathan told him to write the correct price, recognizing that this guy's true motives were not to save us money but to pocked the $1700 difference. After an uncomfortable hour or so, Nathan walked out with the title to his new Passport, telling them that I would be bringing him by later that afternoon to pick up the keys & the vehicle. The icing on the cake came when we returned to get the car. Nathan had called the salesman to let him know we were on our way. He told Nathan that he was not at their office but working at his restaurant that he would be opening soon - Asian Fusion. (because there's not enough Asian restaurants in Northwest Arkansas...) Once again we returned to the ghetto of Fayetteville, where we located Asian Fusion. As the salesman tossed Nathan the keys from the roof of the ridiculously painted building, I couldn't help but think you really do get what you pay for.