Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Spiritual: I saw the sign

At church today we talked about whether seeing miracles or signs from heaven could create faith. I shared the thought that I didn't think signs or miracles alone were enough to develop faith. For sure, they can jump start your journey to true faith but people who base their belief or faith in God only on signs from heaven aren't really exercising faith are they?

My experience has been that it's when I exercise faith that I see the signs and miracles, not the other way around. I can sit here and pray all day that I can have a healthier body and I can truly believe it's going to happen, but if I don't ACT on faith and work towards helping that goal happen, it's never going to happen.

If I woke up full of energy tomorrow morning, with a healthier heart and more stamina would I even notice? Probably not as much as I'll notice when I put the work in, and act on faith that eating healthy and working out will help me get to that same point. And if I did notice, a few months down the road would I believe it really happened or would I justify that I must never have been as out of shape as I thought anyway?

I think the Lord blesses us all the time. He gives us signs and answers and our own personal miracles every single day. But most people are too wrapped up looking for the big signs that they fail to notice what they are already being given. So, no  I don't think seeing signs from heaven develops faith. I think that when we develop the right level of faith we'll see signs and miracles because we'll be able to recognize them for what they are.

What do you think?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Special: Sacrifice

Anyone who knows me really well, knows I'm pretty much obsessed with Disneyland. It's almost embarrassing to admit how many Disney blogs I follow. We took our first trip to Disneyland last fall and I've been obsessed with going back since. In fact, this time last year we were in the middle of our vacation and it makes me a little more than sad not to be there again right now.

All year long I have been preparing and planning and trying to find ways to get back again. It was the most fun we've had as a family and it was a fantastic week away from the stresses of the every day life. It was amazing having that time to just focus on us. My kids have even caught onto the Disney bug and watch the vacation DVD at least once a week, though with school in session it's waned down quite a bit. (My three year old even recognizes the theme song from the DVD when it comes on the radio... eek.)

I've looked at staying off site (at a non Disney hotel), flying, driving, taking a train, taking a bus and packing all of our food in a cooler to save money. For a while I actually thought we'd make it. When I realized September/October wasn't going to fly, I settled on March. Unfortunately, mostly because we're completely irresponsible and can't seem to control our spending, March doesn't look like an option either.

This factor, combined with us trying to decide if we want to have another child, has put a serious crinkle in my Disneyland vacation plans. My husband and I have been talking a lot about putting all of our knowledge into action. We have gathered a lot of information about budgeting, saving, paying off bills etc. And yet we haven't learned one important factor: sacrifice.

Instead of sacrificing the dinners out, the extra trips to the grocery store to pick up snacks we didn't need and unnecessary trips to the movie theater, we now have to sacrifice our Disney Vacation. As much as I didn't want to sacrifice all of the small things, after all what kind of fun can you have it you can't even stop at a restaurant for lunch, I realize I'd rather have sacrificed a few more of those dinners out than my trip to Disneyland.

Lesson learned. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices and do things we don't want to do in order to get what we know we deserve or want. Over the last two months we've been hitting the gym pretty hard-core. It's hard work but we know the sacrifice will be worth it in the long run. The results have been slow but this, more than anything, has reinforced the feeling that I need to make more sacrifices.

I guess the most important thing I have been realizing is that we already know what life is like when we don't make sacrifices and we don't choose to wait for things we want. We know what the result is and we don't like it. Maybe it's time to try something new and see if we like those results better.

Albert Einstein (or perhaps Benjamin Franklin, it's debatable as to the original source) once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. How true is that? Perhaps we've not been lazy all this time, simply insane. Trapped in a delusion of comfort that isn't really comfort, only self-gratification.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Financial Freedom

If there is one thing I know all too much about, it's the crushing power of debt. My husband and I started our marriage with a little student debt, which continued to grow through the first few years of marriage. We managed to add a significant amount of consumer debt on top of it.

Every time we've managed to make a dent, we fall back into old habits. It's not a pretty sight and it's a very frustrating situation that we've put ourselves in. But, through several roads we've taken, we've learned a few things about debt that I believe are vital to controlling it.

Cut up your credit cards: Don't just freeze them. We tried that, but it's all too easy to defrost that hunk of ice when you want to spend money you don't have. Chop them up and get rid of them forever. If you can't stop spending money on the cards, give them the old boot.

Yes, you need a credit card to rent a car (you can use a debit card but it's a huge hassle) or to purchase plane tickets. However, if you have as much debt as I think you do, you shouldn't be planning very many trips in the first place. If you must, keep ONE card for emergencies only and put it somewhere that is not easily accessible.

Stop spending: Duh, right? Really though, stop spending on credit. Quit buying things with money you don't have. If you can't afford it, you don't get it. The end.

Debt stack: This is possibly the MOST important thing I can ever teach you about getting out of debt. This is a 100 percent guaranteed way to pay off debt quicker.

The trick works this way: Lets pretend you have three credit cards you need to pay off. Credit Card A has a balance of $2000, with a minimum payment of $45 a month and a 25 percent interest rate. Credit Card B has a balance of $3,000 with a minimum payment of $65 and an interest rate of 22 percent. Credit card three has a balance of $5,000 with a minimum payment of $100 and an interest rate of 19.5 percent.

You choose one card (typically the card with either the lowest debt of the highest interest rate) and you pay an extra amount per month. Let says you can afford an additional $50 on top of the minimum payment. So, instead of paying $45 a month on credit card A you start paying $95 (minimum payment plus extra $50). You continue making minimum payments on the other two cards and sack any extra money you have towards paying off card A.

After you have paid off this first card you'll have an extra $95 a month free. Instead of using this extra cash to spend on things add it to the amount you are paying on credit card B. So instead of paying $65 you are paying $150 per month (minimum payment plus what you were already paying to the other credit card you just paid off.)

When you are finished with credit card B you'll now have $250 per month you can dedicate to paying off your last card (minimum payment for credit card B plus what you were paying for the previously paid off cards.)

You'll save months, if not years, plus thousands of dollars in interest by approaching debt this way. It will require sacrifice and discipline but it will work. You'll save money and get your debt paid off much quicker than just paying minimum payments on each card.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I would feel neglectful if I didn't take the opportunity to reflect on what happened to this beautiful country 11 years ago. I still can't believe it's  been 11 years.

I remember standing in the shower in my college dorm. I was getting ready for an 8 a.m. class (in Idaho). I heard my roommates pounding on the bathroom door. I just assumed they were getting impatient for the bathroom. I through on a towel and opened the door to my two roommates staring at me in horror.

We listened to the coverage on the radio for a few minutes. After I dressed we went to our lounge where there was a television. Watching the plane hit the second tower is the most terrible thing I have ever seen. I was horrified. I mostly remember complete and utter shock. I just stared at the screen with my mouth open and feeling completely numb.

The rest of the day was a blur. Everything around me seemed to just move. As I walked to class I didn't see anyone. I just walked. I could not believe that the sun was shining and that all seemed normal in my world when hell was falling across the country.

Of course I was mutually terrified and sad. I think I was in doubt that it was real. As the days passed we held services on campus to honor those who'd died. Every day as I passed the flag at half-mass my heart twisted.

During a service where a bunch of students had gathered to pray and listen to counsel from leaders I felt my first taste of peace. It was a sad peace. But as we stood there singing the National Anthem, I was surrounded by other people who were at least as scared as I was. With tears in my eyes I felt  sense of unity that I haven't experienced before or since.

September 11 will always be a day that invokes sadness in my heart. But it also reminds me of what it felt like to be united as a country. As a people. The strength and resolve. The unity and even the anger. If we could put aside our differences and find a way to come together like that again, I truly believe we could do great things.

To the firefighters and cops who sacrificed their lives and to those courageous victims on the plane who prevented more deaths,: Thank you. To those who died as victims of a horrible crime: I remember. I'll always remember.