Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Budgets and Trusting God

About once a year, I get it in my head that we need a budget.  I painstakingly figure everything out on paper.  I get excited about how nicely it all works out there on the paper.  I listen to the budgeting gurus and am inspired to make ends meet this year, to live within my means.

After a few months, things break down. Car repairs cost $500 and I have only $200 saved in that category.  The septic needs pumping and the boiler needs cleaning. $400 when only $200 have been saved in the home maintenance category.  We need to put more in that category.....from where?  Every penny is budgeted. 

Every year, I become more and more anxious about our finances and try to make it work, robbing from Peter’s category to pay Paul’s.  In my flesh, I struggle and strive to make it work, but it never does.  I just become more and more worried and anxious. 

My conclusion, is this:  we cannot trust in a budget, or even our own ability to provide. We need to trust God, regardless of our current income.  Whether it exceeds our needs or falls short.  When I struggle over a budget, am I showing lack of faith in God to provide for all my needs?

Now, I am not opposed to budgets per se.  I think they are a tool of good stewardship.  We have made a lot of changes in life because we have examined our spending in the course of making a budget.  Switching to pay-as-you-go cell phones has probably saved us about $600 a year.  Dropping cable: $900 a year.  I am thankful that we discovered that, because now we can make one payment on our daughter’s college tuition (what we have pledged to contribute.)  Perhaps there are more areas where we can cut.....certainly, cellphones aren’t a need at all, but an expectation in this day and age.  Internet? Insurance?  One must evaluate whether it is more or less cost effective to NOT have these things.

I think many Americans are profligate in their spending and what they decide is a necessity, really isn’t.  Many people are foolish with their $ out of ignorance and end up in debt.   People need some instruction in wise spending practices and priorities; needs vs. wants. 

As for me, I have finally learned that God doesn’t want me to trust a budget, or become anxious over finances that are insufficient. He wants me to trust Him.  I should be a good steward, but know that He always provides, even when the budget doesn’t.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cookie off to College

I wrote this article for the September 2011 issue of the RIGHT newsletter. 
Cookie off to College

As you read this, I am probably taking my oldest child off to college.  The first one out of the gate, homeschooled all the way through successfully, as far as I can tell. 

This child fit the cookie-cutter for academic success.  College prep courses all the way through high school, a few AP and CCRI courses thrown in to demonstrate that her intelligence went beyond her mother’s evaluation, did well on SATs, and received some decent scholarship money.  With a little push from Dad, she finally decided what she wanted to do and off she goes into the world, well-prepared with worldview training and self-determined values. 

Well, if you are new to this whole homeschooling thing and are thinking, “oh, great!  What a relief! I have that cookie-cutter. I know that recipe.  No problem, I can make these cookies too.”    Think again. 
Different children, different ingredients.  You MIGHT have the same recipe and similar  ingredients, but no matter what recipe you follow, your cookies will not turn out the same. 

My other children have different ingredients.  Do I follow a different recipe?

As my cookie-cutter child entered her high school years and even before, I realized that she had her own ideas about what she wanted to do and in other ways she had no idea what she wanted to do.  It was a fine balance between steering and supporting her activities and studies.  Even now, as I look back at the recipe, I realize that the cookie isn’t exactly what I expected.  This girl is going to school to become a photographer - academic recipe : artistic cookie.  Who knew?  

Now I am looking very carefully at my “leftover” ingredients!  What will they make with what they have?  Christian + gifted artist + pianist = ?,  Christian + guitar-playing leader -type = ?,  Christian + helpful + faithful = ?  

In the end, we can only follow the recipe and as a true cook, allow the ingredients to add their own flavors that shine through. 

Practically, I will encourage my sons and younger daughter to follow a similar recipe, but I am learning that children are not cookie-cutters and I may need to adjust my recipe based on the gifts and talents they have.  I am learning from other homeschool parents a myriad of other recipes for still - successful cookies. 

I am also learning that, in the end, I can’t take much credit for the cookies.

School Year’s Resolution

I am posting two articles I wrote for the RIGHT newsletter, The Home Spun News.  This was published in the August 2011 newsletter.

School Year’s Resolution
by Amy Brock

As I look ahead to starting a new school year, I can’t help but look back.  This past year was both a success and a struggle.  

I can’t help but look at how little was accomplished academically (in my opinion) by my two sons and youngest daughter this year.  I know that it is partly (mostly?) my fault.  I have this need to do things immediately, so the immediate becomes the urgent and the important is neglected.  Ironically, this all has to do with time management which I am supposedly good at.   My gifts are great for coordinating a non-profit organization or running our church’s VBS, but unfortunately only one of my children, apparently, inherited my administration skills and so, 3/4 of them did not self-administrate this year. 

I learned a lot about the importance of time management skills - for others.   I did set up a daily calendar and assignments and totally expected everyone to follow them.  They did, in the beginning, but then as I went on to other tasks - errands, laundry, cooking ... Facebook (guilty), etc. their faithfulness waned.  I realize now that time-management is 1) a learned skill and 2) a necessary habit.  In order for my children to attain that skill and habit (except for the one who is naturally that way) I realize I have to sit with them and do nothing to make sure they are doing something! 

This is my “School Year’s Resolution” to manage my children’s time and to teach them to manage their own time.  As an artist with a real desire for my children to follow their interests, that seems counterintuitive, but looking back at the year, I feel I did them a disservice in not ingraining some time-management skills in them.

In more encouraging news, my oldest graduated from homeschool and is attending Rochester Institute of Technology this fall and my two sons each taught themselves to play piano and guitar.   I guess more was accomplished in the wreck of a year than I thought.