Why Frugality?

Lately I’ve been sharing some of the ways I try to be a frugal homemaker. Frugality is coming back in style now that the economy’s in bad shape again.

Yet I’ve heard criticism of frugality from some surprising sources, even from a few Christians who believe that being frugal ignores the reality that God is very generous to us, and that “there’s more where that came from,” so why try to make things last longer?

Most frugal people will tell you that while they do want to “stretch a buck,” being frugal is also something they do on principle. I guess my frugal streak comes from both principle and background:

I think being a good steward of your resources means letting nothing go to waste, if possible, and using what you have wisely instead of wasting it.

I’ve seen how hard my husband has worked all these years, and tried to make his pay last instead of spending it frivolously on things we didn’t need. Besides, six people living on one income is in itself a motivating factor!

I was raised by parents who grew up during the Depression. We weren’t poor, but we didn’t have any extra money lying around. I learned to maximize what I had and not to waste anything.

How about you? If you’re frugal, why? And if you’re opposed to frugality, why? I’d love to know how other people feel about it.

Inspiring Story for Teens

This month’s issue of Money Matters magazine (page eight) has an inspiring story for all teens. If I were still doing Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers with my daughter, I’d add it to her assignments for the week.

It’s the true story of a young newlywed couple who has been married for less than two years, has no debt and has $50,000 in savings, all due to their joint effort to manage their money responsibly.

He has a college degree, and she has a one-year technical degree. Both worked their way through college and graduated without debt. Their goals for the future include a large family, a paid-off house and ample donations to missions. What a great example for all young people!

Money Matters is published by Crown Financial Ministries, the organization that Larry Burkett helped start. Listening to Larry Burkett’s Christian financial radio show helped encourage my husband and me as we worked toward becoming completely debt-free, a goal we achieved (not on our own, only with God’s help!) in 2002.  Do check out Crown’s site while you’re there.

A Mother’s Search for Meaning: The Dance Goes On….

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I met Bobbi Bandy nearly 15 years ago, after she and her family joined our church. We got to know each other through a weekly women’s Bible study class, where I was wowed by her knowledge of Scripture and her love of it. The fact that she daily cared for her disabled adult son as well as four younger children in their teens and preteens made her a something of a role model for me. Over the years I’ve been blessed by her example and her friendship.

Concordia Publishing House recently published Bobbi’s book A Mother’s Search for Meaning: The Dance Goes On…. It’s the amazing story of how God used Bobbi’s son Rob to spiritually grow Bobbi and her husband Phil, as well as others that Rob touched during his lifetime.

As the mother of a developmentally disabled young man, I highly recommend this book to those who have someone with special needs in their lives. Yet I also recommend it to those who have never known or loved someone who is mentally and/or physically disabled, as it clearly demonstrates that God has a purpose for everyone’s life, even those who are viewed as imperfect by the world.  

I recently interviewed Bobbi. I believe her witness will be a real blessing to you:

Rob was your first child, born when you and Phil weren’t all that old yourselves.  Was there anything in your background or Phil’s that prepared you for the birth of a child with disabilities?  If not, how did you cope?

Most of us would have a hard time describing the ways we have been equipped for the life we live in Christ; whenever we give credit, the first must be to HIM before all others. My heart was made tender through the miracles of Jesus: the healings and tenderness that He had for those born blind, mute, and lame that I learned about in Sunday school as a child. 

There were significant times in my life when I thought I was meant to see things of importance.  Phil and I both had contact with children who had contracted polio and who struggled physically. I think that was the first time that I thought about how thankful I should be to have the mobility that I had.  When I was in first grade, a class member’s teenage sister was killed in a car accident and I realized how fragile our existence is. (We both grew up accepting and appreciating differences of ability and age to the credit of our parents.)  One of my college classes took me to a residence for handicapped adults and the memory of them stays with me to this day.  I do believe God was equipping me for the gift of Rob’s life, though I wasn’t able to see it at the time. 

In your book, you wrote that when Rob was born,”…we grieved over the loss of the life we had dreamed of, the man we thought he should have become.”  This type of grieving is common in parents who have a newborn with special needs.  What can you say to these parents, given your own experience with Rob? 

If we rely on our own wisdom and our own knowledge in such circumstances we will most assuredly miss the mark.  Our dreams are not God’s plan.  His plan is greater than our dreams.  As I stated in the book, “Later, after God had revealed His better plan for us and we had seen the beauty and goodness of His ways over our dreams, we grieved the loss of the life we had come to love and value and cherish.”  To parents I would say give yourself time to determine the meaning of the struggles you now experience.  A life has to be fully lived to be fully understood.

You dealt with the pain of secondary infertility for years after Rob’s birth, but you eventually had Elisabeth, Bryan and your twins, Katherine and Christine. After that, you became immersed in the very busy family life that resulted from having five children.  What advice can you give to other mothers about juggling so many responsibilities, particularly when you’re also caring for a child with special needs? 

Because of the ten years between his birth and the births of our other children, Rob’s routines were well established.  Until our move to the Chicago area, he attended school from morning till early afternoon, which gave me time to spend with the younger members of the family; later the younger ones participated in Rob’s care.  We learned to savor the joys of each and every one of our children.  Rob added such a dimension to our family that no other child did, but each of our children added personality, ability, character, love, and life unique to who God created them to be. Rob’s life actually helped us to appreciate each child for who they are. 

My best advice would be to try to see what is really essential in each child’s life and try to let go of the trivial.  Read together, say prayers together, have family dinners together-share your life with them.  Remember that the high demand days will not last forever, but once they’re gone they cannot be recovered.  Everyday is a memory for your child and for you. Determine to make them ones to be cherished rather than ones to regret.

You were told that Rob would only live to his early teens, but God gave you and Phil 30 years with him before taking him home.  It hard to believe it’s been ten years since that day, but how well I recall Rob’s funeral, with its unmistakably clear message of celebration, of both Rob’s life and of the One who created Rob.  You once told me how much you you’ve missed caring for Rob since then.  What are the blessings of caring for a disabled adult child?

The first that comes to mind is the sense of servant mentality that completely takes over.  Next comes an awareness of the things of this world that would entice us away from the servant role: fame, fortune, beauty, power, intellectualism.  Caring for and loving Rob on a daily basis helped us to see that the greater things were peace, humility, and love.

Soon after our son was born with Down syndrome, I read that in more than half of all marriages where there is a special needs child, one spouse (usually the husband) will leave the marriage because of an inability to cope with the realities involved in having such a child. In your book, you shared that Phil comforted you after discovering the extent of Rob’s physical problems by hugging you and saying, “There has to be a reason.”  Today Phil is a highly esteemed elder in the church and a loving husband, father and grandfather.  How did God use Rob to grow Phil as a husband, father and Christian?

God brought Phil to his knees.  He brought us both to our knees.  Every parent wants to be able to provide for all the needs of their children.  When we are placed in situations where all the needs cannot be met through us, we have two choices: to give up because the task is overwhelming or to look up and accept a greater power.   

After Rob’s birth, you (a Christian since childhood) did not attend church for many years.  Yet today, you’re one of the strongest Christian women I’ve known.  Would you mind sharing a bit about how God used your circumstances to bring you to where you are today, and what He will do for others going through very tough times?

The seeds of faith were planted deep in my heart from my baptism, His gift to me.  God has always spoken to my heart and called me even when I was unfaithful.  The process He used to draw me closer wasn’t an easy one after I wandered but it was a personal one–He bent down and touched me, embraced me, and comforted me when I was the most broken and vulnerable. Brokenness became the door through which He would fully enter.  He became very real to me in my sorrow.  

I’m reminded of this as I think about so many young people who are ‘wandering’ in our families throughout our country.  I’m reminded and reassured that God is faithful even when we are not. 

I was delighted to learn recently that you’ve begun working at a job for which you’re uniquely suited, thanks to your life experience as Rob’s mom.  It’s a wonderful example of how God weaves His tapestry and uses us for His purposes.  Please tell us about your new job!

I’m privileged to be working in a contained classroom of children with special needs in a local school.  I feel like everything has come full circle since Rob’s passing.  After his death I wrote my thoughts about his life and their meaning so that my children would remember the value and importance of their brother’s life.  The writing helped me process all the years and events. 

I then worked for nine years as a preschool teacher, working with 4- and 5-year-olds.  Tracing hands, encouraging young minds, planting seeds filled my days. But it was always the child who was struggling, the child who couldn’t connect, the child who needed more who really called out to me in the classroom.  So now I’m home again, back to where God seems to have a place for me.

Thank you so much, Bobbi, for taking the time to answer these questions. I encourage everyone to read Bobbi’s wonderful book, A Mother’s Search for Meaning: The Dance Goes On…

Losing Control & Liking It

When we choose to take control of our children’s education by homeschooling them, our choice says a lot about us. Many people complain about things but never act; we homeschooling parents actually do something when it comes to making sure our children are educated the way we want them to be.

Of course, I think that’s a good thing. But I have to be honest and admit that (speaking only for myself, of course) being the kind of person who takes the bull by the horns means that I tend to think that I’m in control.

Psychologically, I know I’m not in control of everything, but sometimes my behavior suggests otherwise. Growing up as the oldest of four girls who was often held responsible for the behavior of her sisters probably didn’t help.

To make matters worse, after many years of being a homeschooling parent, I got used to being in charge of so many things: what my family ate, what they wore, what books and curriculum my kids used…..every single day. Then, as my kids left home, I had to learn to let them go, and it wasn’t (and still isn’t) always easy.

Perhaps that’s why the title of this book by Tim Sanford got my attention: Losing Control and Liking It: How to Set Your Teen (and Yourself) Free
The subtitle caught my eye more for the reference to setting myself free than setting my teens free, and that’s what made me buy the book.

It was worth the money. Not only did it encourage me in the process of letting my kids go, but it helped me see that wanting to be in control of anything beyond myself can be a great burden, one I was not created to bear.

This is true not only in my relationships with my teens and adult children, but also with relatives, friends and others. This book speaks to the need for taking responsibility for your own behavior without taking responsibility (or letting someone force it on you) for someone else’s.

The method Sanford, a Christian counselor, recommends to make such distinctions helps with problems such as coworkers who expect you to bail them out on their deadlines as well as teens who blame you because you didn’t wake them up in time to get to an appointment.

Sanford also devotes a section to worry and anxiety, the root causes of many parents’ desire to control their teens and even their adult children. Christian homeschooling parents are especially susceptible to this. We’ve often been told by others in the Christian homeschooling community that if we do our job just the right way, we’ll raise fantastic Christian children. Sanford explains why that’s a) not possible, and b) not our job as parents.

He also touches on the concept of God’s rules: Biblical commands, specific Biblical principles and general Biblical principles. I think a misunderstanding of the distinctions between those three groups is probably at the root of most disagreements between homeschooling families, and has caused some of the discord I’ve seen in homeschool support groups.

It’s interesting that this book was published by Focus on the Family. My husband and I are big fans of Dr. James Dobson’s books on raising children; he’s an advocate for purposeful discipline of young children. But I don’t think he spent a lot of time explaining how to transition from diligent discipline of young children to letting go of teens. Maybe I just missed the book where he did so. But this book is really helpful for that, and I wish I could have read it 15 years ago, before my older kids entered their teens. Sanford’s explanation of parental control vs. parental influence would have been particularly helpful to me back then.

I liked this book so much I read it twice. I didn’t agree with everything in it, but I found a lot of food for thought, and some reassurance, too. It’s an especially helpful book for homeschooling parents.

You can read the first chapter of this book here. But don’t do it just because I suggested it. After all, I’m not responsible for what you choose to do  ;)

Should We Be Teaching ‘Prepare for Verbal Abuse 101’ In Our Homeschools?

One of the things homeschooled kids miss out on is being criticized by teachers for their personal beliefs.

I don’t think it’s bad to miss out on such experiences, but it does get me thinking about how to prepare (or whether it’s possible to prepare) our college-bound homeschooled offspring for that kind of situation, which is becoming increasingly common.  

Not that it never happened in the past, of course. I recall being graded down in Biology 100 back at the good old U of I for refusing to accept the theory of evolution as a valid one. And as recently as last fall, my teenage daughter took some flak from her community college professor (in a graphic arts class, no less) for commenting that she liked Sarah Palin.

But it appears that the teachers are becoming more vehement and profane:

Jonathan Lopez, who is working on his associate of arts degree at Los Angeles City College, quoted a dictionary definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman and cited several Bible verses during a public speaking class in late November, his suit says. His professor, John Matteson, interrupted, called Lopez a “fascist bastard” and refused to let him finish his address, according to the suit.

Nice, huh? We don’t have to worry about Jonathan, who has since sued the college district with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund. But what about our kids? John Matteson isn’t the only idiot professor out there. Can we prepare our kids for this kind of attack, and if so, how?

I think we should warn them that this happens, and discuss ways they can deal with it. In the case of my daughter, we discussed the inappropriateness of her teacher’s remarks (which I won’t go into here), especially since her dad and I were paying $400 for graphic design instruction, not misguided knee-jerk political philosophy. We also talked about what she wished she would have said, and what she’ll do when (not if) it happens again. We talked about knowing what you believe and why you believe it. And I told her I was proud of her for politely standing up for herself when verbally attacked by an authority figure.

Did I leave anything out? What else can we do?