Friday, September 19, 2014

When Plans Fail

I was so determined to be ready when Baby Girl Baker made her grand entrance into this world, somewhere around her due date.  Before she came, the house would be spotless, the freezer full, bags packed, and all arrangements made.  According to that plan, I’d be cleaning my house right now, waiting for my parents to arrive, and looking forward to the baby shower this Sunday and more relatives visiting this coming week.

Yesterday morning preterm labor sent me to the hospital where I spent a restless night tossing and turning, hooked up to monitors and IVs.  This morning the doctors let me go home with orders for strict bed rest.  I’m 35 weeks, 4 days pregnant, and we’re trying to get Baby Girl to at least 37 weeks. 

So, instead of doing what I think I should be doing, I’m lying in my bed with instructions to only get up to use the bathroom.  I won’t even be able to make it to Baby Girl’s shower this Sunday.  There’s so much to be done, but nothing that I can do, and little chance that I’ll be able to before she makes her arrival.  Things like this, they can’t be planned for…or planned around.

Yet, I see God’s hand so clearly through all of this.  I see that He’s using this to whittle me away…to make me stop trusting in myself and my “plans” and to start trusting in Him.  I see that I need to stop thinking I can be Super Mommy all the time, with the perfect house and the perfect plan.  Because I can’t.  Expecting myself to be that way only sets me up to fail.  I see that His timing and His plans are always far better than ours in the end, even when we don’t understand why now.  I see that it’s going to be okay

I just have to make it a week and a half.  I’m sure that the dust will sit, we’ll be eating out of pizza boxes, and my poor husband will be too tired for words…but we’ll make it.  And soon, one way or another, our precious baby girl will be in our arms and this will be all over it.  And it’ll all be worth it. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Things I Want My Daughter to Know

The thought of having a daughter has at times made me scared silly.  Not that raising a son is any less challenging or important.  It’s just that, as much as I see myself in my son, I know I will see myself even more so in my daughter.  And I have been there myself.  I have known the joys of womanhood, but I have also known the tremendous heartaches.  I think about the mistakes I have made and worry that she will make the same, knowing that I cannot spare her from many of them. 

As the day approaches that I will finally hold her in my arms, I think often about all that I want to teach her and what I want her to know, especially about being a woman.  I know that I will make many, many mistakes as a mother, and that she will too.  To err is human, after all.  However, here are some things that I want to tell her:

God has given you specific and unique talents and abilities…don’t waste them.  No woman is the same, and neither should you think that their callings are all the same.  God has given you interests and gifts that He has given no one else.  Cultivate them, pursue them, and develop them.  He wants you to use them so that He may mold you into the woman He wants you to be. 

Be proud when you are smart and knowledgeable.  Growing up, I was always self-conscious about being “smarter” than the boys in school.  This would sound crazy to you if you knew how intelligent and educated my mother is, but even as a young girl I had picked up on the stigma that guys don’t like girls with “brains”.  Don’t be afraid to be smart and good at school.  God has given you those giftings for a reason, and later in life you will only be looked up to, not down upon, for them.

Strength and godly womanhood are not mutually exclusive.  Often times there’s so much emphasis in church circles placed on wives being submissive, gentle, and quiet that we think we need to tiptoe around like scared church mice.  I don’t believe that’s what God wanted us to do either.  Take one look at the women of the Bible and you will see that they were strong, brave women who knew their own minds.  Esther went before her husband the king without being summoned, Tamar committed treason against her own people, Ruth left her family and all she had ever known, and Mary bravely faced disgrace and social stigma to carry her Savior in her womb.  Godly women are also strong women…I believe they have to be!

Submission does not equal weakness.  In line with the last post, submission to your husband does not mean being a doormat.  It means letting him lead, but choosing to do so out of respect for him. 

Be strong in your beliefs, but know why you believe them and what really matters.  Don’t be legalistic.  Don’t believe something just because your parents believe it, or because a pastor you like believes it, or because a boy you’re interested in believes it.  Search the Scripture for yourself, pray, and seek God, and find your standards and convictions there.  Standards and rules that are man-made and not backed by Scripture have legalism at their center.  Don’t get caught in that trap. 

Don’t change who you are for anyone.  Don’t change your standards or your convictions or your beliefs to please anyone.  If you have to change who you are for someone, then they are making you feel guilty for being who God created you to be.  That kind of person deserves no place in your life.  That goes for both loosening your standards and raising them.  A person, especially a guy, who expects you to dress more conservatively or act a certain way for him (within reason, when you are following the standards you are personally convicted about) is pulling you into the trap of legalism.  Steer clear. 

Don’t look to guys to validate your worth.  Guys will hurt your feelings and overlook you.  I can guarantee that, one day, at least one (and maybe more) will break your heart.  Don’t look to a man to validate your worth.  Know who you are in Christ and find your strength and your self-worth in that.
You are a beautiful, captivating woman of God who doesn’t need anyone else’s approval to know that.  God has created you beautiful and unique.  He calls you His daughter…His enchanting, beautiful, precious creation.  When the storms of life threaten to overwhelm you, cling to that.  Find your strength and your personhood in Him and Him alone.  Seek out who it is that He has called you to be and be it to the best of your abilities.     

Embrace your womanhood.  Being a woman is a wonderful, hard, challenging, joyful thing.  Be glad you are a woman.  I know from experience that, for all of the painful, difficult things we face in life, that the blessings are a thousand-fold more wonderful. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Search of a Spouse: Before You Go Looking

With as many single friends and family members as my husband and I have, we’ve been thinking back on our own single and dating years a lot.  We’ve talked about the things that we think we did right, and we’ve discussed the things that we wish we had done differently.  It’s funnier how much clearer things are now.

We both firmly feel that, before you ever go looking for a spouse, you need to sit down and figure out who you are and what you believe.  Here are some steps you can take to do that: 

1. Figure out what your core convictions are.  What are the things that you believe that there is no compromising on.  These are the “big deal” things.  These can be broad (such as that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all), or minute (such as the King James Version is the only accurate current English version).  They can also be about doctrine or about lifestyle.  For instance, being a strict Calvinist relates more to your religious walk, whereas how women should dress is related more to day-to-day living.  Whatever the case, these are things that you will not compromise or be swayed on.  Your spouse will either have to agree with you or compromise themselves.  

2. Figure out what you believe that is open to compromise.  For instance, you may think that all moms should be stay-at-home moms, but it’s more of a preference than a conviction.  This is a “not so big of a deal” thing.  Again, these can be broad, minute, doctrinal, or related to lifestyle.   

3. Analyze your lists.
-How long are your lists?  Ideally, your core convictions should be much shorter than your “not so big of a deal” list.  If it’s not, then you need to figure out why.  You are either a.) Very, very firmly convicted, b.) Legalistic, or C.) Too set in your ways.  Conversely, if you have hardly any core convictions, why is that?  Have you really had the time to sit down and figure out what you believe? 
-Why are these your convictions?  Think about your core convictions especially…why are these so important to you?  If you believe all women should wear skirts, or that Christians should never drink alcohol, why is that?  Do your convictions actually come from fervent prayer and searching of the scripture, pressuring parents, or being too steeped in legalism?
4. Keep those lists with you.  As you go looking for a spouse, use these lists as a guide.  Keep them in the back of your mind as you evaluate 

Look for some more thoughts on finding a spouse from my husband and I soon!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Making Cents of It: 5 Ways to Simplify Budgeting

Several years ago I did a series on saving money entitled “Making Cents of It”.  Several years down the road, a mortgage, and a couple of kids later, I’ve learned and grown a lot in this area.  In an effort to share some of these lessons with everyone, “Making Cents of It” is making a comeback.  Look for a new post in the series every couple of weeks!

I’m going to be really honest…in our four years of marriage, Andy and I haven’t been the greatest at making and sticking to budgets.  If you knew my cheapskate nature, you’d probably find this surprising.  Before we were married, I had my measly income budgeted down to how many Starbucks drinks I could buy in a month.  Budgeting is a lot harder, however, when there are two people involved who don’t always see eye-to-eye.  Add in the myriad of unexpected expenses that spring up, fluctuating incomes, and little time to even balance the checkbook, and it can all become very overwhelming very quickly.  There have definitely been a few months that I’ve given up on balancing the checkbook and just find myself hoping that we don’t overdraw. 

The good news is, we’ve finally found a system that works for us.  Our checkbook is clean, neat, and balanced, and we are able to stick to our set budget the majority of the time.  What’s the secret?  Simplify, simplify, SIMPLIFY!  Here are some tricks I’ve learned to help us keep on top of things:

1.) Use cash.  For the majority of our marriage, I felt like debit cards were the way to go.  They made it easier to track where the money went, are accepted most anywhere, and get rid of the need for carrying around cash.  One day, however, while on vacation with my dad, I asked him why he insisted on carrying around and mostly spending cash.  His answer?  It made things easier. 
Easier?  I was a bit baffled.  If you know anything about my dad, you know that he is one of the most frugal and good-with-money people anywhere.  I would have thought he would have wanted to keep detailed track of where every cent of his money was going, but he didn’t.  He used cash for the majority of his spending, and he had no problem keeping up with checkbooks and budgeting.

In an ideal world, debit cards would be the way to go.  The problem they create in my world, however, is that every time I swipe that little card I have to enter the transaction into my checkbook (which I forget to do a lot).  Then I have to go back and go through all of the receipts and split them up into the different categories we budget for.  It takes a ton of time and it’s a pain in the neck.

We’ve since switched to a cash envelope system for most of our spending.  Twice a month I withdraw the cash I need and fill up all of our little envelopes.  I only have two transactions to log in the checkbook.  I don’t have to keep track of where I spend what, and when the money’s gone, spending simply stops.  It’s simple and easy and SO much more manageable.

2.) Have More Than One Bank Account. This one may seem counterproductive to simplifying things, but it’s honestly been one of the things that has helped us the most.  One day not too long ago, a friend of mine shared that she and her husband had two checking accounts.  One was exclusively for bills, the other for spending.  Every time they got paid, they deposited the money they needed for bills into the first account, and the leftovers went into the second account.  One quick check on her banking app and she knew exactly how much money she had left to spend without trying to figure out how much was needed for bills.

My husband and I have more than two bank accounts now, but they each have a specific purpose and they’re very easy to keep up with.  If nothing else, I recommend keeping two checking accounts and a savings account.  Save first, tithe and pay bills second, and then know that whatever is left is for spending.  It will revolutionize your budget.

3.) Have a personal spending allowance.  In a marriage where one spouse is a saver and one is a spender (which I’d venture to guess is where most marriages fall), this can be a marriage saver.  We both set a high priority on saving and getting out of debt, but in our marriage my husband is definitely the spender and I’m the saver.  For a long time, I tried to keep up with our different spending habits and budget it all.  Our clothes were all lumped together in one category…but then I found myself feeling bitter when my husband used the majority of the budget for the month on a new shirt.  I found myself getting angry every time I checked the bank account and saw my husband had made a fast food run.  Keeping up with the checkbook was frustrating because I was almost always missing receipts.  

Then one day I implemented a trick I learned from another friend.  She and her husband each got a set amount each month to spend however they chose.  At the beginning of the month, I withdrew cash for myself and cash for my husband.  We could use the money however we saw fit, whether that be for clothes, a snack, or haircuts.  The money was ours to spend, no questions asked. 

Now, I get frustrated far less.  I don’t have a clue where my husband spends his spending money, and I don’t really care.  I don’t have to ask him about a charge on our bank account, and I feel free to spend money as well.  It’s a win-win situation.  Give yourselves a personal spending allowance…it dispels SO much marital discord.

4.) Use Broad Budgeting Groups.  If you have time to split every purchase down into a small little subcategory, more power to you.  I don’t.  If you feel overwhelmed by keeping track of where the budget goes, my suggestion would be to group as many things together as you can.  Include stamps in your grocery budget instead of giving it its own group.  Same goes for toiletries or household goods.  Make one budget for entertainment or dates, and include everything that would be applicable (aka, movie tickets, snacks, food, bowling shoes).  If you really, really find yourself overwhelmed, just have one big budget for spending (using two bank accounts makes this work great).  Some day when you’re retired and have the time to figure out how much you spent on produce and how much on meat, go for it.  Until then, don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.

5.) Use (or something similar).  While I try to use cash for most of our spending now, there are still many purchases that show up on our bank statement.  For a couple of years, Andy and I have been using to keep track of our money.  It’s completely free and safe, and you can link all of your bank accounts, credit cards, and bills into it.  You can set budgets and goals, and track where your money goes.  I keep the Mint app on my phone so that I can quickly update things every day or so.  You can even choose to have them notify you by text or email when a bank account balance is low, a bill is due soon, or you go over budget in a certain area. 

In the technology age we live in, there are tons of free tools at our disposal like  USE THEM!  They will make your life SO much easier.

What are some of your favorite ways to simplify budgeting and stay on top of things?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

33 Weeks: The Honest Truth

It's been one of those days.

I just loaded up my two-year-old son in the car for no particular reason other than in the hope that he'd fall asleep.  We've been prisoners in our family room all morning while a contractor puts in new flooring in the rest of the house.  It's too hot for this preggo mama to go outside, and I have no errands that need running.  There are a billion things I need to do and want to do, but they all involve the rest of my house.  My mind has been going since 5:30 this morning when I found myself wide awake in the pitch black darkness.  And it hasn't stopped.

Looking at the calendar fills me with stress as I think about the things I need to get ironed out for MOPs, and the things we need to do to get our house back in order before Baby Girl Baker makes her appearance in seven short weeks, give or take.  

But then, but then...

I drive down one of my favorite streets, just because I want to.  I suddenly realize what a gorgeous day it is, despite the heat.  I stop when I see this:

I take a deep breathe and let the simple beauty of it all seep into my soul.  The old barn, the lazy clouds, the wildflowers, and the tall green grass...all gifts for me from the Lover of my soul.  I breathe in.  I breathe out.  I feel God's love and His peace washing over me.  I am reminded that I am in the center of His will, and my perspective is changed.

I remember the seven weeks I still have left, the 20 freezer meals I've already assembled, the deep cleaned family room (thanks to this morning's imprisonment), and the friends and family that I can depend on.  Most of all, I remember that God doesn't give us more than we can bear.  

I decide to skip the chemical-laden drink that I thought was calling my name and I drive home instead, toddler thankfully now snoozing in the backseat.  I plan on taking this opportunity to take a rare nap of my own.  The honest truth is...33 weeks is hard, but I am blessed.

33 Weeks, 3 Days

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stop Saying "I'm Introverted"

Sometimes people hold me up as an example of someone who is independent, confident, and outgoing because I was able to move far away from my family and build a new life with my husband.  The very idea makes me laugh.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a self-proclaimed introvert.  As a child I loved books and playing by myself, and I was hopelessly shy.  I remember distinctly a time when my mom sent my younger sister and I into a gas station to pay for something.  I was too shy to pay for it myself, so I made my younger sister do it.  Yes, my younger sister.

Later on, a 17-year-old me sat in my mom’s car crying because I was too afraid to go into my first college class.  For years, I would get so nervous going into new situations where I knew no one that I would throw up beforehand.  But, oh yeah, I moved 1000 miles away from my family, made new friends, and now have little trouble going into a big new group.  Real life confession, though?  I still don’t like calling people on the phone and I am still definitely an introvert. 

Being an introvert is something you’re born with.  You can’t change it anymore that you can change the color of your skin or your eyes.  What you can change is how you respond to it.  Too often, I see the phrase “I’m an introvert” used as an excuse to shy away from situations that make someone nervous or uncomfortable.  Believe me, I get it!  I’ve used the very same excuse.  I know from experience, however, how unfulfilling that excuse can be.  Life has pushed me out of my comfort zone and away from that excuse.  I’ve become unafraid by being forced to push through my fears.

That day I cried in the car?  My mom made me go anyway.  A few months later I went to England for two weeks with a friend.  I puked a lot on that trip, but I came back the better for it.  That same year I timidly submitted an application to be a small group leader with the on-campus Christian group I was a part of.  My two friends and I nervously joined the 40 other leaders (that we didn’t know) on their weeklong camp.  We had an amazing time and made many new friends.  Just a few months later I went to a conference where there would be 300 other homeschool graduates…none of which I knew.  I puked the morning I left…but I went anyways, and while there I met the man that one would day be my husband.

I could have let my introversion hold me back from all of those things.  If I had, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today, nor would I have the wonderful life I have today.  Without a doubt, I would be just as afraid, shy, and lacking in confidence, and probably miserably unhappy and lonely.

I will never regret pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  When I started to do so, I suddenly started thinking a lot less about myself and a lot more about others.  You see, as introverts sometimes we get so caught up in our feelings and fears that we completely forget about the feelings and fears of othersOften times, we miss out on being a blessing to others by letting our introversion be a cop-out or an excuse.  In turn, we never get out of our own selves, and we sink only further into our introverted “ways”.

Today, I don’t get sick to my stomach in new situations or panic talking to new people.  My instinct is still to wait for someone else to initiate, and I avoid making phone calls, but I am no longer afraid of them either.  I embrace who I am as an introvert, but I don’t let it control my life. 

Pushing past your introversion is never easy…but it is always worth it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Beauty in the Trouble

Compared to my first, this pregnancy has been no picnic in the park.  In the beginning, I felt guilty for not being as excited about this pregnancy as I was with the first.  Then there was a worry about baby girl’s brain ventricle being too large, and more recently such bad contractions and cramping that I almost went to the hospital.

I realized the other day, however, how long October seemed away, and how impatient I was for it to get here.  The time has slowed and I find myself counting the days until sweet Baby Girl Baker makes her arrival.  I’m excited and expectant and eager…all things that I wasn’t in the beginning of this pregnancy.

You see, all the trouble and worry has made Baby Girl’s life all the more dear and precious to me.  I’ve come to realize just how much I love and cherish her…and that I’d do anything to see her safely in my arms.  The contractions, the excessive water, the aches, and the insomnia are insignificant to me in comparison to knowing that, Lord willing, in a few short months I’ll be able to kiss her tiny little toes.

I don’t mean to say that God gives us troubles and heartaches, but I do believe He has allowed these things to happen because He knew they were exactly what I needed.  He knew that I needed those worries to prepare my heart to receive my daughter. 

Sometimes hardships are exactly what we need to make us stronger.  Sometimes there is beauty in our troubles.      

The Life Of Faith