Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Financial Planning of Faith

The Lord has really been laying the topic of finances on my heart lately.  Or if I’m being honest, I should say, challenging me on the subject. 

Jake and I have been at a point of reflection regarding the last 18 months and what the Lord called us to walk away from in order to allow us to step in.

I’ve written before on the subject of obedience but I want to be transparent regarding what the last 18 months have “cost” us. 

When I stepped away from my former job, we knew we were taking a big risk financially and fully depending on the Lord to step into that space of provision for us.  After receiving tax documentation for 2017, we were humbled to see exactly what that meant.  We learned that we have adapted to living on less than 50% of our former household income and wow is that eye-opening. 

People have asked us how we did it or how we do it.  How could we feel comfortable enough to step away from the material security to step into the unknown? 

Truth is, the Lord had already begun preparing us.  For at least three years leading up to my departure, the Lord really spoke to me about being a good steward of our finances.  Time and time again I was reminded to pay down debt rather than spend.  It was through the income from my old job that we were able to pay down nearly $35,000 in student loans.  It meant spending bonus money on student loans rather than vacations or shopping sprees.  It meant paying down credit cards as quickly as possible. 

As a result of taking that debt off of our financial plate, we knew we had two less monthly bills to pay on when we walked away from that income.   Originally we thought that the Lord would call us after we had all of our debt paid off - ha, wouldn't that have been convenient?! 

Let me give you a realistic picture of what this last 18 months has looked like so that you aren’t under the impression that we just walked into this fresh as daisies.  The last 18 months has meant cutting out all extra expenses that are not vital to our family.  It meant refinancing our home to pay off car loans and credit card bills to remove the burden of those monthly expenses.  It also meant walking away from a 15-year mortgage that we would have had fully paid off in 3 years, to a 30-year mortgage that we barely break even on each month.  It means selling cars for cash flow and buying cheaper/older ones without a car payment to replace them.  It means incredible gratitude for my husband’s talents and skillset and his patience for watching youtube videos on car repairs in order to do any repairs himself before paying an mechanic.  It means stretching the ingredients in your cabinets until your grocery fund gets replenished on your next payday.  It means bypassing on your favorite brand name grocery items for the sake of cost effectiveness.  It means trusting God for pennies from heaven on the months that your paychecks aren’t going to cut it because of unexpected expenses – and seeing him come through. 

I don’t tell you this for pity.  I tell you this for preparation.  I know there are many of you that want to step into God’s calling on your life but you aren’t sure if the time is right.  I say listen carefully to what the Lord is speaking to you RIGHT NOW.  If I had not listened to God when he told me to pay down our debt, we wouldn’t have cut it these last 18 months.  Had I not listened to the Lord when he told me to dig in, work hard and prepare at my last job, I would not have been willing to jump when he said jump.  Please hear me when I say that just because you jump in, does not mean it is going to be easy. 

If you are in a place where you realize that God is stirring within you – let him stir but listen to His instructions.  Right now, there may be things holding you captive that you need to get out from under before you can be a willing servant to the Lord.  That is ok.  There is a season for everything.  If you feel that the Lord is calling you to a specific financial step, whether it is taking a leap of faith or good stewardship to prepare for a future step, look to the Bible for affirmation.  His word is living and active and will speak to what He wants to you do.  

Proverbs 22:7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.  

I do want to share some encouragement so it doesn’t sound all doom, gloom and budget talk here at the Gus household.  While we aren’t rolling in the big bucks these days this time of financial diligence has pushed us closer to certain callings on our lives than we ever could have expected.  Jake is stepping into opportunities, such as coaching, as a result of having the time to do so.  If we had the money, we’d be taking more trips or doing more things within our nuclear family unit that have nothing to do with serving or interacting with others right here in our community.  Instead, God is giving us the opportunity to serve others while enjoying time as a family.  As a result of Jake getting involved in coaching, my boys will have the opportunity to see their dad grow, encourage and mentor young men.  They will get to see the man of God I hope they aspire to be in action.  They will see his heart and his commitment toward growing and challenging young men to be their best and most genuine selves.  And I will get low-cost, good old-fashioned baseball entertainment for my two highly energetic toddlers! 

The Lord will bring fruitfulness and joy into your life in whatever stage you are but you have to cling to him in order to experience that joy. 

Let me add that there are many people out there who have very lucrative and successful side hustles and I can fully respect that but not everyone is called into that.  There will be a balance that needs to be agreed upon between you and your spouse with regards to time, sacrifice, and financial needs.  Jake and I know what our balance is and we pray through it and work toward it.  The Lord will show you yours, trust in his wisdom.  Please also remember that there is no shame in budgeting or being cost conscious – I’m tired of the world making it feel that way. 

I will end with this, whether or not you are ready to take the leap, cut ties and step into God’s calling on your life, or whether you are in the planning and side hustling stage of faith financial planning– trust the step that God has you in.  He has your very best interests at heart and will not lead you astray.  Remember, the Lord gives us our future 24 hours at a time and he will provide your DAILY bread.  It does not say ABUNDANT bread it says DAILY bread.  Trust in his faithfulness.  

Philippians 4:19 
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tackling Grief Head On

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Over the past week I can say that I’ve done my best to actively walk through whatever stage of grief has come my way.   

Denial.  As soon as we found out about the baby, the dr. recommended the procedure take place the next day out of concern for my health during the miscarriage process.  In the first 24 hours following the procedure, I drank alcohol post anesthetic despite recommendations not to do so.  I absolutely avoided being alone with my thoughts, and I barely spoke the word miscarriage.  Instead I used terms such as we “lost the baby” and “no more heart beat,” etc.  I couldn’t bring myself to say what had actually happened.  I was denying the fact that we were walking through this and that it was now a part of our reality.  Finally, on Wednesday, I got into the Word and that is when I was able to write my farewell letter to our baby and stop denying what we were walking through. 

Anger.  I can honestly say that I have not been angry with God during this process as much as I have directly discussed how unfair things felt and how confused I was about hearing from him on pursuing another baby.  I will tell you that last Thursday, when I posted my first-ever and hopefully last, Facebook video, I WAS ANGRY.  If you could have seen me at my office that morning, I went into a straight up yelling match toward Satan.  Not only had I had enough of the hurt we were experiencing but I was ticked off that my friends were walking through very difficult things as well.  As some of you may have seen in my video, I decided at that point when processing through my anger that now was not the time to back down.  It still isn’t.

Bargaining.  10 days before we found out we lost the baby I had just cleaned my closet out of all my regular clothes and replaced them with all of my maternity clothes.  My maternity clothes are still sitting on my shelves.  I am trying to decide if I should keep them in sight to keep myself hopeful for another pregnancy or if I need to put them away because they are a painful reminder of my no-longer growing belly.  I am working with the Lord on this.  Is this my bargaining? 

I am praying through releasing the desire to have another child.  What’s difficult is that even before we had children, I had resolved that having kids was not within our control. Yet, the Lord has used each of our pregnancies to remind me of His faithfulness and his hand in forming our family.  The deceiver slivered right in there without me realizing it and managed to convince me that children and pregnancies are something I have a say in… welp, fell for that one.  Now I am working toward getting back to that frame of mind that I had before and let me tell you, it feels like being hit by a semi, once again.  I would say that I realize that I do not have anything to bargain with God on.  Instead I am choosing to just fold on the whole additional kid thing.  I’ll let the Lord fill me in on the path our family will go on. 

It is a bittersweet feeling for me to grieve the thought of not having a third child yet joyfully embrace the BEAUTIFUL life I have with my husband and our sons.  Our family has always been committed to fulfilling God’s plan for our lives, number of children aside.  We have always said that God will be glorified even if we had no kids – we remain committed to letting our family glorify the Lord – no matter the party number. 

Depression.  Oh my friends, this is such a highly sensitive and scary place for me to go.  I’ve been here, I know when I am headed this direction, and I know what a dark place it is if I let my mind and my spirit go here.  It almost defeated me once.  And this is when I go into BATTLE mode.  Yes, I have been very very sad, and yes, I have had zero motivation to do ANYTHING over the last two weeks.  Yes, I’ve wanted to stay in bed and not face the day.  Yes, I have wanted to wallow in my sadness and pity myself.  Yes, I’ve wanted to forego my health and choose to do all things unhealthy for me.  It is so EASY to want to do those things.  It is so easy to not want to care.  What is difficult is choosing to battle against those temptations.  Daily, I have to make a choice to fight to crawl away from that space and to pull away from that state of mind.  I have had to CHOOSE to PRAY through that darkness and BEG God to carry me out of that pit when I haven’t felt strong enough.  I have also had to actively seek out the spiritual support and prayers of those I know strong enough and faithful enough to battle on my behalf.  I’ve had to FORCE myself to simply open my Bible and allow the words to jump out at me – even it is just one verse.  This takes effort. 

Acceptance.  It has been less than two weeks since this has become part of our story so it would be easy for anyone to say to me – you are not at acceptance yet.  Nonetheless, I am accepting the fact that the Lord has already used this child’s story and our family in incredible ways as a result of this tragedy.  I am gratefully accepting the fact that the end of this child’s life in my womb did not mean the end of this child’s legacy or this child’s impact on the world.

Also, this child has proven to me that angels still walk among us and any one person can be the hands or feet of Jesus.  I say this because there have been those close to us that are willing to dig in and talk about this baby with us.  Those that have been willing to dream of this child in heaven and to remind us of the joy, health and perfect goodness that this child is experiencing with our Savior.  And finally, someone, a living angel on earth, took the time to write us a letter from our Angel Baby that was so specific to my own personal letter that I wrote it brought tears streaming down my face.  While I know that this comfort and absolutely beautiful gesture was done by someone we know who wished to remain anonymous – this gesture brought warmth and joy to our hearts that can’t even be described.  Thank you to whoever you are. 

The only way I am actively experiencing healing is to face this sorrow and grief head on, and to walk into and through it with my Savior as my guiding light.  That is how I know we will come out of this.  That is why I can accept that there were bigger plans for this child than I am able to realize.  Some have said it is brave of me to be so open about such a difficult and sad circumstance and time period in our lives.  To some of you I seem strong, to others, I seem brave, and to others I may seem “too open.”  As a reminder, my main goal in life and in writing is to speak the words the Lord has laid on my heart.  None of this is about me.  Yes, it is my story and my experience with grief but the Lord directs it.  The perceived strength, the perceived courage, rawness and other things all come from God.  He is the source of all of those things and He will always get the glory. 

Ultimately, I realize that many people grieve and carry things in different ways and for different amounts of time.  My timeline has nothing to do with your timeline nor my process to do with your process.  The one thing I will say is that my God, my Jesus, WANTS everything to do with your process as much as He has wanted everything to do with mine.  He is willing to have the hard conversations and sit in the tough, sad, and difficult moments with you, just as much as He has done for me.  I hope you allow him the privilege of doing so. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What should healing look like?

The Lord has really been working in my heart the past week regarding my expectations for healing.

You see, I've walked through infertility, we went through IVF and we got pregnant.  With the doctors help and the GRACE of God, we had a successful transfer and now we have our oldest son.  Then right at our first son's birthday, we found out we were pregnant - NATURALLY!  I couldn't believe it, I was thrilled and shocked and had a lot of emotions to work through post-IVF journey.

At that point in time, I claimed the healing that my body experienced.  Going into trying to get pregnant this time, I clung to the fact that God healed my body and I was fully healed and restored and more than able to carry a baby to full term and get pregnant naturally.  While it took us 6 months to get pregnant with our second son, which is a short timeline compared to what we had done in the past, we still believed that God had healed me and we could conceive naturally again, and we did.

Yet, here we are, post-miscarriage and my heart is hurting because in my mind I believed I was healed.

But now my heart wonders, what is healing supposed to look like?  Post-miscarriage, I would love to think that looks like another pregnancy and a healthy baby in my arms after a delivery.  However, healing is not a baby.

I'd love to forget what we have walked through and run away from it for a little bit.  However, healing is not forgetting.

I tried to escape it for a little bit and act as if my life has not been changed by this.  However, healing is not escape or ignorance.

I tried to ease the pain by taking pain medication.  I tried to drink to ease the pain.  However, healing is not self-medicating, or alcohol, or medicine, or doctors.

I tried to simply be comfortable and be at home, among my family, and among our things.  However, healing is not comfort.

I'd love to run away and go on vacation and be away from anything that reminds me of a baby or pregnancy.  However, healing is not running away.

I have realized that until I allow this empty space that has developed within me to exist as a new part of me and be filled by the Holy Spirit - I will not experience healing.

I have to realize that healing is not going to come in any form of a human, vacation, medicine, alcohol, comfort, or diagnosis.  Healing is Jesus.  

My whole life I've read and learned that I am supposed to become less and the Lord is supposed to become more in my life.  There is no other way for me to describe what I'm walking through than saying, a physical part of me has been removed and created a void that only God will be able to fill.  Slowly.  It has to be my choice though.  I have to be a willing participant in this refilling and trust that the things that have been removed from me and refined from my life are going to be refilled by something greater and better than I could imagine.  The only comfort that will ease this pain is Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:4-6
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation!  For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you.  Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 

Let me be clear on something, the Lord is not making me suffer so that he can be glorified but I am allowing my suffering to be used for his glorification.  I will allow myself to be vulnerable and exposed during this hard healing process in an effort to show all of you that God is faithful.  He will use what was intended to destroy me and tear me down, for glory.  To comfort others.  To allow his light to shine through me as a comfort and a way to strengthen others who have suffered or walked through similar loss.

I do not know if the Lord will grant us another baby on this side of heaven but I am not basing my healing upon that expectation.  I am solely basing my being healed, first, foremost, and always, on Jesus being more in my life than anything else.

I pray that this post challenges others who are expecting and waiting for healing to rely fully on the Lord and to trust, that no matter what your future holds, His presence is healing enough.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A letter to our Angel Baby

This letter is written two days after we learned of the miscarriage of our third baby.  Yesterday I had a d&c and today is the first day I am without this child in my womb.  This side of heaven I will not get to see this baby's face, hold it in my arms, or see it grow up.  This baby is meant for a purpose greater than this world and will be remembered for more than the hurt I have in this moment.

It is written based off of the verse of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and 1 Corinthians 13:12

Dear Angel baby,

I am fiercely missing you and I didn't even get to meet you.  I write you today to promise that I will be patient until the day that I get to meet you and see you in heaven.  I want you to know that you have two big brothers that love you dearly and remind me that you are loving us from heaven now.  God has been so kind in providing these two angels here for me and your daddy.

I will admit that I am jealous that Jesus gets to sing you your first lullabies and see you learn and grow but it is in a way that helps heal my heart.  I know that Jesus is not proud or boastful or rude in having this opportunity before me and that he continues to love me as much as he loves you.  I will not demand my own way because I know that it is not meant for me to physically have you on earth so I want to promise you that I will always love you and keep you in my heart.  Your memory will stay with me all of my days, and I promise that I will use the memory of you for good, just as Jesus uses everything for our good.

I promise to keep no record of feeling wronged and I will try hard not to be irritable when I am reminded that you are in heaven and not with me here but please give me grace in this.  The world can be a hard place and for that reason I am so glad you will never know the depth of hurt that can occur this side of heaven.  That provides me so much peace.

I do not rejoice in what feels like such an injustice but I will rejoice that the truth of God's goodness and love will conquer and continue to rule in our hearts, even when we miss you most.  

Please know that your daddy and I will never give up our faith in Jesus knowing that you are with him in heaven.  We will never lose faith that this experience and loss will be used for good and God's glory and we will remain hopeful that the Lord will allow us the opportunity to meet the next baby he is calling us to bring to our family.  Since you went straight to heaven, we will endure through this part of our story but we also know that it means we will be meeting another baby we had not anticipated.  Please know our hearts wish we could have met you on this side of heaven but we know that you are meant for a greater purpose in our family's story.  We will always remember you.

While "now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflection in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  Three things will last forever -- faith, hope, and love -- and the greatest of these is love."

Baby, we don't know the full story now and we may never know but I want you to trust that your mommy and daddy here on earth will always cling to faith in Jesus, hope in His goodness and in eternal life, and so much love.  Know that you are dearly loved, fiercely missed, and so treasured.

I love you my dear angel baby.  Mommy will always love you, my sweet sweet baby.

May you sing and dance with the angels and celebrate the goodness of God's promises.  Know they are stored in my heart and will be kept there as a seal until the day we will all meet again.

I love you my darling angel.



1 Corinthians 13:4-7 
Love is patient and kind.  Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  Three things will last forever -- faith, hope, and love -- and the greatest of these is love.