Sunday, December 14, 2008

The allure of "stuff"

Since I'm feeling bah (see previous entry), baby and hubby are napping, and my other munchkins are happily playing together, I have time to write. Yes, by the end of the day, I might have written a novel in this blog.

It is hard to believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away. We have been waiting patiently for my husband's bonus, which may not even come by Christmas, so therefore we have not purchased any gifts for anyone. While it would be nice to have them nicely wrapped and ready to be handed out when everyone is here fellowshipping together on Christmas day, it's not absolutely necessary, so my family may just have to wait until New Years to unwrap their presents.

The last few years have been very trying for us financially, and now it seems we are getting it "together", although I hesitate to even think the thought because, when I do, something often goes wrong.

God has certainly taught us many lessons and revealed so much to us through these financial difficulties. We learned about the hardships of running your own businesses (whether it be a restaurant, a landscaping company, or carpentry), and especially the hardship of scheduling things when you are running several businesses at one time.

We learned that, sometimes, those things you dream and yearn for are not as great as they once seemed once they become a reality. This has taught me to be careful what I wish for, pray for, and strive for.

The lesson I seem to learn over and over is to rely on God, not to push forth my own plans and agendas.

My mom tells a story about how, when I was younger, I asked if I could do something specific (neither of us can remember what is was, but it may have been something along the lines of attending a school dance or going to a coed party). I really, really wanted to go- and, at the time, I couldn't see anything wrong with my desire, so I begged and pleaded for permission.

Mom didn't give me an answer, instead she told this preteen to go pray about it. I sighed and wandered back to my room, plopped on my bed, and said, "God, I really wanna do this. Whadya say?"

A few minutes later, I returned to the kitchen, and replied, "God said yes."

Now, truth be told, I hadn't really sought God's direction. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted the answer to be yes. Even in adulthood, I have to watch that I do not transfer my own ideas and opinions onto what God is telling me to do.

At times it has been so difficult to translate the answer God is giving me. Sometimes it takes a while, and, well, I'm an impatient gal. Othertimes, the answer is right in front of my face, but I refuse to look or accept. And, there are those times when I want something so bad, I make it happen and claim it to be God's will for my life.

Of course, the devil is often standing by tempting me as he tempted Eve in the garden, or planting schemes and ideas in my head as he probably did with Sarah, Abraham's wife.

Even the best laid plans with the best intentions will go poorly when God has not approved them.

However, I am thankful that God has been able to use the messes I've made to teach me great lessons. Because of our financial mistakes, I learned how to be frugal. I truly learned the value of a dollar. I learned how to make meals stretch. I learned how to be content with what I have.... to appreciate the blessings I've already received, and to recognize little blessings here and there. In fact, God used our financial hardship to teach me how to better care for my family. Because we could no longer afford to eat out as often as we were, I had to really learn how to cook, and I learned that I enjoyed it. I had to learn how to plan meals and not be wasteful. I had to learn how to have good, clean, cheap (or free) fun. I learned that pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters are still very valuable... and there were (are) many times I save up change to buy groceries and treats (like Taco Bell!). I learned that most of the meals we eat are very luxurious. Some people have the same stuff, day after day, with not much taste at all. In short, I had to learn how to make do, and in making do, I found that I actually was more satisfied, more at peace, than I was chasing after "more stuff".

And now it's Christmas time, a time when the media greatly emphasises STUFF and how much we need it, deserve it, and absolutely must have it. In fact, I saw a commercial the other day for Discover (credit) card which promised to help you spend smarter. See, even the credit industry realizes that people are not spending smart (how can you miss that with all the bailouts and issues going on today). And Target realizes it too. They have been running a commercial to get you to buy things because it's "cheaper" or more "economical" when you cannot afford to do the stuff you really want to do. These businesses aren't really out there to HELP YOU save money, but they sure package it up that way. Businesses like Target and Discover are really out there to get your money, so they play up to your situation, your emotions, things you're dealing with... and appeal to you through all of that. And it works. (Oh, and don't even get me started on Wal-mart. We do not shop there, although I do get my hair trimmed in the style salon there.)

Christmas time is so costly because, not only do we have to buy the best gifts for everyone, but we also must, absolutely must, decorate our home for the season. It is appealing and beautiful, but hey, it's only for a season, and then it must all be packed away for eleven months until it's Christmas time again (and most people buy more and more decor every year). The other day I thought, "This year we'll put out some Christmas lights." They were on sale, so I loaded a few boxes into my cart, and then thought.... okay, even on sale, this is going to end up costing me around $15-$20. I was already buying things I NEEDED (like medicine), and I knew I didn't need to spend twenty more bucks on things that were not a necessity. Afterall, I could use that money for a good bit of groceries, or for a pair of pants for Nolyn (who only has one good pair of pants... a gift from my brother, and another pair which has holes in the knees). I began to think of all the things I could use that money on, and I realized that I could not buy those decorations and feel good about it.

Because of our financial hardship, even when we do have money to splurge, I find myself always contemplating and analyzing every dollar I spend. Of course, I do still splurge now and then (on crafts, on fast food treats, on a new blouse... etc), but I no longer just toss stuff into the shopping buggy without carefully considering it first.

I think that many of us have bought into the lie that if something is on sale, we should buy it. If it's ridiculously cheap, then we must have it. Therefore, we waste our money on stuff we don't need, probably won't ever use, stuff that will just crowd our shelves and take up space... because it was cheap.

I use to feel if I came across an outfit that was really cheap, then I should buy it. I ended up with a closet full of really cheap things that I didn't care to wear. I would have been better off paying full price for things I really loved and having just a few outfits I actually liked to wear.

Anyway, this has become a novel, indeed. My point being, in this season... and all seasons to come, watch what you spend. You will never be satisfied by materal things. Only God can satisfy. You will always be discontent with the way your home feels, the contents of your wardrobe, the things you have (or don't have), your lot in life... if you have not learned to rely on the Lord and be content with the blessings he has given you. You will never be satisfied by your own desires and dreams. God may not take you down the road you planned, but I promise, if you follow his direction, you will be much happier than if you had followed your own.

And that's just it- we need to recognize that God gives us ALOT. And, even those of us barely scraping by are extremely rich compared to most of the world who live on just a dollar a day.

Something to think about.


Neisey said...

I totally agree! The media convinces people that they NEED things, but you are never satisfied after getting it. It's a vicious circle that only GOD can take you out of, and even then we still need to pray and stay in His word to remain out of the "stuff" circle.

I hope you and your family are well soon.

Leah said...

I really appreciate this post (well, all of your posts!) but one part in particular struck me, not necessarily about "stuff" but about God's will for my life. I'm struggling with the desire of having another child when I know ideally it's not the right time. But sometimes I get the feeling, like "Hey! It's time! Despite where you are in life right now, I have a plan" and it's hard to decipher if it's just me or God. It's an area I'm constantly turning over to God, so thank you again for that reminder.

Anonymous said...

I will be the first to admit that I used to be alot like what you described. I did "retail therapy" before we had Kylie. I catch myself doing it now, but I recognize it and stop myself. Usually it happens after a month of a very tight budget. I'm getting better at saving though.
Great post!