Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday School

In the past I have not been a big fan of Sunday School. I figured one of the reasons we are asked to attend is to see how faithful we are in attending, something as boring as all get out. I rarely had interesting Sunday School teachers growing up, and once the the novelty of boys wore off, there was really nothing left for me. After my husband and I got college degrees, we found a nice apartment in a fourplex. We loved our Sunday School teacher, she was so good, it was one of the reasons we didn't want to move. I didn't know it was possible not to want to move because of a Sunday School teacher. Then we moved up here, and we have a really good Sunday school teacher now, but not quite as good. I figure a big part of being a good sunday school teacher is 1. don't be as dry as all get out, and 2. don't try to impress the class with your vast knowledge of boring biblical facts. To me the scriptures are not about historical facts, but about gospel principles. (One of which is humility.) Anyway, this all has nothing to do with anything.
Last Sunday, we had Ward Conference, a member of the Stake Presidency gave the Sunday School lesson, and it was not really a Sunday School lesson but it was still my favorite meeting of the three hours, also something I never knew could happen. He talked about Fasting and Fast Offerings. I will admit that I have a hard time having an attitude of fasting when I'm pregnant or nursing. I actually like Fast Sundays if I'm fasting a meal or two, but I really have a hard time mentally fasting per se without physically fasting. So I guess I should work on that. But this is not the point of the post.
Fasting was a short part of the lesson, it was mostly on Fast Offering. It made me appreciate Fast Offerings more than I have recently, and helped me reflect on Tithing and Fast Offerings, more than I have lately. (The lesson barely mentioned Tithing, but in my mind I have a hard time differentiating between Tithing blessings and Fast Offering blessings.) As we were unlocking our door after church, my husband said, "well I guess we should double our fast offerings again." My response was yup.
Over the past few days since the lesson, I have been reflecting on my fast offering blessings.
My husband wanted to try pay for an undergraduate education without grants, and hopefully without student loans. At first he said if we can't do it without grants we'll get a student loan. I thought he was a little crazy, but I was in love, so I said we can go without grants as long as we don't get a student loan. Grants before loans, since the government pays the interest on the loan until graduation anyway. Some how we made it. He succeeded in his goal. He worked part time during the school year, and full time plus during the summer. I worked full time the summer before we got married, and the summer after we got married, after that I had a kid. I didn't work during the school year, because I study an exorbitant amount for mediocre grades. But we graduated debt free. A few things made this possible,
  1. My dad paid for my tuition, without this I would have either not graduated in four year, not had a child, or would have had to work more.
  2. We went to a University that has incredibly cheap tuition all things considering.
  3. We got some killer deals of cheap rent. (but I tie this to #4)
  4. But mostly I believe we were able to do this because we always paid our tithing in full, and we paid a generous fast offering.
I am writing this post for myself, to record how much gratitude I have for the financial blessing I've received as an adult. I don't really have a plan of how this will all come out, but I just feel the need to write this. When we first got married, we lived in an elderly woman's mother in law basement. Which means, our part of the house was not separated from hers. She would occasionally walk in during our dinner to get to her storage cellar. We didn't know her when we knocked on her door, but she let us stay in her house for $75 a month. Yes you read that right $75, I guess that was the cost of our utilities. The house was in desperate need of updating, it smelled like dust and such, the carpet was very old, and it was like living in a cave from the 70s, but it was still a huge blessing. A week or so after we got married, we sat down and looked at our finances, with what money we still had saved from our summer jobs, with our wedding money, and my husband's measly paycheck, even with only paying $75 a month we only had enough money to get us to about the March. (I say my husband's paycheck was measly because it was, and he would be the first to agree, it was hard to find a job that paid anything above measly in that college town. Too much supply of cheap labor. My husband had the same job all four years of school, with a raise every year, during his senior year, he was in a class, and he was one of three people who made $9 or more, in a class full of seniors. Everyone in class wanted to know what he did to make so much-- $9 a hour at 20 hours a week. Mind you this class was 2 years ago, and we did not make it up to $9 until two years after we were married.) Anyway, so based on our calculations we were going to run out of money about a month and half before school got out for the summer. We didn't really know what we were going to do, but we didn't have much options so we just lived as frugally as we could. We paid our tithing in full, because well I don't think it even occurred to us not to, neither of us were raised with the option to not pay. We paid our fast offerings because it seemed important. Some how we made it to the end of the school year, with enough money to get to Georgia to work for the summer. I still have no idea how we ended up with enough money, our finances defied the laws of mathematics, it was literally a miracle. We never went out, unless we heard of some free dinner, we were first married who cared. We ate only off brand food, I tried off brand mac and cheese twice, and decided I would rather go without than eat off brand mac and cheese. I can't eat anything other than kraft. We didn't have a car payment, we didn't have a loan on my diamond ring, because my husband refused to go into marriage in debt. We never went to the movies unless we won free tickets, we didn't have the Internet (the old lady's house wasn't wired for that), we didn't have tv, we didn't buy anything, other than necessity food and text books literally. (Speaking of TV we read an Ensign article when we were in school about tithing blessing of a man who had run out of food. In it it said he planned to go home hungry and watch tv. We laughed we had not had to go home hungry yet, but at the same time we didn't get to go home and watch TV. Although our lack of TV was more a choice than a financial necessity, many people offered us free tvs.) But even with all that, I know the only reason we made it to Georgia debt free was because we paid our tithing.
By the next semester we had saved up tons of money, but still not enough to get us to the next summer. Plus I was pregnant, the only maternity clothes I had my mom bought me for my birthday. The real test this time came when in a Stake Conference we were asked to double our fast offerings. We heard lots of talks about doubling until it hurt. It hurt, but we were fine. We moved to a more expensive place, but luckily Brent's sister still gave us a good deal on our rent. We had to move, for one, the old lady's adult children weren't so keen on us being there, and second I needed the internet for school while I was home with the baby. But then at some point, we were in another conference and asked to double our fast offerings again. Then it hurt, it really hurt, we were paying almost as much in fast offerings as we were in tithing. We really did not know how we would survive. In the beginning of every school year, and every semester we looked at our finances and did not know how we would surive the whole time. But some how we did, I know it was because we were paying a full tithing and a generous fast offering, plus every time tuition was due, my husband felt it was important to contribute to the Perpitual Education Fund, as a sort of insurance we would have next semester's tution money. Many semesters ended with us expecting to be in the hole, and every semster would end with us having about $86 give or take to our name, total. Which was a huge blessing at least we weren't in red.
It seems unreal to me, that I have lived those miracle tithing stories that you hear in conference, but yet I know I have, I remember doing the math. I have also often wondered how come I got blessings to keep me out of the red when others haven't? I don't know, I doubt I will ever know. But I do know the Lord is just and the Lord is merciful. How that connects to individual blessings I can't understand at this point. All I know is I have seen tithing blessing after tithing blessing in my married life.
The last summer before senior year of college, the job market didn't quite go the way my husband planned, he was employed for part of the summer. I worked a total of two days, which was two more days than I had worked since my son was born, (I worked as a favor to former boss). We REALLY didn't know how we were going to make it senior year, we had less money saved then ever before. But after a few weeks into the school year, my husband met with his counselor and it turned out he was able to graduate a semester early. Imagine that, only one semester of tuition. It was another miracle. We could not believe it. Sure I was a little jealous my husband was graduating a semester before me, me the one who had my graduation plan even before starting freshman classes, me the one who told him I wouldn't marry him until he picked a major, was graduating four months after him. Oh well, it was a blessing, and I still graduated in eight semesters during which time I had a baby. By the way, I never bought clothes for my son while we were in school, everything we got was either a present, or handme downs. I think we bought a coat, some socks, and pajamas one winter. Other than that it was all given to us. My husband never got new clothes, everything he wore he either had before we were married, or were handme downs from my brothers. I never got new clothes, my maternity clothes were a gift from my mother. As vain as this may sound it was actually rather challenging for me, I enjoy new clothes, in high school I considered myself semi fashionable. I've never been trendy, but I've like to look in style. It was hard to see girls in new fashions, and think these are the same clothes I had in high school. At one point, I happened to look on the GAP website, probably to dream about the clothes I couldn't afford. The site was having a promotion, I made a few clicks, and I happened to win a $200 gift card to Gap. I guarded the gift card very carefully, and carefully kept track of how much a spent. I only bought clothing on sale, it was the only money for two years for clothing. (Actually I did buy a few baby things for my son, through the card.) Once again I truly believe that card was a tithing blessing. It is said, with obedience and faith we will be blessed beyond our imagination. Sometimes it doesn't seem right to have such temporal superficial blessings, but yet, the Lord loves us and wants to bless us even with things that don't seem that important. The only time we went out to dinner during the two years is if we got a gift card from someone. Luckily our anniversary was after Christmas. We only went to movies if we had a gift card, or it was something we really really wanted to see, then we would go to the dollar theater. I remember right after my son was born I had a real hard day, my husband came home and took me out for fast food. It seemed unreal, going out without a coupon?!
Just because money isn't as tight now doesn't mean we aren't still get blessings from paying our tithing and fast offerings. Our cars are both about 10 years old, but we still got excellent deals on them, each for a couple thousand less than market value, we were able to buy them cash, after a few very frugal months before the purchases. This past christmas we didn't know how we would afford to buy christmas presents for people, something we felt was important to do since they were coming to OUR house, to visit US. With moving, and having a baby money was tight, but we ended up with an Amazon gift card for over a $100, which is how we bought all the presents. Hope people wanted books. We were planning to buy a house a year and half ago, but after looking into it felt like it was not something we should do. That I believe was a blessing, every house we looked at has dropped in value, we would have been over extended in our payments, and belly up. We looked at buying again in August but once again felt strongly we should rent. Once again we would be over extended and belly up, houses price have dropped a ton in value we were are living. Not to mention we don't really like the area we are living, but we thought we would have loved it, it not a bad area, its just not really for families. But now after living in a house this price we realize that we want a much smaller, more modest priced house when we buy. We can make the payments at this price, but not if we have my husband do an MBA and want to pay the bills. Now as we are looking, we are looking at more modest houses, after prices have dropped, and hoping for something much lower in value than what the bank will let us get in. Our rent cost now, has helped us to understand a follow President Hinckley's advice from October 2008. I talk my father made sure I heard many times. "I recognize that it may be necessary to borrow to get a home, of course. But let us buy a home that we can afford and thus ease the payments which will constantly hang over our heads without mercy or respite for as long as 30 years." We are hoping to get a house that we will still be able to pay while my husband is doing his master's even if he loses his "real job" and he has to go back to hourly wage jobs. Hopefully we can follow President Faust's example, "President Faust would not tell you this himself. Perhaps I can tell it, and he can take it out on me afterward. He had a mortgage on his home drawing 4 percent interest. Many people would have told him he was foolish to pay off that mortgage when it carried so low a rate of interest. But the first opportunity he had to acquire some means, he and his wife determined they would pay off their mortgage. He has been free of debt since that day. That’s why he wears a smile on his face, and that’s why he whistles while he works."

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