We had the privilege this week of seeing yet another friend we haven’t seen in AGES. Years and years. He’s in the military and moved away a few years before we moved to France, although I think we saw him a few times before we left. Anyway, in the intervening years, he married and we hadn’t met his wife. But they were in town this past week and we met for lunch and had a great time catching up (or meeting, as the case may be).

We discussed how living somewhere different and meeting people with different perspectives changes you and how you see God. Jake & I told them how we had (are still having) a very difficult time relating to church people after we returned, that they kept offering trite clich├ęs and churchy advice that just didn’t help. When we were facing a deadline to move out of our last available housing, with no idea where to go, one guy told us, “Well, that’s great! You know God will give you an answer by then.” I just stared at him. Because I did NOT know that. Maybe I’m missing it in the fine print or something, but nowhere in my Bible does it say that God owes me anything. He does not owe me a place to live. He does not owe me food. He does not owe me life, or health, or answers to all my pressing questions. He is not indebted to me in any way.

I think people were trying to encourage us with this idea that God is somehow obligated to provide for His followers. I guess that might be comforting for some people, to believe that God “has to” do something for them, that He is somehow forced to meet their needs. I don’t buy that. I think it’s a very little view of God. I mean, I know there are verses that say God provides…but you have to look at the whole thing, not just a few pretty verses. Let’s look at Job, an entire book. Here is a guy who’s done everything right, so God should definitely be obligated to take care of him…but no. Everything he has is destroyed – not just “my house burned down so I don’t have my photo albums anymore” but like all his kids died. And God allowed his own health to be wrecked. Things never got that bad for us – at least we were all still alive and healthy, no oozing boils to speak of – so really we should be pretty grateful for what we DID have. Like a car to live in if all else failed.

Then there’s Paul. He got off to a rocky start but after that he was like a Christian rock star, God should definitely take care of him…but he spent the rest of his life going from prison to shipwrecks to beatings to stonings to prison to shipwrecks to whippings and so on, until (according to tradition) he got his head chopped off. Somehow God didn’t owe him food or a blanket in prison, but He owes me living quarters that include central air conditioning? I think not.

I know I’ve written about this some before, I’ve just been thinking more about it lately and trying to process my anger over it – anger toward both God and other people. I may not have bought into the idea that God owed me a place to live, or reliable income, but I did buy into the idea that He owed me an explanation for it. (Another churchy platitude – God allows trials in your life to comfort others.) I mean, that is actually in the Bible, I just think it’s been churchified. If my kids died like Job’s, I don’t have a Mickey Mouse hip* what God wants to do with that in the future, I would be really pissed at Him – and anyone who tried to comfort me by telling me I could help other grieving parents down the road. Who cares about that? The point is, He doesn’t owe me an explanation for that season in our lives any more than He owed me a way out.

He wasn’t less God when all 7 of Job’s kids died. He wasn’t less God when Paul was getting 39 lashes…again. And He isn’t less God if I don’t have a home. My circumstances may not be what I want but they have no effect on His abilities – just because He doesn’t do what I want doesn’t mean He’s not capable of it. And He’s not accountable to me to explain why He does (or doesn’t do) the things He does.

*One of Jake’s friends in France said that once. He was trying to say “give a rat’s ass.”

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Even more than reading about marriage, I enjoy reading about money.* Actually, if I were to take a census of my personal library, financial books would likely outnumber the marriage ones. I also peruse financial blogs, and I have been reading Crystal Paine’s blog moneysavingmom.com for a long, long time. Since before it was famous. She recently released a book called The Money-Saving Mom’s Budget: Slash Your Spending, Pay Down Your Debt, Streamline Your Life, and Save Thousands a Year, which is a pretty long title. Or at least, a long subtitle. I dithered about whether or not to buy it; I wasn’t sure if it would have information that wasn’t already on the blog. Some of the Amazon reviewers said things like “I’ve been extreme couponing for 13 years and I STILL learned new things!” and others said they felt like it was a compilation of stuff from the blog. I decided to delay buying it in hopes my local library would carry it…and then, a day or two later, I got the chance to review the audiobook. Good choice, Suzanne!

*Maybe in this case, it’s more like, “Those who don’t have, read.”

The Good: First, Crystal is a complete rockstar at couponing and living on a teeny tiny income. Seriously. At some point in the book she says what their monthly income was while her husband was in law school and I quickly did the math – which may be a bit off, math is not my forte, especially the mental kind, plus I was driving – and I think we could pay our rent and utilities on that (except maybe in the summer with the air conditioning), but our ability to eat would be severely compromised. I mean, if we were playing Oregon Trail, we would be on the Bare Bones setting. (P.S. – Everyone dies on that setting.) So when she talks about cutting spending, she knows what she’s talking about. And a lot of what’s in the book can be used even if you don’t coupon, which is nice if you don’t have the time or live in a coupon-less area. She stresses making concrete goals and then breaking those down into doable steps, as well as clearing clutter (so, you know, you don’t lose bills…or forget to use coupons for freebies, like I did this week, oops) so obviously you can do those things anywhere. A lot of her tips are more far-reaching than just groceries, like how to save on eyeglasses and other things you wouldn’t normally find in a budgeting book. Another point for Crystal is that she admits it is nearly impossible to get far in life without some kind of credit score and gives tips on how to make that happen without allowing credit spending to get out of control. Dave Ramsey (and thus many of his followers) claim you don’t need a credit score unless you intend to go further into debt; I see that point, but the odds of me ever buying a house with cash are slim to none. So even if I never accrue another debt in my life, I will need a mortgage if I ever want to live in a house. It’s fine for Dave to have no credit score, he can buy a whole neighborhood with cash if he wants. (For the record, we eschew credit cards; but we have good credit scores from before, or so our apartment complex tells us. Someone just leaving home, without the “boon” of having previously been in debt, would not have the luxury of a leftover credit score.) And the last chapter is about contentment, which is a critical part in money management (or mismanagement, as the case may be). I have actually been working on a post of my own about this topic – or rather, the lack of contentment – so that was timely. Basically Crystal talks about a budget in the context of life, or how your budget affects your whole life – not just your money.

The Caveats: First – and this is a very personal one – I am not an auditory learner. At all. I already knew this but listening to this book reinforced to me that I basically need to read something to learn it. At first I tried to do it while tending to “mindless” tasks, like clearing out our pre-France files, but then I discovered that going over 4-year-old papers isn’t really mindless and I was having a hard time absorbing everything Crystal said. So I switched to listening while I drive – NOT that driving is mindless, I just already have something to occupy my eyes so I could listen to her instead of music. It worked better…but I have to say, I’m not sure audio is a good format for non-fiction. (Now, Jim Dale reading Harry Potter…ahhh, beautiful audiobook masterpieces. I digress.) My sister, on the other hand, is an auditory learner – the kind with a membership to audible.com – and she thinks audio for non-fiction is perfectly fine, so others may not have this problem. But for me, there were so many times that Crystal would mention a helpful website but I couldn’t write it down because, you know, I was DRIVING (or cooking, or something else, the whole point of an audiobook is to multitask) and it’s a lot harder to find a reference in an audiobook than a physical one. I really wish they made a list of all the referenced websites for audiobook listeners. And I have to say that I am wildly jealous that she and her husband were able to save and buy a house with cash. I mean, I think it’s awesome that they were able to do that and wish fervently I could do the same, but the fact of the matter is that lawyering typically pays more than a local non-profit. I found myself at times feeling that the author may have a hard time relating with many in her audience who haven’t made super-wise choices with their money from the cradle and didn’t have the same favorable circumstances (you can read about that here) to make it possible. Granted, they did have some very lean years in the beginning…but knew at the time it would be temporary. It’s a lot easier to get discouraged when there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The Verdict: This is a great place to start if you are new to budgeting and want to get control of your finances. Crystal has a lot of great tips, ideas, and techniques to get you started with managing money and clearly explains everything (including how to tell if a strategy isn’t working for you or not worth your time). On the other hand, if you have spent some time perusing the theories of various financial gurus or reading personal finance blogs, you may not run across new material in this one. Still, it’s a good reminder/encouragement to stay on track…and dream big dreams even without a light at the end of the tunnel, because you never know what God will do.

Find links to other reviews here…where you can also enter to win a new iPad! Crystal will be announcing the winner (and giving away more stuff) at her live webcast event on April 5.

This audiobook was provided for review by the LitFuse Publicity Group.

My sister just sent me a link to Half Price Book’s Tournament of Villains. So fun! (Is basketball this much fun for people? I just don’t get it. I even like football, I’m not opposed to organized and/or professional sports or even college sports, basketball is just totally lost on me.)

I think it will come down to Vader vs. Voldemort. What say you?

Today we ran into an old friend while we were out and about, a guy we haven’t seen in several years. We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked, “What’s it like to be back?”

That is a really, really hard question to answer. When you live in a different culture you are constantly aware of how much you don’t fit. Don’t get me wrong – there are/were many aspects of French culture that I identified with, that felt natural to me. I love the way they respect privacy. I love the way they take friendship seriously. I love the way they linger over meals and conversations. I love the way they spend they whole day in the park, doing nothing, just enjoying life. I love the way that, as far as I can tell, very few French women ever fix their hair. (Seriously! There are a ton of people there with uber-curly hair and they sort of just let it fro out, huge and poofy. Our French teacher looked very, very similar to Professor Trelawney.) I love that there are so many stores devoted entirely to bread and pastries. I love they way they’re unhurried, un-busy, not over-scheduled. But even among all those things that just felt right, I was always an outsider. And I thought when I came “home” that everything would be fixed.

At first I thought it was. I told Jake that coming back was like coming home from work and changing from your business casual into your favorite jeans. But after a little time passed I realized that wasn’t the case. It was more like trying on some jeans and thinking, “Hey! These make my butt look good” and buying them only to realize later that you can’t sit down in them. “Home” doesn’t feel like it fits anymore, either. The familiar is nice but at the same time it’s not really comforting…and sometimes, it isn’t even nice at all. Maybe that is the sentence you serve for living cross-culturally – you can never truly fit anywhere again.

It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I have the challenge misfortune blessing of sharing a bed with a man who, while sleeping, has no sense of personal space. Mind you, when he’s conscious he is quick to notice that my pinky toe has strayed to the edge of his couch cushion, but once asleep he has this notion that if he can roll there, it’s his space. He also rolls the covers around himself like a burrito, so that I never have enough covers, and if I pull them and thus un-burrito him he accuses me of stealing all the covers. I actually once started a photo essay which was to be entitled, “My Husband Is Literally the Reason I Get Out of Bed in the Morning” as proof that I am the victim in the situation.

Notice that the covers are on the ground on Jake’s side, and don’t even reach the edge on mine. I was forced to rise for the day because he grouched at me for trying to re-distribute them in a more even fashion, and it was freezing.

Now, it’s not all bad. Sometimes I get in bed and Jake is laying diagonally across the bed, with his feet where mine should go. This is nice because after he kicks me for invading his foot space, he rolls over (re-burritoing himself in the process) and leaves me with a nice pre-warmed spot for my feet. Of course I have scant covering for the rest of me, but at least my feet are cozy.

Enter the beauty – and brilliance – of German engineering. In Germany, individual sleeping space is a priority. When we stayed in a hotel in Germany, they had two twin-size mattresses in a king platform. Each mattress had its own flat sheet and duvet. You had the togetherness of sharing a bed with the comfort of your own covers, and a clear boundary line for your bedmate. I don’t think I have ever slept so well in my married life. I determined that as soon as it was financially feasible, we would procure similar sleeping arrangements. You could even use a king mattress and fitted sheet for this, and just get separate duvets. I haven’t executed the plan yet because it’s not financially feasible – king mattresses are expensive! – but I think I may go ahead and do the separate duvets with our queen bed. I mean, we may never be able to afford a king and that way I’ll at least have some covers. (As a side note, I have become convinced that the size of bed directly influences the health of a marriage. Full bed, unhealthy marriage. King bed, you probably really like each other because your sleep is the undisturbed slumber of one whose partner is several feet away.)

I think Germans are brilliant.

Also – this is totally unrelated – they eat ice cream for dinner. Like I said, they’re brilliant. In the summer they go to ice cream shops and order these huge masterpieces and that’s their dinner. This is another tradition we have decided to incorporate into our family.

I found this in a Google image search; my pictures don't turn out this well.

I am pretty much always up for reading about marriage. I think it’s a fascinating topic, which is why I chose the degree plan that I did and why I continue to read about it. (You’d think, what with a degree in family studies and all the marriage books scattered around my home, that I would be the most fan-freaking-tastic wife on the planet, but alas. You know that saying “Those who can’t do, teach”? Well, those who are too lazy to do or teach, sit at home and read.) Anyway. I was excited to get the opportunity to read and review The Beautiful Wife by Sandy Ralya, who has started a marriage mentoring ministry for women called Beautiful Womanhood.

The short version is that I really liked this book – which (in all honesty) kinda surprised me because, like I said, I’ve read a few books on the topic and at SOME point you’re going to run across repeat material. The best feature of this book, in my opinion, is that it is actually addressed specifically to wives. Many marriage books are (let’s face it) only going to be read by women but sort of assume both partners are reading or are at least on board with whatever program the book is talking about. This book really focuses on you, the wife, in your marriage. So Ralya only addresses the stuff you can change, which is yourself. (And the truth is that when you change yourself, it necessarily changes your relationship, because you are different, but that can’t be your motivation.) She covers the topics of self-care, being genuine, mystique, romance, sex, communication, how to speak the truth in love, money management, creating beauty, and being a professional wife and mom. Even with the wide-ranging topics, the book is short and accessible; each chapter has a short resource list at the back if you feel you could use some growth in that area.

Ralya also touches on some topics that could use touching, like using shopping as a drug or distraction, and refraining from “ministry” when one has small children in order to focus one’s energies and attentions on one’s family. She also mentions that Christians need to more strongly consider the procreation purpose of sex – just one brief paragraph, but I have read some alarming statistics and predictions recently about the dwindling birth rate in Western civilization. I won’t get on my soapbox about it here, because it’s a bit off topic, but I was glad that she didn’t shy away from this important consideration.

The book also has a prayer journal so you can really work through the topics she discusses, and there is also a mentor’s guide available for use in a small group setting.

I did find a few spelling errors, which was mildly annoying, and with a few of the topics I thought, “Oh! I hope she put such-and-such in the resource list” and was disappointed not to see those resources listed. It’s a solid list as it is, and I know you can’t have an exhaustive resource list, but I can think of 3-5 things that, if added, would have made it truly outstanding.

Overall I thought this was a very good read – comprehensive enough to get you thinking but quick enough to not be overwhelming, with additional guidance available for those areas you need to dig into a little more deeply. I also enjoyed some of Sandy’s personal stories, particularly her example of how indirect communication didn’t work for her (perhaps because that may be an issue in my marriage…). I think there is good material here both for the marriage book junkie as well as those who abstain.

Sandy’s doing a Kindle Touch giveaway here! The winner will be announced at her Facebook party on 3/8.

See the other reviews on the blog tour here.

This book was provided for review by the LitFuse Publicity Group.

First, I would like to point out that I have managed to make this “30 day” thing last longer than a year. I am awesome at procrastinating.

Second, I was going to make a new playlist for Jake, because that’s kind of a nice thing to do for someone, but I never got around to finishing it…uh, see above. So this is one I made for him this past summer, back when we were homeless and had no idea what the future held and he was spending a lot of time driving to and from contract/freelance jobs so he would have something to listen to. So they’re all related to uncertainty, or a difficult time, or questions one might want to ask God when He appears to be shirking His duty while trying desperately to believe that He is good.

You’re supposed to also say why you chose the songs so I have included a brief-ish excerpt or explanation for each. (Don’t judge me! I haven’t had much money for music since like 2002 so most of this is old.)

  • “You Did Not Have a Home” by Rich Mullins. Because we did not have a home.
  • “Let It Be Me” by Ray LaMontagne. “For every door you open, seems like you get two slammed in your face…Pockets full of nothin’, ain’t got no cash…You feel like you’d give anything for just a little place you can call your own”
  • “I’m Not Alright” by Sanctus Real. The title pretty much sums it up. And we discovered that most people are pretty intimidated when you say stuff like that.
  • “Next Age” by Stavesacre. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick with desperation/And we’ve had enough for a lifetime.”
  • “I Feel So” by Boxcar Racer. “I feel so mad, I feel so angry…so lost, confused”
  • “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne. “Feels like every time I get back on my feet she come around and knock me down again…worry is my only friend”
  • “Walk” by By The Tree. Because that song makes me think of Camino (Jake used it on our slideshow (warning! for some reason he included a video of me draining a blister)), and this era in our lives was a spiritual Camino.
  • “Why Georgia” by John Mayer. “So what, so I’ve got a smile on/But it’s hiding the quiet superstitions in my head…Am I living it right?”
  • “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins. I think this is perhaps the bravest song ever. I won’t put any lines because the whole song is exactly what I would say, if I was poetic.
  • “Aslan” by Kendall Payne. “Lay down your layers, shed off your skin/But without his incision you can’t enter in/He cuts deep, yes he cuts deep…but never leaves a wounded one behind/He won’t say the words you wish that he would/He don’t do the deeds you know that he could/He won’t think the thoughts you think that he should/But he is good, he is good.”
  • “Good” by Bleach. “My heart is bare/There’s not much there/But I believe you’ve given me more than I could know/And I know this/You are good”
  • “Your Love is Strong” by Jon Foreman. “I look out the window, the birds are composing/Not a note is out of tune or out of place/I walk to the meadow and stare at the flowers/Better dressed than any girl on her wedding day/So why should I worry? why do I freak out?/God knows what I need, You know what I need”
  • “Vision of You” by Shane & Shane. Basically begging Jesus to show up.
  • “Be Near” by Shane & Shane. Same idea as above…”Your nearness is to us our good.”
  • “Hold Me Jesus” by Rich Mullins. “The mountains look so big, and my faith just seems so small.”
  • “Yearn” by Shane & Shane. Wanting to want Him when you don’t. (Aside: it appears the Shanes have become the new Rich Mullins(es), no?)
  • “Waiting Room” by Shane Barnard. “I will trust when You don’t seem real…Lord, I know if I change my mind/You will change my heart in time/Sovereign Lord, this time’s from You/So I sit in the waiting room of silence”
  • “Better Days” by Robbie Seay. Here come better days! (I mean, there were only a few ways it could get worse.)
  • “The Best I Can” by The Normals. “This is not what I thought I had been praying for/But this is what I have been given/I will make the best I can.” One of my very favorite lines.
  • “Sometimes by Step” by Rich Mullins. If you are a real Christian you pretty much have to put this song on a playlist.
  • “You are Good” by Nichole Nordeman (and Erin O’Donnell). “When it’s dark and it’s cold and I can’t feel my soul/You are so good/When the world has gone gray and the rain’s here to stay/You are still good”
  • “Lifeboat” by The Elms. “When I can’t swim, You are a lifeboat”
  • “Gratitude” by Nichole Nordeman. “Daily bread, give us daily bread/Bless our bodies, keep our children fed…But maybe not, not today/Maybe you’ll provide in other ways/And if that’s the case we’ll give thanks to you/With gratitude” A very difficult thing to pray.
  • “Over Now” by Needtobreathe. “This time is just a season…Lift up your head, look out the window/’Cause it’s almost over now/Take back the time your fear has stolen/’Cause it’s almost over now”
  • “New Day” by Robbie Seay. “And I know it might seem/That the world is crumbling/But it’s me and you dancing in the kitchen at 2 a.m./And we’re still alive/And it might not be/The prettiest thing that you’ll ever see/But it’s a new day”

So there you have it. Don’t get your hopes up – several of the remaining prompts are completely stupid so I may not finish. And no, that doesn’t bother me.