Friday, January 02, 2015

Living out life by faith...

Wednesday night I blogged about one verse that's been on my mind a lot lately. The other one I mentioned is this:
The righteous shall live by faith.

I cannot count the number of times I've heard or read that verse, but only recently have I actually thought about the nitty-gritty of what that actually means... what it might look like to a Christian of today.

My husband and I were talking about it, and there really are a lot of ways to "take" that verse. Does it mean that if you are righteous, you will choose to live by faith? Or does it mean that if you are living by faith, that means you're righteous? Is it saying that living by faith is a conscious decision that the righteous man makes? Or is it deeper than a choice?

I honestly don't know if God was aiming for one of those definitions over the others, but I've found myself thinking more the last few weeks about what that word "live" itself actually is talking about.

To me, when the Bible talks about how we live (or should be living), it's referring to all of the many things we do throughout each day. It's talking about how we relate to those around us, how we think, and what motivates us. It's talking about the type of employee we are in the workplace, spouse we are in our marriage, parent we are to our kids, and son or daughter we are to our parents.

Can I share a series of little stories from December? All of them are part of this new normal that I mentioned Wednesday night.

I already shared about how God went car shopping for me, and how He was also taking care of little things for me like rescheduling doctor's appointments. Well, it's continued.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

I decided I wanted to somehow give my daughter a new computer for Christmas as a combination Christmas/18th birthday gift. (She turns 18 next week.) She's a budding graphic designer, and the old computer she had was not powerful enough to run Photoshop very well. Actually, it would hardly run it at all.  I really didn't know how much money I should spend for Christmas, seeing as how we've got this mountain of medical bills from October, so I just sent up a silent, "What should I do, Father?" Somehow, I quickly became convinced that it was okay to spend $300 for this for her.

Anyone who knows anything about computers and Photoshop would totally laugh at getting a new computer for that much. You can barely get a entry-level computer for that price, much less one that is capable of running the things my daughter wants to practice and learn in Photoshop. Nevertheless, that's all I had peace with spending, even after she said she was okay if she got no other gifts. Thankfully, my 16-year-old son is a computer whiz who has already built one custom computer, so I asked him to help me find computer parts. We searched Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads. We pulled apart her current computer for any parts that might not be too old to use. I looked at every rebate deal around. Several times, I had to tell him, "Yes, that sounds like an amazing deal on an amazing graphics card, but I don't feel right spending that much."

But when we finally collected a list of everything we'd need to build her the computer and the deals and items we'd found, my son made the comment, "Wow. I don't know how it's possible that we're going to be able to build her a computer this nice for only $300. Are you sure we're not forgetting something? Are these really all the right parts?" We went through everything again, though. It was all there... amazing deals, and everything was compatible with each other. That was the sticking point... we'd find one deal, only to discover that it wouldn't work with abc or xyz.  And the grand total (after rebates), the very first time I added up what we'd found that would work together was $299.97. Coincidence? Nope. Not for a computer that's the equivalent of many $900+ machines on the market. (My son considered it a huge bonus that he got to build another computer as well.)

And God just made all the deals fall into place for me. For her.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

One day in early December, I decided what I wanted to get my son for Christmas. I went looking online, and in less than 10 minutes, "happened" across an Amazon deal (one of those deals that only lasts a few hours and usually sells out fast) for that exact item... in the brand that he'd told me was the absolute best... at about half price.  If I had gone looking a different day or even earlier or later that day, the deal wouldn't have been there. But I'd been too busy with other things on other days.

This is just part of the "I can't deal with it today, Father tell me when it's time" sort of mentality that I learned in the wake of the car accident. When He prompted me with the thought and the initiative, He had the deal lined up for me.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

I wanted to get an extra gift for my brother who was coming for Christmas, but it was a rather last-minute decision. Actually, it was a VERY last minute decision, two days before Christmas, when I had only about 1/2 hour to think of and find whatever gift I wanted to get. So as I was driving into town, I prayed.

"Father God, what can I get Michael for Christmas?"
A jacket. Something lightweight.
"Okay. Where should I go to find one? I don't have much time." 
Burlington Coat Factory.
 "I suppose that makes a lot of sense, but I'm already going to Meijer, and they sell jackets, too. Probably on sale as well."

I didn't really hear a response to that, but I figured that I'd look at Meijer since I was headed there anyway. Just in case those thoughts weren't really God's whispers. If Meijer didn't have anything, then I'd go to the other end of town where Burlington Coat Factory was.

Meijer, of course, did not have anything that seemed quite right. I got my groceries and left, knowing that I had wasted precious time in the clothes section. I had to be home soon so that my daughter could take the car to work. And I still had no jacket.

Then my son texted me asking when I would pick him up. I glanced at my clock and texted him back, "I'll be there in about half an hour." Then it struck me... that gave me precisely 7 minutes to go into Burlington, find a coat for my brother, get up to the checkout, and get back on the road to pick up my son so I could be home in time.

Lord, I guess I'm really trusting You, here... not only that Burlington is going to have a jacket for my brother, but also that I'm going to be able to find it - and know that it's the right one - almost immediately.

That seemed pretty outrageous for a December 23rd Christmas shopping trip, done by a rather indecisive person... but I had no choice. And my new found, deeper experiences of trusting God with the crazy little things of life told me that I could trust Him for this.

So I walked into Burlington, found the men's coat section, and had a quick "uh-oh" feeling when I saw how bare the racks were. I pulled one off the rack that was nice, but it was a heavy coat.

That's not the kind of jacket you had in mind, whispered through my spirit.

I put it back and turned around... and there it was. Just one jacket. Looking like something my brother would wear. In what I was pretty sure was the right size. I walked up to the registers where there was exactly no one in line, checked out, and was on my way to pick up my son.

Christmas morning, my husband curiously asked my brother, "Did you need a jacket?"  His answer: "Actually, yes. I have a heavy coat and a lot of sweatshirts, but I've needed a jacket like this one."  My husband made him try it on, and it fit perfectly. Of course. God doesn't mess up.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

The next day, I was going through medical bills and statements trying to finish pulling together everything that tax purposes decreed had to be finished off before the end of the year.  A year, in fact, that turned out to be 500% more crazy than usual... between two different jobs, three different insurance plans, two FSA accounts, an HSA account, and medical bills paid for through all three of those AND cash payments... and more that the auto insurance is supposed to reimburse us for... all of which I had to keep straight and separate from each other because the IRS would throw a fit if one got "claimed" twice.  Let's just say that it's been a lot of opportunities to practice moving things over to God's desk (my little parable illustration from last month).

So I called up one of the FSA accounts to find out if all the documentation I'd sent earlier in December met all of the requirements they said they needed by the end of the year. The very kind representative started going through them. She started telling me which expenses needed further documentation, and I was adding those notes to the still-increasing list of stuff I needed to get done by the end of the year, when all of a sudden, she said, "You know what?  Wait a minute... would you mind holding for a few minutes?" I said I didn't mind, and the music came on.

She came back and told me, "Never mind sending all that in. I just got my supervisor to approve it all with what you sent. It's good enough. Merry Christmas."

I said, "What? You mean that list you were giving me... you don't need it after all?"  She said, "Nope. Just log back into your account next week to make sure that everything got approved properly."  I thanked her profusely... and thanked God.

I logged back on December 31st, and sure enough, everything was marked as approved with no further documentation needed.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

Then I called up the local hospital.  The biggest bill from October was still missing, off in lala land somewhere. Now ordinarily, people don't mind if hospital bills don't show up. However, I had looked at our finances and taxes enough to know that, if we paid for some of these hospital bills in 2014 and some in 2015, then we would not get to deduct any of them from taxes due to our AGI and the threshhold the IRS sets and all sorts of complicated things that the tax person helped me with.  Thus, the hospital would have to get all their money in 2014 or wait until 2015.

At first I planned to wait until January 2015 to pay them off, primarily because we have no insurance now. (We've decided to go a different route with CHM... cannot afford traditional insurance.) But then I began feeling quite strongly that God wanted me to pay them off in 2014, even though that would mean using one of those credit card balance transfer deals to "pay" for it.

So whenever I had some moments and energy and mental stamina for tackling things, I worked on figuring everything out. But every time I called about that biggest-of-all-bills, I got strange stories about the insurance reversing all their payments. I refused to worry about it; I just took whatever next step was recommended and laid the rest back on God's desk.

By Wednesday morning, it was the end of the year. I called the hospital again, and this time the woman I spoke with seemed to see things that the others had not. She took down my phone number, and in less than an hour, called me back to say that that it had all been resolved. She had my totals and had even applied the 15%-discount-if-paid-within-30-days to the over-60-days bills.

Done. In time.

Sometimes God likes to test our patience and trust, but I knew that He would work it out, if indeed He did want me to pay them all in 2014. And He did.

I found all the details necessary for sorting everything out for the IRS falling together as well... and on a day when I was not much needed at work.  God probably could have let it all fall together on a day when my job needed 8 hours out of me, but I'm grateful He chose a very, very slow day instead.  He's never late.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

A few days after Christmas, my husband paused as he was leaving for work to say that our son should burn all the Christmas paper and cardboard in the burn barrel later that day. I agreed and kissed him goodbye.

Four minutes later, he called me from on the road. "Go through all that Christmas stuff and cardboard before you burn it. I just got this feeling that there's something important in it, right after I said that."

I agreed, and my son and I went through it. There was everything from wrapping paper to cereal boxes to stacks of junk mail and more. We went through it, though... I was not going to take the warning lightly, just in case it was from God.

And then we found it... the registration and memo title for my new car. I don't really know how they got in there, but yeah... burning them wouldn't have been good.

God knew they were there, and He gave us the necessary warning.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

So here I am, looking into 2015 and asking myself, "Is this what it means to live by faith?" Listening to daily - even hourly - promptings in my spirit from God?

It's a walk of faith, because it's not like God speaks through this booming voice that can never be doubted. Each time I've had a choice... write it off as just a thought and choose to pit my own mental powers against the problem at hand, or choose to trust that it was God, since I've asked for His leading. Choose to worry, or choose to trust. It reminds me of that scene from Indiana Jones, when he chooses to walk a path he cannot see.

So does living by faith mean learning to listen to Him regarding everything in my life? Even things like taking out the trash and which stores to shop in and whether to pay a bill on Tuesday or Thursday?

Does it mean trusting - having faith - that everything He whispers to us is important for a particular reason?

Does it mean that sometimes that reason might be simply that He's taking care of us and wanting to make a roadway in the wilderness of modern life for us? Just because He loves us?

I think it does.

My job lately has had a heavier load that I want, taking more time from my family than I want... but I think He will teach me to follow His lead in this.

I don't like how much weight I've slowly gained this year, nor how it's making me feel... nor how the multiple attempts at losing weight I made through the year failed. Yet I have this confidence that, when the time is right, He will teach me to follow His lead in this as well.  One step at a time.

And now that the mountain of medical bills is sitting on a credit card -- paid according to the IRS's definitions but not according to mine -- I can't help but believe that the same God who directed me in all these little things has got those thousands somewhere, ready and waiting to be given into our hands to pay those bills off completely. I have no idea how or when that will be, but miraculously, I am not worried. For I followed His leading and He has proven Himself over and over and over again.

He'll lead me in the nitty-gritty of when to step away from work and where, when, and how to exercise. He'll lead me in the nitty-gritty of what bills to pay when... and when to leave them on His desk while I go to bed earlier to get the rest my body needs instead of staying up late trying to earn another $20 for those bills.

He'll tell me when to say No to the things that will burden me heavily, and when to say Yes to the burdens that He has given me grace for... so much grace upon grace that they will be light because they are the things He has called me to do.

His grace is sufficient, because He is enough, and because He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and always-providing One.

I cannot wait to see what He teaches me in 2015!

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