Financial Peace at 8

Finances and the study of it, reading about it and trying to organize my funds are all things I enjoy on a small-scale. I have a saying I have used for a long time which is: “I spend my money on paper before it spends me!” The word budget is almost like a four-letter word when I mention the “b” word to most people. I do not quite understand that at all. We do a budget every month and simply write down what we think we will spend each month and what we have to work with. I am not an anal budgetary person, but just like to record and organize it in such a way that it is pre-planned and not spent first. I cannot fathom not doing this whether I made $20K or $200K. I was not reared in my home talking about money. The only talk on money was the lack thereof. I knew nothing about a savings account or a budget. I wish I had known more then…

Well, several years ago early into our marriage we began trying to adopt some of the financial principles found in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace. I am so glad we did and we live by those principles today and they have been extremely helpful.

At the beginning of the year, we introduced the Financial Peace Jr. concept to Lauren and so far, it has gone well. The FP JR. concept utilizes a commission based approach versus an allowance. She has a weekly chore list with commission amounts she can earn for completing the tasks. It hopefully will connect the dots for her that work=pay (commission) vs. an allowance and she gets a set amount weekly no matter what she does.  We are about 8 weeks in and so far she earns an average of $3/week. She has bought her some books and a souvenir on her spring break vacation with her own money! She gets her weekly chart each Sunday and turns it in on Fridays to get paid each week. The first few weeks were constant reminders from us, but she now has her sheet on my desk every Friday to get her money.

Once she gets paid, we have a spreadsheet that shows her how her money is split into 3 categories-1. Save (5%), 2. Give (15%), and 3. Spend (80%)-she can use this amount to spend on whatever she wants. This will hopefully cement in her mind that she is to give to herself and to God a portion of all she earns. I think these are valuable lessons for all ages, but especially valuable at age 8. I wish I knew this at 8!

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Dreams Don’t Last Six Weeks

It has been about six weeks since Derrick’s death and sadly I am still in a state of disbelief and asking myself if this is the longest dream I have ever had? It feels like I wish I was waking up and will tell everyone you will never believe the dream I just had. But, I am sadly realizing with my tears that dreams just don’t last this long. So if it is not a dream, then what is it? My brain desperately needs for something to make sense. And if a six week dream is not logical, then I am struggling to find what is. Surely if a six week dream is beyond the bounds, then Derrick being dead has to be out of bounds too, right?

Herein lies the dilemma. I have painful proof in my heart that he is no longer here but I do not have any sensical or logical reason in my head to counter any of it as to why he is not here. He was not sick. He was not in a car accident. He was not any of those things. He was perfectly 100% healthy. I saw him last around 4:30 pm and two hours later he was gone. I sat there in disbelief telling myself this did not just happen. It is not humanly possible to be here one moment and gone the next one. But, all of the logic in my head got defied that day. The truths that I thought was truth were swept away like a big wave that comes to shore and washes away the sand. That leaves you feeling extremely hurt, confused, lost, and empty. You then start to feel like you are on sinking sand because what you thought was sure is no longer sure. What you thought couldn’t happen did happen. What you thought was impossible became possible right before your very eyes.

So, as I try to cope the reality pierces my heart. In crisis, your natural character rises to the top and begins to take over. My natural character and DNA is largely analytical and logical. In school, I needed to know why 2+2=4. It was not good enough for me to memorize my addition and multiplication. It needed to make sense. So, as my DNA begins to go to work and I analyze this situation, I continually come back void, frustrated and helpless. As I reach for logic to help ease my pain or at least soothe my hurt, there is no logic. There is no answer that makes sense on why he is no longer here. I feel like a desperate woman looking bef=hind Door Number 1,2,3  and frantically running around looking for the door that has the special thing behind it. In six weeks, I have not found the door or the special thing. Have you ever been on a scavenger hunt and you are running around with anticipation with the clock ticking trying to locate all your items and find the items before the clock runs out? I am on a hunt like that and I hear the tick tock of the clock in my heart that whispers to me “You will feel better” once you come to the place where you understand why he is dead. I think or I guess that if you lose a family member who has cancer, you grieve but then you may come to a resolution mentally at some point that “Oh, well they had cancer. They are in no more pain. We knew it was going to come to this.” I could be off base because I have not lived through that, but I am guessing you resolve it in your head WHY they are dead as you work through your grief. I have not been able to resolve the WHY. Nothing makes sense. This is what drives to comforting logic that “Oh, this is just a dream. I am dreaming and I am about to wake up and tell my husband all about it.” But….this morning I have hit a mark I guess and realized dreams just don’t last this long!

That is the truth for today. Some say truth will set you free. I am feeling more pain, but not freedom.

I wish it was only a dream…but unfortunately dreams do not last this long huh? I am not sure what is next, but I will continue to work through this grief as best as possible.

The Sting of Death

September 22, 2011 is a day I will never forget. I have attempted to write this post several times and could not seem to make it to the end due to the difficulty. I started writing this on September 24 and below is the raw pain at that time and I have continued adding to it the days that have passed.

I am 36 hours past one of the roughest moments in my life-the execution of my wonderful, sweet and awesome brother-in-law. Where the “in-law” part is really formality, for he was my brother and I was his sister.  I even struggle with now whether to say “is” vs. “was”. A simple decision like that causes the tears to flow.
My emotions are very raw and I don’t adequately have the words to describe the intensity of the pain and hurt we all feel. I have extreme sadness and extreme anger simultaneously competing for space in my heart.
Sadness for the loss I deeply and personally feel. Sadness that I’m only left with memories of him, but void of him completely. Sadness that I no longer have the ability to see him, hug him and hear his voice. Sadness of all the things I will miss hearing him say. Sadness that the world did not get a chance to see and experience what a wonderful human being he was.

Anger at the cause of his death because it seems senseless, even though it was a consequence of previous behavior. Anger at our unfair legal system that allows and promotes death as payment for death. Anger that we watched innocently a perfectly healthy human being lose his life as we all watched him slip away within minutes. Here at 6:26 pm and gone at 6:27 pm. How is that even supposed to make sense or compute in my brain? Anger at those who “could” have done something, but cowardly chose not to for reasons beyond my comprehension.

The Bible says that death has a sting and I can emphatically say that is true. It stings, it burns, and it plainly hurts. I continue to struggle and daily have to come to grips with the finality of it all.That is the part that is consistently waving mentally through my head and my heart-that this is final and that Derrick is not coming back, not today, not tomorrow, and not in 20 years. FINAL. Finality stings really bad.

Other emotions that continue to surface are the constant reminders that he is dead. One example is the day after the funeral, I drove back to Birmingham and was off that day. I came home and took the opportunity to go to the grocery store while the kids were at school. As I was coming out of the grocery store, I thought to myself it was different shopping at 12 noon by yourself versus 5 pm with two kids. Then my next thought was the only reason I was able to shop at 12 noon and that I was not at work at that hour was because Derrick was dead. The tears started to flow right there in the Publix parking lot.

Other reminders surface when the house telephone rings…I think “Oh, it’s Derrick” but I remember that Derrick is dead. He was the only one that truly called our house number except telemarketers. So hearing the telephone ring is a trigger.

Another reminder is traveling down Interstate 65 South…recently I had to do this for a work trip I was headed to in Orange Beach. As I got closer to exit 57, emotions rose high and my mind played back all the events that happened the last time I was on that road. I vividly started to remember the last visit at the prison, the last hugs, and I remember the long drive back to the hotel after the execution. Sobering thoughts. But all thoughts that remind me that Derrick is no longer here. I often tell my husband that I am tired of talking about Derrick in the past tense. That is my feeble way of saying that I desperately wish I could talk about him in the present tense and wish he was here today.

We are past 36 hours and now at 30 days since the dreaded event. Do I feel better than I did on September 24? Not much different inside, but externally I have managed to cry 3-4 days a week instead of daily. Maybe that’s progress. I am not sure what future progress looks like and I am not sure what it feels like either. I wonder if the sting will lessen one day and I will no longer feel the sting and I will just know there is a scar there. With each new day, I continue to feel the sting.

I pray that one day, the tears will get further apart, the bad memories will fade into the distance and it is all replaced with a calming peace and remembrances of only the good times. And that those memories (good times) will bring a smile instead of a tear. I can only hope…

Cruising Along

This year’s family vacation was a huge hit! We did something different and went on a cruise. It seems like each year, we vacillate between the beach or the mountains, and this time I suggested we do something different and go on a cruise. Marcus and I went on a cruise for our honeymoon and had not been on one since that time.

Marcus was hesitant at first for fear that Lucas was still small and too active to be on a big huge boat and it was unsafe. Now, Marcus is indeed right when it comes to Lucas’ activity level. He can be a force to be reckoned with and you literally have to come home in skates just to keep up with him. But I thought he surely is not the first 3-year-old that has gone on a cruise before, so I convinced Marcus to be brave and let’s take on the challenge of cruising with the kids.

I am glad we did. We had an absolutely wonderful time on the cruise and the kids enjoyed it as well. The greatest thing about the cruise that we enjoyed is that we all had our time. In one vacation, we had family time, couple time and alone time. We never get that. We all spent time together as a family each morning as we ate breakfast together and we would all do the excursions together as we docked on the islands. After we would come back from the excursions, the kids would go to Camp Carnival where they would spend the rest of the evening. This allowed Marcus and I to be able to have dinner together every night in the dining room uninterrupted. That was great! Then, there were other days when the kids would go to a special kids event on the ship and Marcus stayed in the room to study while I went and found bingo games and anything else that sounded interesting. I actually got back into reading while I was on the cruise and had a great time doing so.

We chose Carnival Cruise Lines for our cruise because of the great kids’ programs via Camp Carnival. They were open from 9am – 10 pm. absolutely free! After 10 pm, they charged a babysitting fee and was open until 3 am each night. Our ship was Elation and it was filled with about 2,500 cruise goers. We docked at Playa del Carmen (Cancun) and Cozumel and they were both magnificent.

Some of the highlights on our trip was Lauren snorkeled for the first time and both Lauren and Lucas rode a jet ski for the first time!! They were both more courageous and brave than I would have ever imagined.  Also, it was neat to experience Mexico and the beauty there. I wonder what it is like to live in place that is home for you, but just an attraction for millions. I wonder what it is like to live so close the water and on any day of the week, you can ride the waves, snorkel, beach bum it, or just see and hear the water. It sounds wonderful.

We had an awesome time and this will in fact go down in history as one of the best vacations ever.

Death and Final Things

Finality. End. Ceased. Stopped. Non-existent. There is something about things being final that can spin you into a feeling of helplessness. Because when things are final, it is totally and completely over and there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot address it with money, power, or prestige. There are few things in life, if any, that are as final as death. Death has a certain sting like no other and it can create emotion that is sometimes unspeakable.

We have reached a final chapter it seems in the case of Derrick, my brother-in law who has been sitting on death row for the last 17 years. We were notified last week that his date for execution has been set for September 22. Yes, a mere 4 weeks away. At first blush, 5 weeks seems like a very short time to process that and accept the idea that your end is near. But, on second thought 5 weeks seems far away to have to sit and await your dreaded end.

The emotions we are experiencing as a family are large and great. I am not sure I have sufficient words in my vocabulary to convey the intense emotion the final decision has wrought. I may be able to share in future blogs as we slowly walk down this path. My overwhelming feeling today is the complete awareness that death has a finality that is unchanged. I must pause a bit and say I am a firm believer in heaven and hell, but the finality I speak of is the opportunity to interact with your loved ones and enjoy the daily routines you experienced before. Those things end and move from present and future to past tense.  In life, we get to make choices daily that affect us and those around us. In 1994, Derrick made a choice that affected him and those around him. Today, someone has now made a choice that finality will knock at his door on September 22 barring any intervention or stay of execution.

We certainly pray for an intervention and that is our hope until September 22.

Party for Mom

My mom turned 65 last month and we threw her a special surprise birthday party to capture that milestone. It was a great night. She was completely surprised and extremely appreciative.

Marcus and I were responsible for getting her to the restaurant. So..about a week before, I called her and told that we were coming in town and wanted to take her to dinner for her birthday. She quickly agreed without any questions. Mission 1 accomplished!

The special night arrives and then I kick in with Phase 2. I call her and tell I want to take some pictures of her and the kids together so I ask her to get all “dolled” up for the dinner. She said okay without hesitation. So far..so good.

We arrive at her house on time and when we get there, we go ahead and go inside the house to stall for more time because the guests are still arriving at the party place according to the text updates I was getting from my sister. We catch up quickly, use the restroom and chat some more until we get the go ahead to continue. Phase 3 was to let my mom know that my sister decided she would meet us for dinner. I told my mom that on the way to the restaurant as my sister calls my cell phone. Mom says ok-no questions, no suspicions. By this point, my heart is beating fast and my adrenaline is pumping as we drive to the restaurant.

We get to the restaurant and my sister meets us outside pretending like she just got there. As we walk into the restaurant, the host (he was in on the surprise too!) greets us and asks how many is in our party. He leads us around the first corner and both of my brothers are there and she is surprised! She is thinking this was her surprise and we were just going to have a family dinner. But…..when she turned the 2nd corner, she moved from surprise to shock as she saw 60+ of her closet family and friends stand up and yell “Happy Birthday!!! It was an awesome moment. The look on her face was priceless as tears started to flow and I think it was the first time I saw my mom feel so loved and so appreciated beyond belief.  It took several moments for her to gain her composure because she was truly in a state of shock. She then saw the beautiful cake we had made for her and then she got a chance to walk around and say hi to all the people who came to celebrate with her. It was indeed a memorable event that we will never forget, but most importantly SHE will never forget.