Brace yourself, lots of talk about budgeting is coming. It took me years (years, I tell you) to finally get to the point where we created one based on what we actually spend. I'm now a zealot, a financial convert. I have drunk the Kool-Aid. Nothing will make me happier than convincing all others, including our federal government, to do the same.
"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." - G. K. Chesterton.
As part of the budget, I am cutting our hair most of the time. Yesterday was haircut day for the boys. Yes, I did it myself, and no, I have no shame. I've been cutting boy hair since I was in my young teens. My older brother started growing his curly hair out in his Freshman year of high school. He discovered early in the process that any beautician not properly trained on curly hair would make so many mistakes that precious inches would be lost in the unending quest to "even it out." Since curls do not grow in a straight line but grow around a curve, and since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, it takes a whole lot longer to get a 1/4 inch of length back in curly hair than in straight hair. My brother didn't care about evenness so much as keeping that hard earned length. His younger sister, unlike a paid professional, would experiment a bit and then prudently say, "You'll need to use a ponytail for the next few weeks," when all hope was lost. He was good with that. I learned how to cut hair on some of the hardest to cut hair but with the most patient and tolerant of brothers (at least in this instance). Because of him, when it is time to tackle a few cowlicks in my boys' stick straight locks 20 years later, I have all the false confidence necessary to proceed.
I learned to cut hair by making all the mistakes possible on a challenge. When something finally went right, it was noted and repeated until something else miraculously righted itself. Eventually, mostly, the job was done passably enough. I now know enough to keep the damage to a minimum between the visits to a professional.
A Job Done Is a Done Job
I learned how to ride a horse the same way I learned to cut hair: by doing it badly until I did it passably. The first horse I ever rode with regularity was a barn soured mare. The very first challenge I faced was to catch her and gear her up, and since most of my time with her was spent chasing her down, I tended to skip the gear entirely. I counted it a victory just to mount her and stay mounted with nothing more than her lead rope and halter.
Unknowingly, I had broken the job of riding and retaming her into small, obtainable goals. First job, catch her, mount her, hang on for dear life. That was enough for weeks. When that no longer sufficed, I added the idea of stopping at will (mine, not hers). When that was accomplished, I started to steer. After we had all that worked out, I started to saddle her regularly which involved a near return to ground zero and a whole lot more ground time for me. Me and the saddle, that is.
Eventually, over the course of a summer, I was able to safely ride her out of the corral and around fences, trees, and other people with little trouble and very little bloodshed. I knew I had accomplished a bit of mastery when someone started a weed whacker while I was riding her. She, who had a fear of bees, heard the machine as an angry swarm of them. She jumped up and bolted. Not only did I stay on through that first surge of fright but she trusted me enough to allow me to calm her down afterwards.
She never was much horse for anyone else, and she wound up being sold off when she bit a hunk of arm out of someone, but she taught me a lot. From her I learned I don't need an endless supply of persistence and will power. I just need a fraction of a second longer than any adversary. That's all it ever takes to win.
I'm not saying the whole budget process was easy. I'm not saying it wasn't done with a lot of prayer and sacrifice. In fact, I shocked my husband terribly by laying my head down and bawling my eyes out over the last few thousand. You see, I'd miscalculated and given us too much for the year. When the mistake was discovered at the very last, and when it was the exact amount it would cost to take a trip to California to see my family, and when I had to cross it out and give that up, I had finally reached the end of my own strength. That was the exact point where I stopped relying on my willpower and began to rely on God. Those tears are when I took that leap of faith. I even prayed aloud, "I don't want another 10 years to go by without seeing them, Lord, but I will trust You when You show me that it won't be this year either." It wasn't the faith that shocked my husband, I give plenty of that when it is easy enough, it was that this particular act of faith took the surrender to tears before I could surrender my will. I'm not the crying kind, so it was an unexpected moment for him to find himself in the middle of a puddle of a wife. I still don't like it one bit and I'm still a bit sullen, but there was no denying that the money couldn't come from anywhere else, so Thy will, not mine be done.
Luckily, God doesn't require something more than mere obedience. Even Jesus wept. I just have to do the job, liking it can come later.
Last year, instead of doing all the shopping ourselves, we took our Christmas money and gave the kids $5 for each person they wanted to buy for. Some of the gifts chosen, especially from the 3 year old, were unexpected or even outright funny. It was sweet though, to see each child make his or her decisions in the store and light up with the hope of Christmas at the thought of the recipient opening it. Each gift was a part of each child who chose to give it. So much so that Christmas morning was full of, "This is from YOU! Watch me open it!" and "That's from me! I wanted you to have it!" even over something as simple as a laminated book mark. My husband and I were struck with how much more everyone loved their Christmas, how much longer into the year we would hear such things as, "I got this from John for Christmas." By doing this instead of making all the purchases ourselves with the same amount of money, we accidentally discovered a way to make Christmas more about the giving than receiving. Sure, the kids enjoyed what the received, but they also managed to focus on what they gave, too. It helps that our kids are still pretty little and we've always made an effort to tone down the consumerism of Christmas, but every family can make an effort in the direction toward self donation and love of others. Any more of that in the world and we can count it as a win.
I want to reiterate Chesterton's quote above. Don't worry too much about the perfect Christmas, a perfect haircut, or a perfect plan. "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly," includes aligning your will to God's. You can go into most anything, knowing you are most likely going to make a mess of the job. Rest assured that as in most things, God will take a good faith effort on your part and bless it.