Saturday, September 26, 2009

Because He first loved us

Two and a half hours of running gives one time to think. A precious commodity in my life right now, and probably yours, too. As for me, I am assigned to mull over very specific things, like the trends of Mediterranean commerce in the 8th century, the translation of Saints' Lives from Latin into the vernacular Old French, and the development of romance in medieval France. But on a rainy morning last week, plodding along the solitary, worn dirt paths around the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, I was afforded the opportunity to let my mind wander beyond the recent trails of thought and into slightly different territory.

I was thinking about how much my husband cares for me, and how that used to be a hard thing for me to believe.

This may come as a surprise to some of you that know us, but it is a story that goes back much further than Abbey and Karl. In short, I spent most of my single life disbelieving that someone would love me in that way. That much. Despite a truly loving father, and a firm grip on my heavenly Father, too, I still couldn't imagine that someone would bother to give me the time of day, much less want to spend the rest of their life with me. Yes, deeply insecure. Who knows why? But I do know that more people (especially women) experience this than want to admit it.

Along came my husband-to-be. We loved, stumbled around, forgave, loved all over again, and figured out enough for the next step. Ah, the delightful and sometimes maddening dance of the dating world. At this point, my insecurity must have been appeased, right? Attentive boyfriend, ring on my finger, striding down the aisle. These things were joyful and oh-so-right. But hardly decisive in my inner battles.

They quieted down for a while, but it wasn't long before the taunts and jeers of an invisible Enemy started working overtime to undermine our union. "He doesn't really love you." "You aren't sexy enough to hold his attention forever, you know." "What would happen if..." While the insidious suggestions began to pile up, I barely noticed. I would bat them away like so many pesky mosquitoes, while they were in fact poisoning my mind. But soon, the evidence came bubbling to the surface, sometimes ending in private tears, sometimes strange, accusatory conversations (monologues?) with my baffled husband, who did not know the extent of the war within. The excitement of moving to France eclipsed my struggles (become "our" struggles) for a while, but eventually the same old hurts would flare up, and in newly-destructive ways. I started to wonder if I wasn't just a little crazy. I read along the way in Proverbs: "The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out." This verse became a watchword, since "talking about it" those days was usually ending in a torrent of conflict.

Somewhere along the line, I also listened to a sermon from John Piper back home in Minneapolis about womanhood, and one of the qualities was "fearlessness". She laughs at the future. In my broken inner state, this seemed like an unattainable ideal, but I still fixed my hope on it. I read the passages over and over, cried, and reached out to God. Can You change me to be like that?

You're waiting for the dénouement, aren't you? And rightly so.

November 2008. Normandy, France. Mere kilometers from entrenched earthly battles of the past. The weather was cold, wet, and gray. I sat chatting with one of my dearest friends, and suddenly felt compelled to let all my exhausted confusion of the years and years come out spilling out. I wept. She prayed for me. I distinctly remember her words: "This is the beginning of the end of those lies." And that's exactly how it went. From that day forward, my eyes were clear - I could see when an attack was coming. And it wasn't Karl against me. It never had been. It was the Enemy of our souls against us. And we belonged to the Lord. And that was that. It was time to stand firm, therefore.

Since that day (dare I say D-Day?) our relationship has been gradually liberated from misplaced expectations, unfounded accusations, strife. God has been faithful to us. As soon as I began showing confidence in my husband's love for me, it multiplied. Love begets love.

All that to say, as I was treading the muddy path along Lake Harriet, I squinted into the misty rain and thanked the Lord. The deepest truth of all is that Karl loves me because He (God) first loved us. And "underneath are the everlasting arms..."

Weeks Three and Four of Nospend Month

Some of you have been wondering how this adventure wrapped up for us. Well, in the third week, we passed up our goal of $200 total by a little bit. This sort of took the wind out of our sails for the rest of the month, and we coasted through the last week with a more typical household expenditure. Not extravagant, but...we weren't really holding ourselves to the goal anymore. (Homemade fried rice cakes at right, terrific use for leftover brown rice.)

It is so true that in this sort of project, there seems to be a fatigue and lagging attitude that sets around week 3. We didn't succumb to key lime pie particularly, but maybe cookies and cream ice cream. (Tee-hee.) A subtle, indignant little voice kept insisting that we should have more spending power than we were allowing ourselves, and led to an uncalculating trip to the grocery store or two. (Bits of bread stuck in the freezer made for a savoury bread pudding. It's like a delicious, more hearty version of a soufflé.)

This is not to say we didn't learn or benefit from the experience. On the contrary! Thanks to the faithful record we kept on the side of the fridge of everything we spent and on what, we now have a very useful map for plotting our purchases on a regular basis. For us, we do spend more (than we would in small trips) at the supermarket when we go once a week. I call this EFS - Empty Fridge Syndrome. You feel a little desperate, and buy three kinds of cheese, when you might only need 1 or 2.

Secondly, the Minneapolis Farmer's market is infinitely more economical that the grocery store for vegetables, even Cub Foods. Plus, it is SO FUN. The only hard part is developing the routine of going there, but once that's established...a full produce drawer is yours for a pittance. (Watermelon sorbet at left a great way to use the fruit that's gotten a little grainy...)

For the record, $200 is way too optimistic a figure for us, even for a slim no-spend month. Next year, we'll aim for $250. However, I do believe the budget lines in our regular food budget are overinflated by a bit, and this experience was helpful for determining that.

Sitting down to a meal on our patio one night, Karl remarked that "if this is no-spend month, sign me up!" Before us was a feast of steak, tasty veg from the market, homebaked bread, cheese, and two glasses of red wine. You might be thinking: maybe this is why you overshot your budget...? Nope. That meal was one of the best buys of the month: bread is pennies for me to make at home, the steaks were drastically reduced in price and lovingly tended to by Karl on our little barbecue, the veg was about a dollar, and the wine from a boxed table wine we like, carefully apportioned out. Oh, and the cheese a gift from a family friend who owns a local goat farm....mmm. Fresh chevre on warm bread. Delicious morsels are to be had.

In the wake of moving from France to Minnesota, it has been a fascinating experiment to redraw our patterns of eating, cooking, and living, inscribing them on our new/old geography. There are some habits we can "import" - drinking wine at most meals - for a reasonable price. Other things, like bread and yogurt, we've learned we have to make by hand to be satisfied with the quality to price ratio. Yes, these things are worth our precious time (Have you every had homemade yogurt from raw goat's milk, simmering at left? To DIE for.)

We are busy people (more about that in blogs to come), but no one should be too overextended so as to miss out on the joys of dining together as a family, at least one meal of the day. That's my my philosophy. It doesn't have to be steak. More often, it's "just" an omelette, side salad, and a glass of wine, but...oh so sweet when shared with a loved one. Oh, then there was the night when I made homemade pizza and Karl insisted (he is so stubborn when it comes to having fun!) on throwing it on a cutting board and carrying it to the picnic tables in Loring Park. As we hoofed it across the busy street, we got not a few envious glances (including from a cop in his squad car cruising by!). Settling down with the pond reflecting great swaths of redwing blackbirds preparing for the migration to come, we downed our savoury slices and thanked God for the mild, waning light of summer. It's the simple things in life.

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17)

Go and find someone you love, and share a meal with them!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Week Number Two - Labor Day Weekend Special

Boy, this no-spend thing is harder than it seems. It would be different if Karl and I lived an insular life and never saw any friends or family, but that would be a pretty dismal existence. So we hang out. And human beings like to spend money together. I have no problem with spending money...except for this month. [The flip side of this: that our friends and moms and dads and aunts often invite us over for dinner, and lovingly feed us. And we try to do the same for them. It's a way of expressing affection, the giving and receiving of nourishment. It's a good thing.]

So, the grand (and I mean grand) total for this week's spending was...$107! Wow. This went towards: produce from the market, some basic staples at Cub Foods, and some wine and snack purchases on our way to various parties and barbecues. We also had to fill up the car (he gets hungry too), but we won't have to do that for a while again.

Living in France, I'd forgotten about the gravitational pull towards the backyard grill and family and friends that Labor Day weekend entails. It sort of took me by surprise. And with that came proposals for moviegoing, let's go to the FAIR, BYOB, bring something to share, and lots of "let's hang out...we're at this bar, want to join us?" kind of opportunities. Terrific! But hard to balance with our specific financial goals.

We didn't do this perfectly, but we came up with some successful solutions. The fair was out-of-the-question (for us, not enough bang for the buck.) Saturday morning, the friend who wanted to go out for coffee or breakfast came over and we indulged in steaming cups of joe and warm, homemade muffins. For a girls' outing, my mom found a cheap matinée showing of Julie and Julia way out west (though since we got turned around, I'm not sure we didn't spend more on gas...but I've decided not to make that calculation. We'll just stick with "we saved money" on that one...) Going to a barbecue and have to bring something? One enormous watermelon for $3.99, plus the hilarity and excitement it generated at the party due to its exceptional size seemed like a super investment. Observe which of your friends really couldn't care less about saving leftovers (incredulous voice: "you're just going to throw this aWAY?") and take some home. Grilled corn doomed to the trashcan made a kick-butt corn salsa a day later, and everyone was raving about the flavor. Be free and buy a bottle of wine to share - in that category, what goes around definitely comes around.

This seems paradoxical, but there is a freedom that comes from having a budget. The feeling of "this is what we have to play around with" is a pretty stimulating challenge, good for the brain, and good for the pocketbook. We may have had an expense-heavy week, but we are determined to stay the course. Halfway there!