A Tithing Experiment

April 15 has come and gone.  Did you get your taxes filed on time?  Have you received your refund yet?  In the past, I would get really excited about how our tax return refund was going to be spent.  We would purchase some fun items or go out for a special dinner and then use the remaining amount to bump up different savings goals.

This year I got excited that the refund amount would be approximately enough to cover our property taxes.  I write approximately because I do not yet know the exact amount of our 2015 property tax bill.  However, based on our 2013 bill, it should be enough, if not more than enough.  (You may recall from a different post that the tax return we received last year was saved for our 2014 property tax bill, a bill that we will receive later this Spring.)  You might be thinking, in a sarcastic tone, oh wow, how exciting.  Well, I truly do feel overjoyed because it means that I get to continue staying home.

Preparing your tax return may provide you with the opportunity to review your year. ¬†If you’ve seen the Turbo Tax commercial, you may know what I’m talking about. ¬†Did I get married? ¬†Did I have a baby? ¬†Where did I work? ¬†How much money did I give to charity? ¬†When I filed our taxes this year, I noticed something really interesting. ¬†This past year, 2014, was the first full calendar year that I did not work. ¬†Wait, let me rephrase that. ¬†It was the first calendar year that I did not work outside the home. ¬†We all know it’s hard work staying home with young children!! ¬†(If it’s not hard work, you’re doing something wrong or you have a screw loose.) ¬†But, I digress…

What did I observe while I was doing our tax return?  From 2013 to 2014, our income decreased by 30%, due to my exit from the workforce in November 2013.  Obviously that decrease was no surprise.  The surprise came when I compiled our information for the charitable contributions section of our filing and I observed that we gave more in 2014 than we did in 2013.  In fact, the amount we gave in 2014 was almost DOUBLE the amount we gave in 2013.  We had less money, but we gave more.  How could that be?  We were more generous when we had less to give.  I was stunned at this beautiful truth.

That little observation encouraged me to open my heart to something that had been weighing on my mind for quite some time; TITHING. ¬†As I understand it, in its simplest terms, tithing is giving back 10% of what you have been given. ¬†Most priests and other religious people would suggest that you break up the 10% into three parts. ¬†Give 5% of your income to your church, 1% to your diocese and 4% to any charities or causes that you choose to support. ¬†(Little side note: I assume that “income” means your take-home-pay. ¬†Someone let me know in the comments if that’s not the case!)

I admit, we have not been tithing the full 10%. ¬†Do we give to our church on a weekly basis? ¬†Of course. ¬†Do we give to different charities? ¬†Yup. ¬†However, I don’t think that the amount we’ve given in the past couple years would amount to 5% of our income. ¬†In our first year living on one income, I was too scared to give that much away. ¬†We had already cut our income by so much, doing what I thought was God’s will, that I just didn’t think we had any more to give. ¬†I expressed these concerns to one of my small groups during a retreat. ¬†One of the men in my group told me that he thought we were already¬†tithing enough¬†by giving up one income and having me stay home. ¬†Of course, this man is not the authority on tithing, but it did make me feel better. ¬†Is he right? ¬†I’m not sure. ¬†Perhaps it was enough at that time.

A couple of weeks ago, our parish hosted a four-day evening retreat that they called our Parish Mission. ¬†A very vibrant and engaging priest, named Father Larry Richards, gave some¬†very interesting talks. ¬†The topic of one of his messages was sin. ¬†He literally stood up and rattled off a list of sins. ¬†As he went down the list, there were really no surprises, just reminders. ¬†Then he started talking about something that I hadn’t really thought of as a sin before: “not giving to the poor and the Church.” ¬†Now, I believe the sin comes into play when you give away nothing.¬† I’m not sure if giving less than 10% is sinful, but it is certainly recommended that you give away at least 10% of what you are given. ¬†(Once again, someone please let me know if I do not have the correct understanding.) ¬†Father Larry went on to challenge our congregation to start tithing 10% of our income if we were not already doing so. ¬†He suggested that we merely set a goal to tithe for just six months as a sort of experiment and just see what happens. ¬†He, not so gently, reminded us that God would not be outdone in his generosity.

God will not be outdone in his generosity…

When¬†we got home from the mission that night, I told my husband that the talk about tithing had really made me start considering whether or not we were being generous enough. ¬†I told him that it had actually been weighing on me for a while, but I thought that maybe we just didn’t NEED to tithe since I wasn’t working. ¬†But, in my heart, I just knew that this wasn’t true anymore. ¬†Perhaps in the beginning, when living on less was brand new, we had a grace period in regards to true tithing. ¬†But, with more than a year under our belt, I thought it was time to try this tithing experiment. ¬†He agreed that it was something that was weighing on him as well.

That evening I set up a little tithing spreadsheet to help me calculate what we would be giving each month. ¬†My husband’s income fluctuates because of the nature of his work. ¬†As such, the amount that we give will vary from month to month. ¬†I was strangely excited to move forward with this experiment. ¬†I decided that on each payday, I would immediately take 10% of that income and put it into a checking account that we don’t use daily. ¬†Essentially, it would be almost as if we never had the money in the first place. ¬†Then, any donations that we would make that month would come out of that separate checking account.

As I mentioned earlier, I felt a weight lifted off of me after my husband and I agreed on this plan. ¬†If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you know that I recently had a baby. ¬†I’m working at getting that baby weight to go away little by little. ¬†(I have a long way to go!) ¬†I weigh myself weekly as part of an online Weight Watchers adventure. ¬†Coincidentally, the day that I created my tithing excel spreadsheet was a “weigh-in” day. ¬†Soon after explaining to my husband that I had felt a weight lifted, I stepped on the scale and found that a weight really had been lifted off of me in the literal sense. ¬†After having some slow weight loss weeks, I had a huge loss. ¬†And the same thing happened the following week. ¬†It was kind of wild. ¬†Was God’s generosity coming in the form of weight loss so that I would be able to start fitting into more of my old clothes and avoid buying new clothes? ¬†Perhaps…

I will admit…I had already made another plan for how God would outdo our generosity. ¬†And, that was a mistake. ¬†Why do I always forget that God makes the plans, not me? ¬†My husband was up for a promotion and competing against 13 others to get it. ¬†I figured that since we were now tithing, he would of course get this promotion, right? ¬†I mean, this was certainly how God was going to outdo our generosity. ¬†Well, as you may have already guessed, my husband did not get the job. ¬†It was disappointing, to say the least. ¬†The “old me” might have thrown in the towel on this whole tithing experiment since God had not shown me his generosity in the way I would have expected. ¬†Instead, I decided that perhaps this was a good thing. ¬†Maybe the job was really not the right fit for my husband and our family as a whole. ¬† Who knows! ¬† And in the end, tithing is about GIVING without worrying what we’ll get in return. ¬†Plus, my family and I¬†have already been given so much.

About a month has passed since we decided to accept Father Larry’s tithing challenge. ¬†So far, so good! ¬†Really, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. ¬†Once again, I have to remind myself to “be not afraid”. ¬†Abandoning fear certainly has been a reoccurring theme in my life. ¬† Have you picked up on that?

I’ll keep you posted on how our tithing experiment goes in about 5 months. ¬† In the meantime, let me know what you think about tithing. ¬†Are you starting your own tithing experiment? ¬†Do you already tithe? ¬†Are you a little scared to give that much like I was? ¬†Let me know!

God bless!

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Natural Childbirth and Why I Look Forward to Doing It Again

I was working on a draft on a different topic which deviated from faith and focused more on financial matters.  I had something saved from yesterday and I was adding more to it this morning when suddenly my computer totally powered down with no warning.  How weird!  When I came back to the site, the draft was totally gone.  So, I took it as a sign that I need to write about a different topic: Childbirth and Faith.

As I mentioned in my last post, I prefer to birth naturally.  What do I mean by this?  I realize that some people use the term natural just to indicate a vaginal birth.  To me, natural means no drugs unless absolutely medically necessary.  I politely refuse any pain medication or medication to induce labor.  Unfortunately, I will actually have to be on an antibiotic during this upcoming labor because I tested positive for Strep B.  Since this is medically necessary to protect my baby from getting a harmful infection, I am okay with this, just a bit disappointed.

So, why do I birth naturally? ¬†Is it because I was a Division I athlete who has run a couple marathons and wants to prove how tough I am? ¬†Ok, if I answer no I’d probably be lying just a teeny tiny bit. ¬†(At least I’m honest.) ¬†Seriously though, it’s not about proving anything in an egotistical sense. ¬†It’s much more than that. ¬†For me it’s more about proving that it CAN be done. ¬†Ladies, we were built to do this!!! Here’s a little more on why I initially chose to birth naturally with my first child. ¬†I could talk about this topic forever, but I’ll try to keep my reasons brief.

  • My mom did it naturally¬†and frankly, I wanted to know what the fuss was all about. ¬†Was it really as painful as she claimed it was? ¬†(I did find that the answer was yes, by the way.) ¬†I think I wanted to have a shared experience with her and fully know what she went through to bring me into the world.
  • I wanted control. ¬†Yes, I’m a bit of a control freak. ¬†When I learned that you cannot walk around once you are given an epidural, I knew that it was not for me. ¬†I wanted to be in control of my body for birth and with every medical intervention during birth, you lose a little more control.
  • I was more scared of that big needle going into my spine¬†than of the pain of childbirth. ¬†I absolutely hate having my blood drawn or getting an IV. ¬†So, why in the world would I want an anesthesiologist putting that gigantic needle into my spine?
  • I wanted to prevent complications.¬† I have a friend who had a horribly debilitating spinal headache following the birth of her first child because of an epidural. ¬†You have enough to deal with when you have a new baby. ¬†Who wants a spinal headache to go with it all? ¬†I was also, admittedly, brainwashed by the documentary¬†The Business of Being Born. ¬†I guess it just¬†made sense to me that pitocin, the labor inducing drug, caused more painful contractions which then caused women to opt for an epidural. ¬†The documentary also showed the possible link between increased use of these drugs and the increased frequency of caesarean section. ¬†Ultimately, I really really wanted to prevent a C-section to avoid major surgery and the long recovery time that went with it. ¬†Also, supposedly, even for vaginal birth, your recovery time is quicker if you opt for no pain medication.
  • I believed we were made to do this. ¬†Women have been giving birth for thousands of years and the medical interventions that take place today are so new. ¬†I wanted to experience birth in the way that, not only my mother, but many women before her had experienced it. ¬†And in a sense, this is another instance of wanting to trust God’s design. ¬†He designed the female body to give birth. ¬†I liked the notion that, under normal circumstances, He knew what He was doing when he made my body and if all was going well with my pregnancy, I would be able to birth with no intervention.
  • It could¬†save money. ¬†Less interventions, less drugs = Less money that my insurance company and I could potentially¬†pay out.

My last reason came about after I actually went through two natural births:

  • Including my husband. ¬†Drugs or no drugs, a husband can obviously be involved in childbirth. ¬†The extent to which he is involved is of course limited by the fact that he cannot actually give birth. ¬†However, if you are not relying on pain medication, there are additional opportunities to rely on your husband for¬†encouragement and support, both physically and mentally. ¬†For my husband and for me, this made giving birth a very intimate experience in a special way.

I’ll leave it at that. ¬†That’s as brief as I can be.

My first and second birth experiences were amazing.  Birth in any form, no matter how you experience it, is just incredible.  This new little person is suddenly in the world!  But, yes, without the pain medication, it did hurt.  So, why am I looking forward to experiencing this crazy intense physical challenge again?   Because this time, I have a greater faith.

During my previous birth experiences, I know that I cried out to God in some form or another. ¬†“Oh God, this hurts.” ¬†But, I don’t know if I really prayed. ¬†I had practiced many different forms of secular meditation and knew how to breathe¬†the right way. ¬†I had even practiced a little hypnosis and had established¬†a “peace word” that, when whispered in my ear by my husband, was supposed to bring me into a calm state of both mind and body. ¬†I had practiced how to relax all of my muscles so that all of my energy would go to where it was needed, my uterus.

What had I not practiced in preparation for the two previous births?  Prayer.

I don’t know how, but I know that this birth is going to be so different because of prayer. ¬†That’s why I look forward to it. ¬†I do not expect to avoid pain entirely just by praying to Jesus. ¬†(Jesus, if a painless experience IS your will, I will happily accept it!) ¬†But rather, I expect to be graced with a better ability to handle whatever physical challenges come my way. ¬†And that gives me a new confidence in the days leading up to this next birth.

During this past year of renewing my faith and learning more about Catholicism, I became acquainted with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. ¬†I will delve into this topic more at another time, but I did want to mention that along with the Rosary, I plan to use the Divine Mercy Chaplet in some form during labor. ¬†One of the messages of Divine Mercy is to trust in the mercy of Jesus. ¬†While I may not be able to say the whole chaplet during labor, I will try to remember to repeat “Jesus I trust in you” to myself if and when challenges arise. ¬†I will fully trust in His mercy.

In addition to praying directly to Jesus, I will also be asking the Blessed Mother and all of the saints to pray for me to have a safe and less painful childbirth.  Specifically I will be asking for the intercession of St. Gerard and St. Felicity who are both patron saints of expectant mothers.  (And of course I will also be praying for the health of my baby boy!  That should go without saying, I suppose.)

One thing that I truly enjoy about the Catholic faith is how objects are used to remind us of our faith. ¬†For example, we have the Rosary beads to help guide us through prayer. ¬†There are medals of Saints that we wear or carry to remind us of people of faith who have gone before us. ¬†These Saints will pray for us if only we ask. ¬†I plan to have some of these religious items with me in the birthing room. ¬†I will be wearing a Divine Mercy bracelet and bringing along my grandfather’s Rosary beads. ¬†Both will be visual reminders for me to pray. ¬†I also have a special necklace that I will wear, given to me by a dear friend whom I met on a retreat last year. ¬†The necklace, which my friend wore during the birth of her second child, holds a Divine Mercy Medal and a Miraculous Medal. ¬†The Miraculous Medal will help remind me not only of the incredible power of the Blessed Mother’s intercessory prayers, but also of the struggles that Mary must have gone through while pregnant and giving birth. ¬†I mean, she was riding a donkey for days when she was nine months pregnant. ¬†I had a hard time just sitting in a chair for two hours trying to watch Frozen on Ice with my husband and kids!

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Divine Mercy bracelet
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This is the necklace from my friend. The medal on the left is the Divine Mercy Medal. The medal on the right is the Miraculous Medal.

And one final thing to touch on before I actually give birth: redemptive suffering. ¬†Redemptive suffering is another interesting topic that requires a post of its own. ¬†From what I understand, and I’m still learning, redemptive suffering is the act of offering up your own suffering to help save the souls of others. ¬†It gives your own suffering a bigger meaning or purpose. ¬†I hope I remember to think about this when I’m feeling pain.

People ask me if I’m scared to give birth this time around. ¬†I can honestly say that I am not. ¬†Now that I have God and faith as a part of my “birth plan”, what is there to fear?

And…cue the music…

“Be not afraid.

I go before you always;

Come, follow me,

And I will give you rest.”