Monday, June 19, 2017

Good Things - Tithing & Blessings

I've had the idea for this post sauntering around in my head for weeks now, but I've hesitated to write.  I'm not sure exactly why.  I guess maybe because it sounds a little too "preachy" in my head than I want it to be.  And besides, most people surfing the blogs-sphere seem to looking for more of a crafty/creative place to land and less of a bare-my-soul kind of place lately.  Even so, could I be putting this off because maybe these experiences have been a little too close to my heart?  I have to admit, it's much easier to write about recipes and craft projects than things that actually mean something to me, or maybe I'm afraid that what I have to say may turn out to be nothing more than a joke or a waste to someone else?  I don't particularly care to be the one to "stir-the-pot", but I find myself in that situation more times than I am comfortable with now that I am a grown woman.  With that being said, it doesn't bother me about stirring the pot, because I just keep thinking about the subject matter of this post, even in the wee hours of the morning when I really wish I was sleeping.  It's keeping me up or waking me up, so I know I have to say what it is I've come here to say, because I know I won't be able to rest until I do.  So, just know that you can take this post with a grain of salt.  Or click away if you would rather not dabble in spirituality for today.  I'll be back again soon with some fun recipes or a new project soon enough, that is, once I get my act together again and stop being sick.  

As many of you may know, we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or maybe you know us as Mormons.  My husband and I have both been members all our lives and we are raising our children the same.  One of the many so called "weird" things that Mormons do is pay tithing.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with the concept, tithing is the practice of returning a portion of your wealth (usually 10%) back to the spiritual source from whence those blessings come.  We believe that everything we have has been given to us by our Heavenly Father (or God) and that by giving a small portion back to Him we show our gratitude and recognize our dependence on Him as the source of all our blessings.  Tithing is an ancient spiritual tradition that has been practiced by many of the great civilizations in history.  The practice is referenced in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  One of my favorite scriptures referencing tithing is Malachi 3:10, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."

Some time ago I remember reading Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnatch, and she mentions tithing as a metaphysical law of prosperity.  She said, "Spiritual law, no matter which path, tells us as we give, so shall we receive.  We realize that money is a form of energy.  Energy does not increase if it is hoarded.  Energy must circulate freely for power to be released.  When we receive an increase of money in our lives, giving away a portion of that money keeps the channels of abundance circulating freely, as Spirit intended.  On a practical level, tithing allows us to express our thanksgiving with action.  Returning some of the material good we receive is a tangible demonstration of trust."  She goes on to say, "My experience with tithing on the Simple Abundance path has been erratic but amazing.  When I tithe, I experience more financial serenity than when I don't.  The money seems to stretch further or my expenses diminish.  When I tithe I am able to save more with ease, and new moneymaking opportunities arrive, often unsolicited.  The floodgates of heaven do shower me with blessings, although I've not yet reached the point at which I can't find room for more.  When I don't tithe, I'm not struck down, but I do start to worry about money.  There seem to be longer stretches between bank deposits and more unexpected expenses, which always end up costing more than the amount my tithe would have been.  So I know it's time to write a check.  Wait and watch what happens.  Very quickly, the ebb recedes and the flow begins again.  Coincidence?"

I've heard countless stories like that my entire life, and I have paid my tithing and experienced some of the same experiences personally many times over first hand.  I think I've shared the experience Kevin and I had when we were living in El Paso, Texas and we found ourselves in a situation to either pay all of our bills or pay tithing.  It was a Sunday morning and I had sat down at the kitchen table to look over our financial situation before we headed off to church.  When I realized where we were, I went in to talk to Kevin about what to do.  He immediately said, "Pay our tithing", and that's exactly what we did.  I wrote out the check and off to church we went.  Well, about halfway through Sacrament Meeting Kevin started feeling sick to his stomach and he left after Sacrament Meeting and went home to try to take care of the stomach situation.  Kevin was barely home and in the back of our apartment when he heard this very loud knocking at our door.  Kevin said they just kept knocking loudly.  Kevin said by the time he got to the door he was ready to knock some heads because they just wouldn't let up.  Well, when Kevin opened the door there stood this older man inquiring about our little red car that had broke down several weeks prior and needed a brand new engine. (We threw a rod in the engine)  The car was in bad shape and Kevin and I weren't sure how we were going to move it when the time came for us to move on.  (We knew we couldn't live in that tiny apartment forever)  Kevin thought we could probably sell it eventually for parts to some junk yard.  Well, the man knocking was wanting to buy our broken down little car for $500, which was so much more than the amount we needed for bills, groceries, and gas to make it through to Kevin's next paycheck.  Kevin was shocked and told the man that he needed to talk to me first before he made any deals.  So, the man agreed to return later that afternoon after church.  Kevin stayed home through Sunday School and Priesthood and then came back up to the church to pick the kids (we only had two back then) and I up.  When he got there he proceeded to share the events of his time at home.  As soon as he told me this, I was completely shocked because I had just handed our tithing check to our Bishop immediately right after Sacrament Meeting, which was about two hours prior to Kevin coming to pick us up.  I couldn't believe the change in such a short amount of time!  We were thrilled!  We went home that afternoon and the man returned and we sold our little car.  The man gave us $500 cash that night and said he would be back the next day to pick up the car and that is exactly what he did.  So we quite literally know what it means to see the windows of heaven open up and pour out a blessing!  Maybe still not to the point of not having enough room to receive it, but an outpouring for sure!! 

Then other times, I have experienced the complete opposite effect and had all kinds of things go wrong as soon as I paid my tithing.  I firmly believe during those times it was just a test.  A test of our faith at the time because I doubted that we would or could be blessed again at the time.  I needed to be humbled (not to mention repent) again and reminded of how tithing works most of the time.   I think there's a lot to be said for doing what you feel to be right without needing a personal reward for your actions.  And besides, I think the times we experienced the opposite effect were the times when we were questioning the blessings of paying our tithing and we needed to see firsthand just how much better things seem to work out when you do pay your tithing.  So, it most certainly was a test of faith!  No doubt about it.  Paying tithing has increased my faith exponentially, which is as good a blessing as I could ever hope for!  I've mentioned before some of the large blessings we have received that I know were a direct result of our decisions to pay tithing.  I've also mentioned that my husband was recently declared disabled after suffering a spinal cord injury due to events that transpired during what was to be a simple outpatient procedure to reposition leads to a nerve cord stimulator he had placed in his back about two week prior.  We went through a lot as we learned the outcome of that so called short two hour outpatient procedure that ultimately landed Kevin a 7 week stay at one of the most expensive "vacation" spots in town....the hospital......while Kevin learned how to care for himself all over again with his disability!  What a road we have been on, and stories I could tell you!  You learn a lot going through something like this.  We have come closer in many ways as a family and in other ways we have been pulled completely apart.  It's caused us to reevaluate relationships and those things that are most important, and those things that are not.  It's caused tension, sadness, depression, anger to creep into the lives of all of us in one form or another.  It has also caused us to cling to one another for love, support, and to carry us through some of our darkest moments in this life.  And of course, this entire ordeal has been extremely difficult on my husband.  Not to mention life altering, and completely life changing.  He isn't the same man he use to be.  In some ways the man I knew was taken away from us the day of that surgery.  In other ways, I see new things I never dreamed possible about my husband.  He has softened a bit.  He has also retreated and become more of a hermit too.  He wants to be involved in life, but the pain he experiences every single day keep him down and that is the hardest part of this entire thing.  We all are grieving the man we use to know and trying desperately to hold on to the man we see before us so as not to let him slip more and more away from us.  We love him more than words could ever say, and I know my children and I would walk the corners of the earth if we needed to in order to take this burden away from him.  I think watching a husband and father suffer the way he has is the hardest part of all, and it's not all about the physical suffering.  I'm also talking about the emotional suffering.  The kind that goes hand in hand with the measure of a man's worth in his own eyes and in he eyes of those around him.  My husband is in mourning of the life he once had and the life he intended on having as our children grow up and the two of us grow old together.  My husband feels guilty now for the things I have to do on a daily basis because he is unable to do most of the things he did before.  AND the watching this man we know and love going through all of this suffering some days is more than I can bare, and I find myself wanting to run to the top of some mountain to scream at the top of my lungs to take this burden away, but I know that wouldn't help.  Our lives have been flipped upside down, sideways, and all around.  There are times when we don't even know what direction we are turned, but somehow with the help of a loving Heavenly Father standing right by our side we manage to find out way.  That has been the truly amazing part.  Feeling and knowing just how much our Heavenly Father loves and cares about each and every one of us collectively as a family unit and individually.  I have literally felt my Heavenly Father walking beside me throughout this entire ordeal.  I have felt his outpouring of love and support for me and my husband in the most profound and quite personal ways that I will never forget!  I know, without any doubt, that my Heavenly Father is very much aware of who Sondra, Kevin, Danielle, Kyle, Curtis, and Alexis are.  I cannot deny that and I know just how much he is involved in even the most minor details of our daily lives.  I have seen Him work many many miracles every single solitary day as we have continued through this.  For that, I am most grateful and I know that these things are part of that outpouring of the many wonderful blessings we have received for paying our tithing.  That is what I mean when I say, sometimes we do not realize all the blessings we receive for keeping those simple commandments.  Those blessings do not just benefit Kevin and I.  Those blessings transcend through time to our four children, and will continue to bless our posterity forever as we continue to try to be true and faithful to these sacred commandments.  What a blessing that is!!!  I think this is what is meant by not having room enough to receive as  the scripture in Malachi refers to the blessings of paying our tithing.   

Now, over a year and a half later, Kevin is finally on social security, which isn't much money at all.  His income has now been cut down to a fourth of what he was making before this happened.  We keep telling ourselves everything is going to be fine.  And for the most part, we try to keep that thought in our minds.  I mean, except for the no or very low income thing.  As far as his disability, well, that's a completely different story!  When that happened it was just a couple of months before the holidays.  There we were with Kevin disabled and learning to cope in the real world after being in the protected so called perfect world at the hospital, and no job and the added struggle of his injury.  No way to pay for Christmas and four fantastic kids, old enough to understand the situation, but who were definitely on the nice list and hoping to be rewarded accordingly.  (I'm not begging for sympathy here.  Just setting the stage....)  It was during this time that we were faced with one of the most difficult dilemmas of our adult life.  We received a larger than normal check from my employer.  I had paid all the bills that were most pressing and had a decent amount left over, which was all we had to our name at the time.  We knew we still needed to pay tithing on that check.  Doing so would take more than half of what we had left, but we felt strongly about it so I submitted our tithing online while sitting in our living room.  (I absolutely LOVE that option.  It's awesome!) We prayed our hearts out and we prepared as best we could for any possible outcome.  I mean, who were we to say that losing everything wasn't just the experience we needed right now?!  We didn't know, but we were ready to go with the flow, having faith in our Heavenly Father.  Trust me, years before Kevin's ordeal and the changing effects it had on all of us, I might have gone kicking and screaming all the way.  But, by this time after everything else we had already gone through and Kevin becoming permanently disabled, I was just thankful to still have my husband and my children by our sides and that was what I focused on most.  Little did we know what was in store for us.  

Our experiences through this past year and a half since Kevin's injury have been nothing short of miraculous.  I get a little teary-eyed just thinking about it.  To this day, I have quite literally felt that we were guided and directed, as if my Heavenly Father was standing right beside me, through all of this.  We also had an amazing Bishop that went out of his way to make sure our family was taken care of and he did everything he could to help us in ways we never dreamed possible.  I firmly believe Bishop Duke was called to help us (and I certainly mean ME personally) through all of this.  I couldn't have made it through without our Bishop's guidance and support.  He was truly wonderful and I cannot thank him enough for all that he did for us.  Not to mention his wonderful wife and family that allowed their husband and father to serve as Bishop and become the Lords hands here upon the earth to help our little family, and so many others in similar situations in our ward family.  He was a busy man.  I often wonder how he found the time to do everything his calling required of him after working so hard to support his own family and working full-time (that's right folks Mormon Bishops don't get paid to be Bishop.  They do this above and beyond the work they do to support their families.  Now do you understand just how amazing it is for these men to do the work that they do for a congregation of between 200-600 people?!)........ I know that it was because he also knew what it was like to have his Heavenly Father on his side guiding and directing him through his daily life as he worked to solve problems and clear obstacles, in a kind and loving manner, for all of us that needed his help.  That was truly amazing to witness and see with my own eyes and this experience has reconfirmed my faith in knowing that the Lord qualifies whom He calls because He certainly did exactly that with our bishop, and I know He will continue to do this with our new bishop too.  It's awesome!  

Back to where I was going with this.........Within about a week of Kevin's diagnosis we started to receive all kinds of things from extended family and friends in the form of meals, support, and an outpouring of love.  Everyone said they just felt like they needed to help us out.  With everyone's help, we were able to pay all of our bills.  We had several cards with some cash mysteriously left on our doorstep many times.  (Thanks to those that left them!)  We found unbelievable deals on the things our kids needed or even wanted for Christmas that first year and we all had as good a holiday as we could, under the circumstances.  I was amazed at how easy things came together for us that Christmas.  We had a very low key, stress free Christmas.  It was probably the first we had ever had in our entire married life.  I still sit in awe as I think about that entire holiday season.  No one had any preconceived expectations and this was the first year we focused on the spirit of Christmas more than the things.  This was also the beginning of us all learning to let the things that really do not matter go and the start of us focusing on our needs more than our wants.  We also learned to set boundaries and that has been a completely different kind of freeing experience for our entire family.  After that first Christmas, we even ended up having a little money in our account to pay for things like gas for our car and a few other things like that.  That to me was amazing because when this all first happened I thought for sure everything was going to fall apart and we wouldn't have two nickles to rub together.  In fact, because of the support and help from our bishop, I never felt completely weighed down with the financial burdens we have experienced through all of this, in fact, those same burdens linger still today.  Our bishop did what he could to help us through this difficult time.  He could even sense during those first few appointments that I was going to need someone to talk to about all of this.  Especially since pretty much all of the family responsibilities had suddenly shifted to my shoulders in a short amount of time.  I guess our bishop knew I needed someone to help me find a way to cope and develop skills to help me shoulder those burdens like I never had before.  Sure, I still struggle and those burdens still, at times, are too much for one person to carry, but for the most part, those burdens have been made light because we have been blessed by the love and support of so many.  I don't know how those who are not members of the Mormon church get through tragedies such as this without a support system like our ward family?  I can understand how something might make someone decide to do something bad to take themselves and their families out of situations like this, or turn to drugs or alcohol to dull the pain.  That doesn't mean I agree with a decision like that, but you can understand how hopeless some people might get.  Know what I mean?  I am so grateful for the gospel in my life.  For the many blessings I receive each and every single day because of the knowledge I have and because of the choices I have made.  For commandments like paying our tithing that bless our lives in profound ways.  Truly, the window's of heaven have been open these past many many months and we have been blessed abundantly.  

Now, please don't get me wrong, we have discovered that we are far more comfortable being on the giving end of such kindness, but we are learning a tremendous lesson in humility, faith, and about our Heavenly Father's love for each of us, and our inner strength.  We feel so very grateful for the friends and family who have helped us in so many ways, and we pray that the Lord will repay your kindness a thousand times over.  I suppose that's why I needed to write this.  So that each of you who help us out will know what a difference you make for us.  We thank you for being instruments in the Lord's hands and being the answers to our prayers.  Enough said.

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