I hate my car payment (part II: cutting ties)

I own 52 neckties.

52.

That’s nearly one a day for two months.

That’s enough ties for me to give one to the starting lineup for every team in the Southeast and Atlantic Divisions of the NBA’s Eastern Conference…and still have two left over.

That’s one tie for each of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Guam.

That’s one for each of the band members in the Beatles (4), Doors (4), ‘NSYNC (5), Rolling Stones (4), Metallica (4), Polyphonic Spree (25), Cream (3), both guys from Wham! and Bob Dylan, too.

I haven’t worn a tie on consecutive days in several years. I used to wear one every day, but over time, the workplace became more relaxed and “business casual” became the norm. In fact, I have only worn a tie a handful of times since starting my new job nine months ago. I wore won last week at a wedding and I’ll wear another one in three months on October 26th when I get ordained.

So, why in the world do I own 52 ties? Because of excess.

My goal is to sell 28 neckties. I have narrowed down which one’s I’m keeping to about 30 and will rely on my wife to help me whittle down the rest. I picked the number 24 because I have a built-in tie rack in my closet that holds exactly that amount. Seems like a good place to start. How many red ties does someone actually need?

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Dude, they’re ties, what’s the deal? Glad you asked. I’m attached to people who gave me the ties (my mom bought me some and a few came from my grandfather’s closet after he passed away). I’m attached to the meaning behind the ties (my Miami Dolphins tie and my first ever tie are in the “sell” pile). I’m attached to the memories of where I wore the ties (at a big presentation or job interview). I’m attached to the shallow compliments I received while wearing the ties (“That one really brings out your eyes.” or “Are those little flip-flops? Neat-o!”)

These are not legitimate reasons to stockpile things. I will have the memories. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful memory, rich with details. I don’t need a clothing accessory to help me with that. I must cut ties with my ties. And a bunch of other stuff.

We are continuing to strip down the amount of things we possess as a way to strip down the car payments we send out each month. Over the last week, my envelope has grown.

car_envelopeI started selling some of my photo prints last week. I really had no anticipation that anyone would buy them. A few years ago, on a wild hair I decided that I would be part of an art show in Lake Lure, North Carolina. I spent a few hundred dollars on matted prints, prints of various sizes, portfolios, business cards and a display in hopes of making it big. I love photography, more importantly, I love my photography. Unfortunately, others do not necessarily love it as much. Well, at least Lake Lure art goers who walk around in wet bathing suits and leave their wallets at home.

So, I was overwhelmed when orders started coming in shortly after posting my matted prints on Facebook. A couple people chimed in a bit late and were disappointed that I didn’t have any more matted prints of their favorite image, but were very happy to get an unmatted photo at a reduced price. So far, these photo sales have contributed over $100 toward paying off our car.

Selling my photography is easy. I enjoy it anytime someone wants to hang my artwork on their wall. There is not a better compliment I can receive than someone wanting to take something I created and put it in a frame (and give me money for it, of course.) <shameless plug for my portfolio website here>

Parting with the ties is the toughest item I’ve dealt with so far, which is not saying too much. I do enjoy some of the ones I plan on selling at our yard sale next weekend, but I know that I really do not need them. As I move from room to room in our house, I completely expect the decisions to get increasingly tougher. I have some collectible items that I do not intend to sell. I have some that I do not want to sell, but know that I probably should. I’m praying for wisdom and for peace as I part with some items.

As I said before, I’m a sentimental person. I keep things that mean a lot of me. I see value in everything. It’s not a gift or a curse, but something that makes me a good photographer and good pastor. I see value in items and certainly in people who may be broken or damaged. I see things for what they are worth. As I try hard to eliminate the ties to materials things, my prayer is that my desire for Christ and people to increase.

In addition to the photography sales, my eBay sales have gone over $300 so far, Elizabeth has started selling some items on Facebook and we have a huge yard sale coming up next weekend. Operation “I hate my car payment” is well underway.

I hate my car payment (part I)

In 2012, with a new daughter on the way and a big job promotion in the midst, we decided that we were going to get a bigger car. My wife had a Mazda Tribute that was completely paid for, but the room in the back seat was going to be tight with two car seats.

After nearly three months of us shopping around online and my father shopping auctions in Florida, we purchased a 2010 Ford Expedition. We traded in her Tribute, put down some money and worked out a 1.85% rate through TD Auto for a portion of the car. This worked out to a payment of $344/month. This was all within our budget and very manageable.

Here’s the challenge, that was two years ago. In late 2013, I left that big promotion, cut my salary in more than half and became a missions pastor. I wouldn’t trade that for my old salary or any bonus. I am in love with what I do every day. But, with the new salary come some adjustments. Over the last nine months, we’ve been doing just fine. Health insurance is more expensive, we don’t have dental insurance yet and we’ve picked up some life insurance. Still, we’re getting by just fine. But, I’ve grown to really hate having that car payment. It’s time to do something about it.

I’ve been all over the world this year on mission trips and visited some of my closest friends who sold nearly all their belongings and crammed the rest in a few suitcases. I’ve been in their homes and apartments and they live very simply, but comfortably. I look around my house and I see junk drawers, full shelves and excess.

My attitude is changing. I try to do all my work as paperless as possible. I despise clutter. I’m fascinated by people who can pack a suitcase efficiently and live in 180-square-foot homes (this won’t be me, but still…). I’m ready to eliminate waste, unnecessary keepsakes and stuff I haven’t used in years and put those things to good use.

A few weeks ago, we decided that we were going to finally (after 9 months back in our house) have a big yard sale. The money was initially going to go into savings, but we’ve determined that it will all go to aggressively payoff our car payment. As of this writing, we have $6765.69 left to go.

stuff4salehere

But, I have an envelope. (Dave Ramsey, eat your heart out!) That envelope, which simply says “car” in blue Sharpie, is slowly growing as we purge things from our house. I truly believe we have $6700 worth of things we do not use in our house. I believe that for the financial security and savings for my family, we can find it and sell it. That will be the topic of some upcoming blog posts on how we find, decide, struggle and sell those items in order to pay off our car.

So far, I’ve taken to eBay and Craigslist to get the ball rolling. One of the first things we listed was my grandmother’s dining room table and six chairs on Craigslist. I sat at that table for countless Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It was one of the few things physical things I held on to after my grandparents passed away. I think I liked the idea of the table more than I liked the table itself. We converted our dining room into a playroom for the kids and had no more use for it. I checked with my family to see if anyone wanted it and they declined. So, we sold it yesterday and pocketed $220.

I’ve used eBay to sell some DVD series and Blu-Rays that we were more likely to get a couple dollars from online rather than a dollar at a yard sale. Additionally, I found that I had a ton of cologne (that I rarely wear) sitting in my bathroom closet. I started selling some barely used bottles and discovered there is quite the hot market for the smelly stuff online. I sold two bottles for over $60 combined and there’s another one that is 2/3 full going for $28 right now with a couple days still left to bid. Crazy stuff.

Years ago, I ordered a DVD from WWE.com. Yes, I’m aware of what I just wrote. I bought the history of the Intercontinental Championship because I’m a geek. I got a set of WWE action figures for free just for ordering. Evidently, those were pretty rare and I ended up turning a free gift into $36. Not too shabby. If you’re interested in buying any of the junk high quality items from my house, you can click here. I have over $216 sitting in my PayPal account right now with more pending.

Now, this is not going to be easy. We have a lot of things in our garage that we easily recognize as items we no longer want. However, I am a sentimental person by nature. I see some things in my house and I remember where I was when I bought it, or who gave it to me, or why I bought it. I’m going to struggle to get rid of things. I’m not sure how deep we are going to have to cut in order to reach $6700, but I believe we can get there. It’s going to take some time. Sooner than later, some of the research we are doing about pricing is going to get really hard. I know I’m going to struggle with wanting to hold on to items in case they increase in value in the future (like the old-school Nintendo, Gameboy, Sega, tons of G.I. Joe and wrestling figures that are worth a ton today, but I sold long ago.)

The outcome is worth it. Decluttering is nice, but the emotional distance between me and “things” is going to be liberating as well. Knowing that we have one less payment to make will be fantastic. It means that we will be able to save again. We’ll be able to start putting some money away for retirement again. We will be able to plan for something exciting for our 10th anniversary next year. Then, we can figure out how we get rid of a house payment!

<Insert shameless plug to come to our yard sale on August 16th>

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Madagascar: Not a cartoon.

Some rules have exceptions. Especially rules you create.

I had every intention on having 10 great photographs to document my recent trip to Madagascar. But, I came across a huge problem. I can’t narrow my photos down to 10. I tried. It was physically painful to do. I started getting sweaty palms and anxious. I actually had to walk around my office to calm down a bit.

I know, I know, they are only photos, right? Wrong.

If you’ve ever created something – a drawing, a photograph, a song, a painting, a sculpture, a bonsai tree, a finger painting, whatever – you get attached to it. I love photography and more importantly, I love my photography. My photos are a documentary on where I’ve been and beautiful moments I’ve captured. These are things I have been truly blessed to experience. Being on the mission field is both an obligation and a privilege. I don’t have great physical abilities and I have a very limited number of spiritual gifts. But, I do have the ability to share pieces of the world with others through photography. I’ve come to realize that photography is a form of worshipping God. What better way is there to praise the Creator than to preserve His creation with images?

Back to my story. I wanted 10 photos. I had 600 to go through. I went through a refining process where I label each photo on a scale of 1-3 stars. 1s get filed away, 2s get edited, 3s get some special attention and some of those make it in to a frame. My challenge was to narrow down 600 photos to just 10 that accomplished the following things: 1) communicated beauty, 2) shared culture and 3) told a story.

This trip was special. It was the most remote location I have visited. But, despite its distance from big city life, the city of Mananjary had a thriving Gospel-centered movement going on. My team and I had a chance to share the Gospel with over 50 people, sit across from a village king, get beat at basketball by barefoot teenagers, dine with a pastor who was healed after 10 years of sickness, pray for a grandmother who lost four family members in six months and swim in the Indian Ocean.

After all those experiences 10 photos wasn’t going to happen. But, these are my rules and I can break them (after all, this is my blog.) So, I submit to you my favorite 10 20 photos from my recent trip to Madagascar, Africa.

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Madagascar is a beautiful (and real) place filled with mountains, rain forests and beaches. And no cartoon animals.

There are rice patties everywhere which provide sustenance and money.

There are rice patties everywhere which provide sustenance and money.

We encountered a tradition where the wedding attendants all walk together to the church.

We encountered a tradition where the wedding attendants all walk together to the church.

On the side of the road, these children accompanied their mother who was selling straw bags and hats.

On the side of the road, these children accompanied their mother who was selling straw bags and hats.

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This woman was selling peanuts on the side of the main highway near a scenic overlook.

This woman was selling peanuts on the side of the main highway near a scenic overlook.

The children were curious and fun.

The children were curious and fun.

This woman was reading her Bible on the side of the road and chatted with us for a few minutes.

This woman was reading her Bible on the side of the road and chatted with us for a few minutes.

A herder is walking his zebu on the beach to graze.

A herder is walking his zebu on the beach to graze.

I found these kids along a canal on the way to a village.

I found these kids along a canal on the way to a village.

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This military worker was enjoying some relaxation outside the government office.

This military worker was enjoying some relaxation outside the government office.

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Fishermen are preparing for the day in Mananjary.

Fishermen are preparing for the day in Mananjary.

An inside view of a burned down hospital. I had a blast shooting this dilapidated building.

An inside view of a burned down hospital. I had a blast shooting this dilapidated building.

While visiting the hut of the king of this village, many curious onlookers eavesdropped.

While visiting the hut of the king of this village, many curious onlookers eavesdropped.

These two followed me everywhere and were always ready for a photo.

These two followed me everywhere and were always ready for a photo.

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This little guy melted my heart as I walked by. He just wanted to see what the Americans were up to.

This little guy melted my heart as I walked by. He just wanted to see what the Americans were up to.

This is the village king. At 83, he's the oldest in his village. He started calling me his brother-in-law!

This is the village king. At 83, he’s the oldest in his village. He started calling me his brother-in-law!

 

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[In]capable Hands

“I don’t think so, Tim.”

timtaylor

Ah, the wisdom of Al Borland, Tim Taylor’s trusted sidekick on the 90s sitcom, Home Improvement.

If you recall, Tim and Al hosted a DIY home improvement show called “Tool Time.”  Tim was a bit of a diva.  He wanted to run every project, make everything bigger and better and most frequently, give things More Power! (insert caveman-ish grunting here)

But, when it came to actually executing the project, Tim always messed something up.  His handiwork was usually accompanied by a crash, explosion or perhaps some injury to Al or himself. Despite his best intentions, Tim Taylor was completely incapable.

Honestly, I’m much the same way.  I’m quite incapable.  I am not just talking about with home repair, although, my mantra is, “a trip to Lowe’s is never complete without a second trip to Lowe’s.”  I’m referring to my ineptitude and inability to be effective at most anything.  This has been a chronic problem my whole life.

There was a part of my life for a couple years where was completely unable to care for myself.  Anytime I wanted to eat, I had to scream until food was brought to me.  Often, I would even soil myself and have to writhe in it until someone would change me.

I’m kidding, of course.

My example being an infant may seem a bit of an extreme, but a good one when it comes to being incapable.  As an infant, we are unable to care for ourselves.  We can’t walk.  We can’t talk.  We can’t entertain ourselves.  We can’t make decisions.  We all had that experience in common.  We had to rely on our parents to care for us.  We require someone with capable hands to provide for us, nourish us, love us, hold us, clothe us, bathe us, change us and make sure we healthy and growing.

It’s no different 3+ decades later, except that I can go to the bathroom by myself.  I still need to have capable hands to guide me, help me make decisions, provide money and food for me, keep me healthy and love me.  I require the capable hands of God.

Over the last several posts, I’ve been highlighting my transition from a wonderful secular career to a career in ministry as a missions pastor.  It’s by God’s provision that I had a successful career filled with friendships, accolades, nice bonuses and top-notch opportunities for growth and advancement.  It is also by God’s provision that I was convicted by the Holy Spirit to desire a career change.  As I responded and began seeking where God would have me go next, He brought forth an opportunity with our home church.  I was baptized at that church as an adult.  I was discipled by the leaders of that church.  I was invested in by the community of that church.  Soon, I was going to have the privilege of being on staff serving the people at that church and helping fulfill the Great Commission.

I’ve made a lot of great phone calls in my lifetime.  Here’s a top five list:

#5: The call to a girl I was dating to let her know the Fraternity I was interested in offered me an invitation to join.

#4: The (collect) call to my dad to let him know I scored my first point in a high school basketball road game.

#3: The call to my parents after I proposed to my wife.

#2: The call to my parents when we were expecting a baby.

and my favorite call of all time:

#1: The call to my wife to let her know we were moving back from Florida so I could become the missions pastor at our church.

“It’s happening,” I said.  The rest of the call was somewhat of a blur.  I know I heard tears.  I withheld mine until I was alone in my hotel room in North Carolina and then I unleashed my emotion in prayer on my knees.

None of that would have been possible without the capable hands of Christ.  It was because of his death that I had the opportunity to be saved.  It was because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit that I was saved.  It is by the Word of God that I continue to be sanctified.  God is responsible for creating me, converting me and completing me.  Without Him, I would have remained an unwashed sinner and someone who deserved death instead of eternal life.

Over the last 32 years, God’s capable hands molded me.  He stripped out insecurities, he removed some imperfections (there are still a lot left).  He is making me into the purpose he intended.  God’s capable hands provided others in my path; mentors, pastors, friends and a wife that aided in my discipleship.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of God.”  — Ephesians 4:11-13

It is God who prepares us for our careers, equips us to handle situations and provides opportunities to excel.  I was happy with my former career because God used it to build me up. He used it to provide for my family.  Now, I am elated to be in a ministry position where my job is to share His love.  It is a tall task, because Christ provided the example, one that I’ll never reach.

Ephesians goes on to say, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (emphasis added)

Without Christ I was just incapable.

Now, I’m in capable hands.

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But God.

I might be over the hill.

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After making the decision to answer God’s calling on my life and head into full-time ministry, I started having a tough time fully grasping that the best years of my career are ahead.

For the last decade, I had built a strong reputation in the digital advertising industry.  Colleagues respected me, clients enjoyed me, employees liked my training.  I was asked to speak at seminars, colleges and networking events.  I was driving revenue and evolving my long-term vision for the company.  I was wrapping up 10 consecutive years of increased income.  I had another couple decades of strong growth, increased earnings and advancement ahead.  And I was leaving it behind. 

I would be starting completely over.  I would be entering a new job with no formal training.  I would have peers with Master’s degrees and doctoral degrees and tons of practical experience.  I would have the least amount of seminary education on staff.  It would take me another decade to feel caught up, let alone ahead of the curve (where I try to be).

Sports, technology and entertainment have done a great job of skewing everything for us average joes.  LeBron James was drafted at 18 and became an overnight millionaire with contracts and endorsements.  Daniel Radcliffe’s popularity and frequency on magazine covers exploded when he took the role of Harry Potter at age 12.  Tech moguls are even more ridiculous – I think Zuckerberg created Facebook when he was just a fetus.

With all the hype surrounding these young entrepreneurs, actors and entertainers, you don’t often hear about people making an impact at a later age.  In the NFL, teams start casting aside their players when they hit 30.  If I were a professional athlete (wishful thinking) at this stage in my athletic life, I’d be considered washed up as a running back, on the decline as an outfielder and over the hill as a small forward.

As someone who was about to make a career change, I started struggling and doubting the impact I would really have.  My Christian education is way behind.  I’m starting seminary.  In my head, every student around me will have full books of the Bible memorized, know the full lineage of Christ and be profound ecclesiological thinkers.  I’m guessing (hoping) that’s not the case, but it certainly feels like I’m about to be parachuted right in to some astrophysics class.

I believe that the answers to our questions are contained within the pages of Scripture, so that’s where I turned for clarity and reassurance. Luke 3:23 tells us that Jesus’ ministry really didn’t start until he was in his early 30s (it helps when you are the firstborn Son of God, too).  Moses and Aaron were each in their 80s when God called them to speak to Pharaoh and lead people out of Egypt.  Peter served as the Rock in the church during the second half of his life.  God has a way of using people wherever they are for his glory.  God has knack of keeping us in check, for the good or for discipline.

I recently had the privilege of hearing a new friend and pastor preach.  He talked about his favorite two words in the Bible – ‘But God.’

Conjunction junction, what’s your function?  The function of ‘but’ is used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned.  ‘But God,’ is a phrase that offers hope, redemption, peace and life.

Acts 13:29-30 says, “When they had carried out all that was written about him (Jesus), they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God  raised him from the dead.” 

Sin had seemingly crushed the Son of Man, but God gave us hope!

Romans 5:7-8 says, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Aside from maybe our families, most people won’t lay down their life for someone else.  But God sacrificed his son for all, even while we were acting against him.

I was questioning myself and assessing my inadequacy, But God had other plans.

Simultaneously, while I was going through the process of sorting out my future in ministry, our church in SC was already praying about how they could bring us home.  My wife and I helped start our Acts 1:8 missions team several years earlier and continued to be a committee run by lay leaders.  But, our church had continued to be faithful to missions both physically by going and financially through giving.  Our activities and partnerships had grown so much that it became more than the lay lead committee and a portion of a pastor’s time could handle.  The time had come to add a full-time missions pastor.

That’s when I got the call.

I was in North Carolina leading seminars that taught advertisers how to effectively use digital marketing for their businesses and also going on four-legged sales calls with the local team.

“When are you gonna be around these parts again?” our executive pastor asked.  I was in a town 45-minutes from our home church and about 20-minutes across the border in North Carolina.  I told him I was nearby and we agreed to meet for dinner at an Outback Steakhouse (apparently all my life-changing religious events happen at restaurants.)

Throughout the next day, I kept getting text messages from the executive pastor.  He had a busy day of counseling and our dinner appointment kept getting moved later and later.  I figured if he needed to move it again, it might not happen at all.

“Do you think this is ‘the talk’?” my wife asked.  “I sure hope so,” I replied.  We had been praying regularly that one day we would have the opportunity to be on staff at our church, but this seemed so unreal and unlikely that it would happen so fast.

The time finally came for us to meet.

“So, you guys still want to be in ministry one day, huh?” he said.

“Definitely,” I replied.  “We’re just trying to be obedient and available whenever and wherever God wants us to serve.”

Hearing the questions and seeing the huge smile on my friend’s face, I could easily see where the conversation was headed.  I answered a few more questions about our direction, family support and willingness to leave behind a fantastic job.

“Well, we’re ready to have a missions pastor and we’d like it to be you.”

That was the best steak dinner I’ve ever had.

That one statement, that one conversation, that one offer made everything that had gone on over the last 18 months, the last five years, even the last 32 years make perfect sense.  It was the ultimate But God experience.  I was starting to question the timing and my ability to benefit a church, but God showed me a church body that was praying for me and wanted me to come serve them just as I was.  They knew I didn’t have any seminary training yet.  They knew I had only been involved with missions for a handful of years, but they wanted me anyway.

It’s the same way with God.  He knows we aren’t perfect.  He knows all our faults.  He knows our sin.  But, he wants us anyway.

The dinner conversation with the executive pastor was wonderful, but not nearly as beautiful as the one I was about to have with my wife.

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