Best Christmas Ever

I have said for a very long time that it is not what you receive but how graciously you give at this time of year that makes the season joyous. I will reiterate that, but offer you the caveat that you not presume that giving requires anything tangible or store bought.

It is this thought that was proven this year. I was given the best Christmas ever by some manner of adoptive family. I have a new brother, and this was my first Christmas with his family, his whole family as part of that family, though we've known each other for years.

I will jokingly suggest that I was in Breslau, Ontario, having Christmas in an evergreen forest. The family is the Wood family and my acceptance is that akin to adoption. I was witness to great family love and co-operation and to the idea that giving at Christmas while traditional and awesome for the children to experience, is tempered by the understanding of what Christmas is. It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we need to remember this by being a blessing to each other on a day-to-day basis. God, the father of Jesus Christ, gave his only son by sending him down from heaven to show us what it was to be good followers of God. His story is found in many books of the New Testament and it's worth a read, though admittedly I have yet to read any one in it's entirety.

Being a blessing to others is the greatest gift to God you can make, and I believe that forgiveness of others, loving others simply because they, we, are all children of Jesus Christ, and he loves us, so just as your mother or father will look kindly on your helping out a brother of sister, the Lord looks kindly on each of us offering love and support to one another. Just as Jesus pledges his love for us as an unwavering and everlasting love, not conditional on our actions, he must also consider it a gift to him when we show this love to others, our peers, or friends, and the strangers on the streets of our lives.

My friends, The Wood Family, they are a blessing to me. They gave me the best Christmas ever.


My daughters impress me...

I have two wonderful daughters, each with challenges I can related to, and they both have the strength and character to be remarkable individuals on a day-to-day basis. They have fears and follies that challenge them, they have trials and tribulations that make life scary, interesting, and wonderful. They are good young people with good hearts and sharp minds. And they both suffer as I have at times with various afflictions of mind and body, yet the seem better off than I was at that age, and yet not.

They are affected by the strife between their parents, they feel the tension, the angst that I cause their mother, and that their mother causes me, and they hate it. They want none of it and I both sympathize and am dumbfounded as to how to remove them from it. For the bulk of their years I would not speak ill of their mother, but I've resigned to the fact that their mother would put them in the middle. I do my best to encourage patience with their mother and re-enforce the notion that they need their mother, but I'm tired of being the nice-guy, walked on, again and again because I'm supposed to be positive.

I have been the one who defends the character of a person who seems to have no respect for others, no interest in anyone beyond herself, to my daughters. I have endured being financially raped by the courts by a system that is biased, stupid, or just plan ignorant to the pain and suffering that it has caused. me. A system that has stolen over $15,000 from me, and cause me no end of stress and frustration. And a system that would do it again in a heartbeat and because of that I'll give in again and again because it's safer than going before some idiot judge who may just tell me I'm at fault for having the brains to see my ex-wife is a vindictive...

I loved her once, but she never respected me for who I was. My relationship with her was a product of low self-esteem and I regret my own stupidity in marrying her. She is a person I cannot even contemplate trust in, and if I knew what I know now about her I would never have set foot in her world. I pray that God delivers me from this hell and I can just leave this behind. It's killing me.

I do NOT give up. I forge ahead, persisting in being a good person, trying to find hope and peace and doing EVERYTHING IN MY POWER to provide for my daughters, but I am beaten. I remain defeated and at a loss, rarely having a moment or opportunity for peace in my own being. This is why I believe in God.

My faith delivers me from evil, gives me peace and hope, and takes the burden of hate and jealousy from my shoulders. If you don't believe in Jesus Christ or God, you're missing something. No, not at the moment of this entry, but it will, soon as I get to that part of my day when I stand, naked before my God (and usually in the shower to be honest) and pray for his guidance and for His will to lead me where I need to go,  what I need to do. I release control of my fate, my destiny, to His will. This does not mean I give up. I pledge my support and my intent to live as I believe he would like me to live and beg him forgive me for my human flaws. I ask him to remind me as I do what I do, day-to-day, to ask myself, "What would Jesus do?"

Indeed, what would Jesus do?

I have been challenged recently with fears of job loss, which is like PTSD for the repeatedly downsized. Combine that with my experiences in courts over divorce and custody issues and I'm just burnt out. I want to realize some peace and my faith is truly my only out.

I refuse to feel guilt for my actions, I try, daily to be a good person and just like you, I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am thankful that those around me, my friends, my family, the people that love me for who I am, are there to re-assure me that I'm on the right track, or not. I believe a real friend will tell you when you're being an idiot. I have, and love, each of them and I appreciate them as much as I can. Many may see my life as blessed, and they are right. I count myself as truly blessed to have the friends and family I do, and I try to give back, not just to them, but to others through whatever means. I have been blessed with a personality, a desire, that begs me to help others, so I do.

I live by the motto, "Happy to help, any time."

I give what I can, when I can, to whomever needs it, I have plans to make a difference in bigger and bigger ways, and do what I can to show people that God is real and influences the tides of life. I have witnessed the good, and endured His challenges. I am thankful to my God for his graciousness, and can honestly say I have been rewarded by my faith.

I am at peace, and very thankful I have two wonderful daughters. I pray for them to find faith too, but I also pray for:

  • My ex-wife
  • People around me in trouble
  • Strangers I see as I go through my day that seem to be having trouble
  • Drivers who are frustrated in Traffic
  • My friends and family as they have their lives to contend with
  • You

Praying for someone is not a judgement, it is a request for God to look in on someone and help them find peace. So many feel confronted when being told of the Word of God, they feel accused of being bad people, of being judged, but that's not the intent. Admittedly it is how it can be perceived, but I assure you it is not the intent. This is something that Christians need to work on when they are trying to "save" others. Some people are offended that the person who is accosting them thinks they need to be "rescued" in the first place. I felt the same way.

I say this with all my heart and soul, as a gift to you:
God be with you today and always. Let him into your heart and allow him to guide you.  Do not judge, for that is not our burden, but His. Look for the good in people and pray for those that are embattled with sin and the burdens of life, that they may find peace. The Lord, Jesus Christ, loves each and every one of us and asks only one thing... love Him, trust in Him, believe in Him, and when you can do that, help others find their way as well. Peace is in the faith you have in God.

Bless you. I am now going to have my own conversation with God.


The High Cost of Living...

I'm not suggesting that you you reduce costs by not living, but that it's a fact of life that living costs a great deal day-to-day. This is why we work, but it also leaves us wondering about the choices we make in living our lives.

Living beyond your means is a bad thing. It's not just a question of "Can I afford this [today]?" but rather a question of whether I should incur an expense at all, what purpose does it serve and is the long-term benefit practical. This does not mean you need to be "practical" 24x7x365 (all the time), you simply need to budget the "mad money" that you have to do what's fun and a little frivolous from time-to-time.

That said... I'll quote ING and say "You need to save your money."

Saving... Reduce the cost of living to the point that you have a surplus, then don't spend that surplus. Why? because buying things on credit is a skill, a tightrope that you can very easily balance on, but you need to balance it. Tightrope? Maybe not a tightrope.

Picture a cliff... You have life and you can live on the edge, or over the edge, but living over the edge requires you to walk on a plank which is counter-balancing your life. For most of us this is normal, the job we have is the counter-balance and the life we have carefully ensures that job is there to support us. The problem is that we have two other tools to use as that counter-balance, savings, and credit. Yes, and in Canada we also have Employment Insurance.

Some people use credit while they have a job and that 10, 20, or 50K of credit is used to make their life "perfect," but they forget that a job is variable and it can disappear in a heartbeat. They are then left with debt, and no means by which to pay it off. This is a very bad place to be. One should NEVER assume they have a job-for-life. There are games you can play with money that can leverage credit, but you can lose games, you must be able to afford to lose the game.

Back to life on the plank, You can save money by living modestly, with less, accepting sacrifices and being at peace with not having all that Jane and Bob down the street have. You can build up savings is your frugal to the point that a job-loss can give you grace and a chance to get back to the edge of the cliff  before the counter-balance is gone. A lottery win, while not something to bet your life on, can give you a permanent counter-balance, $3 million in the bank should be enough to maintain a working man's lifestyle on the interest alone, but in real life your savings should be enough to cover a few months without work. If you make $50K in a year, your take home is approximately $30K, if you can build up $30K in savings you can technically take a year to find work, living without a paycheque, longer if you have support from a government program such as Canada's Employment Insurance. The key to survival is that you must save first.

You'll need to evaluate what's important and rather than having a 4-bedroom home that's 3500 square feet, look at the affordable 1600 sq. ft. townhome and enjoy the sense of community it offers. If you're on your own, single or a couple with no kids (expected in the next few years), look at a condo with in-suite laundry. Buying is always better than renting, unless you don't have a good credit rating. I rent.

In-suite laundry is critical. This is what separates apartment renters from condo. owners and it's a reward that's enviable. There's nothing cool about having to ride an elevator or walk down to the laundry room only to find that some individual has removed your clean laundry from the machine because you got stuck on a call with your Mom and simply couldn't get her to hang up and left you 5-minutes late. It gets worse when you discover that this was that hairy-smelly-chain-smoking guy from the 10th floor and he was a tad less than careful with his cigarette he shouldn't be smoking when he removed your clothes from the washer. Or, worse, that the retired mother of 3 on the 7th floor has folded your entire load including your leopard-skin patterned underwear that your girlfriend gave you, or if you are the girlfriend, that she attempted to fold your thongs!

When looking for the place to live, rental or otherwise, consider the places you need to be and the environment you need to be in. If you don't have a vehicle, plan to be on good, reliable transit and close to stores. Walking distance is preferred and living close to work is almost unheard of these days. You will pay a premium on "location, location, location," that a closet with a bed in it is 3 times more expensive than a house with a 1-2 hour commute. I am lucky, my commute is 35-40 minutes when I do it right. That's a blessing, in the past it's been as high as 2 hours. One job was 1 hour each way, I loved the job, but car-pooled with a very good friend. I tried the transit option, 3 hours, I hated those to weeks of the commute.

If you're a parent like me, you may be constrained by where your children are going to school. Yes, in the rare circumstance that the parents are together you can move the kids, but if your family is like mine, you want to be close to the school(s) so your place is accessible. My youngest daughter has a 45-minute walk home to either parent's house, that was not planned, just luck.

The cost of housing...
If your bank offers you a $350K mortgage, you do NOT need to buy a $349,990 house! You will be just as happy in a $200K house, or perhaps a $150K condominium depending on your real space requirements. If you have 7 kids you still do NOT need a 3500 sq. ft. house, but you will need to have patience and a non-violence rule in settling territory issues. You also do NOT need a big back yard, just enough space for a BBQ and picnic table.

A car is optional in an urban centre. I'm proof, but that doesn't make it easy. A car will cost you roughly $12,000 per year to operate/finance. Where you live can drastically affect your insurance rate, it's a consideration in the "where you live" discussion. The bigger the urban centre, the better the transit option is.

Live with less, happily.