Saturday, May 14, 2011

First 1/3 of the year

"God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way." - C.S. Lewis

In a word...challenging. Here is a breakdown of the challenges:

1.) Personal stock account down 68% for the year at its lowest point.
2.) Lots of evenings and weekends involved extra work from my job.
3.) Only one vacation day...half of which was spent working.
4.) As if #2 and #3 weren't stressful enough, all of that work resulted in a very poor first quarter performance for my company.
5.) A couple of significant illnesses.
6.) Multiple IRS issues.
7.) Recurring "service engine soon" light in my car that has resulted in two separate trips to the mechanic and extra expenses.
8.) Worse than average weather - snow, ice, cold, rain, tornados - which has a tendency to adversely affect my mood and energy level.

Pretty ugly, huh? Yes, I have perspective. I know my issues pale in comparison relative to others but this blog is about my experiences in an absolute sense. Let's go through these one by one and see where I stand now.

1.) I have been trading stocks for 13 years now and have NEVER lost such a large percentage in such a short time. Not only that, this happened in an UP market. I firmly believe that God was at least partially responsible. I have never experienced so many bad breaks in my life. It was simply too much to be coincidence (referencing the last blog). There were days when the market was up and all 10 of my positions, which should have benefited from an up market, were down on the day. That is practically impossible and it happened multiple times.

So, it was either give up or continue but just completely let the results fall in God's hands while still doing my best. It was challenging at times to balance being a good steward (risk management, researching stocks before taking a position) and yet putting all my faith in God that whether my account doubled or went to zero within the next week, it ultimately didn't matter, because He mattered more. From the low I reached in March, I am up about 65%. But I still have a ways to go to get back to even for the year. Yet, I'm not worrying about it. I do believe it was another lesson in faith and where I place my worth and I think I got a passing grade.

2.) Not much to say here. I am not working extra hours because I find my worth in it or out of pride. I do it because I think it is necessary in order to be good at my job and give my firm the best chance at being successful. I believe it honors God and my employer and offers a good witness.

3.) Again, much like #2, a small company can't afford to have any of its members gone much. I will have more vacation later this year so I have gotten through the worst of it.

4.) Performance has been better in the second quarter. Will we recover enough for me to have any chance at a real bonus? That is a long shot at this point but one day at a time.

5.) I am healthy and thankful. Getting in better shape is a top goal for this year and I am currently working out at the hardest level in over a year.

6.) Not going to elaborate here but let's just say that federal issues are resolved. State is still a work in progress but I am much closer to the end than the beginning.

7.) The light remains on but I am now chalking it up to a sensor issue. The second trip into the shop resulted in an engine flush which has noticeably helped my gas mileage. Thank you Lord.

8.) Weather has definitely turned nicer and outdoors time can once again be an option. It is aiding my health and my workouts.

There have been times in my life when the above list occurring within a four month period would have sent me into a mental and emotional downward spiral. But that never really happened this time around. I rest so much more securely in my relationship with Jesus Christ and who I am because of what He has done for me rather than what I can do for myself. It has made all the difference. I actually feel more optimistic about my life than I have in a long time. I think that's because I know more of what my life is about now and that I am much more sold on a cause that lies outside and above me. These are all temporal issues that ultimately hold no sway over my heart and soul.

This is from a blog that I wrote on 9/18/10:

So, this is what it comes down to and why I struggle. My hope ebbs and flows between heaven and this world...between the eternal and the temporal...between the saving grace of Jesus Christ and my desperate attempt to save myself. I love Paul's phrase, "your endurance inspired by hope". When I start to lose hope my endurance definitely suffers and the temptation to quit looms large. But that is only when my hope is outside of God. I want to eventually get to the point echoed in the verses below. When all earthly hope has been removed...when there is no worldly reason to go on...I will simply look up and know who I am and rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (New American Standard Bible)

17Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

By the continued grace of God I am getting to that point. More than ever, I look up and know who I am and rejoice in the God of my salvation.


Two Saturdays ago I joined some friends for a trivia night in order to raise funds for missionary work in Kenya. I am always up for trivia and a God-glorifying cause makes it all the better. We briefly held 2nd place (out of 13) but drifted into a tie for 4th by the end of the night. The highlight of the night wasn't knowing how many stories comprise the Empire State Building or guessing correctly the year that Delaware became a state.

Earlier that day, I had been reading an email and felt convicted by the Spirit to give money to a ministry, which is not something that had been in my budget that month. I don't have a lot of discretionary income these days so it wasn't what I would call an easy financial decision but it was the right spiritual response and so I obeyed with little debate or consternation. The result was peace.

So, back to trivia night. They had both a live and silent auction. As it turned out, I didn't bring enough cash to meet the minimum bids on anything. Besides, nothing really caught my eye except the auction item for 8 1-hour guitar lessons. My parents were quite generous in getting me the gift of an acoustic guitar over three years ago but it has mostly gone unused after my initial efforts led to the quick conclusion that I would need professional help in getting my guitar skills off the ground. Due to financial and time considerations, as well as motivation that came and went, I had not passionately pursued a teacher. Yet, there was the auction sheet in front of me with no one signed up by the end of the night. I felt a bit like I was missing an opportunity. But I didn't have the money and I didn't want to ask anyone for a loan.

Since I wasn't able to financially contribute through the auction items, I decided to buy some 50/50 tickets. For those of you who haven't attended a trivia night, this is a pretty common fundraising technique. You can buy these tickets for $1 apiece and a matching ticket to the one you buy goes into a big jar. At the end of the night, they pick out one winning ticket which gets half of the money that was collected and the other half goes to the charity. Most of the time, the winner ends up giving some or all of his/her winnings back. It is charity after all.

So, the first time I tried to get the attention of the woman collecting the 50/50 money, she turned away and went to another part of the room. I patiently waited for her to come back which she eventually did. I purchased 20 tickets and went on with the night.

They finally got around to reading off the winning ticket, and yes, it happened to be one of the tickets I had purchased. I won $127 and I immediately knew what the money was meant for. There is a story I have heard Francis Chan tell on a couple of occasions. He had been out golfing with some of his friends and one of them was using a new driver which he really wanted. His was older and smaller and he really wanted a club that would allow him to hit the ball farther. But he knew he couldn't really justify it financially. He was having this discussion with God as he was driving to a church the following day for a speaking engagement. After he finishes speaking, a church leader comes up to him and says that they don't have the money to pay him. Francis was just going to say that's fine, no worries. Then this guy says...but we would like to offer you this new driver instead. The club was exactly like the one that Francis wanted. He found it amazing that the God of the universe was so intimately involved in his life and so loving toward him that He would arrange for a golf club to end up in his hands.

I felt the same way that night. God knows my heart and He knew that deep down I really want to learn to play and my disappointment in seeing that auction sheet earlier that evening and not being able to do anything about it. I do believe that God gave me an extra blessing because I was obedient earlier in the day but I also believe that I am blessed by God simply because of who He is and how much He loves me. I am blessed through difficulties that strengthen my faith and I am blessed through moments like this that remind me of how much my heavenly Father cares about me.

There are no coincidences with God. It wasn't a coincidence that the minimum bid for the guitar lessons was the exact same amount I gave earlier in the day. It wasn't a coincidence that I couldn't get the woman's attention the first time she came by. As Pastor Braun said to me many years ago, "Don't call it luck. Call it a blessing." Proverbs 16:33 tells us that even the cast of the die is controlled by the sovereignty of God. Nothing happens outside of the control or allowance of God. That night was a special moment between Him and I. It was good.