Sunday, January 30, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday Fair Oaks Church!

This weekend, Fair Oaks Church celebrated its 50th birthday with a double celebration complete with great memories, inspired music, special guest speakers and moving testimonies from members young and old. Over the last month, Fair Oaks Church have been asking folks to “Share Your Story” by completing a questionnaire. Here a peek at what I submitted….

What Sermon or Sermon Series has impacted you the most over the years and why?

It’s hard to pick a single Sermon Series that impacted me the most because every Sermon Series has had at least one (if not many) places where it spoke to me directly or served up a perfect dialog for me to witness with. But last year when I wrote a recap of all the Stokes-isms written in the margins of my sermon notes, the top 3 series that I took “extra” notes on were “The Flip Side”, “Faith” and “Wasted.” My favorite Stokes-ism from Wasted was “Can’t afford to tithe? Do the math… you’ve spent more than 10% of your income on bad choices and what did it get you?” I’ve used that several time when talking to people about tithing.

What song, video or creative element used in a service has touched you in a special way and why?

The creative element that was most special to me was the privilege to be a part of introducing Joel Slater’s Hallelujah (Sing It Over Again) to the church as a choir special. I loved singing that song with the Fair Oaks choir and after it came out on Joel’s CD Scattered, he was kind enough to let us sing is as a worship song in the Wednesday night services.

The edgy “live art” elements that have been woven into the services also have a special place in my heart… from painting Mike Z while he sang a special song, Amber shaping clay or painting an outstretched hand to enhance the message of the music, to Don Hensley performing a powerful monologue for a “first Wednesday” service, our Arts team really knows how to punctuate a message with creativity.

I also love the videos the Fair Oaks Arts team put together. My favorites have been the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day videos that Christian and Mike made (the always make me think of my own boys) and the whole series of videos that were a take-off of the Mac/PC commercials – especially iGive.

And last, but never least – Ken & Mimi, Ken & Mimi, Ken & Mimi, Ken & Mimi, Ken & Mimi!

Has a particular person in the church (staff, volunteer, fellow growth grouper, etc.,) made a difference in your life? Who? And How?

So many people at Fair Oaks have had an impact on my life… from Roy Dowdy who was the first person to walk up to us as new comers to the church and welcome us, Debby White for getting me involved in Christmas Coffee House, Choir and the Connectors ministry, Brian Bosler for making the choir more than just a rehearsal of voices but a ministry to the heart of worshipers, Joel Slater as a musical inspiration and gentle encourager getting me involved with the Wednesday worship team, Christian Gaffney being sent down straight from heaven speak directly into the hearts of my boys and being a godly partner to every youth-group-parent and for coming to the hospital to pray over my surgery when I was diagnosed with cancer, Tracey Dowdy for the touching or funny but always pregnant with meaning dramas she used to write for the services, Scott Maurer for supporting me in putting together my first MBTI small group, Philip Bassham for bringing an infectious energy to everything he does from his years with Kidz Inc to the Media ministry and finally to Pastor Stokes for always preaching the Word, never compromising the Truth and for leading the church and his staff with creativity.

What is your favorite all time Fair Oaks memory? Why?

My favorite all-time Fair Oaks Memory was when my two boys and I were Baptized together.
I'd grown up in the church (baptized and confirmed Catholic) but I didn't come to know the Lord, have a relationship with Him, surrender my life to Christ until I got engaged to my husband who brought me to his church and for the first time I prayed the prayer inviting Christ into my heart and to take over my life. But the church we were at didn’t emphasize baptism so I had never made that public profession of my faith.

The summer before we moved to Northern Virgina, our boys excepted Christ as their savior and wanted to be baptized but we didn't get to it before we moved and would have to wait until we found a new home church.

In October of 2005 we found Fair Oaks Church. The house of God we call home, the church we each serve in our own callings and the place where I and our two boys were baptized together in a very special "Amazing Grace" service - a song that has always served as a personal anthem. So very special and appropriate that it worked out for the three of us to be baptized together on that particular Sunday at Fair Oaks Church.

Overall, please describe what this church means to you:


I can't wait to be a part of the next 50 years of memories at Fair Oaks Church! So what is your Fair Oaks story?


Monday, January 24, 2011

Uncle Sam’s 0% Savings Account – Just Say No!

Welcome to tax season! Over the next several days millions of Americans will be waiting at their mail boxes for their final forms and receipts to come in and racing to get their returns completed so they can wait for their big fat check from their Uncle Sam.

But wait, that makes it sound like some surprise inheritance that didn’t work over 2000 hours to earn, but rather like it was some benevolent gift. Hey – you know that’s YOUR money, right? They’ve kept it for a year, paid you no interest on it and then gave it back to you ONLY after you filled out 15 pages of paperwork and waited for several weeks for the check to come slowly through the mail or for the wire to hit your bank account.

I know a lot of people who intentionally pay more payroll tax than they need to so that they can get the big fat tax return in the Spring, but wouldn’t make more sense to pay less tax out of each paycheck, take the difference and put it in a savings account and earn a little interest on it? You can still withdraw it all and give it to yourself in the Spring, but now there will be more of it.

Now I realize that some people just aren’t that disciplined and if they got the extra money in their net pay every other week, they’d just spend it rather than save or invest it – I get that. But how about a direct deposit from your pay directly into that savings account so you never see it? Just a thought.

Self-discipline has never been a big problem for me when it comes to money (chocolate – yes, cash – no). I’m a saver. And I never did fancy giving the IRS money that they may change a rule mid-stream and cleverly arrange for me not to get it back.

Having spent a lot of years running payroll departments, I used to have the formula down to a science. I had my return down to no more than a hundred dollars or two… that is, until we moved to Northern Virginia. New economy, different tax bracket, state and property taxes we weren’t accustomed to and both of our Florida employers that we left taxed our vacation cash-outs wrong and the first tax returns we filed in Virginia came with a $9,000 tax bill! Ouch!

Because I’m a saver, we had the means to cover it, but it left us with little room for other financial surprises. Over the next several years I tried to find that greenback groove, but kept hitting roadblocks to a consistent pattern to the tax levels (including a half year of unemployment, a full year of unemployment, and another half year of unemployment) so we had another year with a 4-digit payment followed by 3 years of 4-digit returns… which are nice, but not what I was shooting for.

This year, quite by accident, we hit the right formula: $101.00 return! Now, it IS what we were shooting for, but I have to tell you, after 3 years of healthy returns, it was hard to celebrate my perfectly calculated $101 tax refund … especially when I’m only getting 1.1% interest on my savings account that the difference went into.

The bright side is we didn’t have to PAY. Those two years we had to write big checks were horrible. For me, I was almost as angry at myself that I blew the calculation as I was that I had to write a check that big… but that just me and my INTJ Type.

So do you loan Uncle Sam your money interest free for a year, do you shoot for the low refund or do you end up paying each year? If you had a little extra money in each paycheck, would you be disciplined enough to save it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Debt-Free in 2011

This week at Fair Oaks Church we will begin a 6-session growth group based on Joe Sangl’s “I Was Broke. Now I’m Not” that teaches people how to win with their money in a way that honors God. As I’ve been preparing to help lead this growth group I started thinking about my own “money story.”

My sister tells people that I still have the first dollar I ever earned. I don’t - although that would be neat if I did – I did eventually spend that dollar and the others I’d been saving up from my paper route. I’ve always been a saver. Starting with elementary-aged allowance, then to the middle-school paper route and teenaged afterschool jobs, what excited me about working was the security of the pile of money in my sock drawer, not the plans and dreams of what I was going to spend it on.

Although some may find that enviable, you have to be careful you don’t become the third servant who buries his talents (Mathew 25:14-30). I’m good at saving and it’s served me well through the financial ups and downs I’ve had, but while Joe Sangl was at Fair Oaks Church last weekend for the Financial Learning Event (and I heard him back in 2008 too), I realized that with all that I may have been doing right, I was still missing something.

He and I were talking between services and I was telling him how we are only a few months away from being 100% debt free using his snow-ball method and he asked me the simplest of questions which was followed by my dumbfounded silence. He asked, “so once you’re debt-free, what dream vacation are you going to put all that extra money toward?”

Now that question shouldn’t have been so challenging (and I think I dumbfounded Joe when I told him I had no such plans) but I haven’t saved up for a planned vacation since our honeymoon. Joe is all about using your dreams (and funding those dreams) as a financial motive for sticking to the debt-free plan. I agree it’s important but I really didn’t need that kind of motive to stick to the plan – I was born to stick to the plan – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have dreams and goals worth saving for.

My most immediate financial goal (which is what I told Joe I’d be putting my freed up money toward instead of a vacation) is my kids’ college fund. It took my husband and I so long to get out from under our college debt that here we are in our 40’s, about to be debt free for the third time (woo hoo) but have never owned a home. We were actually on track to be funding the kids’ 529 plans at the correct pace to cover their tuition fully and have a down payment for our first home when my husband unexpectedly joined the 14.5 million unemployed in the US.

For two and a half years the money we had planned on putting toward college was used for living expenses. There was a little start on both the 529s and the home down payment but they didn’t experience the rapid growth that was planned for them. Now that we’re back to 2 incomes, we have a lot of ground to make up and it’s hard to see past that to some dream vacation.

But it did get me thinking … what are those dreams (after college, a house and retirement are covered) that I need to be working to fund? The family cafĂ© my husband and I always joke about opening some day? an Alaskan cruise? the ability to work for God full time and man part time rather than the reverse?

What are the dreams you would fund if you were debt free and financially secure?