what is a squiggle?

According to fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Hill, a squiggle is a beginning point, a small, wiggly line on a page with the potential to become something more--a brilliantly drawn fifth-grade picture!

A beginning point. A silly phrase from my preschooler, my teenager rolling his eyes, or my kindergartner deleting my entire 3rd chapter...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35 continued

We started by setting up a budget. At first, it was easy; Jaleen filled the categories in based on what we had spent the previous few months and added in my paychecks. However, when everything was entered, the amount at the bottom of the page was a large, negative number.

"It's okay." Jaleen said. "Now's the part when we start eliminating the things that we don't really need. Once we've done that, we will hopefully have something left to start paying off some of the debt a little faster."

I said goodbye to my lunches out and new movies on DVD. Jaleen promised to consolidate her trips and carpool to activities when she could to conserve gas. By the time we finished the budget, we had cut back on numerous non essentials and had a plan for paying off the credit card.

"Okay, this is good." I told Jaleen.

She smiled. "Yeah, it's good. But remember, Brendan, a budget is no good if you don't follow it."

For the next four months we were amazing. We followed our budget, reviewing our spending each week to make sure we were on track. Slowly, the credit card balance began to come down. But in August all of the kids needed new clothes and supplies for school. My car had a blow out on the freeway, so I had to buy a new tire. We slipped back into our old habits. Feeling bad about the money we had spent, and knowing we had exceeded our budget, we avoided looking at it.

Before we knew it, December loomed before us. We had no money, and our credit card hovered dangerously close to the limit, again. Every time the kids started to talk about Christmas, Jaleen's eyes would mist over. I handled things in a more mature manner--yelling at the kids not to sing Christmas songs in November.

"We've got to do something." Jaleen whispered to me one night.

"I know. But what?"

"I don't know. Maybe we could fast and pray during the week and share what we've felt on Sunday."

"Okay," I agreed reluctantly. I had the feeling that I wasn't going to like what the Lord had to tell me.

(to be continued...)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35 continued

A column on the left hand side of the screen listed our assets and debts. Two accounts were listed as assets: our bank account, labeled with our names and another account called "Future Family Fun." The first account was accompanied by a pitifully small balance, while the Future Family Fun account had a balance of zero.

I looked further down the column at our list of debts. The mortgage and the two car payments were listed first. Shouldn't their balances have gone down further than that already? Studying the numbers, I tried to remember what their balances had started out as. Finally, I shook my head and moved on to the next item--the credit card. We still hovered pretty close to the maximum on that one. Jaleen's been after me to help find a way for us to pay more than the minimum amount due. I figured it wasn't that important, as long as we were paying something.

Rubbing my eyes, I tackled the last category: Education Loans. I knew about the $6000; that loan was for my highly sought after degree in radio broadcasting--something that years later could barely even be called one of my hobbies. But three other loans were listed amounting to nearly $11,000. Several times I had gotten the notion in my head that I wanted to be a teacher, yet that couldn't explain these loans, could it? No, there's no way those few semesters did this.

I rose from the chair and opened the file cabinet near the computer table. For once I was grateful for Jaleen's uncontrollable need to organize everything; I quickly found the file for the student loans and pulled it out. The evidence against me was undeniable.

After I replaced the file and shut down the computer, I crawled back into bed. Tears trickled down my cheeks as I thought about what I had done. This tiny house, our inability to pay down the mortgage far enough to be able to sell it and move, was my fault. When my guilt had nearly overwhelmed me, I woke Jaleen and told her what I had discovered.

Her eyes were still droopy with sleep, but she touched my face with the back of her hand and smiled. "Brendan, we made all of those decisions together. Granted, they weren't the best choices we could have made, but they're over. We can't go back and change them; we'll just have to deal with them." Jaleen held my gaze with her own. "Stop worrying about fault--that doesn't matter."

"Okay." I said. "Tomorrow we start climbing out of this mess."

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35 continued

The realization of what we had gotten into kept me up at night. Long after Jaleen drifted to sleep, I would lay, staring at the dark ceiling, and condemn myself for the choices I had made that now created a chain that bound our family in debt. It started with that $6000 and just continued from there. Another $300 for the dentist, put on the credit card. The kids needed new clothes for school--add $1000 more to the card. Christmas one year arrived on the heels of cut backs at work. We were desperate for presents for the kids. That December we nearly exceeded our credit limit.

A few times Jaleen sat me down and tried to discuss our finances. In fact, she was the one who arranged to refinance our mortgage, which cut our payments by nearly $100, as well as calling the mortgage company and getting a deferral on our payments the year I got sick and was out of work for nearly two months. But when she tried to tell me we needed to take a closer look at how we were spending our money, I didn't want to listen. I resisted her suggestion that I bring a lunch from home instead of grabbing something from a nearby restaurant, and when she hinted that I not buy every movie when it came out, I tuned her out.

My parents had never had much money, yet they still managed to always have a $20 bill to hand me when I wanted to take my girlfriend to the movies or needed to fill my gas tank. I remember hearing my father say to my mother once that if a check hadn't cleared the bank, then that money was still there for the using. He got really good at the balancing act--writing checks based on money that was destined for somewhere else, and managing to replace the funds before the checks cleared.

I tried my hand at my father's game early in my marriage. When Jaleen found that first overdraft notice in the mail, we had a good long argument. In the end, she kept the checkbook. More overdraft notices followed, not because I was trying to ruin our finances, but because along with being unable to finish what I start, I also have a terrible memory. I simply forgot to pay the bills, or deposit the check, or tell Jaleen that I spent $50 at Costco.

When we finally emerged from the dark ages and subscribed to high-speed Internet, Jaleen pretty much took over the money. She tracked everything using a computerized finance program and began to pay the bills online.

After she straightened everything out, checking our bank account daily for any of my "oops I forgot to tell you...." incidents, our situation didn't look so bad. As long as I knew we had some money in the bank, I figured we were fine and could afford whatever we wanted.

One night, as I stared into the darkness, wondering how I could get us out of our small house and into the home my family deserved, I decided to take a look at Jaleen's finance program. I crept out of bed and out to the living room where we kept the computer. The old machine took a few minutes to boot up, and then it slowly brought up the program I wanted.

What I saw made my stomach drop to my knees. I covered my open mouth in disbelief.

(to be continued...)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fictional Story: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35

I'm not much of a finisher. Okay, to be honest, most things I start, whether it's learning to play the trumpet, designing a new piece of furniture, or writing a short story, usually end up collecting dust. I've actually really only finished one thing--and that thing turned out to be useless--nearly useless. It did manage to create $6000, of debt. And that was only the start.

When we moved into our house nearly twelve years ago, it was a mansion to us. Brand new with plush carpet, three spacious bedrooms, a separate living room and kitchen, and a storage area in the back. Our family of four actually struggled to fill up the entire house. But seven years later after Karissa, Janae and the twins joined the family, the mansion felt more like a sardine can.

We put the house on the market and began dreaming of our new, larger mansion. My wife, Jaleen, loved to wander through model homes, imagining our family inside, filling up the empty rooms. She was especially captivated by the closets in the master bedrooms.

"Do you see the size of this?" She asked me during one of our walk-throughs. "We could turn this closet into a nursery for the new baby."

"Yeah." I agreed. "And since we don't have a third car, that part of the garage would make a perfect work room."

So we dreamed. But the impossibility of it all didn't set in until one particular cheerful man calling about our home for sale shouted in my ear.

"Good luck selling it for that price!"

As I shared the less than motivating conversation with Jaleen, I realized we we're trapped.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 19:35

"Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage."

I spoke to someone last week who lives by the philosophy that he'd rather die broke than leave millions without having any fun. That doesn't sound too bad, but he also said that he and his wife take vacations that they can't afford because a good vacation is important to their relationship. This couple is getting into debt for experiences that last, at most, a week and then fade into memories. And long after most of those memories are forgotten, they continue to pay for them.

Debt can truly wrap chains around a person, limiting their future choices and opportunities. I know the truth of this first hand. Several times in my life, what I've wanted, even needed, has been out of reach because of debt, but I've also felt the sweet relief that comes from eliminating debt and regaining my freedom.

Friday, July 2, 2010

More Scripture Maps

I'm posting three more examples of scripture maps. Have fun!