Sunday, March 1, 2015

Boasting and Blessings

This past week at different times, I had occasion to recount all the activities I'm involved with to three individuals. I did so in explaining why I can't really take on any other activities and how thrilled I am to do what I do. Later, in retrospect, I realized it could sound a lot like boasting if someone didn't know me well.

I engage in many volunteer opportunities, and I consider what I can do as a blessing to me. God has enabled me to do these things and showed me they can be done mostly on my own schedule - that is, when I am physically able to do them. A chronic illness may have taken some things away from me, but it hasn't taken away what's most important and my ability to make a difference.

Why is it a blessing to do the volunteering? Because serving others is what gives life meaning. It's what gives value to our existence. I can then concentrate on what I can do, not what I can't. And, if I can inspire others to do the same, well that's just another blessing.

1 Peter 4:10 says: "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." Jesus also told his disciples that they must serve each other, and whoever would be great must be the least. I don't care at all about being great, but I do care about showing my gratitude to God by serving others.

The simple fact is that God empowers us all to make this world better by helping others. I believe true happiness is possible only when we look beyond ourselves. If we are engaged in helping others, we are too busy to concentrate on our own challenges and the ills that have befallen us. You can't feel sorry for yourself when you are thinking about and doing good deeds for other people.

So the next time I tell others about the many ways I try to help others by volunteering, I'll make sure they understand why I'm doing so. It's not boasting to show what a great person I am - it's how God has blessed me to be able to do those things for his people and my fellowman.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Faith Makes Volunteering Happy

Yesterday I did my first stint as a Client Facilitator for the AARP Tax-Wise Program which assists senior citizens and low income individuals with their taxes. For five of the six years prior, I've actually prepared the taxes, but this year my time was limited and I couldn't attend tax class and become certified.

Strangely enough I liked the Client Facilitator (CF) position even more than tax preparation because it allowed me more contact with the clientele. As one of the CFs checking over their information to ensure they were indeed ready to submit their taxes, it meant contact with more individuals than just preparing taxes for maybe three.

During this process, I meant some of the most amazing people. One woman, a former resident, had driven from another city more than 30 miles away. When she mentioned being in hospice, it was a total shock. Why? Because her attitude was both pragmatic AND optimistic.

It occurred to me later that optimism is a gift - a gift given to those who believe if they truly embrace their faith. While none of us really know how we would react to end of life issues if they were known, it's comforting to see that our faith could give us the optimism (aka hope) to see us through.

It's also a gift to volunteer. My personal optimism comes from knowing I have value. There may be some things I can no longer do, but there are so many things that I can do. And what I can do will benefit others. That's a true value God has given us - the power and the opportunity to make this world a better place, not just for ourselves, but for our fellowman.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Paying Taxes and Rendering unto Caesar

I just filed my taxes, and after a good four hours of ensuring all entries are correct, not to mention the hours of compiling records, they are finished! Aside from the fiasco caused by Turbo Tax's poorly announced changes in product, everything also went as usual.

I always think of the passage about whoever can be trusted with little, can be trusted with much; and whoever can be trusted with much can be trusted with little. That's something to think about if anyone is thinking of cheating on taxes. Personally, I joke that if I'm ever audited, the government will deserve it because they'll get so much paper and documentation that they'll regret it! So, while I'll take whatever deductions I'm entitled to, I won't take what I'm not.

Paying taxes also made me think of Jesus' answer to the question of whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Of course, that was an opportunity for Jesus to make people think to separate what is God's and what is earthly. While we can ultimately attribute everything to God, it's a good reminder of what is important, and what is here today and gone tomorrow.

Matthew 6: 19-20 states:  "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal." It doesn't take much for me to decipher what that means.

I value my family and friendships. I value love which I think endures and surpasses the boundaries between earth and Heaven. I value my faith and the hope that it gives me. To be honest, I also value enough food to eat and the means to provide a comfortable life for myself. But I think those are just blessings for which I should be thankful. I'm not planning to store up anything physical except to share with my fellowman, and I think that's the way it's supposed to be. Share the earthly goods, but remember what's really important - the life we live after this one.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Taking Advantage

I choose to focus on making this world a better place, but that never occurs when someone or some thing takes advantage of another. Unfortunately today, I experienced that situation.

The Bible is very clear about taking advantage of your fellow man. Leviticus 25:17 states: "Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God." And there are other admonishments warning about taking advantage of widows or hired workers who are poor and needy, etc. Perhaps, just like individuals, some companies would do well to heed that admonishment.


Since the '90s I have used Turbo Tax software and even participated in their inner circle with beta research. Today my sister forwarded an email that she received, but I did not. It stated that the company had messed up - "We made a change this year to TurboTax desktop software and we didn't do enough to communicate this change to you as proactively and broadly as we could or should have." I can't recall sticking my head in the sand, so I don't how they "communicated" this at all. 

Having been a corporate director of the department that served as customer service for a national childcare company, I don't for one moment believe that this was a simple error in not communicating enough. It reeks of "wait until they buy it" (Turbo Tax Deluxe) and can't do anything about it.

In order to continue to use Turbo Tax to submit my Income Tax for 2014, I now have to upgrade from a retail cost of $59.99 to $99.99. I can still file my federal for free, but I must pay $19.99 (or maybe more this year, I haven't checked) to file my state on-line. I am also offered $25 this year toward the upgrade to assist with their omission, but that really isn't the most important issue.

What they removed that affected me was a stock sale which involved 200 shares of a stock I and my son purchased a few years ago at 99 cents per share. We made a whopping $500 profit.

I also have business income which results in less than $1000 net. No more Schedule C either to list my business expenses and deductions.

Why am I angry? Because I know this affects many others just like me. While I have abundant blessings, they aren't necessarily financial and I'm guessing there are plenty of others who feel taken advantage of, too, regardless of their income. Can I afford the extra $40, yes, but maybe there are those who can't. You don't have to be destitute to be affected by unexpected and deceptive increases.

Most people who know me realize I am extremely patient except for incompetence and people who are not nice to others. The latter is the most significant of the two. Turbo Tax should be called on this, and I did by way of email reply.

I think it's important, if not crucial to live life by focusing on the positives and giving praise where due. We are all called to share our blessings. But I also believe that it's my and everyone's responsibility to make sure that no one, including big companies and corporations, take advantage.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Unintentional Giving

Luke 3:11 states: "In reply he said to them, 'Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”" You might say I almost obeyed unintentionally, but with a special pair of gloves.

Yesterday I braved the 23 degree temperature to make a trip to Hy-Vee. When I entered the store, I removed my gloves and placed them on my lap while I mailed a letter before shopping. Of course, it never occurred to me to put them back in my coat pocket, so I didn't realize until checking out that they had fallen off my lap. Searching every aisle and checking with lost and found, they were still missing so I left my name and phone number, and returned home.

What concerned me was these were not only really nice gloves, but they were a gift from one of my sons 23 years ago. Yes, some things do last. But it was the thought that someone might have taken them without regard for the person who then had no gloves in the extreme cold. My only prayer was that someone needed them more than I. After all, I do own a second pair of nice gloves, but they are safely stored in my other coat.

The funny thing is that if someone needed gloves, I would gladly have bought them a pair and kept mine because of the sentimental value. Normally, this is something I usually do anyway since my church requests these donations. It was very disappointing not to have that option, but that is my choosing when to give, and maybe not God's will to help the needy.

As it turned out, I called Hy-Vee today and they do have my gloves. Someone was kind enough to take them to lost and found. I can't tell you how happy that makes me! While I didn't want to make an unintentional gift of them, a lesson was learned because I could only pray that if someone took them, they supplied a need rather than a want.

In any case, I can now retrieve them. But that can't be the end of the lesson. I'm going to purchase some more gloves to donate in addition to what I normally do. I'm fortunate to have two nice pairs to keep me warm, and I know there are others who have none.

Thanks for the lesson and reminder, God.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What Will the Future Bring?



The Bible cautions us not to worry about the future as stated in: Matthew 6:34: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (NSRV) But there are more comforting versus that precede this quote where we are told not to worry about what we will eat, drink or wear. We’re also reminded that worry doesn’t extend even an hour of our lives (Matthew 6:27).

Unfortunately, human nature is to worry so we must learn to place our faith in God that He knows what we need and will provide it. Having said this, I think worry isn’t the same as planning. Planning  tries to negate worry.

When the inevitable happens to us, or we have an unforeseen illness or accident, we need to plan for what happens. Someone else will need to handle our affairs, and as stated above, this may even be due to a temporary circumstance.

This blog carries a gift for you. After experiencing the after-effects of what happens when someone close passes on, I know there are many questions to be answered. While my late husband did a great job of ensuring my financial savvy, I saw a need to put some things in writing for my sons, hence the Important Information to Know document.

This document lists the important aspects of one’s personal affairs – anything from ACH deposits and withdrawls from your bank account, to your final wishes (including who gets what heirlooms). It does NOT replace the need for a will, and it is not a legal document -it’s just to help others navigate your finances and wishes should you no longer be able to do so.

You can the find the document,”Important Information to Know,” through the following link to my website. Just click on the top button that bears the same name. Share this link with everyone you know – it’s the best and smartest gift you or they can give to those who must handle your (or their) personal affairs for whatever happens.

Go to: www.vickijulian.com and download the form. You can cut and paste or simply print it. If you need a 2015 New Year’s resolution, this is a good place to start.

Wishing you a happy, worry-free (or less) New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014



I’m thinking of my sister and her family who will face the first Christmas without my brother-in-law. Like many people who experience a deep loss, they find it hard to truly celebrate the season. It becomes more of a ritual of going through the motions, but still trying to hold on to the goodness of generosity, compassion and caring. Grief just has a way of eroding joy.

The first year after losing my husband eight years ago was extremely difficult, not that it’s a piece cake now, so to speak. But since his passing was in late September, I was still somewhat in shock of the loss when Christmas rolled around. The one thing I discovered to be most helpful was to continue some of the traditions and some of the good things we did together. It was a way to honor him, and it made him feel a little closer, too.

I also realized that, while the void was something I couldn’t fill, I needed to still celebrate Christ’s birth. After all, it was the beginning of the greatest gift I would and could ever receive, mostly because it gave me hope that I would see Steve again. I also found that doing things for others and making their life a little better let me focus on something besides myself and my devastation.

When such losses occur, it’s important to give oneself permission to begin some new traditions, or just change how things are done for that year. For me, at my sons’ urging, it meant still hosting our family’s Christmas Eve open house to include other family and friends, but also an annual trip following Christmas Day.

My oldest son was unmarried at the time and always had the week off between Christmas and New Year’s, so it became a new tradition for us to get away for about four days. We did that for five years until he married. And now after eight years, I no longer need to have the after-Christmas trip to look forward to and distract me from my loss.

If you know someone who is experiencing a great loss this year, please try to understand how they choose to handle celebrations. In time, they will acclimate to the difference, even though it might never be the same for them. Sometimes grief takes time, and there is a learning curve to accept what one cannot change. But to everyone in that transition and to everyone else, I still wish you a Merry Christmas with peace and blessings, and a much Happier New Year.