Harvest House Publishers
A Note to the Reader
Part One: The Why of It and the Whole of It
Part Two: The How of It
Introduction to Part Two
Epilogue: The Tale of a Better Day
I didn’t always have clean closets. Or a reasonably healthy body. Or a responsible plan for my financial future.
I didn’t always have money squirreled under my mattress or sensible food stored in my cupboards. (Having a steady supply of Rocky Road ice cream or a stash of good, dark chocolate makes perfect sense.)
I didn’t always pay my bills on time or eat just about anything I please. Or live an organized life. Or brag about low cholesterol.
In other words, I didn’t always have a clue.
How I wish I’d had the good sense to read a book or two like this along the way—books that may have helped avert a lot of heartache. But no, not independent know-it-all me. I thought a budget seemed utterly unnecessary and spent fruitless years working toward an advanced degree in diet mania. I avoided the discipline of reasoned money management and kept my eyes peeled for that illusive quick fix that would turn me into a ravishing beach beauty. After all, I was in control and quite capable to chart my own course, thank you very much.
Yet when I look back, I don’t see myself in the driver’s seat at all, even though I acted cocky and self-assured. I was Ms. Clueless Person hitchhiking recklessly along a road to ruin. Life happened to me and I let it. I was along for the ride—not behind the wheel, not navigating from the passenger seat, not even a backseat driver. I was clinging to the car’s back bumper, flapping in the wind, bloodied and bruised.
Certainly not a picture of the person who now exhorts others to practice sound stewardship, as I do on television and radio, or who stands in front of crowds as “Frugal Woman Extraordinaire.” (Still working toward that ravishing beach beauty part.) So how did I get to this point? And what do clean closets have to do with budgets and diets, anyway? (Plenty.)
For one thing, the rides I hitched have taught me hard lessons with every turn, bump, and pothole. I’ve been dumped off at the side of the road and have tumbled into a pit of debt more times than I care to count. I’ve clawed my way back to the top, only to sabotage myself again (or be sabotaged by others), and there I went with a splat, slip-sliding back down again. Only through determination, some major attitude adjustment, scriptural imperative, and prayer have I broken free from the gut-wrenching bondage that money woes bring.
Will I ever be so free from concern over finances that I can throw caution to the wind? Never. Stewardship demands vigilance.
The Christian’s primary stewardship is that of the gospel and includes the use of his whole life as well as his money.F.L. FISHER
And the weight issue? Oh brudder. The only time I was thin was when I passed it on my way up the scale. I’ve bought the diet books and tried the foolproof plans. (I was the only “fool,” as one “miracle” weight cure after another ended in failure.) I’ve joined the clubs and counted the numbers, all the while protesting that I don’t follow diet trends. Yet my body seemed to stay the same, packing on a few extra pounds each year for good measure. As with my finances, only through determination, major attitude adjustment, scriptural imperative, and prayer have I managed to finally get the upper hand on this body of mine, inching my way toward a state of better health and fitness. I’ve reconciled that I will probably never be that ravishing beach beauty or shimmy into one of those thong things to swoon my way into Wonder Man’s arms. (Husband Joe.)
Note from Joe: Whew!
Will I ever be able to let down my guard when it comes to body care? Never. Whether with budget or diet, stewardship demands vigilance.
Wait a minute! The title of this book tells me to ditch diets and budgets—is this some kind of tricky bait and switch?
Not at all. I am convinced that once I share what I have learned as I bounced along, you will be equipped to do just that—to ditch the demands, pressures, and guilt that come from your unrelenting quest. You will be able to resist the popular culture that insists that you follow its prescription for perfection and backs its demands with unlimited methodologies and how-tos for everything under the sun.
(Sun: that warm, golden, round thing in the sky that you used to take time to romp under, garden under, and laze, swim, and picnic under.)
Like many of you, I’ve learned a lot of how-tos during my life. I’ve even written books and articles on that level: how to save, how to shop, how to control the money monster, how to live well on any income, how to cut back on fat (try red licorice), how to cut back on sugar (sugar-free red licorice), how to cut back on chemicals (herb-flavored red licorice).
Note from me: Yech!
Before we address the how-tos, perhaps we should ask why. Do this, do that, tithe 10 percent, save 10 percent, fold it this way, use that coupon, bend over, walk three miles, eat more broccoli, breathe in deeply…why?
To lose weight and to save money, right? Sure…but why? What is the motivation behind this crazy push of ours?
To be able to shop till you drop and look good in the latest midriff-baring, stiletto-wearing getup? Pul-leeze.
Um…to carry a fat balance in your checking account and be able to eat anything you wish while wearing size-eight pedal pushers? Go deeper.
Aha! To provide for retirement and be fit enough to enjoy those dandy golden years? Deeper.
Got it! To be able to use money and possessions for the betterment of others and for your own improved health so you don’t ultimately burden others? Deeper still.
Why we strive toward financial stability and svelte bodies is a complex question with complex answers. We just saw that answers can start shallow and get deeper. Together we will fish in deep waters as we consider why as well as how-to. Make no mistake: How-tos are important. They are why you bought this book in the first place.
I just want to put the horse before the cart. I’ll start by introducing you to a couple of my family members.
I have a sister named Sheila who, as far as I am concerned, is certifiably daft. A half-bubble off plumb. Ahead of her time. Annoying as all get-out. She is also one of the kindest and most intelligent persons I know, and I love her to death.
Now, because I am regarded in my family as…well, the pudgy one, one of my two sisters (my other sister is Anne) or my mother will commonly make casual reference to such things as dietary constraint, genetic abnormality (“What planet did you drop down from? No one else in our gene pool has short, hairy legs and such a huge posterior.”), or the fact that I must sit for extended periods of time on said posterior in order to write, such as I am doing now. Have you ever tried penning your novel on a treadmill?
Mom: “You sit too much—what do you expect? You should wear slimming clothes. Get a big blouse that covers your rear. And while you’re at it, make sure it’s striped vertically. And color! Sheesh, Cynthia! You never wear color! And I read that you should wear pretty scarves to bring attention upward. You have such a pretty face.”
All of this is vexing.
Anyway, Sheila called me one morning, positively breathless, and announced with utmost authority why I wasn’t successful with my latest diet regimen. (Knowing it all is in our gene pool.)
Sheila: “Iknowwhyyou’renotlosingweight!” (Sheila talks like this—one continuous sentence without punctuation.)
Me: (Scratching abundant posterior and peering at my bedside clock:) “Sheil, it’s six A.M.”
Sheila: “I just read something that’s going to change your life and make you successful and you’re not only going to lose weight but have record book sales and your love life will blossom and I’m coming right over.”
Me: (Looking over my shoulder at Wonder Man, snoring next to me:) “Sheil, it’s six A.M.”
Sheila: “This is the answer to everything! It’s all the rage in Bulgaria—or is it Des Moines? I forget.”
Me: (Always eager to improve my love life:) “So why don’t you come over for lunch…Sheil? Sheil?”
Sheila was on her way. One hour later we were rearranging the furniture in my living room.
Sheila: “Furniture placement, Cynthia. That’s the key! Your living room is all wrong. You need to move all this stuff around so the energy can flow freely. Help me move this floor plant toward the entrance. Too much energy is not good either. I know these things; I read a lot. You’ll be thin in no time.”
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
So I moved the plant. And the sofa. And the coffee table. I was aware of the philosophical premise of the feng shui principles Sheila was promoting, and as a biblical Christian, I know I must be careful where I put my trust. I mean, to me it’s a nobrainer: trust my furniture or trust God. Gee, let me see…
I moved the sofa just the same and went along with my sister out of respect for her earnest concern toward me. Besides, my living room was a bit cluttered.
Turns out Sheila had a point.
Our living room didn’t “flow.” Furniture blocked vital pathways to make physical movement within the room—and enjoyment of the room—complicated. Once we rearranged the furniture, the room was much more inviting, felt better, and actually looked better. All from repositioning what I already had.
You see, I didn’t have to add to what I had to make my living room “work.” I already had the furniture I needed. Probably more than I needed. I just needed to step back and consider different placement strategies and different emphasis of certain pieces.
You too already have everything you need to live a better life, especially if weight control and finance seem complicated to you. You already know you’re supposed to pare down to a healthy weight and live within your means. To be utterly blunt, you even already know how. But you just can’t seem to turn it all around, can you? At least not in any lasting manner. I know. I’m not a whole lot different from you—just a step or two ahead of you, that’s all.
Would you like to feel better—to live better?
Do you live life with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction? Do you chart your path only to trip over an ill-placed coffee table? Are your plans foiled as if someone rolled a heavy bookcase in your way? Are you trapped in a maze of frustrating activity and push, as if stuck in a room with vital pathways to joy and accomplishment blocked with clutter? Do you feel as if your body is turning into the Blob That Ate Detroit? Are you angry with yourself for your “I give up” attitude about getting back into shape?
Welcome to the world of being fully human, just like the rest of us. You may feel as if you’re on a sinking ship, but I’d wager that if you checked the closest lifeboat you’d find that it’s crammed to the gunwales with other people just like you. People who need an early morning wake-up call and an offer to rearrange their living rooms to get rid of some clutter.
This book will certainly take a look at your living room—and your bedroom and your garage and your kitchen cupboard—as I offer dozens of suggestions that will help you toward much greater fiscal responsibility and, I sincerely hope, a more fit body. That is the how. My aim is to help you toward such efficiency and know-how that responsible finance and weight control become the automatic results of the wise use of your…shall we say…energy.
To be really honest means…making confession whether you can afford it or not; refusing unmerited praise; looking painful truths in the face.AUBREY DE VERE
We will also look at a couple of rooms you carry along with you wherever you go, a couple of rooms that may have had furniture in place for so long that the carpet is permanently dented and the paint has faded. The rooms may be filled with dust or cobwebs, and furniture may be too broken or too shabby to be of any use. Or perhaps you merely need to bring these rooms into the twenty-first century by adding a bit of zip or pizzazz. You may be ready for change.
The rooms I’m talking about are in your mind and in your heart. How long has it been since you’ve rearranged the furniture there?
I thought this book was about ditching…
Hold your horses.
I believe success starts in your mind and in your heart. Visit those rooms. Sit down and look around. Are the doors locked? Blast your way in if need be. This is where you go to honestly find out why you do what you do, whether it is destructive or productive. This is also where you go to find the fortitude and determination to proceed and to succeed. Only when your mind and heart are without clutter (transformed) can you successfully reposition real furniture in any room of your house.
Wonder Man and I have one child—a man, now—our son, Joshua. Josh is married
and has graced us with grandchildren. At this writing, he is close to becoming a
Doctor of Sociology. I admire and respect Joshua for his perseverance and
accomplishment. I have learned much from him, if only by
How I wish I had Joshua’s knowledge, his mind, his education! I would so like to write something profound, to be one of those experts who appear on C-SPAN and speak with lofty language and dish out statistics like lifesavers. Or to sit in a mahogany-lined study and discuss the finer points of the economy over a dainty teacup of Earl Grey. But no can do.
My education came from the School of Hard Knocks. I didn’t graduate from the University of Anyplace. I have been down (and nearly out) and so broke that a gallon of superglue might not have put me back together. I have been a single mom, I have been homeless, and I have been penniless. I have even contemplated ending my life when no hope was in sight. (Didn’t bother to think that out.) And the body issue? I can still hardly look into a mirror or glance at a store window. I’ve been fighting the pudgy-to-fat predicament all of my life.
The best I can do is to leave the lofty language to others and join you at your kitchen table to guzzle Lipton from a chipped mug while discussing the finer points of making your mortgage payment. Or the merits of herb-flavored licorice.
As I’ve learned how to live a better life, I’ve come to admire (or at least learn from) several people.
One fellow is named Wendell Berry. My Son the Doctor brought this prolific writer to my attention. Wendell Berry is a man with unwavering dedication to preserving the wholeness of family and community, “a human being speaking with calm and sanity out of the wilderness,” according to the Washington Post.
Berry writes about stress, ill-health, and what he sees as the destructiveness of American culture. He knows the “why” and goes straight to the heart (and mind) of it. I would like to be like Wendell Berry.
We all know the domestic bliss types. These are women and men who have mastered the art of home-tending, cooking, gardening, building, and more. In other words, these people know what a monkey wrench is and how to use one. They turn out perfect soufflés (as if we make soufflés for dinner any more), pave their own driveways, and successfully grow houseplants. They appear on television regularly and highlight our ineptitude (as if we need reminding). I would like to be like these types, though my home-tending occasionally lines up more with Moe, Larry, and Curly. (Especially when I’m facing a book deadline.)
You’re undoubtedly familiar with the late Erma Bombeck. Erma had a funny way with words that helped us to laugh at ourselves. Her newspaper columns resonated with us as she recounted her resolve to finally decode the remote for the VCR, extract a CD from its case, or harvest penicillin from cheese mold growing in her fridge.
We all liked Erma because Erma was like all of us. Her humor gave us commonality with each other. In her own way, Erma built community. When we read Erma Bombeck’s column, we became part of a clear majority of stressed, imperfect, pudgy—and fully human—neighbors. I would like to be like Erma.
You’re probably not familiar with my other sister, Anne. Annie is not only brilliant and resourceful but also a fitness buff. You know the kind—she can knit a tent with her teeth while pedaling up Mt. Rushmore with fresh bread baking on her bike’s back bumper. Annie is trim, trim, trim. She can lift a ’57 Pontiac with her pinky, leap over a huddle of sleeping dogs on her kitchen floor, and run several thousand miles each day before work. In the dark. Over boulders. With cement blocks strapped to her feet. Backward.
Insofar as the fitness thing is concerned, I am nothing like my sister Anne, whom I also love to death.
Those are a few people whom I admire or have learned from. There is One, however, whom I try hardest to emulate, to copy, to follow. He is the only One who could transform this know-it-all’s mind, heart, and life immeasurably and permanently. Hand in hand with Christ, I began to tentatively walk through the locked doors of my mind and heart, and in Christ I continually strive to find my identity.
I have come upon the happy discovery that
We have much to learn from the words and life of Jesus. When I read His words, I am motivated, hopeful, happy, shamed, determined, and eternally grateful. I can only hope and pray that when I depart this life, others will think of me as a person who was a tiny bit like Jesus. That, to me, will have been a life well lived. A better life, indeed.
These people have helped me learn to be content with life, to ditch diet and budget cares by converting them from exacting duty to simple second nature. They have helped me learn to celebrate the abundance of my blessings. And they have shown me that living well, living a better life, has nothing to do with body image or money. Rather, it’s about living according to God’s purpose for my life, recognizing that regardless of my circumstance, He is in control. It’s about the joy that reality brings, even in the face of hardship or adversity. If I strive toward perfection in anything, it is that.
And now it’s time for us to have a chat. I hope that by the time our conversation is over, you too will be able to ditch your diet and your budget and to simply live a better, more calmly efficient and Christ-driven life.
The alarm went off 15 minutes ago. You are too comfortable to move. Your mind kicks into gear: If you cut time from your shower and eat on the fly (or don’t eat at all—you are trying to lose weight), you can coax another 15 minutes into your slumber. Fifteen turns into 20, forcing you to go from 0 to 60. You fling the blankets back and hit the floor with a thud, pausing long enough to wonder if your morning dash qualifies for aerobic activity. After all, you have jolted your heart—along with the rest of your body—as you bounded from bed.
Sounds of Clifford the Big Red Dog inform you that Junior is already camped in front of PBS Kids. A rap on Missy’s door begins the ugly morning ritual of dragging her from bed; her sister wakes up loud and clear with a wail from her crib, diaper no doubt sodden because of the long draft from her sippy cup late last night.
“Mommy will be right there, Precious,” you call, as Missy feigns a comatose state. You need coffee. Once again, Hubby-Dearest has left for his morning jog without starting the coffeemaker, and this monumental act of disregard for your needs sets you off as sure as that alarm clock. Groping around the kitchen, you find the jar of coffee beans is empty, but yesterday’s coffee (and filter and grounds) is full. As you tend to this, the soggy filter rips, depositing old coffee grounds on the bottom of an already mildewed filter tray. Yum. Junior shouts from the TV room for his favorite cereal. Precious is now up to a shriek, and Missy remains comatose.
Once you’ve emptied an entire kitchen cupboard to find more beans and the coffee is brewing, you pick up your pace. As you barge toward the demanding wail, you make a few demands yourself: “Get up! This is the last time I’m going to tell you!”
Junior drops a dozen eggs on the floor as he raids the fridge for milk for his cereal—the cereal box, after all, now within easy reach on the counter from your coffee bean search. Not to worry: Barky the cocker spaniel to the rescue.
Diaper changed, Precious gets deposited on the bathroom floor to play with assorted towels, toys, pot lids, and clothes while you hop into the shower, screaming at Missy, who finally materializes in the bathroom door with a demand of her own: “I’ve got to go. Now!”
To be continued…
Excerpted from Ditch the Diet and the Budget…and Find a Better Way to Live By Cynthia Yates. Copyright © 2004 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.