given in the
STERLING PARK WARD
ASHBURN, VA STAKE
I appreciate those who have just spoken. Thank you, Sisters, for your words of inspiration and motivation. As I mentioned in my testimony during the June Fast Meeting, I am speaking today by assignment of the Spirit. The Spirit chose the day and the topic. I would have preferred to speak on a different topic. In one last attempt to defer the subject, let me talk about something else for a minute. I want to recount some of our family life during the four months of mid-February through mid-May of this year.
Our oldest son, Stan, lives with us and attends George Mason University. We let him drive one of our cars while he is in school. During a February snow storm he lost control of the car and hit a guard rail. There was body damage, but the car was drivable. And, oh, he was not hurt. While the car was in the body shop, we rented a car to keep us all going. We did not, however, let him drive the rental. This meant he had to drive either my car or Janet's van. One evening he took my car out. As he pulled out of the garage he backed into Janet's van that was in the driveway, rendering the passenger door unopenable and leaving a crease in the side of my car.
So in the period of about three weeks all three of our cars were in accidents with body damage. Our insurance company was not happy with us. Nor were we happy that we had to rotate each car through the body shop.
While in the midst of fixing all three cars, we needed to replace the clutch in my car. The week our last car came out of the bodyshop, the spring on our garage door broke. It had to be special ordered and installed because it came as a self-contained unit. That same week our furnace broke and we had to have it repaired. The week after our garage door and furnace were fixed, our garbage disposal broke and had to be replaced. About a week later our washing machine started leaking water into our basement. The only damage was sudsy water on our food storage--good thing it was in plastic and metal containers. We did have to replace the washing machine, however.
Just about that time, the brakes on Janet's van were squeaking so badly we had them checked. You guessed it--we needed to replace the brakes. About two weeks later her car started dripping coolant. The water pump had given up the ghost and we had to have that replaced. The following week one of Chelsea's friends at school accidentally dropped and broke my digital camera--one week after the warranty expired. One week later, as I got in my car to go to work, my rear tire was flat due to very thin tread. We ended up replacing two tires.
Oh, and did I mention that during this time period I had hernia surgery and missed three weeks of work? Oh, and did I mention that college tuition and book costs were due for our 20-year old daughter at BYU-Idaho? That was the one expense for which we had planned. Boy, was I relieved when that four-month period was over. And then while I was preparing this talk, we had to have Janet's van towed twice -- once for a bad alternator and once for a bad battery and battery cables. And, my car had another flat, on Maryland Route 50 just inside the beltway. I am getting good at changing flat tires in my suit.
II. INTO EACH LIFE . . .
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in a poem (about my family) entitled The Rainy Day said,
Into each life some rain must fall.
There is, however, a better quote to fit my family's situation. This one is from the 1914 Morton Salt advertisement which featured a young girl with an umbrella and the revised medieval saying:
When it rains, it pours.
Both of these, I suspect were inspired by the saying in the Sermon on the Mount:
[The Father] sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
These three quotes remind me of the testimony Sister Amy Bangerter gave last month when she said (as best as I can remember):
A life without bumps is abnormal.
What do we understand from these sayings? Difficulties are a normal part of life. Difficulties are what we signed up for when we came to this earth. When I was going through the littany of difficulties my family experienced last spring, did any of it sound familiar to you? Of course it did. Some of you may have thought I was telling YOUR life story. Indeed, I was telling everyone's life story. This is what the bumper sticker is trying to tell us when it says, "Life Happens."
III. THE GATHERING STORM
So are my family's troubles over? We don't know what is going to hit us next, but we do know something will. Are your family's troubles over? You don't know what will hit next, but you do know something will. We can, however, make some educated guesses about what difficulties are coming, and for which we can prepare. Let me talk a little about some of these difficulties.
House prices in our area have more than doubled in the last three years. This means that for those of us who own homes, our property taxes have more than doubled in the same time. Janet and I have discovered that the increase in property taxes exceeds the cost of living increases associated with our salary. Thus, our net disposable income has declined. In fact, we are now almost paying as much on a monthly basis for property taxes as we paid on a monthly basis for our first mortgage. Do we think house prices are going to reverse direction and go down? No. In fact, most of us believe the prices are going to continue increasing. This means for those of you who own homes, your property taxes will go up. Plan on it. Janet and I have already started to set aside the amount we expect our taxes will go up next year.
Those of you who rent are not exempt. Your landlords have to pay the increases in property taxes and will pass it along to you. We have recently seen that as leases come up for renewal, rents have taken a shocking increase. Get ready, it is coming.
Housing costs, then, is the first thing we anticipate will go up faster than our income over the next several years. The second thing is transportation costs. As the Chinese and Indian economies grow, their demand for oil and gas will grow tremendously. As any freshman Economics student can tell us, as demand rises faster than supply, prices will rise. We can expect gas prices will continue to rise. You know it is getting bad when gas is as expensive per gallon as soda pop.
We have also noticed over the years that school activities are getting more expensive per child. Ten years ago, a big trip at Park View High School was to go for two days to Richmond or to Annapolis. Over the last two years, one group spent a week in Florida and a week in South Carolina for competitions. The cost per student is $500 or more per trip. Each succeeding year, organizers feel compelled to outdo the previous year's activity. The community tolerates it because parents want the best for their kids. Not only that, Park View is--in a sense--in competition with the other high schools in the county which serve much more affluent communities. Park View does not want to be left behind. It feels the need to provide the same opportunities the other high schools do. This pull to keep up with the other schools cascades down to the middle school and grade schools. Not only do kids get more expensive as they get older, kids of the same age are getting more expensive as the county becomes more affluent. So, in addition to housing and transportation costs, we know child-rearing costs are rising faster than our income.
Oh, and did I mention that college costs are rising faster than inflation? OK, we will try to ignore that for right now.
IV. WHAT TO DO
Ok, so what are we to do? There are at least four categories of rising expenses that we all will face over the next 12 to 24 months
Janet and I believe that 20 years ago we were led by the Spirit to Sterling and to this ward. Indeed, one might say the Spirit assigned us to live here. When it came time for us to get a bigger house, we again felt prompted to stay in Sterling Park. We sold and settled on our old Dogwood Street house before we had a new place in the Park in to which to move. We did look at a couple of places outside the Park, but had that uneasy feeling that let us know those places were not the Lord's plan for our family. As the time approached for us to vacate our old house, we began nervously planning to move our stuff into storage and take up residence in a motel. About that time our current Beech Road house came open.
It came open on a Sunday morning. Bro. Hartung in the Algonkian Ward knew we had been looking and gave us a tip that morning about a house he had listed the night before. This was a dilemma for us, because Janet and I had vowed not to do any house shopping on the Sabbath. We called our real estate agent and asked if he could take a look at the house for us. After looking at the house--which had several other interested parties looking as well--our agent recommended to us that we put a contract on it. After praying, Janet and I felt good about having our agent put a contract on a house we had not seen. It has turned out to be a wonderful house, a wonderful neighborhood, with a wonderful ward. Our house was a gift from the Lord to our family. The bottom line is that Janet and I have a testimony that our family is supposed to be in this community and in this ward.
This then, is the first responsibility of every family in our ward--to gain a testimony that Sterling is where the Lord has assigned us to live. Once we know we are supposed to be in Stering, we can then say, with Nephi, that:
1 Nephi 3:7 - . . . [we] will go and [live in Sterling] which the Lord hath commanded, for [we] know that the Lord giveth no commandment [to live in Sterling] unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for [us to] accomplish [living in Sterling].
Knowing the Lord has commanded us to live in this very expensive area gives us the faith necessary to make the required sacrifices so the Lord can prepare a way for us to live in this area. Let me say that again so it sinks deep into your souls. Knowing the Lord has commanded us to live in this very expensive area gives us the faith necessary to make the required sacrifices so the Lord can prepare a way for us to live in this area. Not only will the Lord prepare the way, but we will also have peace and happiness living where we do. Whatever sacrifices we make to live in this area will be more than offset by the blessings that come from doing the Lord's will.
Now, before I leave this point, let me cite another verse and make a quick comment.
DC 82:10 - I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
If any of us have moved into this area without the Lord's guidance--or against His guidance--there is no guarantee that we will be able to support ourselves here.
V. A RIGHTEOUS PLAN
Not only should we expect to have difficulties, we should plan for them. Some of us think that's why credit cards were invented--so we don't have to plan for life's difficulties. We just erase the difficulty by putting it on the credit card. Let me suggest that reliance on credit card debt is not a plan. So, what is a better plan than living off credit cards and refinanced mortgages?
We love to sing, "We thank thee O God, for a prophet to guide us in these latter days." (Hymns #19). So what guidance has the prophet given us to live in expensive Sterling in these latter days? The prophet said in October 1998 (Gordon B. Hinckley, To the Boys and to the Men, Ensign, Nov. 1998, 51.)
So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings. . .I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage. This is a part of the temporal gospel in which we believe. May the Lord bless you, my beloved brethren, to set your houses in order. If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts. That's all I have to say about it, but I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable.
Elder Wirthlin, an Apostle whom we sustain as a prophet, seer, and revelator said in April of 2004 (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Earthly Debts, Heavenly Debts, Ensign, May 2004, 40.)
Some debts such as for a modest home, expenses for education, perhaps for a needed first car may be necessary. But never should we enter into financial bondage through consumer debt without carefully weighing the costs.
From these two quotes, I understand the Prophets' guidance in these latter-days to be: First, we should only borrow in three narrow circumstances
Second, if we have daily living expense debts--which means any debts other than for the three things mentioned by Elder Wirthlin, we should make the necessary sacrifices required to pay them off quickly. These sacrifices might include taking very modest vacations, having very modest Christmases, reduce clothing purchases, buying used instead of new cars, refraining from eating out, and deferring furniture and electronics purchases for several years. Moreover, we should pay off our house, education, and first car loans on schedule or earlier.
Third, we should have a cash reserve. Let me suggest a rule of thumb. We should have enough disposable cash on hand to pay our expenses for 4 to 6 months. For those of us with $1500-$2000/month mortgage and rent payments, this cash reserve should be in the $10,000 - $15,000 range. The prophet promised us that that even if the reserve is smaller than this, we will have shelter and peace. A prophet's promise is something not to be taken lightly.
Parents, how do we teach our children these three principles? First, by example and second by instruction. We expect every baptized member to pay a full tithing. This means at age 8, parents help children pay a full tithing. They do this by helping children manage their money. Similarly, I suggest that by age 8 parents establish a custodial savings account for their children. And just as importantly, every time a child sets aside 10 percent for tithing on money they receive, parents should help their children to set aside a reasonable percentage to put into savings. Just as tithing is not about the money, neither is helping our children save about the money. It is about following the prophet by building good practices within our families.
For seven years Janet and I have been saving to buy a new car. We now have enough to buy a new car. When our daughter Brooke returns home from college at the end of the summer we will need another car. Some of the local car dealers have been offering great incentives to buy a new car. These incentives make buying a new car really attractive right now. However, buying a new car would draw down our reserve below the amount I have suggested in this talk. As Janet and I have discussed and prayed about buying a new car, the Spirit has told us to wait. How long a wait I do not know, but wait we will.
This is what I mean about living in Sterling. The Lord assigned us to live here and He will make it possible for us to live here. But we must follow His guidance as given by the modern prophets to make ends meet. He knows what is in store for our family, even though we do not.
The Stake President reports that fast offering expenditures are up in the Stake compared to last year. Our ward is no different. We, too, are expensing more fast offering this year than we did last year. It is my hope that none of us will need to avail ourselves of fast offering help because we ignored the prophet's warnings. If we need help, it is better to ask, knowing we have kept the prophet's guidance.
Let me conclude with one last story. Several years ago, before I was the Bishop, there was a family living in this ward, but now no longer does. This family exercised a lot of faith and paid off their living expense debt. They had accumulated some food storage. They had even set aside a cash reserve for a rainy day. Well guess what? Their rainy day came. The father of the family was laid off and was out of work for over six months. In spite of their dire straits, they did not once seek financial assistance from the church. I was so impressed. They were a living testimony of what following the Prophet's guidance in these latter-days can do for a family.
I know a number of other families in this ward who also live by the principles I have discussed. Not only can they rest comfortably as they go to sleep, they have peace and harmony in their homes beyond what one would expect. The Lord keeps his promises.
There are also a number of familes among us that have some improving to do. I do not know who all of these families are, but I pray for you nearly every day. May our Heavenly Father's blessings be upon these families as they struggle to come into compliance with the temporal gospel. Rich spiritual rewards await them. I bear witness of the principles I have discussed today. I know President Hinckley is a true prophet of God.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.