Over the last year I’ve been slowly working my way through a book, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I say slowly because I’m only halfway through it!

I got the book and the accompanying workbook out of the library and dug in deep. (I’m too cheap to buy them!) I found I had a lot to learn about boundaries, but I have felt God gently showing me a lot about myself and the way I was raised, and also about my parents.

There were some things I held against them over the years, things that became my own battle cry to “never be like my parents”, until (shock) I heard their words come out of my mouth.

I can’t explain it any other way than that God supernaturally brought understanding to my mind, helping me see the way life had molded my parents based on all I know about their childhoods.

I’ve had a lot of light bulb moments in the past year. I’ve learned to see the reasons behind their inability to set good boundaries for me, to teach me how to set them for myself. And as I remember the way my world was as I grew up, I’ve had a lot of questions answered by diving into this book.

I’ve also rejoiced when answering questions showing the good sides of my parents. Though it’s necessary to examine the negative, the book really does balance it with applauding the good things I’ve learned and the people who have helped me.

This week I’ve journaled about how my parents taught me to make good decisions, and to learn the value of delayed gratification.

And it all comes down to the perfect leather jacket.

I was about 17 years old, working my first job, driving a car a family friend had donated to the preacher’s kids (my older sister and myself). It was made the year I was born.

I have to clarify. This was my first job working for a business that gave me a weekly paycheck.

Because one thing my parents excelled at was living within their means. Which meant that they didn’t splurge on lots of extras for us four kids.

I never really thought about it until I was grown and married, but we were probably poor. The thing is, it never felt that way. We had a home and food and clothes and love, and I never lacked for anything I truly needed.

And there’s the secret.

Of course when I was little I didn’t know the difference between a want and a need. But that was one of the first and best lessons I ever learned. As we got older, Dad especially impressed on us that they were taking care of our needs, but our wants were up to us to supply.

He helped out by taking us strawberry picking at a friend’s patch once school was out in June, and we set up shop in the front of our big barn. He made signs painted to show our hours, what we sold, and if we were open or closed.

We kids sat out in the barn, sold the baskets of berries, restocked the table, collected the money, and cleaned up when we sold out.

This led to getting more produce already picked later in the summer: tomatoes, squash, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, and the season ender, corn.

In this home produce stand was where I found my love of numbers and counting, handling money, calculating and distributing the profits that were left after we repaid Dad for the produce costs.

I excelled at this. I don’t remember what my siblings loved most about the stand, but next to talking to the customers and adding up their purchases, the hands-on economics class was a thrill for me.

I would keep track of how much time each person spent working the stand. Down to the minute. And once we had paid Dad, we took 10% off the top and put that in what we called the “family fund”, which was to be used for whatever we all agreed on. Maybe a trip to Cedar Point or extras during our annual trip home to North Carolina.

The rest was divided between us kids based on how many hours had been worked and what percentage of the time was spent doing the work.

We each then tithed off our profits, and the rest we could spend on whatever we wanted! My favorite was to get tart ‘n tinies, which were miniature Sweetarts in the shape of little pellets once in a while, play a few games at Cedar Point, and save the rest.

I was probably 9 or 10 when we started working the stand, and it lasted past when I started that “real” job. It was no wonder that within a year I was asked to do the weekly inventory and cash reconciliations, once they learned how good I was at handling those details of the restaurant where I worked.

And so finally, after years of socking most of my money away in a savings account, I found myself at the local mall in a trendy clothing store, smelling the rich warmth of that brown leather jacket.

It fit me perfectly! Not too baggy across the shoulders, but with enough room to move my arms. I remember the feel of the silky lining as they slipped into it the first time I tried it on. Cool and smooth and luxurious.

As my hands warmed the leather the fragrance of it teased my senses. It was similar to the musky cologne I liked.

I had to have it.

So I did what people did in the 70’s. I put it on layaway. I put a small deposit down, and then I would need to come and pay a minimum amount every week until I paid it off.

Only then could I take it home.

That first week I described it to my family and friends. I couldn’t wait to go “visit” it the first time and make my payment, trying it on again to be sure it fit as good as I remembered.

Meanwhile life was moving on, and I was looking at going to college. And starting to figure the cost, because my parents couldn’t help much.

And I had to make one more trip. To say goodbye.

Lots of “if only’s” came to mind for several months after I got my money back. The thoughts of how I would have looked walking into school or church, the envy or congratulations from my peers.

That perfect leather jacket wasn’t the only thing I’ve wanted and not gotten. But it was the first. And the lessons it has taught me have carried me safely past potentially bad financial decisions.

Because, like I eventually had to say that last time in the store, I can still hear my Dad saying, “Is this something you really need, or is it something you only want to have?”

And those are words I don’t mind hearing come out of my own mouth.

Thanks, Dad. You taught me well.