Sunday, January 15, 2023

Building Kingdom Dreams: Step One

They say that the first step to building a dream is to talk about it. Dreaming itself has been challenging for me since we had our miscarriage five years ago. There is something about the poignancy of a reality unmet that can cause your heart to close off from dreaming because the act of hope is too painful. When a space where there was once hope gets filled with grief or disappointment, self protection and assuming a position of realism feels safest. 

In 2022, through a lot of ups and downs and the birth of our daughter, God has shown me that his heart is for me to open again, hope again, and dream big. Ironically, he is re-awakening dreams that were given to Jake and I 8 years ago. 


Dream One: As a result of life experiences, Jake and I are passionate about having a healthy marriage and encouraging people we know to reach for the same. We don’t want couples to just be married, we want to see couples thrive in partnership together. From the start of our marriage, we have committed to learning and growing together. I read the books, Jake talks through the concepts with me, and we prioritize our time and money into honey trips and marriage conferences to continually keep our marriage on track. Our goal is to always pursue a thriving marriage not just surviving one.


Dream Two: After having Camden, Jake was given a dream to teach young men trades and skills to empower them to provide for themselves as well as serve others. When Jake shared this with me, God gave me a word that we are to “raise a new generation of men.” This was only confirmed after the birth of our second son in 2016. Our heart is to encourage healthy masculinity in a world where it is under attack. Trust me, just writing that feels like I am asking for trouble. We want our sons to grow up in a world where they trust that their inherent nature is not wrong but a gift. We want them to be confident in their strength and abilities, as well as their gentleness and emotion. 


While I could write so much more about the layers of those dreams, today, I want to write about something different. I want to write about the process of building a kingdom dream. It cannot be compared to anything else. You see, we were entrusted with these dreams 8 years ago and for the last seven have not been in a position of any kind to make them happen. We have simply been stewarding them and building upon them as the Lord gives more direction and glimpses into what they may look like. 


Unbelievably, over the course of the last year, we have begun to sense a holy anticipation for what is to come. There is a spiritual momentum building that I can physically feel. And yet, I told Jake, that I almost feel suddenly paralyzed. I know that God is moving. I feel the momentum building. I can see the things he is putting together to cause these dreams to come to fruition. Regardless, we must approach them one step at a time, and now it feels as though I can’t move. 


I’ll admit that I thought God would move on the young men mentorship dream before he moved on the marriage mentorship dream. After all, we are mid-thirty somethings who will be married 12 years in April. Don’t people expect to seek wisdom from the wise sages who have been married longest? Enter, imposter syndrome. 


I believe that the best way for me to show how capable God is is to let you all into the process. I don’t want to just show up and look back and say, “look what God has done!” I want to start with, “Watch and see! Look what God is doing (in real time).” “Watch him take two fallible humans and make something incredible in HIS time.”


So this is step one. The step where I tell you, God is moving but I’m unbelievably nervous that things are finally happening. The step where he is encouraging us to move forward in marriage mentorship and I feel like an imposter. The step where I tell you that I feel unbelievably unqualified and still God is calling us. The step where I ask you to pray for my faith. Pray that I remember that God himself is the stirring, he is the anticipation, and aside from His spirit, none of this would be happening. Pray that my faith remembers that His ways are not our ways (so I shouldn’t be surprised) and His thoughts are not our thoughts (so it is ok for me to feel confused). 


And finally, please pray that Jake and I don’t get in the way of letting God move. Pray that we have the courage to jump when God says “jump”, hold when he says “wait” and trust that His spirit in us, is capable of bringing lasting and positive change to marriages around us. Pray for God to ordain every step of this process, from development to funding, from execution to the miraculous! 


I look forward to bringing you along and giving you a glimpse into behind the scenes of building kingdom dreams. Surprising things are bound to happen and I can’t wait to give God the glory for it all.


Friday, April 22, 2022

If God takes you to Egypt, he will bring you back.

 Genesis 15:13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end, they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.)”

I’ve been reading in the Old Testament and the connection between the story-line of Joseph and the statement made to Abraham about his descendants being in captivity for 400 years has me reeling.

Some backstory, Joseph was Abraham’s great-great-grandson. Abraham and Sarah had Isaac, Isaac and Rebekah had Jacob, Jacob and Rachel had Joseph. Granted, there were a bazillion other children in that same mix but I’m focusing on Joseph so stay with me.

Abraham & Sarah àIsaac (and Rebekah) à Jacob (and Rachel) à Joseph

Chew on this: Abraham and his family go on to have lots and lots of babies. The whole time, Abraham fully knows that his descendants will be slaves in captivity at some point. By the time his family ends up going to another land (Egypt), there are four generations established.

Do you think that in the back of his mind, Abraham always had this looming thought of the guaranteed captivity for his family? 

At the end of the story of Joseph we see that all his brothers and their very large families, come to Egypt so that Joseph can help take care of them during the famine. Genesis 46 tells us that Jacob set out for Egypt with all his possessions and family. 

Before Jacob agrees to go to Egypt, however, we see God himself call out to Jacob and say, “I am God, the God of your father,” the voice said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again. You will die in Egypt, but Joseph will be with you to close your eyes.” Remember, Jacob was Abraham's grandson, and Joseph's father.

Jacob went based upon the promise of God. He also went because he desperately wanted to see his son Joseph again, whom he thought was dead.

Fast forward and we see that Joseph lived for 17 years after bringing his entire family to Egypt. In the scheme of how long people lived in Biblical times, this was a blink. He only had 17 years with the family that he missed for most of his life and still it was a gift.

We all know Joseph as the dreamer. He wore the colorful coat, had a dream that made his older brothers jealous, was sold into slavery, went to prison, and then eventually went to Egypt and helped millions of people. He helped these people because of his ability to dream and trust God. His life was blessed in every season, including being a slave and being jailed.

The last request that was made by Joseph was this, “When God comes to help you and lead you back, you must take my bones with you.” The tradition of sharing history has me convinced that Jacob had told Joseph about the "someday" captivity. I imagine that after seeing all the Egyptian people become slaves to Pharoah during the famine, Joseph could see the writing on the wall for his people before he died.

Let’s agree that Joseph was well aware of this guaranteed captivity for his people at some point.

Do you think that made him question the value of his dream?

Do you think it made him question the legitimacy of all the good he had done in the process of saving Egypt during a famine? I dare say, it didn’t.

Let’s talk about Jacob, Joseph’s father. He wanted to see his son again before he died. I think he also was aware of the captivity that his descendants would face.

Did it take away the joy in being reunited with his son even though it was in a different place than he expected? I don’t think so.

All day today I’ve been wondering why I couldn’t get this thought out of my head, but what about the upcoming captivity? They had to see it coming!

And I’ve finally just realized it.

DESPITE circumstances not always pointing to the best outcome, they still pursued reconciliation. 

DESPITE facing captivity, they still lived life. 

DESPITE knowing that moving from the land of their ancestors would be painful and dangerous, they pursued survival.

DESPITE being jailed, Joseph kept dreaming.

DESPITE thinking his son was dead, Jacob held hope.

What is keeping you from dreaming?
What is keeping you from reconciliation?
What is keeping you from living loved in this current moment of your life?

How do you need to fill in the blank? 

Despite _________________, I am going to continue dreaming/living/hoping.

If God’s people, only two to three generations removed from the promises made to Abraham could move forward in pursuing God’s will, continue to dream despite looming captivity, and move to unknown and foreign lands because God was with them, what is it that you need to have faith to do right now?

Do you need the faith to stay where you are? Even if it feels like jail.

Do you need the faith to go? Even if it feels scary.

We cannot discontinue living our life, seeking joy, doing good, or discounting our value, all because we don’t know how it will all work out. Instead, we need to cling to the words that God told Jacob, “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will bring you back again.”

And finally, let's highlight 11 very important words that immediately followed the warning about captivity, "...and in the end, they will come away with great wealth."

In my head, the part guaranteeing captivity for 400 years sounds like a fog-horn. Maybe, though, after all this time thinking about this story, I've got it all wrong. And just like in a game of telephone, the most important part sticks. Maybe instead of emphasizing the captivity, they emphasized the promise

Instead of focusing on the hard parts - focus on the promises! 

If God takes you to Egypt, he will bring you back again. Don’t stop dreaming.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

What's the point?

 Isaiah 55: 8-12

“I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s decree.

For as the sky soars high above the earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think. Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seeds for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.

“So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.”

I’ve been quiet for a while now. I’ve been under the impression that being quiet is doing my faith and my family a favor. I’ve been quiet because there are so.many.voices everywhere and I feel as though I am doing people a favor in keeping my opinions and thoughts to myself. Who on earth needs another voice right now?

I’ve been quiet about all the ways that God has worked in our life because at some point, people must tire of it. I’ve been quiet because I’ve been reflecting and much of my reflection has caused me to feel a bit foolish.

Looking over the last five years of my life, a lot of change happened. Service happened, growth took place, shifts happened, losses happened, and lessons were learned that I know I personally needed. There were lessons learned in walking in obedience to wherever God led that hurt. Ultimately, I have been feeling as though my life looks no different now than it did before I began to walk in leaps of faith those years ago. Even though I know in my heart of hearts that every change, every shift, was prayerful and the direct result of moving when God said move, staying when he said stay and leaving when he said leave. Every job I have had is the result of a conversation over coffee, no formal interviews, no fancy resumes, just coffee. Only God can do that. Still, what was the point? How do people see God in my life if nothing really changed?

We are currently doing a study with some friends regarding Joseph’s life and when we got into discussion my voice trembled as I confessed that I am struggling to see the point in these last few years. It feels as though we are right back where we were when we started all of this. From outward appearances and by worldly standards, our life still looks the same it did then, if not less appealing. I admitted to feeling like I was Joseph in prison, forgotten, without seeing fruit of my journey. I’ll also be fully transparent in mentioning that, being pregnant, makes me worried about how much I lose myself in the first year of a new child’s life and while that is beautiful and a worthy sacrifice to make, historically speaking it tends to be a hard season for me.

My friends listened intently and let me express my feelings and then in grace moved forward into encouragement. As one person pointed out, without the last five years, I wouldn’t even know or be friends with any of the people sitting in that room. Another expressed that while it doesn’t seem comforting this side of heaven, she genuinely believes there are people who have been encouraged by my heart and transparency. These people have closely bore witness to every part of the last five years. Each one of them in that room knew us so well that they were able to say without a doubt that they know the genuine desire of my heart is to point people to Jesus and glorify God, no matter what. Even in my quiet season.

I haven’t been able to wrap my head around it, but I am humbled. I am humbled by the fact that God asked Jake and I to live unapologetically in pursuit of his will for our life that our now closest friends, are 100% able to name the deepest desire of my heart and remind me of it during a moment of disillusionment. I am grateful that these friends helped me to see things that I hadn’t realized. I am thankful for friends that see more pieces of the puzzle in my life than I do.

Perhaps you are like me right now and you are under the impression that there has not been any purpose in a particular season of your life. Perhaps you can’t see the forest through the trees. Where’s the fruit? What was the point? Life feels like it is going a bit backwards. Yet, today I have experienced a course correction in my view. Even if it is only 1 degree, it’s a shift and it is because of people in my life from a season that I didn’t think had any fruit. You see, once again Isaiah 55:8 rings true. God’s ways are not mine. His thoughts are not mine. I can’t begin to know or understand the reasons he has us walk the paths we walk, and the moment I decided to stop being “quiet” about what I am walking through with God, he brought people in to help me see things differently.

What if the fruit you’re looking for is not the kind that God has for you? As Ann Voskamp says, “God doesn’t call us to an impressive life – He calls us to an important one. A life of importance isn’t found in a life that’s impressive, but in a life that presses into the ways and heart of Jesus.”

This side of heaven, I may never know the reasons for each step God asked us to take but I know that if I shift the way I search for fruit, maybe I’ll find some. I need to stop looking for worldly fruit; status, notoriety, financial gain, titles and start to look for fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness. When I look back with these lenses, I see it. I see the lessons that led to patience and a gentler posture toward people. I see changes that led to more joy and peace.

As much as I have convinced myself that being quiet is helpful in some way, last night I learned that it isn’t doing me any favors. And maybe, just maybe, if I share my walk transparently, it might show someone else that we all don’t have to have it figured out because, like it or not, God does. Or better yet, sharing reveals some of the very best fruit of all: solid relationships forged in faith.

Here's to feeling foolish, investing in family, forging friendships, not having all the answers, and sharing our story even when it seems boring. May God be glorified in every little part of it, including every winding step through the forest.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Living Loved

Today is the first day in five years that I can say I have no external obligations vying for my attention, my efforts, my production, or my energy.

After 5 years, I stepped down from serving on the board of a non-profit that will forever have my heart. It was the last thing for me to release in terms of public service and volunteer activities after more than a year of letting things go. It was a difficult decision but it was necessary.

As I said to a friend, I feel completely untethered from expectations from anyone, anything, and any cause that was previously a part of my life. It is as though I am on the first page of a new chapter in my life and in my heart. I get to solely focus on my relationship with God, my family, and the work he has in my life. I am not a volunteer, board member, or leader in any capacity in this season and I’ve never felt more at peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly support philanthropy, good causes, and service but within the last five years God has slowly revealed a sobering truth to my heart. I struggle with being a people pleaser. For the majority of my life, I have worried more about people’s opinions of me than God’s. I have found a large source of my identity in things that were never meant to be defining factors in the first place. Aside from the things I would “do” I didn’t know who I was. Even worse, the truth is that I did not believe I was worthy of love if I was not producing. I am still working to overcome this mindset.

This moment feels foreign, backwards almost. I am 35.

Shouldn’t I be most concerned with improving my community and the community that my family is a part of?

Shouldn’t I have a well-established resume and skillset used in a fast-pace forward moving industry?

Shouldn’t I be using my story to make a difference in the life of someone else?

The answer to all those questions above is yes. All those things are important; however, I have realized that I cannot continue to prioritize those things because I lost myself in the process.

Who am I if I am not a volunteer?

Who am I if I am not a leader?

Who am I if I am not (insert title)?

Who am I if I don't produce anything?

What value do I have to society if I don't have major outputs? 

From now on, how do I answer the question, what’s new in life? How are you? What are you guys up to these days?

Historically, after the typical, “we are good,” or “life is fine,” response, inevitably I would begin to highlight something I was doing in my life. I would mention some way that I felt I was producing, something that made me worthy of a person’s time or attention, some cause I was involved in that helped keep the world turning on its axis (ha!). Anything that would give a person the impression that I'm not lazy, (or unworthy of their time or conversation). 

So who am I?

The beauty of this season and this chapter is that in every part of it, I am me. I am learning that my giftings, skills, quirks, passions and worth won’t disappear if they are not being used in the capacity that I or the world expect them to be on display.

I am learning that there are people in my life who love me as a human ‘being’ not a human ‘doing.’

I am learning how to live loved, not earn love. 

Last Sunday at church, the worship lyric was “to love is to be loved.”

This morning, the verse of the day was Luke 6:43-45 and the portion that stood out the most was “You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you ARE, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

The only expectation I have in this moment is the expectation to experience God. The expectation that God will love me for my presence and not my productivity.

I want to learn and embody what it means to be valued and loved simply because I exist. I want to learn how to love my husband more like that. I want to love my kids more like that. I want to love others more like that.

In this next chapter of life, I pray love leads, and is received, from an overflow in my heart and I finally learn that I am worthy and valued just as God created me. Here comes a beautiful adventure! 


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

2021: Crabby with God


2021 has been an eventful year and I admit that the year has made me crabby and at times very angry at God. My mom’s cancer diagnosis felt like icing on the cake. In full transparency I am aware that all the other things that have happened pale in comparison to my mom fighting for her life. The crescendo to all of this is material and things are just things and we have some beautiful stories as a result of issues this year but mom having cancer was a different story.

Although I’ve been crabby and upset (yes, I know that God loves me and pursues me in my suffering), the hardest part of all of this is how humbling it has been. I have had friends speak to how much they see God moving in my life this year, and the ways in which he must be “preparing me” for something and I don’t see it. It is all I can do to see one day in front of me at a time and be grateful that my kids are healthy and God has given us food on our table, vehicles that run (most of the time), and a roof over our head, and sunshine filled summer days.  Truly, the day to day is beautiful but the big picture feels a bit daunting at times so I stay focused on the now.  

I am not out there “doing anything” to glorify God or highlight how “good” He has been in my life lately. I feel like my attitude this year would have actually had the opposite effect on people's opinion of His role in my life. Nonetheless, God is still using us in this season and isn’t that the irony? I have never felt so humbled by the fact that God still chooses to use someone like me right now. When I say someone like me, I mean, someone who has been crabby and fussy and whining and complaining and hard-hearted for a lot of this year. I told a friend that one of the hardest things about my mom’s diagnosis is that life was normal and then suddenly it wasn’t.  

In my attempt to stay grounded in the day-to-day, I still sit with Jesus, however, before I began reading, I said, “Lord, my focus is limited, I haven’t been getting a lot out of my time with you lately, and truthfully, I am not super into doing this right now.” (Aren’t I just precious? Heck, I’m surprised the Lord didn’t just say, “Ok, I’ll just leave you alone.”) Instead God loves me, and he said, “Ok, just read. I want to show you something.” As I was reading in the new testament, I came to the story of the demoniac. Some people know this as the story of “legion” or the “mob” of demons that possessed one man and then Jesus sent them into a large group of pigs, and they ran off a cliff to their death. 

These were my three observations after reading TWO paragraphs (He didn't mess around and listened when I said I had limited focus):

First, the demons asked God not to send them back to the pit of despair. (Luke 8:31) Woah, even demons don't want to go back to hell. Must be pretty bad. 

Second, after Jesus performed the miracle, the crowds were temporarily in awe but then “Later, a great many people from Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leavetoo much change, too fast, and they were scared.” (Luke 8:37, emphasis mine)

-->I’m sorry, what was I saying about life being normal and then suddenly it was different? God couldn’t possibly be wanting me to see those exact words in the Bible right at this moment, could he? Yeah right, truth is, He's got my number. <--

Lastly, the man who EXPERIENCED healing, the man who experienced the power of Jesus asked Jesus if he could go WITH him. (Luke 8:38) He knew what power and change Jesus could produce and he did not want to let it go.  He had no idea what going with Jesus would entail but he still wanted to be with Him.  

So what? Why do these insights matter? 

Here we are and as much as has happened this year in our lives, even before this year, at the end of the day I have EXPERIENCED the reality of Jesus too much in my life to ask Him to walk away or leave me alone. Despite my emotions and hard heart, despite my discomfort and whining, He continues to pursue me, sit with me, allow me to wrestle and continues to show me that He ultimately is taking care of us. I once again realize that God doesn’t need my production, perfect mood, or any personal effort to be glorified. He deserves all those things from me and more, but He still chooses to use the fussy and barely put together girl to show the rest of you that He is real.  

I’ve decided to begin to write more because it always helps me keep things in perspective and cultivates more gratitude in my heart. As such, please consider this my public service announcement that even though I have been crabby and visibly wrestling with God lately, He isn’t fazed. He isn’t deterred, and He still recklessly pursues my heart and proves He is good, even when I seem (cough cough) ungrateful. 

That’s truly how much He desires to show all of us how loved we are. Amid bad attitudes and temper tantrums, He lovingly remains. Ultimately, I’d rather be WITH Jesus and experience him within difficulty than walk away from Him and fool myself into thinking life is easier without Him.  

Thanks for coming along with me as I try to keep it as real as possible while also letting God do his thing in the midst of life.  I intend to be authentic in this season and I don't believe I do God any favors if I try to hide or mask my true emotions. Writing is therapy for me as well as an opportunity for me to journal God's faithfulness in my life.  I look forward to seeing how God shows up for all of us, in the good, the bad, and the uncomfortable. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Our Budget Journey

Budgeting. It stinks.  It brings you down from the clouds and into reality.  It gives you a realistic picture of some of your worst and least controlled habits and makes you stare your money behaviors in the face.  It’s not fun and most people hate it.  I, however, am a rare bird and really enjoy making a budget.  This post is about finding yourself, whether by choice or otherwise, in a position of financial uncertainty and discusses a starting point. 

Almost 4 years ago, I made the decision to leave my corporate America job and my corporate America salary and our household income was reduced by 60% in a matter of two weeks.  I did not have another job lined up and we had two months’ worth of savings in the bank.  Granted, this was our decision.  We knew it was time for a change in our home although we didn’t know what was ahead.  In hindsight, I can sit here and tell you that what was ahead was three years of intense financial stewardship, some financial hardship, and lots of provision from God (major understatement), and major personal and spiritual pruning.  And while our financial journey was by choice, I realize some of you are not choosing this season and I am sorry for what you are experiencing.  I hope that sharing parts of our journey proves helpful. 

At the very beginning, we had nearly $35,000 worth of debt to our name, which meant 3 or 4 monthly payments that we could no longer afford ranging from car payments to credit cards to medical bills.  We seemed like the average American household.  At the time we needed to get these bills paid and we needed to do it as soon as possible.  So, in full disclosure, we refinanced our house.  How we came up with the idea, I won’t ever know outside of seeing it as a means to an end at the time and as a result of intense prayer asking for wisdom.  In doing so, we essentially rolled multiple debt payments into one affordable monthly mortgage payment.  When we did so, we paid off our credit card, paid off our vehicle and paid off my hospital bill from delivering our second son.  While I realize some people may see this as cheating, we did what we had to at the time to get our living expenses to a place where we could afford them on a monthly basis.  Please note, I am not telling you to refinance your home, but it was a step in the process for us that I don’t want to leave out because it helped us, and I want to be honest.  I also imagine that any avid FPU follower would probably tell me this was the wrong move.  To each their own and for us, it proved to be the very right move at the time. I should also note, this wasn't the end of our debt over this 3 year time period.  It was just the largest portion at the time.

What if you’re not going to refinance your home and use the equity to consolidate debt?  That’s ok, and probably an excellent decision.  Let’s start with the rest of the basics. 

Your first step is learning that NO has now suddenly become your best friend.  No, you can’t buy name brand food.  No, you can’t go out to eat.  No, you can’t run to the grocery store just to pick up a few ingredients you’re missing for that recipe you want to try.  No, you can’t continue that convenient subscription to Honest brand diapers and cleaning supplies (guilty!), or any other product subscription service you are receiving.  No, you can’t keep your cable subscription.  No, you can’t afford that vacation.  No, you don’t need the Netflix subscription even though you’re spending more time at home, still no.   No, you can’t buy your kid another cute holiday outfit or spend tons of money on a themed birthday party.  Just, no. 

Next, look at your monthly spending.  Literally write down every single thing that you spent money on last month, including but not limited to utilities, mortgage, groceries, clothing, restaurants, etc.  Categorize it and then total it.  How much of that was spent from your hard-earned money and how much was bankrolled by a company named Visa, Mastercard, AMEX or Discover?  How much was spent on wants vs needs?  Trust me, you know the definition, but you will fight it with everything inside of you.  Sit with it for a bit.  Highlight all of the money spent on wants and total it. 

Now that you’ve looked at what you spent money on last month, total up the amount of money you actually brought in through income last month.  Are they equal?  Ideally, the money going out ends up being less than the money being brought in, but is that how it worked out?  If you are suddenly without one income you need to base this off of what you are actually currently bringing in or will be bringing in once that job change takes effect (i.e. unemployment, one income, etc.)

For anything that you spent money on in the want category, whether it is one-time shopping or a recurring subscription, can it be stopped or cancelled?  Good, then cancel it.  One day, when you are not up to your eyeballs in debt or your money brought in category is larger than your money going out category you can decide whether you still want to spend money on that item. 

Ok, so how much do you owe other people?  Other people includes banks, credit card companies, friends, family, hospitals…anyone or any entity that you owe money.  This is where it gets real.  This is what you have to focus on stopping.  You can’t keep spending out of someone else’s pocketbook. 

This is where the rubber met the road for us.  We realized what bills we had to pay off on time, all the time and who would send us to collections if we didn’t.  This was car payments, credit cards, and other things like that.  Over the last three years we had some family loans and we had to ask, or we were given permission, to stop payment on those loans until we were caught up with the credit card companies or needed to make ends meet that month, which brings me to my next point.

Humbly accept the help.  In the beginning of this post I wrote about all of the provision from God and I am not kidding.  We were open about where we were, and our friends and family knew how hard we were working to live within our means, and everyone was incredibly supportive.  I can’t even tell you how many gift cards we were sent in the mail or how many times a check or bonus would come through when we were least expecting it.  If those extra funds didn’t go to absolute essential needs, they went straight to paying a bill.  That was it for us, there was not much in between. 

Additionally, we were gifted a lot as a result of the generosity of others.  Two years ago, when it was my birthday, we decided to splurge and go out to eat with a big group of friends.  We knew it was going to be a stretch on our budget, but we went anyways.  After dinner was finished, our friends let us know that they all split the bill for Jake and me.  To this day it was one of the kindest and most meaningful birthday gifts I’ve ever received and brings tears to my eyes.  That isn’t even the only time something like happened but was just one to highlight.  The same goes for family vacations.  Many of our trips were either completely paid for or highly subsidized by family members that cared more about us being there than our ability to afford the trip and as a result we have precious family memories.  And hear me when I say, it took us a long time to be ok with accepting their generosity for the gift that it was and is to this day.

Get creative with gift giving.  This was very hard.  In order to live within our means and save money we had to tailor our spending on gifts for friends, family and even our own children.  I was not able to buy that item that would be perfect for my friend, or sister, or mom, on a whim.  For our nieces and nephews, we did coupon books.  For my sister and brother-in-law, we offered childcare.  Things that provided quality time but did not cost us money.  For others we simply agreed that both of us would not spend the money because we couldn’t and shouldn’t.  For our own kids, Jake and I saved our own personal gift cards and used them on our kids when the holidays came around.  If you are a gift giver – this is a challenge.  This is also hard when you are on the receiving end of a lot of generosity.  Trust me, it is refining and gives you a good glimpse into personal pride. 

Humbly ask for help. The first year that we were in this we learned we would have to sign up for health insurance on the public marketplace, so I went ahead and filled out the application and then realized we needed to pay the $600 monthly payment up front.  It crushed me.  There was no way we could afford it but there was no way we could go without having insurance.  We were already in the red, so I had to ask someone for help.  In tears, I dialed my sister (since we already owed my parents money) and asked her if she and her husband would be able to loan us the money.  I promised time after time on the phone call that I would pay her back in a reasonable amount of time and I even created a payment spreadsheet for them to see so we could be held accountable. (Note: if you absolutely must borrow money – please hold yourself accountable.  It is not worth losing a relationship over money.) She was willing and we eventually paid them back, but it was at a rate of $20/month until we had a windfall and could pay it off entirely.  I can’t tell you the amount of times both sets of our parents helped us and carried us by grace and generosity.  Paying off our personal loans to them at the end of all of this was the most incredible feeling. 

Take the side jobs.  Both Jake and I worked multiple jobs in the last three years.  While I can say that Jake is one of the most talented workers I’ve ever known, and lots of people are seeking his skillset, somehow there was a need for my skills as well.  Be open to opportunities when they present themselves.  This doesn’t mean you have to sign up for something you don’t want to do but trust that when the right things comes along, you will be able to make it work.  With both of us working two jobs, life proved chaotic, but we had more joy and time together in ways that only God could have planned.  If the job costed us more money or peace than it brought in – we chose not to do it.   God really helped us keep our priorities in the right order during this time.   

Ok Dana, fine, what about emergencies?  I tried my very hardest to maintain a $1000 emergency fund throughout this time.  There were many months we had to dip into it and there were a few months where we didn’t have one at all.  We experienced a miscarriage during this time period and ended up having $15,000 in medical bills that we didn’t anticipate, and it is now all paid off.  It was a major setback, spiritually, financially and emotionally.  So, life does happen, and you have to trust your pace. 

Bills and tithes first. Always. Each year we did this we had nearly $15,000 of various debt that came up and we had to pay off.  To this day it boggles my mind to think about it.  The only thing I can say is that EVERY SINGLE time we had any extra income come into our bank accounts it went to tithes, monthly bills, current expenses, or debt.  This included money from tax refunds.  We didn’t splurge on this item or that item.  We paid bills, always. 

Cut down the grocery trips.  We didn’t go grocery shopping more than once or twice a month and “ate the cabinets” when the grocery budget was down to $0.  My kids love bananas and when the budget was tight, I had to personally forgo the bananas so there would be more for them.  We bought the less expensive canned good instead of fresh produce when the price was right.  We price checked every single item we bought.  I chose not to eat bread rather than spend $5 on a loaf of gluten free bread to save money.  You see what I mean?  Make the sacrifice and eat the cabinets or forgo the favorite food item.  Some people are doing well at this right now just because they want to avoid the grocery store – that’s essentially what you do.  You avoid the grocery store and eat out of your cabinets until your grocery budget is replenished.  Also, make your coffee at home – don’t buy the latte!

Downsize.  We sold cars and bought less expensive cars.  We bought cars that were easier to work on than others.  Jake learned how to do everything himself via YouTube and proved to me that I am married to the most resourceful and skilled man on the planet (I admit, I am biased ;))

Savings is on hold.  For three years Jake and I have not been able to put anything into savings other than maintain our emergency fund.  So when one month was tight - it was tight.  We didn't have fall back.  We are just going to be able to start saving money for our kids but honestly, when it came down to it - it was more important to have food on our table and keep our lights on than it was to have money set away in savings for their college funds and you can't tell me otherwise.

Ask for the extension.  For the first time in my life, this last July, I had to ask Ameren for a bill payment extension.  I knew we weren't going to make it so I used their one time per year extension option and paid my bill as soon as our next paycheck came in.  Did I ever anticipate being "that person"?  Absolutely not.  But did I learn that anyone can be "that person"?  You bet I did.   Let go of your assumptions and stereotypes friends, its time.   

Pray first, pray during, pray after.  We sought God’s will every step of the way.  We prayed about every decision, from jobs, to cars, to giving, to starting to finishing.  We prayed always.  We prayed when we were within the budget that month, we prayed when we weren’t going to make it that month.  We prayed in plenty, we prayed in little.  The point is that God was with us every step of the way.  Please don’t take this as a pass to just pray and be irresponsible but be sure to do what you can and be responsible in being a good steward of what you do have in this season. 

Be a team. Be accountable. For those of you that are married, you and your spouse need to be on the same page and be willing to be held accountable to the budget.  This is teamwork at its finest.  For anyone doing this on your own, hold yourself accountable to your budget.  Check your numbers and be honest. 

After all of this work and effort, God has restored our finances in a way that I can’t even put down on paper.  He has given us back time on our mortgage that I thought was lost forever (which proves that praying through each step is KEY) and has positioned us to live within our means and cover all of our essential expenses.  We are more aware than ever what it takes to cover our family’s needs and we don’t exchange peace of mind for lifestyle changes that the world tries to tell us we should have.  The hard work is worth it.  We have money in savings and were able to pay cash for our "new to us" vehicle last week.  We will continue to work to stay out of the debt cycle as best as we can.  

Even when it seems impossible there can be a way if you are committed to doing the work to get through it.   If anyone wants someone to walk them through creating a budget, I’m a total nerd and would love to help you.  I also have an excel spreadsheet that I use for our household and I would be willing to share the template with anyone who wants to get started on this road. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Moments vs. Movements

As I was speaking with someone close to me recently, I was reflecting on what the last two years have looked like in our lives.  Yesterday was my two-year anniversary of leaving corporate America and it is hard to believe it has already been that long.  It feels like the last two years have happened in the blink of an eye and yet there has been so much life and change during that time. 

When the Lord placed me in my job at an up and coming (now successful and established), amazing non-profit right out of the gates of corporate America I thought I had found my place.  I was convinced that it was where I was meant to be for the long haul.  After all, God organized the whole thing (still such a crazy cool story). During the time that I worked there, my local church offered me a contracted admin position in an effort to re-evaluate what the needs of the church were in an administrative capacity.  We had just walked through some changes and it was the perfect time for me to step in, be an extra set of hands, and it was God’s miraculous provision in meeting our needs financially. 

I worked there for 9 months when the Lord called me to step away and commit all of my time to the non-profit.  I had anticipated that the Lord would open the floodgates of provision and make a way through that job but that wasn’t quite His plan.  Nonetheless, we remained obedient.  As a result, we walked through some tight financial months as well as major heartaches in our personal life after the miscarriage.  In every tight month though, the Lord provided our daily bread, emotionally, financially, and so forth.   It wasn’t until months after walking away from working at the church that I realized how at-home I felt being there.  Surprised?  I was!

At the beginning of the summer the Lord began to stir even more strongly in my heart and call me back to our local church but I was unsure of what that would look like.  Long story short, after months and months of seeking Him and His will (and admittedly resisting), I finally realized, in yet another abrupt way that the time to act was now!  There were only a few people that I confided in during this seeking time because I was so uncertain as to what it even meant and I wanted to see the Lord prepare the way.  Sure enough, he did.  After three months of personal and private seeking and ultimately saying yes to the leading the Lord placed on my heart, it didn’t take more than three weeks for everything to fall into place.  Every single prayer that I prayed during that 3 month time period, every argument I made as to why this wouldn’t work and every resistant movement I attempted was addressed and then some! 

Over the last couple of years there have been a series of moments that God has walked me through but now I’m able to see that as God was walking me through moments, he was preparing me for a movement; a movement in my heart, a movement in my expectations, a movement in my plans. 

More recently, He has put me in positions and places in which he exposes me to things I never expected.  I am slowly learning that before I react to these things, it is necessary for me to ask, “Lord, was this just a moment or is this the beginning of a movement?”  Trust me when I say that he is faithful to answer that question in bold and powerful ways. 

Depending on his answer, I can tailor my prayers accordingly.  When I know that it was a moment then I can pray for release, willingness and obedience, or forgiveness.  When He shows me that it is a movement then I begin to seek Him in the process and ask for wisdom as far as my involvement and role. 

Listen friends, I know the Lord can take us in unexpected and uncomfortable directions but we need to trust that our presence there is not a coincidence.  It is up to us to be responsible with that placement.  Anyone close to us knows that there has not been a lot of comfort in our lives over the last two years financially or materially but I can sit and tell story after story after story of the bold movement we have participated in.  And this life of obedience is absolutely a life worth living. 

So here I sit, working in a place I never anticipated, doing things that only the Lord can qualify me for and trusting God in the moments and during the movement. 

I challenge you today, if there is something taking place that has rocked you or made you uncomfortable, ponder whether it is simply a moment you need to pass through or it is a movement you need to participate in.  Believe me, God will give you the answer and He will be faithful in the process.  

Moment or movement aside, remember Proverbs 19:21 “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”