Monday, December 13, 2010

1000 Gifts While Grieving

Today as I chronicle my 1,000 gifts that the Lord has more than abundantly and graciously blessed me with, I do so with a grieving heart.  Ciaran and I lost our first baby this weekend.  I was just about to my 7th week of pregnancy...we hadn't even told many of our family members; we were looking forward to sharing the news at Christmas.  Our little one was due to be an end of July or beginning of August baby, arriving just before the start of soccer season.   The timing seemed so perfect, yet it was not to be.  As we've grieved this weekend, I have been overwhelmed by the comforting presence of the Lord, taking our grief and ever so slowly, replacing it with hope and joy.  Ciaran and I serve an awesome God.  And we trust Him. 

61. A wonderfully joy-filled few weeks of pregnancy
62. A gentle and kind emergency room doctor and nurse to care for us in scary hours
63. A God who comforts in the midst of incredible emotional pain and sadness
64. A husband who stands as my rock and strength even when he himself is incredibly distraught
65. Colleagues who provide immeasurable practical support so I can rest at home
66. A new devotional (Spurgeon's Beside Still Waters) arriving in the mail just when I need it the most
67. Hope in the future
68.  Trickles of joy seeping in at all different moments
69.  Morning devotions with Ciaran
70.  Prayer with Ciaran

Monday, November 22, 2010

1000 Gifts: November Edition (Part 2)

holy experience

This Thanksgiving week, I have so many things I am thankful to God for.   He is such an awesome God!

51.  A husband who appears at my side to help every time I pull a load of laundry out of the dryer (he knows how much I detest folding laundry).
52.  A job that allows me to read great literature every day and get paid for it!
53.  Yummy food in our fridge
54.  Our growing emergency fund
55.  An amazing software program for our budget to track our spending (I love YNAB!)
56.  My Precepts Bible Study material
57.  Warm November days
58.  Freshly laundered, sweet smelling sheets to crawl under after a long day
59.  A husband who picks up the apartment so I can go to bed super early
60.  An amazing team-teacher who helps me keep up with our 4th block grading

Monday, November 15, 2010

1000 Gifts: November Edition

holy experience

Work is keeping me busy and usually I don't have any time for this on Monday nights.  But I decided today while I was at work that I needed to make time for this tonight.   Gratitude transforms my days and I want to record a sampling of what I'm thanking God for as I navigate this chaotic semester.

43.  A sink full of dirty dishes because they are a reminder of the tasty home-cooked meals we feasted on this weekend.
44.  My workout clothes sitting on top of my dresser, reminding me to take care of my body in the midst of busyness.
45.  Ciaran's sweet hugs after a long day
46.  Ciaran's jokes and funny comments after a long day
47.  Colleagues' support/encouragement when I'm faced with discouragement in my classroom
48.  Fox Soccer Channel
49.  Pretty pale yellow towels
50.  An old workout DVD newly discovered

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Holy Experience

I have a blog recommendation to share.  In the midst of an incredibly busy semester, I have to share one bright spot that keeps pointing me back Godward as I struggle to keep my head above water.  Every evening, I come trudging in from work:  weak, weary, aching from the fast-paced demands that are everywhere and all around me.  After putting away my work stuff (and sometimes even before that), I slip out of my work shoes, curl up on the couch with a glass of chocolate milk or raspberry lemonade and I pull up this blog.  Without fail, I feel my shoulders slowly lowering, stress fading with each soothing strain of music that flows from the computer as I read the beautiful, God-exalting words that this dear woman records.  By the time I am done reading the current day's entry...and reread a few of the previous day's entries, I find myself rejuvenated.  Usually I pull out the Word and spend a few more minutes in the Lord's presence and then I am filled with energy to continue on with the rest of my evening.  Peace, joy, gratitude, these all flood my soul in these quiet moments after work and by the time Ciaran comes home (or as is often the case since I often get home after him) by the time I'm up and moving with my evening tasks laid out before me...I can be the wife he deserves and the wife God intends me to be.  Check it out by clicking the button below. 

holy experience

Monday, October 11, 2010

1000 Gifts: School Year Edition

holy experience

Before I head in to work this morning, I want to catalogue my list of things I'm thankful for. It's so easy to be discouraged and stressed this semester, so I want to refocus and think about all of the ways the Lord has blessed me. Here's some of the things I'm thankful for that are coursing through my head:

26. A restful Sunday to renew me for this upcoming week.
27.  God's ability to take my burdens and equip me for my work in spite of my incredible inability
28. The Word of God and how it nourishes my soul
29. Faithful pastors who preach the Word and keep me focused Godward
30. A loving husband who comforts me when I am distressed
31. Netflix movies to watch with Ciaran
32. An early afternoon date w/Ciaran yesterday at Olive Garden
33. My dear 95 high school students this semester whom I absolutely treasure
34.  Ciaran's soccer team and the joy of watching them triumph over both Portage schools (first time in Ciaran's school's history)
35.  Exercise DVD's
36.  Cold and clean water to drink
37.  Nice hot showers
38.  A freshly made bed
39.  Access to hundreds and hundreds of books
40.  Sermons on the internet
41.  Wise teachers to learn from
42.  The vast number of godly women bloggers keeping me focused Godward throughout my week

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Women in the Word Wednesdays

I have been meditating on one little phrase all day, "Do not be idolaters..." (1 Corinthians 10:7).  Idolatry is such a huge struggle for me.  I've heard a number of pastors preach on this topic and a number of them have mentioned that idolatry is the root cause of all sin.

Ciaran and I stayed home from church on Sunday and worshipped at home.  We listened to a Mark Driscoll sermon and he asked a series of questions in this particular sermon with the intent of identifying idolotry in our lives.  I have been ruminating on these questions and the 1 Corinthians 10:7 passage as a result.  His questions that were most convincting are as follows(along with a few of my answers):
What am I most afraid of?  Failure
What do I long for most passionately?  Success
Where do I run for comfort?  Ciaran, sleep, escapism through movies and books
What do I complain about the most?  My job
What angers me most and gets me frustrated?  Disrespect, people talking badly about myself or my family or God
What do I sacrifice the most for?  My job.
Why?  I want success.  I don't want to fail.
Whose approval am I seeking?  My students, their parents, the community, my adminstration, my colleagues  (It should be God!)
What am I mad at God about?  My 3 preps.  I want to be a good teacher and I just can't do a good job with this much work to do.

As I reflect on these, God has been showing me how my idol is my job and and I'm serving my pride and striving for success for me.  He's not giving me my idol this semester.  So I have two choices.  I can whine and complain and pout and feel sorry for myself. OR, I can quiet myself before Him and seek for my joy, approval, my identity all in Him.  I exist to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.  I can keep striving for success and clamoring for man's approval.  But that will all be in vain.  At the end of the day, my peace is found only in one place and that is in Him.  Christ is my everything.  Yet, how quickly I forget that when the school year gets underway.   

"Do not be idolaters..." (1 Corinthians 10:7)...I know I cannot obey this command without Christ.  Yet it is my prayer as I continue throughout my night tonight and as I begin my day tomorrow that He will work in me and fix my eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of my faith, and keep me delighting in Him throughout each moment.  Christ is who I need to treasure most.

Monday, August 23, 2010

1000 Gifts

And I come to another week of cataloging one thousand gifts for which I am incredibly grateful!  I love how this little project makes me look at almost every event/scenario in my life so differently.  This week, my heart is overflowing with gratitude to the Lord.  I could list and list and list all of the amazing blessings all around me.

holy experience

11.  How warm and cozy our apartment is at night.
12.  Leftover Eudici's pizza from my hometown
13.  The thrill of watching the first soccer game of the season under the lights
14.  Watching parents love on their kids
15.  A child's giggle
16.  My husband's calmness, steadiness and incredibly strong leadership as he coaches teenage boys
17.  My brother's hugs, especially after too long has passed since we last saw each other
18.  The Word of God and how it nourishes me first thing, far better than the most hearty breakfast
19.  My new Precepts study that just arrived in the mail
20.  My new purse
21.  A full fridge
22.  A freshly made bed
23.  The amazing privilege of prayer
24.  A full agenda for tomorrow
25.  Good health and energy

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Simple Woman's Daybook 8/17/10

It's been a long week.  My brain is mush, yet I can't sleep.  I have a million and one different blog post ideas, yet can't bring myself to complete any of them.  So, I'm employing The Simple Woman's Daybook tonight. 

Outside my window...
it's dark and the cicadas are singing.

I am thinking...
of all of the things I need to get done tomorrow before we leave for Auburn Hills.

I am thankful for...
the warmth radiating from my husband as he lays on the opposite end of the couch from me.

From the kitchen...
I didn't cook tonight.  I had a bunch of errands to run and the only time I had for those errands was between 4:30 and 8:30 tonight.  Ciaran grilled burgers and I grabbed fast food.

I am wearing...
my favorite turquoise pajamas.

I am creating...
a new work wardrobe for this upcoming school year and incorporating more skirts and dresses.

I am going...
to the Auburn Hills area tomorrow for my sister-in-law's Michigan wedding reception!

I am reading...
Beowulf and a book on small groups by C.J. Mahaney.

I am hoping...
to be able to make it up to my hometown on Sunday to visit my brother for a few hours (he's in from California for the weekend). 

I am hearing...
Ciaran shifting in his sleep.

Around the house...
I need to do a number of "Room Rescues" ala FlyLady and get caught up on laundry.

One of my favorite things...
is the few weeks before the start of a new school year.  I have my new teaching schedule, I'm reorganzing my classroom, prepping course maps and unit plans, reviewing state standards/benchmarks and national standards and cross-referencing assessments to those standards, assisting Ciaran as he starts the soccer season, racing to finish up projects around home and so much more.  I love this time of year and getting back onto my 5am to 9pm schedule.  It feels good.

A few plans for the rest of the week...
Tomorrow I need to wrap up some projects here and then head across the state to the above-mentioned wedding reception that is sure to be a TON of fun!!!  Sunday, (as I've also already stated) I'm hoping to make it up to see my brother before he heads back to California.  Then Monday, it's back to the grind and Monday night we have Ciaran's first soccer game as varsity coach for his school.  It's an away game so I'm going to have to make a 50 minute drive to see it, but it will be worth it!

Here is picture for thought I am sharing...
N/A (I'm using my work laptop and I don't have any pictures saved on here.  Our laptop's powercord broke so we haven't been able to use it for almost a week now.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Thousand Gifts-The Start

A dear woman at my church shared with me last night the name of a blog she follows.    When I got home from church yesterday evening, I immediately checked it out.  And now I'm completely captivated by it.  One of the many things that captured my interest in this blog is her gratitude journal.  This blogger takes the time to record many of the blessings and graces that the Lord pours out on her throughout her day.  I love this idea, so I'm going to join the Gratitude Community as well!  Especially since I just spent all day learning how to use Data Director and Data 4SS at my local ISD in preparation for the new school year.  I desperately need to stop and consider all of the beautiful love letters and whispers of God's grace all around me because right now, student data is all that is richocheting around in my mind. 

holy experience

Ahhh, after just a few minutes in prayer, I love how God opens my eyes to all of the beauty and gifts around me.  I am so thankful for...

1.  The sunlight streaming through the blinds in front of me.
2.  The cloudless, blue sky.
3.  Quiznos Turkey, Ranch and Swiss sub after a long day
4.  Tossed salad sitting on my counter for 21 soccer players
5.  Boiled chocolate frosting

6.  God's grace
7.  The Bible
8.  Sweet fellowship at RBC yesterday
9.  Laughing and chatting and snuggling with Ciaran until late in the night as we debriefed from our busy week
10.  A husband who leads me spiritually and makes our devotional/prayer life as a couple a priority even in the midst of his hectic schedule.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Journey with the Lord: My First Church

Once I became a Christian, my friend explained to me the concept of church (why we go to church as well as emphasizing the importance of fellowship with other believers).  He invited me to come and visit his church, but I decided to attend the church my mom had been attending for the previous six months or so.

Even now, as I just paused for a moment remembering my first church experience as a believer, I can't help but smile.  I remember the smell and the color of the pews and the wonder of looking around me and watching other believers worship God together.  My very few previous experiences with "church" had made me feel like it was a formalized, dry routine that people had to go through to just "put in" their time to soothe their consciences or boost their self-esteem.  Church as a believer was a much, much different experience.

First, I remember the experience of singing praises to God and the wonder of listening to all of these voices around me wholeheartedly worshiping God together.  I remember turning and looking at a teenager standing on the other side of the aisle from me.  Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be singing directly to God.  I then focused in on an elderly couple in front of me.  Their heads were bowed as they sang, incredibly reverently.  This was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

And then the pastor approached the pulpit and began to pray and then preach.  I furtively glanced across the aisle at the teenage girl who had previously seemed so intimately connected to God.  She had an open notebook in her lap and was scribbling away as the pastor preached and I couldn't help but notice her Bible was all marked up with notes and underlined verses.  This all seemed so intriguing to me as a brand new believer.   I couldn't be intrigued for very long though because God pulled me to attention as the pastor continued to preach.  He was referencing chapters and verses in the Bible and the people around me were quickly flipping to the appropriate page.  Panic set in.  I had no idea where these chapters and verses were in the Bible.  I didn't know what books were in the Old Testament or the New Testament.  The prideful, little perfectionist in me reared her ugly head and I found myself embarrassed at my lack of knowledge.  Thankfully, just as my face started to flush pink, the pastor gently mentioned that if anyone was new to reading the Bible, the passage could be found on page ---.  Relief washed over me as I quickly flipped to the appropriate page. 

The preaching itself was another amazing, new experience for me.  The pastor took us through a select passage of Scripture, reading it and then explaining what was going on giving context to the reading.  He then ended with instructions on ways to apply what we had learned to our lives.  I gobbled this up, desperate to know more and more about this God who had chosen me and drawn me into a relationship with Him.  I was so grateful to be His child and I wanted to know more and more.

As the year progressed on and I continued going to church Sunday after Sunday, I started to become friends with other Christian girls.  By the spring of my junior year of high school, I joined a small group of girls and we met every Sunday evening to pray, study the Bible together, hold each other accountable and be mentored by a young mother in our church who graciously gave up her time to disciple us.   God used this small group to take my relationship with Him to a whole new level.  I greatly admired the young mother who led our small group and I watched her very closely, trying to emulate her relationship with the Lord. 

Through this small group, I became very close friends with another girl my age.  She was so passionate for the Lord and we spurred one another on to a deeper walk with the Lord all that summer between our junior and senior year of high school.

It was also during this year that the Lord began to give me a passion for missions.  I was so excited about this new relationship with Jesus that I wanted to share Him with everyone.  Although I scaled back and wasn't as pushy about my faith as I was in those first few months as a believer, my heart still would beat faster every time a missionary would come to our church and speak.  I found books that fed this passion during that first year as a believer.  Books like Shadow of the Almighty were incredibly instrumental in introducing me to the world of missionaries.  Also, my friend who had led me to Christ had many extended family members who were missionaries (his great-grandfather was martyred in Bolivia). And then, most importantly, my church continued to display a strong commitment to seeing the gospel spread which obviously had the biggest effect on me as we prayed Sunday after Sunday for specific missionaries and heard about their work.

As I grew in my faith in this first year as a believer, I looked forward to my time at church.  I couldn't wait to get there on Sunday mornings and to learn and grow and fellowship with people who shared a genuine relationship with the Lord.  It was so new and so amazing!!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Journey with the Lord: Salvation Story

So I last left you with my friend explaining to me about his relationship with the Lord and how his identity was found only in his Savior, Jesus Christ.   I wish I could say I remember vividly every single detail of this conversation...but I don't.  I vaguely remember my curiosity at the direction the conversation had taken (after all, I knew he was a Christian...and he knew I wasn't a Christian....why were we talking about this now, after all the time we had known each other?!)

That night we ended up at our local Barnes and Noble with open Bibles before us.  The first verse that stood out to me was in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  I latched onto this verse as the phrase "poor in spirit" echoed over and over in my head.  That night, God began to reveal to me my poverty of spirit.  One simple verse, that's all it took for the Holy Spirit to convict me.  All I could see as my friend read that verse out loud to me, and other verses throughout the Bible, was that all of my strivings truly were in vain, that no matter how brilliant I would try to be in theater, in academia, or how nice I was...all of that couldn't get me to heaven.    My poor friend tried to ask me questions about the passages we were reading and I know I must have responded a bit inanely...I couldn't help it, only that first part of Matthew 5:3 was churning in my mind. 

Thankfully, my friend pressed on and drew me back.  He walked me through the Scriptures, pointing out to me various passages, explaining what sin is and how the wages of sin is death.    The enormity and weight of my sin was truly palpable and I longed so desperately for this heavenly Father’s love and acceptance as He opened my eyes to the  truth of His Word.  Then my friend took me to passages that were like a refreshing drink of cool water as I waded through the desert that was my sin.  Romans 6:23 stood out to me, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  And then, as my sin seemed so overwhelming and yet I knew intellectually that I was being offered a gift, I was turned to 2 Corinthians "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."   I knew I wanted heaven.  I knew I didn’t want to live with this newly discovered awful weight.  I was tired.  Tired of trying so hard. Tired of being so angry. Tired of wanting something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  I wanted to be clothed in Christ's righteousness and be able to access this amazing God who offered such amazing freedom to me!  So that night, after my friend walked me through Romans 10:9-10, which says,
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
I knelt in Barnes and Noble parking lot and confessed that I was truly a sinner and in desperate need of a Savior.

Praying for the first time, I remember actually being nervous.  Not because of my company, or the fact that I was in a parking lot (please note: by parking lot, I mean a grassy area at the end of the parking lot) with cars whizzing by me, but because I had no idea what to say to this God I was just being introduced to.  Luckily my friend, college boy that he was, actually was sensitive to my discomfort and prayed with me which made it a bit easier.   

It wasn't until I was finally in my car, alone with the Lord, that I think everything finally clicked.  As I drove the 20 minutes back to my house, in the quietness of that drive, I confessed my sins to the Lord out loud as He brought them to mind.  I told God that I wanted to belong to Him, that I felt like I belonged to Him and that I wanted to know Him more.   I thanked Him for sending Jesus to die in my place for the penalty of my sins.  I thanked Him even more that because of Jesus' death and resurrection, I could now stand in His presence clothed in Christ's righteousness!  In my excitement, it was a bit difficult to fall asleep that night!

The next day once I finished fourth hour (it was the first week of school), I raced out to my car and practically flew the 25 minutes to the theater where I had an internship all that junior year of high school.  I scarfed down my sandwich and couldn't wait to read my Bible.  I'd had a Bible for about six months (since about the time my mom had started going to church), but it didn't make sense when I read it, so I had barely used it.  When I opened it up that day, I felt so excited.  I immediately turned to where my friend and I had left off in Matthew 5 and dug in.   

In the weeks that followed, I gobbled up Scripture as God continued to open up my eyes to the truth and beauty of His Word.  He revealed to me more and more of His character and what He has done for me and what He continues to do.  In those weeks that followed, God ultimately showed me what my heart had always been longing for:  Him.   I couldn't believe how supremely satisfying a relationship with God could be.  In my excitement and zeal, I started sharing with everyone and anyone I could.  One of the guys that had a locker near me at school, starting teasing me and everytime he'd see me, he's laughingly call out, "Save me Je-bas, save me" quoting a line Homer Simpson says in the TV show The Simpsons.  

As the year progressed on, I toned down in my overzealous sharing, but not in my relationship with the Lord.  I couldn't wait to get to church every Sunday and I treasured my daily Bible reading in the quiet greenroom during lunch at the theater.  I loved being a child of God and I couldn't wait to see where God was going to take me throughout the rest of my life as I walked with Him. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Journey with the Lord: Pre-Christian Story (Part 2)

The defining moment in my pre-Christian story took place in 1997.   It was at this point and time, when I was fourteen years old, that my mom and dad decided to separate. Although I was by no means shocked when they told my brother and myself, I still was at an incredibly awkward and rebellious age, so I didn't cope the best with this break-up of our family.  To say I was one angry, little teenager is a vast understatement.  My desperate quest for comfort began in earnest after my dad moved out and things with my family became very messy.  I was fourteen years old:   awkward, rebellious, and desperately searching for an identity and comfort anywhere I could find it.    I'm sure you can imagine where this is heading...
  Actually, here is where I can see the first, very evident, intervention by the Lord.  At this point in my life, at fourteen years old, incredibly rebellious, desperately looking for comfort...things could have gotten pretty ugly, pretty quickly.  But they didn't.  I was a freshman in high school and the first new friends I made were at band camp and they were upperclassman and all very positive, kind, and even a bit motherly toward me.  Every time I got down and depressed, they were there lifting me back up.  They didn't feed my sour moods, but instead, helped me to stay positive.  I also became friends with my drum major who, conveniently turned out to be a Christian.

I loved the arts, and quickly found my niche transferring from music to the world of theater, and once again, found myself surrounded by Christians.  My first real boyfriend was a devoted Christian and a number of the people I interacted with on a regular basis (including his family and best friend) were devoted Christians as well.  But I still didn't know the Lord.  And as a result I sought my comfort and identity in the world of the theatre and treasured the escapism it provided.  If I wasn't at school, I could be found at our local community theatre.  I reveled in that world and thought that nothing mattered more than it.  I continued to look for comfort not only in the theatre, but in the relationships that world provided as well.

One night, after a particularly grueling rehearsal, I came out of the theatre with a friend of mine (read: my former, first real boyfriend).  We started talking about the stress of the night, my frustrations with my lack of perfection in theatre, with academics, etc.  I began ruminating on the futility of it all and philosophizing on whether or not this truly all mattered in the long run.   In my mind, I was just venting to a dear friend of mine, but the Lord had a different plan for this night.

After patiently listening to me, my friend began talking about his relationship with the Lord and how his identity and perfection itself was found in only one place, and that place was in his Savior, Jesus Christ.  I vaguely remember my curiousity at the direction the conversation had taken, and the earnestness with which he shared these thoughts...

To Be Continued

Monday, August 09, 2010

My Journey with the Lord: Pre-Christian Story (Part 1)

A week ago, Ciaran and I were back in our hometowns visiting family.  When Sunday morning rolled around, since we were staying with Ciaran's parents, we didn't feel like making the forty minute drive to my home church.  So we decided to visit the church that I attended when I first became a Christian (since it's about 1 minute from my in-laws' house).  It wasn't that monumental of a decision...actually it was made spur of the moment without much thought....yet that one visit did more to revitalize my affections for the Lord than anything so far this summer.  From the moment I walked in and took a seat in one of the pews, I felt like a brand new believer again.  I remembered how I treasured the stillness of the sanctuary, how close I felt to the Lord as I would open a Bible and read and learn things I had never known before.  How exciting my walk with the Lord was back then when it was all new!  As I've reflected on those feelings, the thought struck me that it might be fun to share my testimony over the next few weeks and where the Lord has led me as a believer so far.  As I combed through the archives of this blog I realized I've never actually shared my testimony in full.  And since  I'm quickly approaching my 11-year spiritual birthday, I thought this would be a fun way to round out the summer. 

Also, Ciaran and I are becoming members of the church we've been attending for the last 16 months at the end of August and part of the membership service includes sharing our testimonies with the congregation.  The testimony I'm going to share with the church is greatly condensed, as in 1/14 of what I will share here (basically just my salvation story), which makes this little blog project even more meaningful to me.  Reflecting on where the Lord has brought me so far always draws me closer to Him and reminds me of His faithfulness.

So without further ado, let's start with my pre-Christian story:

During my childhood, I considered myself to have been (for the most part) un-churched. My mother was raised Methodist and my father was raised Presbyterian.  I remember a short space of time when I was in early elementary school when we attended a Presbyterian church and then another short spell when we attended the Methodist church in my later elementary school years.  I also attended the Methodist church a few extra times throughout my childhood with my grandparents, but it was more out of adoration/devotion to them that I attended, rather than a desire to know God and worship Him.   

Even though I was for the most part, un-churched...I can see evidences of God introducing Himself to me and drawing me to Him all throughout my childhood.  I loved going to the community summer VBS (Vacation Bible School) that was offered in my hometown.  Four of the local churches would get together every summer and put this summer program on, but sadly, I only loved it for the opportunity it provided to catch up with a bunch of my classmates and sing songs and play fun games.  

I also had a number of children's Bibles and I remember playing "Sunday School" with my grandmother during the summer months.  My grandmother would read to me a Bible story and plan a craft project for me to do that went along with the Bible story in between working out in the garden or somewhere else around the farm.  I remember specifically thinking of the Bible as just a collection of "stories" and that the "stories" were meant to provide a moral lesson, much like the fables and short stories I would read in the books I got from the library.

Although, the two above-mentioned remembrances from my childhood hardly testify to knowing God personally and believing in His infallible Word, I do believe these few introductions to the Christian faith were the little seeds that were sown in my heart to introduce me to the God I now worship and adore today.

The defining moment in my pre-Christian story took place in 1997.   It was at this point and time, when I was fourteen years old, that my mom and dad decided to separate. Although I was by no means shocked when they told my brother and myself, I still was at an incredibly awkward and rebellious age, so I didn't cope the best with this break-up of our family.  To say I was one angry, little teenager is a vast understatement.  My desperate quest for comfort began in earnest after my dad moved out and things with my family became very messy.  I was fourteen years old:   awkward, rebellious, and desperately searching for an identity and comfort anywhere I could find it.    I'm sure you can imagine where this is heading...

Friday, August 06, 2010

Frugal Friday-Price Book

In my ongoing quest to shave pennies from our grocery budget, I've started keeping a price book.  As I'm grocery shopping, I tend to believe sale markers.  If the sign says the item is 50% off, I'm inclined to buy it.  That was until I started using my price book.  A price book is a simple document where you track the prices on specific items over a set amount of time.  My goal is to track prices over the course of 12 weeks.  When I first started this, I used an Excel spreadsheet, but it got way too confusing.  Just this week, I've transferred over to Money Saving Mom's price book and I'm loving it! She has multiple formats to choose from, but I've settled on this one.

A number of people advised me to start with just 20 items and track those and then move up from there.  I'm actually tracking around 40 items right now, but that's because I'm on summer vacation and have that extra time. Once the school year starts, I'll probably just choose 15-20 to track and then move on to the rest later on.

One of the biggest benefits of the price book so far is that I've discovered that sale markers are not always truthful. A number of places actually mark up the price before putting it "on sale."  I'm definitely liking my price book!  Now I'm learning when something is at a truly "rock bottom" price and I can stock up then.  It's pretty sweet. 

Happy Friday everyone!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Completing Him Challenge - Showing Respect

All right, it's my second week of the "Completing Him Challenge" that Courtney has going over at Women Living Well.  This week's mission is as follows:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T! No complaining, criticizing, rolling your eyes, nagging, or giving him any friction this week. Enjoy a week of peace in your home!
 I started this challenge last Wednesday, praying that God would reveal to me where I have been creating friction in our marriage, where I have been showing any disrespect to Ciaran, whether it be in my words, action, tone of voice or something else.

I adore my husband.  That's no big secret.  So this challenge was a bit frightening to me as I considered that although I adore my husband, my minute-by-minute actions could be conveying an entirely different message to him.

The first thing I discovered in this challenge is that I roll my eyes or arch my eyebrows a lot when he's goofy.  Ciaran has an awesome sense of humor, and although I LOVE to laugh, I sometimes can be a bit too task-oriented and serious and instead of enjoying and delighting in his goofiness...I turn into the eyebrow arching, eye-rolling wife.  What does this convey to Ciaran?!  There's a bit of a superiority message passed on there.  An almost parent-child superiority which is completely unacceptable from a wife who claims to treasure and respect her husband.  I felt really convicted about this once God revealed this to me.

As I prayed for God to help me change in this area, I began to think about the repercussions if I didn't change.  Ciaran and I would love to have children if and when the Lord blesses us with that gift, and so I paused and considered what could happen in our little children's hearts if they saw their mother consistently rolling her eyes or arching her eyebrows at their wonderful father.  Could they learn that from me in the future and treat their father with actions that could be interpreted as perceived superiority or disdain?  What a scary thought!   Especially when those feelings couldn't be further from what I really feel toward Ciaran.  I love his sense of humor and goofiness and how after a long, stressful day, it's nice to unwind and not have to be so serious!  I love how Ciaran balances me out in this area!

So, after praying for God to change my heart, I went and apologized to Ciaran. He laughed and said he doesn't notice it if I'm doing it, but I'm almost certain he does.  He's just an incredibly nice guy and doesn't get upset about much.  But that still doesn't mean I'm off the hook.  I now am aware of my actions and by God's grace, I'm starting to change.

So that was my big take-away from this week's challenge and I really feel these challenges are helping me grow and making me realize more and more how much I love this man of mine!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Frugal Friday-SparkPeople

Well, another Friday is here and for this week's Frugal Friday post, I want to share about a site I just discovered.  It's called SparkPeople and I've used it a lot in the last week!  I first joined this FREE site to get a little inspiration for my daily exercise regimen, in lieu of a personal trainer.  Come on, I know I'm not the only one out there who wishes she could afford a personal trainer.

This site has a plethora of resources!!!  Not only will it set up a custom-made exercise regimen (incorporating both cardio and strength training), it also allows me to set up a nutrition plan as well.  Then there are message boards, blogging and journaling options, a planner (that even sends birthday and anniversary reminders to your e-mail), inspirational and information articles related to almost any question you have in your wellness journey, etc., etc. and etc.  It's pretty impressive.  And the crazy part's free!  Absolutely FREE!

I feel as if I have my own personal trainer now.  And I'm finding myself more committed to working out and improving our health since joining this site.   Ciaran's even noticed how much more I'm trying to weave vegetables and fruits into my meal planning.  Oh, that reminds me, I forgot to share my favorite part of this site.  Every time you record something that helps improve your health and wellness, such as eating a serving of fruits and vegetables, logging in exercise time, reading health-related articles, drinking at least 8 cups of water a day, etc., you can earn SparkPoints that accumulate so you can eventually win virtual trophies.  It's the craziest thing, but those points really get the little competitor in me motivated.  Take yesterday morning, for instance.  Ciaran and I were supposed to leave to head to my in-laws yesterday night and so when I woke up, I had a million items on my "to do" list to get done before we left town for five days.  Normally, I would have decided to just skip my workout and get up extra early this morning to go for an extra long walk around their neighborhood to make up for it.   Nope.  Not for this newly born SPARKler!  I knew when I woke up yesterday morning, that even though I had a lot to get done, I was only 45 points away from my next trophy, so I changed into my workout clothes as soon as my feet hit the bedroom floor, took a swig of water, scarfed down a handful of frosted mini wheats, and I was out the door!

The same thing has been true with my water intake.  I'm supposed to drink an inordinate amount of water to help prevent my kidney stones from forming so often.  Even though I know how painful and miserable it is having kidney stones (I've had kidney stones five different times since I was eighteen), I'm still not good about keeping up with my water intake.  Now, because I earn points on SparkPeople for drinking my water...I'm guzzling away like a crazy camel! 

Having said all this, I need to pause and clarify something.  Have I seen a total change in my health and wellness in the past week?  Nope, I'm still the girl who gobbles down Whoppers and Big Macs and delights in my Culver's Turtle Sundaes.  But what I have seen are those small mental and physical changes that often translate to a commitment to lifelong wellness.  And I feel that is definitely worth getting excited about!

I'll try and remember to post a follow-up on this topic to see how long this streak goes, but for now I'm very impressed with this free site.  It's definitely a frugal girl's dream come true!  Check it out at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Financial Journey-Freedom from Debt and the Future

WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!  That had been the desire of our hearts for almost 16 months and finally we were able to scream it at the top of our lungs!  

On June 19th, Ciaran and I were curled up on the couch watching a movie.  I couldn't get interested in the movie, so I absent-mindedly turned my laptop on and without thinking, found myself typing in my student loan website (one of the perils of this journey to freedom from debt...the payment page on your debts become something you can navigate in your sleep).  As I logged in and my payment page popped up, I couldn't believe my eyes. 

Loan Balance:  PAID IN FULL

I just sat there. 

That's right, I just sat there.  I couldn't believe my eyes.   Once I got over the initial shock, I turned to Ciaran and calmly stated, "The last payment on my student loan just posted."  Looking into Ciaran's eyes at that moment, it registered.   It was over.  We were debt free.  No more watching all of that hard-earned money slip through our fingers.  No more staggering interest rates.  It was over!   I laughed and was giddy as only I can be.  We hugged and laughed some more.  It was OVER!!!!!  Our slavery to our debtors was OVER!!!! 

And now, the future.  Only the Lord knows what our future holds.  But He has been so faithful and amazing in leading us in this journey.  We fully give Him the glory because we know we couldn't have done this on our own!  As we've prayed about the future and discussed and discussed and prayed some more, we know our financial journey is far from over.  We do not want to go back in debt (other than a house mortgage) and so our next steps are to take care of a few matters so we, Lord willing, don't have to be enslaved to debt again. 

First, Ciaran and I have to pay for graduate school.  To keep our teaching certificates (so we can continue earning an income), we have to each complete 18 credits of graduate school.  Ciaran has just under two years to do this in and I have three years.  Since we have to work full-time jobs while we do this, there isn't a lot of funding available for us...which means we're going to have to pay for 36 graduate credits out of pocket in the space of three years...on our meager teachers' salaries.  Scary beyond all reason?  Yes.  But God is faithful and we know He'll provide.  Thankfully, we now know how to live frugally so we're going to just keep living the way we have for the last 17 months...if not even more frugally. 

Next, since we're continuing to follow Dave Ramsey's Babysteps, we're going to work on Babystep 3, our fully funded emergency fund of 6 months worth of expenses.  We started that this month, but progress will be really slow on this as we try to cash-flow grad school. The logic behind this huge emergency fund of untouched money, sitting in a savings account, is that when a true emergency comes up, we won't have to pull out the old credit card and accrue debt.  I know the challenging part for me is going to be not dipping into that fund when I have a "want" that comes up.  But it is imperative that we are disciplined with this step if we are really serious about not going back into debt again.

Finally, once we cash-flow grad. school and complete saving 6 months worth of expenses, we will finally have the opportunity to start saving for a house!!!!  Now this is the part we've been praying about for almost the entirety of our marriage so far.  What I'm going to share may seem a bit crazy, but just know it's been bathed in a lot of prayer and we really feel that this is how God wants us to proceed as a couple, as faithful stewards over the funds He has entrusted to us.  OK, so here goes:  Our goal is to save for a minimum of a 20% downpayment's the tough part....we only want the monthly house payment to be 25% of Ciaran's take-home pay.  This probably means we'll end up making more than a 20% down payment.  To make this even more interesting...we only want a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage.  So yes, we're probably going to be renting for quite some time. 

But we're ok with that.  Our goal when we started this financial journey was to glorify God with our finances, keep the lines of communication open between us, and to "live like no one else today so one day we can give like no one else!"  God has been faithful and we will continue to submit our finances to Him, as He leads us by His grace.  It's been an exciting journey so far and my faith in the Lord has grown so much through this journey.  It's my prayer that Ciaran and I will continue to grow in our relationship with Him and with each other as He teaches us how to be faithful stewards of what He has entrusted to us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Our Financial Journey-Building Momentum in the Debt Snowball

I last left off in "Our Financial Journey" series with cutting expenses.  Now I get to share about building momentum in the debt snowball.  This is where it starts to get fun.  As I mentioned in a previous post, in December 2009 we paid off Ciaran's car.  This is what Ciaran and I identified as the moment when the momentum began to build.  We were beyond excited.  But before I go on, I want to take a moment and share exactly why this was a monumental moment in our journey.

Up until December 2009, we had been diligently working for almost nine months, without really seeing noticeable progress.  Sure, we were watching the balance on Ciaran's car go down, but we still were feeling the incredibly overwhelming burden of debt.  I think the biggest struggle was that even though Ciaran and I have very modest incomes as high school teachers, we'd still never seen this much money go through our hands before and to see it all going out the door as soon as it came in was so disheartening.  Ciaran and I longed to have a house of our own with a nice woodshop for Ciaran out back and it just seemed to be a dream that would never come true for us at the current rate we were going.  Then after school let out for break in December 2009, we watched that final payment post and received the letter declaring the car was paid in full.  We danced around our little apartment, giddy beyond reason. This moment gave us the hope we so desperately needed! This plan was actually working!  Ciaran announced at our family holiday gatherings that "Frank," as Ciaran lovingly named his car, was ours!  We were so excited!!!!

When we got home in January and sat down to do our monthly budget, the momentum officially began to build.  We now had one less payment and all of the funds we had been throwing at Ciaran's car, now could go toward my car.  With one less payment, we paid off the remaining balance on my car by May.

I have to interject, before going on, to share our one major setback during this amazing, momentum-building time.  In February, Ciaran and I had to suspend our debt snowball as both of us were potentially facing lay-offs.  Every penny we had been applying to our debt snowball was funneled into a savings account in case we both lost our jobs.  We were so disappointed.  To experience the success of paying off Frank Sonata (hehe) and then to have to temporarily suspend paying off my car was really hard for me.  We continued to pay minimum payments on my car and student loan all winter long.  And what a long winter it was for me!  Then spring came and once we found out at the very beginning of May that Ciaran's job was safe, we drained our savings back to just about $3500 and paid off my car in one single payment. [The logic here was that we needed our $1,000 baby emergency fund and $2,500 extra as one full month of actual living expenses, in case I lost my job.]   It felt amazing!  Looking back, the wait was worth it.  Every single, agonzing extra day I had to wait was worth it when I saw the balance online say "Paid in Full."

After paying off my car, with all of the funds that had been going toward our cars, and the $2,500 left over in the bank from our winter of saving (once we knew my job was safe, of course),  we were able to knock out our last debt, my student loan, in just under two months.  June 19th was the day our last debt payment posted. 

During this "momentum building" portion of our financial journey, I have left out something.  As the momentum built in the debt snowball, something funny happened.  We found ourselves becoming more and more intense, more frugal, more determined to cut expenses than we ever had before.  Every little extra penny we could scrounge up, we immediately applied to debt.  Before this journey, if a surprise rebate came in the mail we would have treated ourselves to dinner out, or to some fun shopping.  But because of what we were learning in this journey, we wanted nothing more than to use surprise money and really, an money that wasn't being spent on necessities, to go directly toward our debt.  This is where God really taught us a lot about being content with what we have, with Him and with each other. 

Make sure to come back tomorrow as I wrap up this five-part series on our financial journey (thus far).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Completing Him Marriage Challenge--His Vision

This challenge is almost over, but I'm jumping in anyway (since I just found it).  Courtney, over at Women Living Well got this started at the beginning of the summer and I think it's awesome! 

This week's challenge pulled directly from her blog is as follows: 

It's week #7 in our Summer Completing Him Challenge! Here's this week's challenge: Support his vision. Discuss his vision for your family. Where does he see your family in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. Share with us how you let your husband lead.

First of all, this is an area that I know I'm going to have to work on for the rest of my life.  For those of you who know me really well, you know that I have a pretty strong personality and that I have absolutely no problem taking the reigns and almost any and all situations.  From age fourteen on, I lived in a single-parent household and I got to exercise a lot of leadership in our day-to-day home life.  My mom was always grateful for any help my 12-year-old brother and I could offer as she adjusted to working full-time outside of the home.  During my teenage years and on, I loved my "to do" lists and I loved goal setting and big picture stuff...along with detailed daily work. 

So when I got married over 22 months ago, I knew I would really need to be prayerful about how I conducted myself within my marriage and that I had a lot to learn if I was to take God at His Word with regards to submitting to my beloved husband's leadership.  That's why I got so excited when I saw this week's challenge. 

So this past weekend, I asked Ciaran these questions.  We had a great discussion and I learned so much about Ciaran's vision for us as a family.  We are always talking about these things, but sitting down without the TV on, without having a bunch of other stuff to discuss really made this a memorable evening.

I married a visionary man.  I've known this about him since I met him.  I deeply admire his vision and leadership abilities within the teaching field, within the coaching arena (to watch this man of mine coach teenage young men on the soccer field still takes my breath away...just as it did in June of 2001 when I first met him), and now within our marriage.  But Ciaran can also be a reserved man in the home and throughout the course of our discussion this weekend, I realized how much he envisions for our family.  It's so easy for me to interpret his reserve as passivity and this challenge taught me that nothing could be further from the truth.  As a result of this challenge, I now see Ciaran as a strong and visionary leader in the's just that he has a pretty strong-willed wife that can easily eclipse him.....hmmmm...something I need to be more prayerful about! 

The best part about learning Ciaran's one year, five year, and ten year vision for us is his vision is completely something I can come alongside him as his helper and support. Now, I can't wait to see where God takes us as God continues to teach me how to support and be a suitable helper for this wonderful man of mine!

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I'm in the process of opening up my blog to the public.  Before now, you couldn't search for my blog and find had to have the exact URL to access it.  So if you've been around since 2006 when I started this blog and have subscribed to it, I need to apologize to you right now.  You are going to be inundated with updates in the next few weeks, that is, if you haven't already noticed.  I'm going through and updating stuff for privacy purposes.  I'm not being fanatical about this by any stretch of the are staying up, some of my more personal posts are staying up too...I just want to eliminate some of the last names of people I reference, along with some specific location names, etc.  Nothing too fancy, but for those of you used to receiving e-mail updates, please bear with me for the next few weeks.  Also, if you note something that you think should be taken down, let me know!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Frugal Fridays-Coupon Binder

In my continual quest to shave pennies off of our grocery bill, I have taken up couponing.  When I first started couponing a year ago, I quickly felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of coupons and experienced an almost constant struggle to quickly locate a specific coupon when I needed it.  Another struggle I had consisted of finding sale prices at the grocery store (that weren't advertised), only to find out I had left a coupon for that sale-priced item at home. 

So last fall, I started researching ways to organize coupons and stumbled upon this revolutionary idea.  The Coupon Binder.  Once I found this, I started looking for ways I could create this for myself.  More research ensued. 

This blog post was all I needed.  I followed her steps and created my very own coupon binder and 10 months later, I'm still loving it and using it every time I go grocery shopping.  The only downside to this resource is that it draws questions...about once a month someone stops me in the grocery store and asks about it.  Also, if you shop during hours when the store is super busy, you might frustrate some people.  I haven't experienced that yet, but it might happen.  I generally shop when it's quiet because I'm working on a price book (which I'll post about it another Frugal Friday post). 

I love shopping now and I've watched my savings double over all and the first few weeks, it tripled my savings.  And I'm still learning, so I'm hoping to see our savings grow even more.  Happy Couponing!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Our Financial Journey-Cutting Expenses

I last left off with the excitement of working the debt snowball in Dave Ramsey's Babystep 2 and our first taste of real success when in December 2009 we paid off Ciaran's car. Yet in the previous post, I sort of glossed over the whole "pinching pennies" part of the process. Cutting expenses and looking for additional sources of income was huge in this process. Saying "no" to the whole "keeping up with the Jones's" mentality was absolutely vital (which was actually tougher than a lot of people think).

First, there was absolutely no exact science to this part of the process. There was just a whole lot of prayer and discussion and research each and every month as we worked the budget and tried to find more money to throw at the debt snowball. Areas we cut back in were groceries/restaurants, cell phone plans (we already didn't have a land line), clothing, TV, entertainment, recreation, etc. Ciaran found a way to get free golf in the summer by volunteering as a coach at a local golf course; we took the plunge and cut our satellite (yes, we actually have survived with only 4 local TV stations); I rediscovered the joys of rereading books and utilizing our local library weekly; we limited going out with friends to times when we could do cost-free or minimal expense activities; I spent endless hours couponing and researching sales and frugal recipes; we packed our lunches every day for work; I would spend weekends prepping meals for the week to limit eating out; and I explored ways to bring in additional income through survey-taking and other online income generators, on top of my typical 70 hour/week teaching job. Ciaran, of course, was busy coaching on top of his teaching load and he also was on the lookout for ways to generate additional income (such as working toward certification to be a driver's ed teacher). We spent most Friday and Saturday nights at home (typically because we were so exhuasted from our work weeks) and just kept a diligent work ethic. We knew that this was only for a season so we kept our noses to the grindstone, for the most part.

Now, the part that I can't emphasize enough, is how much God poured out his grace upon us as we waded through this process. It's so easy, when writing or reading this, to get overly caught up in the actual steps and not acknowledge that all of the strength, wisdom, mercy and purpose came from the Lord. We wouldn't have been led to want to get out of debt if it hadn't been Him showing us in His Word how he feels about our finances. We wouldn't have learned the vital lessons about finding contentment in Him and how no amount of stuff brings joy and contentment. We wouldn't have discovered deeper joys in our relationship with the Lord and with each other if He hadn't been the one leading and equipping us as we traveled through the sixteen months it took to get out of debt. Ultimately, it is God who is the "strength of our heart and our portion forever." And we praised Him all the way through this sticky portion of our jouney as we cut expenses and tried to generate additional income.

Check back later this week as I share further about our particulars of momentum building in the debt snowball!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Our Financial Journey--Enter Dave Ramsey

In the second part of this series on our financial journey, I want to share how a man named Dave Ramsey entered our radar and changed our perspective on financial matters.  If you read my post on Saturday, you know how when we first got married, we sat down, merged our finances and prayerfully set out to maintain a monthly budget and track all of our spending for a space of three months.  Now we need to fast-forward to March of 2009.

In March of 2009 Ciaran and I were still budgeting with YNAB and having a minimum of one financial meeting a month (at the end of each month/the first day of the next month) to reflect on our past budget, how it worked and what we needed to do differently for the upcoming month.  We would take our earnings and spend every dollar on paper before the month began, until our balance said $0.  We would discuss any foreseeable bigger than normal spending coming up and plan for that, to a degree.  I continued to read on YNAB's website and go through the instructional manuals there hoping to glean any information that would help us know how to better manage the money God was entrusting to us.

Now enter Dave Ramsey.  It was either on YNAB's website or on the radio or on the TV, but somehow I heard the name Dave Ramsey.  Then I went to my local library one day after teaching and started to peruse the finance section and explore what books were out there to give us guidance.  I saw Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover and grabbed that book immediately.  I went home and read it in one sitting.  I knew I needed to get Ciaran to read this and get his opinion on what he thought of what was espoused in those pages.  We were heading back to visit family in our hometowns that weekend so I picked up the audiobook at our library the next day after school and Ciaran and I listened to the book on CD in the 5 hours we spent in the car that weekend.  We had to keep pausing the CD to discuss it so when we got home we finished the audio book and went to his website and after a couple days of prayer and further discussion we decided to try this "Total Money Makeover."

The first step was to drain our savings down to what Ramsey calls a $1,000 Baby Emergency Fund (this can be altered if you have a very small income or a larger income), but our combined salaries put us in the middle so we went with the $1,000.  We had a little bit of leftover wedding money that hadn't been used when we set up our apartment, so we drained the savings down to that $1,000 and applied the rest directly to what was left of my medical debt which was our lowest balance on all of our debt.  The awesome part was that it wiped out what was left of the medical debt and we experienced our first victory in Ramsey's Babystep 2 which is called "The Debt Snowball."

Next, since we weren't really sure the current balances on all of the rest of our debts, we had to spend some time calling a bunch of phone numbers and checking online accounts.  Once we knew the rest of our remaining debts and their balances, we listed them from smallest balance to highest balance.  The funny part at this stage was when we sat down to share each of the balances, we realized that each of the three remaining debts stood just above $11,000 each.  So more research ensued as we discovered that if each of the balances are around the same, you can then begin to pay off the one with the highest interest rate first.  Ciaran's car won.  So we wrote down the minimum payments for my car and my student loan and then every spare penny we had above those two minimums we started sending to Ciaran's car.  Month by month, it was so exciting to watch the numbers fall downward on that balance.  "Frank," as we lovingly refer to Ciaran's car, was slowly coming closer and closer to becoming fully ours.

Months and months went by as we pinched pennies and worked so hard to pay off Ciaran's car.  Then in December, just before we left to go visit family for Christmas break, we watched the balance on Ciaran's car go to $0.  We were ecstatic!!!  DR's plan was working!!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Our Financial Journey--The Budget

Earlier this year I shared some of my New Year's resolutions and one of those resolutions was to become debt free by December 31, 2010. As I had shared earlier this week, on June 19th, Ciaran and I became completely DEBT FREE!!!!! No more medical debt, no more car loans, no more student loan. They all have been paid in full. We are very excited and feeling very grateful to an awesome God who led us every step of this way as He taught us (and continues to teach us) how to glorify Him with our finances and be faithful stewards of what He has entrusted to us.

So in our excitement, I thought it would be fun to share with you about our journey to becoming debt free. As Ciaran and I discussed how I would structure these posts, I realized this 16-month journey is so much more than just a quest to become debt really has been an almost 22-month long journey devoted to getting our finances in order (as husband and wife) so we can honor God with what He has entrusted to us.

So having said that, I thought it would be fun to share in a 5 part series, the components of our financial journey so far. We're far from perfect in this area and we're continuing to learn as we go, but we'd love to share what we've learned so far. This series is going to be broken down as follows:
  • The Budget
  • Emergency Fund Savings and the Debt Snowball
  • Cutting Expenses
  • Building Momentum
  • Freedom from Debt and The Future
So without further ado, let's begin at the beginning of our marriage...or rather the last week of September 2008 (we'd been married almost two weeks) when we had our first financial meeting as a couple and merged our finances officially. This was incredibly interesting because I don't know about all of you, but I didn't have a single financial class in high school or college to teach me how to manage money, so this meeting was something neither of us really knew how to conduct...we just knew we had to do it.

So first, I was very fortunate because a dear friend of mine (Jen) recommended a budget software to me a few years earlier called YNAB. Since I'd been using that for a few years, I just shared it with Ciaran at this wonderful meeting at the end of September, showed him the website and what I had learned from using the software and he said he was game to try it. So we merged our finances and off we went. That's right, no separate accounts, no hidden money, just every single penny we had between the two of us was laid before us in this budget.

The next challenge we faced was how to steward these funds within our budget. What percentage of our income should go to what?! So we started first with our tithe and then proceeded to monthly expenses: rent, utilities, food, debt payments, etc. and went from there, plugging in each number into our budget. We still had no clue how much we actually needed for the two of us for food or how much our electricity bill would be each month, so we just made a guestimate and plugged that into the budget. We did this until every penny was spent. [Please note that by "spent," I mean it was given a name/job so some money was put in a category knowing we wouldn't spend it that month, but it would be available in that category for future months or was money sitting in a savings account.] After praying together, we then closed our first budget meeting. That was it. It was that simple. We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew that many marriages end over financial issues, so we just purposed to get on the same page within those first weeks of marriage and off we went with it, prayerfully determined to figure this out.

The next component of our budget, other than spending every dollar on paper before the month (October) started, was a determination to track every penny we spent and record it in YNAB. This was the area that Ciaran and I were most reluctant. I had had great success with this during my single years, but I didn't have nearly as many expenses as I now was going to have. But we purposed to do it anyway. Note, we didn't purpose to "try," we purposed to "do," for a trial period of 3 months. If, after 3 months, it wasn't working for us, then we would try something else.

That was one of the greatest gifts for this financial component of our marriage. It was eye-opening to me as we would sit down and plug in our spending each night or week (if we did it every night before bed it would take about a minute or two and if we did it weekly, it would take about 15 minutes or so). [Now, almost 22 months later, we do this daily, for the most part.] This simple step opened the lines of communication between us with regard to finances and then as a by-product, we found ourselves calling each other if we were in the store and about to make a bigger than normal purchase, checking to see if it was "in the budget" if we forgot, or if we could reallocate any funds for any surprise expense we were facing. We also learned more about each other's interests, strengths and weaknesses through this process.

Ciaran and I had been good friends for seven years prior to marriage, yet I learned more about this beloved husband of mine in those three short months, than I ever had before. The oneness that we have in our marriage was deepened through this process of getting our finances together and the necessary communication that ensued. It has been so awesome and I cannot recommend enough the value of getting on a budget. I've heard many friends say that far from being a restricting tool, it has felt like they were given a raise when they sat down and starting making their money work for them instead of working for their money. A zero-based budget was the first step in our financial journey and if you're interested, I have a few links below to show options for creating a zero based budget. You can always just do one on paper, but I find it to be a bit cumbersome, so that's why I'm linking below some of the electronic versions.

By far my favorite and what we use! Clear interface, easy to use, free webinars for support, online tutorials, etc. Love it, love it, love it!

-Gazelle Budget Lite

Seems a good option if you are just getting started and want a very simple budget.

-My Total Money Makeover
With this paid subscription there is a budget tool within the site you can use. I like this budget because it shows what percentage of your income is going to each category right on the main interface of the budget.

I've never used it, but have friends who testify that it works really well for them.

A lot of people defect from this to YNAB. It seems pretty good though...just not as good as YNAB in my humble opinion.

-And then of course there is the wonderful Excel spreadsheet. I used this before Jen got me hooked on YNAB.

All right, that rounds out part one of our financial journey so far. Be sure to check back on Monday, when I get to share with you the next component that comprised our journey to becoming debt free! Also be sure to post any comments related to what has worked for you if you use budgeting software. Ciaran and I love to learn and any wisdom you have to offer, we would gladly welcome!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Frugal Fridays

I thought it would be fun to start a Frugal Fridays series. If (and that's a big "if") I post on a Friday, I'm going to share at least one thing the Lord is teaching me about being frugal and becoming a better home economist.

What I want to share with you today is a website that has been hugely instrumental in this quest. The author of this blog is Crystal Paine and she used to have a blog that I read all of the time called Biblical Womahood. Since she no longer has that blog, I transferred over to the one that I'm going to share with you today.

It's called Money Saving Mom. She has tons of leads on good deals at the grocery store, how to cut your food budget, freezer cooking tips, etc. I have learned so much since I started reading this blog on a weekly basis. Once a week when I sit down to plan the week's menus and make my grocery list, I pull this website up before I peruse my week's sale flyers and coupons. It's been a big help and a much-needed source of inspiration as I learn and grow in this area of homemaking.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Perils of Summer Vacation

It’s 4:45pm and I just looked around my apartment. There are dishes piled in the sink; there’s clutter all over our dining room table and coffee table; the bed is unmade; my bathing suit is drip-drying haphazardly over a clothes rack which is completely taking over our guest bathroom; and the laundry is sitting in the machine, waiting to be turned over. And where am I? I’ve been sitting on our couch for the past hour reading blogs.

Summer vacation is such a wonderfully glorious time. The beauty of Michigan summers are a particular love of mine, the time away from my classroom is always welcome by June, and a million projects are always waiting for me to get started on. Yet, summer vacation also has its perils as the above scene more than amply portrays.

Summer vacation was much needed for me this year. As Ciaran and I discussed what I would be doing with my time this summer, he lovingly pointed out that my 70 hour work weeks were taking a toll on me and that he would support my resting this summer and gearing up for another grueling school year. And so that’s the reason I’m not working another job this summer.

But that doesn’t mean that I have a license to be slothful. Yet, as summer progresses, I find myself spending more and more time on the computer; taking ridiculous amounts of time to do seemingly simple tasks; etc. This simply will not do.

For the month of July, I've been reading a chapter in Proverbs each day as part of my morning time with Lord. Here was the verse that the Lord just brought to my mind as I wrote this post, a verse I read only just this morning. It's a reminder for me to rise and work diligently serving the Lord with this time He has blessed me with and not get caught up with planning and "saying" I'm going to get to work...and then sitting idly looking at blogs all afternoon:

"In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty." -Proverbs 14:23

So with that reminder, I'm going to rise and get to work joyfully serving the Lord and my husband.