Monday, August 14, 2017

The Words You're Probably Avoiding

Finances. Budgets. Bills. These are words most couples dread, right?

Usually Howell is the one to blog about money (this one is my fav), but it’s been on my heart this week, so I wanted to share a few principles we follow that I believe bring peace to this area in our marriage.

1. Tithe. If you’re on the fence about tithing, I can promise you it’s worth it to be obedient to the Lord. When we follow His word and do as He asks, abundant blessing follows. Our first couple years of marriage, our combined income was below the poverty level of a single-income household, and yet, we followed this principal of giving 10% of our income to the Lord (i.e. to our church home)—and we never went without. God has always provided everything we need.

We’ve always had the mindset that everything we own is God’s, and from the very beginning, we’d ask him, what do you want us to do with your money? Pay bills, of course. Provide for ourselves. But what else?

We both come from families who are “givers.” What does that mean? It usually means the family tithes—but in our case, we also watched our parents give generous gifts, sometimes to support monthly ministries, sometimes to give one-time gifts to the church for a project, sometimes to give extravagantly to those in need.

My dad used to tell me, even as a young girl, “You can’t out-give God.” How incredibly true! That first year of marriage, on our little income, we not only tithed, but we prayerfully considered giving to specific ministries every month. At first, we couldn’t give much, but as we were diligent to give away the little that we had, God quickly and immeasurably provided a blessing in return. With every raise we’ve ever had, our question has always been—Okay, God? How much and where to?

2. Save. Since I’ve already ball-parked our early income for you, I’ll go ahead and share that we saved enough for a down payment to buy a house within one year of being married on an income that certainly felt teeny-tiny. Want to know how? We save 10% of our income each month. 10%--that’s all. Give 10, Save 10.

We’ve been supernaturally rewarded by being stewards of our money in this way. We’ve been married 9 years, and we’ve paid off roughly $90,000 in debt. Today our only debt is our house, which will be paid for in 13 years or less.  I don’t say that to brag—in fact, I felt humbled when I started totaling it all up in preparation for this post. But because I know it’s possible to tackle what might even feel impossible, I want to encourage you: it can be done!

3. Mutually submit. We get paid twice a month, and we immediately tithe and save 10%. We do it on the gross income (though we don’t think there’s anything wrong doing it the other way), so we’re a little more stretched. What’s left after that is the money we live on and the money we give away.

Howell’s emphasized budgeting, and we live by his cute little spreadsheet (love ya, babe :)), so we know when it’s all spent on bills or giving, this is what we’ve got left to spend (gas, food, entertainment, etc.).

So what do I mean by mutually submit? Every couple has a spender and saver—and sometimes to more or less varying degrees. Whether you’re one or the other, remember that every financial choice you make affects your spouse. You’re communicating love and respect by how you spend your money (or by what you withhold in spending).

If your spouse has asked you not to purchase something or to be conscious of the “leftover” money this month, then honoring that amount is the way you honor him or her.

And I believe the Lord blesses us, not only when we honor each other with our spending but when we honor Him with our money as well.

I know money isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, but I hope you’ll be encouraged this week. If your bills feel too high, if your savings feels too low—begin to ask the Lord how He wants you to steward your money (and then be obedient! :)).

His word is true. Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not lack.”

Believe that, my friends. He will always provide for you!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

When the Rain Comes...

We had several days of rain last week, often at random intervals of the day. I found myself carrying my umbrella at all times—even when it wasn’t raining. I’d carry it to work in the morning, and then again to my car for lunch, and then back to work after lunch, and back to my car at the end of the day.

Sometimes I’d get to work and need it for the quick walk inside—or I’d need it for the walk from the office to my car. 

But most of the time, I was carrying an umbrella without a drop of moisture coming down.

I felt a little silly about it, but I kept thinking I didn’t want to get caught in a downpour without the coverage. That’s happened to me on multiple occasions. Better to be prepared than not, right? 

Our spiritual life can be like that.

It’s not always raining. Sometimes there’s no warning for an impending downpour. But don’t you want to be ready when it comes?

Psalm 119 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible because it’s shares the writer’s love for God’s word—knowing, obeying, hiding, seeking, declaring, and trusting in His word.

Some of my favorites:

11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

49 Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.

92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

165 Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble.

That last verse—nothing can make them stumble—is so powerful. It reminds me of Psalm 112 where it says the righteous “is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Or the Proverbs 31 woman who “laughs at the days to come” (v. 25).

How does that happen? I believe it happens when we know who God. Bill Johnson says that fear is imagining the future without God in it. When I start to feel fearful, that always stops me, and I remind myself, there’s no future circumstance that He doesn’t already know about. And there’s nothing I’ll face that He can’t comfort.

Having God’s word in your heart is like carrying around an umbrella, even when it’s not raining.

When the rain does come, you’re ready. You’ll have great peace and hope because His truth is in you.

What are some of your favorite verses? How do you practice hiding God’s word in your heart?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Nine Quick Years

This week, we'll celebrate our ninth anniversary. Reflecting on this has brought me to think just how quickly nine years can fly by. We have traveled, enjoyed life, endured trials, and loved like I didn’t know was possible. 

Ours marriage has only gotten stronger over time, and we are thankful  we get to share what we’ve learned with you. Today, I want to focus on a few truths that I’ve discovered over the past nine years.

Go to the God’s Word for help.  I’ve probably read Ephesians 5 more times than I can count. Paul has so many excellent insights into marriage, and Jesus presents incredible wisdom on the subject too. Check out Ephesians 4 and 5, Matthew 19, and Mark 10.

Second, communicate expectations. Whether this is communicating your expectations of what the other person should do, or communicating what you’ll do or when you’ll be somewhere--do it. It can change your marriage. How many arguments have you been in because one or both of you had a different idea of how an event, time, or aspect of your marriage would play out? This is something that I’m still learning, but even so, it has changed our marriage for the better.

Sex is really important. In my opinion, Christian culture downplays the importance of sex as a reaction to today’s secular culture. While it is important that sex be kept within the context of marriage, it is an essential part of marriage. It can be a big part of what makes a marriage great or terrible. My advice here is to not avoid the subject with your spouse. This should be something that is talked about frequently. Don’t be afraid to pick up a Christian book about this or ask someone you trust. We have.

Lastly, don’t be stubborn. Your spouse will change you over time. It’s okay. Laura and I have grown more alike over the past few years, and we think that’s a good thing. There are things that I like about my life now that I wouldn’t have considered before living with her. People often hold on to their idiosyncrasies and little habits when they get married, as if that is what makes them who they are. Only God defines who you are, not the laundry on the floor or the thing your spouse does that drives you crazy.

I hope these little tidbits blessed you today. I pray that you have many, many years of wedded bliss. An extraordinary marriage is possible; you just have to believe and work at it.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Let Us Strive to Find Rest"

I’ve been reading about rest in Hebrews 4, studying from different commentaries on this word and its meaning (which is layered). Although the writer seems to be talking about multiple meanings of rest, I’ve been mostly dwelling on this:

“So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10, ESV).

If God, who needs no rest, rested, how could we not follow his lead? So, I asked myself—what does rest mean to me? What does rest look like?

Sometimes it’s being curled up on the couch with a book or watching a movie or show with Howell or sitting on our front porch, watching the barn swallows. But my favorite happy place?


My dad purchased a few hundred acres of land shortly after I graduated from college about an hour away, and this place has become a little oasis for us. There’s always work to be done, something that needs to be maintained—like shredding roads, spraying mesquites or weeds, repairing fences, etc.—but then we play.

And after we play, we sit. On the porch. On the patio. On the back of a tailgate.

The stars are not veiled by city lights, and the only sounds are the crickets and the distant coyote call.

That sounds like “Sabbath rest” to me.

I’ve always loved Psalm 23—“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

The Lord does it all; I need only follow and submit my heart to His. There’s no other effort.

I actually love the way the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” (4:11).

Let us work to rest? Let us make an effort to rest?

Seems paradoxical, but it reminds me of Jesus’s words to His disciples: the only work for you to do is believe (John 6:29).

When it’s that kind of effort toward rest, it’s an easy striving.

What about you, my friends? Are you taking time to rest? Do you have a happy place—where your heart finds peace, and your soul is restored?

It’s an effort we’re commanded to make. Let us strive to find rest this week. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Seeking Wise Counsel

Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.”

The Message Version of Proverbs 19:20-21 says, “Take good counsel and accept correction—that’s the way to live wisely and well.” 

Don’t we all want to be wise? Don’t we want to live well?

Listening to advice—namely, seeking wise counsel—is hard, but I’ve found that it’s essential in all areas of our life, especially in our marriages.

Howell and I were having dinner with three other couples a few months ago, all of whom had been married anywhere from ten to twenty years longer than we have. Somehow the topic of counseling came up, and every single one of us shared how counseling had positively impacted our marriages at one point or another.

I’ve been thinking about that since then. Some people might have a certain fear about counseling, especially marriage counseling. Maybe it feels like failure—and they want to keep holding on to the secret that their marriage is falling apart. Maybe it feels too personal—and they don’t want someone all up in their business.

Can I tell you the truth, dear friend?

It’s neither shameful nor scary.

Bringing your “stuff” into the light brings freedom and healing—and wise counsel becomes a balm to those broken places.

There’s something about an outside perspective that helps you see things in your marriage, in yourself, or in your spouse that you couldn’t have seen otherwise. And wise counselors have good tools to help us better understand each other.

Howell and I went through some intense counseling early on, and I genuinely believe it set us up for a solid foundation. We learned so much about ourselves—as much as we learned about each other.

In those first few years of marriage, when we would argue, I would want to leave—the room, the house. Always, I wanted an escape. And Howell would say, “But Mary Ann said we should…”

And for whatever reason, that worked. (FYI: Mary Ann was our counselor. J) It’s not that she had a certain power over us, but when he said that, it would remind me of my behavior, where the root of it came from, what it meant to me, what it communicated to Howell—and I would remember, I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to be the person who leaves in an argument, who can’t settle a disagreement, who can’t listen to wisdom. And so I would stay, and I would talk, and I would listen.

We have the power within us to choose how we behave. I suppose the second step of counseling is application, right?

Wise counsel comes in many forms—not only the professional kind (though it is a worthy investment!). You can also surround yourself with wise counsel—your parents, your mentors, your friends. Always, the Bible instructs us and gives us tools for how to live.

Even now, Howell and I seek wise counsel when we make big decisions, especially financial ones. We have people in our lives who speak truth to us, and we heed their advice.

If you’re struggling today—especially if your marriage feels like it’s failing, I encourage you to seek wise counsel and heed good advice. May it bring healing and freedom and restoration to your relationship.

[This post originally appeared on the Harvest Christian Fellowship blog, Among Friends.]