Monday, August 29, 2016

Getting on the Same Page Re: Finances

One of the most common things that couples fight about is finances. It seems that every time someone talks or writes about finances in marriage, they list lots of statistics about how it’s the biggest cause of divorce, or there are X number of unhappy marriages out of ten because of finances. 

I’m going to spare you that because I don’t think that the money is actually the root cause of the fights. I believe there are two root issues that cause fights about money: communication and selfishness.

I’m going to tackle selfishness first because it is actually less common. Most people want the best for their spouse and their family, and those that don’t usually don’t realize that they are acting in that way. Take a step back and think…Are my recent major purchases for me? Did I make any of them without my spouse’s approval? Are we stretching our finances for something that I really want but don’t actually need?

If you honestly answer yes to any of these questions, well, we all get there at times. I know I have. I drug Laura into a pickup purchase several years ago that was really more than we could afford or needed at that time, and I regretted it for two years before eventually getting into a more sensible vehicle. But when both of you are focused on each other’s happiness, the selfishness ends.

Communication, or lack thereof, is the most common financial stressor. I think that we often avoid conversations because they are tough, or they might lead to a fight. Avoiding a discussion now always leads to a bigger, more difficult one down the road. 

Speaking from experience, it is imperative that both of you are on the same page about your financial goals and your path to get there. Most couples never sit down and have this talk, but it changed our marriage for the better. 

Once you agree on a plan, you can work together to accomplish it. It isn’t always easy; in fact it never is, but when you are on the same page, it is doable. Even if your financial state isn’t great right now, a firm plan is always better than chaos. If you want to read more, I wrote this post on communication awhile back.

I’m praying that this might help you think about your finances as a couple differently. Maybe something about this gave you a nudge or an idea. I’ve included a template spreadsheet like the one we use to manage our finances and how we are progressing toward our goals. 

Everyone is different, so I’m sure you’ll make some changes, but a little structure to start with always helps. May God bless your marriage and your finances.


p.s. If you'd like us to email you the Excel file of the Finances Template, please click the "Contact Us" tab at the top of site. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Told You Twice: An Interview with Heitzmann

Last week, I posted an extended review of Heitzmann's new novel, Told You Twice. This week, I'm excited to have you hear from her directly. I hope you'll be as blessed as I am by her words.


What message do you hope your readers receive with the Told You Series? 

I never intend a specific message when I write, though I suppose the stories reveal one or another depending on the reader. This series seems to be about the realities and struggles of life, of love, of failing and forgiving. I want to bridge the gap between Christian stories that paint a church-perfect life for the characters, and Christian (and non-Christian) characters in stories of life that are recognizable to secular readers. In this series I hope to portray the entirety of human experience, physical, emotional, and spiritual, giving each its due without sanitizing to meet expectations. I let the characters speak for themselves and the stories go where they may.

If you could be any of your characters in the Told You Series, whom would you be? Why? 

Oh, probably Exi. Because, well, Beau.

What authors/books have inspired you? 

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow, Doc, and most everything she writes. Craig Johnson Longmire Series. Louise Penny Inspector Armand Gamache Series. C.S. Harris Sebastian St. Cyr Series.

In the Creative Writing textbook I use for my students, the author states, "All writing is autobiographical as well as invented. Just as it's impossible to write the whole and literal truth about any experience, so it's also impossible to invent without drawing on your own experience, which has furnished your brain" (Burroway, p. 3). Do you agree with this statement? In what way do you draw on your own experiences for the Told You Series? 

I do think that’s true. The first book, Told You So, deals with the impact of fame and appearances in Christian life. That amount of fame is not autobiographical, but I’ve wrestled with trying to appear righteous when I struggle as much as the next person. I have also felt the censure—especially with how honestly I chose to tell that story. Life imitating art that imitated life. The second book, Told You Twice, deals with the hard realities of life without a moral compass, even when fame offers such reward. I’ve seen the wreckage of promiscuity and drug abuse, of hopelessness and despair. The shine that radiates from Told You Twice is made brighter by choosing to show the darkness as it is.

 "The shine that radiates from Told You Twice is made brighter by choosing to show the darkness as it is." ~ Kristen Heizmann

What's your writing process like? What motivates you and keeps you on schedule?

First, schedule is anathema. Writing for me is a creative river that always flows. At times I step out or others step in, but it’s really the rhythm of my life from the time I wake to when I sleep—and even asleep, I think. :)

What advice do you have for novice writers? 

Immerse yourself in good books by good writers.

How do you re-fuel?

Reading, watching shows or movies with a plot and characters, listening to audiobooks, hiking with audiobooks. Hitting mountain trails is especially refreshing.

Who is the hero or heroine in your own life?

My husband. 36 years of hanging in there with me. Gold medal performance right there.

Kristen Heitzmann is an internationally published, award-winning author of contemporary romantic suspense, psychological suspense, and historical novels. She is a fiction teacher and conference speaker. An artist and mountain hiker, Kristen lives in Colorado with her family, pets, and wildlife. 


Click to Tweet: An interview with @KFHeitzmann on books that inspire, why schedule is anathema, and insight into the #ToldYouSeries.

Click to Tweet: @KFHetizmann tells novice writers: "Immerse yourself in good books by good writers."

Click to Tweet:  "The shine that radiates from Told You Twice is made brighter by choosing to show the darkness as it is." @KFHeitzmann

Click to grab your copy of Told You So and Told You Twice on Amazon.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Go Hug Your Wife": Words of Wisdom From My Dad

I told you on Thursday I'm feeling sentimental with these Olympic games as I consider what our family was facing in 2012.

For Marriage Monday, I thought I'd share a great post my dad wrote when we were in the midst of that c-word journey, and even now, almost four years later, it still brings me to tears.

Married folks: I hope you'll listen to his wisdom and be grateful for your spouse!


by Mike Calmes

So I figured it was time for me to put my thoughts to paper partly to share where I’ve been in all this, but also I knew it would be therapeutic for me. As most of you are aware, I’m not known as the communicator in our family. I am the quiet one. And as I like to joke: I’m not really that quiet; just in our family, for me, it’s an issue with opportunity….to speak that is. And you all know what I’m saying there!! So I say bear with me as I attempt in my own feeble way to communicate my experience and my heart since July 17th. (And I’m confident my “editorial staff” will dress up this weak attempt as well).
Let me start by saying I have an incredible wife. Not only is she the love of my life for 25 years of marriage this past week, but she is my best friend. She is my biggest encourager. She epitomizes the cliché “behind every good man is a strong woman” because she is just that for me. All of you know what a friend, an investor, an encourager, a teacher, and an example of gratitude and joy she is. Just imagine…Most get that part of her occasionally, but I get to be with her daily. I can only say I love my life with my wife. I did not need a crisis or adversity to confirm that; I’ve known it for a long time.
July 17, 2012 our life changed as you know. Tomi came home from her screening mammogram and said she knew it was abnormal, and they’d call her for repeat views. I, being the eternal optimist, said that they do that all the time, probably nothing, but we’ll get the extra views….nine days later we had a biopsy positive for breast cancer followed by surgery with the removal of the tumor. Now she’s undergoing chemotherapy to be followed by radiation therapy. You know the rest of the details from previous posts, and I’m here to tell you that her prognosis is very, very good….with treatment. But I also will tell you as a physician and husband, I still felt fear through this process. Not fear that her end result would be bad, fear that the process of treatment was not without risk of complications.
So now I come to tell you that my wife is strong, and I’m not. She even said during this process under the influence of pharmaceuticals, “I’m a tough cookie.” And repeated it over and over and over. But she’s right; she is a strong woman. And I’m here to tell you that I’m not a “tough cookie.” As a husband, I have seen myself as a protector of my family and especially my wife. But when this enemy, this battle came upon us, I was so disheartened and sad because I could not protect Tomi from this foe. Oh I have knives and guns and testosterone, but I feel helpless in this setting. Michalea said in her first post that I was hurting from a place they had not seen before, and she is so right. I have been hurting in a place even I didn’t recognize. I have been distressed because I couldn’t protect her from this, and I have been saddened because of her journey she must endure physically.

I find I cry frequently. I’m not gonna lie sometimes I think I cry like a “girl.” During those first days after diagnosis, in my morning quiet time, I’d cry to God to take this away from Tomi. Now I cry when I’m alone and not distracted by enough. The other day I was leaving church alone and cried on the way home….I don’t know why; I just did. Another day I was in a store, and they were having a bake sale for breast cancer awareness, and I bought some cookies wrapped in a pink ribbon and went to my truck and wept.
Brennan Manning in Ruthless Trust  says, “When the shadow of Jesus’ cross darkens our space, when pain and suffering intrude and our secure, well-regulated lives are blown apart, when tragedy makes its unwelcome appearance, and we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own heartache, when courage flies out the window, and the world around us suddenly seems dark and menacing, self-pity is the first, normal unavoidable, and probably right reaction, and we only exhaust ourselves further if we attempt to suppress it. Human experience has taught me that there is no effective way to fight self-pity. Sure, we can spiritualize heartbreak, camouflage our emotions, and tap dance into religiosity. But such bravado is a denial of our humanity, and furthermore it does not work. We are not spiritual robots but sensitive persons.”
But he goes on to say not to stay in that place. It is a normal emotion, but there is a time it becomes pathologic. Ruthless means without pity. We need to have ruthless trust in a sovereign God and a compassionate Savior.
In Tuesdays with Morrie, the dying professor Morrie says regarding his terminal plight, “I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life.”
And that’s what I do. And I can’t begin to list all the good things that Tomi and I have in our lives. Let me start with three great adult kids. You’ve heard from Michalea and Laura and have heard their hearts, and they both have been tireless servants throughout this time. Clinton is also a fine young man with many talents and a giant-sized heart. Imagine, him holding me in his arms as I cried when they took Tomi into surgery. Our daughters have incredible husbands, and we are getting the best and sweetest daughter-in-law we could hope for in February.
We all knew Tomi was a huge investor in relationships with people, and we knew she had lots of friends…..but I don’t think any of us realized how many people and how far reaching her love, her ministry, her encouragement had reached until now.  The outpouring of the love of Jesus through the love and service of people, His hands and feet, to our family and Tomi has been overwhelming to say the least. People have been so kind and generous and considerate as well. With the upcoming race, Team Tomi continues to grow in numbers, reflecting the care and support for Tomi. I can’t say thanks enough but stand in awe of a loving God that wants to show us in real tangible ways that He loves us through others. Thanks to you ALL!!
To our young married couples…..and since I don’t have a Facebook page, I’ll say it here… your relationships with your spouse, don’t sweat the small stuff; keep your priorities right. Love your spouse with encouragement and serve one another always. Remember how special they are in your life.
We had a dear friend lose his wife to cancer recently. He was not aware yet of Tomi’s diagnosis. As I attended the visitation time at the funeral home (Tomi wasn’t able to attend), he hugged me, and he said, “go home and hug your wife and tell her you love her…and do it often.” Let me reaffirm that Tomi’s prognosis is very, very good, but when you hear the “Big C” word, it gives me pause and time to reflect on the importance of my awesome wife in my life.
So to you all…. Go hug someone dear to you and tell them you love them often because you never know when you may find yourself on…..
An unlikely journey.
2 Cor 12: 9-10

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Olympics: Four Years Ago

In our house, the Olympics have been on pretty much every second that we aren’t asleep or at work. I love watching these events!

But this year the games seem particularly special as I think about where we were four years ago.

2012. My family and I sat glued to the TV for days, some on the couch or in rocking chairs, others sprawled on the floor.

We watched to pretend that only the Olympics were real—and words like cancer and chemo were a myth.

We waited in that awful span of days that felt like years between diagnosis and treatment.

We knew surgery was coming soon.

Then chemo.

Then radiation.

But we focused, instead, on whether Walsh Jennings and May would win the gold or what Michael Phelps’ final medal count would be.

We even watched the non-primetime stuff like equestrian events and water polo.

I still remember cracking up at one unpopular competition—not because the event was particularly funny or because someone goofed up.

But because we needed to laugh to delay the reality, to recede the sadness and the fear and the uncertainty.

We laughed and watched and ate and remained together—a family on the edge of an unlikely journey.

First Treatment

I can’t watch the Olympics this year without remembering where we were, and I’m grateful for how far we’ve come.

Today—in 2016—there’s no cancer, no chemo, no fear.

We thank God for life and healing every day. I really can't express the gratitude we feel for what God has done in our family.

Dear friends, should you encounter the unexpected, I pray you’ll be surrounded by God’s grace and peace.

p.s. If you’re interested, our family blogged about our experiences from diagnosis to the last treatment. You can follow the journey here

Book Review: Told You Twice

Told You Twice by Kristen Heitzmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Told You Twice more than matches the wit and charm of book one in the stellar series that tackles real-world issues while demonstrating the enormity of God's grace and love. If you loved the first book, prepare to fall deeper in love with familiar characters, and expand your arms to embrace another romantic duo equally as enthralling. Heitzmann's novel showcases God's redeeming power for every kind of lost soul. She deftly handles the realism of secular motivations and balances it with subtle but powerful truths of Christian hope and freedom.

As with all her works, Heitzmann creates characters we fall in love with, despite their flaws, weaving each perspective through unexpected twists in her captivating narrative. From character and plot development to dialogue and description, I can't offer enough praise. Heitzmann excels in all four areas when so many contemporary novels sacrifice something for the another. She is truly a master of the writing craft, and this second book in the series is another of her must-reads.

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.


I feel so honored to be entrusted with the task of reviewing this book. If you know me, you know I've been an avid Heitzmann fan for almost 20 years. I've read all of her books as soon as they are released, and then I twiddle my thumbs and check her website incessantly until the next release date.

I've already posted my review (above) on Goodreads and Amazon, but I want to add a few more comments here. 

When I say that Heitzmann is a master of the writing craft, I'm not exaggerating. I'm enthralled by her word play--sometimes fun, sometimes profound. Here are a few of my favorites:


"... There's hardly a ripple of uncertainty in anything he does, while I get tangled in all the possibilities." 

"I thought you were matched up on every point."

Exi swiveled the cafe stool. "We're not the same, but complementary. He fills my gaps." 


"As the world knows, we started our family prematurely." 

"But look how happy you are. You said in that interview, God makes our mistakes shine."

"I don't recommend making them purpose." 


Bo was not the devil Devin thought him, but he could raise hell and make it look like heaven. 


Eileen snickered. "All right. Make your play. You already ruffled feathers."

"Some feathers need ruffling. Even favored sons."

"Green isn't your color. And I'm not limited to one pet." 


"... We've lost the sense of sex as sacred."


His heart flared, but he pressed thoughts of her down where he kept things that hurt. Separation kept her safe. Her safety kept him sane. 


If you haven't read Told You So, I recommend reading it first. Then grab your copy of Told You Twice

Both books tackle real-world struggles and the beauty of God's grace. 

Happy reading, and stay tuned for Part Two: An Interview with Heitzmann!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hello, August: I'm Catching Back Up

July ended up being a busy month, so I can’t say we took a relaxing, peaceful break last month. But I admit I’ve missed the practice of regularly blogging. Allow me to do a little catch up:

On the personal side
We kept my nephew for July 4th weekend. 

We’ve been to two different lakes with various family last month. 

We celebrated my mom’s birthday and Howell’s grandmother’s 90th birthday. 

And we went to NYC with our best friends.

What a great month for spending time with others! We are continually blessed by the people God has placed in our lives.

On the writing side
I entered several contests this summer, so I’m hoping to hear something on those soon. I’ve also revised my manuscript like crazy, especially the first half. The critique group I joined has greatly blessed me, and I received feedback from another writer-friend who swapped manuscripts with me. Both opportunities have allowed me to make some changes that (hopefully!) strengthen the manuscript.

I am waiting on an agent-hopeful, and in the meantime, I’m thinking of setting this manuscript aside and focusing on another story God has put on my heart. I’m in the process of outlining it now, and since I’m shooting for the shorter side on this one (maybe 40,000 words), I’m hoping I can finish it this year.

August is like January for us teacher-folks, and I always love the renewed sense of purpose I get at the start of every school year. I anticipate good things to come.

The Lord continues to woo me closer, drawing me in where I can see His Daddy heart. I’m reminded of His goodness, of His perfect plan.

“The Lord is good and what He does is good.” Psalm 119:68
“For the Lord is a shield and a sun. He bestows honor and favor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11
“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” Psalm 138:8

Whether this month feels like a new start or a halfway point in the year for you, I pray you’ll take deep breaths today and allow the Lord to love on you with His goodness. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Tomorrow, we will celebrate eight years of incredible marriage. It’s funny how in many ways it has flown by, yet I feel as though we have been married forever. Eight years went by in a blink and at the same time helped create a bond between two people that is tight beyond what I knew was possible.

I still remember the first day that I met Laura, even though she doesn’t. :P I thought, wow, she is beautiful. She really might be the one I’ve been looking for. I’ve never been one of those people that believe there is only one person out there for everyone, but I do know for a fact that God created us for each other in many ways. 

You see, a few months before we met, I asked my dad “How do I know when I’ve found a person who I can marry?” He said that I need to be confident in what I was looking for before I could be sure when I found it. Wise words, as usual, from him. I made a list with 17 qualities, ranging from spiritual to physical to personality and prayed over it. The night I met her, I started checking them off, and it didn’t take long before they were all checked, and I was falling fast in love. It took her a little longer to get there, but we have been mad about each other ever since.

We’ve been through good and bad times, made huge mistakes and great decisions. In eight short years (knowing each other ten), we have formed a friendship and a marriage bond that is deeper than I could’ve imagined. Every night, when I pray for her before bed, I thank God for Laura and for putting us together. When I think He might be holding out on us, or I have some unanswered prayer, I’m reminded of the life that He has given the two us, and I have no doubt that He is good.

This is supposed to be a fun post, and I’ve gotten deep and emotional. So, to lighten the mood, I’ll let you on a little inside joke about our eighth anniversary. Laura is always the one of us who remembers things. She can probably tell you what we ate last week for dinner and what is on her calendar for ten days from now. For some reason though, our sixth anniversary became our eighth in her mind. Nearing our anniversary, people would ask how many years we had been married. The answer was repeatedly eight. 

Now, I’m not always sure of my memory, but I was very sure once I counted on my fingers that that was not our eighth anniversary. When I asked about it, she was embarrassed, but we had a good laugh. And then she said “It just seems like we’ve been married so long!” So I said, “Well I guess time flies when you’re having fun.” Since then, it’s been a running joke that we will always have been married eight years. Now it’s true!

We are so blessed to share the little bit of wisdom we’ve gained from the Lord in our marriage. It is an honor and a privilege. We look forward to many more wonderful years of marriage and hopefully, passing that on to you.