Nathanael

Nathanael David Cross lived a short, 13 week life.  But he was important.  He mattered.  He still matters to us.  Though his name is not one we had been considering before his passing, we decided we wanted to pack as much meaning as possible into his short existence.  Nathanael means “gift of God” and David means “beloved.”  We thought it fit him.

Most people talk about pregnancy as if it’s a time where they may have some fears and they hate getting “fat”, but generally everything is like puppies and rainbows with an extra pregnancy “glow.”  For me, pregnancy was a tumultuous roller coaster of joy and caution before finally landing at despair.  

One week after we shared our joy with the world, our baby was lost to us.  At my gut level I knew something was wrong before we definitively knew, but I was trying to convince myself I was just being a neurotic pregnant woman.  When a friend of ours pulled our baby up on an ultrasound screen and hung her head a few seconds later, we were punched in the gut with the reality of our new place in life.  We were no longer expecting parents.  We were grieving pseudo-parents.  Could we even call ourselves parents?  We concluded yes; otherwise this wouldn’t hurt so much.

The day after a sleepless night we got in the car and drove aimlessly around the county before parking to watch the sunrise.  It was officially a new day, even though the day before didn’t really seem to end for us.  The sun was fully shining and the sky was so blue.  I remember asking myself how the world around me could be so radiantly beautiful when my personal world was so dark.  It didn’t fit.  Those first days following my miscarriage seemed endless.  One week later it felt like it had been a year that we’d been feeling the way we were.  But we tried to carry on, “get through it.”

Mostly I’ve been keeping to myself during this time, relying on my husband and a few family members to help me through the fits of grief and anxiety attacks.  I’ve never had an anxiety attack in my life.  But they’re part of me now.  Just like Nathanael.

My husband and I have concluded that nothing we’ve experienced thus far in life compares to this pain.  It’s numbing.  It’s gut-wrenching. You feel it in places you didn’t know could feel pain.  We don’t even really know how to get through this.  The worst part, I think?  God doesn’t take away the pain. Even though you desperately want Him to. But He walks with us in it.  

It hasn’t been very comforting to me until today to hear those words.  He walks with us in it.  I haven’t wanted to hear of God’s goodness or his faithfulness, and though the people who have spoken these things to me fully believe them and have the best intentions in saying them, I haven’t wanted to hear them.  Because I doubted those words.  I think it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever doubted God’s goodness or his faithfulness to me.

But today I know that God is good.  God is faithful.  I know these words to be true because even as I sit and here and tell him how angry I am at Him for not keeping this tragedy from my life, for not saving my baby…I know He’s listening to me. He hasn’t walked away.  And He can handle it.  He can handle my doubt.  He can handle my anger.  He can certainly handle my pain and the ways I might express it that don’t make sense to anyone else but Him. He’s walking with me.  And today I’m letting Him do that.  At least I’m trying.  

One of my favorite pastors, Timothy Keller, said, “We undergo deep suffering out of deep love.”  I feel like I understand that more now than ever. But so does my God.  I can remind myself today that He underwent all the suffering of the world.  For me.  And for Nathanael.  So I can say thank you and cling to the words that David wrote many years ago:

“You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.  You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.” Psalm 71: 20-21

He will revive me in His time.  And he will continue to unpack his faithfulness and goodness in my life, even as I doubt, grieve, and cry out to Him in anger and pain.  I just have to let him.  Yes, Nathanael’s short life was important and had purpose.  I’m starting to see how much of a gift he was.

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An Overhaul of the Heart

timthumb.phpThese last several months have brought so many ups, downs, emotions, thought processes, and growth.

I’m so thankful, guys.  What started out as a journey of hurt, anger, and confusion has morphed into a continuing journey of healing, questioning, and forgiveness.  I’m so thankful for the healing balm of Christ.  This journey has been not only about walking towards forgiveness of the circumstances that hurt me, but also about walking towards forgiveness and surrender of myself.  James 5:16 says to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  I think there was a lot I was holding on to and areas of selfishness in my heart that I weren’t even aware were there.  I’m thankful for my husband who was able to lovingly call me out on those areas, as well as pray for my healing as we talked through this process.

While I wouldn’t necessarily welcome these circumstances again in my life, I know they’ve happened exactly as they were supposed to for purposes that God intended to work for my good.  I don’t exactly know all the good He’s working, but I know part of it has to do with growing me and growing my relationship with Christ.  It always comes back to Christ and the reality of His forgiveness, love, and grace through the cross.  There’s nothing more healing than letting the truth of the gospel soak into the places inside you that are cold, dark, and hurting.  So if some life shake-ups had to happen to bring me into a place where the reality of the cross is permeating more of my life, I can–in the end–be thankful for them.

One of the biggest areas I feel God has grown not only me, but also my husband, is in trust.  Proverbs 16:9 is probably a familiar verse.  “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  Never has this been more true than in our lives in this season.  We had put ourselves on this trajectory of working our jobs, raising a family close to our own families, and pursuing, honestly, the normal American life.  This whole process in us has blown those plans out of the water.  Please hear when I say that that life is not, in and of itself, wrong.

We’ve just found ourselves in a season where God is saying, “Relinquish control and trust me.  Just take one step at a time.  Let me show you desires in your heart you didn’t know were there.  Let me show you what I have for you.  I’ve got this.”  One step at a time and one day at a time He has cultivated passions and desires in us for a life of ministry together. A life not caged in by debt or fears, or other restraints, but one in which we’re free to follow each step He gives us along the way.

As we’ve opened up a little with people about the steps God is asking us to take, we honestly sound like a broken record in repeating “We don’t know.”  There are so many question marks in our future right now.  And that is terrifying.  But thank you, Lord, for continuing to whisper “Relax.  I’ve got that figured out down the road.  Right now, focus here.  Focus on me and this step.”

As we’ve prayed for one step to take over the last few months, memories of former ministry experiences began to take shape in my heart.  Some know I spent a couple summers in China with a ministry called ESEC.  It’s a wonderful program built to provide a service to the Chinese people (education), but packed with so many opportunities for relational ministry and personal growth.

We have been praying for the next step in our journey, and the doors have opened for both of us to spend June in China volunteering with ESEC.  I am so excited to go on this journey with my husband.  We’ll have an opportunity to see what daily ministry is like together, as well as experience a different type of ministry and see a different side of the Church.

I don’t know what the future of ministry will look like for me or my husband, exactly.  That is a terrifying sentence to type considering we have financial obligations, stable jobs, and want to start a family. But we’re taking each step as God gives it and trusting Him to provide clarity and weave the parts together that are part of the road He has for us, whether that’s where we are or in another place.

Would you please consider coming alongside us in prayer over our steps?  We’ve never felt more sure of the fact that we want to surrender our plans for ourselves and submit to His, no matter what that life looks like.  But it’s a scary thing to “give up” what you want for yourself, even if you know that God is the ultimate father who wants to give us abundant life.

In the short term we specifically need prayer for:

Spiritual

  1. That we would continually surrender our steps and hearts to Christ’s plan.
  2. That we would have wisdom and discernment over God’s leading in our lives.
  3. Calming of fears and anxieties as we prepare to enter a very different culture and place than our own.

Technical

  1. A great deal on airfare.
  2. Same day approval (or just approval in general!) of our visas to China.  We can’t travel if they don’t approve our visas.  We’ll travel to Chicago on Friday to apply in person at the Chinese Consulate.
  3. Technical things at home:  getting all needed work completed and positions covered at church to make the time away less burdensome for those at home, finding a temporary home for our pup Ruby, getting the school year and month of May wrapped up in as restful a state as possible.

We’re excited and nervous for what’s ahead of us, but we’re trusting in God to provide and direct.  The second part of that verse in James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has a great power as it is working.”  I know there were people praying over our journey the last several months.  I also know some continue to pray.  Please don’t stop.  It’s working.  There’s already been working and healing in our lives, and we’re so grateful to God.  Please continue to pray for us.  We can’t do this without the prayers of our brothers and sisters.

So here’s our massive “I don’t know the future” life right now.  Can I say that in all of its unique fears and craziness, I love it?  Thank you, Jesus, I love it.

More of Jesus

I can see evidence of God slowly but surely chipping away at the pieces of me that aren’t reflecting Him. It’s funny, really, because sometimes the pieces chipped off are so small that they’re only seen by me, the one being sculpted. He chips off pieces of stone little by little, day by day. I’m becoming what he wants me to be, as I allow Him. I know He doesn’t force His character onto His children. But my heart is beating faster as I pray lately.

My prayers have been filled with longing. Longing to fall in love anew with the reality of Christ crucified. Longing for wisdom of how to die to myself in this time in my life. Longing for more of Christ and less of me. I feel the call of Christ to go deeper. But though I feel like running wholeheartedly towards those longings for Christ my body feels cemented in place. How do I move forward? What’s the first step?

1 Peter 2 talks not only about Christ being the foundation stone, but also about those who trust in Christ. Our role is to be living stones that are part of the construction of a spiritual temple, filled with vibrancy and life through Christ. Through Jesus we offer lives that are pleasing to God.

I’ll be the first to readily admit I fall short in going through my days as a “living stone.” I lack vibrancy. I lack luster and strength through Jesus. But I think that just as Michelangelo could see the magnificent David in the marble, God sees what’s inside the stone. He sees the longings of my heart and he sees my cemented feet. So He’ll keep chipping away a little bit here and a little bit there. And as He chips away at my form I pray my longings for more of Him will get to my feet. Heart will meet wisdom and action. He just has to keep chipping and I have to keep crying for more of Jesus.

The Process of Softening

One of my favorite pastors is Timothy Keller. I love the way he teaches the gospel.  He puts being a Christian like this:

“Being a Christian is ultimately being melted with spiritual understandings of who you are now that Jesus Christ has said, ‘You are my beloved child.’ Now that the Holy Spirit has said, ‘I now live within your heart.'”

I love the picture of us being melted by the loving and gracious truths of the gospel and what Christ’s sacrifice means for our identity. Melting implies that we’re first softened by that love and grace before completely surrendering our form, our beings, to Him. And He does that doesn’t he? He softens us to truth rather than forcing us to a state we’re not ready for yet. We must be malleable before we can melt.

A Bible study my small group is currently going through spoke to this analogy.  James 1:3 says, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Our study talked about how the word testing is the same word that silversmiths use for the process of testing silver.  It’s tested to purify and cleanse it of impurities.  This is done by melting it down and skimming the dirt or other unwanted particles off the top.  In the end, the silver is beautiful and pure.  James’ choice of words is important.  This is what God wants for us.  He desires us to be tested and cleansed not in the sense of this is a test of faith we have to pass to be a Christian, but more along the idea that we’ll feel pressures, strains, and trials that God will use to strengthen us and make us more like Him.  And shouldn’t that be the goal?  To be more like Christ?

But to make this happen we must be willing to be tested like silver.  We have to be willing to bend in our cultural understandings of the way things are or who we are.  We have to allow the warmth of the truth of our identity as sons and daughters to wash over us, to soften us.  Then we can melt in it.  What a life that will be.  

So what step do you need to take in that process? For me it means allowing God to continue to soften me to what He has for me in this season.  I can’t wait to get to the melting stage, but I know I need to be softened first.  It’s scary, too, this process.  But I remind myself I belong to Him and I’m beloved.

A Matter of Trust

A week or so ago I proposed something to the hubby that I knew he wouldn’t immediately embrace and would have to think about.  Yesterday, after having not spoken about it since the initial conversation, I brought it up again and asked his thoughts.

He disagreed with what I wanted to do.  The details aren’t important, but the conversation is.  He told me that I needed to make sure I was making this decision for the right reasons and that I needed to pray about it to make sure that it was “okay” with God (my words, not his).  I understood what his intentions were.  He wanted to make sure it didn’t reflect poorly on us. He wanted to make sure my intentions were not negative, and that I had sought God in this choice.  Valid points to make.

I understood his intentions, but the conversation still stung.  I was still left feeling like I’d been put in a spiritual guilt trip.  Though I know this was nowhere near his intention or desire for that conversation, that was the outcome on my end.  Miraculously, we didn’t fight about it, but let the conversation drop off after I got his thoughts.

Twenty minutes later he returns to me.  He apologizes.  God had spoken to him and reminded my husband that I was in the hands of my Father.  My husband didn’t need to do anything but trust that God was speaking to me.  And that I would listen.  

But that’s the hard part isn’t it?  Trusting God for your spouse?  In hindsight I realize that we do that to each other.  As we’re navigating our first big wave of life, my husband and I are learning to trust God with the other person.  So many times we rehash conversations that God uses to affirm to the other that He has each of us in His hands.  We don’t need to fear.  We can trust God with our other half.

There are a lot of parts that seemingly need to come together for us to feel at peace with trusting God for our spouse.  For me that has meant trusting that my husband will seek God. It’s also trusting that God will use this situation to grow my husband in the areas he needs strengthened.  Furthermore, it means that all of this will happen in a way that doesn’t contradict what God is speaking into my heart about my own decision making and areas of growth.  On the other side of this is my husband dealing with the same areas of trust I am.  

It’s an intricate web God weaves when he asks us to step out on uncharted ground with our spouse.  The wonder of it all is that not only is God perfectly capable of weaving with this level of intricacy, He’s faithful to do so, and He makes it beautiful.  Our role isn’t to weave the web, but to seek Him, be still, and recognize the parts he’s lovingly weaving together, even if we can’t see that it’s beautiful yet. But it will be beautiful. We can trust Him for that.

Call Me Mara

I’m actually chuckling a little bit as I’m drafting this.  What do I possibly have to say about God and faith that other people want to hear?  You might ask yourself the same question sometimes.  This is no sense of false humility, people.  This is real, literal.  I’m not sure what I might have to say.  What I do know is that God has a lot to say.  If I listen.  If you listen.

We’re only 14 days into 2016, and I’m already sensing that God has a lot to say this year.  I’m only sure of one message so far.  Trust.  In the very general sense, I trust my God.  I trust He provides for my needs.  I’ve seen that historically in my life and in the lives of others.  I trust that He loves me.  I trust that He is in all situations.  The list could go on.  My problem doesn’t seem to be trust in the general sense, but in the emotional application.

My husband and I have been experiencing some of life’s hits in the last handful of months.  We’ll no doubt continue to experience those in our lifetime, but these are the first major hits we’ve encountered together.  They’ve taken the wind out of us at times.  They’ve caused tears.  They’ve caused anger.  They’ve caused us to question people we once trusted easily. So many negative things.

In these hits I haven’t lacked trust in God.  I know He has a plan, He’s sovereign, He will provide.  But I realize I have lacked trust in Him.  I still believe the above statements to be true.  I still trust that in the end everything will be okay.  He does have a plan, He will provide and He is sovereign.

But I haven’t trusted Him with my hurt.  Maybe it’s because I want to hang onto it and nurse it a little longer.  Wait until I’m ready.  Or maybe it’s deeper than that.  Maybe it’s a fundamental lack of understanding of the character of God and how deep my love for self actually runs.

I was reading about some of the people who went through trials in the Bible.  Joseph.  Job. David.  The story that stuck out most to me was Naomi’s story in the book of Ruth. She lost her husband and her sons.  She felt and communicated openly about being dealt hard blows in life.  I can’t speculate on how she conducted herself throughout these storms of life, but if Ruth was willing to cling to her and follow her wherever she went, she must have had something good going for her character.  

When Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem, her old friends greet her by her name, Naomi.  She requests, however, that they call her Mara, because she felt that life had been unjust and ruined her.  It’s important to note that mara means “bitter.”  I imagine I’d be bitter, too.  Completely deflated and done with life, willing to live the rest of my days alone and without hope.

The beautiful thing about Naomi, however, is she is only referred to as Mara once throughout the entire story.  By the end, Ruth marries Boaz and Naomi’s family, joy, and hope in God’s victory is restored.  I love that.  What was once bitter and downtrodden is restored to hope and joy in all of its fullness through the hand of God.  

Admittedly, I find myself in a season of anger, bitterness, and lack of hope in my circumstances.  Right now, I’m Mara.  The beauty is that I know one day I can be Naomi again.  But it’ll only be through the hand of God. I’m clinging to that promise.

Our Cups Runneth Over

Well, yesterday marked the end of our house’s first No Spend Month!  Guys, this was embarrassingly difficult.  I almost hate to write about my daydreams of eating out at our favorite Mexican restaurant or ordering a large Diet Coke in a styrofoam cup from McDonalds (it’s the best, seriously; it burns all the way down).  But we survived.

Today, I went full-on grocery shopping for the first time in over a month.  Now, there’s something you need to know about me.  I love grocery shopping.  I thoroughly enjoy meal planning, making my lists, and checking sales at our local markets.  And when the plan is made, I love pushing my shopping cart through fully stocked aisles and making the plan come to fruition.  Perhaps this goes back to a feeling of caring and providing for my husband (and myself).  Whatever it is, I love it.

So it goes without saying that I was super excited to go shopping for groceries today.  We’re under a Winter Storm Warning, currently accumulating 8 inches or so of snow, and I happily trudged through it to grocery shop, blissfully unaware of anything except that I got to spend.  As I put my grocery goods on my cabinet and pantry shelves, I was struck with this:  your cup was already overflowing.

And it’s true.

We have so much more than we need.  Aaron and I could’ve lasted another week on the food we still had in our house.  This month we were blessed in so many ways.

  • My mother-in-law sent us home with groceries, including a roll of paper towel when she knew we were on the last one.  She also invited us over for dinner.
  • My mother bought groceries for home cooked meals at my sister’s so we could all gather together as a family this month.
  • My dad took us out to dinner, so we could visit and enjoy a night out.
  • My sister brought us eggs, milk, and bread yesterday because she knew we needed them and was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get them today due to a snow storm.
  • Some church friends brought me a large Diet Coke in a styrofoam cup.
  • Some church friends gifted my husband a gift card, so he could enjoy Chipotle this month.  He was in Heaven!
  • Other church friends bought us popcorn on a group movie night.  We had used a gift card for our tickets, but the experience was made fuller by generosity.
  • We received a financial gift to put towards our student loans from anonymous church friends.

The community of people God has placed us in is abundantly generous to us.  And we are so thankful for them.  We are so thankful to God for planting us where He has.  We know “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” I recognized the blessings in my life before, but God has used this month to show me just how exceedingly more He has given.  And not just materially, though he has proven to provide just as He promised, but relationally.  Our cups are full and overflowing!  Amen!

Now we’re back to our regular monthly budget.  We’re still fighting the battle of our student loans, but our No Spend Month has brought us to the point where we will pay off one of our lenders!  Hallelujah!  Another one bites the dust!  This gives me an extra burst of motivation to keep going and to keep the faith that God will provide as we seek wisdom in managing His money.

“His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

Guys, God is good to us.  And it’s not just me.  Look at your own life.  I bet He’s doing the same for you.  Oh, how He cares for His children!   If this month has taught me anything, it has taught me that my cup runneth over and over and over.  Praise be to God!

Pray. Believe.

Anyone that knows me a little bit knows that I’m crazy about my family.  We’re loud, numerous, and slightly overbearing at times.  But I love them.  I love knowing I’m part of a larger community that will support me, and I can help support them.

In recent years there’s been a shift.  It’s not something we’ve talked about openly, though I’m not sure why.  Maybe we’re scared of making more ripples in relationships we’ve seen changing.  The change has been scary to me and I’m sure others have felt the same way. Each individual family has, over time, been pushed and pulled by various demands or goals of life.  Careers.  Politics.  Belief systems.  Culture and “stuff” that should’t matter has seemingly taken root in us and put up little rock walls between us.  Not enough where we’re screaming at each other and refusing to see one another, but enough to make us more guarded in what we say.  Enough to make it easier to say no to family time.

We love each other.  I truly believe that.  But I am anxiously waiting for the cycle of our lives to once again line us up with one another.  Because I love my family.  They’re this mix of people that individually are amazing and beautiful…and together they’re heart-stoppingly extraordinary.  We’re better together.  We’re stronger.

Several weeks back we learned that my aunt Lisa has breast cancer.  I remember the phone call I got from my mom sharing the news.  My heart dropped and then ached not only for my aunt and the battle she was facing, but also for my mom who shed tears of grief and despair for her sister.  I knew my mom’s response was not special to her.  I knew the rest of my aunts, uncles, and my grandparents would be having similar conversations with various family members and shedding similar tears of pain.

The weeks that followed would be filled with more conversations with family about this disease and, of course, lots of “Googling” to get a better understanding of the medical side.  My mind and heart were constantly being reminded, however, of the human side of this.  My aunt Lisa.  A beautifully created woman with a free spirit. Lisa is like her sisters, but also different.  Her strength is quieter than the others, but no less fierce.  A quiet warrior.  And I know this strength is only partly genetic.  Mostly, it’s from her faith.  Lisa’s faith in the Lord is beautiful and constant.

The first time I saw Lisa after we learned of the news, I sat back and took in the conversations my family were having with her.  I looked as my aunt Beth leaned in close and assured her sister with love and intensity that she had wrestled with the Lord for a night and ended up feeling as if Lisa was truly going to be okay in the end.  I saw my grandpa wipe away a stray tear as he looked at his daughter.  They’ll have a special bond now as two who have endured the trials of cancer.  I saw my sister planning how we could step in to help, trying desperately to find a way to bring us together in this time.  She knows we’re stronger together, too.  Looking around at the various members of my family trying to offer love, encouragement and prayers, my hope is that we’re seeing a shift back to our roots.

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The women in my family gathered one Saturday afternoon a couple weeks ago to purchase a wig for my aunt who was getting ready to go through her second round of chemotherapy and would, as a result, begin to see hair loss.  We gathered at my grandparents’ first.  My aunt’s new pixie cut, a drastic change from her long locks, was so cute, but obviously not what she wanted to see in the mirror.  So today we would fill our bellies with lunch and our hearts with family, closeness, and encouragement as we went wig shopping.  I documented the afternoon as best I could and wanted to share a few of the shots from the day.

To close, I know time has changed us, along with other things.  We aren’t who we used to be.  But I’m hoping that as we “circle the wagons” around Lisa, we’ll find our common ground again and the genuine love we have for one another will be palpable to each of us.  I’m hoping that as we bind ourselves together, we’ll be united in faith and prayer.  Above all, I know that each of us is praying and believing in healing for Lisa.  We pray.  We believe.  And our circle continues.

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No Spend Month Update 1

Hello again!  I was so encouraged by the amount of support we received after my blog post about our No Spend Month.  Thank you thank you thank you!  It makes it easier to say “no” to ourselves when we know people are rooting for us and praying for us.

Well, we’re 9 days into our No Spend Month and thus far, we’re doing well!  We’ve been blessed beyond belief and are more confident than ever that God provides abundantly!  I may not amount to much in this world, but I belong to one mighty King who loves his children fiercely.

I’m discovering a couple things within these first few days of not spending.

1.  Spending money is often impulsive.  “Let’s just go out to dinner” or “What’s wrong with buying some ice cream this time?” have popped into my head more times than I care to admit (especially the ice cream commentary).  It’s unbelievable how much we funnel funds into our wants without even thinking about it.  Now, I am in no way against enjoying a meal out or popping favorite treats into the cart at the grocery store.  Lord knows we enjoy these things.  Often.  What I am saying is that I’m personally seeing a correlation between impulsively saying yes to myself and draining my resources.  If I often say yes to myself, I’m draining our financial resources.  There’s a spiritual correlation for me here.  He’s showing me that when I say yes to myself in other ways I’m also draining myself, a resource that can be used for His glory.  If I say yes to watching another episode–or three–of Gilmore Girls (don’t judge) rather than invest in relationships or prayer/devotional time, I am draining myself of energy and mental space (among other things) for the investments God would have me make in His kingdom.

Overall, I’m seeing importance in finding balance of investment.  It’s okay, of course, to relax and be lazy for a little bit.  But it’s about seeking not only those times to relax, but also those times to purposefully, not impulsively, invest in God and His people.

2.  Not spending money is difficult and boring.  When it’s all said and done, saying no to your wants is really hard.  I mean, really hard.  And boring.  Do you know how many times over the last 9 days I’ve thought about getting a fountain diet coke or just going out for ice cream because it’ll be fun or simply be something to do?  If I told you I’d be embarrassed.  And it’s only been 9 days!  When I find myself at home with nothing to do, it’s like something in me starts getting antsy after 20 minutes.  If I had to guess, I’m not the only person who actively looks for ways to spend money because I’m bored or feel like I should be doing something.  How did we get to this point?  I’ve been praying that God shows me how to “entertain” myself in smaller ways.  I already see Him answering this prayer in how much I’m enjoying fixing dinners I planned or the new sense of fun that comes with just driving over to my mom’s or sister’s place to chat.

What I’m liking (or grudgingly admitting I need) about this time is that it is forcing me to think about things, to work on myself, and to find joy in simplicity.  You have a lot more time on your hands to do these things when you cut out restaurants, shopping, movies, etc.  It’s definitely going to be an interesting rest of the month, but we look forward to keeping our eye on the goals of paying off our student loans and seeing how God makes us stronger through this exercise.

No Spend Month

So the hubby and I have entered into our first “No Spend Month” agreement.  Being a teacher and a pastor, our budget is already modest, but we have declared war on our student loans so money-saving ideas are always being researched and planned for in our house.  I first read about a No Spend Month on another blogger’s site, which you can find detailed here.  She challenged her readers to go an entire month without spending any money.  Naturally, I was curious because how can you go an entire month without spending anything.  Well, it turns out it is possible.

When I’ve mentioned to my family and friends what we’re doing in January, I’ve gotten everything from looks that suggest I’m crazy to offers to bring over food.  On the majority, however, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how this works.

As it turns out there are some variations to the No Spend Month and it’s important to find what works best for you and your family.  Here’s what the hubby and I have planned to not spend money on:

  • No eating out (Lord, help my husband as he goes without Chipotle)
  • No pocket money
  • No gift fund money (for birthdays and Christmas savings)
  • No money funneled into budget categories for haircuts, home projects, or beauty products.

What we are spending money on is:

  • Normal monthly bills
  • Savings for car registration (we budget it throughout the year)
  • Prescription costs
  • Dog food
  • Groceries:  produce and dairy only

I spent the last couple months scouring stores for good deals on pantry staples so we could do this.  Meal planning is something I’ve been accustomed to doing and would highly recommend for any home, but meal planning for an entire month from a freezer and pantry was out of my realm of experience.  Plan a month’s worth of meals from a pantry?  Being in our first home and first year of marriage, our pantry was…nonexistent.  In fact, I didn’t even have one until my dad put in some shelves for me in November.  Isn’t it pretty? It’s a big day when a girl gets her first pantry put together. 🙂

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So I stocked up our freezer and pantry, meal planned from my stock and what was on sale, and here we are.

Now we’re two days into our No Spend Challenge and I don’t hate it yet.  I think yet is definitely the key word here.

It’s an amazing thing that on top of our extra funds we already allocate to paying off debt (we’re Dave Ramsey fans and are following steps outlined here), we’re saving an extra $550 this month!  That’s a few steps closer to giving Sallie Mae her eviction notice.  I’ll be sure to keep a record of what we spend, challenges we face, and our successes throughout the month.

Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for us!  Has anyone else ever done anything like this?