The Moment Our Marriage Became Better

The Moment Our Marriage Became Better

Five years married. I’m still processing that my husband and I have been married for 60 months, 1,825 days… however you want to break it down. Granted, we’ve been together almost a total 10 years.

Still – knowing my husband is about to be 28-years-old and that I met him when I was 18 makes me feel like time should take a breather on the sidelines for a minute. Chill, Time – this isn’t a race.

Yes, I hear it only gets worse.

Matt and I have always had much in common. We shared the same major and minor in college. We are both natural communicators and leaders who are passionate, expressive and competitive.

Our relationship blossomed from an intertwined love for LSU, history, our families, and Italian food. Over time that grew to jointly include dogs (him not a fan at first), Disney, Patriots football (not for me in the beginning) and Marvel movies.

Like any long-standing relationship, there’s also been a healthy presence of differences. Matt is an introvert with extrovert tendencies. I’m an extrovert… with very extrovert tendencies.

Matt is a strategist and builder with strengths in administration and structure. On the other end of the leadership spectrum, I’m an altruist and shepherd who guides from strengths of inspiration and insight. (Fancy ways of saying he likes working with ideas, and I enjoy working with people.)

After five years married, I can speak of our differences with thankfulness and appreciation.

Unfortunately, hindsight reminds me that this wasn’t always the case. I can certainly recall when our personalities and internal make-up worked against each other and not for one another.

More than just learning how to share toothpaste and schedules in the newlywed years, ministry brought on the additional adventure of learning how to serve together, lead together – basically, how to even work together outside of our family unit.

While some of the tiffs of the early years were from normal newlywed difficulties, I can also see how it was stacked with unhealthy responses birthed out of jealousy and rivalry. The attributes we admired most about each other were also the characteristics that drove us apart the farthest.

I won’t generalize and say that this is an issue for all couples in ministry. It really isn’t something everyone encounters. I would argue though that it happens more than talked about, especially in the marriages of strong leaders with shared, similar gifts. (i.e. Imagine in any business capacity working with the same person you live with, both having the same roles that oversee similar departments…)

At one time I thought, “This is just what marriage looks like. Everyone argues. Everyone struggles.” There’s some truth in in that – but that’s also a copout.

With some intentional effort and tools, I remember when the competitiveness wasn’t so evident. I remember when I was proud and not envious of my husband. I remember the season when our marriage became better.

Still growing in these areas every day that passes, here’s how it all started to change in our relationship, our friendship, and our ministry:

How We Paid off $70,000 of Debt in under 5 Years (BTW, we're not rich)

How We Paid off $70,000 of Debt in under 5 Years (BTW, we're not rich)

I remember when I decided to go to Dean Junior College in Franklin, MA. It was the only college that accepted me. In the midst of being ecstatic that someone actually wanted me at their college, I didn't care how much it cost because everyone had student loans.

One year at this junior college cost me $19,500. With the incentive to do well, I transferred to LSU, which cost around $18,000 over the next three years. Once Kayla and I got married and the grace period of student loans concluded, we owed around $70,000 to cover our four degrees (graduate and undergrad) along with one vehicle loan.

But, everyone had student loans. For the most part, this is accurate but it doesn't mean we necessarily liked it.

Newly married with multiple degrees we were staring at $70,000 of debt while making under $38,000 on two incomes. In fact, over the last five years we've never made over $60,000 in yearly income. This is important to note because we paid off debt while making under $30,000 per person. 

Before we talk about the lovely "B" word, I want us to talk about our perspectives when it comes to being financially free. The budget is the least significant part of debt payoff. It's a system. But, the system can't be executed without willing individuals operating it.

Let me also give a disclaimer: We never went through an organized financial process -- like Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. In fact, I never heard of Dave Ramsey until years into our system. There's many things I agree (and disagree) with him and his philosophy.

The important thing is to find a system and strategy that works for you. That's the best one!

Here's four strategic things we did to pay off our debt:

Thank You Leader for Keeping it Real

Thank You Leader for Keeping it Real

More than a year ago I had the significant opportunity of working one-on-one with a character coach toward building a mission statement for my life.

Usually caught somewhere between who we currently are and who we want to be, a personal mission statement is meant to compass conscious thoughts and behaviors to be witnessed through a life lived out loud.

I’ll quickly give you the finished product of a three-month process:

“To exemplify a genuine and courageous life lived out for others with passion, inspiration and insight that propels people to take action.”

Every word in that statement has a purpose behind it, but the one that’s receiving our focus today is genuine. Through the sifting process of knowing who I want to be, I knew that included real and authentic.

As kind and considerate as many high-level leaders are, there is also an accompanying sense (real or perceived) of being unapproachable.

As my journey in leadership continues to mature, my mission is to remain accessible and candid about who I am as a person. In essence, here are my strengths and my weaknesses. Here are my ups and my downs. Here’s where I’ve succeeded and where I’ve failed. Here’s what I’ve mastered and here’s where I’m struggling. Open book would be the term to sum it up.

So here’s my “genuine” update on life…

The Task of Engaging Young Leaders in a Rural Church

The Task of Engaging Young Leaders in a Rural Church

With butterfly’s in my stomach I ran out of the tunnel from the locker room to our high school football stadium. It was the biggest game of the year – Leominster vs. Fitchburg – on Thanksgiving Day. So big in fact that this rivalry of neighboring towns has been played since 1894.

As we approached the sidelines I looked at a teammate and said, “Where is everyone?” I was naïve because this specific game broke 15,000 in attendance, but it looked empty in my eyes.

Growing up I couldn’t comprehend small or rural America. I didn’t even know such towns existed. I grew up 40 miles outside Boston (673,000). I eventually moved to Baton Rouge (227,000) and spent a short span of time in New York City (8.5 million).

Endless food options paired with a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks on every corner was the norm to me. Fun activities and the general personality of a large city was always on display. There was never a dull moment to be found.

This past December, Kayla and I went on vacation to Los Angeles (3.9 million). At this point though, we lived in towns of 4,009 and 4,652 for the previous six years.

It was a Sunday and we were making our way to the Griffith Observatory in LA. The Observatory was only seven miles from our hotel. It took us 45 minutes to get to our destination. I looked at Kayla and screamed, “Bring me back to my town of 5,000 people!”

I never thought I’d live – or enjoy living – in a small town. Maybe that's because this isn’t the case for most people my age. Because of this it’s becoming more difficult for churches in rural locations to not only employ young leaders, but engage with millennials in their communities.

One Simple Game to Remember God's Faithfulness (try it!)

One Simple Game to Remember God's Faithfulness (try it!)

At the end of this week, I’ll be another year older. On St. Patrick’s Day of 2018, I’ll be 27 years old – to be exact.

I’ve scarcely met a person who didn’t care about birthdays (and I would still guess they were slightly fibbing if that was their answer). In my observation, you either love them or loathe them. Depending on where you are on the age spectrum, it’s usually a celebration of maturity or a close reminder of our brief time on Earth.

I met my now mother-in-law almost a decade ago, and since that first meeting I’ve adopted her attitude toward birthdays. She determined since she was 18 years old that as long as she could avoid it, she would never work on her birthday.

Instead, she would try every year to take that day off and spend it celebrating life. I understand this isn’t feasible for everyone, but considering I was 18 as well when she shared this practice, I assumed it would be as good of a time as any to also implement such an anticipated annual day-off.

So far since my adult years began I’ve been able to keep this promise to myself. Matt and I will usually spend the day or weekend creating a memory – going somewhere we haven’t been before or trying out a new activity.

No matter what the plans our though, one conversational topic always comes around either during the drive there or the journey home. We always end up playing this game we like to call “Remember When.”

The origin story of this game didn’t necessarily start on a birthday.

During a 20+ hour drive to Massachusetts in college, we tried to outdo one another in recapping shared memories simply out of sheer boredom.

Today though, it’s bi-annual tradition (on both his birthday and mine) to take a birds-eye view of the last year as a whole, from that day looking back on the past 365.

 “Remember when I finished preaching early one Wednesday night, and right after I prayed the electricity went out in the church?”

“Remember when we surprised my mom on her birthday by flying in my grandparents?”

“Remember when we both were ordained at District Council?”

Though all our memories start out light-hearted, they always bring us back to the same conclusions of gratefulness and thankfulness by the time we park the car at home. Here’s how such a simple game became spiritual over time: