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5 Seconds And 10 Words That Wrecked My Life

5 Seconds And 10 Words That Wrecked My Life

I was not familiar with the name Nettie Cooper before April 23, 2018. I’ve still yet to have the chance of meeting her. I’ll be as honest to say that at this point I may not recognize her even if we were standing in the same room together.

Though her face and physical stature stood only briefly in my memory, her chosen words that filled a crowded sanctuary on that April evening are immovable and inerasable.

It was the first night of the 2018 Louisiana District Council for Assemblies of God ministers. Nostalgia was the guest of choice in the room as the District’s campground was the host location for the annual meeting.

Generations were united. Though some decades apart in age, Baby Boomers and Gen Z’s alike could walk along the same path and both say with gratefulness, “This is where I experienced the Lord.”

A proud companion to Nostalgia goes by the name of Honor.

One certainly makes for a sore celebration guest without the other. In fact, the only thing that makes Nostalgia so pleasant is its paired attention with Honor. Pleasant and powerful feelings of the past only continue when we can identify and attribute the source that brought about those moments to begin with.

Honor was certainly in attendance with us that night. Firstly, honoring and praising God – the ultimate source -- and then honoring each other. This is how I came to hear from Sister Nettie Cooper.

No, You Don't Need More Money

No, You Don't Need More Money

If your boss offered you a raise you wouldn't look at her and say, "Nah, I'm good. I really don't need any more money."

Instead, the second the "r" word echoed off her lips you would immediately think about whether or not it is socially acceptable to break out in your favorite dance moves.

Raises, promotion, and an increase to your good ole' wallet is something all hard-working employees desire. Our happiness and livelihood can unfortunately come to depend solely on the chase of the elusive dollar. We prove it by our constant go to saying -- "If only I had more money..."

I literally felt that collective pause in your breathe when you read that! Hey, at some point in our lives we've all said it.

We have even justified our financial lack to why we couldn't do things. 

"I don't have enough money to pay off my debt."

"I don't have enough money to go on vacation."

"I don't have enough money to start a retirement fund or save."

So, we work hard and patiently wait for more. Naturally, the more we have the better we'll be ... right? 

Not so fast. 

Our financial journey has been a big part of our lives. We recently wrote about it. I never woke up one day and decided I would passionately protect and handle my finances. It didn't say, "intense budgeter" as my future life aspirations in the my high school yearbook.

Instead, it happened naturally. I received my first paycheck of $180 and opened up Microsoft Word and told the $180 how I wanted it to be broken down. The same system I do today. It's the same system that attributed to us paying off over $70,000 in debt in 4.5 years. 

I've had the experience to meet with a lot of individuals on budgeting. It's likely the top reason people pursue to meet with me -- yes, even over other pastoral engagements. Throughout the many money-centered conversations, there's always one resounding statement: "If only I had more money..."

However, more money doesn't necessarily change anything. In fact, let's talk about a few myths.

My Miracle: God Did What WebMD Couldn't

My Miracle: God Did What WebMD Couldn't

Nothing felt abnormal or different when I woke up. I did what I do every Tuesday morning. I grabbed my phone off the stand and checked the time. I begrudgingly sat up, perched on the edge of the bed with my feet dangled for a few minutes.

Moments later I made my way to the bathroom in a morning state that only my husband has the pleasure of witnessing, messy bun high and stray hairs wild. What I saw looking back at me was anything but normal though, not because of a hard night’s rest or a backwards sleep shirt.

No, what I saw in the reflection could only be viewed from a one-sided perspective. That’s because my left eye was swollen shut, and it wasn’t like that when I went to sleep.

Taking my dramatic introduction to this story aside, I did feel quite a bit of panic. My assumption is most people would experience a normal amount of concern at such an unexpected sight. Mine escalated for selfish but human reasons though.

It was Tuesday. My firstborn’s baby shower was scheduled for Saturday, an occasion sure to be well documented visually for years to come. All I could repeatedly think was “Dear God, I cannot look like this by Saturday.” (Take me as vain or relate to me as normal. I’m just being honest!)

My unofficial experience and training from WebMD and Google took over. I assumed a doctor’s visit was pointless because I’m limited in what can be given to me in almost my third trimester (this was later confirmed in a last ditch effort of an ER visit. They couldn’t offer me anything to help).

The next few hours were easily filled with anything therapeutic in my pantry or fridge ending up on my face (ice, honey, cucumber, etc.) while I practiced the art of sleuthing, mentally revisiting ever action I had taken over the last few days that led to this point.

What I had once thought were infected mosquito bites days prior was soon deduced to instead be a severe case of exposure to poison sumac – poison ivy and poison oak’s lesser known ugly brother-cousin.

What could have been contained to a normal bought of exposure grew continuously for four days simply because 1) I didn’t realize I had touched it and 2) I proceeded to do laundry… on my bed… right after gardening instead of showering. In short, I was using towels and sleeping in sheets for four nights that had the plant’s oil all over it.

Fun fact I learned through this process: Clearly I’m allergic to the poisonous trifecta. Clearly my husband is not. #imnotbitter

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: