Lasting Peace

When we talk about the miracle of Christmas, the gifts His birth provided for us are without end, and perhaps the one I hold most dear these days is peace. There’s so little of it right now. The world has been wracked with chaos and turmoil since flaming cherubim took their places at the entrance to the Garden. The one place where peace reigned was off limits, and now humanity slogs about looking for it in places and people that were not designed for that purpose.

I’m reminded of Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV):

“But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.”

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him. This phrase is not new to me, having grown up in the church. But in reading it the other day, the words planted themselves deeper, and I haven’t been able to shake them.

The word “chastisement” is used throughout the Bible, often in terms of a father chastising or correcting his children. But in this verse, the word is used to reflect the vindictive nature of the cross in pursuit of justice. Meaning: we messed up, and someone had to pay. Of course, we all know that the Prince of Peace came and purchased our peace through His death, but what does that look like in daily life? How does that help us now when everything is such a mess, when the headlines report nothing but the consequences of a culture that has gone completely off the rails?

For the last two years I have found myself in mourning, for lack of a better term. I’ve mourned the state of my country, the racial tension, the pandemic and everything surrounding it, the redefining of marriage, and the list goes on. I found myself angry and disillusioned, thinking if we could just get the right people in office at all levels of government, things would improve.

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:14-18 (ESV)

Before Christ came, the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles was….tense. It was all about the Law, and as far as the Jews were concerned, the Gentiles were unclean, unholy, and without hope of turning that around. The Jews were a haughty bunch, and despite having the Law directly given to them by God, they were equally without hope.

When Christ came, He replaced the object of their feuding, that is the Law, with Himself and declared them equal and fully ale to come to Him. In essence, Jesus came to bring peace between us and Him and us and everyone else.

The problem is that as believers, we forget that God is our peace and has called us to live in peace with all men so much as it is within our power to do so. In the same way that we walk through this life with the power that raised Jesus from the dead, so too are walking around with Jesus-sized peace. Often, instead of being instruments of that peace, we jump into the fray wearing the same armor of defensiveness, anger, hatred, frustration, worry as everyone else, adding nothing but more noise to an already-deafening culture.

My desire this Christmas is to meditate on the reality of what Christ did for me and to let it permeate every corner of my soul because without a deep understanding of this miracle, there can be no meaningful outpouring of it to others .

Back to the question: what does peace look like in everyday life? It’s a soft answer when verbally attacked. It’s a holding of the tongue, praying blessing over our enemies, avoiding knee-jerk reactions, speaking up when warranted but always in love. It’s all the behaviors that are not natural inclinations but possible if our minds are firmly fixed on Christ. Our gift to the world is the hope of lasting peace.


A Season of Advent

When I was about four or five years old, my mom bought my sister and me our first advent calendar. It featured a snowy scene with children playing, making snowmen, and sledding, drawn and tinted in soft shades and highlighted with white glitter. Every morning we woke up excited to see what surprise picture hid behind that day’s window.

At almost 52 years old, I still love a good advent calendar, and these days they’ve gotten more elaborate. I’m especially partial to the ones that hold samples of candy or coffee behind each door. But if you like perfume, tea, socks, or anything else, there’s a calendar for you.

The thing about advent calendars, besides opening the door to a fun surprise, is that they signal the beginning of the countdown to that one day we celebrate that changed everything. Jesus’ birth was also a countdown, a 33-year countdown to the day when the veil that separated us from God would be broken in two and we would receive full access to God. You know the veil I’m talking about; the one that measured seventy feet wide, thirty feet high, four inches thick, and according to Jewish tradition, took 300 priests to move it. The one that would be broken and replaced with Christ’s broken body so that the words of the writer of Hebrews would be true.:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Heb. 4:16

Growing up in the Jewish tradition, the shepherds were acquainted with the story of the coming Messiah. Most likely, they weren’t assuming they’d be the ones to hear about it first. I imagine the scene like this: a group of shepherds, some sleeping (no doubt), others talking, others maybe chasing some sheep who managed to wander off from the group. Whatever their activity, they stopped when the night sky suddenly filled with a heavenly choir announcing the one thing they’d heard about their whole lives. After the initial shock and at the encouragement of the angels, they take off to find this Baby.

Upon entering the stable, they stop short, bumping into each other like a stack of dominoes. And they just stare. There He is. The promised Messiah. After hundreds of years of someone else entering the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, face shrouded because the mere reflection of God’s glory was too much to bear, that same God lay in front of them in human form, a tiny, vulnerable baby unable to care for Himself just like any other baby. Astonished, the incredible sight propelled the shepherds onto the streets to tell everyone what they had seen.

Usually when we get to the Christmas season, we call each other to shun the busyness and consumerist tendencies the season brings and replace them with intentional remembrance of the true meaning.

This year, like the last one, brings with it a new layer of grief and worry for many people. As people shop and prepare, I’m guessing it’s with one eye on the news and one engaged in the hunt for the year’s most popular toy or newest gadget. More than ever, we need a heavy dose of remembering and meditating on what exactly the birth of Christ means for us. At least I do.

This side of heaven there is no way to fully comprehend the depth of what the season represents, but we can ask for eyes to see, hearts to understand, and a craving for more of Him in a posture of worship and thankfulness.

It really is a miracle. No other religion in the world can claim that the object of their affection and worship loved them to the degree that God loves us. No one has ever done what Jesus did.

You’re invited to join me each week this month as I reflect on what the miracle of the Christmas season has meant for me. So, in the words of one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Come and see what God has done.”


On Being Vintage

One day at work I was standing at the watercooler (yes, a literal watercooler) and noticed a cute young thing wearing a pair of fabulous flowered boots. When I complimented her on them, she smiled and replied, “Thank you. They’re vintage 1970’s Doc Martens.” Vintage? Was she kidding? The 1970’s were practically yesterday. I know this because I remember them as if they were. I remember dial phones and gas station attendants who pumped our gas. I remember playing with Fisher Price toys, watching SchoolHouse Rock, and wearing bell bottom pants the first time they were hot. Retro is bad enough but vintage? According to one website, something must be at least 50 years old to be true vintage. I could spend this blog post lamenting the fact that I’m true vintage, half a century old today. In fact, if you want to get morbid about it, I’m guessing it’s safe to say I have more days behind me than ahead of me.

Or I could wax witty about all the interesting things that I have noticed as I’ve inched closer to the big 5-0. Things like the fact that most of the time in my head I don’t feel like a day over 20 until I can’t remember why I went into a different room. Or when my body reminds me of my age at my attempt to turn a cartwheel and feel hot fire surging through my hips. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t THAT long ago that I was turning cartwheels through the living room. Or why, for the love of all that is good, am I wide awake at 3:00 am? Why are my eyebrows brown when I go to bed at night and white when I wake up? It’s as if they’re conspiring against me. Let’s freak out Kathryn and be white when she wakes up. That’ll send her over the edge. And must the law of gravity prove itself out so brilliantly in my midsection?

It’s all quite something and enough to make me crazy and a bit terrified of what’s to come, and I console myself with the idea that everyone takes their turn being vintage. Everyone gets older and aches when they get out of bed. Everyone with kids experiences the unchartered territory of parenting adult children. Everyone my age thinks of retirement and wonders how in the world all of that’s going to go. Everyone this. Everyone that.

And then I’m struck with the realization that while I’m in good company among friends and relatives who have gone through or are going through similar things in life, not everyone has. Some people don’t make it to 50 to experience the aches and pains and weirdness that comes with the privilege of entering another decade. Some people have children who don’t make it to adulthood. Some people who have made it to 50 don’t have the middle age spread because of sickness that threatened their very arrival at this birthday.

So, I choose to turn around for a few minutes and look back at the wealth of blessing I have experienced in the last 50 years. Meeting Jesus at such a young age. Marrying my best friend and celebrating 26 years together. Raising two of the world’s most amazing children. Meeting and teaching English to people from all over the world. Traveling, downsizing, going back to school, and health that has allowed me to do all of this.

Birthdays are not to be dreaded or feared. But they’re also not just another day. They’re the one day built into our year to stop and take stock of what God has done and where He has brought us and to thank Him because not everyone takes a turn at being vintage. That’s a privilege and blessing that at the end of the day is bestowed on us by God and no one else.


A Cleanse Recap

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the seven-week cleanse a coworker of mine had talked me into participating in with her. It basically involved removing a laundry list of inflammatory foods from my diet while simultaneously swallowing a bunch of supplements and probiotics and drinking various powdered concoctions.

There were two phases that were used to both repair and clear out my gut. However, because of my appetite for sugar and caffeine, it was decided that I would spend a couple of weeks prior to the cleanse just ridding my diet of those two things before taking out the processed food, dairy, carbohydrates, etc. and adding in all of the other stuff.

My dependence on caffeine proved out every day that first week with an out-of-control headache. The addiction to my morning coffee (and mid-morning, noon, and later afternoon after work) didn’t manifest itself only in the physical. I mentally missed the stuff. I cannot tell you. To make matters worse, about three weeks in, my family was hit with a ridiculous amount of crazy starting with my daughter’s four-day stint in the hospital.

When she didn’t get to go home the second day as expected, I was getting frustrated and found myself in the hospital cafeteria staring at the machine that would emit the warm brown liquid that had become part of my regular routine. I reached for a cup, then pulled my hand back, sighed, and wondered if hospital coffee was really the way to go if I was going to break the cleanse. I decided against it despite my bone-tiredness from two nights of attempted sleep in a hospital chair.

Two days after being released from the hospital, we woke up to a flooded apartment compliments of the Midwest’s Polar Vortex and a burst sprinkler pipe in the wall. I found myself in the drive thru line at Starbucks having a small Americano that has never tasted so good. Did I regret it. Umm no.

Did it accomplish what I had hoped? 

Yes and no. There are certain issues that I’ve lived with my whole life that continue to be a problem and in which the cleanse did not help with. In fairness, I loosened some of the restraints when I had the cup of coffee and didn’t go a complete seven weeks without it. I also added in bananas because I still have taste buds, and they go a long way in sweetening a smoothie loaded with green veggies. I also lasted about two days with a headache before I broke down and took Excedrin. All NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are highly discouraged, but debilitating pain isn’t going to work for me. With that in mind, it’s possible that that is the reason for an outcome different from what I had hoped. Despite all of that, I was rewarded with some significant positives.

What I DID get

  • Little to no stomach pain. There are certain foods our bodies were never created to have to process. While I’m hesitant to throw out all bad foods all of the time simply because it’s not sustainable, I’ve found that a diet that is 90% healthy makes processing the bad stuff less of an issue for my system.
  • An appetite reset. It’s amazing how good healthy food tastes when you’re hungry and that’s all you can have. I was also shocked at how I stopped thinking about food all of the time, how I wasn’t hungry much of the time, and the small amount of food it took to fill me up. The more nutrient-dense our food, the longer it stays with us and the less of it we need.
  • A sugar-free mindset. Despite the fact that not one day went by that I didn’t miss coffee (and think about it and stare at other people’s cups of it), my experience with sugar was completely different. Sugar became an out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. Saying “no” to sugary desserts or reading labels and buying products with absolutely no sugar in them was challenging at first but not impossible. And once the habit was developed it became a natural way of life.
  • Much-needed weight loss. Though not the goal, within the first two weeks I had dropped eight pounds simply by getting rid of sugar. While amazing, it’s also a sad commentary on the amount of sugar I consume in a day to the point that eight pounds could be dropped with virtually no effort from me simply by removing it.
  • More energy. My 3:00 nap is now more of a time to close my eyes and decompress rather than a desperation to catch more zzzz’s. My co-workers don’t have to listen to loud yawning and “I’m so tired” all day long.
  • More creativity in the kitchen. Removing dairy and carbohydrates was not too difficult. I hold no special place in my heart for bread and pasta, and the older I get, the more my body would prefer a milk-free diet as much as possible. However, garlic bread and spaghetti, a box of macaroni and cheese, and breaded chicken patties make getting dinner on the table quick. Instead, I started buying higher quality, more natural foods like steak, salmon fillets, and foods that didn’t come in a can, box, or bag. And I cooked my food in butter. Yes. Butter. The stuff we grew up believing would certainly kill us. The bigger culprit is sugar. I can assure you.
  • Unlikely snacks. My go-to was almond butter from a local grocery store that grinds its almonds into butter right there with nothing added. I fell in love with stevia-sweetened chocolate from Lily’s. Oddly, because there is no sugar in it, it doesn’t produce the dopamine hit that, once worn off, insists on consuming more to get the hit again. One square dipped in all natural almond butter was enough to satisfy my desire for something sweet. And my beloved plantain chips seasoned with nothing but oil and salt. More crunch than a chip and again no more of the “you can’t have just one.”

What now?

Mercifully, coffee and I have been reunited although not to the same degree as before, and I am hoping to keep it that way if for no other reason than simply to exercise a bit of discipline by not always giving in to every craving I have.

I have had some sugar, though not much. Taming the sugar tooth requires the same discipline that getting out of debt does. As someone prone to shop with abandon, while getting out of debt I stayed out of the malls. When re-entering the shopping world, I did so slowly and with intentionality. Sugar is the same.

While I didn’t anticipate for this experiment to revolve around sugar, I shouldn’t be surprised. The truth is, Americans are addicted to the stuff, and our obesity rates prove it. Moreover, people like Dr. Lustig have written extensively on our overconsumption of the stuff in his book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. A review of the book can be found on the Samaritan Ministries website. A good friend of mine is doing his own no-sugar experiment for the entire year. Seven weeks was enough for me. You can read about it here.

I’m hesitant to demonize any food, but there are definitely some out there that I would do well to consume in smaller amounts. In the end, the best outcome for me was establishing better habits, a bit of self-discipline, and a reset of my taste buds. Those three things made it all worth it, but I’m not gonna lie. I’m so happy to have my coffee back.






silhouette-helping-hand-footage-021058452_prevstillI used to think that the command to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves” was just another church rule, that missing church on a Sunday or not even going to church at all was a sin and another reason for God to get mad at me.

As I got older I realized this view was both immature and short-sighted. Nonetheless,  I still couldn’t understand the reasoning behind what appeared to be an obsession that Christians had with church attendance. It had nothing to do with salvation so why all the fuss?

With time I realized that all of God’s “rules” were given for our benefit. God doesn’t make laws for the sake of laws or to give us something to check off our to-do list.

Commands such as “let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13:4), are not because God is a kill-joy and doesn’t want us to have any fun. Quite the contrary, actually. God knows how much harder it will be to enjoy a healthy sexual relationship with our spouse if life before marriage was wrought with promiscuity.

“The borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7) was not written because God doesn’t want us to have nice things. God knows that to live a life bogged down by debt is not the life of freedom He has called us to.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” (Matthew 6:19,20). Why? Because God wants us live like paupers and not enjoy our life? Obviously not. God knows that everything here on earth will never bring true satisfaction the way the things of God will.

So what’s the deal with church? Maybe I’m just a slow learner, but I didn’t really really grasp the “church thing” until a few years ago. A friend of mine had been chronically ill for months and wasn’t working. In the time that she was bedridden, things like keeping up her apartment, staying on top of finances, eating healthy food, and all of the daily life stuff we do without thinking about had all been cast aside.

When she was finally able to come back to work for a few hours a day, it proved challenging. Getting up to an alarm, getting ready, and getting to work at the scheduled time were hard. Add to that, her new eating requirements dictated learning to cook and source healthy food in a completely different way than how she’d always done it.

I remember watching in amazement as people from her church rallied around her and stepped in to help her get back on her feet. One person came every week to help her straighten out her finances. Someone else came at different times and helped her get her apartment in order. Other people helped with car repairs and rides when the car needed fixing. Others simply offered a listening ear when some days felt overwhelming.

Slowly but surely, like a baby fawn finding its legs for the first time, she started to stand, and not just stand, but function again. And eventually the functioning turned to thriving beyond where she had been before her illness.

It’s no secret that the Church isn’t perfect, but when we get it right, it’s amazing. Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves is not a rule for the sake of a rule. God knows we are created for mutual edification, for relationships, to not do life alone. You are not an island. I am not an island, much as I’d like to think that I am.

As I look back over my life at times of great sorrow and trial, the natural inclination of friends and family was to come alongside me and help me get my feet back underneath me. Sometimes it was bringing meals so I didn’t have to think about doing the one thing I dislike the most. Other times, it was a phone call to check on me or someone stopping me and saying they’ve been praying for me. I could write a whole essay on what a precious commodity the prayers of other believers are on behalf of each other.

Being in community with other believers is not a suggestion. It’s a command of scripture because God created us to need one another. That’s where we grow, get encouragement, are strengthened and where we can then return the favor to others.

The simple truth is this: We are not an island unto ourselves. Being with people we have Jesus in common with is not a rule to be followed but a gift to be cherished.


The Gravity of the Familiar

Change. Most of us hate it. Everything from adopting a new normal after tragedy has struck to sitting in a different row at church, is enough to send many of us over the edge. Unless the change is our idea, we’re going to have strong negative feelings about the idea of doing something different.

It’s one of the reasons why drug addicts stay addicted, spenders stay broke, alcoholics keep drinking, the abused stay with the abuser. Even if the change promises infinitely better results than our current experience, with proven results from others, it’s oftentimes too much of a risk to take the plunge.

I was especially struck by this phenomenon while listening to a presentation by someone who runs a crisis pregnancy center, a place where women get free health care from conception to delivery. One girl in particular had actually left an abortion clinic and instead of going through with the abortion that day, got involved with this ministry. She was on track, going to her appointments, getting the care she needed only to eventually return to the clinic and have the abortion. I’ll never forget the words of the presenter:

“She couldn’t resist the gravity of the familiar.”

Isn’t that all of us? We wallow in our muck and mire because as painful as it may be, it’s familiar. We know what to expect, it’s controlled. The comfort of the knowable. The gravity of the familiar.

In negative situations remaining in the comfort of familiarity leads to spiraling down a dark hole where the light at the top becomes more dim the farther we fall.

The last two and a half years have been full of change. At one point the only thing that hadn’t changed was my address. Everything else was different. My job. My husband’s job. The method of schooling for our son. Sending our daughter to college. Within three months it was all different. I couldn’t have been more uncomfortable if I’d tried.

All of the changes were good, but I found myself pining after the old job I’d left, the one I couldn’t wait to get out of, the one that was replaced by a job doing exactly what I’d gone to college for. I wanted the old job back. It was familiar and required very little of me beyond being awake.

I wanted my husband to have his summers off the way he had for the last 14 years as a teacher despite the fact that his new job was a breath of fresh air.

I wanted my daughter home safe and sound instead of at a school she’d worked hard to get into, the school where her father and I had met, a place she’d always wanted to go.

I wanted my son back in a regular classroom because it was easier, and he’d be around his friends even though it was a much better fit for him.

All of the changes we were experiencing were good but we were uncomfortable, and I would have gone back to my miserable existence if given the chance because I was scared.

The thing I’ve learned about God is that He really isn’t the least bit concerned about our comfort. Why should He be? He was anything but comfortable while His Son hung on a cross with the weight of the world’s sin bearing down on Him.

His chief aim is to form us to the likeness of His Son, and because we look nothing like Him, doing so requires a bit of effort and a level of unfamiliarity that we humans are not comfortable with.

While I don’t care to relive certain moments in my life, I am grateful for the effort God puts in to making me more like Him no matter how uncomfortable and unfamiliar the path.




Faith · Just Give Me Simple · Uncategorized

On Being Intentional

One of the main reasons my husband and I wanted to get out of debt was because of the choke hold it had on our freedom and peace of mind. We knew that until we were out from underneath the weight of it, we would never be able to fully live the life God had for us. By God’s grace we were able to get out of debt, but that was only the beginning.

During our journey out of debt, we stayed out of stores and restaurants and started to notice that we really needed very little to stay alive and enjoy life. Enter minimalism. It’s been five years since I first wrote about the concept, and I had no idea it would change our lives so much.

We started asking things like what if we didn’t really need a house? What if we did something radical and sold it and, dare I say, rent? What if we got rid of all of the stuff that just lays around the house but serves no purpose?

Slowly we started paring down. Just getting rid of things here and there. We sold some of it and gave away a lot of it. We started finishing up little projects in the house that hadn’t been touched. And then we took the plunge and put a for sale sign in the yard to test the waters.

Four months ago, our house sold. We sold or gave away most of our stuff and moved from our four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom apartment. A dream come true. I cannot tell you. Less space to clean. Less stuff to clean around. More time to do things that matter. Instead of spending weekends working on something that broke around the house or worrying how we’re going to pay for whatever broke around the house, we have time to hang out with friends, take a day trip somewhere, and money to do those things.

Minimalism is more than just the absence of the extraneous. It encourages a life lived with intention rather than just being moved along by the current of activity and wondering where the last year went. Most of us spend a lot of time doing good things, but in the clutter of activity we miss out on the moments.

So in an effort to create a life more in line with what we value most, we moved out of a place that required more of our time and money than we were wanting to give and into one where broken dishwashers and water pressure problems are solved with a phone call to maintenance and repaired at their expense.

In the spirit of intentionality, I’m tackling another area in my life. Health. Though I don’t suffer from disease or serious health problems, I’m becoming more aware that my steady diet of caffeinated beverages and sugar-laden goodies is contributing to my lack of energy, constant need for a nap, and general overall feeling of not experiencing optimum health.

This year I’m committing to spending the first seven weeks of the year doing a cleanse. The very term strikes both fear and anticipation in me. What will I have to give up? Is it sustainable? Will I be able to stick to it until the end? How will I feel when I’m done? Will I have more energy and fewer stomach aches? The questions are endless, and there’s no other way to find out than to just do something I’ve always wanted to try but never had the guts to undertake.

I will be following the RepairVite gut repair program where the list of foods not approved for consumption is longer than the list that is. I won’t go into it. You can read about it here. Suffice it to say, it will not be easy.

What this is not:

  • A resolution to never drink coffee or eat dessert again.
  • A weight loss plan. There are much easier ways to lose weight.
  • Some crazy hair-brained idea I came up with on a whim. Lots of thought and consideration has gone into this.

What this is:

  • Freeing up another resource God has given me, my health, from my obsession with sugar and coffee.
  • An exercise in tenacity. Because of my dreamer tendencies, I am a great starter. I can imagine anything and start anything. It’s the finishing and sticking to it when things get hard that I struggle with.
  • Becoming untethered from yet another thing that is more of a hindrance in my life than a help.

Looking back I realize that getting out of debt and downsizing our living space were actually steps toward intentional living. Minimalism is great, but it doesn’t answer the deeper question of why. Intentional living takes what minimalism has freed up, resources, and directs them with razor-sharp focus at what matters most. It’s about getting rid of the clutter in all of its forms so that we can live the life that God has designed for us.

Here’s to setting ourselves up for a year of soul-mending service and life-giving experiences. Happy New Year.

Money · Uncategorized

A couple of months ago, my friend and I started using the Qapital app as part of our savings plan. Check out her blog to get her thoughts on how it’s working for her. Below are my thoughts based on my experience.

The Pros:

  • You make the rules. For instance, I had every dollar amount I spent with my debit card rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the difference would be deducted from my checking account and deposited into my Qapital account. So if I purchased something for $5.45, then 55 cents would be taken out and dumped into my Qapital account. I also had a portion of each check withdrawn and put into the Qapital account as well. It took very little time to build up a decent amount of money.
  • You can change, update, edit the rules at any time. If things are tight, you can freeze withdrawals for as long as you need. Qapital also has a safety net of $100 so if your available funds get to $100 or below, they stop withdrawing money.
  • It was easy and as no-brainer as a person can get. For those of us lacking the appropriate amount of discipline to put money away themselves, the automated aspect of it was golden. Set it and forget it.

The Cons:

  • This is where it gets interesting. I wanted to test how easily it would be to get the money back into my regular bank account. I attempted to take all of it out at one time, but they wouldn’t allow that. You can only withdraw a certain amount at a time.
  • It takes three days to get your money.
  • The customer service is not good. At one point, it looked like they had withdrawn $100 out of my bank account twice. I freaked out, and attempted to get in touch with them. There is no phone number. At all. Anywhere. So the customer is left with the only option of email. It took 72 hours to get a generic response.
  • You can’t close the account until the money has been withdrawn. But remember they wouldn’t let me take it all out at once so now I have an open account without access to all of my money.
  • It wasn’t until I sent a scathing response to their generic email insisting that they close my account, that I got a quick response.

My guess is that some of my problem was simply user error. However, not having immediate access to funds for three days and less-than-stellar customer service is enough to convince me that the Qapital app is not for me, and I would not recommend it. In the end, I got all of my money and closed my account.

What I wanted more than anything was the convenience of automated savings. That can be done anywhere. Maybe it’s because I’m middle-aged or maybe because I don’t understand how everything works, but for things like money, I’d rather open a separate account at a brick and mortar bank and have my money automatically deposited there than with some app out in cyberspace.

Have you ever used any savings apps? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Money · Uncategorized

Hacking My Way to a Fatter Savings Account

In my last post I gave you the whole story of how we got out of debt. This week it’s all about saving.

We may not be in debt, but our savings is nowhere near what it should be. In fact, according to a 2017 GOBankingRates survey, “more than half of Americans (57 percent) have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts.” 1

Yikes. I don’t know about you, but I would make excuses: I couldn’t save because there were too many things that kept coming up, or I’m out of debt isn’t that good enough? While I’m thankful that in our current state, the things that have come up have been taken care of with cash, a healthier savings would eliminate the what-are-we-going-to-do-if -something-major-happens question.

Despite our bad choices over the years and our emaciated savings account, God has ALWAYS, without fail, provided for our needs. I could spend the next 1,000 words singing His praises and give you example after example of how His goodness is not dependent on our behavior, but that will have to be for another day. On to the matter at hand.

In 2000, my family and I moved to Chicago so my husband could pursue graduate school. We sold our house, cancelled our various accounts, and closed our checking account. One of the habits I had gotten into was rounding up the amount I wrote a check for in my check register to the nearest dollar. I mainly did it because it made the math easier–you know, round numbers and all. Surprisingly, when we closed the account, we had a surplus of $1200. I had inadvertently saved what, for me, was a massive amount of money.

Enter 2018, and there are now apps that do basically the same thing. The Qapital app, does this very thing. Here’s how it works: open a free FDIC-insured account with them and set up how you want to save money. For instance, I have set it so that every time I use my debit card to pay for something, it will round up to the nearest dollar and dump that change into the Qapital account. It can be set up anyway you want.

I’m joining forces with my blogging friend, Amy, who has hers set up so that every time she spends a certain amount of money at Starbucks, it dumps a specific amount of money into her Qapital account. Check out her blog to see the specifics of how she’s using this app.

We will be checking in every three months to share our progress. I love the idea because I’m lazy, and it requires nothing from me. I will not get rich this way, but every little bit helps, and if you sign up using my referral link, we both get $5. Free money, people!

There are a myriad of ways to save:

  • Pay yourself first (which we’re also doing)
  • Invest-my ultimate goal
  • 52week money challenge– This one is easier if you start backwards, saving $52, then $51, etc, or so I’ve heard.
  • Get a side job and save the earnings. Anything from tutoring to picking up dog poop for people who don’t want to do it themselves.
  • Sell stuff and save the proceeds. I’m guessing most of us have way more junk in our houses than we need unless you’re a minimalist. If only….

The key is to find something you will do and stick with it. Saving is hard because it involves exercising the stiff muscle of delayed gratification, but it’s worth it. Join us. Your future self will thank you.

How are you saving this year? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your ideas.


  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/13/how-much-americans-at-have-in-their-savings-accounts.htm


Faith · Money · Uncategorized

Pulled From the Money Pit

For anyone who knows me, my debt story is old news. In fact, I originally started confessionsofamaterialgirl.com as a means of documenting what God was teaching me through the use and misuse of money. However, my actual story of debt never appeared on the blog. The reason for posting it now is to give a little background as I move into the new year and begin an experiment on this blog.

I may be out of debt (except my mortgage), but like most people my habit of saving could use some tweaking. Stay tuned for a blog coming up that will introduce a fairly new (to me) hack we can all use to beef up our savings. In the meantime, enjoy the reminder of what God rescued me from. You can also enjoy this same story on in the Samaritan Ministries Newsletter and blog here.


Money is a strange thing. It worries us, motivates us, and dictates how we spend our time.

But because many of us don’t know how to handle it wisely, it often leads to debt, a condition as common as the common cold.

According to a 2017 study by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co,1,

  • About half of Americans with debt have balances of at least $25,000 (excluding mortgages), averaging roughly $37,000.
  • More than four in 10 Americans with debt (45 percent) spend up to half of their monthly income on debt repayment.
  • More than one-third of adults with debt (36 percent) anticipate that they will be in debt for six to 20 years, and 14 percent expect to be in debt for the rest of their lives!
  • About four in 10 American adults say debt has a “substantial” or “moderate” impact on their financial security. The same number say debt is a “high” or “moderate” source of anxiety.
  • Despite their debt, after basic necessities, Americans, on average, spend about 40 percent of their monthly income on discretionary expenses such as leisure travel and hobbies.

My husband, Bruce, and I were in this pit of debt. After reaching a point where our debt was almost equal to our salary, we had finally had enough. Distracted by the chokehold it had on us, we weren’t serving God and living the life He had for us.

With the help of a couple from our church, who are master money managers, we set out on a path of debt-free living. It was one of the hardest things we’ve ever dealt with, but now, with the exception of our mortgage, we are totally debt free.

Here is what we did:

  1. We got help.

This doesn’t mean begging family and friends for money. That will merely put a Band-Aid on the wound rather than heal it.

Our mentors helped us set up a budget, held us accountable, and provided a shoulder to cry on when I’d just missed the greatest sale of the century and had to let all of those beautiful clothing possibilities go home with someone else. It was not easy. We had to do things like get on the phone and talk to creditors and arrange payment plans, ask for late fees to be waived, close credit card accounts, budget, say no to dinners out with friends. We wrote down every expense imaginable. If I purchased a 25-cent gumball out of a machine somewhere, I wrote it down.

But the hardest part of all was admitting our situation to people who thought we had it all together. It was a blow to our pride, but we got over it. There’s something about admitting to one another our sin and need for help that allows God the freedom to work in ways that make lasting change. It forces us to deal with the deeper issue that no one sees.

God designed us for community. We are not meant to do life alone. We had to be willing to swallow our pride and ask for help.

  1. We faced our reality.

Burying our heads in the sand, hoping it would go away, seemed like the least painful move, but not only would it not pay the bills, it would have only prolonged our agony. For us, this meant taking the pile of bills out from the bottom of the drawer, laying them out, and really looking at what we were dealing with.

Imagine an emergency room doctor with a patient who was in a terrible accident and whose wounds are so grotesque, the doctor couldn’t bear to look at them. So he ignores the patient, hoping that somehow the wounds will heal on their own. Meanwhile, the longer he waits, the worse the patient gets. Infection  sets in, internal organs begin to shut down, and every minute without treatment pushes the patient closer to death. How ludicrous. In the same way, our debt wasn’t going anywhere on its own, and the sooner we faced it, the more quickly we could stop the madness and reverse the effects.

  1. We tithed.

One of the first things we were told to do was tithe in the sense of giving back from our income. We started following the principle found in Malachi 3:10, that says,

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

This is an absolute necessity, not because God needs our money. He doesn’t. He has plenty.
“For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (1 Corinthians 10:26, NASB). Rather, tithing forces us to exercise the often-atrophied spiritual muscles of faith, surrender, and obedience.

Faith says we trust God with our finances even though one more dollar to Him is one less going toward debt or food or whatever. Surrender means we’re handing over the control of our finances to Someone much more trustworthy than us. Obedience is our response to a command in Scripture surrounding basic money management.

  1. We changed our habits.

For me, this meant staying out of the stores. I didn’t darken the door of a shopping mall for two years. I had to find a new hobby to replace window-shopping, which, let’s face it, rarely stays at just the window.

In my days of overspending, most of the time I wasn’t looking for something specific. I was just in the mall for something to do, and, all of a sudden, I would see things that I didn’t know I needed prior to walking in the store. How could I possibly live without $200 leather pumps? It would be a tragedy not to buy them, especially if I took out a store credit card and could save 30 percent. A no-brainer, right? Right. No brain was used in the making of that decision.

It’s no different than if an alcoholic is trying to become sober. How mindless would it be to hang out with his friends in a bar? I stopped going where temptation lived.

  1. We cut everything from our budget that did not contribute to staying alive.

Basically everything but food, shelter, and clothing were cut from the budget. This is where coming to terms with need vs. want paid huge dividends in stretching our money. For some people, something as simple as downgrading a phone plan, cutting out cable, and not going out to eat is enough to loosen the chokehold. For others, it could mean selling a car or putting college on hold for a time. In our case, we did all the little stuff, but it still wasn’t enough. Our situation was desperate and called for desperate measures.

At the time, we were living in a house we couldn’t afford. We overbought. It was bigger, better, on a quieter street, had more square footage, more bathrooms, a pool, attached two-car garage. The works. Our white-carpeted castle was way out of our league. So we downsized in the middle of the 2008 crash. We didn’t make a dime off of it, but miraculously, by the grace of God, we didn’t lose anything either.

6). We found a way to make extra money.

I know. The thought of adding more work to an already-stretched schedule seems daunting, but it’s just for a short time. Leverage some hidden skill or talent you may have. Are you a math whiz? Great. There are plenty of kids out there who could use your tutoring skills to get them through the necessary evil of geometry. I know because I raised a couple of them!

I took on extra cleaning jobs, my husband started umpiring for Little League on the weekends, and we got very familiar with Craigslist. For some reason our home had become the collection site for unwanted furniture from family members who were either moving or updating their decor. So we sold their stuff along with our unnecessary stuff and put the money toward debt.

All of these steps helped us to realize that debt may be common for the world, but it doesn’t have to be common for the believer. My husband and I learned that we were created for so much more than the useless collection of trinkets.

As believers, we have an awesome opportunity to show the world how to do money differently. In so doing, we can serve them better without the restraints debt places on us.

The simple truth is this:

1). Being content with what you’ve been given is priceless. Looking back, I can see just how true Proverbs 27:20 was about us:

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied” (KJV).

2). When possessions become more important than people, we become slaves to the very things we own.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NASB).

3). What stuck out to me the most is that God does the heavy lifting. He does the fixing and redeeming. None of us, no matter what we have done, have wandered beyond the reach of  His redemption. Not even my husband and I after accumulating thousands of dollars in debt. Our job is simply to surrender and obey.

Psalm 103:4 says that He “redeems your life from the pit.”

  1. (https://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/2017-planning-and-progress-the-debt-dilemma.pdf)