Friday, November 9, 2012

The Biggest Marriage Killer

I recently got to officiate my first wedding of a former student of mine. It was a really great experience to walk along side this couple in the months leading up to their wedding and an honor to perform the ceremony. The biggest pressure I faced was putting together the homily. What do I tell them about marriage in ten minutes? How do I pack such a big thing into a short and concise talk? It left me thinking about what is the most important thing when it comes to marriage. And this is what I came up with:

A little over a year ago when I was doing some research about what the Bible says marriage is all about I discovered something I thought was pretty interesting. Not once within the Bible does the Hebrew or Greek language ever use a word that literally means “marriage” or “married.”

Instead, you have three different verbs that meant “to take a wife,” “to bind or unite” and “to give in marriage.” They more described the process of becoming married. The other references to marriage actually referred to the man and the woman. After a man took a wife, he was no longer referred to as a man but instead a husband. The same thing for the woman, when she was given in marriage, she was now called a wife.

Names and titles were extremely important in Jewish culture. For a man to not be called just a man anymore; for a woman to not just be titled a woman, but for the two of them to now be called a husband and a wife is crucial to understanding marriage. Marriage was not just an act or something two people did; instead it was something two people became and it changed their entire identity.

The change in this identity exposes the key to any healthy marriage, which is selflessness. Being called a husband and a wife rather than just a man or a woman indicates that you are not your own anymore. Your decisions, your dreams, your goals, your actions all have to take into account this other person that you are uniting yourself to in marriage. Selfishness will kill your marriage faster than anything else. Your ultimate goal now in your relationship is to consider the needs of the other above your own, to serve one another, to love one another unconditionally.

Now the catch will all of this, is that this is actually impossible to do 100% of the time. It takes practice and a lot of trial and error along the way. If there is anything that I hope you guys have heard me say in our time together it is that life, relationship and marriage are messy…and that’s ok. It’s the messes and the fights and the difficult times that actually beat the selfishness out of us if we let them. It is those things and the person we are with who help refine us to be a better person and a better spouse in the long run.

I have learned via my own marriage three important things to living selflessly. First and foremost, learn to listen to one another. Selfish people are quick to speak, defend and argue what they want. Listening and being slow to speak will help you truly come to understand one another and will you to consider their needs and wants and not just your own.

Second, don’t be afraid of asking for help. In the Garden of Eden when God told Adam it was not good for man to be alone, He wasn’t just talking about a wife in Eve. God is His wisdom of creating Eve gave them the opportunity to procreate and make more people because He knew that we need other people to really make it through life. When you hit a rough patch in your marriage seek out an older couple to get advice, be quick to go see a counselor or find trusted friends to talk with. Conquering selfishness cannot be done alone but we need a whole group of people to help us get there.

Lastly, constantly strive to be the first one to initiate the love you have for each another. A lot of times, relationships can be caught up in a tit for tat kind of cycle saying, “When my spouse does this, then I will do that.” Selfless love though gives without the expectation of being given in return and if you both learn to give in that way, you will both constantly get what you need at the same time.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Four Wheeling or My Family?

Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to go on an all expenses paid trip to a Texas ranch with a group of youth workers from around the country. The two days were spent planning a brand new youth ministry conference and I was one of around twenty who got asked to help dream the conference up. On top of that, the folks organizing everything put together an awesome four wheeler trip around the ranch's property and had top notch accommodations.

The only bad thing about this fantastic opportunity? I didn't get to do any of it. The day I was supposed to leave Melissa got really sick. And so did Voldemort. So I had to cancel my trip.

Now, let me be blunt. This blog post is not about asking for a badge of honor for putting my family first; nor is it me holding myself up as an example for the rest of you to follow. As the case with many of our blogs, it's about the exact opposite.

The moment Melissa asked me not to go I wanted to put my family first like a hole in the head. I had been looking forward to this trip for months. It was a great career opportunity. It was some desperately needed down time away. It was "all expenses paid." It was getting to play on a four wheeler!

Confession: this selfish jerk argued with my sick wife about going. I tried to think through every alternative that could have meant me going and yet nothing would stick. My wife simply just needed her husband and so I finally gave in and canceled.

Later on in the day, a quote that one of my college professors shared with me came to mind. The quote was "you worry about your integrity, let God worry about your reputation." Honestly, it had actually come to mind because I was judging someone else's situation and trying to argue how I would do something different for integrities sake and God totally flipped it around on me.

Many people say that putting their family first is a moral and ethical principal they live by; that it is the right thing to do (i.e. integrity). It is something that I have said...and probably written about. Yet, when push came to shove, in this situation I was more concerned about worrying about my reputation.

What will these people think about me if I cancel?

Are they going to make me pay for my flight?

Will they still let me be part of the conference?

What if I never get asked to do something like this again?

The conclusion I finally got to on all of those questions later in that day was, "so what?" Does it matter what these people think about me? Is it so bad if they think I am a horrible person for staying home with my sick family rather than being with them? Is it worth $600 to take care of my family instead of just taking care of myself? Maybe if they really think badly of me or if they are going to go back on their "all expenses paid" offer it's not the kind of thing I want to be a part of anyways.

And you know what? That's ok.

When we really put our integrity first and do the selfless thing by putting our family first, God will honor and bless that. Granted, that doesn't mean that God will dump big paychecks or awesome jobs in our lap for doing the right thing. He might, but not always. Sometimes when we put our family first our wallets or careers will take a hit. The blessing isn't material, it's relational. Our selfless action of putting others first actually fills our deepest need for love and belonging. It's funny that by being selfless and giving we actually get at the same time.

When I finally got over myself that day, the best part of my day was a 15 minute stretch in my evening. I gave Voldemort a bath and he was just being insanely cute. He is 9-months now and can actually play in the tub. Watching him crawl all over, and bite his plastic shark, and splash in the water was just awesome. Then right after, I put him to bed and then checked on Melissa. After getting her some water and kissing her on the cheek, she hugged me and just said, "Thanks...thanks for being here and not going." Right then it made me realize that where I was right then was better than being on a four wheeler. That those are the moments and the memories I want to carry with me the rest of my life and think about when I am old remembering the important parts of my life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Muscle Memory for Your Marriage

My heart feels sad this evening for people I don't even know at all. I just read on one of my favorite blogs ( about yet another split up. Some days it feels like everyone is getting divorced.

And ya'll know we've been through the ringer too. I can't tell you how many times I've thought, "I can't be with this person. He is horrible. He is horrible to me. I can't breathe and I need to leave." I know Jake has thought the same thing.

But Wednesday morning we got the privilege to be part of a training/counseling session for The Center For Hope and Renewal in Greenwich, CT. We were counseled by one person while another room of counselors in training watched the video feed. The amazing thing about this session was that it really confirmed something that had been brewing in the back of my mind for quite some time.

Jake and I are used to being honest and transparent about our struggles. We admit them to each other. We admit them to others. This is a strength I think. But there has been a piece missing. Some old wounds from our individual pasts and from our relationship together that have created this wall. This defensive, "I will protect myself." But what I've been feeling glimmers of lately is not that we admit more of the stuggles to each other or dive into the hurts per se.

But learn to think the best of one another.

Yes, we're two screwy people with oodles of faults. But the love is there. That was confirmed by a room full of counselors who said they could see it so clearly.

So many times I think Jake is being a jackass, but in his mind and heart he's really trying to be there for me. He's trying to make me happy. He's trying to comfort me.

So many times Jake thinks I'm picking him apart, but what I really want is to see his true self. To be there for him and his deepest emotions.

Our behaviors are defensive, screwed-up and often wrong....but they're understandable. And beneath the screwy things we do, is a desire to do it right. To be a team. To show love.

It's hard for me to think the best of my husband. My past tells me that if you give someone an inkling of affirmation, they take it and use it to walk all over you. But I need to not listen to that past.

It's hard for Jake to think the best of me. His past says that if you trust someone's words, they will turn around and put you down later.

So many of the things we do in our marriages make a damn lot of sense if you look at the past and the present circumstances. If you understand hurts and feelings and coping mechanisms.

But even if you understand all that, it can be hard to move past the hurt. Past the behavior. People get divorced every day and they totally understand themselves, they understand where their partner is coming from and they understand what's wrong in the relationship.

But I think divorce can be avoided if we all learn to go back, dig deep and see where our hearts really are for one another. That most spouses really want to be with each other and be there for each other in the dark places. The way to move past the hurt is to open yourself up to the best idea of your spouse. To trust again that they love you, that they have your back when no one else will. That they will be there for you in your dark places. It doesn't make the hurt disappear, but it creates space for new experiences of doing it right. To have the "muscle memory" of your relationship be instances of coming together rather than moving apart.

I like the idea of muscle memory. You train muscles, then if you slack off a bit and go back to working out, the muscles remember what it was like to be in shape. They go back to that state of fitness faster. Believing the best is about training your relationship to experience this dependence and closeness. Then when all the daily things work to pull you apart, you know what it's like to be meshed. To be a team. It's a strong foundation.

I left that session feeling great (minus a pesky sinus infection and cranky baby). I'm hoping the great feeling reminds me about hope and thinking the best whenever the next test comes (prob. in the next 5 minutes or so!)


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's Been A While...

We know its been a little while since we've written anything on this blog and even when we have, the pickings have been slim. Our hope is that that will change in the weeks ahead. We truly love this blog and are honored to hear from our readers how our holymess marriage is helping others.

So, a quick update on our lives and why writing has been less than usual...
  1. We just completed the manuscript for our first book that will be published by Simply Youth Ministry/Group Publishing. The tentative title is 99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry and is exactly what the title implies:  99 one-to-three paragraph thoughts about marriage care and balancing marriage and ministry. We're really excited about it and can't wait for it to be released, hopefully sometime early 2013.
  2. Second, connected to our book, we're very excited about our first marriage event that will be taking place January 6th-8th, 2013 in Spofford, NH. The weekend is a marriage retreat specifically designed for those in ministry and we have the privilege of organizing the weekend and working with some great friends and mentors on this. From what we've heard, it's the first event of its kind! There are plenty of youth ministry training events out there and also plenty of marriage retreats but the two have never been combined. We are already finding a ton of support for the event and there is hope that the one in January will be the first of many - and hopefully in other areas around the country. The retreat is already half sold-out (it's limited to 15 couples) and we have gotten a slew of National Partners who are helping keep the retreat VERY low cost ($50 per couple!!), as well as giving us a good chunk of freebies to give away.
  3. Lastly, things are continuing to progress well for our little guy and court is coming up soon which could possibly finally put us on the road to adoption. (Not sure if we are allowed to publish the exact date thus is why we are keeping it general.) Honestly, as good as things are looking now, it was a pretty difficult August/September as court was supposed to have happened already, but there was a delay and then some other logistical hiccups that really tested our faith. We continue to be reminded that God is good and in control through every step of this long, taxing process. Little man is 9 months now, crawling, getting into everything and chewing on whatever he can find!
Needless to say, these things have been dominating our time. but we are excited about turning the corner and investing more in this blog again!

The last thing we'll say is that we'd love to hear from you!! We have a handful of ideas for upcoming blogs, but we'd love to know what you want to read about. What questions are you asking? What are you wrestling with in your relationships? Our door is always open for your input and feedback. Just send us an email at

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Divorce-Proof Marriage

Just came across a funny and surprisingly true blog called "10 Ways to Make Your Marriage Divorceproof." Check it out:

Love #7. For reasons that I'm sure you all can imagine.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Could Being Shrewd Help Your Marriage?

If you were like me as of a couple weeks ago, you probably would have read the title of this blog and thought, "I don't think so..." Typically, being shrewd is not looked at as a positive trait to have. Cut-throat business guys are shrewd. Used-car salesmen are shrewd. Not Christians! And especially not in the context of marriage as it would be the fastest way to divorce.

However, after reading author Rick Lawrence's new book I have done a complete 180 about what it means to be shrewd and the fact that we as Christians must learn how to live more shrewdly if we are going to carry out Christ's mission on earth. I also have come to believe that being more shrewd could dramatically help our marriages at the same time.

By taking a look at Jesus command to his disciples in Matthew 10:16 to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves," (which if Jesus commanded shrewdness, it can't be a bad thing!) as well as The Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16:1-13, the book unpacks what Christian shrewdness really looks like. Here is what Rick lays out:

"Shrewd people (and Jesus is the Exemplar) first study how things work, and then leverage that knowledge to tip the balance in a favored direction. Shrewdness is the expert application of the right force at the right time in the right place." Just like most things in life, being shrewd can be used for good or for bad, but when connected to innocence and the Holy Spirit the shrewdness that we should be living out has everything to do with bringing heaven to earth in the way we live everyday. 

So how could learning to be more shrewd help our marriages? I think it can do so in two ways: internally and externally.

The Internal Effect

I know that one of the biggest things that lends to a fight or disagreement the quickest in our marriage is when either of us (or both!) are selfishly looking out for ourselves. A lot of the times, tension drives us to defend ourselves and to try and escape from the argument "the winner." However, if we were more shrewd we would spend more time trying to figure out how our spouse "works" rather than looking at ourselves first.

Then, once we truly understand what is really going on in our spouse - what their love language is, what they need and want, what emotions are really going on beneath the surface, etc. - we can apply the right force to serve and give to our spouse which moves our marriages in a favorable direction. 

Applying the right force at the right time in the right place means... 
  • picking up flowers on your way home from work after you know your wife has had a rough day. 
  • taking time to listen instead of just trying to fix a problem. 
  • knowing when your spouse looks upset and simply offering a hug.
  • planing a weekend away or getting a babysitter so you can get away just the two of you.
  • and (come on let's apply this bluntly here!) it means paying attention in the bedroom to make sure your spouse is sexually satisfied.

The External Effect

Marriages don't only struggle with trying to understand the inner-workings of each spouse but they also can struggle with external pressures. Maybe it's a job or financial situation that one or both spouses are unhappy with. Maybe it's a living situation. Maybe it's kids, or in-laws, or a difficult get the point. A lot of the time, these situations can create a decent amount of tension as you and your spouse try and decide how to deal with the issue and sometimes you can feel like you are completely stuck and just nothing will work to bring about change. 

Cue shrewdness. 

Instead of just continually trying to attack the issues head on with no avail, Rick offers a simple process of being shrewd that could make a big difference for you and your spouse:
  • Answer the question: “What do I really want?” Jesus habitually asked an irritating question of people with obvious needs who approached Him for help: “What do you want?” (e.g., Matt. 20:32; Mark 6:22; Mark 10:36; Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41). We must know what we really want before we can truly ask in faith.
  • Answer the question: “Is my ‘want’ born out of innocence? Would I feel just fine asking Jesus for this ‘want’ if I was face-to-face with Him?”
  • Answer the question: “How does this (person, organization, or process) work?” Shrewd living always starts with understanding how things work—so spend five minutes brainstorming (either alone or with someone you trust) an answer to this question.
  • Based on your understanding of how things work, spend five minutes brainstorming a point of leverage to go after with a “sideways” approach. Sideways means the leverage comes from an unexpected direction—you find “sideways” by experimenting with approaches that carry the force to move the situation.
  • Now, try one of your options and debrief the results with [your spouse]. Decide whether to continue with that option or whether to try a new approach.
  • Repeat steps #3, #4, and #5 in a continuous loop—until you’ve landed on “the right force at the right time in the right place.”
I know I am looking forward to figuring out more and more how shrewdness can be more of a factor if my life and my marriage. I hope you find it helpful within your life and marriage as well.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Finding Fullfilment

Contentment is a quality that can take a lifetime to master. Our own human nature and the world around us seem to scream that what we have is never enough. We need more money, a bigger house, a nicer car or a better body. Our lack of satisfaction with what we have can lead us to believe that it will all get better “when.”

“When I get that promotion.” “When I finally buy a home” or “When my bank account reaches that magical number.” We seem to be hardwired to always want more and the world around us has led us to believe that our happiness is the most important thing in this life. If we’re unhappy with our current status, then it’s within our right to go get whatever we want or do whatever will make us happy.

For the Christian we believe in a different purpose. (At least we’re supposed to, right?) Our circumstances and experiences are a part of the path that God takes us on to mold and shape us into the person that He wants us to be, made in His image.

That being said it seems like each of us has our own individual kryptonite. That one thing we’re missing that if it were just within reach, everything would be all right. Some things we can put up with or do without, but we will fail to be complete until we have that one thing in our lives. God wants to bless us after all right?

For many young people today, that one thing is marriage. It’s that pinnacle we have to reach in order to take a deep breath and finally be able to start living. “Once I find a spouse, real life can begin. I can serve the Lord and my family faithfully and fulfill the call that God has placed on my life.”

We don’t get a lot of help from the church either. It seems everyone around us is getting married and even those in leadership are asking us what’s taking so long? We can feel pressure from every side, let alone the immense pressure we put on ourselves already. This can raise a host of doubts ranging from “Is there something wrong with me?” to “Does God really love me?”

This mindset of thinking we are incomplete until we meet “the one” is a dangerous trap to fall into. We place unrealistic expectations on a person if we expect them to somehow make us whole. As Christians we are to find our identity in Jesus Christ. To expect to find fulfillment in any other person or relationship is both setting ourselves up for failure and putting unrealistic expectations on a person who will never be able to fulfill them.

Not to mention that tendency to always want more is sure to surface again. We might feel content for a while but once the newness wears off, the feelings of emptiness and wanting something more are sure to creep back in. We need to have kids, or a second honeymoon. If my spouse could just lose a little weight or if we just got along better. Then…everything would be all right. We move from just wanting to find someone, to having the perfect marriage, perfect kids or perfect ministry.

It’s a vicious cycle and if it’s present in nearly every other area of our lives, why then would we think marriage is any different? The grass is always greener. Culture has taught us to always want the shiny new toy, the fun experience or anything that’s better than what we have. Marriage and sharing life with another person is indeed a gift from God but it is not greater than God. It will not fill the void in our lives that only He can.

Beyond our continual desire for something new or better, possibly the most harmful part about not being content with our current state or status is losing focus of the world around us. We become so wrapped up in thoughts of the future that we neglect our responsibilities in the here and now. Especially for Christians, a life of faith is a journey where each season is an opportunity to trust and grow in our relationship with God. How can God use a situation to teach us if we’re so focused on getting through it and on to the next one that we don’t look around long enough to experience it?

If we are able to walk in faith regarding our eternal future, why is it so difficult to trust in the finite area of marriage? I’m not downplaying anyone’s desire to be married because truth be told, I’m right there with you. I’ve wrestled with feelings of loneliness and frustration more times than I can count. I graduated from a Christian college unmarried and with no prospects. That was discouraging.

But the longer I walk with God, the more I realize His timing is perfect. What’s more He knows me. He knows my wants and my needs. He knows that what I might look for or want in a spouse now is different than what I’ll want in the future and He’s waiting to give me exactly what I want.

If you try to figure out God you’ll frustrate yourself and likely wind up more confused than when you started. Instead of asking God why, consider asking God how. How can I best serve in the position or circumstance that I find myself in? How might God want to use or grow me during this season of life?

Learning to live in the now and not focus on the future can be a difficult thing, especially in a world that tells you to go try something else if you’re not happy. Learn to trust God for your daily needs and rely on Him to take care of the bigger picture. Spend time drawing nearer to Him through his promises in scripture. He knows the deepest desires of your heart. After all… He put them there.

Seth Fargher is a writer and speaker with a passion for seeing people experience life to its fullest. You can find out more about Seth here:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets

We've had a number of times in our marriage, especially when we were just starting out, that money was seriously tight. Because we know we're not alone in that, for the final installment of our series on finances, we want to provide some tips and tricks we have learned over the last seven years of our marriage about saving a few bucks. This list is by no means exclusive so we'd love to hear other ideas that you and your spouse have tried over the years. Just comment below!

1) Ditch cable or satellite TV for Netflix/Hulu

This is something we've been doing for three or four years now. We had hit a point where we realized that all the TV we were watching was stuff we DVRed. With the advent of Hulu is just didn't make sense to pay $70 a month for cable when we could watch it for free on Hulu and for very little on Netflix. Even with the cost of Netflix going up this past year and the development of HuluPlus if you want to watch shows on your TV, Xbox, etc., you still save a good chunk of money.

The only thing we have found we miss out on is live sporting events. You will need to take this into account as you decide if this saving tip fits for your family. Keep in mind though too that with many major sports, there is online streaming packages you can purchase that still saves you a ton compared to paying for cable every month. 

2) Workout at home instead of paying for a gym membership

Many gyms now offer fairly affordable memberships fees but nothing beats being able to just work out at home for a one time cost of the purchase of some exercise equipment or a pair of running shoes.  One of the biggest things that has worked for me has been working out with the Xbox Kinect. The Kinect is a pretty amazing piece of technology that tracks your whole body via a small camera and allows you to use your Xbox completely controller free. The biggest plus has been the development of workout games that track your calories, put together personal workout programs, mix up exercises each time so you're not doing the same thing every time and really challenges you. Personally, I have never had a better workout. And come on, what better reason can you come up with to get your wife to let you buy an Xbox! ;)

A chair we just fixed last month
3) Learn to refinish furniture

Obviously, this tip is easier when one or both spouses are artistic. But, refinishing furniture really isn't that difficult. Early in our marriage, we used to hit up local thrift shops, antique shops and, to be completely honest, dumpsters or the side of the road. We've found book shelves, coffee tables, tv tables, end tables, mirrors and all sorts of stuff for free or very close to it. Even though some of them were in pretty rough shape all it took was a hand sander from Home Depot, a screw or nail here and there and then a fresh coat of paint or stain and the pieces were like brand new. Sometimes you end up really loving what you create. Just tonight we were talking about how much we love our coffee table which was a piece we rescued from going into a dumpster at our alma mater. 

4) Figure out a way to make it with one car

This was probably one of the most difficult things we did to save some money but it was well worth it. Granted, at the time we lived within walking distance of my office so it could have been even more difficult. Between what we saved on gas and on a second car payment we were able to really take a big chunk out of the student and personal loans we had at the time. It was definitely a sacrifice that was well worth it for the season we endured it. 

5) Pick up a copy of Simplify by Paul Borthwick

This is such a fantastic book written by a mentor of mine. The book offers 106 different ideas to help you and your family live more simply. Not all of the suggestions in the book directly impact finances - some address issues like balance in your schedule or eating habits - but many of them do. It;s kind of a cause and effect; make your life more simple and it costs less to live. 

That sums up some of the big things we have done in our lives. What have you and your spouse tried that helps you save money?

The Money Series:
Part 1: Starting the Money Conversation
Part 2: Building a Budget
Part 3: Deciding What to Give
Part 4: Do We Really Need That?
Part 5: Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets (You're reading it!)

The Age of Arrested Development

A cool aspect of Relevant's new website is that their print content is now much more available online with a digital subscription! They just put up a piece we did for the March/April issue on adulthood: when does it start, is adolescence extended and how do you become a full adult.

It's currently a free preview online:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Do We Really Need That?

As things are settling in a bit with our little dude, we finally wanted to get back to finishing the series we started (months ago now!) on finances. If you have missed our previous posts in the topic, you can scroll down to the bottom of this page and catch up.

We talked about the importance of building a budget in our second post in the series and after figuring out what your monthly income is, step two stated the following:

"Figure out what your non-negotiable monthly expenses are. This includes things like rent, groceries, utilities, school loan payments, gas for your car and anything else that you both decide you just can't live without."

Although it seems pretty straight forward, this conversation can be a little more difficult than expected as spouses often have slightly different definitions of wants versus needs. For instance...

Groceries are obviously a need because we need to eat...but what about organic food (thus more expensive) versus non-organic (cheaper)? Want or need? What about name brand cereal versus the store brand? What about lots of snack foods or desserts? Or gluten-free foods?

A roof over our head is also a need, but is owning your own home versus renting a want or a need? More so, what size home to do you really need versus what you want? Melissa and I lately have found ourselves quickly discussing that our house is getting a little too small, especially in light of our little dude getting older and the fact that he will be a lot more active soon. Yet, at the same time I am preparing for my 6th trip to Tijuana, Mexico this summer to build 12' x 12' houses like the one on the right for whole families to live in.

The list could continue on too as far as what is a want versus what is a need:
  • Cable TV 
  • Multiple cars 
  • The latest gadget or video game 
  • New furniture 
  • Etc.
So, how do we handle this conversation and decide what we want versus what we actually need?

First, we must learn to see our lives from the correct perspective. When you look up "need" in the dictionary we find the words "requirement," "obligation," "duty" and an "urgent want." That's pretty strong language to define what the needs in our life really are. We are talking about things that we can't live without.

What's interesting is that when you look up "want" in the dictionary, the first definition actually reads, "to feel a need for." So a want is something you feel like you need but you actually don't. I'd say that the majority of the things that we have here in the west actually fall into this later category whether we like to admit that or not. This is not to say that we shouldn't have or enjoy any of these things (see the last bullet point on step three of Building a Budget) but, as this series is about being smart with our finances we have to make sure our perspectives about wants versus needs are correct before we decide what to spend or not. A lot of times people find themselves in massive amounts of debt because too many "wants" find their way onto the non-negotiable lists of our budgets.

Second, as you and your spouse figure out what are your non-negotiables are when it comes to expenses the next thing we need to do is listen and compromise. Sometimes, as long as the money is available, a felt need that goes beyond a life or death issue is completely valid whether we understand it or not. This could be something like a need to get away with a group of close friends for some R&R and time away from the demands of your kids or job. If you spouse is telling you this, take the time to really listen and try to find a way to make it work before just dismissing it because it's not a need you have.

Going on a nice date could also fall into this category. For Melissa and I, we have "fun money" each month that is designated towards dates and time together because we feel it's important for our marriage. At the same time, we also had to compromise on how much we set aside for this as I was willing to spend more on this than Melissa was at the time.

Third, remember that needs change. A few years ago, we had a season in our lives where we really only needed one car. In an effort to save some money and pay off some debt we made that work for about a year despite the occasional inconvenience. However, at that time we lived within a 5 minute walk to my office. Now, I have about a 25 minute commute and making things work with one car became rather difficult. We eventually had to get a second car so Melissa wasn't trapped at our house all the time. What might be a want today, could become a need tomorrow or vice versa.

Lastly, as you discuss what things are a want or a need, we have learned to have patience before you spend and to simply pray and ask God for Him to give you what you need. This actually comes from a friend of ours named Mark Powley and his fantastic book called Consumer Detox. He tells a couple of great stories of his family doing this where something in the home broke or they just simply wanted something, yet instead of just running out and buying it, they waited as long as they could and they prayed. Over and over again, God surprised them when people ended up giving them exactly what they asked for. We sometimes forget that we worship a God who promises to give us what we need and He will come through on that promise...and sometimes He gives us things we want as well!


P.S. If you're interested, I recently preached on this topic. You can check that out here if you want.

The Money Series:
Part 1: Starting the Money Conversation
Part 2: Building a Budget
Part 3: Deciding What to Give
Part 4: Do We Really Need That? (You're reading it)
Part 5: Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

FREE Couples Devotional from Jim and Cathy Burns

Just got an email about this great offer. For today, May 16th ONLY, you can download a FREE copy of Jim and Cathy Burns fantastic couples devotional Closer. This is one of our favorites and is more than worth checking out.

To be even more honest, it is the only couples devotional we have used and actually enjoyed! So again, you should check it out.

Here are the links:

To download the book via Kindle (Amazon), click here.

To download the book via Nook (Barnes & Noble), click here.

Computer (PC or Mac) users can read the Kindle or Nook versions on computer
by first downloading the Kindle or Nook App.

To find the right Kindle App for your operating system, click here.
To find the right Nook App for your operating system, click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

...Then Comes Foster Baby in the Baby Carriage

As many of our blog readers, friends, and family know it has been a long road to children for us. Even now with our foster son, nothing is certain. But today we have a four month-old in our home and so today our family includes a child.

And a child changes your marriage. How are we dealing with that?

I don't know.

I mean pure and simply, I just have no freakin' clue. It feels like the first two months of Voldemort's life were a blur I have no recollection of. (We've taken to calling him Voldemort online because I got tired of saying "he who shall not be named.")

Seriously, we were told by DCF, "There is very little chance you'll get a baby placed with you."

So of course we got a call about a week old newborn!

The only thing I do remember was my dear friend Alex who was an absolute saint. She came over the day after we got the call, sat on the floor of our mostly bare nursery with me and her 7 month-old baby, while I looked very freaked out and pleaded, "Tell me about babies! What do I do with a baby?!"

Oh yeah and I remember the stomach bug. Puking your body weight is something that sticks with ya. One night Jake and I ended up collapsed on the floor of the nursery, both sick, while the baby slept peacefully in his crib. I remember that vividly.

Since around month two, I feel like we live hour to hour. Taking things as they come and watching a fair amount of television. I feel like SNL and New Girl have kept our marriage from completely falling in the toilet.

I know that things will hit a groove at some point and that I'll have to force myself back into caring about romance and things like hugs. But right now, with all of Voldemort's Dr. appointments, meetings, more meetings, and visitation with his birth parents....and then more meetings, I think it's ok to make sure we're healthy as individuals. It keeps us sane.

We try to go on dates when people offer to babysit. Even if they're just being polite, I latch onto them like a pit-bull. "Yes, that would be lovely. When can we bring Voldy over?"

We try to hug and kiss in the morning and eat dinner together and talk at night. Jake's awesome about giving me time to work and write when he's home. And thank God for a kid who mostly takes two hour naps. Seriously God, I thank you! I try to be chill about guy time for Jake or if he needs to go away for work. We're doing our best to make days off, still actually days off.

But overall, things are definitely different and we'll have to figure out how to adjust.

Today though, I'm okay with saying, "I don't know." And leaving it at that.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

50 Shades of What?!

First of all, let me just say that I am in no way a prude. I totally read romance novels, even though I know most Christian circles label them as emotional porn. Maybe they're right, maybe they're not. Undecided on that so far.

Second, as an unabashed bookworm, I believe that there is complete validity to including graphic, violent, and uncomfortable passages in literature in order to prove a point, make a statement, show the true reality of something, or to further the story. Hunger Games for example. Graphic yes. But also restrained in how it was written, to show the value and sanctity of human life and how far a society could fall.

"Fifty Shades of Grey" however, is another kind of nut. I actually hadn't heard of it until a friend told me I had to read it. But then I started to see it everywhere. On the news, on TV, on the internet, hearing it in conversations...even in church :) So I bought the sucker.

Here's my brief take on this book and then I'll explain how it makes me think about marriage and being a woman:

In short the book is almost unredeemable. It's main characters are based off Bella and Edward of the Twilight saga. I find very few parallels though. "Fifty Shades" is 85% raw, nasty, demeaning, violent sex. The other 15% is so poorly written, it made my head hurt. I hate to trash a book, but this one really takes the cake. Twilight was poorly written, but this is fifty times worse. Or fifty shades. (I loved Twilight by the way, despite the writing. Stephanie Meyers' other novel "The Host" is fantastic and written beautifully!)

The one good part of this book is at the end where Ana walks away from Grey. She isn't the obsessive, self-effacing Bella, but stands up for herself and tells Grey that his sexual practices demonstrate an inability to love. Great! However, up until those last two pages, Miss Ana has found herself time and time again drawn into and mostly enjoying these bondage-type, dominating, demeaning encounters. The book does not have one or two sexual scenes to illustrate a point, it achingly describes every detail in a manner intended to arouse and titillate.

That's the issue. The man in these sexual encounters is the dominator. He has all the control. And women all over the country are eating this up! "Fifty Shades" is wildly popular and a New York Times Best Seller. The following clip from SNL literally sums it up:

* Hilariously funny, but kind of inappropriate. (Meaning I fell off the couch laughing)

So what is it about this book that women love? Why are singles, girlfriends, fiances, and wives all over the United States sucked into a book that is badly written and has a controlling man who likes to spank? (and that's when he's gentle)

I dunno! There has got to be something going on below the surface, because everything that women say they want, like equality in the workplace, home, finances, etc, is not in this book at all! Western society is doing it's damnedest to erase any kind of gender roles. Yet, here we are with a misogynistic, degrading novel and women can't put it down.

Recently Jake and I wrote an article for Relevant Magazine, that talked about extended adulthood. That more and more in Western society, both men and women are embracing adulthood later in life. Perhaps the popularity of "Fifty Shades" is a warped by-product of this trend? There is something innate in a woman, in my opinion, that longs for a man to be just like Grey. (Maybe minus the bondage? Or maybe plus the bondage? Sigh, I just don't know anymore.)

We want a man. And we want him to have his shit together. Grey is young, handsome, wildly successful, confident, established....(and a total savage in the bedroom). I think in a nation of adult male teenagers, "Fifty Shades" taps into unfulfilled desire. Women are over-worked, busy as hell, and shoulder the burden of being wives, mothers, career women, fully independent, successful, caring, emotionally well and whole human beings. It's a lot of pressure. And a book like "Fifty Shades" lets us feel wildly free for a moment. We can lose ourselves in a fake world, where we don't have to be all those things. We can let the man literally handle everything, all while he's totally obsessed with every little thing about us.

I'm not trying to make any kind of biblical "this is a man's role, this is a women's role" statement. Things are different now than they were in biblical times and gender equality is wonderful thing.

But, I do think that "Fifty Shades of Grey" hits a nerve in women. That perhaps there is some part of us that is disappointed and frankly exhausted from having to be a million and one different things. We would love to let go and have a man completely be in control, take care of everything and love us with the all-encompassing passionate love that only teenagers really feel.

Perhaps men need to grow up a bit. Perhaps women need to relax. Perhaps we all need to take a long, hard look at our unfulfilled desires and determine if there are healthy ways of achieving them.

In short, I think "Fifty Shades of Grey" is in many ways a social commentary. The question is, what does it really say about us all?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Who Submits to Who?

Melissa just wrote a new piece for about Paul's words in Ephesians 5:22-23 concerning submission. You can check it out at the link below:

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's All About Perspective

This past week, Melissa and I had a fantastic reminder about the importance of taking a moment to step back from a frustration and trying to understand why your significant other is doing the things they are doing. We're not very good at this and often times can find ourselves in this unsympathetic cycle of frustration.

For the majority of the week, things had been a little tense in our house. Melissa had been frustrated with me as she felt like I had been distant and hadn't given her much quality time. And even when I had, she felt like I was giving her my emotional left overs. At the same time, I had been frustrated at Melissa because I felt like she has been pretty short when I get home from work and a little overly controlling about taking care of our little dude or cleaning up the house.

As we tried to talk through our feelings a couple of times, we didn't get very far. Each time we would simply point to one another's issues as the cause of the tension:

M: If I felt like you wanted to be with me when you got home, I wouldn't be so short.

J: If you more pleasant to be around, I'd be giving you more quality time.

M: Well, if you...

You get the point. Round and round we would go. I bet you and your significant other have never dealt with anything like this, huh?

Completely disconnected from trying to solve the tension, on Thursday I offered to take our little dude to my office with me and give Melissa a day off. On top of our marriage tension, the week had been a little stressful as our little guy has been having a slight stomach issue and the result of that had been multiple visits to the doctors, some messier diapers and a slightly more fussy baby. Melissa deserved a day to get some writing and freelance work done, as well as to just have a little time for herself.

At the end of the day, it was pretty funny what ended up happening.

Somewhere around 4:00pm, I remember saying to one of my co-workers, "Wow, I am just completely beat." She affirmed how I felt and told me that I looked pretty beat as well. I was a little surprised about how much working and watching our little dude at the same time had taken out of me...and he was a beyond perfect baby all day long. By the time I got in my car an hour later I was grumpy and just exhausted.

When I got home, Melissa barely said two words to me upon coming in the door but instead went straight for our little dude. She pulled him out of his car seat, started smiling at him and talking to him about his day. I could tell she was in a good mood and had gotten a lot done throughout the day.
I however was immediately jealous of the baby.

"What the heck? No hello to me? No, 'how was your day honey?'" I then nitpicked at something and then walked away. As I left, Melissa called after me, asking me what my problem was and then went in the opposite direction to take the little guy upstairs to change him and give him a bottle.

After our little guy ate, we went for a walk and started our "fix the tension" conversation for the third time that week. Except this time it was completely different. We had realized that by switching shoes for the day, our frustrations with one another had completely switched. I was now frustrated by the lack of attention Melissa was giving to me and she had been hurt because of how short I had been. We both were then able to take a huge step back and really understand where each other had been coming from all week. Since then (so far), we have been able to operate in more grace and understanding with one another.

More often than not, if you have a semi-healthy relationship, your significant others actions are not a means of trying to make you angry or hurt you on purpose. Instead, there are usually external factors playing into things. It's so important when we find ourselves facing some tension to take a step back from whatever the issue is and try to see things from the other person's perspective. If we can learn how to do this more and more, we will get to the root of the actual issues at hand more quickly. Which will mean less overall tension to deal with to begin with.

What issues are you facing in your relationship right now?
Why do you think your significant other is acting the way they are?
What could be going on from their perspective that could be playing into the issue at hand?


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Baby News

As many of you now know, we have been on a long journey to have a family. That journey took another step forward about six weeks ago when we got a call from DCF that we had been picked to bring home a baby boy who was only a week old. Since then life has been all sorts of things.

Right now little dude is very much foster care. He has visitation with both birth parents and we have met both of them. Some things are going well and some things are really terrifying and frustrating. We can't share most details online because little dude is not legally our child and his parents have privacy rights. (We can't post his name or pictures) We can say that he is a great baby who is eating and sleeping like a champ, has a full head of hair and is starting to smile, which is the best. We want to adopt him, but we won't know if that will be possible for a while. Maybe a year, maybe more. We don't quite know yet how this is affecting our marriage...mostly because a newborn doesn't let you have a whole lot of alone time :) So we thought we'd just share from each of us a brief summary of how we're doing and what we're each feeling.


All throughout this process I have been running as a way to deal with my stress and frustration. This white girl slaps on some New Balance shoes, blares angry rap music and pounds the pavement. I've been running since high school and frankly I'm not that good. I don't run that fast or long, I just kind of run. But it clears my head and I really love it.

Bringing little guy home has been joyful, but hard. It hurts knowing we don't have any control over this situation and that he could be plucked right back out of our arms. I thought it would feel better getting to this point, but it doesn't. It's actually harder. As I was running the other day this Bible verse came to mind:

Hebrews 12:1 NIV "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

God was smart when He describes life like a race. When you are running you have many flat areas and many hills to go up and down. The key to making it to the end of a run is pace and breath. You control your lungs and you set an even pace. The thing is, hills are hard. You push yourself to make it to the top of a hill. When you get there and start to go down the other side it feels like it's time to lengthen your stride and take huge gulps of air. But if you do this you will tire out. Gravity is pulling you down the hill and if you allow your pace to quicken and breath to change you will actually expend more energy and have a harder time re-setting your pace at the bottom. The next hill will be harder to climb.

That's what I feel like now. Bringing little dude home was the top of a long, difficult hill that took a lot of energy and faith to run up. But now I must keep my pace even and breath steady....because going down the hill and running onward through whatever will come is going to be even harder. I can't control my life, I can just run the race that God has set before me. He didn't promise it would all be flat ground. He didn't promise my heart would never be broken. But He did promise that He would run with me and that He would take care of me. As I work on being a good foster mom, I'm taking moments to allow my fear of losing little dude to be real and re-steady my breath. To breathe in the truth that I can trust my Lord. God loves little dude and He loves me. I don't know what is going to happen, so I'm just going to breathe right now and keep as steady of a pace as I can manage. And see what happens.


My emotions mirror much of what Melissa shared above. The last six weeks have been awesome and difficult, exciting and terrifying all mixed together. Little dude is so much fun, and a really good baby so we could not be more blessed with him. But it has been very difficult knowing he leave us to be with a relative or back with the birth parents. Every time my cell phone rings and it's a local call, my heart pauses. The same thing happens any time my iPhone chimes indicating a new email in our inbox. There have been two main things that have been helping curb my anxiety.

First, as we were talking with some friends recently, Melissa observed that the idea of control over our lives is a complete delusion and that really struck a chord with me. Yes, our little dude could be taken away from us any moment but isn't it the same with everything else in our lives? We can lose jobs, the stock market can crash, cancer can hit us out of nowhere, or houses can be hit by tornados...just to name a few things. This lack of control is very evident in the book of Job! Yet one of my favorite verses in Job is 1:21: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." God is teaching me how to have that kind of an attitude. Everything I have today is a blessing and I should enjoy it and prioritize it because it might not be here tomorrow.

The second thing I am sooo thankful for has been all the reminders that God is good. He has used the radio multiple times to speak to Melissa and I, oddly enough. We get in the car and the radio just happens to be on an advertisement or song that uses little dude's name, nickname or be all about adoption. We've had so many people sending us notes that they are praying for us. This weekend, I was in Louisville, KY for a conference and ended up in three separate conversations with people who were doing foster care, two of which want to adopt. I don't think I have ever really meet someone doing foster care in the first 28 years of my I find three in one weekend.

God really is good despite the situations we find ourselves in. His goodness is not based on our external surroundings which can change at a moment's notice. If you find yourself in the midst of difficult things - fertility, marriage issues, family struggles, etc. we want to remind you to just takes things one day at a time and find the things you can be thankful for in each moment. Don't waste your time trying to control outcomes, but trust in God that He is in control and knows what's best for you and your family. And ask Him for encouragement to make it through and then keep a watchful eye because God will come through for you and send you exactly what you need.

As always we covet and treasure prayers. We'd love to know that people are praying for us to be able to adopt little dude. Thank you so much!!

Jake and Melissa

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How Old Should You Be To Marry

After a little bit of a writing hiatus as we have been adjusting to life with a baby at home, we just had a new piece go up on discussing how old is the appropriate age to get married. You can check it out here:

We'll have a blog coming soon...

Jake and Melissa

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Guest Blogger

Hey All! This week I had the amazing opportunity to be a guest blogger for a web-site/blog called Still The Sea.

Their mission statement is : Still the Sea is retail destination offering products for inspired living, and an online community dedicated to the journey of faith. We hope to offer products and content that refresh, inspire, and help you to lead lives filled with beauty, truth and love.

Check out my blog about unwanted facial hair!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Taming the Ministry Tongue

Here is a new piece on that we did about how much work we should bring home with us. The article is called "Taming the Ministry Tongue." As it applies to Jake's job of ministry, there are definitely nuggets of truth that can apply across the board.


Jake and Melissa

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kids on Marriage

This was too cute not to share. You can find it on and the specific link is at the bottom of the page. Ah, the wisdom of the young!


Monday, January 16, 2012

Below the Surface

You know the fights that you and your spouse have, the ones that seem to come up over and over again?

The one about your husband playing too many video games.

Or the one about your wife spending too much money on shoes.

Or the knack your spouse has for avoiding...
...the pile of dirty dishes in the sink.
...the bed needing to be made.
...putting things away instead of piling them on the dresser.

Or the one about there not being enough...
...quality time.
...little notes like when we were dating.

Every couple has those fights that just seem to repeat over and over again. One spouse just doesn't understand why the other can't just listen to them and do what they are asking. The other feels like they can't do anything right. One is defensive, the other is aggressive. Plans are made, compromises are put in place but yet the behaviors seems to always drift back to the way they were before. Before you know it you feel like your marriage is caught in a vicious cycle that you just don't know how to get out of.

What's the problem? Why can't we seem to resolve these issues? Is it time to throw in the towel?

Melis and I have been reading this book lately called Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson and it really tackles the above questions head on. (It has definitely jumped into our top 5 list of marriage books!) The answer has been surprising but at the same time almost embarrassingly easy.

So much marriage counseling tends to get caught up in behavior management. We're taught active listening. We're explained formulas that are supposed to make our relationships better. We're taught how to compromise and how to balance our schedules.

All of these things are great tools to have for our marriages but yet sometimes they don't get to the real depth of the issue at hand. Because the fight about the Xbox really isn't actually about the Xbox. The one about the shoes isn't about the shoes. It's not about the piles or the dishes or the amount of quality time.

Instead, when we really take the time to understand ourselves and what's going on in a deeper, more emotional level we discover the fights are about something else. They are about connection...or more specifically a lack there of. The defensiveness isn't actually a means to protect yourself, instead it's an attempt to deescalate a situation and protect your relationship. Same goes for's an attempt to connect, be heard and engage.

It's funny because I teach this to parents all the time. In a parent program called Real World Parents, there is this slide showing that trying to change your kids behavior is only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface is a whole set of world views about how the world works. And even deeper below that there is a revelation about God, the self and the role of other people in your life. If you truly want to change someone's behavior, you have to take the time to really get beneath the surface and understand how they are seeing the world, and what is shaping that worldview. This works in the exact same way when it comes to marriage and connection.

When there is an issue or a fight, it is so important to take the time to really understand the deeper issues and emotions. Because that is really what the fight is about anyways. Really it's stupid to fight about dishes. Why the heck would anyone waste an hour arguing about dishes. That fight is really about feeling unappreciated, taken advantage of or not listened to. Maybe it's a deeper expectation that came from the way you watched your parents live out their marriage...or not live out their marriage.

This week, when you face fights or points of contention with your spouse, take a moment and pause in your argument. Take a moment to understand what is really going on inside yourself. What are the emotions and feelings stirring underneath? What are you really upset and hurt about? Does the hurt even come from your spouse, or does it come from another point in your life?

Then take a moment and ask the same questions about where your spouse is coming from. What do you think they are coming from? What do you think they are feeling? What in their past could be seeping into the present?

Then take time to just sit and talk. Share your heart and learn more about who your spouse is. Talk about your feelings and be real with one another. Not only will you develop a deeper connection with your spouse, but you'll also eventually eliminate the nagging arguments about dumb things like dishes.

Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.