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?

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.