Being a wedding photographer I have the immense privilege of witnessing two people start the rest of their lives together. For many of them, they have known each other for years but there is something to say for when the two of them walk back down that aisle together- something magical happened.
They began a journey of lifelong commitment: a contract was signed, rings were shared, vows were said, and a kiss was given. After they walk back down the aisle they not only shared a commitment to faithfulness but to living in one home, some share one bank account, they have one person to build a family with, and one person to share their hopes and dreams with. They have enlisted themselves as a partner to another person FOR LIFE and for the best of them it is a commitment that will last through the better and the worse.
It really is a beautiful arrangement. It's a commitment that requires all of our hearts and a lot of hard work. It requires a studious observation of one another. It requires thinking the best of one another. It requires LOTS of grace. When our partner in life disappoints us there must be something that we can go to as that strong tower of refuge and comfort that keeps us going, keeps us committed, and keeps us strengthened. That thing I'd like to point you to is WISDOM.
Today is the first blog post of 7 that I will be doing for all my married couples. For the ones that I have already celebrated with down the aisle. It is for the ones that I have yet to capture but hope to one day. It's for anyone that comes across this and wants something a little more meaningful to hold onto than mere printed images.
Since my time is committed to being a photographer, a mother, and a wife of a worship pastor I do not have the time to curate my own content when it comes to wisdom but I can definitely point people in the right direction. 90% of the resources that have had the greatest impact on me in my life have come through the reference of someone I already had a relationship with. There's just something to it. We are more willing to listen to those we have a relationship with because we trust them, we know them, and can go back to them as a continual resource. So if you've gotten to know me over the years I hope that creates some sort of weight and leverage to check out these amazing resources that haven't just kept me out of financial, moral, relational trouble but has stream-lined a vision for my life. It's a vision of a life worth living and worth sharing.
My first recommendation unfortunately comes at a deep understanding of not following this wisdom. Not out of defiance, but out of ignorance. My husband and I drifted along in our finances without a goal. Well, at least not a good goal. Our goal, if I were to actually give us a goal would have been to live with enough. Don't spend more than you have. Keep a buffer in your savings and your checking. If you have "enough" buy it! We enjoyed life for quite awhile this way. We ate out. I bought decorations to make our rented apartments, townhouses, and homes look cuter. I bought new clothes, always the cheapest deals I could find. But with everything we bought nothing felt like enough. If I had a dream of something like a home of our own or a different car it felt like that was what other people had. Not a preschool teacher and a youth pastor. Those things weren't for us because we were poor. By the time I became a photographer and was handed thousands of dollars by my weddings, all the sudden my dreams of finer things became possible. Yet, I dreamed so small. A new desk. Okay, two new desks. More take out. More clothes. A little nicer more clothes. The level of frivolous spending went off the charts. I had no idea how much I was throwing away by these choices. By grace, I would get to know pretty soon. My life was chaotic, led by my impulses, with no goals, and very little self-control. We never felt secure with where we were at financially and every purchase was either justified or bought with a spirit of unease.
I truly believe that by God's grace He allowed us to undergo a series of terrible unfortunate events that would lead me to reaching my absolute end. After we moved to Santa Rosa, this is what happened: we had three emergency room visits, Garett had surgery and after surgery for his back, we had a new baby and a hospital visit to pay for, my business shifted three hours away from my clientele which left me in a constant state of uncertainty, PG+E handed us a $2,500 bill, our taxes went south and we owed $5,000 and just if all this weren't enough our car tire was slashed in the middle of our drive way. Everything was SO BAD. My only lines of strategy were to cut everything. All eating out. All spending. All clothes. But the weight of that strict discipline left me very frustrated, bitter, angry, and confused. I kept bad thinking habits like the terms "I deserve" and "I never get to, so what's this once?" I made bad choices, not I didn't know it. I didn't understand what I was doing in reality. I just felt like I couldn't do them, and other people could. But I was wrong. What I needed to know was that I had the freedom to not make bad choices like take a coffee trip every single day. It would be freedom to know about the gift my future could really be if only I had wisdom and self-control today. I went to all the wrong resources to 1) create some sort of security 2) dig our way out of this mess. All the while I remember clinging to a hope that not only was God NOT blind to it all, but was being intentional towards us with a lesson He wanted us to learn from it. I'm so thankful that this was a problem that God knew I could work through and He patiently waited for me to reach my bottom. His patience and allowing of suffering eventually led us to drastically change our approach to our finances. I don't know if I could even grasp how many things that I learned from this period of time but for the sake of sharing I've narrowed it down to 5 things I hope you can read, apply, avoid, and prosper from for yourself.
1)Always be preparing, saving, and learning.
If your financial situation is not hard right now do not let your current circumstances lead you to a false sense of security. It will hit you, and when it does, I want you to be prepared! When the unexpected came up I had not "saved up" set aside finances or "saved up" wisdom. I was short handed on both ends. It led me to trust what felt good at the time, and required the least amount of work. Which lead to a lot of DEBT. We applied for 3 new credit cards during this time. All of them of course started with 0% and had 18 months of promised freedom. I had no idea what I was doing. The reason I'm even sharing such a humiliating experience is because I KNOW that there could be one person reading this that is tempted to do the same thing, has done the same thing, or may be suffering the consequence themselves of doing the same thing. There are so many resources available out there, many of which I will share at the end of this.
2) Have a humble attitude.
Search out wisdom from others who are doing it better than you! My attitude during this time was terrible. Instead of looking to others who were doing a good job at something I gave excuses as to why they were succeeding and I was failing. I told myself, "If only I had someone to watch my kids for free I'd have the time to poor into my business and be successful." While the list of excuses does not matter, the fact that I was excusing myself did. It left all the power and control to change dependent on my circumstances and not on myself to rise above them. This blaming and excusing led me to bitterness. Since this time I've done a lot of digging on what this word means, why we allow ourselves to fall prey to it, and how we can avoid this dangerous heart condition with intentionality and intensity.
3) Let go of bitterness.
Bitterness is pride that has been knocked down. Pride makes you think that you can get away with something that other people have to do. Pride is not living according to God's good law. Our world was constructed by laws. Laws of gravity. Laws of physicals. And my favorite law to prove my point- Murphy's Law. "If something can go wrong, then it will go wrong." Pride says, "No! That won't happen to you! You are above the law." One of the most dangerous things about pride is that you don't even know that you have it! It is so sneaky and deceptive. But once you address it, throw it down, pick up humility, you can grow an internal detector against it so that you do not fall prey to its' devices again. Pride keeps you from letting go of the very thing that is destroying you. Humility allows you to let go of things that are not working (that are against God's natural laws) and to own up to a bad choice and move away from doing it. It is true freedom! It is freedom to repent and turn away.
4) Live to Your fullest potential!
Through all of our hardship God was preparing me to live a better life. He was pruning away bad habits that I was addicted to. He was correcting my heart to know Him and His power, and not trust my own distorted way of how to do something. He was showing me what was truly valuable: my children, my time with them, my friends, my family, my husband, my calling to be apart of God's greater purposes, and the work my local church was doing.
5) Change yourself and share hope with others.
January 2019, three of Garett's co-workers pitched in financially and signed us up for the Financial Peace small group. The amount of darkness that I can say that I was living in was crazy. God wanted so much more for me. He wanted me to be an owner, not a debtor. He wanted me to know the depth of what He did for me as someone who was dead in my sins and trespasses. This story I knew and believed in the Bible became very very real all of the sudden. God had purchased me back to Himself with His own Son. He wanted me to know in a new and personal way the wages of what my own ways buys for me: debt and bondage. My own choices were stacked against me and I was continuing to hold that burden even though a life of freedom was made available to me through wisdom.
Debt is truly caused by a lack of wisdom and faith.
The reason we wound up in almost $20,000 of credit card debt was not because I wanted to. It wasn't because I wanted a bunch of nice things. It wasn't because I had an eating problem. It was because I lacked wisdom to know what to do everyday in the littlest of details. The minute intricacies of my decision making were done without wisdom and a lot of fear. Eventually it caught up to me, and God's grace allowed it to do so to free me from it.
To make my lesson in money even better is how it illuminated God's good news even more.
Jesus is the wisdom of God poured out for us by His love. We all have turned away from God. By Jesus' atonement or payment for our sins, we have an invitation to come back to Him. The only way out is to follow Jesus' and believe in Him. We have to apply wisdom to our lives.
By the end of our first two years in Santa Rosa two things were clear: I was empty of money and empty of wisdom. I needed to listen to someone that knew what they were talking about. I didn't need more money, I needed to have wisdom to know how to handle my money so I could keep it once it came in. One of the most mind blowing things I realized when the fog had cleared and the light was turned on was this: when I filed my taxes and realized just how much money I had really brought in. It left me without an excuse. My feelings told me I had nothing. I was convinced I needed way more to even get by. But what the amount showed at the end of the year's income tax report was that I had made just as much as previous years before. It was almost one of God's funny little way of showing me to stop blaming my problem on how much I was making and to start taking ownership for where I sent it after it came through my bank account.
So all that said, I hope that convinces you to do two things:
1) Download and use Dave Ramsey's EveryDollar app! https://www.everydollar.com/
2) Download the audio version of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey which is currently on sale for $3.99! No joke! a $24.99 book for less than a grande whatever at Starbucks.
By doing these two things you will have more peace of mind, more control of your hard earned money, more security in your decisions, and a hope for your financial future. Marriages end because of financial fights. Marriages don't get to experience the fullness of what they were designed to be if you aren't living in wisdom. Avoid pride like the plague it is and any bitterness that knocks on the door of your heart. When you know that they are out to destroy you, you don't invite them in for a chat. Seek wisdom, continue through hardships with a grateful heart because they are producing things in you that the good times couldn't. God loves you and has good intentions for you!
When COVID-19 hit our homes and our livelihood I truly felt prepared. When I went to ask for advice from others about what to do during the first few weeks of the fall-out I was told by several people that I would need to start using a credit card again. I was furious at this advice. Had I not learned anything?! No way! I would not go back to that. Plus, I truly believed that God's deliverance from this financial storm was not going to come by knocking on the door of a credit card company. My mind was made up. I did not care if the decisions I was about to walk into would drastically change my comfort level or my sense of status in society. I knew better and I did better. The circumstances I went through during COVID-19 had me give back almost $4,000 of our savings to my clients for refunds and go without any income for 2 whole months. In addition to living by EveryDollar's constant accountability for all of 2019 I did one more thing. In the beginning of January 2020 I had begun writing small obtainable goals for our bank account and goals for debt. Little by little, I daily saw the one increase and the latter decrease. By the time mid-March hit I had a confidence that I had done what I could and God would take care of the rest. His wisdom set me up for success. Even with all the giving back of money and the no income, God allowed our bank account to reestablish to a higher number than when we went into COVID-19 and our debt to be a smaller number too. There were several miracles. Things that came about with lots of phone calls, researching, and the generosity of others. That's where He was allowed to show up. Debt and credit cards would not have created the space for God to work. Faith is trusting God to show up for you because He said He would and you are listening to His wisdom.
There is so much more that I could say. One little blog post truly cannot contain it all. Nor should it. Wisdom must be searched out everyday relentlessly. If you've gotten this far in reading, wow, thank you! I never hope to come across as someone who has it altogether or knows all the answers. Judging my story, that is clearly not the case. Hindsight, I'm thankful for the $20,000 lesson. It's worth a lot more than that. We are in our 30's and get to stop being dumb, and start being wise. If you are reading this, don't let it cost you $20,000. Learn from my mistakes and click on those two links. Start budgeting and starting re-thinking how you approach your finances. My life long goal is to know God, and make Him known.
This verse from Psalm 37:5 so gold!
"Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act."