November 21, 2014 — 1 Comment

debt free

It’s much easier for me to share my mess than my victories with you. I’ve written thousands of words about our debt free journey, but I keep sitting on this last one, this one where I tell you we did it. It’s done. We succeeded.

Inevitably, some people see success (in anything) and explain why that person’s advantages or personality or connections made their success possible. They let themselves off the hook by highlighting the gap between themselves and the successful.

I’ll be the first to share my advantages, but I hate to think that they would discourage others. We had it easier than some, and harder than others, which is pretty much true of everything in life.

I wouldn’t call myself a success in general, but we did succeed at becoming debt free. We defied the bank’s expectations and proved that we would pay them way less money than they expected. We are an outlier.

I don’t want to be an outlier, even in positive ways. I haven’t completely let go of the thirteen year old who just wants to blend in with her peers.

We aren’t really called to blend in, though. Our lives are meant to look so different that people notice and ask us the reason for our hope.  

Now that we’ve been debt free for almost two months, here are my major takeaways from the process:

1. Commitment trumps circumstance

If you listen to Dave Ramsey’s show, you’ll hear people with wildly different backgrounds and circumstances call to say they’re debt free. Single, married, making $30,000 a year or $200,000, teachers, entrepreneurs, full time parents, Southerners, military officers, and farmers.

In our personal journey, some months were harder than others, with setbacks like an unexpected medical expense or car repair. We also came across blessings like extra work opportunities and paid for family vacations.

Either way, our commitment to the process made the biggest impact. We deeply felt the temptation to spend extra money on something other than debt or to give up altogether when it felt like we were losing the reins.

It’s like a roller coaster metaphor I’ve heard: there are ups and downs, but you’re safe as long as you stay in your seat. Just don’t jump off, and eventually, the ride will end.

The challenge now is to stay committed to smart financial choices, to get back on the roller coaster. We’ve hit a huge milestone, but any other financial goals will require the same commitment and discipline.

2. In the words of Michael Scott, “Mo money, mo problems”

michael scott

We became voluntarily blind for the debt payback years. A nicer home, more restaurant dates, vacations, and a hundred smaller desires were simply off the table, which made it easier to ignore them.

I thought I had permanently killed the part of myself that sought happiness in possessions, but it had only been hibernating, dormant for a season.

As soon as we made that last payment, I heard the siren’s call of that cute home decor aisle at Target. The urgency to buy a home, which I’ve never really felt, infected me.

I suddenly remembered everything I’ve wanted but didn’t need, and the barrier that had stopped from me before vanished. Is that what the expression “off the rails” means?

I’m grateful to be debt free, but I like the less indulgent me, the version of myself that thinks less about possessions.

Technically, we had the money to buy these things before, but we were committed to becoming debt free, so we had mentally taken away our options. What I’m learning to do now is say yes a little more often without indulging the side of myself that thinks stuff will make me happier.

Three more takeaways in part two!

Other posts in this series:

blind spots

A few recent conversations with Mike and with friends have me thinking about the blind spots we carry into relationships. Our biases and fears and selfishness obscure our vision of a friend’s hurt feelings or perception of a situation.

For better or worse, we see the world and the people in it from our perspective and ours alone. Even at our most empathetic and perceptive, we have a whole host of stresses and insecurities and desires that get in the way.

I care about you, but I also care how much you care about me and what you think of me, so it’s always a little cloudy, if I’m being a good friend or making it about me.

Most of my blind spots pop up when I’m making it about me. I’m so busy taking offense at a minor slight that I don’t stop to consider what might be behind it. I’m making a kind gesture so that you’ll think I’m a good friend but completely miss what you might actually need.

It can work the other way, too. I’ve built up entire cases in my mind about why someone doesn’t respect me or like me or value my work when the situation is just in the other person’s blind spot.

They actually weren’t thinking about me at all when they posted that picture on Instagram or responded hastily to my email or made a general comment about bloggers or runners or dogs.

It wasn’t my dog pictures they were complaining about, is what I’m saying. Because Jack is an adorable angel dog who also, by the way, doesn’t have any blind spots in our relationship.

That was a fake example. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a comment about dogs on Instagram personally, but that’s the kind of crazy stuff we do, isn’t it?

Don’t fret if you get caught in someone’s blind spot occasionally, even (especially) if it’s your spouse.

He didn’t get picked for a project or got cut off in traffic or hasn’t let go completely of the resentment from a fight you had last night. Whatever it is, he has a list of distractions to override before he can fully see you. You might get caught in a blind spot once in awhile.

That friend who always seems standoffish? Maybe she’s intimidated by you and fears saying the wrong thing.

Your friend who’s a new mom seems withdrawn? She’s trying to navigate how to talk to old friends because she knows she’ll never be quite the same again. Some days that’s a gift and some days she mourns her old life. Your feelings might be in her blind spot for awhile.

For myriad reasons, valid and vapid alike, we are careless with one another. We forget that there are a million angles besides our singular vantage point.

I’m trying to have fewer blind spots, and I’m grateful for friends and a husband willing to point them out to me. I’m trying to have more grace for other people’s blind spots, to assume the best and forgive generously.

What blind spots have you discovered, or have you been caught in someone else’s blind spot?

Oh, and if we’re friends? I used all made up examples. And I’m sorry if you’ve ever found yourself in one of my blind spots. 

My friend Maggie and I host a podcast called Around the Table. You can listen on our website, on iTunes, or subscribe with your favorite podcast app!

In this episode, we discuss re-watching Gilmore Girls, favorite books, phone habits, emoji preferences, and gift giving ideas.

Show notes:

  • Congratulations to Alex, the winner of our signed copy of The Walled City by Ryan Graudin!
  • Like the other girls who grew up watching the CW, we’ve started watching Gilmore Girls again now that it’s on Netflix.
  • Pumpkin snickerdoodles are an annual tradition for me
  • Did you watch House? Do you think it would still be good if you watched it now?

Literary chat

Phone habits

  • Are you a phone person?
  • Call or text?
  • This Phone Tips video from Tripp and Tyler makes some funny points about phone etiquette:


  • I say a picture is worth a thousand words. Maggie sees emojis as a sign of our culture’s regression. We need you to weigh in. Are you emoji pro or con?
  • Maybe Maggie would prefer the Nick Offerman emoji style:

Gift giving

  • Be thoughtful before the gift giving occasion to build ideas
  • Give experiences
  • Don’t try too hard to be original

How do you choose a new books, and which ones do you recommend to us? Where do you fall on the pressing issue of emoji use? What gift giving tips do you have? Let us know in the comments or on Instagram or Twitter.

If you like our show, would you consider giving us a rating and review on iTunes? We’d appreciate it so much!

the problem with prescribed gratitude

My husband is perennially, persistently, tenaciously upbeat.

When we’d been married for a little while and his humanity started to show (mine had been apparent from day one), I remember being slightly taken aback and frightened when he had a bad day.

The person I married didn’t wallow. He found the silver lining. He practiced gratitude.

He infuriatingly practiced gratitude.

That first six months of our marriage, I waited to hear back from potential employers, I fiercely missed my friends and family, and worried over the money we spent that we didn’t have.

Most days, I didn’t talk to anyone until Mike got home and my thoughts ricocheted between jobs and loneliness and financial stress. I thought all day about everything I didn’t have, circumstantially and internally.

Then that husband would walk through the door with a wide grin and a tight embrace, such generosity in everything he did. He’d answer my fears and frustrations with the positive side, the gratitude angle. For every negative, he presented a positive.

And nothing could have frustrated me more.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of gratitude, a worthy discipline rooted in scripture.

What I can’t stand is having it applied for me, like a Bandaid. When someone looks at what to me is a very real struggle and layers what I should be grateful for on top of it, my discontent is compounded by shame.

I felt frail and weak for struggling as much as I did, and Mike’s well intentioned reminders usually didn’t improve my outlook. I just felt guilty for not summoning gratitude, for rejecting the “fix.”

It took years for me to pinpoint why it bothered me so much when he tried to help in this way. I couldn’t deny the value and scriptural precedent for gratitude, so why did I resist it so much?

Sometimes we want to know that our feelings are valid, that we’re not silly or weak to struggle. Negating someone else’s pain (even with gratitude) doesn’t alleviate it, but amplifies it.

Eventually, after years of gritting my teeth through this complain/gratitude call and response, I told Mike adamantly: “I’m allowed to be sad sometimes.”

I’m not always asking you to fix it, or help me snap out of it. Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can say is, “I know. This is hard.”

I’m grateful that Mike tends to look for the good in things, and that he doesn’t let me wallow unendingly. But sometimes, I need to wallow for a minute.

Yes, we can always be grateful, in every circumstance and every season. I love gratitude challenges and the national, albeit brief, pause in our consumption to give thanks.

While there is a time to call others to gratitude, what’s our motive? Are we being prescriptive, trying to “be there” for them in the unintentionally dismissive way that’s most comfortable to us?

Next time your spouse or friend shares a challenge with you, pause before you try to show them the bright side. Is that what they need, or is this a case where “I know” would serve them better?

It’s uncomfortable and even downright awkward to hold eye contact with someone who’s hurting without giving advice or a positive spin.

And I think that’s the point. Loving people well often comes at the expense of our own comfort. It’s easier to spew aphorisms and Bible verses than to sit with someone in their hardship, to simply say, “I know. This hurts.”


At a recent conference, I heard Glennon Melton of the popular blog Momastery share some of her story. Of the many true and powerful things she said, one landed especially hard for me.

She described how her life had transformed from a broken mess into what looks like, from the outside, a shiny and successful life. Addicted, pregnant, and alone to wife, mother, speaker and bestselling author.

She said that because of the book and national TV appearances and speaking, people mistake her for having a shiny, curated life.

I would go a step further to say that not only do we assume our speakers and writers (and pastors and teachers and community leaders) have cleaned up their messes and are living the tidy lives we could be living if we just learn how to clean up our mess – but we also put tremendous pressure on them to look this way.

We want to hear about their messy past and how they walked out of it into their bright present, but we don’t want to know about today’s shadows.

We say we value authenticity and vulnerability, but mostly of the endearing and relatable variety: admitting you don’t always buy organic, or sometimes you give in when your child begs you to buy something, or you accidentally sent an embarrassing text to the wrong person.

You know, things we can relate to, but in an oh-well-what-are-you-gonna-do, shoulders shrugged kind of way. We need you to be more perfect than we are, because we’re counting on you to show us the way out of our own broken mess.

At least, that’s what we think we need. What we really need from leaders and friends is true authenticity, people willing to admit their humanity and need for the gospel every single day.

Glennon dedicated much of her talk to disabusing us of the romantic notion that a popular blog and media attention and money and admiration have “fixed” her.

Here’s the line that stuck with me:

“We think that achieving our goals and living our dreams means that we’ll stop being human. But that’s not how it works – we’re messy and human the whole way through.”

Hearing this was equally liberating and terrifying.

The liberating part was that I can go ahead and keep moving forward, free of the perfection pursuit. The terrifying part was that there’s no holding out for any level of achievement or self discipline to trump my humanity.

If you’re a relentless approval seeker like I am, you might be holding out hope that if enough people like you and are impressed by you, you’ll be okay. You’ll finally become a morning person or a regular exerciser or a patient mom or a talented writer or a selfless wife or a competent cook.

I’m a committed advocate for personal growth, but there’s no achieving perfection. Even when the “right” people like us and we’ve crossed one more thing off our bucket list or finally built a hard won habit, we’ll still be human, and we’ll still be messy.

Liberating. Terrifying. But most importantly, true.