Category: Uncategorized

Going Through Seminary Debt Free

When my husband and I got married, I had just finished grad school and he was finishing his 1st Master’s degree. After we got married, I moved from the Midwest to the east coast (DC Area), where he had moved the year prior to teach at a private Christian school. If you know anything about DC, it’s a super high cost of living, and my Midwestern self had some sticker shock. As we began to add up our bills, including school loans, I realized that with the increased cost of living, and because I didn’t have a job yet, we couldn’t pay all our bills and debt on my husband’s Christian school teacher salary. I began to be very uncomfortable with the idea of debt and that is when I heard about Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball principle.

As I got temp work and then moved to a full-time position, we got serious about paying off our debt. We lived very simply to do this, used our wedding gift cards at Target for things like toilet paper or buying Christmas gifts for people, didn’t have home internet for about 4 years, and kept flip phones while most people around us were upgrading. This led us to become debt free as well as build up our 3-5 month emergency fund.

After my husband finished his Master’s, he decided soon after that he wanted to move into ministry or teaching in seminary. We realized that to do this, he’d need to go back to school again. As we started thinking about the costs associated with a 106-credit seminary degree, as well as the limited salary potential as a pastor afterward, we knew we wanted to commit to going through seminary and start ministry life debt free. (Side note: see here for a great article on considerations of seminary debt and infographics/stats on seminary debt here)

We ended up being able to pay in full as he went through seminary, and here are some of the ways we were able to do this (Note: I was originally planning to submit this to Money Saving Mom’s “We paid cash” feature, but we technically didn’t pay cash so we don’t meet the submission guidelines. But after reading the above articles on seminary debt, I wanted to share our story about going through seminary debt free as encouragement/ideas for  others who are trying to do the same) :

Chris all ready for his last year of seminary (exactly 1 year ago today!)
Chris all ready for his last year of seminary (exactly 1 year ago today!)
  1. Continued simple living even when income went up. 

Chris went through seminary in a non-traditional way, meaning he worked while doing it. I was also working. It took a little longer that way, but it was key for us to go through debt free. As our income went up with both of us getting salary increases and my husband sometimes working extra as an adjunct instructor, we chose to keep most of our simple lifestyle that led us to get out of debt. We continued to live in an apartment complex that didn’t offer amenities (like no washer & dryer in the building, no dishwasher, and older building). Although with our joint income we could have afforded an upgrade, we decided the savings was worth it to try to live as close to one income as possible. We also continued to drive older cars that had been paid off. We did make some decisions that cost us some more – we got internet after he started seminary because he was needing to use internet so much, and we moved from our tiny first apartment into a 2-bedroom in our same complex so there would be an extra bedroom/office for study. But we weighed the other costs (and sanity) we would be saving – the extra space cost more but, it also saved my husband having to regularly leave the house to find a place to study (which would usually cost money in the form of buying something at a coffee shop when the library was closed).

At the beginning of an all-nighter so we could go on vacation.
At the beginning of an all-nighter so we could go on vacation.
  1. Employer tuition benefits and applying for scholarships. 

First, we were very fortunate to get the benefit of some tuition costs paid for from my husband’s job when he started at a local church. Tuition benefits from employers are a fantastic way to save money. Also, when I was working at a college, I once heard some scholarships are not super competitive simply because not very many people apply for them. I know that rumor doesn’t apply to all scholarships, but it is what motivated us to apply for a scholarship we thought my husband would have NO chance at getting. Rather than not applying because we thought we had no chance, we gave it a shot. And guess what, much to our surprise, he got it! We felt so blessed when we found out he got it because it was so unexpected. And over the course of seminary, the nature of the scholarship, which was matched with the church tuition assistance we received, it saved us thousands of dollars. Of course some scholarships are highly competitive and take a lot of effort to apply for, so there is a cost/benefit to it (and there are some scholarship scams out there, too), but overall, looking at possible scholarships and applying for the right ones could end up saving you hundreds of dollars.

Here is a couple of years in and the theology books already had to be double-stacked on the bookshelf.
Here is a couple of years in and the theology books already had to be double-stacked on the bookshelf.
  1. Thought through effective class schedules & academic planning.

I used to teach a college success class and we’d talk about things like planning a class schedule. A lot of times people pick their schedule without a strategy, not thinking about the extra time and costs involved in driving to class 3-4 times a week verses thinking about structuring your classes on 1-2 days. People also forget to think about the long-term planning of degrees and maximizing things like electives and class order to reduce over all time and costs. Because I had experience with academic planning and have planning in my bones, I would help my husband map out his schedule each semester and for the long-term to maximize his time and our costs. He saved time and money some semesters by choosing classes right after each other to save driving costs. You don’t want to overload yourself in a day unrealistically just to save a buck, but it is a good thing to think through. Another great aspect of his program was some classes could be taken online. With careful planning, we made it possible for him to finish the last semester of his degree online. This was especially helpful because we moved back to the Midwest rather unexpectedly before his degree was completed. With online courses, you can save money because you aren’t driving to class, but sometimes you have to pay extra fees for the online classes. So we looked into all of that, when considering costs.

After seminary, here is the "theology corner" of our bookshelves.
After seminary, here is the “theology corner” of our bookshelves.
  1. Saved on Book Costs.

Using the seminary library or school library exchange programs can save you money on books. My husband is a book lover, and so I know his default would be to buy the book. When writing papers in seminary he may need quite a few new books for each paper, so I was always encouraging him to use the school library if possible unless he really needed (or wanted) the book. Kindle also saved us hundreds of dollars on books, and He got the kindle as a gift. We would always look for book comparisons to see if the book could be purchased used, but many times with shipping costs added, the kindle would still be cheaper. There are so many options with buying books these days, shopping around will help you save.

Master of Divinity
Master of Divinity

So, I’m happy to say that my husband graduated this past May with a Masters in Divinity debt free. I am so proud of my husband for how hard he worked the past four years in school, and I’m also proud of us that we can say that we worked together for him to go to school debt free. We are planting a church, Lord willing, in the next year. And it feels so good that we can take that risk without the weight of school debt.

Is 26:8 (NIV)- Waiting for Red Sea Moments

For most of my Christian life the NIV was the “it” bible version in the Christian circles in which I was discipled. I made the switch to ESV around the time I got married. It’s not often I refer to the NIV these days, and I forgot that the first verses I learned were from this translation and how much of my spiritual formation has been from hearing the preaching, studying and memorizing this version of the bible. I’ve helped my parents with their moving process lately, and recently I found this note I wrote long ago along with a beautiful verse from the NIV:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,
    we wait for you;
your name and renown
    are the desire of our hearts.

This is Isaiah 26:8 (NIV). The day I wrote this verse on a small sheet of paper, I also wrote this prayer:

Lord, when I don’t know your will, I should do what I know is for sure. As I strive to walk in your ways, I will wait for you.

I was, most likely, in my early 20s when I wrote this and pinned it up on my painted bulletin board in my bedroom. It’s amazing how in the ebbs and flows in life, and a bible translation (and a bunch of theology) change later, that I see the answered prayers of a God who was always faithful to reveal himself powerfully to me in just the right time. In all the anxieties I had about “will God show up and provide what I think I need”, he provided not necessarily what I expected, but exactly what I needed. I find myself now in a different time and place, waiting upon the Lord again. And sometimes I find that my heart is more focused on him showing up in the way that I want him to, rather than making him famous right now as I’m seeking to walk in his ways.  But then I am reminded of those promises he has always kept and the ways he provided and delivered me. My Red Sea moments so to speak. And so I keep walking forward in his ways. Pressing on. Waiting. And praying for the greatest desire of my heart to be making him known regardless of what provisions I think I need in this life.  And so I pin this note up once again and pray past prayers once again. And today I do this with a lot of hope, pretty confident that 10 years from now, I will be recalling glorious stories of my famous Savior of how his power was revealed in just the right time bringing provision and restoration in ways I could not have imagined.

Father, your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. Be famous. In glorious Red Sea sort of ways.

The Gospel According to Titus 3:3-8 (ESV)

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

A Wife’s Perspective on RTS

There are two things I was afraid of when my husband Chris started seminary: that he would turn Presbyterian and that he would become prideful. One of these things almost happened, and the other didn’t even come close to happening most likely because the other one almost happened.

In regard to fear one, I tried to get Chris to make one pact with me before he started school at the DC Campus of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). It is not a joke when I say I tried to make him look me in the eyes and promise that he wouldn’t become Presbyterian (as if I can control belief). You see, I have Baptist in my blood, and I had this fear he would become Presbyo (as I used to lovingly call it) and then my whole church world would be rattled. In my limited knowledge, Presbyterianism simply meant “baptizing babies.” What would I do if he decided we needed to baptize our future children?

In regard to fear number two, you hear all the time about people “loosing their faith in seminary” because they “know a lot about God but don’t know God.” My husband is a pretty smart guy, and he has always enjoyed learning just for learning’s sake. Prior to seminary, I would sometimes see him study things that, while I understand are important, I didn’t understand why they are so important that people spend hours and hours and hours in debate about them. So I was concerned that going to seminary would involve endless hours of super detailed study about things that didn’t really matter in life, which would then result in a puffed up head of knowledge and no practical working out of that knowledge. I was on the lookout for this and decided I was going to make it my mission to point out if I saw him becoming arrogant about secondary matters. If there was anything I could do in my power, my husband was not going to lose his faith in seminary because of pride.

In observing him while in his studies, I first began to see his understanding and knowledge of the Bible grow exponentially. We’d be sitting in small groups with people and he would refer to some passage of scripture or express a theological thought that directly applied to the situation we were discussing. He began to do this more and more. I noticed he shared what he was learning not in a way that was prideful, but in a way that demonstrated he actually believed it not only for himself but for all of us. He shared as if he just wanted others to see what he learned about the greatness and love of God and how it was actually practical to life. He started saying things to me like “do you know that when God uses the term ‘steadfast love’ in the Bible, He is talking about His Covenantal love.” He would say randomly “union with Christ is such an amazing doctrine” as if he was thinking about a specific life situation and he just knew that without the reality of union with Christ, he would be floundering.  I then noticed him starting to tear up every time he took communion. Like every time (and we take it weekly in our church). It became obvious to me pretty quickly that he wasn’t just learning this stuff, but it was changing Him. He wasn’t just learning more about God, but God’s love was becoming more real to Him. And he genuinely wanted others to know more of that love too.

The theme of God’s Covenantal Love is something that he spoke about often because he was learning about it often. At first I was a little skeptical of this idea because I knew it was the basis of a Presbyterian view of scripture (and I was afraid of turning Presbyterian). I will admit that I don’t know much about Covenant Theology. So when I write about this it’s like from the vantage point of a 5th grader who has heard about this thing called Geometry. But whether I know much about it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t impacted my life in a profound way, because I’m married to a man who has studied it and believes it. Practically speaking, I honestly believe it saved our marriage and helped him love me through a very difficult time.

You see, it was while Chris was in seminary I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Eventually, my experience of OCD became so debilitating we were making serious consideration as to whether we could live a life of ministry. And I felt horrible about it. We pulled back from our church planting plans, Chris’ dream, because of it. I felt like I ruined his life and career path. But in the midst of that struggle and my shame, at one point he told me I was the most important thing to him even over ministry and career. He put it pretty bluntly one time when he said, “I didn’t make a covenant with my career.”

It was that moment when he said the word “covenant” it all clicked. My husband wasn’t going anywhere. He was sticking around and loving me sacrificially in this trial, at the expense of his own dreams, because he believed in covenants. And he believed in covenants because he believed with all his heart that God was keeping His Covenant. And he believed God was keeping His Covenant to the depth that he did because he was learning about it in class after class in a Reformed seminary with Presbyterian professors. He was learning this theological truth isn’t just about a theory of viewing scripture, but that through Christ, the Steadfast Love of God binds itself to you and changes you. This covenant helps you love beyond yourself and stay when it’s hard. And so, I will always be grateful to RTS for instilling in my husband that covenants really do matter.

Chris was wanting to TA Hebrew last Fall. I confess, I was against this plan. He had worked as an adjunct English teacher during two semesters in seminary, and it was a stressful time constraint on top of school and work. But, in God’s providence, it turned out to be a huge blessing. Because of the extra time that he spent with the professor he TA’d for, his professor was able to disciple him during a very challenging time. Throughout his time at RTS, Chris received the benefit of not only mentorship but also legit pastoring from not just one professor but many. These men did more than just teach. They genuinely shepherded their students. Chris knows more of the love and care of a Great Shepherd because of it. And I know he is and will be a better shepherd to people because of it too.

Like I said, in regard to my two fears, one almost happened.  This past fall, during his last year in seminary, we gave serious consideration to becoming Presbyterian. I will admit that after experiencing the love and grace of so many Presbyterians in the year prior, and seeing the practical implications of theology that humbled the heart of my husband, it was something that I began to fear a lot less.  After wrestling, we ended up going in a different direction. But we go in that direction with a profound belief that we serve a God who keeps His promises, that His Covenantal love is good and remains forever, and that it is indeed a blessing we get to be a part of His Covenantal community. We will be His people, and He will be our God. This profound belief has been shaped in our lives in large part by the teaching and shepherding of the professors at RTS.

So, maybe it’s safe to say, I’ve got a little Presbyo in my blood now too. And I’m okay with that. Because I am ever so grateful I made a covenant with a man who believes in covenants before a God who keeps His.

God’s Law…

This is why we need grace…

God’s law beautifully exposes the heart, it carefully guides your life, but it is powerless to give you forgiveness and freedom.

Tweet from Paul David Tripp, 4/10/15

 

The Bad Guy…

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is if you don’t change, you’re the bad guy. In the movies, the bad guy, the villain, is the only one who never changes. It’s one of the rules of storytelling: all the characters have to change.

As someone who struggles with change, these words from Whitney English really got me thinking.

Dear Readers, This is my blog plan

Dear Five Readers,

If you are reading this in May of 2015 you are most likely a good friend of mine. I probably love you very much. Thanks for reading. You’ve always been a big support to me. If you aren’t a friend of mine and you somehow found this blog, thanks for taking the time to read. I hope you see my heart in some way. Know that I recognize I’m still in process, but God is redeeming that somehow, someway. Also, feel free not to read this particular post. As a head’s up…it’s BORING!

At any rate, I wanted to inform my readers as to how I am approaching the progression of this blog. First, I recognize that while I think I have some things to say, I’m not the best writer. I’ve admitted that before and know I need to work on it. However, as a friend suggested in a comment, I need to stop apologizing for my writing. I thought that was good advice. So I am going to stop apologizing (effective now) because I know it is imperfect, and I know that is both okay and not okay at the same time. After being crippled by that for a while, I decided that at the present moment, I am choosing not to focus too much on writing skill (which means if you continue to read, you will have to suffer through some bad grammar. Hey, I’m all about exposure therapy- if you tense up when there is bad writing, just think of reading my blog as a way to help you to practice being content in tense situations. And if it really, really bothers you, you will see below in stage six I am taking free editorial help ;)) I am planning to progress my blog in the following stages and hopefully you will see the improvement as I progress:

Stage 1: Get in the habit of posting regularly, regardless if it is substantial post (ie posting quotes, past pictures, articles, etc.)

Stage 2: Work on writing longer, thoughtful articles and post in timely manner (even if that means limited editing)

Stage 3: Read regularly to generate ideas and indirectly improve writing skills

Stage 4: Work on gathering graphics/taking pictures for posts

Stage 5: Work on the mechanics of writing

Stage 6: Engage editors to help improve writing

Stage 7: Work on consistency of look, theme, content of blog

Stage 8: Re-evaluate and come up with updated blog plan

I’m sure that not to many people share their blogging plan. But, it’s a miracle that I even am blogging anything, so whatever helps get that going I’m going to do- be it sharing plans for accountability, confession, posting things just to get in the regular habit- I’m gonna press on.

So, again, thanks for reading. It is an honor to be able share some of my thoughts and interests.

Mindy

 

Moralizing Preferences

One of the most helpful things OCD ended up revealing about me was that I have a tendency to moralize preferences. Quite honestly, I think this is a huge issue for modern women and you don’t have to be on the brink of a mental illness to be caught in the comparison trap. What do I mean by moralizing preferences? Well we live in an age where you have information and opinions available to you about everything. Some of this information we use to make decisions is strictly opinion or isn’t quality, but nonetheless most of us have immediate access to information that we used to not have access to for the purposes of educating ourselves about a variety of topics. The term “google” is now an accepted verb in our society, sometimes as simplistically accepted as the verbs run or eat or swim. So, we do as much research as we want, and then we form our opinions or view things as facts. We decide what we think is “right” for us. Examples of this are where and how you choose to have your baby (home, birth center, hospital, ob, midwife, natural birth, epidural), what kind of food you choose to eat (preservatives, natural, organic, local, frugal, paleo), where you choose to live (urban, suburban, city, country, midtown, north, south, east, west), or your education preferences (homeschooled, public, private, community college, classical education, university).

For me, I have a hard time choosing “rights” because I usually see the pros and cons in all options which generally leads to difficulty in making a decisions. I just want to make the best decision. I look at others lives and see what they choose and sometimes I feel guilty I didn’t choose that or wonder if I should choose that. When OCD kicks in, I am overcome with fear that I didn’t chose a certain way or ping-pong back and forth between what is right and wrong. It’s quite mentally exhausting and can be crippling in decision-making. Then to make it more complicated if I’m forced in some instance to choose a way or at least decide what way I would choose, I have a tendency to judge others who don’t choose that way or get irritated at others who choose differently than me who I think “make me feel” like I didn’t choose right by the way they continue to promote their preferences. This complicated mess is what happens when we moralize choices.

Now to be clear, I believe in absolute truth. I’m not talking about core doctrine here. I’m talking about the everyday ways we choose to live our lives. How we have a tendency to compare ourselves with the people who dress differently than us, style their house differently than us, eat differently than us, raise kids or birth babies differently than as us….the ways we live our preferences in everyday choices are endless. And they can be divisive, too. Particularly when we make morally important what is actually morally neutral or amoral. It’s what through the Bible we have labeled as legalism, adding to God’s law.

When OCD became a stronghold in my life, I was living in Arlington, VA. If you don’t know much about Arlington, VA, it’s across the river from DC and one of the wealthiest counties in the country. It’s an area were most people are highly educated and that means people are highly educated about their preferences, too. It’s where I first learned about organic food, birth center & home births, and specialty grocery stores & CSA. It’s where I heard about classical education in homeschooling and went to Pinterest parties galore. People live their lives in Arlington in a particular way they have chosen. It’s not all the same, but it’s intentional.

While intentional isn’t bad, and I think it is important to be educated and decisive about options, it can become a problem if A) you become burdened by the weight of trying to live up to others ways of living B) you judge others for not living up to the standards you have created for yourself and/or C) you find yourself only associating or being friends with people who have the same preferences as you. I think many of us vacillate at times between A, B, or C. We judge Sally for not educating or disciplining her kids correctly yet fall into despair because Samantha is better than us at raising her kids. We look at Suzy and think she should eat better, but are inwardly jealous of Sara because she is super fit and eats better than us. We pray fervently that God would provide us friends that we can relate to and many times by relate, we mean people who live in the same neighborhood, eat the same food, are in the same season of life, and educate their kids the way we do. And then we feel guilty about it all because we realize we are overwhelmed and can’t even live up to the ways of life we choose for ourselves.

But, rarely is life meant to be lived in the world of either/or. I think that is why the bible magnifies mystery and paradox. Romans 14 specifically addresses not passing judgment about certain preferences, as well as walking in love toward others when there are different preferences involved. We must never forget “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).  The simple fact is that whatever decisions we make, we make them before our Maker and we are His. Our life mission is not to try to reconcile each other to our preferences. Our life mission is to try to help reconcile each other to our Maker.

We don’t have to settle for either/or when we can have more of the Lord with both/and, somewhere in the middle. CS Lewis* said “the more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”  I’ve come to learn that the Heavenly bread is much more than manna, cheap bread from the store, gluten free, or organic fresh-baked. But, thanks can be given to the Lord for all of this bread. We need to see that we get more of the Lord when we open our hearts to love others who have different preferences from ourselves.

So, we can celebrate that our friend has joy and creates and sets a Pinterest worthy table to her style and preference (even when it isn’t ours), as well as celebrate when our friend has chosen minimalist life and has us over and we eat on paper plates and her house is a mess. We learn to be content in both settings simply because we are with a friend and we are comfortable with ourselves in the Lord to celebrate who they are and not try to be them. We can celebrate when a new life is born in a hospital with an epidural and at home without one. Either way, it’s an absolute miracle to be celebrated!  We can also educate ourselves on our preferences, but loosen our grip to include a friend in our life who eats food with preservatives or a friend who drinks raw milk. And have them both over and cook the way we have chosen for our family and have faith that the call to grace-filled hospitality is greater than the weight of our expectations or preferences. Or we can freely cook a dish or set a table in a way that is different from our own preferences but we know would bless a friend by meeting their preferences. We don’t have to hold a guilt of performance to others expectations and ways of life but we don’t have say “it’s my way or no way” either. We can celebrate both ways. Because the greater call should always win. Love and grace are always greater than any one of my or your preferences.

 

*CS Lewis wrote this in The Four Loves, found quoted in Prayer by Tim Keller (pg. 119).

The “Curated Articles” Series

I recently went through some of the blogs I read regularly and took notes about what I liked about the blog and why I read it regularly. One of the blogs I read regularly (at least a few times a week) is challies.com, usually to look at his daily A La Carte post. In this post he links to articles and blog posts that he finds informative or interesting from other authors. On most days I will find at least one of the articles he has chosen to be interesting, so I will go and read it. After years of looking at it, I have found his A La Carte to be a valuable way of disseminating information, and I have read a lot of things I may not have normally read because of it.

Because I find it so valuable, I was thinking of a way I could do something similar on my blog. Admittedly, I am not nearly as well-read as Challies and don’t have as wide of scope of interest. Doing a “female version” of A La Carte is one thing I considered. But, that probably isn’t realistic at the moment. So what I have decided I would do is keep track of the articles I read and enjoy and place them in a topical category. Once I have collected a couple of thoughtful articles on a topic, I’ll post the articles on the subject under a series called Curated Articles. This will also help me keep track of what I’ve read on various topics.

I’m always on the lookout for things that are worth reading. So, feel free to place any articles you find interesting in the comments.