It Started with a Love Story

Tell your story. Tell it to your kids, your friends, your brothers and sisters, but especially to each other. The more your story is implanted in your brain, the more it serves as a hedge against the myriad of forces that seek to destroy your marriage. Make your story so familiar that it becomes part of the fabric of your being.

Jerry Jenkins


Our Family Began With a Love Story…

It’s easy to forget in the midst of daily life, dirty diapers, work schedules, and child-rearing that the basis of all this was once just a love story.

As Josh and I celebrated our 6th anniversary yesterday, I’m reminded that our story isn’t just a thing of the past. It’s part of who we are today. It’s part of the legacy that started our family. Our identity as individuals and as a couple is wrapped up in our story.

The story is still being written. Right now we’re in a chapter that’s about parenting, choosing family priorities, and often choosing time with each other over a good night’s sleep after the kids are in bed.

Parenting is important to us, but it’s just one part of who Josh and I are as a couple. It helps me to look back and remember the events that led us to each other. To remember the traits and characteristics that attracted us to one another. To remember how I knew that I wanted to spend my whole life with this one man.


When I first met Josh at our mutual friend’s inaugural basement church gathering, I was attracted, but I probably wouldn’t have noticed him without the No Shave November in January beard. Apparently it took a lot of courage for him to come up and introduce himself. He’s a quiet guy and admitted to admiring girls from a distance many times but not acting on it. Something was different this time. Not only did he introduce himself, he took the initiative to add me on Facebook where we ended up exchanging numbers and setting up a “real conversation.”

Josh and I are very different and complementary people. He told me upon our meeting that he was studying computer science and math and looking for an internship for his final year. “Those are two things I suck at!” I blurted out.

It’s worth noting that while Josh and I most definitely would have been friends had we met earlier in life, the timing would not have been right. We discovered upon our first “real conversation” (aka four hour coffee date) at Crooked Tree Coffeehouse that we had a few mutual friends, strikingly similar musical tastes, and had both attended the past two Cornerstone festivals – even been at some of the same shows! But we never met. I believe this was providential. Neither of us would have been ready to meet our spouse at that point in life. We were both dating other people and growing in ourselves in the years prior to our meeting. Part of me regrets my prior dating experiences. But in all honesty, if I hadn’t have made mistakes and known who not to marry, I wouldn’t have been so confident upon finding Josh that he was indeed “The One.”

That first coffee shop conversation was pivotal for me. By the time my Peppermint Panda Latte was gone, I knew I had found a great guy. Marriage material? Not sure yet. But I remember using the restroom and having a moment to myself thinking “Wow, this guy is awesome!”

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Back at the same place for engagement photos.

Incidentally, I never held back my outgoing and slightly crazy personality from Josh. He was quiet and my whole family liked him instantly, but they were afraid I would scare him off. I figured it was better for me to be myself from the start and if he was scared off, it was better to know sooner rather than later.

But he wasn’t scared. He listened. His reserved attitude balanced my intensity. He didn’t even freak out when I had the very smart idea to go for a picnic in a cemetery…and we got locked in after dark! We drove around the whole (large!) cemetery and found no alternate gate. Josh and I both noted that some people would get frustrated and be scarred at this point. We both remained amazingly calm, listened to Thrice, and knew we’d laugh about it all…eventually. It ended with us finally giving up and calling 911 – the dispatcher said “Oh yeah! We have the key. We’ll send an officer over to let you out.”

If Josh was ever gonna run, that would have been it! I figured if our relationship could survive that dating disaster, we could weather anything. It all made sense when I finally met his younger brothers. Jacob, Stephen, and Zach were outgoing and crazy too. (We had a sit-up competition shortly after being introduced – which I think I won!) Now I understood why Josh wasn’t intimidated by me. We were quite the match!

Fast-forward about a year. Josh and I went through the motions of dating. We navigated some holidays and anniversaries with homemade gifts and witty love notes. We attended Cornerstone festival together this time, with our friends and members of our families. We started to see each other respond to God’s voice about various scenarios. We saw real glimpses into each other’s character and were more certain than ever that we were meant for each other.

Josh writes, “It was too convenient that we were both graduating in the coming spring semester (even though we had graduated high school in different years, had started college in different relative semesters, and were getting degrees of different length). I knew what I wanted, and I began conspiring.

“The hardest part was conniving a chance to give her dad a heads-up, as her seven-person-family always has somebody at home. But I prayed for opportunity, and suddenly there was an afternoon where Emily and I were hanging out at their house; Amanda was at WinterJam and after dinner the other girls and mom all left for a craft night. Almost never in the entire past year had I been in that house without her, and certainly never alone with her father. But everything kept falling into place.”

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We were married October 16, 2010. It was a beautiful but laid-back day full of many friends, our favorite music, much dancing, and good food. (We found out that a background in directing and filmmaking makes it pretty easy and fun to plan a wedding!) But most importantly we knew that whatever the actual day was like, what really mattered was the words we spoke to each other and the fact that we were committing our lives to each other once and for all.


Afterward we had an unforgettable week in Mazatlan, Mexico. (We also found out Josh is great at researching and planning vacations!) Our frugal selves will probably never go on another trip quite that extravagant again, but it was a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime experience! All the beaches, food, exploring, and spending time together was truly amazing.

Just before zip-lining on our honeymoon.

But the story doesn’t end there! That’s the thing with love stories…they are often driven by infatuation alone and not real-life. We had a pretty easy first year of marriage. It was fun learning to live together and communicate better. We saved up and bought our first house together, in what seemed like the perfect place – between our jobs and between our parents. The real challenge came when we decided it was time to start trying for a baby.

Our first home!
Our one-year anniversary in the Smoky Mountains.


I’ve written about this journey more in-depth already. Suffice it to say, this was our first big crisis we faced that drew us closer to God and closer to each other. I couldn’t explain why I wanted a child so badly – I just felt like it was my calling and I couldn’t understand why God’s timing was different than my own. After exactly one year of waiting and praying and wondering if we’d ever have a biological child, we were finally pregnant with Malachi! He was born April 2, 2013. (Interestingly enough, Malachi 4:2 is the verse we had in mind when we named him. It’s like God was winking at us, reminding us that his timing is better than ours.)

First family photo, just hours after Malachi entered the world.

Time and time again in life, I’ve noticed that things aren’t suddenly perfect when one prayer is answered. All our troubles didn’t go away when we found each other and got married (even though it was, and still is, awesome!) Same with having a baby. Yes, Malachi was exactly what we had longed for and dreamed about. He is the one who made me a mother and Josh a father. But just because he was a beautiful answer to prayer doesn’t mean life with a newborn was easy. Josh and I were stretched and changed after Malachi came. We navigated his unpredictable sleeping schedule, postpartum hormones, and a change in priorities. Through all of this, I got to see Josh handle becoming a father with selfless grace and love. This was when the true quality of person I married was revealed to me. Josh proved to definitely be a man of integrity who wasn’t stressed by a crying infant (and sometimes a crying wife!)


Not long after Malachi was born, God once again spoke to our hearts – this time about moving out of our cozy home in the suburbs. We didn’t know what this move would look like, but we felt a strong call to live in the city and serve somehow. I remember going to Downtown St. Louis to visit The City Museum one day and weeping tears of longing over my city. I felt such a need there and such a disconnect from it.

It took approximately another year, but Josh got a job closer to the city and made the move in November 2014.

Our 100-year-old home in the city.

Our home is definitely large and old and it’s an ongoing home improvement project. But we feel like we’re exactly where we’re meant to be in this season of our lives. We know God led us to this specific place for a specific purpose. At the time we thought that the purpose was to serve urban youth and volunteer with refugees, but once again God had a different plan…


We found out we were expecting Shiloh literally the month after we moved! It was an unexpected curve-ball, but we were overjoyed that we didn’t have to wait for this baby like we did for Malachi. I believe God was telling us that this season was for serving, but this was a chance for our family to serve each other first.

Shiloh was born August 17, 2015. He was born at home with the assistance of a midwife, and his birth remains one of my greatest accomplishments ever.

The moment when I realize that we have another one.
First family photo with two boys!

Life with two boys is both challenging and rewarding. Some days I’m completely overwhelmed, but I know this is what I’m called to. I know God will give me the strength each day to fulfill my calling. I’m here because I’m investing in something long-term.

When taking care of the boys, it’s important to not get distracted and remember to take care of my marriage as well. Josh and I are in this for the long haul. Our boys mean a lot to us, but they are a product of our commitment to one another. Our relationship is what started our family, and our relationship is what will remain when our kiddos are grown and moved out. It’s important to invest in raising our boys, but if we don’t also invest in each other, then our relationship will dry up as the years pass.

That’s why we celebrate one another. That’s why we prioritize little trips and getaways alone. That’s why our anniversary is my favorite day out of the year. Josh and I have grown and changed a lot as a couple throughout the years. And this change isn’t bad. It’s the positive changes that come from living life together and dreaming about the future together. We didn’t know what life would look like when we got married. I was convinced I didn’t want Josh to ever change when I married him! But now I see that changing is inevitable and it can be the best thing that can happen to a person.

We’ve grown, we’ve created a family mission, and we’ve set goals and challenges for ourselves. We also give each other grace and remind one another that we’re not perfect and will only get frustrated if perfection is what we’re focused on.

Thank you, Josh for being my solid pillar and my dearest friend. Thank you for listening to me and letting me cry and encouraging me to serve and use my gifts for God’s kingdom. I am challenged and spurred on by you. You make me want to be the best version of myself. You are, without a doubt, the best man for me – both now and always. Thank you for loving me so well and giving me a little glimpse of what God’s love looks like. Happy anniversary!


What I Wish I Had Known About Diamonds

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Josh and I are celebrating our 6th wedding anniversary this week! In honor of that, I thought I’d share my thoughts about wedding rings. Lots of things have changed in the six years that we’ve been married…including our thoughts on jewelry. My engagement ring and wedding ring are very special to me, but if I could do it all again I’d have elected against diamonds.

Marketing vs. Investment

This Atlantic article from 1982 is what got Josh and I thinking again about diamonds. It’s lengthy but contains an excellent history on the diamond industry and how the public has been unknowingly gimmicked into spending thousands of dollars on these things.

Before being marketed as the only acceptable form of betrothal in the late 1930’s, only 10% of engagement rings had diamonds. Diamonds were a rare status symbol, not an everyday sign of love and commitment. Then in 1938 Harry Oppenheimer decided to market diamonds toward young lovers. The rest is history.

In Europe, where diamond prices had collapsed during the Depression, there seemed little possibility of restoring public confidence in diamonds. In Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain, the notion of giving a diamond ring to commemorate an engagement had never taken hold. In England and France, diamonds were still presumed to be jewels for aristocrats rather than the masses. Furthermore, Europe was on the verge of war, and there seemed little possibility of expanding diamond sales. This left the United States as the only real market for De Beers’s diamonds. In fact, in 1938 some three quarters of all the cartel’s diamonds were sold for engagement rings in the United States. Most of these stones, however, were smaller and of poorer quality than those bought in Europe, and had an average price of $80 apiece. Oppenheimer and the bankers believed that an advertising campaign could persuade Americans to buy more expensive diamonds.

Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love. In addition, the agency suggested offering stories and society photographs to selected magazines and newspapers which would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs would conspicuously show the glittering stone on the hand of a well-known woman. Fashion designers would talk on radio programs about the “trend towards diamonds” that Ayer planned to start. The Ayer plan also envisioned using the British royal family to help foster the romantic allure of diamonds. An Ayer memo said, “Since Great Britain has such an important interest in the diamond industry, the royal couple could be of tremendous assistance to this British industry by wearing diamonds rather than other jewels.” Queen Elizabeth later went on a well-publicized trip to several South African diamond mines, and she accepted a diamond from Oppenheimer.

-Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond (Atlantic article by Edward Jay Epstien)

What’s sad is that diamonds have very little resale value. They are part of a bloated market where large diamond companies have the upper hand. (No one even thinks about buying a used wedding ring.) 

Who says that a man must spend 3 months salary on his engagement? Marketers. It’s kind of ridiculous if you stop and think about it. But we bought into it too. At the time I thought such things were actually important. It showed Josh was serious. It showed he thought I was worth it. Right? Now I just think it shows how we fell into the marketing strategy aimed directly at us.

I’ve even talked to my diamond store about trading my ring in for a simpler, diamond-free version. They said that isn’t possible. You can’t trade in for a less-expensive ring and cash out the difference. You can only trade in if you’re upgrading. Now I don’t think I would actually do that due to the significance and sentimental value of the ring…but I would have liked to at least be able to consider it as an option. If they could refashion my ring and sell the same diamonds for just as much, why can’t I cash them in?

It just goes to show what a horrible “investment” diamonds are.


The blood diamond trade is very real in parts of Africa. While selling these jewels in the US is technically illegal, unless a diamond is fair-trade certified, you really have no idea what you’re getting.

Robyn Pennacchia says it well in her article:

While we have a ban on conflict diamonds in this country, unless a company is like Tiffany’s and actually owns their own diamond mines, it’s almost impossible to really know if your diamond was mined by a child slave or not.

Even if it wasn’t, it’s the demand for diamonds in general that keeps the blood diamond trade going–so whether or not you actually purchase a conflict diamond, you’re still kind of contributing to the problem.

If we want to put an end to the blood diamond trade, the best thing we can do as consumers is lessen the demand. Do we really need diamonds to prove our love for one another? I would reconsider.


It’s worth mentioning that owning and properly maintaining diamonds is a lot of work! I’m glad we purchased our diamonds at a local store that offers free cleanings, sizings, inspections, and repairs. But even then, taking my ring in every 6 months to get it looked at is a bit of a hassle. If I don’t do the cleanings and inspections, then it voids the warranty.

It’s just one of those times when I think having more possessions, especially expensive ones, can be a chore. Every 6 months I have to take this valuable (and unnecessary) status symbol in for maintenance. I do it and I’m thankful. I want to be a good steward of what I have, but it kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth. How many other times in our lives do our riches hang over our heads like a burden?

My Suggestions

Don’t get me wrong. I do love wedding rings. I like the symbolism and the commitment wedding rings represent. My younger self was right about the fact that I wanted quality. My reasoning was: “If I’m gonna wear this ring my whole life, I want it to be a good one.” And I still think that. No bride wants a ring that will break, turn her finger green, or cause a rash. But there’s options out there that are in-between Tiffany’s and Walmart.

Etsy is a great source of handcrafted, quality jewelry at good prices. It’s also a great way to support artists in their craft. Look for people with good reviews that use real metals. (Specifically gold-filled jewelry, not gold-plated. And sterling silver is nice, but be aware that it will tarnish if not polished regularly.)

I’ve seen some really awesome simple gold and white gold bands out there. The minimal look is in right now…not that you should follow trends when selecting wedding jewelry. But it’s not all about giant diamonds anymore – sleek, classic designs are having a comeback. I’ve also seen some sweet tattooed wedding bands. These are financially a great deal, practical, lifelong, and can’t get lost or stolen.

If I could do it all over again, I’d keep the same guy of course! But I’d use a different ring.

One that was priced less.

One that supported an artist rather than the inflated and controversial diamond industry.

One that didn’t require the cleaning and maintenance that diamonds do.

Maybe you still want a diamond but hesitate at the cost of fair-trade certified diamonds. This is a great chance for you to put your money where your mission is. If you aren’t yet engaged, I’d encourage you to do your research and find what works best for you and for your ethics, regardless of what’s popular. If people ask you why your ring is different, what a great way to startup a conversation on this topic! I’d encourage you not to be wooed by status symbols but to live your values when it comes to these kinds of purchases.

Everyday Sexism: My Thoughts

I recently read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates.

It was an easy read but a tough subject matter.

It left me feeling uneasy and upset.

It was eye-opening, even to me as a woman.

Josh read it also.

I’ve already written about how I love when women and men break traditional gender roles.

But I never identified as a feminist…yet.


Sexism is more prevalent than most of us are aware.

We’ve simply gotten used to it and tuned it out.

It’s sexism when someone doesn’t get a job because they’re a “pregnancy risk.”

It’s sexism when someone constantly asks when you’re going to start a family.

It’s sexism to assume a woman won’t want to return to work after having children.

It’s sexism to make blanket statements about either gender.

And then there’s harassment, abuse, and rape.

All of which are just part of life for many women.

Harassment comes in many forms, from cat-calling, to touching, to “innocent” flirting, to stalking, to making lewd comments.

I could go on and on.

These occurrences happen so often for some women that they are simply a part of daily life.

These aren’t just statistics from the book.

This is my friends.

This is me too.

Speak Up.

Most of my life I was taught to be polite and smile and gloss over awkward things.

But after reading the book I was made aware that some of the customers I used to wait on at my job were treating me in very sexist and inappropriate ways.

Sometimes I was uncomfortable but said nothing.

Other times I didn’t even notice it was harassment until afterward.

That’s how prevalent this behavior has become.

I’ve since left the workforce, but now I’m aware and prepared to stand up for myself when these things happen.

The first step is to speak up. Say loudly what the person is doing and call them out.

“Please don’t touch my arm when you talk to me, sir.”

Don’t be afraid to turn the situation around and make him uncomfortable.

He’s already made it uncomfortable for you.

Don’t fear making a scene.

We’ve been silenced for too long.

It doesn’t matter if you’re at work. You don’t have to be a nice employee.

You have the right to speak up.

Make your disapproval known.

I’ve never been one to attract serious stalkers or incessant cat-calls, but over the years I’ve had countless strangers make casual comments on my looks, calling me beautiful or sweetie or making up names for me. I’ve even shared here about being harassed before.

But before reading this book, I simply tuned most of it out.

I didn’t get upset until afterward.

I wish I had spoken up for myself more, or at the very least come up with witty comebacks to remind these men that I am more than my appearance.

I think it’s so important that women are empowered and encouraged to speak up when something isn’t right.

I don’t believe the answer to sexism is that women should have to act and look like men.

We need to be respected for who we are – as women. We shouldn’t have to toughen up or act overly manly to be treated with respect and dignity.

This is where I diverge from the book. Bates seems to think that these issues will be resolved with more education and information.

Josh and I think all the issues of abuse and sexism boil down to one thing: Selfishness. 

Men aren’t perfect and neither are women. I’m of the belief that we all wrestle with sins and need Jesus’ grace and mercy to cover us.

Some men are selfish and want something from women.

Sometimes they just fantasize.

Sometimes they describe in crude details what they desire.

Sometimes they actually try to take it.

This is not okay.

But selfishness is the underlying problem, and it’s not one that will simply disappear with more education and resources.

While I admit that those things help, they can barely scratch the surface of Mankind’s selfish tendencies. 

Don’t be Trapped.

Christians definitely aren’t immune to sexism.

While I think great strides are being made for women in the faith, the church can be a very sexist place.

My heart is heavy for women who feel trapped.

Women who have been told that the only acceptable place for them is in the home.

Not all women are married, but for those of us who are, it is true that our ministry often begins in the home.

But that doesn’t mean it has to end there.

Don’t get me wrong. I know how hard mothering is. I’m in the thick of it myself.

Sometimes there’s nothing left to give at the end of the day – to my family or to anyone else.

But the home has the potential to be the beginning of our outpouring for Christ’s kingdom.

That means serving our family, but it also means using our gifts and expanding our talents for the kingdom.

It means giving of our time other places. Caring for the sick, visiting those in prison.

It means giving of our resources to help the impoverished.

It means making art if that is your gift, and excelling in business if that is your gift.

We are by no means required by God to “stay home” when we’re saved.

Quite the opposite – he often calls us out of our comfort zones and into his radical plans.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 25:34-40

It bothers me that in many cultures and subcultures women are expected to set aside their plans and dreams to solely raise children while men are allowed -even encouraged- to pursue higher education, express themselves creatively, serve and minister in churches.

In some of the conservative Christian circles I grew up around, women were discouraged from going to college and told to focus only on the “home sphere.”

As a result these women became fully reliant on a husband to provide for them, and eventually their children.

This culture doesn’t guarantee abuse. There are happy marriages within this culture.

But this culture can, unfortunately, give the husband the opportunity to abuse his power.

I’ve seen it happen and it breaks my heart.

I say set women free.

Let them fully embrace their callings.

Let them excel in their craft, whatever that may be, and serve in their communities.

Let them pursue higher education.

Let them be leaders if their gift is to lead – adults as well as children.

I love spending time with my babies and watching them grow. It makes me alive inside. But I also need frequent breaks where I can miss them, have adult conversations, and bounce ideas off other people.

This isn’t just a personal preference, it’s a need nearly all mothers have!

When we get married, no one expects us to stay home and have our husband be our full identity.

I did retire from my job recently to be with my boys and to serve in other areas.

This was voluntary.

No one, not Josh, our church, or either of our families, pressured me into the decision.

It is truly my desire, a joy, and a privilege for me to not work right now.

But it doesn’t mean all women are called to do the same thing.

Embrace God’s Plan.

So what’s God’s plan for your life?

I can’t answer that.

What I do know is that he’ll seek your obedience where you’re at.

If you’re single, embrace your singleness and freedom and take big risks.

If you’re married, you and your spouse can develop a family mission statement and vision that includes serving together and expanding your gifts together.

If you have small children, show them love, take them places that impacted you, and read them lots of books.

When they are old enough, volunteer with them and help them learn practical skills in ways like working outside, in soup kitchens, or hospitals.

Help them develop their own gifts and dreams.

Help them see that the world is about more than just them.

Josh and I believe men are called to be the spiritual head of the family, but this is actually more pressure on the man. The wife is liberated.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 5:21-25

As a spiritual head, the husband is called to lead, guide, and protect the wife.

This doesn’t oppress her, it frees her.

It gives her a safe place to exercise the gifts God has given her.

This is God’s plan for men – not selfishly pursuing every fleeting desire, but steadfastly representing his love.

If more men would step up into the unselfish calling to love and lead, more women would be freed to be loved and be led without abuse, harassment, or suppression.

And the Bible does give an answer to women in unhealthy marriages.

In the early church all the believers lived in community together.

In community women are safer.

In community women have financial support other than just their husband.

If he abuses or leaves her, she isn’t forced to deal with the consequences alone.

She’s surrounded by people who will help with her children and care for her.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.

Acts 4:32

So let’s not silence women any longer.

Let us listen to women and take them seriously when they say they’re being harassed or assaulted.

Let’s be that community, surrounding victims with love and resources and real help.

As women, we should know what abuse is and all the forms in which it can come.

We should be aware and ready to respond, not just put up with it politely.

Women, we aren’t meant to be a doormat. That was never our calling. Look at Proverbs 31 for an example of a woman of strength and dignity in the Bible.

This woman isn’t merely an object to her husband, but she is highly prized and appreciated.
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31:10-31
If you’re interested in reading more about Biblical marriage, I think The Meaning Of Marriage by Tim Keller is an excellent resource.

My Top 5 Finanical Tips 

You might not think there’s a frugal bone in your body, but I beg to differ. Maybe you just haven’t discovered the right tools yet. Maybe you’ve started the journey and you just need a few new ideas. There’s hope for you. I’m not talking about being stingy, I’m talking about being frugal. Spending less on ourselves so we have more to save and more to give to those who are truly in need. I daresay that if you are reading this, you have a lot more resources than you think you do. Maybe you just don’t have a handle on them yet. They trickle out of your pocket before you even know what happened. 

I know because I’ve been there.

I’ve definitely noticed a pattern reflected in my spending – one of irresponsibility with a gradual shift to responsibility. I’ve always been a saver by nature but that doesn’t mean I didn’t waste some money on some silly things back in my teens and early twenties. What could I have done differently? What habits do I now have that reduce my consumer spending? I’ve narrowed it down to a couple different categories.

Things I Used to Waste Money On:

Social Outings

Coffee dates with friends, happy hours after work. Way too much overpriced junk food at Denny’s and Steak ‘n Shake. I’ve already written a whole post full of frugal ways to maintain a social life. And you know what? It’s actually a lot more fun to get out and do things other than eat and drink together! And let friends know that your place can be the hangout. Even if you provide the meal, it’s much more frugal to host in your home than it is to grab dinner out. Here’s some of my favorite frugal recipes for your next get-together.



I love music and it’s still a guilty pleasure that Josh and I treat ourselves to a live show every now and then. But I used to go to concerts every weekend and movies throughout the week. That might sound like a lot to you…or it might not. But it certainly does add up over time. That “Entertainment” budget can be a major yearly expense. Thankfully, some of my favorite things to do, like hike and ride bikes, are free entertainment.

If you gamble for entertainment regularly, I suggest you give that up right away. Rather than gambling away what you have on a dream reality, why not take some steps to make your real life more awesome and financially flexible?

Nothing like a free morning group ride!

I went through so many random styles as a young person trying to “find myself.” I still have a couple quality items I bought as a young adult. But I owned way too many clothes most of my life. With the exception of good running shoes, I’ve spend almost nothing on clothing the past year and a half. I plan to keep it up, both to save money and reduce waste. This is a fairly easy one to give up. Even if you don’t do a full-stop shopping ban, it helped me to write down what I wanted rather than buy it, and delay the purchase for as long as possible. Sometimes that desire went away altogether.

Specialty Foods

When you live at home or on a college campus and your dietary staples are being met, it’s tempting to go grocery shopping anyway. For “fun” groceries. Organic spelt granola with acai berries, superfood probiotic smoothie powders, fair-trade protein bars and fruit leathers, single-serving anything in a burlap hand-printed wrapper. You get the picture. These gourmet delights are nothing but processed foods marketed as healthy. You know what’s really healthy and delicious? Making real food from scratch yourself. A couple hardboiled eggs aren’t as exciting as the latest protein bar craze, but they’re actually healthier and more affordable.

And that’s before we even mention the booze. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good jammy red wine or a craft seasonal beer. But when I started buying alcohol, I’ll be perfectly honest: I did it to fit in. I didn’t have a palate that could distinguish the nuances in every bottle. I was just playing my part as a young person. It was what we did on the weekends, right? The palate came later, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have it because I still have to resist the urge to spend sometimes. Maybe it’s a good thing actually. Now that my tastes are more expensive I indulge less often. (And right now I’m taking a break for No Alcohol October.) 

Oh, and the junk food…. I was a sugar addict until three years ago. I didn’t know it at the time, but I now know that sugar is a highly addictive drug that pulls you along through highs, lows, and withdrawal periods. It’s a hard habit to break, but it’s entirely worthwhile -both for health and for frugality- to cut out sweets.

Ahh, delicious sugary confections!

Maybe it’s because the stuff is marketed directly to teens and pre-teens, but I used to own more Bath and Body Works beauty products than I could ever use. Not only did I have lotion and hand cream, but the bubble bath, room spray, incense, and enough scented candles to make it through six-week power-outage. Seriously, what’s the deal?

And treating yourself to Starbucks or other similarly-priced coffee everyday is a big frugal no-no. Seriously. Get a french press and make the stuff taste good at home. Restructure your mornings so you have time to heat up water yourself. (It doesn’t take any longer than sitting in line at the drive through window, and you’ll save a sweet $5 a day or nearly $2,000 a year.) 

Just Shopping

I used to “thrift” for fun. The funny thing is that making hobby out of thrifting isn’t the least bit thrifty. I found a few good things on these ventures…I also brought home a lot of junk that I no longer own. Thrifting for fun is a double-threat, as you not only waste time and money, you’re buying things impulsively that you will sooner or later need to purge and get rid of. I’ve come full-circle. I accumulated and purged way more than I ever needed to. There were some cool things, like some of the dishes I still currently own…but I couldn’t tell you all the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on things that I used a little while, and then purged. It was basically just someone else’s clutter that I paid to bring home. I should have known better. Some stuff is at the thrift store for a reason…just sayin’.

And then there’s all those other stores. How many other mamas out there are slightly addicted to Target?! It’s true that sometimes we need to buy things, but it’s easy to get distracted and overdo it. Yeah, I definitely shop at Target, but I don’t do it to fill a void or try to kill hours of time. If the day is long, and the kids and I need to get out of the house, we kill time at the park or the library. I do my best run in and run out with the one thing I actually needed.

My Top 5 Financial Tips:

1: Track Expenses

Know where the money is going. Josh and I do a reverse-budget, where we sit down at the end of every month and write down everything. Every. Thing. That. We. Spent. An added benefit is that it puts us on the same page. We know where our money is going. We don’t allow ourselves budgeted amounts for different categories, as that’s money just asking to be spent. Rather, we challenge ourselves to spend as little as possible on ourselves.

2: Understand Wants Vs. Needs

Be realistic in your understanding of luxuries vs necessities. Many of the “needs” of middle-class Americans are “wants” in disguise. Pay attention to this and re-adjust your expectations.

3: Pay Down Debt

Absolutely funnel your savings from cutting out the money-wasters mentioned above into paying off any existing debts. Don’t accept that debt is a normal part of life and you’ll die with your debt. Make a plan, starting with the smallest for the quickest payoff, and knock out those loans one by one.

4: Don’t Ignore Retirement 

Josh and I invest using Vanguard. If you have a retirement account at work, consider making contributions, especially if your company matches. This isn’t something young people should overlook. If you’re a young adult, now is the best time to get the ball rolling on your retirement.

5: Give Generously 

It might seem counter-intuitive, but giving is a huge part of personal finance. It’s the absolute coolest part of spending less money on yourself. Sharing and giving back is one of our main motivators to spend less as a family. It also helps keep things in perspective. We are so fortunate to be able to willingly make small sacrifices to live on less. I want to live joyfully on as little as possible in order to make a positive difference in the world around me.

What are your financial tips and experiences? Did I forget anything important? How have your spending habits changed in the past few years? What are your financial goals currently? 

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I’m a stickler for nice things. I’d rather have something well-made than a cheap version that will break or fall apart immediately. There’s even a local furniture store with the slogan “because you like nice things.” But at what point do nice things keep us from our greater purpose?

Kids are messy. Not gonna stress it.

Investing in Quality or Investing in Greed?

There’s a phase in life when most of us are just starting out on our own. We move out of our dorm or our parents’ house and start buying our own food and housewares. This is the phase of “crappy, but will do the trick.” I sometimes wish I was back at this phase – the phase where I didn’t own half the things I do know. My possessions fit in a minivan. When I needed something, I made it work with what I already had. True minimalism. No hype.

The next phase is when most of us start to miss the mark a little. We’re so used to having nothing that we say yes to absolutely everything. Free couch. Threadbare rug. Dumpster diving. Broken things. We try to rescue it all and make it all special. Recycling and reusing and saving things from the trash are great. I’m all about that! But at a certain point we surpass the magical place called “enough” and we fall into the trap of over-accumulation.

Then it’s time to purge. We see ads for nice, minimal decor and we realize we overdid it. The stuff we rescued from the trash goes right back into the trash heap. We buy new ones, nicer ones. We start spending money on higher quality furnishings, or at least nicer-looking ones. We find our personal style and we clip photos from magazines (or pin them on Pinterest. Who really reads magazines anymore?) We officially become consumers of style, on the lookout for the next great thing. It might feel minimal, but really it’s consumerism cleverly disguised as minimalism. We might think we’re shopping for quality items that will last, but we have to be careful that we’re not just appealing to our desire to have nicer things than our neighbors. Our greed.

Putting People Before Things

Now that Josh and I are a little older, and we have some nice things and a house rather than a tiny flat or apartment, we run a terrible risk. The risk of putting our things before our true goals. I am definitely guilty of this. Sometimes I have to take a deep breath and remember that none of it matters. It could all be gone tomorrow.

I’ve had the chance to put my beliefs into practice on a couple of occasions. One time my awesome friend came over with her amazing kids. My home is childproof for my children and their tendencies, but we found out the hard way that different kiddos have different tendencies. The kids were quietly playing upstairs while my friend and I watched the babies downstairs. Malachi alerted us first with a frightened “Mommy….” My friend and I went upstairs to find four bottles of paint, that were previously unopened, completely emptied. Paint was all over the children, the floor, the dresser, and the walls. The “artists” had started painting Malachi, which is when he got scared and called for us. We didn’t know what to do (we should have taken more pictures) so we just laughed. Now we knew why the kids had been occupied for so long. I never dreamt they’d find and open the paint, because that’s not something Malachi would do. But “childproof” is a relative term I guess.

We threw the kids in the tub and scrubbed what we could (and my friend insisted on paying to have our carpet cleaned). But this was an opportunity to live up to my ideals of saying that material things don’t matter. While I do want to be a good steward of my home and what I’ve been given, I also don’t want it to become an obsession that keeps us from living. So we cleaned the mess as well as we could and we still laugh about it to this day. This is why we don’t have nice things. So we can put our relationships first.

Some of the paint aftermath.
Josh and I believe in hospitality and open up our home often for gatherings, potlucks, and musical guests. I don’t want a house so nice that I feel like I must “preserve” it and protect it from the wear and tear of having guests. We’ve had over 60 guests in the house at once! One time a musical show was held in the kitchen, and involved someone playing a guitar while standing on the table, and everyone else dancing around the kitchen island. Someone broke a glass and immediately apologized. “Don’t worry about it!” I assured them. “Those glasses break so easily I’ve been replacing them with pasta sauce jars.” The show carried on without a hitch.

That one time we had 60 people in the living room. (Photo by The Hunts.)
I don’t want to be irresponsible, but I do want to place value in something other than things. I want to have a home that people feel comfortable in, not one that they feel like they must wipe their feet and be on their best behavior. I like to think that I don’t own any of it, but I’m housesitting for the Lord. What would his priorities be? We’ll mow the lawn and do regular maintenance, sure. But would Jesus care if the dresser got painted or the carpet got something spilled on it? I don’t think so.

Possessions Can Weigh Us Down

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Luke 10:38-42

This is the attitude I want to adopt. Not one of merely preserving, but one of stewarding. An attitude that joyfully does the chores, but doesn’t stress over the white sofa or the small accidents that happen with children. I’d rather be a Mary than a Martha, even though Martha often comes more naturally for me. I want to focus on the people and not the things. If that means that all our furniture is hand-me-downs and our rugs don’t match quite right, then that’s how we’ll live. Retailers make us think that we need so much, but the reality is that we need so little. 

Is it wrong to have nice things? Not necessarily. But there’s a point at which they don’t improve our lives, and instead become burdensome. We must insure them, inspect them, perform routine maintenance, and worry about them breaking or getting stolen.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:20-21

I don’t know about you, but I’m finished putting stock in material things only to be disappointed. I don’t exactly know what treasures in heaven will look like, but I think it might have less to do with silver and gold and more to do with God’s righteousness, perfect justice, endless grace, and undiluted love.

No Alcohol October

Happy October 1st! It’s been a little while, but it’s time for a new monthly challenge!

If you know me well enough, you know that I like good beer. (But I’ll even settle for halfway decent beer on occasion.) As a frugal person with larger goals, I sometimes wrestle with the cost. Alcohol is definitely a luxury not a necessity. I already buy my drinks at the grocery store rather than bars and restaurants to save money. However, this hobby still ends up being about $20 a month that I can’t justify…other than the fact that I like it. It pays to be disciplined. At the end of the month I’ll donate the money I’ve saved to a charity.

Is it okay to do things because I like them? Of course! But I find that giving up something I like for a short amount of time makes me more thankful and appreciative when I introduce the thing back into my life. I‘ll be honest and admit that I really, really didn’t want to do this challenge…which is a good sign that it was time to do it! Just because I can justify my beer hobby doesn’t mean I always should.

It’s also healthier to drink in moderation. While I love a good craft beer after something challenging like a long run or bike ride, it’s good to take a break when it becomes a nightly ritual. This article about how alcohol affects women’s health was a nice reminder of that.

So my challenge to myself, and anyone else who wants to join, is to not drink alcohol this October. And lest those of you who don’t like alcohol think you’re off the hook, this includes soda if you’re a soda drinker. I find that many people are in love with the buzz of sugar even more than alcohol. It may be culturally acceptable, but addiction to sugar is very real and very prevalent in the US.

As always, let me know if you’d like to join the challenge so we can support one another. Cheers to 31 days of savings and health!


Why I Didn’t “Treat Myself” on My Birthday

Birthday sunrise.

My birthday was Tuesday. I love this time of year. The start of a new season and the crisp freshness in the air. Sometimes we pick apples on my birthday but this year it was a pretty hot and sunny day, still wanting to be summer.

It’s funny how my perspective on my birthday has changed over the years. This day is no longer a big deal to me. My age is no longer a very big deal to me. In fact, it’s a good thing me and Josh are the same age because I often ask him “How old are we again?” (We’re 28 now.)

When I was a kid I really looked forward to my birthday. I counted down the days. I didn’t have a whole lot of my own money so gifts were a much bigger deal.

As an adult, I have more resources at my disposal than ever before. But you know what?

I want for nothing. 

Am I secretly wealthy? No. I admit that it’s a privilege to live a simple life by choice rather than out of necessity, but we aren’t hoarding a stash of wealth anywhere, either. As believers, we want to give away more than we keep for ourselves. I want for nothing because I’ve learned the value of what I already have. I want nothing because I know that my needs are met, and everything else is just extra.

And that’s something to be grateful for.

So I didn’t “treat myself” on my birthday. I didn’t go out to dinner. I didn’t even order in. I didn’t go on a fancy date. I didn’t ask for gifts. (Josh and I have a mutual understanding that no gifts means, really, no gifts.)

In fact, I didn’t buy anything.

Here’s why:

Life is Really About Relationships

I once heard it said that “Your life is only as good as your relationships.” There’s so much truth to that. Someone can have it all according to the world’s standards, but without people to share it with, there’s no fulfillment or satisfaction. I’m gonna save myself the work. Forget about “having it all.” Just give me good relationships.

It doesn’t have to be a vast network, either. We all just need a few people who we can truly be ourselves with – people who are on the same wavelength as us and with whom we can let our guard down. A few of those kinds of friends are absolutely priceless. I don’t care about trendy, material things now that I’m an adult. My priorities have changed. Give me quality relationships and honest people to do life with. Give me a sense of community and belonging.

I’m so thankful to have several close friends and Josh who have seen the real me and still love me. People who understand me without me wasting my breath to explain everything. People who just nod and just get it. Great relationships are invaluable.

Treating Yourself is Overrated

The best gift you can give yourself aside from quality relationships is a life filled with gratitude. This means creating a simple but meaningful everyday life. A life you don’t need to take a vacation from. Do I take breaks and getaways? Yes. (I’ve learned to do so frugally!) But vacations aren’t what I live for. I choose to live an authentic life daily, not just on vacation.

I love my nights and weekends when Josh isn’t working, but I don’t just live for the weekends. I don’t want to always be wishing I was elsewhere or waiting for my next chance to indulge. I want to find beauty in those everyday moments. I think treating yourself isn’t as much about doing something fancy and expensive as it is about being present and gleaning enjoyment out of the everyday things. Out of the nap-times. Out of the grocery runs. Out of sitting in traffic sometimes… Everyday occurrences can be magically fulfilling.

For example, on Tuesday I treated myself to “Birthday Oatmeal on the Porch to Watch the Sunrise” and a “Birthday Run to the Library” and a “Birthday Dinner of Homemade Stir-fry.” It wasn’t any different from my usual oatmeal on the porch and my usual runs and my usual family dinners, but something about making it a birthday celebration helped open my eyes to the gifts around me every single day. It helped me live in the moment, as corny as that sounds, and be truly thankful for this stage of life. Because next year my kids will be different. I will be different. We might not have the same routine and the same rhythm to our day.

Birthday run.

Hard Things are Worth Doing 

I love the runner’s high after a good workout. Can’t forget that birthing high after natural childbirth! That feeling you get at the top of a mountain that was challenging to climb. The satisfaction after giving something your all. One could say I’m addicted to this feeling. I like to work hard everyday. It may sound gross, but I like to sweat everyday! Hard work is seriously one of life’s buried treasures. A hidden gift off the beaten path of self-serving.

The Fray has a song lyric that says “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.” While I don’t think it’s always true, I think it’s good food for thought. Why take the easy way? Why do what everyone else is doing? In my experience, self-indulgence leaves me feeling icky. 99% of the time I’d rather do something challenging I can feel proud of.

Indulging Doesn’t Fix Depression

No amount of retail therapy, fancy gifts, expensive nights out, or gourmet meals will ever cure that empty feeling inside. I know. I’ve done these things, and I’ve still struggled with seasonal and postpartum depression.

I’ve done all the “right” things like eating healthy, getting enough sleep, running, and talking to friends as well. These things have helped a lot, but I’ve also faced the fact that depression is a chemical and hormonal imbalance. It doesn’t mean I’m broken and it doesn’t mean I’m inferior. I don’t need to drown out every feeling with self-indulgence. Rather, I can press into whatever pain I feel and try to use it to help others.

I’m proud to say I’ve made so much progress this past year. It’s been challenging having a new baby and adjusting to life with two kiddos, but I think we’re finally on the other end of it and I feel like the weight has been lifted. I love my family and my life so much right now. It isn’t always easy. I still look forward to bedtime, like most parents with small children do, but I thoroughly enjoy interacting with my boys and watching them learn and grow. I often want to pause time momentarily and hang onto every precious thing they say and do.

Long-Term Goals Over Temporary Pleasure

I write a lot about the benefits of frugal living and all the opportunities frugality has opened up for our family. The flip-side of living in the present is also having long-term goals to look forward to. This is what makes it easy to say no to every little whim and treat. It’s so empowering to have a family mission statement (Ours is Simplicity. Generosity.Hospitality.) and use it to center ourselves and decide what’s important. Little by little, we chip away at those dreams and that mission statement. It takes time, but we know we’re headed somewhere. How many of us are merely existing and feel like we’re floating aimlessly with no real purpose? I know I have felt like that, so my family mission is a great reminder that I’m heading in the right direction.

Simple living may not feel that simple at first. There may be withdrawal symptoms for the first few weeks or months after giving up an old habit. But if you stick with it, that withdrawal fades and the temptation eventually leaves. It happened when I gave up sugar. It happened when I stopped buying clothes.

Long-term goals take time, but they are so much more valuable than an ice cream here and a Starbucks drink there. I’d rather save money on the daily things and put it toward those larger goals. And the cool thing about getting older is that time flies by faster. So invest. Not just financially, but in people, in relationships, and in yourself. Good things take time. 

Do you treat yourself to nice things often? How do you limit yourself or handle the expense? How do you keep “occasional treats” from becoming everyday habits? What are your favorite free or frugal gifts?

Birthday selfie in my swapped “new to me” outfit!

Fast Fashion is Like Fast Food…

Fast Fashion is Like Fast Food…

…It’s cheap, poor quality, and most people eventually regret buying it.

If you found my blog through the recent Huffington post article about our clothes shopping ban, welcome! If you haven’t already, check it out!

Since the ban is still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d expand a little bit on the idea of clothing waste.

My closet is nothing special. Just a closet.

When I started my clothes shopping ban in June 2015, I did it to save money, save time, and minimize my closet. I wanted to jump off of the crazy trend merry-go-round. I just wanted to wear simple clothes that I liked, even if it meant repeating the same things again and again. Now that I’ve learned more about how clothing is overproduced and goes to waste, I’m even more excited about not not buying new clothes. “Fast fashion” is produced to keep up with the latest trends and sell quickly. If it doesn’t sell, it often gets shredded and tossed in a dumpster. My ban made me realize how much I already have. It helped me see that I can get by with less than I than I think I can. So even though I’m technically “allowed” to buy new things now, I no longer want to.

Marketing Makes Us Want More

Now that my ban has ended, it’s not like I’m hurting for clothes to wear. I’ve bought two Goodwill dresses, and I’ve been given some things, but I haven’t supported any big retailers in the process. There’s no rule that we need to own lots of pairs of jeans and lots of shoes and a different dress for every occasion. No one says that you need a new dress because you got invited to a wedding, or a new swimsuit every summer. The idea that we need more than we have is simply advertising. Media can be sneaky. Everyone is selling something. Not just stores, but commercials, print ads, online ads, emails, Pinterest and Instagram. Once we’re aware of the advertising all around us, we can start to see through it.

When seasons change, I admit I still get the slight urge to “fill in the holes” in my wardrobe. But now I realize that that’s just a feeling created from years of old habits. It doesn’t actually mean I need anything. I can wait till the cold weather (or warm weather hits) and see how I fare. Logically speaking, if I had what I needed to get through last year at this time, shouldn’t I have everything I need to get through this year too? Hmmm….

Clothing Shouldn’t be Disposable

The recent book Threadbare exposed me to some of the techniques used by stores like H&M and Forever 21 to sell more clothes. One of them is an ever-changing inventory of new items. Trends are followed so closely and abandoned so quickly, that being “current” means shopping every week. Clothes are made so affordable and low quality. They aren’t made to last, they are simply made to sell. I’ve seen a lot of these “fast fashion” styles at my clothing swaps that I host about twice a year. They’re styles that catch our eye long enough to buy them, but they end up in the back of the closet rarely worn because the trend passes and the fit and fabric might not actually feel that nice.

I love the little frugal mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” That’s exactly how I feel about my closet now. It’s okay to buy a replacement when something is actually worn out. Then it’s entirely appropriate to send your worn out garment to be recycled and replace it with a second-hand or ethically-made new item. But how many of us are really wearing out our clothing? My guess is we’re more likely to get tired of the style than we are to really wear it out. The bottom line is, buying well-made, recycled clothing is cool. But we’ll make the biggest impact by simply buying less to begin with.

There is Simply Too Much

At all of my clothing swaps, each of us women bring about 1-3 trash bags full of clothes. 1-3 trash bags full that we aren’t wearing. That should give us an idea of the overconsumption that is taking place here in the US. After the swap, most of us find some nice things to take home. But I’m still left with 8 or 9 bags leftover to donate. I’ve called a couple local charities and many of them have more donations than they know what to do with. Space is an issue, and our clothing moves in and out of our closets so quickly now that even small charities can’t store all their donations and end up bringing their excess to Goodwill.  While I’ve never seen Goodwill turn away a clothing donation, much of their extras get sent to either Goodwill Outlet and sold by the pound, or sent to a textile recycling factory. Listen, recycling is better than a landfill. But recycling uses precious resources. What we all need to do is simply buy less to begin with.

When I was in the midst of my clothing ban there were several things I wanted to buy but couldn’t. I wanted another pair of fleece leggings. I wanted another pair of leather boots. I wanted more bras. I wanted a few more sweaters in the winter. But I made it work anyway. Now I no longer care, and I’m glad I saved the money and resources by avoiding those purchases.

Love my swapped pajamas my friend didn’t want!

Some Practical Tips

When you find yourself wanting a new article of clothing desperately, try these tricks before you buy to differentiate the Needs from the Wants.

  • Shop your friends’ cast-offs first. With the endless cycle of new and cast-off clothing coming and going from most people’s closets, there’s no reason for us all to buy new. Host your own swap and see if anything there can meet your needs for free…and be saved from the trash heap.
  • Borrow. Another way my friends helped me out during my shopping ban was by lending me things. This can apply to any clothing, but especially maternity and clothes for kids! These items are only needed for a short time, and then they can be washed and returned or lent to the next person to have a kid.
  • Shop used. If you can’t find it for free or borrow from your friends, check out your local thrift shop next. While it’s not completely devoid of waste, thrift shopping is cool because it’s not supporting the big fashion retailers. It’s cast-offs longing to be reused rather than recycled. Their footprint is much, much smaller.
  • Put it on a list. Give it time. Delay the purchase as long as you can. You might find, like me, that writing it down instead of buying it helps. It gives me a way to act on the item without purchasing it. See if you still want it after a month. Wait to see if a used one shows up at a thrift store or garage sale.
  • Say no to trends. As much as you can, stick with pieces that are well made and have a timeless style. My style has changed a bit since my clothing ban started, partly because I’m no longer following ever-changing trends. I have mostly mix-and-match tops and bottoms that go with anything and can be styled different ways to match the changing seasons. Even though I try to have a minimal wardrobe, there are endless ways to wear things in fresh ways.
  • Do some research. Everything you buy is supporting something. Do your best to find out what you’re actually supporting with your dollars.
  • Avoid the mall. In my experience, this is where most of the fast fashion resides. (But freestanding stores like Target and Old Navy aren’t exempt either.) Malls aren’t made for shopping with a purpose. They are meant for killing time, meeting up with friends, and browsing the racks. Just spare yourself the temptation and avoid this place.

It’s Not Really That Crazy

I realize that my family is extremely privileged to get to do things like shopping bans by choice. Throughout history, families have made sacrifices and given up unnecessary spending out of necessity. Today, many families in the US and around the world struggle just to put dinner on the table. I’m so thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I’ll have a place to sleep tonight. If the idea of being frugal is nothing new to you, then you know that my family is nothing special. We’re simply trying to be practical with the resources we’ve been given. We’d like to spend as little on ourselves as possible, in order to have more to share with others. We want to tread lightly on this planet so future generations aren’t left cleaning up our mess. We want to give a nod to those who are already living this way, and we want to issue a friendly challenge to those who are caught up in the overconsumption rat-race. It is possible to live on less. Many people are already doing it. 

I’m sitting here writing this in some awesome swapped duds – shorts from Elizabeth and a shirt from Christina – and a sweater I bought secondhand about five years ago. I’m very thankful right now. Like any new habit, there might be some withdrawal symptoms at first, but if you stick with it you’ll be amazed at how easy it is! I don’t plan on ever going back to my old way of shopping. I don’t ever plan on spending $200-$500 a year on clothing like I used to. This isn’t a shopping ban anymore. This is just my life. I want to stop the waste of overconsumption. I’ll gladly pick my clothes out of what other people are throwing away if it means not supporting a wasteful and unethical industry. I’ll opt out of the comparison game. I’ll opt out of keeping up with the ever-changing fads. At first I needed rules in order to stick with my decision – it had to be an absolute ban in order for me to overcome the addiction. But there no longer need to be hard rules because my thinking has changed. I’m never going to shop the same way again.

Old clothes. Happy hearts. Cheesy captions.



Stuff Vs. Experiences

It’s been proven that material things don’t make us happier. Once our basic needs of clothing, food, and shelter are met, more doesn’t equal better. It just becomes…excess.

This, as well as many other interesting psychological studies and statistics, are found in the book StuffocationThis book has a slightly different angle than some of the minimalism and simplicity books I’ve read in the past. Most of the books in this genre suggest the answer to society’s massive overconsumption problem is minimizing, downsizing and shedding the clutter. Author James Wallman has a different theory.


The answer to the stuff problem, Wallman says, isn’t minimalism or simplicity. Those things are nice, but they will never take over society to the extent that materialism has. He has a point. In some ways “the simple life” can be quite complicated. People who opt out of the hustle and bustle of the daily grind might discover that living off the grid is harder than conforming to the status quo. Growing your own food from the ground up is easier said than done. (I’m a terrible gardener, at least right now I am.) Chopping firewood is much more difficult than simply programming a thermostat. And living alone in a cabin, while simple, can be downright boring and isolating for even the most introverted individual.

Minimalism, while freeing for those who are tired of the clutter and waste of overconsumption, can be equally frustrating when the competition turns from “must have” to “must get rid of.” Extreme minimalists will count every object they own, spending large amounts of money on custom multi-use furniture and tiny eco-homes. Seeing who can get by with the least amount of stuff has become a new status symbol in some circles. It’s a crazy, reversed form of materialism that is just as materialistic as its counterpart.

Even minimalists can be materialistic in their approach.

No, Wallman says the answer to our overconsumption is primarily experiences. He predicts that in the future more and more people will build their lives around what they do rather than what they own. It’s an intriguing concept. Memories last a lot longer than mementos. And they don’t clutter the house. Win / win.

There’s drawbacks to this theory of experiences, of course. Social media makes it all too easy for experiences to be shared for the sake of comparison. This “extrinsic motivation” isn’t nearly as fulfilling and healthy as “intrinsic motivation,” which stems from our own curiosity and desire to explore. Still, it’s not entirely a bad thing that experiences can be shared online. We can learn a lot about someone by what they do in their spare time – things we would never know just from looking at them. And this social pressure to get out and do things rather than just acquire things could actually be a positive thing. 

Wallman lists several reasons why experiences might be the answer to dissatisfaction due to overconsumption, and backs them up with phycological studies. 

Reasons Experiences Make Us Happier than Possessions:

  1. Experiences are more prone to positive reinterpretation. Even when experiences go wrong, we can usually look back on them and laugh. There’s no real redeeming factor to a regretted purchase.
  2. Possessions are prone to hedonic adaptation. This is the phenomenon of needing more and more of the same thing to get the same level of thrill or satisfaction. It still can happen with experiences, but it’s much less noticeable.
  3. Experiences are harder to compare than material goods. You’re less likely to worry about your choice, worry about all the other options, and worry about the status implications. It’s quite easy to compare different generations of phones, or different years of cars. It’s nearly impossible to compare a trip to Spain to visit family with a cruise in Alaska. No two experiences are alike, and therefore, they are less likely to lead to comparison and dissatisfaction.
  4. We’re more likely to view experiences as contributing to our identities. We all strive to find or create ourselves when we shop for things, work our jobs, listen to music, and pursue hobbies and interests. Our view of ourselves is crucial to our happiness. Wallman suggests that experiences contribute far more than what we own to shaping our identity and our feelings about ourselves.
  5. Experiences bring us closer to other people. A shared experience – either present or past – will unite two people far more than driving the same car or owning the same earrings. I know I have an easier time meeting new people when we’re experiencing something together. There’s an instant connection and a starting point for a relationship to grow.
  6. Materialism leads to clutter. Clutter is an unintended consequence of overconsumption that, left unchecked, can lead to stress and unhappiness. Clutter can even cause family strife. It may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it is not something to be overlooked.
  7. Doing something rather than having it is more likely to engage you. Whether we know it or not, we all seek to be “in the zone.” When we’re in the zone, we feel alive, aware, and engaged in the moment. This state of appreciation and satisfaction is derived from doing, not from merely owning things.
  8. Your motivation is more likely to be intrinsic for experiences. While it is possible someone might do something like go to a concert or go golfing for the extrinsic purpose of social bragging, it is more likely that someone is doing these things for the inward, intrinsic value.

My biggest critique with this whole concept of “experiencing” the good life, is that it’s still looking for happiness in created things (even if they aren’t physical things) rather than the Creator. While I truly enjoy and thrive on experiences, I’ve found that in my life true happiness cannot be found without losing myself and looking to God for my identity.

Often the most fulfilling things are experiences where I totally forget about my own problems (and my own happiness) and focus only on serving someone else. It can be as simple as listening to a friend talk when they need a safe place, forgetting about my own agenda. Or lending a hand if someone needs childcare. Or hosting someone in my home even if I think I feel too tired to entertain. It’s a great contradiction to the “do what makes you happy” mentality, but I’ve found it to be true time and time again.

Perhaps experiences are the answer to overconsumption inasmuch as they help us see God better or connect with fellow humans. I’m still not 100% sure, but I think they might play a part in the equation.

My favorite points from the book relate not so much to stuff or lack of stuff, but to a new way of experiencing life in general.

Be Here Now.

My old choir director used to say “Wherever you are at, be there.” It was simple but true. While at choir practice, he wanted us to be 100% present, not thinking about all the other places we’d rather be. It meant we’d do a better job and we’d enjoy ourselves more. If you’re always wistfully off somewhere else, think about all that you might be missing out on right in front of you. And how does it make those around you feel if you’re never fully present with them? Distant? Unimportant? Uninteresting? Commit yourself fully to where you’re at and enjoy the synergy of being in that place and time fully.

Be Your Own Audience.

I put this into practice a while back when I took a month-long break from my phone and social media. I didn’t realize how much of what I did I did for the sake of posting! It was humbling. What would it feel like if I never posted anything that I did ever again? Would I feel fulfilled simply by doing without the sharing? It is hard because I love photography and writing, and those are big parts of social media. I probably take way too many photos for myself, much less Facebook and Instagram. I find it helpful to have the “not sharing” mindset when deciding whether or not to do something…even if I do end up sharing a pic or two afterward. Honestly ask yourself “If no one knew I was doing this would I still do it?”

Put People First.

Ask yourself how your experiences will draw you closer to other people. Will you make new friends if you sign up for that class? Will you and your spouse connect if you go on that trip? I thrive in social environments, but I’ll be the first to admit that meeting new people can be awkward and difficult. The key that I’ve found is to do something together. Maybe it’s volunteering. Maybe it’s running together. Maybe it’s grocery shopping. Shared experiences are a powerful way to drive relationships forward.

Camping! It’s about the people, not the camping itself.

What are your thoughts on stuff vs. experiences? Is it a fair comparison? What about when our stuff gives us a good experience? Do you find intrinsic motivation to be more satisfying than the extrinsic motivations in your own life? If experiences aren’t the answer to the overconsumption problem, then what do you think is? 

New York Reflections


Our family had the great pleasure of getting to visit a rural Christian community in New York this August. It felt like something from a dream or a movie. Beautiful countryside dotted with houses and animals, with families walking barefoot down the winding roads that led from building to building. I’ve never experienced such radical hospitality in my entire life. Our room was filled with welcome notes, coffee, snacks, and fresh-cut flowers. But it didn’t end there. That same love and care trickled into everything the community brothers and sisters did. It brought to mind the Mother Teresa quote: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” That great love was everywhere. From all the welcomes and smiles and handshakes, to how the kitchens were cleaned. From how our laundry was washed and so neatly folded, to how someone always stepped in to babysit so we could attend the community meetings and campfires…or simply sleep after driving through the night.

Radical and Simple

I’m convinced that love is the purest and most radically simple answer to all the world’s questions. Jesus said in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Not by the cars we drive, the politicians we vote for, or by what we complain about on Facebook. Pure, unselfish love will change the world.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

I often hear these verses read at weddings. It’s a nice reminder at weddings, but realize that we aren’t just called to love our spouses. We’re called to love our neighbors. We’re called to love our enemies. Yes, our love toward our family is vitally important. But if it ends there, we’re missing out on the true meaning of God’s kingdom. Believers are called to so much more than nuclear family love. We’re called to radical, world-changing, love.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:32-36

This is why Jesus said they will know we’re disciples by our love. Because our love will look different from the love the world gives.

Community and Commitment 

We all have more in common than you would think. At first it might seem like life in such a community is quite different – and yes, it is quite different from the “American Dream.” But I daresay all believers are called to community in some shape or form. We aren’t meant to walk this Christian faith alone. I can only imagine how lonely and difficult that would be.

The community members made a lifelong commitment when they decided to join the church. When I first heard this, I thought it must take extreme dedication. But then it occurred to me – aren’t all believers called to a lifelong commitment? Aren’t we all called to “take up our cross and follow Jesus?” To surrender our lives to his plan and his purpose, going where he calls us and serving where he asks us to serve? In that mindset, the lifelong commitment to the church wasn’t so radical at all. It was simply an extension of what we’re all called to do after we give our lives to Christ. And with all that community support and accountability, it might actually be easier to follow Christ in a group than in isolation. It was all summed up in a song we sang around the campfire under the stars:

No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.

We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.

Benefits and Surrender

There are numerous benefits to living in a community such as this. Quality childcare. No unemployment. No poverty. Lifelong friendships. Meals, housing, and even laundry are provided to all members. But everyone I talked to shared the same sentiment: that one can’t simply join a community because of the benefits. One must join because they feel called to follow Jesus in such a way. The benefits of community are simply the fruit that grows when a group of people surrender themselves to the Lord’s work and die to themselves.

I noticed a beautiful appreciation placed on children and the elderly. The ones who our society deems “the least of these” were elevated to a place of honor. Mothers didn’t need to worry about childcare. The elderly didn’t need to worry about retirement or care in their old age. Single men and women weren’t living alone, waiting for a spouse. Families were there to surround them, support them, and live alongside them. No one was lonely or forgotten. How lovely is it that all these benefits come from complete surrender!

Listening and Sharing

I think we all mutually encouraged one another during our stay. We’re living out our faith in different ways, but it’s all pointing to the same Jesus. His example is the inspiration for everything. I enjoyed how the community brothers and sisters listened to what us visitors had to say. There were ongoing conversations, not just preaching. In fact, there was no main speaker at any of the meetings we attended. It was a big circle where everyone had a chance to talk and everyone was listened to. Iron sharpening iron. Just seeking together. You know it’s working when someone asks a question, a couple other people share their thoughts, and then a lightbulb goes off in your own mind and you have something to contribute. I found myself scribbling pages and pages of notes, some of which I still haven’t finished processing and reflecting.

Come and See

A lot of people I’ve talked to about the trip are interested in the details of daily community life. That’s good and all, but if you’re stuck on the details then you’re missing the real point. Communal life is simple. No one owns private property or their own money, yet everyone has what they need. Everyone is seeking the good of the group rather than their own good. It’s not perfect, they all readily admit, but they’ve been doing it for generations so I’d call that a successful history. Other than that, the details are just merely details. If you’re interested in learning more, there is standing invitation for anyone who wants to come and see. That’s what we did and it was incredible.

Sometimes Community Hurts

I’m well aware of the fact that some people carry scars left from so-called Christian communities that have hurt them. I’m also aware that some communities are accused of living life “in a bubble” and not interacting enough with the outside world. These are very valid concerns, and need to be pondered and addressed. It’s far outside the realm of one blog post to address and fix all these problems. The brothers and sisters at this community didn’t shy away from questions about these things. They realize that they are only human and no matter how idealistic their lives might look from the outside, that they have to practice forgiveness on a daily basis. They have seen people hurt. They have seen people leave the church. They have also seen healing and reconciliation in some cases. There’s no way around these kind of issues when you’re dealing with imperfect people. All we can do is give one another a small portion of the enormous grace God has given to us.

What Does This Mean for Us?

I’m still processing how everything we learned might impact our lives here at home. Josh and I have felt inclined toward some fashion of community living ever since we read The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. We don’t, however, feel called to join a community existing somewhere else. We strongly feel that our place right now is St. Louis, and we’re in this area for a reason. So right now we’re waiting with open hearts and minds for the next opportunity. It might mean staying where we’re at and continuing to open up our guest rooms when a need arises. It might mean selling everything and downsizing to an abandoned school or other facility. It might mean living alongside refugees in an apartment building. We have no idea.

What I do know is that God desires us all to willingly surrender our plans and our belongings into his will. Even if he doesn’t call us to give it all up, just knowing that we’re willing to do it is liberating. We aren’t tied to anything except God and one another. That means no matter happens to our home, our finances, our belongings, we know we’ll be content. And as long as we have the means, we’re ready to be that safe place for someone else who needs it. That’s the essence of community.IMG_1312.JPGIMG_1323.JPGIMG_1370.JPG

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Philippians 4:12

How can we create a thriving community in our daily lives, with our church, our friends, and our neighbors? What does it mean to surrender our plans and resources completely to God? How can we “do small things with great love” everyday as a way to impact our world without words?