Debt Free!

A few years ago when we moved to the US, we got into debt. 

Related article: Should I Tithe if I’m in Debt?

Prior to that, when living in Hungary, we had never gone into debt, and had even been able to save enough money to put a down payment on a house, buy a car and a few other things when we moved to Colorado.

The reason we went into debt was because of the legal fees associated with getting our adopted son’s papers straight here in the US. It was a 2 year process, and we are grateful for the good work that our lawyers did, but it put us in the hole quite a bit – albeit a small price to pay to take care of something important for someone we love. 

Our debt was on several credit cards and loans and when we started adding it up, we were frustrated to see how much we were paying in interest, and how we had been robbing Peter to pay Paul but never making any true progress. Like many people, we though we were working the system and winning by accruing points from our cards or by using interest free loans or by saving 5% here or there by using this card or that. We weren’t winning at all.

In November of 2014, our church, White Fields, hosted Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. Another couple from our church led it, but my wife and I were some of the first to sign up. We had wanted to get out of debt for a while, but had lacked a solid game plan, so we hoped this would help.

It did. Just yesterday we made our final payment, and are debt free! 


The journey to dropping this debt meant a change of lifestyle in many ways. We started budgeting and sticking to our budget, even at the end of the month when it meant not doing things or buying things because we had already spent what we budgeted for that month. We sold our SUV and got a smaller car which saves us money on gas and maintenance. We got rid of cable and cut some of our monthly subscriptions. I worked doing snow removal in the winters and other odd jobs when I had the chance. We had several garage sales and Craigslisted many items. Tax returns went to paying off debt rather than going on trips.

The benefits have been more than just financial. The process has helped us to be more strategic about what we spend our money on, which ulimately reflects our values. 

The Dave Ramsey material was good because it gave us a plan as well as a framework for thinking about money and how it speaks to your values. Ultimately the goal is to begin to use the blessings that God has given you to be a blessing to others in the world (cf. Genesis 12:2).

If you’re looking to get a better handle on your finances and a game plan for the future, I recommend taking one of these classes. We’re excited now to move forward from here and continue using these same practices for new goals.

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Done with School, and a Few Other Things

I love finishing projects that I start. The only thing is, I also really like starting projects. So I sometimes find myself with several long term projects – but over the past few weeks I've been able to finish up a few of them.

For the past several months I was very busy finishing my dissertation for my theology degree. I started at this university when my first child was the same age as my current youngest child: 5 months old. Now, in completing my dissertation, I am done – at least for now… I would like to continue.

The title of my dissertation: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Implications of Epistemology and Culture for Christian Thinking, Practice and Mission

Another thing I've been working on for a while that I was able to complete: During the 10 years that I lived in Hungary I spent a lot of time getting different kinds and levels of residence permits and visas. By the time I left I had permanent residence and a work permit, which I gave up when I moved to the US. No big deal, because I have no plan to move back. But about 2 years ago a friend in Hungary told me that I should look into becoming a Hungarian citizen and that I might meet the requirements for citizenship. I looked into it, and I did – so, a year ago I applied for Hungarian citizenship, and I just found out 2 weeks ago I received it. Last week I traveled to Los Angeles for my naturalization ceremony at the office of the Hungarian Consulate.

Receiving my Hungarian citizenship from Kálmán László, consulate general of Hungary.

I'm not really sure how it will benefit me, but it is meaningful nonetheless. My wife and kids are Hungarian citizens, and I does encourage me to spend more time making sure the kids learn Hungarian and have that identity.

Another long term project we've been working on is getting out of the debt we incurred from the adoption we did. It's been an exercise in budgeting, downsizing and penny pinching, inspired by a Dave Ramsey class, and at the end of June we will have that project complete as well.

I've also finished a few books recently:

The men's group at our church has been going through Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, following a study guide and video series by Eric Metaxas. A lot of the videos refer to Lewis' autobiography, Surprised by Joy, so I picked it up and started reading it. In it, Lewis tells the story of how he became an atheist and then the process by which he turned from atheism to deism and finally to Christianity. “Joy”, spelled with a capital J, is the thing which all people are looking for and get glimpses of throughout their lives in various ways, but which can only be found in and through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Sounds interesting, right? I have to say, Surprised by Joy left me surprised with boredom. I had a really hard time getting through the book, and felt that a lot of the material was indulgent details which had nothing at all to do with the story he was telling. That part though, the story of his journey from a nominal Christian upbringing, to atheism, to deism and finally to Christianity, was truly captivating. The last chapter was particularly good. It's worth reading if you are a CS Lewis fan.

The other book I finished recently was John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent. I heard somewhere that it is good to read fiction because it fuels creativity and imagination in a way that other media does not. I read a lot of non-fiction, particularly theology books and biographies, and so I want to make sure that I read some good fiction from time to time as well and I have it in mind to read classic novels and literature.

The Winter of Our Discontent was interesting, particularly in how it dealt with moral and ethical issues, as well as issues of contentment, and pressures in society which create dissatisfaction. The novel describes how people often cross their own moral and ethical lines to get what they think they want, and when they get it, they are still discontent and often more miserable that they were before. I think it's a great commentary on society and on the fallen human condition.

Ironically, The Winter of Our Discontent and Surprised by Joy have their core theme in common. The only difference is that whereas Steinbeck didn't answer the question of what it is that human beings are ultimately looking for: the true quest beneath all our quests, Lewis did. And although Lewis' writing style is harder to read, Surprised by Joy actually answers the question posed by The Winter of Our Discontent.

 

I'm enjoying this season.

 

Thoughts on Vision and Planning

I overheard this conversation between two cashiers at a store the other day:

“…then he asked me what my 5-year plan was, and I’m like: ‘I don’t know! I don’t even think like that!'”  “I know, right?!”

I remember when I used to think like that myself. When I first planted the church in Eger, people often asked me what my “vision” was, or what my 5-year plan was. I told them, “I don’t know. I just want to lead people to Jesus, plant a church, and raise up Christian leaders.”
Little did I understand, that what I was expressing was a very clear vision and plan!

I have come much more to embrace the mentality of having a plan or a vision.

Dave Ramsey says, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time”.

I have been in circles before where it was seen as unspiritual to plan or strategize. The thing these people don’t often realize is that they have unspoken plans and strategies, even though they don’t articulate them. It can be a strategy, for example, to not plan, and leave yourself open to whatever the day brings you. That’s a strategy – it’s a plan, and one which, like all strategies and plans, has advantages and disadvantages.

The New Year is a time of year I have come to love and appreciate, because a year is a measurable period of time, which gives us a scale to measure by, a scale to reflect upon, and a scale to plan by.

In reflecting on this past year, I realized that God did so many great things in the life of our family and our church. We finished the legal process of our son’s adoption and immigration, our church had several successful outreaches and did more for mission work, my wife and I celebrated 10 years of marriage… I could go on and on.

When it comes to strategizing and planning, I believe the best way to do it is in accordance with your long-term goals of what you want your life, or your organization, to be about.

I have a lot of ideas about things I would like to do in this New Year, and I pray by God’s grace that I would be cognizant of these things, and be able to bring them through to fruition. After all, it’s easy to start things, and a lot of people start things – but few people finish things, and even fewer finish them well.

Happy New Year!