Friday, January 28, 2011

Debt Free

How long did it take two InterVarsity staff workers living in the mid-west to pay off approximately $35,000 (plus interest) in student loans during a recession?

4 years and 7 months to be exact.
To be honest, I can’t believe we finally paid them off. When we first got married we decided we would try to pay off the loans in 5 years. At the time, that seemed like an almost impossible goal with one of us working only part time for 3 ½ of those years.
Overall, it’s been an interesting experience trying to pay off the loans in 5 years. Here are a few things that we learned along the way.

  1. It really is better to attack loans sooner than later. The first year and a half of our marriage we were only paying the minimum on the loans. It was kind of a shock the first time I did some math and realized that if we continued doing that we’d be paying off the loans until 2030 (or until we were 50 years old). Who wants undergrad student loans still when you’ve well past your mid-life crisis?
  2. It helps when both of you are committed to the same financial priorities. I can’t tell you how many financial arguments we had two years into our marriage as we tried to determine which priority was first: paying off the loans, building savings, buying a new camera each year, buying a house. Once we settled on paying off the loans in 5 years, pretty much any other financial decision fell in place.
  3. Even on a staff budget, there were still lots of “extras” that we could sacrifice. Only having one cell phone, going with a slower/cheaper internet plan, not going out to eat, renting out our extra room, buying just essential clothing, only owning one car, not going out to Cali for every holiday/or taking big vacations, giving up weekends to work extra jobs…just to name a few.
  4. The tempation to give up and go back to just making minimum payments was stronger than I thought it would be. There are so many "things" that seemed to pop up out of no where saying "you need me" or "go ahead and splurge just this month". It really helped being married and having that accountability and person to ask "do we really need that?"  I admire people who are single who can stick to a budget and plan like this without any accountability. I don't think either of us could.
I consider ourselves lucky that we had only $35,000 in school debt. Compared to so many others who are graduating these days, $35,000 was nothing and we thankfully had jobs in this economy that enabled us to make payments. I know many others have much more debt, can’t find work, or jobs that don’t pay enough to make more than minimum payments.

In short, we are very excited to get our February pay check and not hand over any money to our friends at Citi Bank.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Never thought I'd say it...

But football can be kind of cool when you are driving 10 hours through the middle of no where.

This past weekend we drove down to Arkansas to see a college friend get married. It's about a 13 hour trip one way by car. For some reason we thought this trip could be a fun adventure and a nice break from the cold weather. (unfortunately we escaped the -2 degree weather for only 35 degree weather down south...but we took it).

Anyways, on our drive back somewhere in the middle of Missouri we turned on the radio to listen to the Packer/Bears game. I've never listened to a game over the radio before but it was much more intense than watching it on TV. There were less commercials, the sports announcers tended to sound more excited, and the commentary seemed funnier (although it could be that we were listening to an Illinois radio station who's announcers were pretty upset the Bears were losing). I never thought I'd say it, but it was enjoyable.....

Or I was really, really, really board driving through 10 hours of nothingness.

Either way...go Packers!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recipe of the Month: English Cottage Pie

I have to admit the first time we tried this it was a bit bland.  So the second time I added in a whole can of tomato paste instead of 2 tablespoons, doubled the mushrooms and carrots and used fresh herbs, put salt in the mashed potatoes...and it was much more yummy.

It takes a bit longer to make than I'd like for a weeknight...but it's a nice dish if you have more time.

English Cottage Pie Recipe from Cooking Light:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Random Acts of Compliments

We were recently sitting eating a healthy breakfast of McDonald's egg burritos at a classy Chicago Oasis (for those of you in California, an Oasis is a building built over a toll way that has tons of fast food restaurants. So you can stop right off the freeway to eat without ever leaving the toll way).

Anyways, we were having a deep discussion about the health benefits of processed cheese when we were approached by a woman. I'm ashamed to say that my initial reaction was defensiveness and assumed we were being approached for money or a ride. However, she simply said, "I've been watching you two for a few minutes and I just have to say it's so refreshing to see two people so in love." Then she simply walked away.

I was taken aback by such a random act of a compliment. It challenged me to think of the last time I've given a random compliment like that.

It also made me shake my head that such a "cheesy" conversation was the object of notice. But I guess were a pretty cheesy couple so it's only appropriate.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Day 4 Recap

Day 4 began with a great talk by Jen Ball (staff worker in LA).  She had us look at Act 19 and dynamically drew attention Paul asking his new disciples if they knew the Holy Spirit.  He asked this before he asked anything else. 

Often it's easier to ask: "Do you know Jesus?" "Are you a leader?" "Do you have the same vision for the campus as I do?" We don't usually start with "do you know the Holy Spirit?"  Or at least I don't.

Her main point was that we tend to underestimate the existence, power and necessity of the Holy Spirit in ministry.  My favorite quote from Jen was, "God can do more in one minute than a group of people planning for 50 years."

Andy Crouch followed Jen and spoke about changing structures (he was speaking about structures in general...but focusing on the structures of the university).  He defined a structure as the "enduring underlying patters of behaviors and belief".  Andy pointed out that structures are different than ideas.  Ideas are just thoughts without a structure. 

The biggest thing I took away from Andy was that it takes TIME to change actual structures. Which gives a lot of validity to staying put in a particular location, job, or situation if you want to see change. 

Later that day, I helped with an alumni seminar which went well.  My boss and I were doing some training on how to mobilize alumni to help renew the university.  The great thing about alumni is that they will always be an alum of their alma that can be really helpful when trying to change and renew the university.

I have to admit I was glad when that was done.  Since I don't do as much public speaking anymore...I've reverted back to getting really nervous.

And lastly, another video Matt helped produce.

University of Oklahoma from InterVarsity-twentyonehundred on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Day 3 Staff Conference Recap

Day 3:
Middle of the conference and I'm feeling it.  My extrovertedness is about gone and I'm praying I'll have enough to get through a few 2 more days.  To quote my favorite train engine...I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Day 3 was better than I anticipated.  For the first time one entire day of the conference was devoted to training.  There were 4 topics to choose from: Chapter Planting, Chapter Building, and building a multi-ethnic witness on campus, and evangelism. 

I was mostly unsure of this day since I work in an office context and am not out in the field as much as I used to be.  So I wasn't sure how much would apply to my work or life.  I chose to attend the multi-ethnic training session mainly just because it's a topic I've been very interested in ever since my InterVarsity chapter delved into issues of racial reconciliation during my student days in Santa Barbara.  The training session was well worth it. 

The training session began with an overview of a recent survey InterVarsity's Multi-Ethnic department had conducted on attitudes towards multi-ethnic chapters and ethnic specific chapters. The overall findings in the survey were that while InterVarsity has made great strides in being a multi-ethnic witness on campus, we still have far to go.

We then spent some time looking at the biblical basis for why multi-ethnic ministry is important.  I appreciated this time in that it affirmed for me once again that this whole topic is not being sought just to be politically correct...but because there is a biblical basis.

I specifically appreciated the conversation around Galatians 3: 27-29 ("There is therefore no Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female").  This passage in particular is often brought up as evidence for there not being a reason for having a multi-ethnic chapter/ or ethnic specific chapter. And to be honest, I've sometimes wondered the same thing and remember spending time wrestling with students on this issue.

However, the speaker pointed out that if that passage truly implies that pursuing multi-ethnicity is not necessary...than we need to follow through with the rest of that verse and do away with gender specific ministries too.  I honestly don't think I had ever thought of the implications of the last part of that verse.  It was kind of cool.

Anyways, I'm trying to think of ways to incorporate some of this into both my work and church life when I get back...but my brain is too full right now, so I think I'll have to wait until I get home to unpack some of this.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Day 2 Staff Conference Recap

Yesterday started with the morning session lead by Greg Jao (Regional Director for New York/New Jersey).  That guy never ceases to amaze me.  The speaker that had been scheduled to speak that morning became ill so Greg was pulled in last minute and only had a few days to prepare.  But as always, he delivered a great message.

A few snippets from Greg:
- When you look at the creation story, "both diversity and unity were intended by God".....both should be sought.
- Textbooks and academic studies allow us to know more about the world that God created, "textbooks should be viewed as an invitation to worship God."  Do we encourage our students to view their studies as such?
-As we think about the renewal of campuses, "God is making all things new, not all new things."
-"The university can all diagnose what is wrong...but who has the confidence to define what is healthy?"

Following Greg a professor from Washington University in St. Louis spoke about how he views his role in the university.  One of the things he talked about is how the university is failing to develop students.  This is something I've heard numerous times lately from people outside of InterVarsity.  Specifically at a Alumni professional conference down in Chicago, one of the seminars I attended highlighted how their alumns were embarrassed by the new graduates that started coming in for job interviews.  These alumns were surprised at how ill prepared these students were for the job world.  And that was from a non-Christian perspective.

Anyways, this professor talked about how in the university world, it's gone from "student development", to "student affairs" to "student services".  So currently universities are serving students but not developing them.  I feel that's a huge area InterVarsity can speak into.

Later that evening Mary Poplin spoke and she lived up to all my expectations.  She was the only speaker so far to get a standing ovation.  Some of my favorite quotes from here were:
"You are not in a war against people but against ideas and principalities."
"Evil can not can only distort what has been created."
Perhaps the most exciting and scary thing she said is that our movement will see the universities renewed...but it will come at a cost. Overall, it was a very encouraging and motivating talk.

And lastly, one of Matt's videos was played. It's the University of New Hampshire one here (second video down):

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Staff Conference Day One Recap

Yesterday was day one of Staff Conference 2011.

What does it take to set up for the conference?  Here's a few pictures of the set up process:!/album.php?fbid=172922536078349&id=124088484295088&aid=29821

While Matt was busy in St. Louis setting up, I for the first time made good use of my last name and was the bus captain for the trip down from Madison.  I was grateful the only reasons we pulled over were to clean off the windshield, check the door that was slightly ajar, and reset the bus computer system. 

Once at the conference it was fun to reconnect with several Southern California people from my staff day's there.  It makes me so proud that so many of them are still on staff and thriving in their current roles.

I was pretty exhausted for the first session that night, but was still encouraged by a few things that were said from up front.  Alec introduced the theme of the conference, "campuses renewed, and related that idea to Jeremiah 29.  He quoted how Jeremiah commands the Israelites to settle down in Babylon and seek the peace and prosperity of the towns they lived in.  Often staff today work on campuses that feel foreign and unknown.  There can be a tendency to just seek the peace and prosperity of the Christians on those campuses.  But we are called to do much more...we are called as a movement to minister to the entire campus since that is our movement's home.  Alec mentioned how in many ways, God's purpose in this world not to bring just you and me out of exile, but the whole world." and we need to work at broadening our focus.

In all, it was a good start the the conference.  Ready for day 2.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Staff Conference 2011

Today is the start of Staff Conference 2011 and I'm excited to be here.  Every three years InterVarsity gathers all our staff together together for training and teaching.  It's a great time to hear what God has been doing in and through our movement and to catch a vision for where we are headed.

This year some of the people we will hear from are Mary Poplin, Andy Crouch, William Tate and more. My hope is to post some of my favorite quotes and notes each day as we go along.

It'll also be fun to finally see some of the videos Matt has worked on this past year. I actually haven't seen any of them yet, but have heard a lot about them so it'll be interesting to see what actually materialized. You can actually see a teaser of one of the videos below.

Staff Conference 2011 Teaser - University of Oklahoma from InterVarsity-twentyonehundred on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Calling

Watch the full episode. See more Independent Lens.

Flipping through our 10 TV channels last month, we stumbled upon a documentary called The Calling by Independent Lens. It’s an ambitious documentary that follows seven different individuals from various faith backgrounds as they pursue their calling into religious service (Muslims, Catholics, Evangelical Christians, and Jews).

I’d highly recommend watching it if you ever have four hours to spare.  It's actually worth it.

A few things I was struck by:

This was not a documentary about the differences between the various faiths. It does however focus almost exclusively on the idea of a “calling” and how each of these individuals relates to the calling on their lives. I was a bit disappointed they didn’t get into some of the differences between the faiths, but I think that would have distracted from the power of the documentary if they had done so.

The Catholic Church was portrayed in a more positive light than what I’ve become accustomed to in the media. It was refreshing to see.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I came away thinking about religious traditions and whether the Evangelical/Protestant church has thrown out to many.