financial peace university: saying yes to sacrifice

Yesterday was Saturday in our house of four little kids. One of them is pretty darn sick with pink eye and a cough. We needed to drive him 20 minutes to our amazing pediatrician who keeps limited weekend hours, then get to the pharmacy to get his prescription.

We also had to brave Costco (on a Saturday...  save me) to buy approximately 90,000 lbs of fresh produce for our Eat to Live meals, plus some snacks for our Financial Peace University class. Then to Trader Joe's too for cereal, sprouted bread and cashew butter. One kid had a soccer class in the afternoon, plus the little kids need naps, and the eight weekly laundry loads weren't going to wash themselves. Gonzaga played in the tournament at 5pm, so life had to stop for a couple of hours. Ha :)

That was Saturday, and it all had to get done on Saturday, because Sunday looms large on our horizon for the next two months: it's our FPU day.

For about three hours for nine Sundays in a row, Sean and I are at our parish church, setting up chairs and the projector for FPU, prepping our announcements and homework for the class, welcoming the guests, running discussion groups, playing the video and praying all the equipment works without a glitch (which never happens).

Then we do it all in reverse, returning our parish hall to the way we found it, and eventually coming home to our kids, who have been babysat either by a our sweet college student babysitter (whom we pay) or by my wonderful parents.

It's a lot. It's hard. And it's so, so very much worth it.

After teaching our first FPU class at our parish (this is our second), two of the attendees wrote us this thank you note. Reading it, I cried. Never before had I realized that my own journey with FPU would have such a positive impact on others.

Three years ago, Sean was asking me, for the umpteenth time, to watch FPU with him.

No, I had told him, many times. I won't do it. Agreeing to watch it is the equivalent of agreeing that I am the problem in our finances. No. We had become that classic couple Dave describes in the first or second FPU video: the words "Dave Ramsey" had become curse words.

But then, I wanted something, something pretty big--a new house. Sean and I were at odds with this move because the financial side of it, he felt, was iffy. After a few weeks of considering it, he came to me with this bargain: If I agreed to watch Financial Peace with him, he'd make the move happen.

SOUNDS GOOD TO ME!! I practically screamed it. If watching a measly nine videos on how I was messing up our budget would help get me to this new home, then count me in.

Well. From the first video, I knew this was no mere measly video series. Ramsey spoke truths about relationships and marriage. Discipline and discipleship. Money and budgets and stewardship--a.k.a tithing. These were things I had thought about peripherally, but never really considered concretely.

As Dave says: Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. THEY'RE BROKE.

I think it's in the second video of the series that Dave talks about people who would come to him after listening to his radio show or taking one of his in-person classes, before he became a nationwide personality. People would come up to him and thank him for saving their marriage. And he thought, what?!? We were talking about money, not your marriage!

But it's true. What's the biggest reason cited for divorce? It's not infidelity or religion. It's disagreements and stress stemming from money.

Sean and I weren't anywhere close to that kind of ruin, but we were miles apart when it came to money. Since our marriage had begun, he had "handled" the money and the budget. And though he often came to me asking for my input, the sight of his 3-tab budget spreadsheets in Excel made my eyes cross.

He got excited about numbers doing things in coded equations with compound interest. I got excited by grocery coupons and sales at my favorite consignment store.

We both wanted to save money and achieve far-off goals, but we had no common language with which to talk about it.

Enter FPU. All of a sudden, there's Dave Ramsey on his stage, telling me that my input in the budget is not just valuable, it's INTEGRAL to making a budget in a marriage. And there he is, telling Sean that his wife can only handle 17 minutes a month of budget-related talk a month, lest her body still be in her room, but her spirit will have departed. (True.)

The whole deal was nothing short of a revelation to us both. And ever since then, money hasn't been exactly easy--but it certainly has been easier. Being able to talk about money with your spouse, free of shame, free of embarrassment and free of guilt is a crucial intimacy they don't mention in that Pre-Cana marriage prep. But it's vitally important.

Discipline and vigilance with money, tracking where it's going and why, and aiming toward shared goals... take out the "money" and fill in with "fertility" and it sounds a little like NFP and charting, to me. I've already said this here before, but I'll say it again: The hard work is worth it.

Living authentically, free from debt, free from contraceptives, free from junk food. It's worth it.

Saying "yes" to a budget has yielded such fruits for us. Saying "yes" to all these babies in our house, too, has been a blessing. It's a sacrifice, yes. But my faith is built upon Jesus' sacrifice, and my hope of salvation rests on it too.

"At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)  That scripture is oft-heard in FPU, and for good reason. The sacrifice and discipline of a budget, or of raising kids, or of doing any good work can cause some pain, some pruning of our own desires and egos.

But it brings peace.

And that's invaluable.

A little disclaimer to say that this is not a sponsored post, nor do Sean and I (and all the other FPU coordinators) make any sort of commission or profit from coordinating FPU. In fact, we often purchase our own sets of FPU materials so that we can give them away to those with a severe need. We run this class because we believe, very deeply, that if God's people (and all people) were out of debt, amazing things would happen, both in our parishes and our communities. 

To find a FPU course in your area, click here.


not a fan of international women's day (just like everybody else)

Lots and lots of images showed up in my social media feeds on March 8, celebrating women--strong women, kind women, powerful women, great women, women, women, whoooooa-man.

But in these two years of p*ssy hats, farcical marches (at which pro-life women were spat at and had their signs torn up), and vulgarity on full display all in the name of feminism, I couldn't just get in the spirit and offer up some social appreciation for the fact that I, along with half the population, am a woman.

This lady in the Telegraph summed up some of my irks:
"I’m afraid just the thought of IWD is enough to make my teeth hurt. Think it through, girls. If we need a special day dedicated to our gender, does that mean the other 364 days of the year belong to men? 
The trouble is, the more that well-meaning females attempt to say we are all the same the more we risk being patronised and treated as some kind of sad, special-interest group... 
How fatuous is it for women in advanced western countries to pretend that they belong in the same boat as women in Saudi Arabia where, according to Sharia law, a woman’s testimony in court is valued at half that of a man?"
I am all for a day that helps women (and men, for that matter) in other parts of the world who face true, desperate, horrendous inequality, especially at the hands of their government. I think of all the millions of baby girls either aborted or murdered immediately after birth in China (and that has been happening for decades). I think of those same Chinese mothers who were physically assaulted and forcibly had their children aborted. I think of female genital mutilation in Africa. I think of the mothers who are watching their babies starve and die of malnutrition in Venezuela.

But does throwing up a little #strongwomen hashtag on IWD from my comfortable home in America do anything to ameliorate any of that?

I'm thinking no.

Pair all of that international strife with a growing sense of unease at what will happen here, domestically, in a few short months. During the lead up to the second Sunday of May, we will no doubt see (as happens every year) the shaming, the scolding, the vitriolic condemnation of another day celebrating women: Mother's Day.

Just for kicks, type "I hate Mother's Day" into Google and scroll through the pages and PAGES of women penning scathing rants dedicated to a myriad of complaints attributed to the day, which at its onset was meant to celebrate the sacrifices mothers make in raising their children.

Complaints range from "I hated my own mother and she was a monster" to "I chose not to have children so this day is ridiculous" and "it's mother's day so my kids should be PERFECT today but they're not" and of course there's "there are too many 'mother'-like people in my life so to expect me to celebrate them ALLLLL today is asinine."


I was feeling fairly lonely in my dislike of IWD until it dawned on me to Google the opposite of hating Mother's Day. Type "hating International Women's Day" into Google and jackpot! Lady after angry lady scaling their digital soapboxes and proclaiming their dislike of IWD. Complaints range from "it's an empty day meaning nothing" to "what we really need is more abortion and childcare" (what??? that doesn't even make sense) and "men telling me 'happy international women's day' are idiots" to "it makes women feel like a special needs group and is patronizing."

If there's one thing women can agree on, apparently, it's that they hate the days dedicated to them.

I'm not going to quit celebrating Mother's Day and I doubt any of the IWD enthusiasts are planning to pare back their celebrations next March. But in spite of my differences with supporters and dissenters on either side, I'm committed to fostering projects and charities (both at home and abroad) that truly help women (and men, and children) who need it. And I hope that's something that all women can agree to do, every single day.


is the Eat to Live diet affordable and kid friendly? (part 3 - dinner)

I'm wrapping up my series on doing the Eat to Live diet as a big family on a budget. Part 1 (on breakfast) is here and part 2 (on lunch and grocery shopping lists) is here.

I had exactly zero pictures in my camera roll of any Eat to Live dinner I've ever made (and I've been doing this since November). Why?


Unless you're the baby.

I've been inching my way up a mountain the past four months with the ultimate goal of having THE BINDER. What is the binder? It's a collection of about 15 Eat to Live dinner recipes that we've made, liked, and would readily eat again. I knew I couldn't really do meal planning again until I had about 2 weeks' worth of dinners. I'm finally to that point.

But getting there took plenty of blood, sweat and chopping. Geeze that sounds gross. It actually took zero blood and very little sweat. But yes to the chopping.

I don't think I can post every recipe that we now use for dinner, but I can point to the cookbook that holds them all:

Holy grail.

The Eat to Live Cookbook: 200 Delicious Nutrient-Rich Recipes for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Reversing Disease, and Lifelong Health

Biggest takeaways from this dinnertime aspect of this nutritarian journey:

- I don't "crave" meat or meat dishes like I used to. Sure, I still will HAPPILY and readily eat a plate of my mom's famous meatloaf. Yes, I love getting a meat dish at a restaurant on date night. But as for cooking dinners at home, I'm much more content cooking with beans and vegetables than I ever thought I would be. Meat on the whole isn't something I miss. (For Sean, it might be.)

- There's no getting around it: To make nutritarian meals taste great, approximately 20 ingredients need to get thrown in a bowl. Taking salt out of the equation means that flavor needs to be derived from  other sources. And taking meat out of the equation means that bulk and substance need to be derived from something else, too.

For example: hamburgers. Ground beef + salt. Grill them. That's it. That's all it takes to eat some cow--two ingredients. The nutritional value of that meal is basically protein and some iron.

To make chickpea burgers, however: mash chickpeas with natural peanut butter, shredded zucchini, diced onion, cumin, garlic powder, pepper, steel cut oats, vinegar, a little ketchup. Then serve that on butter lettuce with avocado, mustard, more onion, tomatoes and sliced bell pepper. YUM.

More than 10 ingredients, plus all the nutrients (and plenty of protein) from all those plant sources. I eat about 2 1/2 of these and am totally stuffed.

- Making all of these recipes the first time is harrowing. It's defeating. It's 45 minutes of throwing together foods I've never thrown together, all the while knowing that my kids will HATE IT. Heck, I'll probably hate it.

But. I've been surprised (deeeeeeeeply surprised) many times over by the fact that not only are my kids eating the food and not complaining--I'm eating the food and not complaining! I'm actually loving the food!

The key to success? The binder.

In the binder I've got recipes for following typical American family meals, but all with nutritarian recipes:

- burgers (chick pea and veggie/pinto)
- enchiladas
- spaghetti
- lasagna
- corn chowder
- cauliflower soup
- chili
- taco salad
- thai curry
- fish stew

I'm not going to post the recipes, because I think that would be pointless. In a taste test, which will win: "lasagna" made with noodles, pork sausage, heaps of mozzarella cheese, salt and ricotta, OR "lasagna" made with zucchini noodles, tofu mashed with nutritional yeast and lemon juice, sauteed vegetables and fresh basil?

The lasagna from the SAD (standard American diet) obviously wins the taste test. But eating this way is realizing that the real test--indeed the one that should dictate what we eat 90% of the time--is the nutritional test. And in that test, the zucchini lasagna leaves the other one in the dust.

Plus: really! this stuff is good food. Making this change has been a blessing to our family and a commitment toward taking care of our health long-term. It's my hope that this is something we continue through the years as our family grows.


can Catholic schools be tuition free?


But it means Catholics have got to learn how to tithe. 

When we think of tithing and charitable giving, we usually think of soup kitchens, crisis maternity homes, our parishes, and things like that. What we don’t often think about are our local parochial Catholic elementary schools and high schools. 

Decades ago, these institutions were staffed entirely by sisters or brothers, or priests--all talented and gifted people with a religious vocations. Of course now, it’s a rare thing indeed to find a school that has even just one religious on their staff full-time. 

And that means one thing: tuition. Lay teachers and staff need (and deserve, of course) salaries. Charging tuition, though, means our modern private Catholic schools are out of reach to many children across the country. 

January of this year marked the closure of another network of private Catholic schools, this time in Memphis, Tenn. Jubilee Catholic Schools, which served nearly 1,500 students, closed its doors due to being financially unstable. As a whole, nearly half of the nation's Catholic schools have closed since 1960--from 12,000 down to just over 6,400.

But there is a place in America where Catholic schools are not just surviving, they are thriving--and new ones are being opened. 

This blows my mind: Faithful Catholics in the diocese of Wichita, Kan., are tithing--like, ALL OF THEM are tithing

They are giving 8% of their income to their parishes--and with that generosity, the parishes fund the schools. Since 2002--that’s for the last 16 years--all of the 38 Catholic schools in the diocese of Wichita (that’s including 4 Catholic high schools!) have been TUITION FREE

For all you moms and dads, let that sink in for a moment. Because right now, I feel like I’m tithing twice--once on my income, and again, for tuition to my parish school. 

They educate 11,000 students a year in Wichita. According to an article in the National Catholic Register, the diocese expects all of those families to: "attend Mass each Sunday, participate in religious education, volunteer in parish ministries and make a financial commitment. Each family is asked to fill out a pledge form committing to stewardship. The end result is that families and individuals give not only of their financial gifts, but also of their time."

Superintendent of schools for Wichita, Bob Voboril, says: “The diocese saw that the best way to teach stewardship was not to compete. If a family is paying $3,000-$5,000 in tuition, a family is not inclined to pay its first fruits to the parish,” explained Voboril. 


“Because enrollment and the budget are not based upon the user’s ability to pay a steep tuition, we are able to serve a much greater cross-section of the Catholic community,” said Voboril. “We have far more ethnic diversity, socio-economic diversity, and even diversity in learning aptitude.” (Quotes pulled from National Catholic Register article linked above.)

Obviously, this level of faithful stewardship doesn't just happen without significant effort and teaching.  The bishops and clerical leadership in Wichita have been building this inspired model of stewardship for decades, really since approximately the 1960s--which is when what happened? Oh yes:
Catholic schools started to decline. But not in Wichita. 

When Catholic schools are free of the strings of tuition and non-stop fundraising, and are instead full of supportive families who attend Mass together and are all pulling together each month to build up the Body of Christ, something else happens--and it's not just the parish or the school that benefit.

“We’ve been blessed with an abundance of seminarians within the last 10 years,” said Father Kuykendall, pastor of a parish in Schulte, Kansas.

 “The diocese has also opened the Lord’s Diner, a soup kitchen that provides a free meal to anyone seeking it, that serves more than 400 people each evening. A second one is being built in south Wichita.”

“There’s a deep sense of faith and parish involvement that permeates the entire diocese,” said Voboril. “The spread of perpetual Eucharistic adoration, 50 seminarians, some of the best Newman Centers in the country, a dynamic natural family planning office, a ‘free’ restaurant and medical clinic, a growing diocesan order of sisters, one of the largest groups of pilgrims to the March for Life each January... all these testify--not to the power of schools that do not charge tuition--but to what happens when everything is united around lived discipleship.” (Quotes pulled from National Catholic Register article linked above.) 

Hearing of the possibilities like this created by faithful tithing have been a driving force in the decision Sean and I made to coordinate Financial Peace University at our parish. We're beginning our second class this month with a packed house of attendees. 

One of Dave Ramsey's lines from his first lesson is thus: What could the people of God do if they were out of debt? 

Change lives. Educate children. Feed the hungry. That's whey they could do.

On the entire other end of the spectrum, of course, are stories like this one out of Connecticut, where a young student at an independent all-girls Catholic school was asked to remove an "I stand with Planned Parenthood" sticker from her laptop. 

She refused. Her parents refused. And a group of alumni came together to threaten to pull all current and future donations to the school should the girl be expelled. 

The cherry on the top? They would send all their donations, in perpetuity, to Planned Parenthood instead. 

Yes. And with Wichita in mind, I also say: they're also supposed to be tuition-free. Tuition-free Catholic schools can't be held hostage to a group of decidedly anti-Catholic alumni. Tuition-free Catholic schools find their root identity in the Church and with the many, many families and individuals who are worshiping in that Church and making monthly sacrifices to support them.

Tuition-free Catholic schools. Let's make them happen.