Kick your shoes off and enjoy the ride of your life!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Stupidity knows no boundaries

I've been stupid more times and in more ways in my life than I care to admit. There was the time over Christmas break in 5th grade when I ran around on the pigpen roof at my grandparents' farm when I tripped over my feet and fell about six feet and landed on the top of my head on the concrete. There was the time in the winter of 1997 when I stomped on the gas pulling out of the church parking lot after it had sleeted for a couple of hours, hopped the curb, and hit a fire hydrant at 20-25 mph (I even managed to move the hydrant about two feet and didn't rupture the pipe). There was the time in January of 2003 when I was late going to work in the morning and pulled into the snow-filled left lane to pass someone. Long story short, I ended up in the ditch on the other side of the highway, did about $2,000 worth of damage to the underside of my car, dropped out of college after only 6 days into the semester because I was sure I couldn't work enough to pay for the repairs, and then found out three weeks later that because of my insurance I only owed about $500 (and my dad gracefully paid half of it); at that point it was too late to re-enroll in school.

But by far, I think the stupidest thing I've done is to get myself into debt. Not just into debt, but really into debt. It wasn't a one-time occurrence: I spent years building up the mountain of money I owed. During my freshman year of college, 2000-2001, I got my first credit card through Capital One. I had a limit of $500, and it wasn't long at all before I had it maxed out. I was working enough hours that I could have had it all paid off within a month or two, but I foolishly paid little more than the minimum due and then charged the remaining balance. Even with such a low limit, I shudder to think of how much extra money I spent in interest.

I moved home after that first year of college and worked full-time at various jobs before deciding to return to school in September of 2003. In October of 2001, I traded in the 1991 Hyundai Excel I'd been driving and got a 1997 Saturn L-series. I think I picked it up for about $6,500 after trade. At that point, I was working full-time, making a dollar or two an hour over minimum wage, but I was also living at home and had no expenses. I could have easily paid the car off in a year. Instead, I spent three months out of that year going out of town every weekend, which usually resulted in at least $60 in spending between gas and eating out, and I picked up plenty of unnecessary junk throughout the entire year, much of it via my credit card, which by now had a limit of at least $5,000.

By the time I started college in September of 2003, my credit card had a limit of $8,500. For making a maximum annual salary of $25,000, this seems incredibly ridiculous. By the way, this is a factor in how our national economy got so messed up. The majority of this country seems to be living outside their means (or at least doing all they can to live outside their means). Even after the economic troubles we've faced as a nation, this habit is alive and well. Anyway, back to my story. Throughout my college years, I used my credit card a lot and for stupid purchases. Looking around my apartment now, I have almost nothing to show for my rampant credit card spending. At least twice I took out a private student loan to pay off my maxed out credit card, which had a limit of $11,500 by the time I graduated. Before my tuition deduction on my taxes, the last two years I was on-campus for college I was only making about $15,000 a year. It's my own fault for carrying a card with such a high limit (I really should have cancelled the card after I got it paid off the first time and saved myself the additional temptation), but again, there is a distinct issue with our financial institutions if a person with such a low income can so easily maintain a credit card with such a high limit.

The last year of my college experience was an unpaid internship. I took out a private student loan to cover living expenses during that year, so perhaps that loan is more excusable, though I wish I'd been working part-time to offset the loan and my expenses. I didn't have enough taken out, however, to cover unexpected expenses such as a $600 repair job on my car. My dad once again very graciously covered my expenses there, as did my mom and step-dad.

I was quite blessed to get a job at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, before I even graduated (I did my internship at Mayo). My starting salary there was somewhere around $45,000, so that first paycheck was quite a sight for me! I didn't start paying on my student loans right away because I wasn't required to do so until six months after graduating (and who does stuff before they're supposed to?), and I didn't do much extra for my credit card, but it was certainly nice to have an income again. Once my student loans came due, I did pay extra each month, but I wasn't very focused in my efforts. I'm not sure how much debt I had when I started making payments, but I know it was a lot.

Sometime in September or October of 2009, I started working with my friend Tabitha on making a quilt out of a bunch of T-shirts I had on hand. It was a fun learning experience for me, but one of the biggest things to come out of it was hearing more fully about Dave Ramsey's plan for getting out of debt (I had heard info about his program before from other friends, but I wasn't ready to hear the message, it seems). She recommended his book, The Total Money Makeover, and after I left her house one evening in November I stopped at Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy. I'd say it was the best book purchase I've ever made outside of John MacArthur's study Bible. Ramsey's plan is simple and full of common sense, two factors I needed to make a payoff plan successful.

I had further incentive to get out of debt because at the end of September in 2009 Abi and I started e-mailing. I knew if things were going to work out between us, being serious about getting out of debt was going to be a key factor.

On December 22nd, 2009, I totaled up my debts and laid them out in order to be paid off. Ramsey suggests that you line up all of your debts from smallest to largest amount and ignore the interest rates. In my case, my debts could be broken down into twelve individual loans. My objective was to pay the minimum payments on the eleven most expensive loans and put every penny I could spare on the smallest loan. Once that loan was paid off, everything I had been paying on it would go into the next loan and so on, creating what he calls a "debt snowball." He understands that you'll pay a little more in the long run if you're ignoring interest rates and paying off a loan with a smaller rate first, but he's going for psychological victories. My highest value loan of $20,000 or more was also the one with the highest interest rate, yet paying that one off first could have led to discouragement as it would have taken a very long time to pay it off and would have left me paying on all twelve loans for a lot longer. If you don't like this approach, I wouldn't fault you for doing something different...the key is putting everything you can into a single loan to get it paid off and out of the way.

Anyway, when I started on this program, I owed a total of $125,427.79 and my total monthly payments were in the neighborhood of $1,500. At the time of this writing, it has been 2 years, 10 months, and 20 days. The debt total is now $51,064.44 and the monthly payments are $577.42. Abi and I have changed our game plan a little bit. I still have the loan that was the highest value when I started the program, though it is now less than $13,500. It's monthly payment is $258.09, which is more than twice the monthly payment of any other individual loan, and while the interest rate isn't that much higher than any other loan, it's accruing enough interest over the other loans that it would be great to save that money and put it to use elsewhere. I was blessed to find out about and qualify for a program through work that will put some money towards my student loans in exchange for a three-year service agreement. I can apply for funds again the next two years at least. Not everyone has this opportunity, but if you are in a position to take such an offer, I would highly recommend doing so.

The program at work will go a long way to helping us get out of debt by the end of 2014 (which is 2 years, 1 month, and 22 days from now), and that's our current goal. I will, thankfully, be eligible for a raise the next two Octobers, which will also help us reach this goal. And I will hopefully have a few more books written and published to add to the income (I haven't even taken into consideration Abi's income since, with a baby due in less than a month, we're not sure how much she'll be able to contribute to the bottom line).

Anyway, as I've said in a recent post regarding a house purchase, getting out of debt is our top financial priority. We have a tremendous amount of breathing room now compared to two years ago, for which we are grateful, but there's a good bit yet to go (you can mail your contributions to the cause to...ha, just kidding!). If you are in debt yourself, I urge you to take whatever measures you can manage to free yourself from that burden.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Remembering priorities...

Abi and I were recently reminded of priorities we shouldn't be neglecting.

A little back story  We found out she was pregnant in March. Then, in May, as I was looking at house listings out of curiosity, I found a property that seemed like a phenomenal find. It was a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2100 square foot house on 1.79 acres just inside Des Moines city limits, a good 10 minutes closer to work for me and at least fifteen minutes closer to her family. The best part, it was listed at $121,500, a price I was sure we could handle.

After looking at the place a couple of times and going back and forth with the seller, we settled on $117,000. At this point I thought we'd better find out what our monthly cost was going to be. Turns out we were looking at about $950/month for the mortgage, which is $255/month more than our current rent. Utilities would also go up from our $50ish/month to between $200 and $250/month. So, in frustration, we had to back away from the table.

Our agent e-mailed us on July 4th to let us know that the house was going to short sale on July 5th. Out of curiosity, I looked, but the price had only dropped to $117,500. Not good enough for us. Then we kinda forgot about the house for a few weeks.

I don't fully know why, but I looked at the listing again on August 13th to find that the price had dropped on August 10th to $101,700. Hey now, we could be in business here! I talked it over with Abi, and we got in touch with our agent. We started the ball rolling, borrowing $5,000 from my dad to help with the down payment, getting an idea of how much we could borrow and at what rate, and making an initial offer. Then the waiting began, and finally on October 23rd we heard that the seller's bank had accepted our offer of $96,000. Yay!

We were originally looking at an FHA mortgage, so we were going to wait for the FHA appraisal before getting our own inspection. However, our mortgage banker said we had enough assets available to do a conventional mortgage, which meant the process could be sped up a bit. We signed paperwork on Friday, October 26th for the mortgage to get processed.

Then, the weirdest thing happened. I got an e-mail from our agent saying an agent from another agency had an interested client. Since we had not put down any earnest money, the listing was still active. I decided I should get a check to our agent to rectify the situation and got to her office 5 minutes before closing. The check wouldn't be cashed until Monday, October 29th, but all of our legal bases were covered.

Friday I also needed to get some inspections set up. Abi's uncle, who used to own a concrete business and does foundation inspections in his area, had said he'd be willing to look at houses for us, so we got him down to check out the foundation (he said that it was okay, even though cosmetically it didn't look the prettiest). We also got a friend of ours who does roofing to come out. His thoughts were that the roof would need redoing within 3 years, and at dinner after we'd looked at the house together he said flat out that he wouldn't buy it (coming from a man involved in construction who is doing work on his own house, this was a pretty good indicator as to the course of action we should take). So we e-mailed our agent Sunday night and said we just couldn't see taking the responsibility for such a house--we wouldn't have the time, money, or expertise to fix it ourselves, nor could we afford to pay someone else to do it for us. Since Abi especially wasn't overly thrilled with the layout and several features of the house, it wasn't too difficult to make the decision.

Then I got to thinking about some other things. Like how easily the prospect of owning a house had swayed me from my plan to be debt-free within the next 3 years with the justification that we would only be paying $200-$300/month more in housing costs than what we pay now. Our current debt load is between $50,000 and $52,000, and it's conceivable we'll have it paid off in 26 months (by the end of December 2014). Yet if we bought a house now, we would extend the time it would take to pay our current debts and basically triple overall what we owe. I understand the argument for building equity and how much of a buyer's market it is right now, but I'm not convinced it's the biblical approach to go into debt even for what sounds like such good reasons.

The Bible has a few things to say about debt, and the basic message is don't go into debt and do everything you can to get out if you are in debt. I don't know as this is said anywhere as an explicit command (I will have to look into that and get back to you all if I find anything...feel free to let me know if you know of anything regarding this), but it comes up several times in Proverbs, a book filled with much good advice. Debt is not a good thing (and why people think debt is a good thing for the nation but not for individuals is something I've never been able to figure out). So our plan for a future house purchase, should the Lord tarry so long in His return that such a purchase is even possible, looks quite a bit different from what we've just gone through. We'll be out of debt before we even look to buy a house. On top of that, if it really comes down to taking out a mortgage, we will have 20% saved for a down payment and we'll shoot for a 15-year mortgage instead of the traditional 30.

Ideally, though, I'd much rather save the entire amount for a house purchase and pay cash up front, just as much for the shock value of doing something that most people have never heard of doing as for not being in debt to anyone again. Let me crunch a few numbers for you. As I said, we had an accepted purchase price of $96,000, which meant we were going to be financing about $92,000. If we were to pay just the minimum payment every month, we would pay about $147,000 for the house at the end of 30 years. That's a difference of $55,000. We currently pay $695 in rent each month. If we stayed right where we are, it would take us just over 6 1/2 years to pay $55,000 in rent. My current net income is about $2800/month, and that will continue to go up with raises (assuming the VA system doesn't go broke under what I see as an inevitable economic meltdown). Not factoring in what I need to pay on my current debt load, I can safely set aside a minimum of $1500/month, which in 6 1/2 years is $118,500 before interest is added. Also, I'm taking into consideration that all houses require upkeep, and any money that goes towards repairs and improvements is money that can't go towards paying off a mortgage. In our current rental, we are not responsible for repairs or utilities other than electric, and should we move to another rental, having some or all of the repairs and utilities covered by the landlord will be our goal to help us save money.

Is that going to buy us a palace? No. But will it buy us a decent house? I'm quite confident it will as I don't see the housing market rebounding enough in the next 6-10 years to make house prices go up significantly. And since Abi and I would like a little bit of land, and taking into consideration that without other debt payments we could afford to live further from the city and thus deal with lower property taxes, we could end up with a very nice place with such an amount. And that amount doesn't factor in what Abi makes in a year, which currently goes almost entirely to help our debt payoff and could later be applied to saving for a house and would easily cover many unexpected situations.

Would such an approach require sacrifice? Absolutely, depending on what you consider a sacrifice. I haven't had TV service since before we got married, and we do just fine without it. We share a cell phone plan with three of Abi's siblings, so our cost there is lower than when it was just the two of us (and we're getting a bit higher of a package). Abi does a lot of couponing, and while she isn't going to make it on an episode of "Extreme Couponing," her work in this area allows us to generally spend less than $120/month on food, and we still get to treat ourselves more frequently than you would expect. But some luxuries will have to be done without. And of course, waiting to buy a house could very well mean that many houses we could afford and would even like will come and go, though if we're saving for a house and not actively looking, it's not like we'd be totally aware of this. We would, however, see friends and family buying houses and we'd feel the pull to have one of our own.

But will there be a reward? Absolutely! Home-ownership without the debt. A close-knit family from living in tighter quarters. The satisfaction of knowing we did something that most are unwilling to do. And, I firmly believe, the blessing of God for being wise with the money He has given to us in not putting ourselves into debt for something that isn't going to last forever anyway.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some thoughts post-election

At 12:45 PM CST, FoxNews has the breakdown listed as Obama taking 303 electoral votes, Romney 203, leading to Obama winning his re-election bid. I'm really not at all surprised. Did I want Obama as my president? No. Did I want Romney? No. Actually, I don't know as any candidate on the ballot would have lined up with what I believe is right to the point that I would have wanted them to win. Of course, that's just going to be the nature of things as Jesus Christ isn't ever going to run for president (rest assured, He will physically reign over the entire earth at some point, and I am forever grateful that He paid the price that has allowed me--and anyone else who will humble themselves and receive His free gift of salvation from sin--entry into His kingdom). There will never be a "savior" candidate on our ballot, and it's frustrating to see how many people on any side of the issue seem(ed) to think their guy would be such a person.

Some things are going to change in this country. I am certain we will see an increase in the size of government, and increase in demand for the government to give people their "dues," and a plowing forward to a socialist state. I can only predict that the economy will get worse, small businesses will go under at an alarming rate, and the spread-the-wealth mentality will trickle down to take money out of the pockets of people in my income bracket. Our national debt is going to continue to increase dramatically, our international standing will become a joke, and we will capitulate further to the demands of the United Nations. In the name of "tolerance," preaching what the Bible teaches will become more and more difficult as it will be considered hate speech to a greater degree to say that homosexuality is wrong or that Islam will not lead one to God.

But some things will not change.

Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." I serve a God who has not changed in all of eternity. And as we are reminded in Hebrews 13:6, "So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" And in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." I enjoy my two-bedroom townhouse with nice carpet, running water, good insulation, a small balcony that holds a gas grill; my car that runs well; a closet and dresser full of clothes; enough good food to eat that I don't always find it the easiest to lose weight; and a host of other things too numerous to mention. But diminish everything, even take away what I have, and God is still with me.

First Timothy 2:1-4, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." This might be a bitter pill to swallow for some of you who were pulling for someone other than Obama to win the election (or some other candidate for some office other than president). Christians, how much prayer have you lifted up on behalf of our president? I point the finger at myself here, because I have certainly failed in this area. He says he is a Christian, I think his speech and actions say otherwise, but neither case excuses my not praying for him. Having declared myself guilty up to now, I am dedicating myself to pray for all of the leaders in this country.

Matthew 28:19-20, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This commandment, given directly to the Apostles and passed on to all Christians afterward, has never changed. My duty as a Christian is to take part in fulfilling the Great Commission. I see this as probably one of the greatest failings in our nation. You want to make the morals of this country line up with what the Bible teaches? Then hearts need to be won to Christ. Some people within the church might rip me to shreds for the implication of what I'm about to say, but do you realize that nowhere in the New Testament are we told to change the way the government operates and what laws are passed? True, the comparison isn't the cleanest, as we live in a country where the populace is afforded the right to vote and thus steer the direction the country takes whereas the Roman Empire had a man at the top basically calling the shots, but even in the Gospels we never see Jesus attempting to take control of Israel, even though He is the Messiah. Christians, do you want to see biblical values restored and upheld? Then we all need to be taking our responsibility to reach out to this fallen world seriously.

I don't know how long we have left in this world before God's clock reaches zero and the final judgment begins, but until the day I am taken to be with Him, I am a soldier in His army and I have a duty to fulfill. I am a Christian first, and an American second. May God forgive all of His children who have confused the issue and reversed those roles. I am glad I was born in this country and have experienced 31 years of sweet freedom, but true freedom rests not in our legal system or even the Constitution: it is found in Christ alone.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Am I being faithful?

As part of my daily Bible reading, yesterday I was in 2 Corinthians 11. It is here we read the following:

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27, ESV).

Paul is telling the Corinthian church some of the things he suffered in the course of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. What is somewhat amazing to me is that he kept preaching.

And yet, I shouldn’t be amazed. I should, instead, be saddened at my own willingness (or rather, unwillingness) to speak of Christ. I should be saying with the Apostle John, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, ESV). Or I should be thinking of the prophet Jeremiah, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9, ESV). Most importantly, I should be following the command of Jesus, “’Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV).

Paul had the right attitude. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). In life, we are to serve Christ. In death, we gain all. As Christians, we are secure in the hands of God. Therefore, the worst the world can do to us is kill us. The world cannot take away our salvation or our place in heaven. If you think about it, perhaps the best the world can do to us is to kill us, for that only speeds us on our way to glory.

God forgive us when we keep our mouths closed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gentlemanly conduct

Some events in recent months involving two people I know have prompted me to write a little about a man's proper conduct when pursuing a woman. I certainly don't claim to have all of the answers, but I felt the following should be said.

Fellas, when it comes to pursuing that young lady who makes your heart beat faster simply by thinking about her, keep in mind that you should always act like a gentleman. I can speak from experience that participating in crazy antics simply to show off will look exactly like you trying to show off and will likely not be impressive. Instead of jumping off of the roof to show that you can do so without hurting yourself, engage in conversation so both of you can get to know each other better. And remember that her friends and/or sisters might hang around, so be willing to engage them in conversation, too. How you interact with her friends and family, especially when you don't know she's watching or listening, will go a long way toward demonstrating what sort of person you are.

Another thing to be careful of is pushing too far and too fast. My wife and I met through eHarmony and exchanged regular e-mails and a couple of phone calls during the first six weeks before we met in person. When we did meet, it was connected with a two-day Home School Alumni gathering at someone's house in Wisconsin, about 45 minutes from where my dad lives. She, two of her sisters, and I met at Pizza Hut before going to the house to have dinner and make the initial meeting away from a bunch of people I wouldn't know. When we got to the house, several of us played games for an hour or two before it got to the point that I needed to get some sleep (I was working the night shift at the time, and out of nervous excitement over the meeting that day, I didn't really sleep at all). I had been told I could sleep at the house where the gathering was being held, but I had already planned to stay at my dad's so I wouldn't make Abi any more uncomfortable. We actually didn't speak much during the entire weekend, not until about the last hour or two Saturday evening before I needed to get back to my dad's to sleep, but during that time we were observing each other (and not in a creepy stalker way).

When I got back to my home and we started e-mailing again, one of the first things Abi told me was that she wasn't sure of her feelings for me. At this point, I could have pressed for a decision and pushed her away in the process, decided that I wanted someone who knew better after a month and a half of communication and ended things myself, or continued communicating in a non-threatening way after letting her know she could have the time she needed to make up her mind. Thankfully, I picked the third option. We had already made plans for me to visit her family three weeks after our initial meeting, and while I would have been willing to give her more time beyond that, seeing how I interacted with her family helped her make the decision that she was willing to pursue something more serious. Eight weeks after that was the next time we were able to see each other, and this was for a week-long trip to Wisconsin to meet some of my friends and family. Eight weeks later we were officially courting, ten weeks more and we were engaged, and after a final four months we were married, about twelve and a half months after our first e-mail exchange. The timing of all that wasn't really pertinent to the point I was making of not pressuring the lady of interest, so please don't look at my relationship with my wife as some sort of timeline your own relationship should follow; some people need more time, some less.

Finally, what if the young lady or a member of her family tells you she isn't interested in a romantic relationship? My advice is to back off. You don't necessarily have to disappear from her life, but don't get your hopes set on something happening. If you were friends with her before you made your thoughts known, you can still be friends, but, as was the case when I expressed interest in a friend of mine, she may need space for a little while. You might need the space, too, in order to clear your mind. This is not the time to try and butter up her friends and family so they will tell her what a great guy you are, but it is the time to demonstrate that you can handle such a rejection gracefully.

However, if the only context you have known this woman has been centered in romanticism, it might be better to simply walk away. About a year before Abi and I started communicating, I met someone else on eHarmony. Looking back, I had little discernment in that relationship, and things were progressing a lot faster than was wise, especially since this woman and I were not on the same page. We were in steady contact for about two months, most of it romantic in nature, before she decided that she didn't see me as anything more than a friend. That was a huge blow to me because I was very emotionally invested, and I had a terrible time letting go. I spent the next two or three months in considerable contact with her, trying to get her to change her mind. This was a bad idea, in large part because I think she liked the attention and didn't do much to push me away. Because we didn't have a friendship in the first place, it would have been wiser for me to have accepted her decision and broken off contact. That is sometimes necessary, so if you are in the position where a woman has told you she isn't interested, be prepared to walk away.

The old saying that when one door closes another one opens is true. But it doesn't always work the way we want it to. If a relationship ends, that doesn't necessarily mean another one is waiting right around the corner. What it does mean is that you've just been given the chance to learn a lesson and you should take advantage of that.

Okay, this post feels like a ramble, but hopefully my thoughts are somewhat clear. There may be more to follow on this topic in the future, so stay tuned! (I know you're just gripping the edge of your seat in anticipation.)

Friday, May 11, 2012


One of the things Abi and I enjoy doing is hosting company in our home. Our living in Des Moines (and being off of the night shift) has helped us have more people over in 7 months than we ever did in our year in Rochester. Being so near the crossroads of Interstate 80 and Interstate 35 also helps.

Yesterday, our friend Joe Matthews stopped for the night on his way from Wisconsin to Ashland, NE. Unfortunately I had to work, and due to staffing shortages wasn't able to get any time off last night. However, I was blessed to be able to spend a couple of hours with Joe this morning. We had some good conversation, shared breakfast, and enjoyed fellowship. Time, distance, and circumstances make it difficult for us to see our Wisconsin friends and family, but we're grateful for every opportunity that comes along.

We have a bigger place here than we did in Rochester, I think almost 200 square feet more, and it's great to have extra space for guests. I am definitely looking forward to owning our own house someday, though. Not only would it be nice to have a larger area to raise a family, but it would be great to be able to host company even more easily. One dream I've had is to buy an acreage and put up either one very large house or a house big enough for my family and cottages/cabins for visiting families, with a kitchen/dining area in the main house big enough for a couple dozen or more people to fit comfortably. Hospitality is one of the gifts/passions it seems Abi and I share.

Now it's almost 11 AM, and even though it feels like a Saturday, it's only Friday, so I probably ought to spend a little time with Abi before getting ready for my last night of work this week.

Have a blessed day!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Truth Chronicles...moving "write" along

Just a brief update on the progress of The Truth Chronicles. Book 4 is nearly finished, and we're expecting it to be available around March. Books 5 and 6 are coming along. The possibility exists that both of those will be available before August.

If you still need to read Books 1-3, you can purchase them through regular book outlets such as www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com, or you can get them directly from me (I'll even sign them!). I charge $20 for all three books and $2.50 to ship them; if you buy multiple sets at once, I'll only charge you $2.50 for shipping.

If you've already read Books 1-3, please take a moment to write a review for each book on Amazon, and help get the word out about this series!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Sound Like Fire

A Sound Like Fire, by K D Veron
WestBow Press A Division of Thomas Nelson
English, 444 pages

After a brief Prologue where a new mother is slain and her day-old baby is delivered to a wealthy aristocrat, our story gets underway with Dax Soileau in a Jerusalem prison in July, 2020. He and his fellow prisoners live in squalor, and the only way they are able to pass the time and maintain their sanity is to hear Dax's life story, as he is the newest person to join the ranks of the imprisoned. We find out that Dax used to be a United States senator, living a high life of privilege counter to his Christian upbringing and against the pleadings of his Christian younger brother, Zack. As the pages turn, we find out that Dax and his cellmates are some of the last Christians on earth, those who received Christ after the Rapture, and the Great Tribulation is in full-swing. Dax lays out his journey from rejecting God to finally coming to the truth and his life after salvation and before this final incarceration.

It took me a bit to get into the story, but once I did, I enjoyed reading it. The plot is good, and I think a decent picture is painted of how so many deceive themselves and are deceived by Satan into rejecting Jesus. God's grace is evident in the lives of many of the characters who finally hear the Lord's call and respond.

My biggest complaint is with the writing style. Again, not to say that I am a perfect writer by any means, but this manuscript shows evidence of either a sloppy editor or no professional editing at all. The perspective from which the story is being told isn't always clear. There are many consecutive sentences with repeated words (e.g., "something began"..."something began"..."something began"); such verbal repetition is something my editor counsels my co-author and I to avoid, and constantly saying something "began" is a weak statement (I think it falls under the passive voice)--instead of saying "The sun began to rise over the horizon," it would be better to say "The sun rose over the horizon," or something to that effect. There are quite a few typos, too. I know that digital versions sometimes have typos and have dealt with that with many other titles I've read on the Kindle, but there are more than really should be present.

There are some scenes that might not be appropriate for younger readers, and I would be hesitant to allow someone who isn't at least in high school to pick up this book. Not that things are necessarily graphic, but topics come up that younger readers might not be emotionally prepared to handle. Parents, I would suggest reading this book first before giving it to your children.

Finally, as I've seen on Amazon.com and the bookstore at WestBowPress.com, the hard copy of this book is outrageously expensive: $30.95 for a new softcover, and $43.95  for a new hardcover. While I understand that this is very likely a much smaller printing company than many of the ones from which I get my non-Christian fiction titles (and spend less than $25 on nearly 1000-page hardcovers), the cost of this book could be a lot better (this is a complaint I have about a lot of Christian books, fiction and non-fiction; not only can I not afford to buy them very often, I think it further drives the notion that Christians talk a good talk but are just after the money). If you have a Kindle or Nook--or at least a computer program to read their respective file types--I would recommend going that route as you can pick up a digital version for less than $4.00.

Overall, I'd give this book a hesitant 3/5.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

A rough start to the year

It's been a trying couple of weeks, and now how I planned to start this year. It actually started the Monday before Thanksgiving. I started P90X again that evening. Since I had stopped working out in late August, I'd put back on the weight I'd lost, and was pretty unhappy with it. While doing push-ups as part of the routine, I felt a little tweaky in my right knee and figured I'd just overdid it.

For the next month I had a little bit of trouble walking properly. My right leg wouldn't straighten quite right, but I thought it would work itself out. It was also painful to roll over in bed. Finally, the week after Christmas, my leg was bothering me enough that I decided to go to the chiropractor. I had x-rays taken as part of the initial evaluation. My right hip was 1/4 - 1/2 inch higher than my left, and my lower back was kinda messed up; from the side, the typical curve wasn't visible, but form the front the lumbar spine curved to the right just above the sacrum before curing more or less back to the center where it belonged. I got adjusted Wednesday and Thursday after Christmas, and Monday and Tuesday after New Year's. I was feeling better, which was great.

Unfortunately, Thursday after New Year's I woke up in terrible pain, unable to stand upright or walk very well. I went to the chiropractor twice that day and twice Friday. The chiropractor didn't want to do it, but she suggested I go to urgent care for some muscle relaxants and pain relievers. I can't say for sure that they really did much. A big frustration is that when I go for my adjustments, I have difficulty getting down on my stomach; it causes a fair amount of pain in my leg.

Sleeping is still difficult as I have trouble finding a comfortable position...at least, one that lasts for more than a few seconds. Exhaustion does usually take over, but I wake up several times during the night.

The good news is that I am recovering, though slowly. I'm hoping that the recovery continues so I can start working out again. Of course, I'll be starting out slowly. But this video helped put some things in perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozt-V0PPJaw I need to make lifestyle changes. This is another cool video, showing how much progress a guy made in 136 days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1RYK_lybxA&feature=related. I like the idea of taking a picture each day...it'd be neat to put together a similar time-lapse video.

Hope you all are having a good day. God bless! :D

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Ride of a Lifetime

The Ride of a Lifetime, by Kitty McGregor
WestBow Press a division of Thomas Nelson
English, 208 pages

Lucas McCade has retired from the PRCA rodeo circuit. Now, he is moving his wife and son, neither of whom he has seen much of for many years as he has spent nine months out of the year on the road, from their Texas home to a working ranch in Oklahoma. McCade has been given a new lease on life after a near-death experience in his last ride, and though he is no Bible scholar, he has a genuine saving faith. His wife, Hannah, is grateful for the time the family will now have to spend together, but his son, Connor, is bitter about being moved away from home after his sophomore year of high school; he has had to leave friends and the joy of the football field behind. Starting over isn't easy for anyone. Despite initially feeling at peace with God over attending a church in the area, Hannah is upset over the show that is being displayed and the lack of genuine faith and conviction. Still feeling that God wants them there, she and Lucas decide to stick it out. However, no one in the family has any idea of what lies below the surface of the area where they now live.

I thought this was a pretty good story overall. I think the writing style was okay, but it lacked some measure of polish. I don't say this because I am some great writer myself, but because things I've had to learn through being published have been hammered into me. One complaint I know Christians will raise is the use of a little bit of swearing. I believe it was only one word used a handful of times, but it will still offend several people, I'm sure. I try to find ways around such language when I write, though I will admit it lends a certain degree of credibility to some characters.

I appreciated that this book tackles the issue of spiritual warfare, something many Christians are happy to ignore. Even I don't think about that area of things too often, potentially to my detriment. It's a fine line to walk, however, because some people see demons around every corner and behind every sin. Believe me, my flesh is bad enough that it doesn't need demonic influence to get me to do things that displease God.

Overall I'd give this book a 3/5. There is a lot of promise, and with the door left open for a sequel, I'm looking forward to seeing where Ms. McGregor might take this story next.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Moments of Truth

Moments of Truth, by John MacArthur
Published by Thomas Nelson
400 pages, English

John MacArthur has been one of my favorite authors and preachers for a decade. Some of the first sermons I listened to were from the Gospel of John dealing with the crucifixion. As a young Bible college student, I was not aware of how starved I was for solid, biblical preaching. With over 40 years of preaching experience, the depth of his knowledge of Scripture is staggering. I don't want to hold him up as a standard or idol (nor would I expect him to appreciate such treatment), but I will say he has been a tremendous inspiration to me to study God's Word more diligently.

His newest book is a devotional. Each month is given a general theme, and that theme is expanded using excerpts from many of his other books. In a few short paragraphs each day, he packs in a great deal of truth, much of which the church at large today seems to have ignored and/or forgotten. However, even with what he offers in this book, I would caution readers to not make this devotional their sole source of daily reading. No matter what someone has to say about the Bible, the best thing we can do as Christians is to read the Bible itself. Nothing will replace spending time actively engaged in the Word. But, I will say that this book will make for an excellent starting point for further study.

All in all, I would have to give this book a 5/5 rating. It would be an excellent gift, and should prove quite useful for Christians at all stages in their faith.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze.com in exchange for a fair review.