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I am a pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world. -Mother Teresa

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Best Advice I've Received Without Knowing It

"Never go on a diet," & "Be careless!"

They both sound like really bad advice at first. But...

When my sister told me to never go on a diet, I had no idea how helpful this would be for me.

I'm guessing I was in middle or high school. We were walking around the track. We had seen our mother diet, like many others, with great success only to re-gain all of the weight.

Around that time, my very overweight father told me that he used to wear jeans in "slim" sizes, too, when he was my age.

So what did I do to avoid becoming like my parents (at least in terms of being overweight)?

I did not go on a diet.

Instead, I made small choices to drink more water (where I'm now to the point of never drinking soda), try new vegetables, and make sure I continue doing things I love that are active (swimming, climbing trees, walking). It has led to me also finding new things I love (kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing, contra dancing).

At that moment, neither of us had any idea that I would remember that conversation with my sister 10 or 15 years later. I'm the same size as I was then (which also means, yes, I'm short!) and have never been on a diet.

"Be careless."

My dad used to say this to us as children all the time. I loved it! While the rest of the adult world (and even sometimes other children) was screaming, "Be careful!" he gave permission to make mistakes.

He seemed to really use it as reverse psychology and a joke. I loved the playfulness of the phrase as if he was saying he didn't care if we got hurt, but I could hear in his voice that he did. It wasn't as annoying as hearing someone say for the thousandth time to "be careful." When they said that, it seemed to mean, "Stop whatever you are doing and do something that involves less risk because I don't want to have to take you to the hospital if you get hurt."

For me, his phrase to be careless has so much more meaning.

In that one phrase, I would hear also:

  • Be careful, while you continue to try this somewhat dangerous/scary thing you are doing because I don't want you to get hurt, but I do want you to have fun and grow and learn new things.
  • Be carefree. Don't worry about if other people think it's too scary. Trust yourself, and know your limits. But also test them because if you don't, they will always remain your limits.
  • Be sloppy. It's ok sometimes. Don't be a perfectionist. Don't fear showing your weaknesses. It's hard to make anything without making mistakes. Learn from them, fix them when you can, but make them. And with them you will make memories, and friends, and beauty.

I don't think this is exactly what my siblings heard when he said this; they may not even remember him saying it. But until I watched this excellent interview with Grant Cardone in which he mentioned that he told his nanny not to tell his kids to "be careful" but to "be dangerous," I didn't realize what great advice (that he probably didn't even consider to be advice) my dad had given and how it may have affected the choices I make even today.

What's the best advice you've ever gotten?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

3 Reasons I'm Glad I was $25k in Debt

This is the letter I received after my first of 5 student loans was paid off. And it felt awesome. First reason I'm glad I had debt?

1. Accomplishment. The feeling of accomplishment is not enough to make the debt worth it. I could have also felt accomplished if I'd saved all of that money to buy land. But it is great being able to look back at how much you owed and measure how much of your goal you've reached.

It's a great confidence-booster and teacher of discipline. It has helped me develop good financial habits and minimize bad ones. This will help me in my future endeavors, which include saving up to buy that land I mentioned earlier. Now I know it's possible not just for some people to save $25k in less than 3 years, but it is possible for me to do it.

As I said, though, that accomplishment alone is not enough to have made the debt worth it. So I shall continue.

After finding out how much I owed in student loans while in my last semester of college, I remember singing "Oh, praise the One Who paid my debt..."

I began to think about how I would treat someone if they paid that $25,000 debt for me.

I'd be so thankful and feel kind of guilty and embarrassed. I'd be amazed at their kindness. I would probably talk about it in whispered tones of wonder and almost disbelief.

My love of handwritten letters would cause me to write a thank-you note first.

Then I'd want to live my life in such a way that they wouldn't regret paying the debt for me. This would mean working hard to take care of myself, not being wasteful, and paying it forward by helping others. I'd also want to stay in touch with that person to let them know what their sacrifice helped me do and become. Staying in touch would also allow me to know what ways I could be helpful to them in return even though it would be nowhere near what they did for me.

This leads us to my second reason for being glad I had that much debt.

2. Gratefulness. I'm grateful to all of the people who helped me along the way by giving me a place to live, a job (with free delicious and usually healthy food!), and encouragement and advice.

I'm also grateful for the friends I have who "confessed" that they continue to defer their loans. My boss has even told me most people never pay theirs back as if I shouldn't either. Although I don't agree, there is a debt that I can't repay. As my friend said about her student loans, "I just keep hitting 'defer, defer, defer.'" It seems like such a hopeless place to be. The debt always hanging over your head, lurking in the back of your mind as you try to enjoy your life. You're just not really free. You're trapped knowing there's nothing you can do to pay it.

Then Someone pays it for you.

That sin I know I can never work hard enough to erase? Yeah, Someone paid that debt for me. That bigger debt. (Luke 7:41-43 & 47) That's gratefulness. That's freedom. And that's what hit home when I was  $25k in debt. If I would do all of those things for someone if they had paid my financial debt, why not do them for the One Who paid my spiritual debt?

Maybe $25,000 doesn't sound like much to you. Now that my debt is less than $5k, it doesn't seem like as much to me either, especially when I hear stories of people who have paid off $250k. I'm learning not to compare that way, though. They might make over 4 times more than I do. But that still doesn't mean it's easy for them. Or they could have 3 kids. But just because I don't have any children doesn't mean I haven't had to sacrifice.

Which leads to my third reason I'm glad I had so much debt.

Photo by my 12-year-old niece, Grace

3. Inspiration. I've been so caught up in the sacrifice, the giving-three-fourths-of-my-income-to-pay-off-student-loans that I didn't even stop to think that this part of my life could inspire others. Maybe a little but not really. I was excited for myself to be out of debt, but I didn't think I could help others until mine was completely paid off.

Then I shared the basics of my story with a group on Facebook last month.

Their responses were all it took to change my outlook. It's the reason I've written this post. I want to encourage you in practical ways as others have done for me.

No, paying debt isn't all about sacrifice and discipline, hard work, and being deprived. I have gone on a trip out of the country every year since I began paying my debt! I would be without months of these amazing memories if I'd let my debt keep me back:

  • I spent Christmas (and 2 weeks!) in England with three lovely friends visiting Jane Austen & C. S. Lewis/J. R. R. Tolkien sights & so much more. 
  • I went on my first road trip which was with my younger brother for 40 days! From Georgia to Alaska through Canada
  • A few months later I was invited to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (which I had never seen) for 17 days. I actually considered not going because of finances. So glad I went anyway! 
  • The next year I raised over $1,000 thanks to generous friends to go on a mission trip to Thailand where I had so much fun playing with children in an orphanage.

Having that to look forward to keeps me going when I have to give up smaller things or even other big things like having my own place to live (instead I live with family for now).

Don't give up everything that's important to you in order to pay your debt.

Some sacrifices aren't worth making.

*Update: I have now paid off my loans! Click here to read about what I didn't expect after paying off my debt.

Though I'm not an expert, I do have some experience. So let me know if you have any questions. I'd love to help you if I can!

Do you have any different reasons you've been glad you had your own debt?