So I Said to My Horse…Why the Long Face?

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Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

“How much is the corn?”, said the pirate.  The farmer said, “A buck-an-ear!”

These are the “corn”y jokes I heard growing up and still hear to this day.  My Dad has a way of making everyone smile, chuckle (and groan) with his witty sense of humor!

You see, Dad was an elementary physical education teacher.  He connected with kids by telling funny, punny jokes.  They loved “Mr. Miller”!  All year long, Dad would volunteer for recess duty.  He organized games and fun competitions for the kids on the playground.  But Dad had a special heart for the “underdogs”, the less popular kids who were picked on and often left out by their peers.  He made recess fun and engaging because he knew the pain these kids felt.

Most of us go through times in our lives where others hurt us.  It can be the pain of rejection, physical and emotional bullying, or simply neglect.  When we are young, it hits us especially hard.  My dad and I share this experience.  When we were kids, we got picked on for our physical attributes and were often left out by our peers.  No matter how nice we were to others, they still let us down.  My dad taught me about the power of resilience, love and faith.

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My Dad was the youngest of four and was the only boy.  His parents loved him very much.  His dad, my grandfather, worked many long and hard hours as a bridge tender in Milwaukee.  Dad was also a faithful Christian, who attended and served in his church. However, when it came time to join Boy Scouts, my Dad was told he could not join because his father couldn’t be at the meetings because of work.  The kids teased and taunted him. That was the beginning of feeling left out by not only his peers, but also adults in his community.

I had a similar experience.  There was a group of girls in my grade school days that knew I was sensitive and cried when people were upset with me.  One day they would decide to be my friends, and the next day, they ignored me.  This went on for several years, and it became hard to trust people and develop true friendships.  However, I was eventually blessed by two friends who remained true.

How did we get through it?  There were no bullying laws back then.  We were told to “deal with it” by society.  But Dad taught me about resilience.  When the kids were picking on him as a child, he discovered something about himself.  He liked to run.  It made him feel better and stronger.  He was also mentored by a coach who saw the best in him.  Dad went on to be the number one runner in college, the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin.  Later, he was inducted into the UWM Hall of Fame.

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It wasn’t only by strength and resilience alone that Dad overcame the bullying.  He also had the encouragement of love. Besides loving parents, Dad developed friendships with two great men, my honorary uncles…Uncle Ron and Uncle Rick.  He also met my mother, Chris.  These people poured love, comradery and happiness into to my Dad’s life. They rejoiced in his accomplishments and stood by his side during the hurts of life.  My parents have been married for 50 years now, and Dad still spends time with Uncle Ron and Uncle Rick.  These relationships are amazing!

Most importantly, Dad taught me the ultimate importance of faith.  God’s love, grace and power is enough to see us through this journey we call life.  I saw Dad’s faith in action. Every year, he helped an elderly lady put up her Christmas decorations.  He served in the Holy Name men’s ministry.  Dad enlisted my brother and I to help him paint the light poles in the church parking lot.  He called Bingo for church every Wednesday night, while I helped in the kitchen.  Dad cut grass for our neighbors.  He and Mom counseled a couple who’s marriage was in distress.  He attended silent faith retreats with my grandfather.  Dad generously gave us cars when we proved ourselves competent drivers. He brought flowers and candy for Mom when she had a bad day.  To this day, Dad is still out there shoveling or snow-blowing the neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways.   He does not do this for accolades…He has a faithful servant’s heart.

Perhaps one of the most impressionable times of my life was when the economy of the 1980’s went bad, and Dad was laid off from his teaching job.  Dad is a doer, a hard-worker and a faithful provider.  To say that he never sits still is an understatement!  This was an especially hard time in his life.

What I saw him do, I will never forget.  For days, he played and listened to praise and worship records on our old turntable stereo.  The melodies and lyrics still resound in my mind.  They were peaceful, God-honoring and prayerful.  Dad drew strength from the Lord.  Even though I didn’t understand the extent of what the family was going through (because we never felt lacking in any way), I understood that something powerful was happening.

 

RecordI now realize it was God teaching Dad about trusting Him.  Dad’s job was eventually reinstated and he went on to teach for many years.  When he retired, his school proclaimed his retirement day, “Mr. Miller Day”.  It was a beautiful display of appreciation for all my Dad represented in his teaching career.

Today, when my husband and I have hard times or are celebrating good times, we turn to God…always praising Him and trusting Him the same way Dad and Mom do.  We learned that connecting to and serving in a church community is an action of compassion, servitude and faith…not for personal gain, but to honor God.  We learned about God’s love, mercy and grace through the encouragement of loving relationships…just like Dad and Mom modeled for us.

I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to have the type of father/child relationship like I do.  But know that there is a Father who loves you even more than we can imagine.  God longs to have a relationship with you…so much so that He sent His son to teach us about His love.  It’s a REAL relationship…one that can be had by reaching out to your heavenly Father, believing in the great sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ, confessing your sins, and growing in a Christ-like life.

As for Dad and I, we see the blessings of this life.  We love strongly, work hard and serve others in Jesus’ name.  It is a blessing.  Sometimes we need support and resources because life can be hard and exhausting.  But as my Dad would say…..

“There’s a NAP for that!”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!  I love you so much!  Thank you for raising me not only as your daughter, but also a daughter in Christ.

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Food for Thought…

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

Have you ever heard of the service Panera offers called Rapid Pickup? Simply order online, come in and pick up the order without having to stand in line. Well, I’m beginning to think of it another way, and here’s why!

A few years ago, I started my day normally as an Opening Manager at Panera.  I opened the store at 4:50am, worked the first part of what was going to be a 9-hour shift, and sat down for a break.  Then it happened…MY HEART BEGAN TO RACE…and it wouldn’t stop!

My wonderful co-workers noticed my condition and quickly surrounded me…not just physically…but with PRAYER! Even though my body was in distress as my heart pounded out of my chest, I felt God’s strong presence through my co-workers’ prayers. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” Matthew 18:20

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I kept hoping it would sync back into a normal rhythm, but things got worse. The “online call” was placed to 911 and the “wait in line” began as we waited for the arrival of the Lake Country Fire Department/Paramedics. My co-workers continued praying.

As my condition worsened, the “order” arrived and the paramedics began working on me. As they wheeled me out on the gurney, a long-time faithful Panera customer reached out for my hand and said, “We will say a prayer for you!”…another comforting angel sent by Jesus.

The decision was made to STOP MY HEART…

In the ambulance, they worked hard to get my heart rate of over 200 beats per minute to slow down. My blood pressure had plummeted. It was then the decision was made to stop my heart and reset it so it would slow down.

I prayed hard! “Our Father, who art in Heaven HALLOWED BE THY NAME!” I prayed He’d let me stay for the benefit of my family…and for the important Kingdom work I had left to do on this earth! I know where I am going, but I wanted more time…time to tell others about Him and show them God’s love! Thankfully, it worked and my heart reset…I was now stable and headed to the hospital.

God truly loves us…

As I reflect on this experience, I see several things: GOD TRULY LOVES US; GOD ANSWERS PRAYER (I was able to pinpoint a long-awaited diagnosis that had been an issue since 1996); GOD WANTS US ALL TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM (I’m not talking “religion”…I’m talking relationship!)

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We are ALL broken…

If you feel that tugging at your heart to know more about God… to ask more questions…to know the “whys” of this fallen world because of Satan…to have the hope that God will redeem this world and that He has a plan for your future with Him…to know how you can start now, coming to Him with all your hurt, disappointments and brokenness…to know that we are NOT all too far gone for Him to love, accept and redeem us…then just start by praying! Ask God to show you how to know Him more…seek that relationship! There are others who can help too…one step at a time.

We are ALL broken…we all need “rapid pick-ups” to remind us that we have a purpose in this life…and beyond! Now that’s “food” for thought!

Other Recommended Articles:

Give Yourself Permission to Take Care of You, A Season of Healing

In Sickness and in Health… for Richer or for Poorer…

Transformation

 

Transformation

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

When you think of “transformation” what comes to mind? … weight loss, a butterfly going through metamorphosis?
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Webster Dictionary defines transformation as “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance”.

In our world of constant images, we see dramatic “transformations” all the time. Honey Boo Boo’s mom lost an incredible amount of weight, radically transforming her appearance.  Bruce Jenner, famous Olympic athlete, transformed from a man into a woman, becoming Caitlyn Jenner.  Lottery winners become millionaires, going from poor to rich overnight.  Why are we captivated by these stories?

Perhaps it’s the quest to make a dramatic transformation in our own lives…things we wish to change about ourselves.

How do these transformations happen?

Most transformations do not happen overnight, but all start with a desire or desperate need from within.  Some transformations are healthy, long-lasting and beneficial but others are not.

How do we attain healthy, long-lasting, beneficial transformations?

How does it happen?  What does it take?
A young man in his 20’s was a successful real estate agent who had amassed a fortune, and along with it, a fancy lifestyle.  He would take his wife on lavish vacations, drove a luxury car and lived in an expensive home.  All was well, until he lost it all.
The major bank that held his 90-day notes (while he was flipping real estate properties) had been sold.   The new bank owners got nervous about the amount of debt he had, and pulled his notes.  The problem was that all his investments were tied up in real estate, and he couldn’t sell his properties quickly enough to pay off those notes. Suddenly, he found himself broke, hammered with law suits, and had no other alternative but to file for bankruptcy.  This young man, his wife and his young family were now at a precipice…a dangerous situation.  This is where his transformation began.

He had to file for bankruptcy.

All his life, he had heard about God but didn’t fully understand how God and the Bible could be applicable to his life.  He questioned the authenticity of “church-going” people and thought church was “boring”.  (See Personal Testimony)  While he was in his prosperous days, he had it all…but still felt like he had a hole in his life.  That’s when he began to seek some answers.
After filing for bankruptcy, Dave Ramsey said, “…we started to find out that God’s word had something to say about money…so this wasn’t really the end of the story.  I met God on the way up, but got to KNOW him on the way down.”

His life took on a dramatic transformation.  At the age of 26, he paid off $3,000,000 OF DEBT down to three hundred seventy eight thousand in only 2-1/2 years!

How?  He studied God’s word and began to apply what God teaches about money.  He developed a budget, created a debt snowball model, paid off his debts, paid cash for everything, began investing, and started attracting and teaching others about how to transform their lives by applying Biblical principles. (See Dave’s Story.)  Now Dave Ramsey is a multi-millionaire that spends his life serving and helping millions of others.

Transformation seems to start with self, but REAL and LASTING transformation happens when our hearts turn toward serving others.

It seems to start with an inward focus…how can “I” lose weight, how can “I” be debt-free, how can “I” be fulfilled? Perhaps we should look at it like this… How can I lose weight so I’m healthy enough to be there for my FAMILY, how can I become debt-free so we can give to HELP OTHERS, how can I find fulfillment through a job or hobby that MAKES A DIFFERENCE for my community or communities around the world?
Just like Dave Ramsey, we can be transformed personally for the benefit of ourselves and others.  Seeking wise counsel, being open to learning, visualizing the end goal, and having the discipline/motivation to put in the work needed to meet that goal are the ways to attaining real, long-lasting, beneficial transformation.
One of the most rewarding things in life is to give hope to someone else who is struggling.

“For you were called to freedom…only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.” -Galatians 5:13

In Sickness and in Health… for Richer or for Poorer…

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

25 years ago, my husband and I took these solemn vows.  In a nation where the divorce rate is nearly 50%, we are here to say that LOVE can still win!  Mutual love, faith, respect and championing your spouse are some of the most beautiful gifts you can give!

Divorce is NOT in our vocabulary!

In the days when we were first engaged, we agreed that “divorce” was never going to be part of our vocabulary.  No matter how hard things would get, we vowed to never give up on each other.

Gary and I met in high school, in the choir room.  I was 14 and he was 16.  He was rehearsing a solo for an upcoming competition, and I was the student aide for our choir director.  I was mesmerized by his deep bass voice!  In that moment, we caught each other’s eyes and the pursuit began.  We played footsie under the table while listening to a friend sing at that competition.  Later that week, at a cast party for “Annie”, he kissed me and the love affair began!

Most people seem to have the opinion that high school romances rarely last, let alone turn into a healthy marriage.  We were the exception to that opinion!  We dated five years before getting engaged, and after two more years, we got married.  Today, we are more in love with each other than ever.  What makes it work?

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Today, we are more in love with each other than ever. What makes it work?

Before you think it was a bowl of cherries, we have had our struggles over the years. I was very jealous of his time in the early days of our marriage.  As a new bride, I didn’t want to share my husband with his friends and family.  Slowly but surely, I realized that family and friends are SO important.  The love that we both show for family and friends is actually a gift to each other.  It shows we care about our spouse as a whole, respecting and loving all the other special people who love our spouse.

Do special things for each other.

In our early years , we were just starting our careers and didn’t have much extra money for entertainment.  My husband surprised me with an elaborate scavenger hunt for my birthday.  He prearranged and planted clues at various locations around the city.  He drew word picture puzzle clues and had me stopping at a gas station, local park and grocery store.  The scavenger hunt was so fun and memorable, that I forgot what the actual gift was at the end.  Lesson:  The fact that he had taken so much time to thoughtfully plan out the adventure meant so much to me.  My heart grew a little bigger!

That same year, I became pregnant with our first child.  I was still working and got very weary at the end of each workday.  My husband was so caring, he prepared a bubble bath for me each night to help me relax.

When the children began to arrive, our love and patience were tested on a whole new level.

When the children began to arrive, our love and patience were tested on a whole new level.  Of course, we were elated to have such beautiful babies and were excited about the road ahead of us as parents.  But along with the joys, come the trials.

One night, our baby girl would NOT stop crying.  We were such brand new parents and had not gotten much sleep for days.  We tried everything….feeding, singing, rocking, walking….yet her crying did not cease.  As a last resort, we put her in the car seat and the three of went for a drive at 3 o’clock in the morning.  We were at our wits end.  I remember a shouting match in the car because of pure frustration.  Finally, the baby fell asleep to the motion of the car.  We silently drove back home, gingerly brought her into the house, and carefully laid her in her crib.  We went to bed without a word.

I was told to never go to bed angry by my grandmother and my mother.  We broke that golden rule.  However, we loved each other so much, that we talked about it right away the next morning.  We both apologized and realized it was out of frustration in the moment.  We vowed to never let that happen again.

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Plan date nights.

When you are in the throws of parenthood, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the children.  It can be easy to neglect putting time into your marriage.  We made sure this was not going to happen.  We were blessed with great family that offered to watch the children on occasion so that we could go on a “date”.   We also hired babysitters.  These dates were often just dinner and a walk in the park, or dinner and a movie.  It was time for us to relax and enjoy each other.  This small, but ironically, giant gesture invests in your marriage.

Grow in your faith.

We had always been involved in childhood churches. When we got married, we had both a Catholic priest and a Methodist minister preside over the wedding.  However, we wanted to find a church that we could both agree on and attend.  A good friend of ours invited us to his church one Sunday.  We were so drawn in by the music and the sermons, that we became regular attenders shortly thereafter.  It was the first time in a long time that both of us learned something from a sermon.  We felt like the pastor was talking directly to us and the Bible had actual application to our lives.  This was new…and exciting!

It wasn’t long before we involved our children in the Sunday school programs.  They would come home and teach US something new about our faith!  This made us very curious about how we could learn more.  We got involved in a neighborhood Bible study with other couples of all ages.  We also got involved in men’s and women’s Bible studies. It was amazing!  Not only were we able to meet and form relationships with others, we were growing in our faith…and in our love for one another.

We realized God needed to be the center of lives.

We realized God needed to be the center of lives.  “With God, all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26.  Within the first eight years of marriage, we had moved five times, had three children, changed jobs twice, and dealt with some health scares.  Our dependence on God was crucial during those years (and still is today!).

I remember crying out to God one night, “Help me Lord, I don’t know how to handle this frustration.  Help me parent like you would parent.”  God met me there and spoke into my heart.  I learned patience, perspective and perseverance.  God opened doors for me to be mentored by other moms through motherhood retreats called, “Hearts at Home” and a Bible study called, “Moms and More”.  It was a time of great encouragement to live along side other women who cared for each other and mentored each other in the process.  I shared this wisdom with my husband and our faith grew stronger.

Have “couch time”.

One of the valuable nuggets I took home from a Hearts at Home conference was to “have couch time”.  It simply meant that when daddy came home, he would greet everyone and then take 5-10 minutes to talk to mommy on the couch.  That meant the kids had to play quietly while mom and dad talked to each other about their days.  This did two things. First, it gave my husband and I a chance to greet and appreciate each other.  Second, it modeled love and a healthy marriage to our children. They saw that mommy was important to daddy and vice versa.  We grew in our love and the children grew in love and patience.

The teen years….emotional rollercoaster!

We were a busy family.  We had incredible experiences, celebrated many accomplishments and had our share of growing pains.  With God as our center, we praised Him for the good and cried out to Him in the struggles.

Never underestimate the power of prayer and the value of Christian relationships.  These years were some of the best and some of the worst at times.  Our parents and siblings were some of the best counselors to our children when they temporarily went astray. Also, those friends and pastors at church were a lifeline to our kids when they needed help.  As a team, we all came together to love, rebuke and encourage our children.  My husband and I grew even closer and stronger in our faith and love for each other.

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Champion each other!

My husband is a successful industrial designer and an incredible artist!  Throughout the years, the children and I have championed his accomplishments!  Whether he volunteered to do the set for the church musicals/ballets, won awards in ice sculpting or was commissioned to create artwork for the community, we all proudly cheered him on! Embrace your spouse’s talents, gifts, skills and compassion for others.  Appreciation and admiration is a gift!

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Show respect!

The world inundates us with sitcoms and social media that glorifies slamming your spouse.  Think about it, how would you feel if you were on the receiving end of this?  I know I’d feel pretty awful…even if it is supposed to be comical.  I learned long ago, that it is so honoring to respect your spouse. In growing our faith and love for each other, we have grown in maturity as well.  Refining our behaviors, choosing wisely about what we listen to and watch, and supporting each other through all situations has developed a mutual, loving respect.  It also models respect to our children and those around us.  Our hearts have grown bigger.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

For Richer or for Poorer…

Many families strive to offer the best for their children and themselves.  We were no exception.  There were dance lessons, piano lessons, voice lessons, trombone lessons, baritone lessons, soccer, football, t-ball, softball, basketball, Tae Kwon Do, Lego League, Children’s Choir of Waukesha, Girls Club, Boys Club, musicals, acting classes, honor choirs, honor bands, marching band, solo-ensemble, art classes, contests, and the list goes on!  Along with those expenses there were medical bills, vet bills, home improvements, credit card bills, car loans, mortgages, etc. We were slowly digging ourselves into a huge pile of debt…one emergency away from financial disaster!

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Many marriages are strained or end up in divorce because of financial stress.  We needed help.  So with prayer and specific resources, we were able to begin our debt-free journey.  This drew us EVEN CLOSER as a married couple.  You have to be on the same page to attack a mountain of debt.  Together with God, we were able to pay off over $168,000 in debt!  (For more information, refer to past Meaningful Journey blogs.)

 

Make intimacy a priority.

As a mother, employee and community volunteer, I had many people vying for my attention.  The last thing on my mind was intimacy after a long day.  I loved my husband, but I had NO energy left.  A wise mother and grandmother once said, “Make intimacy a priority”.  Ladies, you have to make an effort.  I discovered something, it became a blessing.  It draws you closer to each other in a way that only God could design.

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Rediscover each other.

This year, we became empty-nesters.  One child is now married and the other two are almost graduated from college.  It was definitely a huge transition for us.  When you are suddenly left with a quiet house, you can do one of two things.  Grow apart because you don’t know each other anymore, or you can adopt four black cats.  Just kidding…(well, we did adopt four black cats).  Seriously though, we became intentional about rediscovering each other.

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We started doing more things together like leading a financial study at church (Financial Peace University), painting ballet sets, exercising, taking a counseling class to further our counseling skills, completing yardwork projects, travelling and watching YouTube videos to learn more about our interests.  We even planned a very special trip to Hawaii because we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.

In Sickness and In Health…

Finally, there is something very special about your spouse supporting and caring for you you in times of sickness.  My husband and I have cared for one another several times during illnesses.  Most recently, I had a serious heart issue and knee problems.  Because we had 13415437_1296969756981674_5698858920906990510_o.jpgbeen faithful about taking charge of our finances, I was able to quit my job and focus on healing after surgery and physical therapy.  We alleviate stress for each other by being smart with finances and caring for each other during illnesses.  I couldn’t ask for a wiser, stronger, more compassionate, caring and loving husband.  He is such a blessing to me.

So remember, LOVE CAN WIN!  Kiss each other goodnight and kiss each other goodbye in the morning.  Love, respect and champion your spouse, all the while, keeping God at the center.  “A triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Your 20’s? Things I Wish I Knew About Money When I Was Twenty…

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

Photos By:  Collin Richter, Instagram

I remember rushing out the door one morning on my way to college. As I was driving, the loud sound of my growling stomach reminded me that I forgot to eat breakfast.  So, I quickly looked through my purse and dug through the car ashtray to see if I could scrounge up enough coins to swing by the drive-through.  Today, I had just enough.

When I was in my twenties, life was a whirlwind between going to school, working three jobs, volunteering at church, and squeezing time in for my boyfriend, family and friends. You could say I was living by the “seat of my pants”!  Ironically, I have a “planning” type of personality, which I was good at applying to my college studies.  However, I neglected to transfer that over to my personal finances.  Sadly, my lack of planning led to depleting my checkbook, as well as, my savings account.  I spent everything I earned.  This was not going to be a good way to start the next season of my life as a college graduate and, soon-to-be, bride.

Things I wish I had learned…

DO A SIMPLE BUDGET:

Many young people say, “Why should I budget when I don’t have many expenses?”  The answer is, no matter what, a simple budget is important so that YOU tell every dollar where to go, instead of wondering where it all went!   When we don’t have a plan and don’t track our expenses, we simply don’t realize how much we spent and where we spent it.

It’s easy!  Use a FREE budgeting app like EveryDollar.com to get started.  Apps like this make it easy to plug in numbers from your phone or computer.  For one month, track ALL your expenses (even the little ones) using this app.  I recommend that you keep the receipts for each transaction until you record them in your budgeting app and your checkbook. Then you can discard the receipts.

After the month is over, take a look at where you ACTUALLY spent the money.  What categories did you forget?  Where can you decrease spending?  Then, simply copy that budget for the next month, making adjustments.  After about three months, it becomes second nature.  It’s really eye opening when you are intentional about planning and tracking your expenses.

PLAN YOUR ENTERTAINMENT AND MEALS

Let’s face it, entertainment and eating out keeps life exciting in our twenties!  It’s important to keep these items in your budget.  Planning and allocating a reasonable amount towards these categories is key to keeping spending in check.  Look for ways to save and still have fun:  coupons; Entertainment Book; free events; movie marathons at home; cook a meal with friends; game night; camping; hiking; bonfires; beach days, etc. With a little thought, your dollars can go a long way!

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SAVE FOR CAR REPAIRS

If you own your own car, it can become a crisis if that car breaks down and you don’t have the money for repairs.  Figure out the average cost of a car repair.  Multiply that by the number of times a year that cars like yours (in it’s condition) need repairs.  Then simply divide that amount by 12 months and and include it in your monthly budget to SAVE.  Be sure NOT to dip into that money for ANYTHING but car repairs and oil changes!

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SHOP AROUND FOR CELL PHONES/PLANS

When considering a cell phone and plan, be sure to shop around for the best deal.  Also, remember that it’s not necessary to get the latest and greatest.  You might find the cost savings a better trade-off than having that brand new model…which, incidentally, will not be the newest model by this time next year!  Buy wisely.

Collin, age 21 states, “I’ve learned to only purchase what I can afford, to plan my finances, and that I don’t need the latest and greatest things to be happy, so I’m not being cheap, I’m being content.”

SHOP AT RESALE SHOPS

Did you know that there are really awesome clothes at resale shops?  Sometimes there are even brand new and brand name clothes.  The difference?  You pay only a fraction of what it would cost to buy those clothes brand new at the mall or specialty stores.  Not only are clothes budget-friendly, but so are other items like school supplies (binders, journals, pens), sports equipment, jewelry, electronics and household items (lamps, dishes).  Make it a competition to see who can spend the least on the coolest stuff!

PLAN # OF STARBUCKS DRINKS PER MONTH

Decide ahead of time how many lattes or Unicorn drinks you are going to indulge in at the beginning of each month….or better yet, take your really cool travel mug (or Kwip Trip cup), brew some coffee at home, and bring it with you to that study or social gathering with your friends at Starbucks.  It will save you MUCHO BUCKS!

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MAKE SPRING BREAK TRIPS AFFORDABLE

Taking that trip doesn’t have to break the bank!  Plan ahead.  There are many ways to save money on traveling.  A group of college students recently planned a trip out west to hike in the mountains.  They mapped out their journey, found BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) for camping, brought their own food, and drove together to save on gas. This trip turned out be only $130 for each of them…not bad!  Look at the amazing views they had!

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DEFINE A “NEED” VERSUS A “WANT”

Really ask yourself, is this a “need” or a “want”?  Many times, overspending can be curbed by asking this question.  Decide what’s important to you.  Also explore what it means to be content.

LEARN MORE

As you get older, you will be entering stages of life that will require more decisions and commitments with money.  For example, buying a house, getting married, moving, jobs, insurance, having children, investing, and, eventually, retirement.  The best advice is to learn from a wise financial expert like Dave Ramsey.  He has excellent resources for you to learn about all that you will encounter, including how to get out and stay out of debt, how to have a plan, how to invest and how to gain wealth to leave a legacy.  Check out this link! The more you know, the more you grow!

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https://www.daveramsey.com/get-started/debt/?snid=start.debt-a

 

 

 

 

 

When I Count My Blessings, I Count My Mother Twice

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

Mom was there…

…when I was three and claimed “I can read”…when I had actually memorized the big egg Easter book that my mom read to me a million times…

…when I was a budding writer and she encouraged me to use my little red plastic typewriter to make a magazine…

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…when I presented her with a beautiful bouquet of fresh picked dandelions and she gave me the biggest hug as if I had given her the finest roses…

…when I came home crying because the mean girl in fifth grade got “all the other girls mad at me for no reason”…

…when I took my first big bike ride to the store with a friend, and my rollerskates got stuck in the spokes of the wheel, flipped me over the handlbars, and dug into my leg….

…when I had a thousand questions about life and she took the time to listen over the many dinners she prepared, even though she had to soon leave for work…

…when I was so sick and cried out “Mommmmmmm” and she came to my room to me feel better…

…when my mom and I sang and danced together listening Abba, John Denver and the Beach Boys….

…when we decorated the Christmas tree each year with the sweet wooden ornaments my mom hand painted…

…when she let me try my hand at creating a decorative cake that was 90% frosting and 10% cake…

…when she drove me to high school because I missed the bus and she got pulled over because she was slightly speeding (I still feel really bad about that, Mom…sorry!)…

…when she and Grandma Mary took me shopping for back to school clothes and made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world…

…when she and my Dad attended EVERY choir and drama event…

…when my boyfriend broke up with me after a year of dating him…and I didn’t want to live anymore…

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…when I was bullied in high school….

…when I became Junior Miss and she beamed with pride…

… when I graduated from college with Honors, becoming the first woman on my Mom’s side of the family to earn a college degree…249083_680135858682686_1761216189_n.jpg

…when she had to say “good-bye” when I married that boyfriend who got back together with me…

…when I was pregnant and couldn’t travel for Thanksgiving…she brought the entire meal to us…

…when I had my tonsils out, shoulder surgery, emergency room visits, and heart ablation…she and Dad were there by my side…

…when I had all three babies, she was there to rock and sing them to sleep so I could get some rest…

…when she brought those much needed groceries when our pantry was bare and our refrigerator was bright…

…when we left for vacation and she took in our kitten…149911_168563896506554_6021339_n.jpg

…when we celebrated our children, she was the biggest cheerleader…

…when our children made mistakes, she was the biggest counselor…

…when I was in despair and overwhelmed, she helped me make important decisions…and in the process…saved my life…again…

…when she is in the quiet of her heart, I know she is praying…

…when she misses her Mom, I know she is crying…415677_522607984435475_1248177939_o.jpg

…when we embrace, I know it is only the kind of deep love a mother has for her child…

When I count my blessings, I really do count my mother twice…and three times…and more!  I am blessed to have a family that, through the generations, has had loving, strong women of faith who offer never-ending love, support and encouragement.  My mom, her mom (Grandma Mary)…and those before her….are all wonderful angels in our lives.

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:28-29

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I love you so much Mom!  Thank you for everything…I am super blessed!

Happy Mother’s Day ❤


Footnotes:

Budgeting…How Does that Word Make you Feel?

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

“Not in my vocabulary…Painful at Times…Overwhelmed…Complicated”

What if you felt like this?

“Organized…Secure…Hopeful…Encouraged…Prepared…Excited!”

Traditionally, when it comes to budgeting, many think it’s a long, laborious process of math and boring spreadsheets.  Only nerds love that stuff, right?  Well, there is another way to experience creating a budget that is clear, concise….and dare I say, fun!  Plus, nothing compares to having the peace of knowing you have a plan.

Three years ago, my husband and I learned how to do a simple Zero-Based budget that revolutionized how we manage our finances.  We had tried creating many budgets in the past but none of them stuck.  THIS BUDGET is different.  It has become part of the rhythm of our lives and is a crucial part of achieving financial peace.

Tell every dollar where to go! $$$

In a Zero-Based budget, you tell every single George Washington ($) where to go. Your goal is to budget EACH DOLLAR so that you end up with a ZERO at the bottom after entering all income/expenses. We use the FREE budgeting software called, “Every Dollar”. https://www.everydollar.com/  It is is a user-friendly, simple program. Here is what you will need to get started:

  1. Log into EveryDollar.com and create a FREE account.
  2. Monthly Income (paychecks, expected tax refunds, hobby income, etc.)
  3. Giving (charities, tithes/offerings, fundraisers, etc.)
  4. Saving (emergency fund, sinking funds for future purchases like big home repairs, tuition, car purchase, home purchase, vacation, etc.)
  5. Housing (mortgage/rent, utilities such as gas/electric, phone, cable, internet, water, home repairs, etc.)
  6. Transportation (gas, auto maintenance, registration fees)
  7. Food (groceries, restaurants, personal products, pet supplies)
  8. Insurance (home/rent, auto, umbrella, etc.)
  9. Lifestyle (gym memberships, subscriptions, entertainment, tuition, private lessons, postage, music, clothes, etc.)
  10. Healthcare (out of pocket medical/dental bills, vet bills, prescriptions)
  11. Debt Payments (car loans, credit cards, student loans, store cards, 401K loans, etc.)

Simply plug in these amounts.  This should give you a good overall view of where you think you are spending your money.  Does anything look out of whack?  Do you have areas where you can reduce your spending?  For example, reduce the “eating out” category and make more meals at home.  Another great way to reduce expenses is to cut the cable and use “rabbit ears” for awhile.

Please note:  If you have an irregular income, refer to this link: https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/how-to-budget-an-irregular-income

3-receiptsKeep the receipts for everything.

As you go through the month, keep receipts for everything.  Once a week (or more if you like), pull up your budget and insert these expenses.  Also record them in your checkbook, assuming you are not using credit cards (see past blogs).  Don’t forget those little purchases that may have been paid with cash…it all counts!  Once the expenses have been recorded, you can now get rid of the receipts.

One of the great benefits of having an online budget is that it can be easily tweaked from your computer or phone for minor adjustments.  You also have the option of linking it to your bank accounts for easy transaction recording.  Again, it will take several months of tweaking the budget to get it right. Give yourself grace.

Make sure to do this before EVERY MONTH.  It gives you a plan and solid direction.  You will begin to see where every dollar is spent, and YOU will be in control of your money instead of IT being in control of you!

For more information, visit: https://www.daveramsey.com/ and https://www.everydollar.com/

Book:  Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money

Past Blogs:  MeaningfulJourneySite@Wordpress.com

 

 

Pay Off the Mortgage Early and Make a Plan for Retirement

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

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What if I told you it was possible to pay off your home mortgage early?  Strange thought? YES!  But it IS possible!  Imagine your life with absolutely NO debt…what could you do with that money?  How could you be blessed and bless others?  Now is the time to start planning for that day and optimistically look forward to a comfortable retirement.

Look forward to a comfortable retirement!

If you have been following the blogs on this site, Meaningful Journey, you have already learned how to do a monthly zero-based budget, utilize the debt snowball and eliminate non-mortgage debt.  The next security step in your financial plan is to save 3-6 months of EXPENSES.  These are the basics:  food, shelter, utilities, transportation and clothing. For example, if a family needs $5000 for basic expenses, they will need to save $15,000-$30,000. Financial expert, Dave Ramsey, recommends that this emergency money be put into a money market account or savings account.  These funds can be easily accessed for true emergencies. Once those funds are securely in place, you can now invest in your retirement and start paying off that mortgage early!

Start paying off that mortgage early!

It is important to note that when buying a home in the first place, you should do one of two things as suggested by Dave Ramsey:  Pay 100% cash for the home (or) get a 10 or 15 year mortgage with 20% down; never get a 30-year mortgage.  If you are not able to do so, then you are not ready to purchase a home.

Ramsey also suggests that your monthly house payment be NO MORE than 25% of your monthly income.  So, if you are currently in a 30-year mortgage, have a significant amount to pay on that mortgage, and the interest rates are low enough, it may be prudent to refinance the mortgage into a 10-year or 15-year mortgage.  This will save you hundreds in interest!  But before we get into paying off the mortgage early, let’s talk about the next step.

Put 15% of your monthly income into retirement investment vehicles.

Now that you’ve paid off all non-mortgage debt, the next step is to start making a plan for retirement.  Dave Ramsey suggests that you put 15% of your monthly income into retirement investment vehicles.  These are simply your 401K (or other plans offered through your employer), Roth IRA and IRA.  These will be your steady retirement investments every month.  If you have questions about these kinds of investment vehicles, you can contact one of Dave Ramsey’s ELPs (Endorsed Local Providers) for free. These providers have “the heart of a teacher”, so they will not make you feel silly for asking any type of question.  They are there to help. https://www.daveramsey.com/elp?ictid=tp.nav&snid=recommends.elps

We will pay off a 15 year mortgage in 7 years!

As you are putting 15% of your income into retirement, you now have the freedom to save for college tuitions (children/grandchildren) and/or pay off the mortgage early! Aggressively pay down the mortgage every month with the amount left over from the last debt snowball payment minus the amount needed for the 15% retirement amount. You should be able to pay off that mortgage A LOT earlier than you ever thought was possible!   Speaking from personal experience, we will be able to pay a 15-year mortgage (which we began by refinancing three years ago), in a TOTAL of SEVEN YEARS!  That is A LOT of interest saved!  Plus, we were able to help pay college tuitions for our three children (Rebecca Richter-Cole, our daughter, pictured below).

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Once your home is 100% owned by YOU (doesn’t that sound good?), you can delve more into additional investments above and beyond the initial 15% you are currently putting into retirement.  Again, Dave Ramsey’s ELPs are a great resource for investing.

For more information on principles discussed in this blog, I highly recommend the book, Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money, past blogs on wordpress.com/post/meaningfuljourneysite.wordpress.com, Dave Ramsey’s Radio Show (airs every weekday) https://www.daveramsey.com/show/home/?snid=show and Chris Hogan’s retirement calculator https://www.daveramsey.com/smartvestor/investment-calculator.

Keep on keeping on in your quest to become completely debt free so “You can live and give like no one else”!

We Paid Off $168,000 of Debt! Wish You Could Pay Off Debt Too? Here’s How!

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

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Photo By:  Rising Capital Associates

The average American has $16,748 in credit card debt, $28,948 in auto loans, $49,905 in student loans and $176,222 in mortgages, according to the 2016 Federal Reserve Q4 report. That’s A LOT of DEBT!  It’s no wonder that most of us feel HOPELESS when it comes to getting out of debt. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to become DEBT FREE!

It’s possible to become DEBT FREE!

It HAS to start with a paradigm shift.  Our culture tells us to buy what we “deserve” and “make easy, low payments” on this and that, and such and such.  We are marketed to death by companies that want our hard-earned money.  They are not bad.  But we need to be AWARE and we need to BE SMART.

Banks advertise personal loans, mortgages, car loans and line-of-credit loans that make it “easier” for us to afford homes that are above what we should spend, home remodels we can’t afford, expensive cars we can’t pay cash for, and debt consolidation, which is a result of increased interest rates due to the fact that our debt-ratio is too high!

Why can’t we live within our means?

Why can’t we live within our means?  Sure, we TRY to do this, but SOMETHING always comes up…a car registration fee, a birthday, a meal out, Christmas, etc.  These are emergencies we need to put on our credit card, right?  WRONG.  Guess what? Car registrations, birthdays, and even, Christmas, happen every year!  Imagine that!

OK, so maybe you plan for THOSE expenses, but what about car repairs, medical bills, field trips, vet visits, etc.?  How can we pay for these emergencies?  This is where your paradigm shift begins.

Create a ZERO-BASED BUDGET.  Use a SIMPLE and FREE tool like Dave Ramsey’s EVERY DOLLAR.com  to plug in some simple numbers.  TRUST ME, this is a MUST. Budgeting doesn’t have to be complicated, dry or boring.  It can be quite freeing when you have a REALISTIC VIEW of what is happening financially.  It’s simple, record MONEY IN and MONEY OUT.  Your goal EACH MONTH is to tell every dollar where to go, instead of it telling you.  I have used this tool faithfully, and it has resulted in a huge pay off…literally!  Don’t worry, it will take 2-3 months of tweaking budgets to settle into the swing of things, but you WILL get there.

By creating a zero-based budget (telling every dollar where to go), you will begin to identify where you are overspending.  You can also identify items that may be luxury items…something you may want to take out of your budget until you become debt-free.

This is the next part of the PARADIGM SHIFT.  A wise man, by the name of Dave Ramsey, has taught me the concept of how to “Live like no one else, so that we can LIVE and GIVE like no one else.”  What does this mean?  It means, evaluate what you can live without or decrease TEMPORARILY until you get out of debt.  THEN, you will be able to live well and give generously to help others.

What kinds of things can I change?

  1.  CANCEL PAID SUBSCRIPTIONS (magazines, newspapers, wine clubs, Netflix)
  2.  CUT THE CABLE and choose Chrome Cast or rabbit ears.
  3.  OPT FOR THE FREE HOME GYM verses gym memberships.
  4.  NEGOTIATE CONTRACTS with your internet and cell phone providers. It’s easier than you think!  Be sure to ask for a supervisor to get through the layers that are designed to keep you paying higher prices!
  5. SKIP THE STARBUCKS and make them “Your Bucks”!  Coffee is easier than ever to make at home.
  6. DRIVE “NEW-TO-YOU” CARS (a.k.a. used cars, beaters, jalopies) and sell that expensive car or motorcycle. Don’t worry if you get teased for driving a less expensive car…you will smile triumphantly when you are out of debt and can afford whatever car you like!)
  7. SKIP THE MANICURES, PEDICURES, EXPENSIVE HAIRCUTS AND EXPENSIVE HOBBIES (golf, skiing, scrapbooking, shopping “just because”).  Learn how to cut your own hair or enlist the help of a friend.  Paint your own nails. Choose less expensive hobbies temporarily.
  8. SHOP AT ALDI (you can cut your grocery bill significantly)
  9. BUY CLOTHES/HOUSEHOLD GOODS at resale shops like Goodwill.
  10. ATTEMPT YOUR OWN CAR/APPLIANCE REPAIRS. Most auto parts stores will diagnose an engine code for free.  YouTube videos are a great resource for learning how to do simple repairs (or complicated repairs if you are really adventurous!)
  11. EAT AT HOME.  Dave Ramsey says, “You shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant unless you are working there!”
  12. PLAN YOUR MEALS so your hunger doesn’t surprise you and create a food “emergency”!
  13. HAVE CREATIVE VACATIONS. Look for free events in town, visit your local park/beach and make a day of it, pack your own food/snacks when you venture out, have a couples “cooking night” by inviting others to bring an ingredient to cook/dine together, host a bonfire (s’mores are relatively inexpensive).
  14. PICK UP EXTRA HOURS/EXTRA JOBS.  “The best place to go when you’re broke is to work!”, states Dave Ramsey. Make money with hobbies, delivering pizzas, etc.
  15. RENT FREE MOVIES FROM THE LIBRARY
  16. AVOID DISCOUNT WAREHOUSES (like Costco and Sam’s Club).  How many times have you come out of there spending MUCH MORE than anticipated?  Do you really need that 5lb. jar of mustard? Plus, you’ll nix the annual membership fee!
  17. SELL STUFF (rummage sale, E-Bay, Craigslist, etc.).  Dave says, “Sell so much stuff the kids or the pets think their next!”
  18. USE CASH!  “Feel the money, ” and feel the purchase.  Using cash instead of plastic allows EACH PURCHASE to register emotionally!
  19. DON’T FINANCE FURNITURE, CARS AND OTHER STUFF. Companies do a great job of marketing debt.  Businesses like car dealers make the most money on finance plans and warranties verses the actual sale of the car!  Banks make their money by lending it to you (INTEREST).  Imagine all the wasted money we’ve spent over the life of each and every loan!
  20. STOP USING CREDIT CARDS!  By budgeting and making all the above changes, you should be able to save $1000 for a starter emergency fund ($500 if your annual income is $20,000 or less).  This will be your cushion so you can stop using those credit cards.  Eventually, you will want to pay all those off and CLOSE them. (Again, INTEREST is not your friend.) Some people claim to use credit cards for the reward “points” and pay off the balances each month.  How many extra purchases did you talk yourself into to get those “points”? How long would it take you to actually save money for those reward items verses the long time it took to accumulate the “points”? Credit card companies know exactly how long!
  21. USE A DEBT SNOWBALL (after you have saved $1000 in your starter emergency fund).  http://catalystaz.com/media/fpu-debt-snowball.pdf   The basic premise of a Debt Snowball is to list all your debts, SMALLEST to LARGEST, not including the mortgage (don’t worry about interest rates).  Start by paying off the smallest debt first.  Then, add the minimum payment you were making on that first debt to the second debt…pay that one off…and so on and so forth.  Your debt payment picks up more “snow” as it goes along, paying them off faster.
  22. BE CONTENT. Our culture needs a lesson on contentment.  We don’t need the newest I-phone, the bigger TV, the more expensive car, the fast food salad we could have easily made at home, the fancy cup of coffee, the bigger house, the fancy gym, or the designer clothes to be content in life.  Even the smallest of incomes in the United States is considered “rich” by the standards of many other countries.

The FINANCIAL PEACE that comes with financial freedom is priceless.   We, like so many other Americans, lived paycheck to paycheck.  We were one emergency away from a financial disaster.  By budgeting, evaluating expenses, telling every dollar where to go, saving $1000 for a starter emergency fund, paying with cash and closing credit cards/store accounts, we have paid off over $168,000 in debt!  We are on our way to becoming debt free!

What are the next steps?  Stay tuned for the next weekly blog, “Pay Off the Mortgage Early and Make a Plan for Retirement”.  Also, if you have questions regarding Financial Freedom or anything written about in these blogs, please contact me below.  I will be sure to respond!

Recommended Resources:  DaveRamsey.com, EveryDollarcom

 

Give Yourself Permission to Take Care of YOU! …a Season of Healing

Written By:  Valerie L. Richter

I had just worked a 12-hour shift and my whole body ached after being on my feet all day long.  My normal routine was to come home, pry off my shoes and fall onto the couch in sheer exhaustion…only to repeat it again the next day.  What was I doing? Why am I falling apart?  What happened to the joy in life?

I had no life.  I had no joy.

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As a middle-aged empty-nester, I had put all my focus on the season of going back to work full-time.  My goals were to work hard, pay off debt, pay for three kids in college and occupy my time.  At first, it was great.  I felt appreciated and valued, especially after being promoted three times.  I loved my co-workers, appreciated my customers and treated my workplace as a mission field.  But then it hit me.

My heart began to race.

The next morning, I was driving to work when I felt my heart begin to race.  “No problem”, I thought, “All I have to do is cough and hold my breath and it will go away…just like every other time.” Ever since the birth of my third child, I had experienced this.  But THIS time, it wasn’t going away.  My mind started to race.

I decided to pull over and call my husband.  At this point, it was becoming difficult to breathe.  My words were broken as I gasped for breath.  I knew I had to get to the parking lot of my workplace.  Somehow, I got there.  My husband had called my boss to come out and find me.  By this time, 30 minutes had passed and my heart was still racing. My chest began to hurt like it’s never hurt before.

Rushed to the Emergency Room.

My boss immediately rushed me to the Emergency Room.  I just kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  I felt so badly because her boss was coming in that day, and now she had to take me to the hospital.  Of course, my wonderful boss was more concerned with me than anything else at that moment.  (Like I said, I loved my co-workers.)

45 minutes had passed, and my heart rate had now reached 198 beats per minute.  I was starting to experience the symptoms of cardiac arrest.  Thankfully, the ER team was able to get my heart back into the proper rhythm.  I felt like I had just run a marathon without the benefit of the exercise!

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I was diagnosed with an “electrical” heart issue, not a “plumbing” issue.  I had an extra “circuit” that caused it to beat out of rhythm.  It had actually gone misdiagnosed for 20 years by other doctors, so it was a relief to finally get the correct diagnosis.  I was told it can be brought on by hormones, caffeine and stress (working 50+ hours a week, planning/implementing my daughter’s wedding, worrying about my youngest son who was ill, having had pneumonia twice, etc.).  Most importantly, I was told how it could be fixed…a Heart Ablation.

Heart Ablation…That sounds scary!

It was about that time, when my knees began to really bother me.  I thought I was literally falling apart.  Faced with the upcoming Heart Ablation, physical pain and exhaustion, the let down after the wedding and my daughter moving away, worrying about my son, extended work hours, limited staff, and the stress of our workplace becoming a training hub (I was the Training Specialist), I became devastatingly overwhelmed.

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I became devastatingly overwhelmed.

It only took one hurtful email to send me spiraling downward.  Without a word to my family, I took off in my car and just started driving.  I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was in a fog… I became numb. There is something halting about contemplating whether you’d be better off gone.  You become still.  You stare without looking. You cry without shedding tears.

God met me right then and there.  I realized I was in the Kohl’s Department parking lot…the store my mother has worked for all her life.  God said, “Call your mom.”  I did, but I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  She and my dad were my angels that night. They gave me the lifeline I so desperately needed.

Angels….they gave me the lifeline I so desperately needed.

I realized, through the help of God, my parents, my husband and my children, that something needed to change.  I needed to give myself permission to take care of myself.  I needed a season of HEALING.  So often, women feel they have to take care of others without taking time to properly care for themselves.  All of our energy goes into making sure everyone else is alright.  But there comes a time when you need to take a pause and a well-deserved season to heal and refresh your body, mind and soul.  It’s then, that we can offer our best to those we love.

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Give yourself permission to take care of YOU….a season of HEALING

I am so thankful to those around me who supported my decision to leave my job so I could have my heart procedure, attend physical therapy for my knees, embark on a weight loss journey, strengthen my body, relieve some stress, and most importantly, pursue the things that give my life meaningful purpose.

I share this with you, so you can honestly evaluate when you need a season of healing. It’s OK to give yourself permission to take care of YOU!