In Memory of Patricia McCrone

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After 93 wonderful years on Earth, my sweet grandmother, Patricia McCrone passed away on May 12th, 2020. She was a truly amazing woman – loving, godly, steadfast, and unshakeable. The past year in particular, since losing her husband, was difficult for her, but still she made the best of it. She struck up friendships with so many in the apartments and eventually nursing home where she lived. Meal times and group activities were a highlight of each day for her. Even as her health declined, she did not let it bring her spirits down.

I will miss the holidays, Sunday phone calls, and hugs. I will miss her kind smile. I think the hardest thing is knowing that Blaise won’t get to grow up experiencing her love, nor will any other children we may have. With her passing, as the last of my grandparents, the anchor which had tethered our family to Eastern Ohio has been loosed. Life will be different in so many ways over the coming months and years as we adjust to the absence of her warm presence.

From my earliest memories, my grandma was sweet, soft-spoken, and cheerful. She looked forward to baking cookies and making hard-tack candy for us every holiday season, and all the better if we were there to help her. She had a love for animals and owned several cats over the years, at least one of which was a stray she took in. As I grew up, we would often go and stay for a week with my grandparents during the summer. Every day brought some kind of treat, whether a special lunch she knew we would like, a trip to Tuscora Park, or a VHS tape rental from the video store in town. We would often walk around the block or sit on the front porch and play “the car game”; we would choose a color and get points for each vehicle of that color which drove past. Those were simple, beautiful times. When I learned the guitar in high school, she enjoyed any chance to sit and listen to me play, always encouraging me. As I grew older, the visits became less frequent. Still, any time I went to Ohio, I knew she was there waiting to spoil me, even as an adult.

Sadly, I don’t know as much about her early life as I wish I did. She and her sister were raised in Port Washington, Ohio in a rough home. From an early age they clung to each other and learned to make their way in the world. She graduated from high school, and some time after that began dating my grandfather when he came back from the war. Theirs is truly a classic love story like so many of that generation. They dated for several years before eloping in 1948, and they remained married for over seventy years until my grandfather passed.

Perhaps one reason I don’t know as much about her earlier life is because it was so thoroughly lived in service to her family and others. She stayed at home to raise my mother and uncle, and at times she worked as a teacher’s aide at the local school. As my mom tells it, their house was always “the place to be” on Friday nights, largely due to my grandma’s hospitality and generosity. She loved having kids around, and she enjoyed every moment of baking cookies and serving Cokes. One of my favorite stories is the time she welcomed a literal hobo into their home. He had hopped off a train passing through their small town, and the tracks ran just behind their house. She provided him a hot meal and perhaps a bath before blessing him on his way. (It seems insane to think of anyone doing that today.) But that was the generous spirit of my grandma, faithful to the teachings of Jesus.

Although she did not grow up in a Christian home, once she came to faith, she sought to please the Lord with everything she had. She and my grandfather were faithful members of the Church of Christ in town until their last days. One of the hardest parts of her final years was that she did not often get to gather and worship with the church. Those a cappella hymns, echoing off of the vaulted auditorium ceiling, were a constant in her life no matter the storms she was facing.

Although we mourn her, it is that same faith, passed down through her, which gives our family peace. She is no longer in pain, feeble, nor frail. She is whole and reunited with my grandfather in the perfect presence of her Creator. As I told Dolly this morning, “She’s having a better day than we are,” and I know that will be true until we one day join her.

I love you, Grandma. We will surely miss you here, but we also know that we will be together again before we know it.

2019 – The Year In Review

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2019 was a year of adjustments. I guess most years are in some way, but this one felt like a big one as Dolly and I settled into parenting. As it turns out, having a baby at home affects every aspect of life – sleep, free time, travel, worship, work, social life, and everything else. Because of that, this year doesn’t feel as flashy on the surface, although we did experience some awesome things as a family of three. Here are some of the highlights:

  • At the end of January, I “retired” from my part-time job on the Ethos Church tech team. I helped set up and tear down at The Cannery for nearly a decade, so it was bittersweet to see that chapter end. That said, I do not miss waking up at 5 AM on Sundays.
  • Truthfully, I don’t remember much from January, February, or March aside from caring for Blaise around the clock, and Dolly did more of that than I did.
  • For my birthday in early April, we traveled to Indianapolis and Indiana Dunes National Park. It was a nice getaway for the most part (except the weird Airbnb run by a Polish family), but also an eye-opening experience of what vacations will look like for a while.
  • Later that same month we all traveled to West Virginia where Dolly was shooting a wedding. It was another fun trip with a few bumps and blowouts.
  • May was mostly a whirlwind as we packed and prepared to move on Memorial Day weekend. We are so thankful for the year and a half we got to rent my sister’s family’s house (while they moved away for a job), and we are equally grateful they are back in Nashville so Blaise can be near more of his cousins. We are now renting my parents’ condo in Nashville as we continue to save up for a house.
  • June started off with a bang as we drove to Florida to visit Dolly’s family, and also to partake in Momocation 2019 (our family vacation planned by my mom). We got to spend time at Universal Studios and Legoland with the whole DeLong / Belville / Irvine crew of sixteen people – great memories and lots of sweat.
  • For July 4th we once again visited Ohio to see my grandma. It was good to spend a little bit of time with her, even if Blaise ate too much soft serve and puked in the parking lot of Chilly Willy’s, the local ice cream and burger place.
  • All year Dolly poured herself into her photography business. She did portraits for over fifty families, a number of weddings, and even a few branding sessions for local business owners. Her determination is impressive as she grows her business and juggles full-time motherhood.
  • On a related note, we did a Grow Class over the summer with Ethos which was focused on the practice of sabbath. Since then, we have been trying (with mixed results) to truly rest on Sundays and follow the rhythm of slowing down once a week.
  • In August we were counting down the days until we could escape the Nashville heat and go on our family trip to New England. At the end of the month we visited Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Highlights included Acadia National Park and a maple syrup farm in Vermont. Once again, heading north was just the thing to revive us from summer in the South.
  • In early fall, the opportunity fell in front of us to once again lead an Ethos house church and partner with Siloam Health to welcome a refugee family in Nashville. As everything lined up, we thought for sure it had to be God’s hand opening the door for us. To this point, things haven’t turned out quite how we had envisioned, but we’re hoping that rebooting in the new year may yield more fruit.
  • Late in September, we had to put my step-cat Bella to sleep due to a number of chronic health issues. She lived fourteen long years. A part of me was sad to see her quirky personality go, although I don’t miss cleaning her litter box or paying for her prescription food.
  • In October I was promoted to leading a small team in my job at Kindful. The team will focus on our API, partner integrations, and data services. We’ve been transitioning over the past couple of months to fully launch the new structure in January.
  • Fall with Blaise was a lot of fun – pumpkin patches, playing in leaves, trick-or-treating, and all the rest. I think it will be even more fun next year when he understands a little more of what’s going on.
  • I got to see a few great shows this year – Earth Groans and Oh, Sleeper at The End, August Burns Red at Marathon Music Works, and Empty, Comrades, and My Epic, also at The End. Going to shows always awakens a little part inside me that doesn’t stir much these hectic days.
  • In November we visited Dolly’s family in Florida once again, and Blaise turned one the day before Thanksgiving. He celebrated by downing unhealthy amounts of frosting and cake.
  • Looking back, I did not invest much in friendships this year, and I miss that. Working friendships into the life of a parent is another adjustment I will have to figure out in the year to come.
  • The holidays were similarly fun with Blaise in tow. Now that he has more of a personality, I really enjoy seeing him experience new things like Christmas lights, Santa, and hot chocolate.
  • Favorite books I read in 2019 were:
  • Favorite albums I discovered in 2019 were:

I’m certain that 2020 will be a year of even more adjustment as we figure out what life looks like with a toddler. We have been abundantly blessed by God in every way, so I pray that in the coming year we primarily find contentment with all we’ve been given, even in a culture that tells us to always strive for more.

2018 – The Year In Review

2018 The Year In Review

This year was a landmark year in every sense of the word. It is strange looking back to last January just how drastically our lives have changed. We no longer have to give huge sums of money to lenders each month, Dolly is getting to pursue her passion of photography full-time, and of course we are now parents! (For that last reason, please excuse any typos here. I am trying to bang this out while Blaise naps.)

That said, here are the highlights of 2018 as I sit, reflect, and down some coffee:

  • In January, we became debt free! There is much more detail in the link, but now it’s almost easy to forget how much that journey affected our day-to-day life, and how free we have become since shedding that burden.
  • In February, we once again participated in a month of prayer and fasting (in various forms) with our church family, Ethos. It was a challenging month of opening up a lot of space for silence (no Netflix or social media, among other things), but we believe that God drew us closer during that time.
  • In March we took a long weekend trip to St. Louis as a sort of debt-free getaway celebration. It was a well-timed and delightful stay in a new-to-me city.
  • All along, our plan had been to try to have children once we were debt free. With the blessing of hitting that goal sooner than anticipated, we were even more blessed to learn late in March that we would have a baby this year!
  • Around the same time, we realized that would also mean enacting the next phase of our plan: Dolly focusing on photography full-time while staying home with the baby. She began transitioning out of her role at Lipscomb University and dove full-force into her business in August. She has done great building it into a successful venture.
  • In April I turned 32. Each birthday seems to get less remarkable, but I do remember eating at Freebirds World Burrito for the first time and taking a long nap after that.
  • We had the chance to visit Colorado in June to celebrate our second anniversary, and it was awesome. Denver was a little busy, but Pike’s Peak, St. Mary’s Glacier, and Garden of the Gods were spectacular.
  • Around July 4th, I had the chance to visit my grandparents in Ohio. They had moved into an assisted living apartment in June after my grandfather fell and needed some more help. I’m so glad I was able to make the trip to see them, as it was the last time I saw my grandfather in this life.
  • At the end of August and into September, we took our “babymoon” out West – Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. (That deserves its own blog post, but I didn’t do it back then.) I can’t describe how wonderful that journey was, even though we calculated that I drove (since my name was on all the rentals) about 3,000 miles in 16 days. I’m not the kind of person who ever says, “OMG we are going to move here!” when on vacation, but let me tell you, if a real opportunity ever arose to live in Montana, I would absolutely take it. (Not so much Utah or Arizona.)
  • When we got back from the trip, it was all about baby preparation until he came. October and November were pretty much a blur. We dressed up like avocado and toast for Halloween.
  • Throughout the year, my 97-year-old grandfather, Willard McCrone, had been dealing with numerous health issues. My saintly parents devoted so much of their time to his care and recovery. On November 9th, he passed away peacefully at home in his bed. I’ll never forget the phone call from my mom telling me the sad news, but we celebrate his incredible life and the legacy he left behind.
  • A little over two weeks later, we welcomed our son, James Willard Blaise DeLong into the world on November 27th. It was so bittersweet to hold him so shortly after losing my grandfather, but Dolly pushed through the trials of labor like a champ.
  • Truthfully, nothing has been the same since Blaise arrived. We love him to pieces, and we also have a new perspective on sleep, free time, and life in general.
  • Throughout the year, I read the following excellent books:
  • And encountered the following noteworthy albums:
  • I continued growing as a software engineer Kindful, where I took on some additional responsibilities

I don’t really know what 2019 holds, and none of us do, of course. Our family will likely move houses again in May or June, but that’s about the only thing on our radar. We are adjusting to this new life of parenthood, and I get the feeling that now, more than ever, we may have plans but God will ultimately guide our path. May you and yours be blessed in the year to come.

In memory of Willard McCrone

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On Friday, November 9th 2018 in the afternoon, a truly great man passed from this temporal realm into the eternal home promised by his savior. While napping in the comfort of his bed, Willard Morton McCrone quietly breathed his last. He was my maternal grandfather, Grandpa, and a man to whom I owe much of who I am today.

He lived over 97 years on this earth, more than 70 of them with his beloved wife Pat who survives him. Born in 1921, he was exemplary of The Greatest Generation. He grew up during The Great Depression in a small town in eastern Ohio. He joined the U.S. Navy to do his part in the South Pacific during World War II. Upon returning home, he met and married my grandmother. They soon had two children, my mother and uncle. With a high school education, he worked hard year after year in factories to provide a good life for his family. While I know he wasn’t perfect, “greatness” seems a word too small for him. True character just seemed more common back then.

Every step of his life, he placed his faith in Jesus. He studied the Bible. He faithfully served in his church. He humbled himself before God and thanked him for every blessing. He passed his love of the Lord on to his children, training them up in the ways of scripture. Because of that, I had the privilege of growing up in a home which honored Christ. In that way, Willard surely laid the foundation for the faith I have today.

My youngest memories of my grandfather are that he was fun. He was always ready to joke around or play with me as a young boy, even though I came along quite late in his life. (He was 65 when I was born.) I imagine that we had a kind of special bond, and maybe we did since I was his only grandson among five grandchildren. Despite his age, he was always up for an adventure. He loved to take me fishing, whether at the Tuscarawas River across the road from their house or Salt Fork State Park a short drive away. Even into my middle school years, my mom would scold him for tramping around the woods with me and swinging on vines. Looking back, she was probably right to be concerned; he must have been in his mid-seventies by then. Several times he rode roller coasters with me at Geauga Lake theme park – after he previously survived a heart attack. Of course, at the time I didn’t realize how risky these things were; he was just my Grandpa, being ornery and pushing the limits.

As I moved from high school through college into adulthood, I’m ashamed to say that I did not stay close to him as I could have. We still looked forward to holidays together year after year, even as my visits to the Buckeye State became less frequent with the demands of life. During this time, he eclipsed 90 years old and began to slow down, as anyone would be expected to. As a proud man, he was frustrated that he couldn’t do all the things he used to do. (I’m sure I’ll be the same way.) His vision and hearing especially began to fade, but he still loved sitting and listening to the radio, whether sports or big band music. I would call when I could to discuss the Cleveland Indians or the Buckeyes, or even just the weather, and he always had a riddle or joke ready for me.

Shortly after his 97th birthday in May, he fell and hurt himself at home. (I failed to mention that he and my grandmother lived in the same house for over sixty years, up until just a few months ago, a testament to their resilience.) That injury began a few hard months as he recovered and my parents helped move them to an assisted living apartment just down the street. Through many ups and downs, my parents worked tirelessly to care for and honor them. In September, amid the hospital visits and doctor appointments, he and my grandmother quietly celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, a symbol of their humble and steadfast love if ever there was one.

I was reflecting with Dolly yesterday how remarkable his life was by today’s standards. To my knowledge, he was born, largely lived, married, worked, worshiped, retired, and died within about a ten mile radius. I believe his primary workplace was even less than a mile from their longtime home, as is the assisted living apartment to which they moved. Sure, he traveled and saw the world at times, but his life was anchored in eastern Ohio. Such constancy and contentment are scarce resources in the world today, and especially in my self-absorbed generation.

While there are so many verses my grandfather embodied, perhaps 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 describes him best. “Do all you can to live a peaceful life. Take care of your own business, and do your own work as we have already told you. If you do, then people who are not believers will respect you, and you will not have to depend on others for what you need.” He loved his family deeply and led them well. He sought to follow scripture wholeheartedly, which was a peculiar lifestyle even in a small town in mid-1900s Ohio. His devotion to God surely drew some questions, and with each one he was eager to give a reason for the hope that he had.

As I sat on the edge of my bed on Friday night, processing the news from just a few hours earlier, I thought of the hymn quoted below. I thought of Grandpa’s faithfulness year after year for nearly a century, even as his earthly body began to fade. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled the transition from the final verse to the chorus. Life had been a toil for Willard, certainly toward the end, but awaiting he had the promise of a new body, a new Heaven, a new Earth. Most importantly awaited the presence of his creator and savior whom he had honored and served for so long.

Let us then be true and faithful
Trusting serving every day
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay

When we all get to Heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory

I love you, Grandpa, and I will surely miss you. I’m sad that there will be no more holidays with you solemnly blessing the meal. I’m sad for Grandma who has lost the companion she knew for so long. I’m sad for my mom who has lost the loving father who raised her. I’m especially sad that you won’t get to meet my firstborn son who will be here any day now. Yet… I rejoice knowing that you are fully restored, your vision and hearing taking in wonders we can’t yet imagine, your body more fit and able than even your prime football years, your heart more full of love than we can understand.

Scripture reminds us that this life is but a mist. Today that feels especially true. From that eternal perspective, I’ll be there soon, Grandpa.

We’re Debt Free! Our Story and the Things We Learned

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This week is a truly momentous occasion in the life of my family, as in the one Dolly and I formed in June of 2016. After nineteen months of making huge payments and receiving one particularly incredible blessing, we are completely debt free! You can read Dolly’s perspective of all this on her blog.

For anyone who knows me personally, you know this is something close to my heart. I spent the first five years of my career doing web development for Dave Ramsey’s company. While there, I not only supported the business, I lived the debt-free lifestyle. Indeed, I was unbelievably blessed to finish college with no debt. The older I get, the more thankful I am for my diligent parents, academic scholarships, and God’s kindness toward me that allowed that to happen. I then saved up a down-payment over a few years, and with it I purchased my first home in January of 2015. Coincidentally, this is the exact time my now-wife Dolly entered the picture.

Over the course of our relationship that year, she slowly divulged to me that (like 71% of our generation) she had significant student loan debt. It wasn’t until we began moving toward marriage that she divulged the figure – $165,000. Altogether it was a mix of five loans (both federal and private), accrued through undergrad, grad school, and consolidations. Revealing this was a huge step in trust and intimacy for us. She saw the debt as a source of shame, especially in light of my financial position. At that same time, there was no denying it would be a huge challenge.

As a firm believer that two become one in marriage, I told Dolly that once we became husband and wife, this was our challenge to face together. It wasn’t “her problem,” it was ours. I don’t say that to garner any praise, but simply because I believe that is what the Bible teaches, and it is what my wonderful parents modeled for me. This meant having difficult budgeting discussions and decisions leading up to marriage, but we were ready to tackle it. Upon tying the knot, we began throwing huge chunks of money at the loans each month, primarily using the debt snowball method espoused by my former employer.

In these early stages, it was not uncommon to pay $2,400 toward the loans and see only $1,800 of progress. Yes, that means $600 (25%) was going toward interest every month. At this point, I really dug into the details and realized that this industry is far sleazier than I even thought possible – absolute scum. (I don’t typically curse, and I won’t here, but Dolly will tell you these guys were the only ones who could bring it out of me.) Here are some things we learned during this stage:

  • The first thing I noticed was that some of the payment plans Navient had advised Dolly to use weren’t even covering the interest accrued each month. Let that sink in; the loan company had encouraged her to make payments that would drive her deeper into debt for the rest of her life! When I pointed this out to her, she said that of course they had never mentioned that to her, and they said they were trying to help her out by offering this option.
  • Our first step was to change these payment plans, of course, but the accounts were locked into an auto-pay system that required a phone call to alter. Even though it was possible to access all account information and make one-off payments through the web, they really didn’t want you messing with the payment plans they set up for you.
  • Upon calling to change the auto-pay, Dolly was advised that payments must be set up to occur at the end of the month. We wanted to change it to early in the month to help with budgeting, but that was not an option. As I racked my brain as to why they would be so strict about something seemingly arbitrary as the payment date, it hit me…
  • Almost all loan servicing companies compound interest daily. (I’m convinced this is only because they don’t have the ability to compound it secondly.) Hence, you are not allowed to have an automatic payment occur until the absolute maximum amount of interest for the month has been squeezed out of you. Classy.
  • In another instance, when Dolly called to change her name, she mentioned in passing that it was because she was now married. Keep in mind, despite our united front against these con artists, all accounts were left solely in her name. When the worker on the call discovered she was married, he stated that they would now raise her interest rate from 5.25% to 9%. As far as we could see, there was no stipulation in the loan agreement for this, but the banks get to set the rules (and rates). That loan became our primary target to wipe out as quickly as possible. We paid most of it off with a lower-rate HELOC and finished the rest in a couple of months, sticking it to them in a minuscule fashion by denying them a few thousand in interest.
  • Although the employees in these call centers were generally pleasant, they work for truly terrible people who make them do truly terrible things as a matter of company policy. When I deride the companies, it is the higher-ups for whom I reserve the most wrath. I take no issue with anyone becoming wealthy off of a legitimate business. The executives constantly rewriting the rules to squeeze every penny from the indebted look more like payday lenders than legitimate businessmen.

These were just a few of the highlights from our first year of doing battle. Coming up on our anniversary in June of 2017, we had made decent progress down to $147,000 owed. Still, the end was nowhere in sight. Even in an ideal scenario, we were looking at another four years, and more likely five, even as we threw almost all of our “margin” each month toward the debts. On top of that, each time the Fed adjusted rates, the rates on the loans ticked up, adding months to our projected finish date.

One tired evening in July, I was mowing the lawn by streetlight. I had picked up an extra work project to put money toward the debt, and this was the first chance I had to mow in weeks. As I slogged through the humid night, I reflected how home ownership wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A thought, possibly divinely inspired, entered my mind: why don’t we sell the house? I wondered what it could be worth two years after purchase in Nashville’s booming housing market.

The next morning, I did pricing research and ran the numbers five different ways. If we sold the house for what these estimates said, we could be completely debt free in less than a year.

That evening I presented the plan to Dolly on a piece of printer paper, revealing each step of the plan line-by-line with a JoAnn Fabric flyer. “Imagine… We sell the house and walk away with this much profit… We immediately pay off this loan, this loan, and that loan… We can rent a place for this much each month and still have this much to pay toward debts… And we will have no debts in ten months.” She looked at me, nodded, and said, “I’m in. I’m in.” (I now wish I would have made an actual PowerPoint presentation, but I will treasure that piece of paper for the rest of my life.) In October, we closed on the sale, netting even more than we projected and leaving less than $20,000 left to pay.

Now here we are in January of 2018, owing not a dime to those snakes. Although we are starting over at zero, as it were, our family is free. We have options we never had before with our resources, our time, and even our calling, and for that we cannot thank God enough.

Our main takeaway and warning is clear: do not mess with these shysters. If you are beholden to them, get them out of your life as quickly as possible. Each month they get a chunk of your income is a month you are not free to steward as you see fit. When it comes to education, truly and deeply consider whether college is worth the price. Learning in any form is valuable, but I now believe there are vastly more cost-effective methods than the university system, especially in our technical age.

Never stop learning, but by all means, always live freely. You never know what paths may open up when you owe nothing to anyone.