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.

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2017 – The Year In Review

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As I look back at this year, a few big things stand out from the goodness of daily life. My family (both my own household and beyond) has been amazingly blessed in many ways, and we don’t take that for granted. There were invigorating travels, a new nephew, job changes, and a huge blessing in the form of a home sale.

This was also our first full year of marriage, and by my measure it continued the happiness and richness of the journey we began last summer. Even as we settled into our life together, we began to look more seriously at our future plans. A big part of that will be paying off our student loans, which will free us (and our income) to pursue more of the things we hope to do. With the many joys and few challenges this year brought, I am very thankful for the gift of marriage in my life, and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds in the coming years.

But that’s enough with the generalities. Here are my highlights of 2017:

  • January and into February I trained for the Hot Chocolate 15k with Dolly. While I did finish, I am older and slower than ever.
  • In February, we participated in Fast Forward with our church, Ethos. It was thirty challenging days of fasting (in various forms) which truly stretched us and reminded us of how frail and dependent we are.
  • Early in the year, Dolly was hired for a different position at Lipscomb, that of DSO (designated school official). This means working with all of the international students to ensure their paperwork is in order, and handling situations where it isn’t. She transitioned from her admissions job throughout the spring, so we had to buy a car to replace her work-provided one. Thankfully, we found a red Nissan Versa for her to match my silver one, and hopefully that was the shadiest Craigslist transaction I will ever be a part of.
  • I turned 31 in April. Not much more to say about that. Yay prime numbers.
  • At the end of May, I got to join Dolly in Los Angeles for a work conference. We stayed in Pasadena and saw lots of sights in southern CA, even though our AirBnB was 83 degrees at night.
  • June was a big travel month. We joined my family for vacation in the Smoky Mountains early in the first half, then Dolly’s parents in Savannah, GA later on.
  • In July, my sister Abby had her fourth baby, Akaius James Irvine. For those keeping score, I now have seven nieces and nephews, which is awesome.
  • That same month, I picked up a side project at work to make some extra money to put toward our debts. In the midst of those long days, I ran some numbers to see if there was any way we could speed up the arduous process of paying off the loans. In a moment of inspiration, I realized that if we sold our house, we could be out of debt in less than a year instead of the four or five years it would take otherwise. I pitched the idea to Dolly in a presentation entitled “Imagine…”, written on a sheet of printer paper. Long story short, we sold our house, we ended up renting my sister’s place (as they coincidentally moved away for a job), and we should be completely debt free by February. I will write a detailed post about that process once it’s all over.
  • August and September were a whirlwind of inspections, home repairs, and moving due to the home sale mentioned above, but a whirlwind with a great ending.
  • Along with everyone else in Nashville, we saw the total solar eclipse on August 21st. It was an other-worldly experience for sure.
  • In the fall, we resumed leading our house church through Ethos. This time, in addition to pursuing community, we are partnering with Siloam Health for the launch of an initiative called Nashville Neighbors. The program pairs church small groups with newly-arrived refugee families for six months of teaching a health-based curriculum and hopefully forming friendships along the way. We have learned a ton, and we truly love the family we have been paired with. I’d be happy to talk about it privately if anyone is interested to learn more.
  • In October, we “observed” our one year wedding anniversary with a trip to Asheville, NC. We enjoyed everything about the delightful fall travels with the exception of staying in a tiny house – fun, but not recommended for a romantic getaway.
  • In November, I got to visit The Horseshoe for my first Buckeyes football game, a gift Dolly gave me for my birthday. Although it was a rainy blowout win against Illinois, it was still a fun experience with my dad.
  • Also in November, we made the long drive to St. Petersburg, FL to enjoy Thanksgiving with Dolly’s parents. It was nice to visit and see the new house they had moved into earlier in the year.
  • Throughout the year, I read the following excellent books:
  • And encountered the following noteworthy albums:
  • Lastly, I continued growing in my career and craft at Kindful

We are excited to see what 2018 brings as we enter yet another chapter in our marriage, that of being debt free, and the possibilities that will open up for us. May God guide our decisions and hearts in the year to come.

2016 – The Year in Review

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I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about how 2016 was a terrible year. While I disagree with that assessment in general, it is particularly false in my own life. In some ways, this past year has been the one I have been waiting for the greater part of a decade.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably no secret to you that I married an incredible woman back in June. It truly served as a watershed moment for the year, positioned almost squarely in the center. Most everything before that point lay in preparation of the day, and everything since has flowed from it as we have enjoyed and grown in our new life together.

While that momentous occasion certainly defined the year, there was more detail and nuance to celebrate and reflect on. Without further adieu, the year in review.

  • January through April were saturated with wedding planning as Dolly and I nailed down all of the details for our once-in-a-lifetime celebration. This included a couple of photo shoots, preparatory counseling, and more.
  • In April, I turned thirty. While I wasn’t thrilled, surpassing that milestone was easier knowing that I would be transitioning out of bachelorhood a couple of months later.
  • Sometime in May I had the pleasure (or misfortune) of replacing the drywall in the half bathroom, damage due to a previous leak. I spent countless hours in that tiny space and learned some new skills, although the craftsmanship is mediocre at best.
  • In late may, we traveled to Florida where Dolly’s parents’ church threw us a wonderful wedding shower. The kindness of the body of Christ continues to humble me.
  • June, of course, was dominated by the wedding. There isn’t enough space to detail everything, but suffice it to say we really were blessed with the perfect day.
  • Our honeymoon to Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia was nothing short of fantastic. The cooler climate was a welcome respite as we rested and explored a place neither of us had been before.
  • The rest of the summer seemed a bit of a blur as Dolly and I adjusted to our new life together, although we did go see Jim Gaffigan in August
  • In the fall, we began leading a house church through Ethos. Though I’m far from a charismatic leader, God has used the space to knit a group together.
  • In October, we took the opportunity to visit Ohio for Dolly’s fall break. In addition to visiting my grandparents, we had a stopover to explore Cincinnati, which was delightful.
  • November was defined by a two-week trip to India, my first ever. I accompanied Dolly on business for the first half, and we had a wedding ceremony with her Indian family for the second half. While I certainly felt out of my element at times, it was a great adventure that I will never forget.
  • With all of the activity and changes, my reading throughput suffered. I did read the following good books, however:
  • Similarly, my absorption of new music tailed off, especially with the dormancy of Indie Vision Music:
  • All along, I’ve continued in my role as a web engineer at Kindful where I hope to step into new opportunities in 2017.

Overall, it has been a year of transition in the very best way possible. God has gifted me with a sweet and caring wife, and I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for us.

 

 

2014 – The Year In Review

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As I was driving back to Nashville a couple of days ago, I was thinking about what I would write in this ritual blog post. Honestly, I couldn’t come up with much. On the surface, 2014 wasn’t as exciting as some recent years. I didn’t leave the United States, and I barely left the state of Tennessee. Still, it was a year of great change for me professionally, and a reflective look tells me that my life is headed in the right direction, even if I’m not always conscious of it. So, here’s what happened in the past year.

  • Early in the year, I made the hard decision to leave my longtime job working for Dave Ramsey and join a startup called Kindful. Since I began in March, it has been a wonderful nine months of challenges and growth doing web development for a smaller company that serves the nonprofit sector.
  • In March, I got my fourth tattoo, a moth on my inner bicep. It’s my first piece that isn’t text-based, and if you want the meaning, I guess you’ll just have to ask.
  • Early in the summer I connected with a great new group of friends through Ethos. Though the group drifted as time wore on, some of the friendships I formed there have continued to be some of my deepest.
  • From June into July, I came the closest I’ve ever come to buying a house. Unfortunately, needed repairs pushed it out of my price range, and the search continued.
  • Around the 4th of July, I did my most extensive traveling of the year. I completed a road trip to West Virginia and back though Ohio to Nashville. It was good to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in years, as well as have some quality time with my grandparents and parents.
  • I bought a bike for the first time in August. I hadn’t owned one since I was a child, and it has proven to be a good way to mix exercise and exploration. I look forward to using it more.
  • On a similar note, I sold my electric guitar. Music has become less and less a part of my life over the past five years.
  • Throughout the fall I went on some dates. I learned some things.
  • In October, I welcomed a new niece for the first time in four years. Marielle Patrice Irvine is the sweetest little thing, and she kind of looks like I did as an infant.
  • Along the way I encountered the following excellent music:
    • Lastsleep and The Night God Slept by Silent Planet
    • The Urgency by Saving Grace
    • Everything by Ólafur Arnalds
    • Heroes and Ghosts and the self-titled LP by This Patch of Sky (my favorite band discovery of the year)
    • Lowborn, the farewell album from Anberlin
    • Ixora by Copeland (probably my album of the year)
    • Becoming Who We Are by Kings Kaleidoscope
  • And I read the following interesting books:
    • Surprised By Hope by N.T. Wright
    • Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield
    • The End of Money by David Wolman
    • To Have or To Be by Erich Fromm
    • You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan
  • In more recent news, I am in the process of buying a house I found in December. It’s far from a done deal, but it may just work out. Coincidentally, it is literally across the street from the house mentioned above. Maybe God wants me in that neighborhood for some reason (Acts 17:26).
  • Most of all, as I retrospectively look at 2014, I realize that the friendships I have in my life now are the deepest and most encouraging I’ve ever had. Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from this year that, on the surface, may not have been too flashy or exciting.

All in all, even if 2014 didn’t seem to have as much adventure as years in the recent past, it was full of growth and change. Life is progressing, and the year to come looks incredibly bright. Most importantly, may Christ expand his kingdom through me in 2015, regardless of whether my life goes the way I want it to.

My Cashless Month

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Back in July, I read The End of Money, a book about phasing out physical currency in the developed world. The author gives numerous reasons that he believes it’s in everyone’s best interest to go ahead and shift to using cash as little as possible. As one who tries to implement truth and practicality whenever I encounter it, I was intrigued. For me, there could hardly be a larger shift in the handling of my day-to-day finances; I’ve been using a cash-based envelope system for my entire adult life. Could I make the jump to transacting and tracking all of my expenditures electronically? Would it be that much more convenient and helpful? I decided to try it for a couple of months.

Being somewhat tech-savvy, I first sought out the right tool for the job, ultimately landing on Mint.com due to its good reviews and easy-to-use mobile app. Within a few days, I had connected all of my accounts with their read-only system, even my HSA which I never check due to the credit union’s subpar online banking. I have to admit that it was quite nice to see a full financial picture in one place for the first time. Prior to integrating with Mint, I had to log into four or five different sites to check balances, and if I actually cared to sum any of the figures, that was up to me. With Mint’s mobile app, I could easily see daily fluctuations in retirement accounts (for better or worse), and their basic analytics even showed that my portfolio has drastically underperformed the major indexes this year, a fact that I would never spend the time to unearth myself. So far so good. This cashless thing may work out.

When it came time to port my budget over to Mint, however, is when I felt the first friction. Perhaps rightfully so, everything in Mint revolves around “the month.” Budgets are created for the upcoming month with expected income declared and expenses divvied into numerous categories. This may work fine for someone who gets paid bi-monthly, but I currently receive my paycheck every two weeks, meaning my income will seldom, if ever, fall at the beginning and end of the month. Because their system of tracking expenses focuses on staying “in the green,” I would start off in the red immediately. You don’t get paid until the 6th this month, but you spent $10 at Chipotle on the 2nd? You, sir, are in the red, regardless of the balance in your checking account. To say this is annoying is putting it lightly. Though it would be a foundational shift to their system, allowing users to set budgets for specified date ranges would make a world of difference. In my case, it would make the tool actually useful.

The other hurdle I encountered in using Mint was the delay in posting transactions. When spending cash, it is literally instant; you can see the bills dwindling in your wallet each time you visit the grocery store or a coffee shop. With today’s financial network (which stems from the 1970’s), it often takes three or four days for “credit” transactions to clear. This is a big problem for someone trying to make the most of their income. Unless one wants to keep a tally of expenses in his head (which defeats the purpose), there’s a tendency to be overly-cautious or overly-carless. Frankly, I took the latter approach. Once the mess of delayed transactions in Mint seemed too difficult to reconcile and untangle, I kept telling myself I would figure it out later. That time never came, and I still haven’t fully pored through bank statements to assess the damage done. Suffice it to say, I know that I overspent considerably on restaurants and other social fun.

A final consideration, one which Wolman mentioned in his book, is that spontaneous generosity is seldom possible. Were I to come across someone selling a street paper or in need of a couple dollars, I was effectively powerless to help. It became all too easy to give the calloused response, “I don’t have any cash. Sorry.” While I try to be judicious in giving money to strangers, I found my heart becoming hard due to not even having to wrestle with the thought. In a sense, carrying no cash distanced me even further from those in need, shutting down the conversation before it could even begin. “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:15-16). Coupled with the reckless spending I fell into, I did not like who I was becoming. Swiping my card all over the place and budgeting via mobile app, I became too hip, self-indulged, and uncaring.

So where does this leave me? As of my last payday, I made the ritual trek to an ATM and withdrew the cash I would need for the next two weeks. Ultimately, my attempts to go cashless left me feeling out of control, both in the sense that it was too easy to spend carelessly, and in the sense that I invested much more time managing money day-to-day, my finances effectively controlling me. I have returned to my trusty Google Docs spreadsheet whereby I spend five minutes each payday allotting funds, withdraw the necessary cash, and have few worries as I open my wallet for the next couple of weeks. Simple? Sure. But it works, and ultimately, going cashless did not work for me.

Until financial systems are advanced enough to eliminate transactional lag, until there is a well-integrated budgeting tool which is flexible enough to fit any situation, and until those in desperate circumstances are able to deal in money electronically, I will likely be carrying cash. The truth is that I have always done a hybrid system, paying many bills online and being paid via direct deposit, and I imagine that most people do. At this stage in the game, it doesn’t make sense to be an extremist and eliminate cash, even if that’s where society ultimately ends up.

Start (and End) With Why In Dating

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A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. The basic idea is to assess underlying motivations before beginning an endeavor. While its application is primarily focused in the business and marketing world, it is useful in most every sphere of life, particularly to a reflective creature like myself. What is my motivation for choosing one thing over another? Answering this question upfront can be a great filter to avoid heading down the wrong path entirely, even if the “what” (end goal) is worth pursuing.

As one still involved in the realm of dating, I’ve realized over time that the principle is particularly useful in that setting. Confusion abounds in my generation regarding the whole process. Friends and I have spent many a night discussing the opposite sex and whether there is a “right” way to approach the matter. I can’t help but think we would have avoided some of the perplexing scenarios if we had sincerely assessed our motivations beforehand.

It takes a brutal amount of self-honesty (a skill which I have yet to master), to start with why, but stop and ask yourself, “Why am I interested in this person?” On some level, it will be physical attraction, but is that the primary driver? Are looks dominant in the face of other factors that you know make a long-term relationship unlikely? Are you attracted to something in this person that is drastically different from yourself? Why? Are you just lonely and want someone? The answers to these questions can be hard to face, but if one is dissuaded from pursuing something unwise, the savings in time, effort, and trouble downstream are more than worth the discomfort.

Conversely, the “why” can be affirming, giving a green light to go for it. Maybe the attraction is based upon solid character qualities. Perhaps outer beauty is coupled with common interests and goals. Even an ambiguous answer need not be construed as negative so long as it’s honest. Sometimes someone really does just have a kind smile that makes you want to know them more. At least be aware if such a sentiment is your sole basis for acting. Then pursue dating if the “why” seems wise.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that not only starting, but also ending with why is helpful for everyone involved. Dating is a process of exploration and collecting information. Ultimately, this information is used to make a decision: do I continue seeing this person or not? Having been on both sides of that decision over the years, I have never experienced an instance where ambiguity was helpful. It may be my strong tendency toward thinking (as opposed to feeling), but I genuinely appreciate knowing why things didn’t work out. The older I get, the better I am able to accept such information without taking it personally. Though my track record hasn’t been perfect, I always try to extend the same courtesy to others if they care to hear it. (Some don’t.)

The answer for why one is choosing to break things off can be even more uncomfortable and revealing than the initial motivation. After all, this is a person you presumably had some interest in, so what changed? Does her personality clash with yours? Does he seem flighty and unsure what he wants in life? Have things with another love interest progressed? Do you not find her physically attractive after the initial thrill wore off? The answer could be that you honestly can’t point to a specific reason; you just feel it. At least own the fact that you are deciding based purely on emotion and nothing quantifiable. Then share that information with the person if they want to know.

Of course, nobody likes to tell someone what they don’t like about them, but there are polite ways to say just about anything. “I’m just not that attracted to you,” doesn’t mean “you’re not attractive.” It means that the speaker personally is not attracted, and a mature adult will receive the message as such. Be aware, however, that your reasoning may say far more about you than it does the other person. Are you really breaking things off because they double-dipped in the salsa at dinner that one time? Acknowledging harmful tendencies is a starting point for fixing them. I’ve found that this practice brings unparalleled self-discovery and closure, often making it easier for both to move on with as few hard feelings as possible, certainly compared to giving no explanation at all. It may not always be pleasant, but if we’re all adults, I think it’s the most respectful way we can treat one another.

Starting with why is a helpful filter to begin. Ending with why is the clearest and kindest way to conclude. Dating in today’s culture is difficult enough without the damage of thoughtless pursuits and loose ends. Still, if my generation will take the time to reflect on what is driving us to make the decisions we do, just maybe we will end up with more clarity in an arena that has become all too ambiguous.

2013 – The Year in Review

West Coast Trip 2013

As has become my tradition, it’s time to sit down and take an honest look at how the year turned out.  2013 started with a good bit of uncertainty and wavered numerous times before ending with roughly the same amount of uncertainty.  There were high points such as exciting travels, and low points such as necessarily ending longstanding chapters in my life.  Here’s a detailed rundown of what I did on this trip around the sun.

  • Visited Costa Rica for the first time in January with my parents to meet up with my sister’s family who was living in Honduras at the time.  It’s one of the more developed Central American countries.
  • Tried online dating.  (No shame.)  Actually, it can be quite fun at times.
  • Got hooked on my first TV show in a long time:  The Walking Dead.
  • Plugged in to a great community of guys, primarily through weekly trivia at a local pub.  Though we grew tired of that activity, many of the friendships remain.
  • Attempted training for a full marathon and failed.  But really what motivation could I have had except pride?
  • Took my third annual trip to Honduras in June to help distribute water filters to those in need.
  • Put an offer on a house.  Of course, it wasn’t accepted…
  • Took a trip to the West Coast in July!  I visited Seattle, Portland, Petaluma, Los Angeles, and San Diego, traveling primarily by train.  I’m so glad I finally got to see that part of the country, hang out with some friends, and make new ones along the way.
  • Crashed and burned at container gardening.  Again.
  • Began writing for Indie Vision Music in July.  It’s great to be able to contribute to a community that has meant a lot to me the past few years.
  • Forever relinquished hope on a long-running chapter of my life.
  • Connected with my house church community more than any other I’ve been a part of.  We began our second year together, even as new faces joined us.
  • Saw my first show (City and Colour) at The Ryman in September.
  • More dating…
  • Lived in the same place for more than a year!  (It’s the first time that has happened since college.)
  • Joe and I finally released Map and Compass, our second full-length Hilltops and Coffeeshops album.  It was quite therapeutic to have it done.
  • At the advice of a friend, I ditched my college hairstyle in November… and instantly looked fifteen years older.  As much as I’ve tried to cling to youth, it’s the one thing I hadn’t tried.
  • Read the following great books, among others:
    • The Ethics of Paul by Morton Scott Enslin
    • Church Zero by Peyton Jones
    • Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
    • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
    • A large chunk of Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer
  • Discovered the following great albums, among others:
    • Rescue and Restore by August Burns Red
    • The Glory EP by Animal Giant
    • The Hurry and The Harm by City and Colour
    • Change Will Come by Least of These
    • Odd New Celebrity by Keep Quiet
    • World Without End by The Monarch

Overall, nothing fundamentally changed in my life, and it really hasn’t for about five years.  I’m not sure what it could look like even if it did.  As usual, I have some vague ideas about what I want to accomplish in the year to come, but nothing to which I have such commitment that I’m not open to new or better ideas should they arise.  I guess we’ll see what happens.  Happy New Year.  Christ makes all things new.