Letter #619: Reason to Celebrate!!!

Dear celebrations,

You are fun. I mean seriously, who doesn’t love you?! Birthdays. Christmas. Christmas in July. New jobs. Engagements. Pregnancy. Finishing a major project or passing a huge test. I’m convinced people simply make up holidays so we can have more of you!

Celebrating is fun. It allows us to focus on the positives and breathe in the midst of life that is honestly just hard sometimes. So we celebrate.

Last week, I had reason to celebrate like I’ve never had reason before. You see, four years ago I started a program called the Kanakuk Institute. During my senior year at OSU I decided a year committed to laying a biblical foundation in my life was the post-grad route I would pursue. One of the most fun and life-changing decisions of my life.

While I knew this was where I was going, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to foot the bill. In the Rother household, you get four years of college. Make the most of them because they’re on you after that. It was my choice what I did post college, but I was also responsible for my own financial status. I’d already made up my mind, but paying for this program outright wasn’t an option.

The Institute offers opportunities to get masters’ degrees on top of the biblical components, and for lots of reasons I chose this route as well. Thus, I pursued student loan options to financially make this decision possible. I was 22 trying to navigate waters I’d never even laid eyes on before, so naturally I called Papa Roth in for advice.

Now this is where we need some backstory. Mama and Papa Roth have always been supportive of me, but they also made their opinions very known through college about my need to pursue grown up internships instead of working at camp and getting a real job rather than postponing it for another year. I appreciated and processed their advice, but it didn’t stop me. This being said, my parents were supportive of me attending the Kanakuk Institute, but they would much rather see me get a job.

Out of left field, Papa Roth graciously offered to front me the money to pursue the path I’d chosen rather than paying interest on a loan. My folks would be my loan officers with no interest. What?!?! I wish words could describe this moment”…they can’t. I will say that I watched God’s hand move mountains in this situation”…mountains I’m still seeing the whys of their movement. Also, I must note that my parents are huge advocates of my life choice now.

So they fronted me the money. I attended the Institute where I laid a foundation I will build on for the rest of my life. It was also a year worth every penny I paid as well as every penny I lost not having a real job for the year. It’s something I recommend everyone at least considering. I graduated in April 2010, worked at K-West that summer and started working full time for Kanakuk Kamps in September. In October of 2010, two months into my first big kid job, I paid off the first $50 toward an $18,000 debt. Talk about starting small! Every month, I made a payment. I was committed to making sure my folks knew I never took advantage of them. You see, I was an intern being paid hourly that first year. My take home in an entire year wasn’t much different than the debt I owed. This was going to be something I had to work toward over time, but I knew I had to start somewhere.

It was a priority. It was a line in my monthly budget. After the first couple months I got my payment up to $200 each month. Never less. Sometimes more. I always tithed first. Paid my bills second. Put money in savings third. Then everything extra went toward my debt. I wanted it eliminated. I always wanted my parents to know my gratitude. Finally, I didn’t want to be a slave to any lender, even my dad.

So I chipped away. $50 led to $250 which led to $1,000. Oh, this was a milestone, but I had 17 more milestones to go.

By the end of 2011, I had paid 25% off. Another milestone. Put six grand into it in 2012. I was up to 58%. Which brings me to one of my 2013 goals. In January I committed to paying of the rest of my loan in no more than 14 months…that was 42% or $7,450.

I am here to tell you that this month we have reason to celebrate”…August 2013, six months earlier than projected: I wrote my last debt check to my parents ever!!!!!!!!! I am officially debt free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ll write again about how I made small tweaks to my lifestyle so I could have enough extra to pay this debt off. The one thing I would say is that a choice has to be made to execute something like this. And honestly not just one choice, but daily choices. I don’t make much money, so to be able to pay $18,000 off in debt in less than three years is definitely something to celebrate!

Friends, be encouraged by this. Be challenged by it. But most importantly, join me in the greatest financial celebration of my life! I know Dave Ramsey would be proud!

Dreaming what my financial state will look like now that this budget line is no more,

Debt free celebrator

Letter #514: Finished!!!!

Dear grad school,

YOU ARE FINISHED!!!!! Honestly, I never thought I’d pursue you to begin with. I’ve never been a die hard academic. I always put decent effort into doing well, but let’s just say studying in college wasn’t my greatest priority 🙂 So for me to begin a whole new endeavor in the academic realm wasn’t on my radar. Then, I decided to go to the Kanakuk Institute, and it only made sense to also get my Master’s in the process. Thus, you began.

As I think back over the two year span I completed you, I laugh. I coined myself the JBU slacker during my Institute year. Not so much because my performance lacked, but more so because while everyone else locked themselves into study mode I was making memories with my friends! I may have slept less, but I always got my work done and never felt I missed out on memory making. I knocked 24 hours out during my year at the Institute, took a year off because I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew by pursuing school and my first real, big kid job, and completed my last 12 hours this year. 36 hours of coursework, countless papers, presentations and discussion boards, and three years later, I am officially a master!

I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with my Masters of Ministry with an emphasis on Leadership and Ethics, but I do know I learned some great stuff along the way. Tons of practically applicable information I’ve already been able to apply to my life and job, but also countless intangibles that have shaped the woman I am and am becoming.

My takeaways from my time at the Institute can’t be defined. A foundation was laid in my life I will build on forever. An understanding of the Bible as a whole is something I can’t put a price on. Researching, writing, studying and defending my beliefs before a panel backing everything with Scripture taught me more than I can ever gauge. Practical leadership skills I can use for life. I’ve read books I can drop in conversation and sound smart. Learning to balance a full time job and a full school load these last eight weeks, I’m convinced will allow me to balance even more important things in my life better, especially concerning future family. You have allowed me to learn so many things. Even though I don’t know exactly how you’ll benefit me career-wise, you’ve already benefited me personally.

While I am unbelievably relieved to be done with you, seriously a giant weight is off my shoulders, I think I’m also going to miss you a smidge. We’ve had a long relationship going, and now it’s over. I’ll miss the opportunity to learn and will have to train myself to learn on my own. Completing you is one of my greatest accomplishments simply because I had to manage a balancing act of life in the process. My anthem was true: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!!!

Thanks for a fun, challenging, knowledge-gaining ride,

Grad school graduate

Letter #513: Weekend of Fun!

Dear weekend,

You were filled with so many great things. I became a “Master,’ enjoyed an afternoon at the outlets because sometimes being a girl just wins out, spent time with friends, didn’t study!, took pictures at a friend’s engagement, danced the night away at a beautiful wedding and all around had a ton of fun!

You were filled with lots of old friends. Bodie, my Kanakuk Institute classmate, married Marissa, friend from the K-World, so tons of classmates and friends from other stages of life were in town. What a sweet weekend you were!

Thankful for a year with these people and SO many more not present! There's just something special about these friendships!
2010 Kanakuk Institute Class!!!
Lawson!!! My friends, the Schmidt's, baby!
Sweet Branson friends!

Their story is awesome! Both early thirties and never been married. Both individually content and seeking the Lord fervently in their own unique ways. Both adventurous beyond belief. Each complementing the other perfectly. Together a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness and perfect timing. Likely not what either of them individually planned, but could never have worked out the way it did without the Lord’s sovereignty and perfection. What a great reminder and a super fun wedding!!!!

The happy couple!

I also got to take pictures at another Institute friend’s engagement. So excited for you two and can’t wait to break it down at that reception! Perfect weekend to the ending of grad school!

Institute friends at Nate and Stephanie's engagement!

Already excited to the weekends that lie ahead,

Lover of weekends

Letter #483: Institute Reunion

Dear reunion,

A week ago today about 25% of my 2010 Kanakuk Institute class made the trek back to Branson for the Institute’s ten year of you.There were a ton of things I took for granted about my year at the Institute, but any time a group of my classmates are together I quickly remember that the people wasn’t one of them. I may not see or even talk to each of these people daily, weekly or even monthly, but there is still a sweet bond between each of us that will never be broken.

Thankful for a weekend full of laughing until I cried and my insides hurt, walks down memory lane with the creation of new one too, genuine, real and honest conversations, a bit of teaching from the staff and simply the opportunity to spend time with my friends again because we’ll never all live in the same place again. Thanks for showing up guys!

Let’s do it again in five years,

Reunion lover

Letter #188: Belief Statements

Dear belief statements,

Imagine your only purpose of being in a room of five people is for them to fire questions at you for 30 solid minutes about what you believe and why you believe it. If God is all-powerful, why is there evil in the world? How can Jesus be fully God and fully man? What historical facts validate the Bible? Do we have guardian angels? What’s the role of the church? How can I become a Christian? Intimidating right?!

A year ago today, I did just that. I walked into a room, stood before a panel of five leaders in the Kanakuk world and defended everything I believe to be truth concerning my faith for 30 minutes. Our second semester project while I was at the Kanakuk Institute entailed us writing you concerning 10 areas of Christianity: the Trinity; God the Father; God the Son; God the Spirit; the Bible; Man, Sin, Salvation; Angels, Satan, Demons; the Church; Christian Life and the last one was our choice. Basically, I wrote doctrinal statements that a church has for my own personal life. Every “claim’ I made about a topic had to be backed by at least two verses.

From January to April, we worked on a different topic each week. Some weeks came easier than others. Some weeks I was able to devote more time to doing research. Some weeks I spent more time than I dreamed imaginable on it because it was fascinating…Holy Spirit: 20+ hours easy. Over Christmas break, I had a realization that there was no way I was going to let the opportunity to do this project well slip by. On April 6, 2010, I couldn’t have been more thankful for that moment.

So, I began. I read a ton of Scripture before I ever thought about beginning to write my summation. I was shocked how many things we believe with no biblical basis. As I wrote you, I’d never been more convicted to speak truth. We cannot put our stamps of approval on statements with no biblical backing. I was reading things and my entire belief system was being changed, challenged or solidified along the way. Slowly, I was able to combine scriptural truth with my writing style compiling you.

I have never been more proud of an assignment, and I will likely never complete a task of such great value in my life again. Walking into a room of people I respect and leaders in my faith was intimidating. I was unbelievably nervous. I didn’t know enough Scripture. I was inadequate. But I kept reminding myself I wasn’t there to impress a panel. My purpose wasn’t to impress man. My goal was to communicate my beliefs”…my audience was the Lord. If I couldn’t speak confidently in a room of believers about faith, how would I ever do it in my everyday life?

The firing of questions began, and I honestly don’t think I shut up for 30 minutes. I was able to contribute something and use Scripture for every question asked. I definitely have room to grow and improve, but I was handling questions with ease that prior to studying for this assignment would’ve caused me to cringe. After questioning ceased, I quietly stood, walked out of the room and was humbled by how much I had learned about the Lord, His character and my faith. A year ago today was possibly the single most affirming, eye-opening, beneficial, challenging and exciting 30 minutes of my life. You don’t have to attend the Kanakuk Institute to achieve this process, but I’d encourage every believer to define their beliefs by writing out you with Scripture backing it. My world was rocked through it, and I believe yours would be too.

Wishing this year’s students well and challenged to review my statements,

Thankful belief statement writer

Letter #119: Wishing Tree

Dear Mississippi College,

You are everything I imagined you to be and more. Small Christian school hidden down in the middle of Mississippi filled with some great people. In my observations, you are basically why the town of Clinton exists. As I walked around your campus and observed your students, I was floored by the fact nearly everyone knew everyone. I never experienced this being at a big school, and I’m unsure whether I like it or not. Nevertheless, that’s the vibe I got from you.

I began the night with a sweet reunion with two friends from the Kanakuk Institute and your alumni at Froghead Grill. First off, my food was unreal. I can’t remember what it was called, but it had shrimp and crawfish in a wrap with sweet potato fries…sketch, I know, but it was probably the best meal, most unique meal, I’ve had on trail. My company was better than the food. I’m still floored I spent eight months with 69 people, all of which have become dear friends, and I can have these sweet reunions all over the country. My friend Casie played basketball for you, so I made her take me to the gym! Neat to see and may even have rivaled the Nebraska facilities?!

I took an evening stroll through downtown Clinton and visited the “Wishing Tree.’ This was a random, yet fun adventure. In a small courtyard, trees are covered with LED lights and have yarn hanging from various branches. Students, locals, visitors like me come and write a wish or prayer on a sheet of paper and stick it in the yarn. Neat tradition and experience. I was just thankful I didn’t stumble upon a lip-locked couple! What did I wish for you ask…duh, I can’t tell you or it won’t come true!

My sweet friend, Beth Ann, from K-West was the best hostess in the world. She made me a “Welcome to Clinton’ package: notable items including a coveted t-shirt, a Mississippi paperweight featuring dice and glitter and a box of Mississippi license plate peppermints with the name “Lynn’ because they were out of Lindsay. My friends never cease to amaze me! This week of trail reunions has brought great joy and conversation!

Maybe my most intriguing observation of you was your spiritual complacency. You are a Christian school, and I think I had unrealistic expectations for your students. You were more like any other public or state school I’ve visited where people are on all ends of the spectrum spiritually. I don’t say this to criticize your students. I say this to simply remind myself religious affiliation doesn’t equal being sold out to the Lord. It doesn’t matter what school I attend, church I’m a member of or ministry I work for, I must take ownership of my relationship with the Lord.

Wishing my wish comes true,

Best speller of M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I ever after this week’s blog

Letter #100: Garth’s New Song?

Dear friends in small places,

I know, I know, I got it wrong…it’s “Friends in Low Places,’ but where these friends come from is anywhere but low. Sixteen months ago I showed up at an island themed resort turned summer camp, and my life is not the same because of it. A few nights ago, a heck of a lot of you made your way back to Branson for the K-Life conference, and it was SO good to be together again.

I began the journey of the Kanakuk Institute thinking I’d learn a good amount about the Bible, gain at least one more summer of K-West and make a few friends along the way, but never in a million years did I dream of life change. I have a biblical foundation that I look to, or at least hope to look to, for every decision I make with an understanding of God’s Word that I didn’t know was possible. I have been set up for success in my current job.

And somehow, I have more friends than I ever dreamed of having. Real friends. Friends who know, love and want to serve the Lord to the best of their ability. Friends who would literally open up their home to host me in whatever city I may be coming through. Friends who challenge me to be better. Friends who ask great questions and want to know the answers. Friends that pray for me.

I began my year at the Institute in a really “small place,’ sharing a room on a campus where you literally see everyone of your 69 classmates for at least 25% of the day. I left the year knowing that all 69 of my friends would likely never be in the same place again. For a split second, a few hours, 20 something of us were again able to be “friends in small places,’ and it just happened to be in a Branson apartment. The 40-plus others were missed but not forgotten.

May each of us find friends like you,

Advocate of Garth writing a new song