Sunday, April 28, 2013

Can I Get An Amen?

In case you haven’t heard, we’re moving our family to New York City to start a church. It’s sort of a big deal, and it’s tempting, in the midst of all the details, to start believing that we can somehow achieve this monumental task in our own strength and skill. It’s also fairly easy to crunch numbers and look at our unfinished house and listen to our big dreams and become convinced that we’re crazy to go after this at all.

So today’s post is dedicated to all the miraculous moves of God that weren’t orchestrated by us in any way but are all for our good and encourage us in our calling.

* Uh, remember that God called us to this thing in the first place?

* Despite learning that less than 3% of NYC believes in Jesus, we have discovered that God has been raising up a host of laborers who are recently (in the last 3-10 years) planting churches. God is moving in the city!

* Our team felt a unified call to Greenpoint, Brooklyn before knowing anything about the neighborhood. There are currently NO church plants happening in Greenpoint, yet the thirty-something population (our people!) has doubled in the last 10 years. Also, 2 of the elementary schools in our neighborhood have the highest rating possible for public schools and are considered some of the top schools in all of NYC.

* Michael and Mike were humbled to meet with Mark Reynolds, the “Godfather of NYC church-planting”, and have him encourage our vision! Another church planter told us that in his group of 5 planters, Mark had not approved 3 of them to move forward. His opinion is highly respected in the NYC church planting community and his support affirms what God is doing in us.

* We had prayed that our ministry partner, Mike, would get a full-time job with UPS. After one phone interview, Mike was invited to interview in-person and was offered a job in West Manhattan a week later! Not only is this a perfect location (for commuting purposes), but Mike learned that his Director is also a Christian. Unbelievable!

* Our team is growing! A dear family and some single friends are currently praying about joining us in NYC - and Rachel, a staff member at our parent church has already been called to come with us! WOW. The fact that others are inspired by our vision and are asking the Holy Spirit if he would have them move across the country to join his mission is yet another confirmation that God is arranging all the parts for his glory.  

* At this time last year, we knew of no churches in NYC that were using our chosen model. Since then, we have connected with TWO other missional churches, both in Brooklyn!

* Not only this, but one of the foremost leaders of the missional community movement and the president of GCM (a network of missional churches) is moving to Manhattan this week! He is working with the CMA and Nyack College & Seminary to develop curriculum, training, and collectives to raise up missional church planters in NYC. He has expressed his excitement to us about our presence in the city and begun discussing ways to partner together.

* We have met with over 100 people to share the God-sized vision that he has given us. Over 80 of those pray regularly for us and 18 have generously committed to financially support us for the next 3 years. We have 25% of our needed financial goal!  

Are you excited about what God is doing in New York City and in us?  
Contact me if you're interested in hearing the fuller version of our story or helping us prepare to leave by the end of August.
Financial donations are tax-deductible and can be set up (one-time or monthly) here (choose Michael & Nicole Devereaux - NYC Fund).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

An Ode to Financial Bliss (sort of)

Money is on my mind alot these days.  How much do we have, do we need, do we spend, will we spend, where's it coming from, what's get the point.

The exhausting thing is, I'm really not good with numbers and I know barely anything about finances.  And the little knowledge I have was mostly acquired over the last 2 years.

Don’t get me wrong - I thought I knew about money. I was raised in a middle-class home where I was neither spoiled nor deprived. I never had an allowance. My high school paychecks were signed over to an account in my parents’ name or cashed for me to use as I needed. Since I’ve never been a shopper, I’ve mostly ever used money for food (oh, the glory of going “off-campus” for lunch as an upperclassman!) or travel. I never had a credit card. I graduated college without debt, thanks to generous scholarships and my father’s financial wisdom. My parents never talked about money in front of me or with me. We had what we needed and that was enough.

My husband also grew up in a middle-class home. He received an allowance, which was basically whatever money he needed to buy whatever he wanted. In his family, money was used to buy the best of everything, even to purchase gifts as a means of showing love. He learned that if you wanted something, you bought it, whether or not you could afford it. Debt was normal and my husband graduated with quite a bit of it.     

We went into marriage with little realization of each other’s spending habits and no plan for our family’s finances. We spent years fighting over money, racking up debt, and unnecessarily living paycheck to paycheck. It seemed we could never get ahead - or even get on the same page.

People, this is what’s called “Living Without Purpose.” And it will kill you.

Since I’m not dead, something obviously changed for us. And, in case you find yourself in a similar situation, I’m going to share our super secret with you. I’m going to tell you how you, too, can love your spouse AND live intentionally with money. How you can AVOID DEBT (or get out of it!) and still buy stuff you like. Are you ready? 


Are you shocked and amazed? 

Well, it’s true. One day, my husband and I got our heads out of our butts and we sat down and wrote a budget. An honest-to-goodness budget that assigned every dollar of income to an expense until every dollar we earned was spent on paper before a penny of it was in our wallet. As Dave Ramsey says, we told our money where to go instead of wondering where it went.

Still not shocked and amazed enough? Let me share 4 truths about budgeting that have rocked my world.

1. A budget isn’t a ball and chain that enslaves. I was surprised to discover that having (and keeping) a budget freed us to allocate money according to our values and priorities rather than aimlessly spending and hoping we have enough left for what we want. We have given more money away since we started budgeting than we ever did without a budget - and yet our income level has barely changed! Budgeting allowed us to be more generous with money.

2. A budget reveals your weaknesses. The irony of not having a budget is that we assumed we were living within our means. But the truth is, not having a budget gave us an excuse to spend blindly and kept us ignorant of the areas where we were wasting money. We blamed our income level rather than our spending habits on our state of need. Even if you aren’t concerned about making ends meet, without a budget, you have no direction or check on where the money goes.  Budgeting provides accountability to make wise (informed) financial decisions.   

3. A budget motivates good habits. When we were living paycheck to paycheck, we felt overwhelmed that we’d never get ahead and afraid that we’d be in debt forever. But with a budget in hand, we could actively cut spending in some areas in order to purposely throw more money at paying down debt. In our first budget year, we paid off $8,000 in debt with a minimal change in income. Budgeting disciplined us to think before we spent and to plan for unexpected circumstances.

4. A budget supports marital unity. Most couples have one person who handles the family finances. But I’m not sure how many couples have regular family meetings to discuss those finances - unless by “meeting” you include the fights instigated by accusations and anger over where the money went. There’s a reason that many couples cite financial disagreements as a major cause for divorce. Creating a budget each month forced my husband and me to sit, face to face, and prioritize our expenses. Budgeting brought oneness and peace to our marriage.

In case you think we became financial experts over the last 2 years, let me assure you that we still don’t achieve a perfectly balanced budget every month. And we remain a long way from being debt free. But our behavior with money has been radically altered and this has changed our entire perspective on how we can live - and give. 

What's your financial state? What's the secret to your success? What do you want to change? 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Things I'll Actually Spend Money On

I HATE buying stuff. I'm terrible at choosing gifts for people and I can almost never justify making a purchase for myself.  But today, I'm going to share my (very short) list of things that I think are worth the money.*

*although, if any of these things reached a certain price point or were discontinued, I'd live without. Maybe I need to make a list of things I absolutely would never give up?? Also note that I am NOT receiving any special sponsorships for mentioning this items so you can totally trust my opinion.

1. Slice-Pro Kitchen Cutter 

This was a gift from my fabulous mother-in-law (yeah, I never actually spent money on this) and it is my favorite kitchen tool. Unfortunately, it has since been discontinued, which is why I can't even find a nice product image anywhere on the web.
You'll notice that the slice-pro is a sharp knife and small cutting board all in one. How can this not still exist?!? It makes chopping small fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces a snap. Lightweight, easy to clean, and endlessly useful.


2. Natural Dentist Mouthwash
Not going to lie - I have very poor dental hygiene. I haven't been to a dentist in 10 years, and when I did go regularly, my gums would bleed just with a glance from the hygienist. I never particularly minded good old Listerine but this stuff is like a soothing balm for the mouth. I couldn't believe how happy I felt after 30 seconds of swishing!

3. Cheese
I am a wanna-be foodie. If I had a limitless budget, I would spend most of it on amazing food. Alas, I must make concessions, but my favorite food splurge is on any of the 170 varieties of cheese at our local co-op. There is literally no comparison between your average packaged cheese and fresh, hand-pulled mozzarella. Even my husband, who gives me a hard time for my love affair with the co-op, demands that I purchase cheese there. Taste the difference!

4.  Ultra-Calming Makeup Remover Wipes
I've been wearing makeup more recently (that's another story) and because I'm not used to it - or because I buy cheap stuff? - it tends to irritate me after a couple hours, particularly around my eyes. But I've noticed that often the makeup removing products irritate me just as much. So one day I splurged the $7 for these wipes, which promised that my skin would feel "soothed and balanced" after use.  I didn't realize how good they really were, until I ran out and opted to purchase the cheaper version. Never again. I am permanently a fan of most Aveeno products, but these wipes were like magical washcloths.

What about you? What item(s) do you justify spending a little extra for or cannot absolutely do without? Can you sway me to try it?  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Asking People For Money Is Like...

In 2003, I enrolled in a church-based leadership training program. Read more about how that happened - here and here.

As an unpaid church intern, I was expected to gather a team of people who would financially support me during the nine months of training. It’s not unusual for Christians to give money to each other for various ministry work, but I had no experience raising a livable salary and no good idea how to do it.

I wrote a short letter, summarizing what I planned to do and explaining how much money I thought I needed to survive the year (which was a decent amount, since my husband was in seminary and not working at the time). I sent the letter to every family member, some of my co-workers, and anyone whose name I knew at our church.  Then I waited.

I waited for people to read my letter and respond, excitedly, with donations of $50, $100, or more, each month. I waited for God to “show me the money!”. And when that didn’t happen, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. With trepidation, I started making phone calls...

“Hi, it’s Nicole, how are you doing?...great, well you know I’m preparing to quit my job and start a church-based internship, right? I sent you a letter about it awhile back........well, I’m just calling to, you know, just.....check in.........and, um, see if you had thought about supporting me?............oh, yeah, I totally understand......well, thanks for, um, being my friend...bye.”

AWKWARD. And - embarrassing.

So I never fully raised the money I had budgeted. God was good and somehow - to this day, I really couldn’t tell you how - we survived that year. In fact, we kept pursuing ministry, but we never expected to have to ask people for money again. Because, you know, that was totally uncomfortable. For everyone.

Now, 10 years later, we are preparing to move to the 2nd most expensive city in the U.S. to start a church. We have estimated over $33,000 a year for RENT (our current mortgage is less than $10,000). If we wanted to, we could pay $25,000 a year for health insurance (uh...we’re not that crazy).

It’s become necessary for us, once again, to ask for money. But this time, everything is different.

This time, before we approached a single friend with the question of “will you...?”, we spent two months praying and seeking God’s wisdom in setting a budget. We asked a lot of questions, did a lot of research, and waited until we felt a peace about how much money we needed to raise.

This time, we asked others to pray with us and for us, at every step of the process.

This time, we prayed over a list of names of people we wanted to invite to partner with us. We pray(ed) before every meeting and after every conversation.

This time, we kept (are keeping) our eyes focused on Jesus and not on ourselves. We prepared a pretty sweet prezi and we practiced our spiel but honestly, we approached support raising with full confidence in our calling and complete trust in our God. This time, we understood how the apostle Paul could encourage the church that their financial gifts brought him joy, not because of the gift itself, but because of the blessing that God would give them as a result of their generosity. This time, we realized that we truly are inviting people to partner with us in God’s work in NYC - not everyone can go, but everyone can participate in the work by helping send us.

This time, we are able to ask people to give money with absolutely no expectation or dependency on their responses. We don’t feel more or less loved based on whether (or not) someone financially supports us. Our identity is not tied to how people respond to our invitation, though we receive great joy when someone joins our team.

In this way, raising financial support is exactly like sharing the good news of Jesus.

It’s not about us, it’s about him.
It must be rooted in prayer.
We must be confident in our calling and identity in Jesus so that we can clearly explain it to others - but understand that their response is not dependent on how effectively we communicate or how slick our presentation is. God is the one who calls people to himself.
WE receive great joy when someone responds to the call!

This time, asking people for money has been encouraging and exciting for us. It reminds us how utterly needy we are - in every sense! - and keeps us thirsty for Living Water, the kind that becomes in us a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Oh, Minnesota!

I like lists. They're an easy reference, an informative glance back at what I was thinking in a certain time and space.

I tend to think in lists, even if the items are never scribed to paper. And lately, as I prepare to move to New York City, I find myself mentally returning to two specific lists - what I anticipate I will and will not miss about Minneapolis. Twelve months from now, I wonder how accurate I'll find myself?

What I'm Glad to Leave Behind
1. Our crappy cars
2. Our house
3. Nine months of winter                                        
4. Passive-aggressive Scandinavians
5. The Mall of America
6. Improper grammatical use of the word "borrow"
7. Bad drivers (a consequence of #4)
8. Hot dishes, Duck-Duck-Greyduck, and pop (vs. the properly named casseroles, Duck-Duck-Goose, and soda)

What I Think I'll Miss 
1. My car
2. My house
3. Parks everywhere
4. Clean public transportation
5. Lakes everywhere
7. Targets everywhere
8. Minnesota nice
What am I forgetting? What else should I be glad to leave behind? What will I wish I had with me?                                                                                                

Monday, April 8, 2013

WORD! (for the year)

I’m an external processor.

That means I vomit a whole lot of meaningless stuff out of my mouth in order to get to the one small necessary kernel of importance. This may be one reason that I prefer to write letters to people when I have something pressing to say. The act of sitting down to write out my words requires intention and careful consideration, so I am able to filter my bluntness and weigh each syllable of thought. When I take the time to choose each word, I fill my speech with meaning. Otherwise, I’m just spewing the random - usually prideful - junk of my heart.

When God speaks, though, the words bring life. He spoke all of creation into existence. He spoke through his prophets to call his people back into right relationship with himself. And he himself, this very Word, became flesh and walked among us. When he rose from the dead, he gave us his Holy Spirit so that we might continue to hear him speak.

When God speaks, it’s all worth hearing.

Two years ago, during a January retreat, he spoke a word to my heart that I understood was meant to be processed over the course of that year. I received great joy, returning to that word over and over throughout those 12 months and learning more about myself and God’s will for me. In fact, late that summer, God spoke to me in a way that I hadn’t heard in quite a while - and gave me a HUGE new vision of what he had in store for us.

This January, I had the opportunity to attend another retreat, and I went expecting to hear a word from God again. Thankfully, he also planned to speak to me! During an afternoon time of worship, I opened my ears and listened to God sing over me. I heard him remind me of the truth of his character and the transforming work that he wants to do in me so that I can be more like him. This year, I believe that God wants me to know what it means to be      


I was instantly humbled when I heard this word! I knew immediately that God was both inviting me to draw on the riches of his lavish love for me and calling me to give this treasure away. What a sweet cycle of generosity!

Since that retreat, I have had ample opportunity to reflect on how much God (has given, gives, and promises to give) me, as well as to flex my [very weak] giving muscles. I hope to share both of these with you in later posts. For now, though, I continue to pray:Lord, fill me up to the fulness of Christ so that I might give it all away!!  

What about you? What word or theme are you focusing on this year? What do you wish you were more intentional about?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What's Your Type?

A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don't know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox's or bear's, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.
~ Meister Eckhart
In addition to being obsessed with really cool space-saving furniture, I am also addicted to personality assessments! I love reflecting on various descriptions of myself and meditating on why I see the world - and engage with it - the way that I do. The more I study these profiles, the more I am able to understand and empathize with those around me and to work with them in a way that is mutually beneficial.

The important thing to remember about all assessments is that they do not measure trait, ability, or character; no type is inherently better than another and no type is distinctly masculine or feminine. Various societies, families, and traditions may value certain types over others (or expect certain genders to behave according to certain types), but the objective nature of each personality is not more or less "good".

Perhaps the most widely referenced assessment is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI identifies four preferences that inform an individual's perception and judgment: energy flow (Extroversion/Introversion), information gathering (Sensory/Intuition), decision making (Thinking/Feeling), and structuring one's world (Judging/Perceiving). The MBTI is not available for free but here is one site that provides an effective assessment. I highly recommend their profiles of the 16 personality types; even though I am familiar with all 16, I found their descriptions to be quite informative!

The PACE Color Palette is a complementary tool to the MBTI and focuses on the 4 temperaments, which closely correlate with preference combinations within the MBTI. This is most often used in educational or business settings and I have not been able to find a free online source for personal use.

I confess that I am not as familiar with the Enneagram assessment and have not officially taken one, though by reading the 9 descriptions and completing their free sample test, I can easily identify my basic personality type. The Enneagram, however, adds layers of complexity to this type by grouping personalities into three Centers (Thinking, Feeling, Instinctive) that revolve around emotional responses related to our core selves (Anxiety, Shame, Anger - respectively). The Enneagram also identifies wings - the "second side" of a personality, which complements it and adds important, sometimes contradictory, elements to your total personality. More recently, a few Enneagram instructors have added 9 Levels of Development to help understand how (un)healthy an individual is with respect to her personality. You could easily get lost on the Enneagram website if you wanted to read all of the information they make available and writing about all this makes me want to take a full version of the test!

While not a personality assessment, the Clifton Strengths Finder is one of the most exciting tools for appreciating and developing your innate talents. This test is actually based on positive psychology - focus on the good! - so if you find yourself discouraged by any of these other assessments, I encourage you to find someone able to help you process the results of the Strengths Finder and start exploring your gifts!

What am I missing? What assessments do you love that I didn't mention? 

And as to not keep those of you who were wondering in suspense, I am an ENTP, dominant red with streaks of green (PACE), The Challenger 8, with Ideation, Strategic, Activator, Input, and Command strengths.

What's your type?