Monday, October 26, 2015

To Live & Give Like No One Else

Do you ever feel like you're fighting a silent battle? 
No one sees your struggle, your determination, your weak and weary heart - but you keep fighting! 

Well, my husband, Kasey, and I took the leap into marriage almost a year ago now. One area that we've been told could and WILL cause tension in our marriage is finances. Which makes sense, finances are a huge part of survival in this world. Money provides you the opportunity to buy something special for those you love. Go out to eat cause you're just exhausted from work. It gives you the ability to travel and see the world. To keep a roof over your head. And to bless others! Money is super important!

Prior to even getting married, Kasey and I discussed our financial situations. The debt we have, our finance goals and what makes us worry or feel secure about finances. I shared that I have never had a credit card, nor do I ever want one. My parents have blessed me by paying for my school, which means we are making NO payments for school. Basically, I worked really hard to fill up my savings and not buy things on credit. (All thanks to my parents teachings and financial help). So I had about $6000.00 saved by the time we were getting married. Kasey and I had a combined total of around $3000.00 left to pay in mine and his wedding rings. (I made him a custom ring, and it was a pretty penny, and worth every bit of it!) Kasey ended up in the hospital, for a week, about 4 months before we got married. We basically consumed $26,143.30 in medical bills by the time we got married. (Talk about daunting) Kasey shared, before we got married, about his one credit card that was around $7000.00. And his school debt totaling around $62,000.00 (give it up for those private Christian schools, YO!). Needless to say, it was a lot of money. Well, it STILL IS a lot of money. Those are BIG numbers.

I'm very passionate about personal finances! Seriously, you can ask my husband! So naturally, knowing the kind of financial state we started with, I brought up the idea before we got married, to take a little bit of time every Saturday to discuss finances. Since people warned us about potential financial strains, we took a proactive approach to be on the same page, EVERY WEEK, when it came to our finances. Airing out our dirty laundry was messy at first, but it has given us the opportunity to adjust and budget accordingly. It hasn't been easy, but from day one of our marriage, we've made an agreement to start paying off debt, to live within our means, and to become financially free! We use the envelop system, which means we have actual physical envelops of every expense we have. And every two weeks we take out all but $200.00 from our checking account and use cash to budget our life out. And we use the $200.00 we leave in our account for gas and emergencies if we're out and don't have the envelop we need.

This is what we've accomplished after being married just under a year:

- Within the first three months of marriage, we made big payments and paid off our rings. So we brought $3000.00 down to ZERO! A very happy day in our home! That felt like a small but encouraging feat to keep us going and paying off all the rest of our debt. 

- On January 27th, 2015, Kasey called me, on my way home from work, and told me he had big news. I got home, he told me to sit down, and explained that insurance covered, $8157.81 of our medical debt. Which means we still had $16,223.30 - BUT, he said that the amount was totally dismissed (I still have no idea how), and we only had to pay $1,762.00. Which we have already paid off! Not to mention another couple thousand we have paid off from different colonoscopies, doctors' visits, prescriptions, etc. Our medical debt is done and GONE!  

- We've been slowly working at our $7000.00 credit card debt. It's not gone, but it's so close! We did a balance transfer from our one credit card to another, in order to receive no interest rates on $2000.00 of that amount. I am happy to say, that Kasey and I are one more paycheck away from paying off that $2000.00 bucks. And, we are on track to pay off the rest of the credit card debt by May or June of 2016! Yes!!! We can't wait to have no more credit card debt. And in about 6 months, WE WON'T! 

- As for that big school loan number, well, I wish I could say it's gone, BUT, it's not yet! We've been making payments on it and slowly bringing that number down. People act like I should just keep our school debt around like it's a pet. But that's not our goal, nor our desire. So we will keep paying minimum payments on the school debt until next May or June (once our credit cards are paid off), and then we will dump anything and everything we can into paying that little sucker off!

But we have good news! God keeps blessing us. Kasey just recently got a new job, and a pay raise to go with it! This means, we can achieve our goals faster. I just recently set up my 401(K), and now Kasey will have the room to do the same. This will help us prepare for a better future down the road. 

I hope my writing and excitement about finances isn't fooling you - it has been really rough at times in the West household. Kasey and I both sacrifice a lot in order to make $600.00 payments a month in just our credit cards (alone). We hardly ever eat out. We make breakfast, pack snacks and lunch every day, and we also make dinner every night. We live off $100.00 for groceries each week, and we make it WORK! We don't take lavish vacations, go out and see movies on the weekends, or buy things on a whim. And at times, it feels like we're drowning in debt. There has been Friday and Saturday nights where I curl up on the couch with Kasey and cry, just sharing how hard it is to be diligent and careful with our money. It's hard to see others going to concerts, traveling, buying houses and getting new cars while we look at each other and understand that's not where we're at in life. Not yet at least! 

I listen to Dave Ramsey, A LOT! His ministry and story keeps me motivated, encouraged and hopeful for our future. I have been laughed at, made fun of, and talked down to because of the way Kasey and I are handling our money. It doesn't make sense to everyone. I've been asked why we would strive so hard, especially in the first year of marriage, when there are so many other stresses. My answer is, we want more years of our life not "just making it" financially, but instead thriving, helping our kids pay for their college, and blessing others with random gifts just for the fun of it! 

"When you keep doing smart stuff for 5 days you have a good result, but when you do smart stuff for 5 years you really start to see a thing take on a life of its own." "You have to live like no one else, in order to live and give like no one else!" 
- Dave Ramsey 

So, we march on! Making small dents in our financial debt, while we learn to enjoy the process. God has been so good to us, and we've learned so much about Him and each other. We have learned what makes us feel secure and what things are important to us. We've seen God provide in big and unusual ways and I know he will continue to. We will continue to fight our quiet battle, and make choices that will lend us a greater future! 

I give everything to You Lord 

Monday, December 29, 2014

We're done with 2014?

You know those days, months, and years that you can't wait to be over? The times that seem like nothing is going right, everything has been crazy, and you just want a dose of relief? As I look back on twenty-fourteen, I am truly in awe of how much life has happened in JUST one year. My sister and I recently chatted about some major events that have taken place over this year, the good stuff, the hard stuff, and the amazing miracles that have taken place.

Then we agreed that if 2015 is less hectic, we wouldn't be mad! 

I want to share some amazing things that have happened over this past year.
Not to show a highlight reel, but to hopefully show you how good God has been to my family & I. 

My lovely sister, after years of dreaming of being a momma, became a stunning and super amazing mother to the cutest nephew an aunt could ask for! Although she was sick pretty much her entire pregnancy, Luke and her managed to produce quite a charming young man! It's been an awesome experience to watch my sister navigate motherhood. Her transparency, and openness about the good days and the hard days, shows me how much she desires to love her little man! So blessed to have an ever growing family.

Kasey and I got engaged! In June! In Portland! It was wonderful! We were so excited to get engaged and to be surrounded by loving friends and family. 5 months later, we got married. I might be a bit bias, but it was the most amazing wedding, EVER! I married a man that God plopped into my life as one of my best friends, never realizing that he would one day be my husband! I couldn't have picked a better human being to walk through life with. To fight for God's best for our lives, and to navigate through the madness of life. He's irreplaceable & incomparable! I'm officially MRS. WEST!

After Kasey and I got engaged, he started experiencing some pretty serious health issues. So the time that is usually spent celebrating our engagement, was actually spent figuring out how to operate with each other. It was a very good, and hard test of our relationship. After spending a week in the hospital, Kasey being out of work for two months, getting blood transfusions and having tons of tests done, he is healthier now. The scare of almost losing your soon-to-be husband, is enough to stress a girl out. But in those dark times, we saw God moving, working, healing, renewing, and drawing us closer to Him. Kasey and I figured out, before our wedding, that we truly meant, "in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor."

Last year in October, my sweet little niece was born! The next day, we found out that she was born with heart complications and she had to receive open heart surgeries. It was a scary time. Wondering, hoping, and praying that this little warrior would make it. But she's proven to us all, that she's a fighting, a very determined fighter! This year, in October, we got to celebrate this beauties first birthday. A miracle celebration that was lathered with the reminder of God's grace, His goodness, and His healing power. She's a walking testament to her parents love and prayers, and God's sweet reminder to live fully, love passionately, and waste no time on tomorrows but to live in each moment, today!  

Now, this picture may not look like much, but to me, it screams that God is faithful. It's a moment that I truly cherish. I have gotten to share my heart a few times at the women's event at my church, and each time I'm asked to hold a mic, I'm humbled. I had to make some really hard decisions in life to hold onto what I felt like God was calling me to. This is just a little glimpse of how God has shown me that He will bless me in my faithfulness, even if no one notices my efforts or acknowledges my desires to remain steadfast. He shows me daily, that He is watching over my life.

On top of all that, I've enjoyed countless cups of coffee with people who trust me enough to share their lives, their hurts, and their struggles with me. I've celebrated birthdays. Moved into a new place. Attended weddings. Wrote new spoken words and sketched new drawings. Seen God move and change lives in the youth students I do ministry with. Learned more about myself. My God. & My husband.

And although so much was packed into one year, I don't want to rush into 2015 to escape the madness of 2014. I actually feel quite lucky to look back over this past year and remember and embrace every life event. I'm thankful for each moment that exposed, even more, how thoughtful, loving, detail oriented, and personal my God is.

As I finish out 2014, I have so many things that I am looking forward to. All the new visions, dreams, ideas, plans, goals, and adventures that have yet to come to life. I am so expectant for the new things that will unfold in twenty-fifteen. I am anxious, in the best way possible, to see the amazing ways God will show Himself to me and to my family.

I'm ready to kick some major butt in 2015. Let's do this!
Cheers to 2015!  

 I give everything to You Lord

Friday, December 26, 2014

My Favorite Day Ever

I walked down the isle, November 22nd, to a man that I am so in love with. When the doors opened and I saw my husband-to-be, I can't begin to share the confidence that I felt in that moment. I was certain. Without a shadow of doubt, that this was the man I wanted to walk through life with. I couldn't even cry, walking down the isle, because I was just overjoyed that God has taken Kasey and I so far in life.  It was a beautiful feeling to know that I can stand tall, in the confidence that God has been leading, and will continue leading, our relationship. 

Kasey and I had so much fun celebrating our wedding with friends and family. It was perfect! Being surrounded by amazing people on a day that is such a life changing experience. 
Here are some stunning photos from my favorite day ever!   

A big shout out to our photographer, Danielle! 
Check out here website here: Danielle Apple Photography

Monday, August 18, 2014

We Will Not Back Down

I haven't given an in depth update of how life looks and how my sweet fiance's health has been. Cause to be honest, it's exhausting. We have shared progress with family and our church, when we are asked in person. But other than that, we are just walking out of our journey, and that takes most of our energy most days. Just the other day, I was sitting at Starbucks alone getting filled up in the Word, and a girl walked over and tapped me on the shoulder and softly says, "Are you Kasey's fiance." I proudly said, "Yes!" She explained that she went to school with Kasey and had seen my blog posts and wanted to see how we've been. A very sweet gesture.

I was already thinking about writing another blog post to update everyone on how life has been, and how Kasey is actually doing, but after we had talked, it reminded me of something really important. The disease Kasey has been diagnosed with is real, and challenging, but Kasey and I want to be known for glorifying our God and not his diagnoses. So I write, although feeling exhausted, because I need to share how good, how faithful, how powerful, and how personal our God is.

This is what things look like now! Kasey and I, a few weeks ago, didn't go to his scheduled doctors appointment as a step of faith. We felt like there was something more God had for us, besides taking out his colon out or going on immune-altering shots that he would need for the rest of his life. That same day, we sifted through all the information doctors told us, everything we read, and through all the suggestions from family and friends, and came to the same conclusion. Surprisingly, we settled on something that was seemingly unrelated, and the very thing that doctors said had nothing to do with Kasey's condition. Food! We agreed on food! We decided, there has to be a connection between what he's putting into his body and what comes out of his body. Right? Pretty logical! I will remember the night we decided to change our lifestyle. It was that peace, that didn't make sense, that was illogical, and up until that point, we had felt crazy that every doctor told us that diet was completely irrelevant and unrelated. But that's what we agreed on. And even if we WERE crazy, we made the decision together, and we both were in full agreement. Even that felt like a small victory, and we take what we can get these days!

We decided to cut out gluten/wheat, dairy, grains, and seeds. Ha! It makes me laugh even writing it. Out of everything, that was our conclusion. Kasey and I have always eaten more healthy and both are knowledgeable enough to make an educated decision about our dietary journey. We have completely changed what we put into our bodies, everyday meal, everyday! We have been strict and very particular. I have also joined Kasey in this new change. Because part of my commitment to him is walking with him, fully, through the things he does. With our wedding just a few months away, I figured, it's better to mesh our eating styles now in order to create an easier transition into married life. So we eat a lot of really good food. A lot of colorful food! Our meals consist of meat, veggies, fruits, eggs, and anything that isn't processed.

And can I please be the first to announce that Kasey did not have to go back to the hospital. He isn't getting his colon removed. And his bleeding has subsided. Most days consist of texts from my fiance which read, "No blood!" That is our miracle. That is our God showing up in our lives. That is our reminder that God hears our cries, knows our life, and provides real and practical help to us. Has our diet helped? We believe it has made a huge impact, but that dose not discount or negate the work God is doing behind the sense to completely heal and restore Kasey's body.

This is what I have decided. Kasey and I are called to serve God and love people, and that is exactly what we plan on doing. I had a conversation with God. It probably sounded more like me preaching to God, but I told Him this,

" Kasey and I will serve you. If Kasey does not receive full healing and this is our life long battle, then we will still serve you. I believe that You will grace us with the resources and wisdom we need to navigate through life with whatever comes our way. You wouldn't call us and put a plan and a destiny over our lives, so we can sit at home and squander it. You gave us a plan and a purpose because through us You will do a good work. So if You want to use us, please, have Your way. But weather You like it or not God, we will not leave our post. We will stand our ground. And we will serve You in the best ways we know how."

I don't know if God appreciates my spice. But He has loved me in a way, which no other has matched, that my life will forever be spent sharing that same love with others. So Kasey and I march on! Warriors for a cause bigger than our circumstance, and we trust that God has our best interest in mind! Please, continue the prayers, that has been huge for Kase and I during this process.

Our God is so good. Like, really, really good!

I give everything over to You Lord

Sunday, August 3, 2014

It's Not A Sprint, It's A Marathon

Since my last update about finding out that Kasey has a disease called Ulcerative Colitis, he and I have had to pray and discuss a lot about what our life looks like now, and what kind of treatment options we feel are best suited for him. We would both like to thank those of who have been praying along side us. This journey has been hard so far, and we are so thankful for your support, love, and encouragement. To put it nicely, it has been a whirlwind of emotions, questions, confusion, and concerns. Even with our wedding just a few short months away, Kasey's health has been our priority in life. Our thoughts and our energy have gone into making sure Kasey is the healthiest he can be. We have almost had to put a pause button, momentarily, on everything else, just so we can truly feel confident about our big life decisions about his health. Everything that the doctors are offering us are all life altering options. As my sister-in-law put it, "Kasey and I are having to grow up faster then others, by making decisions that others never have to think about." Needless-to-say, it's a lot.

After getting out of the hospital, Kasey and I have shared excitement with each other for what God has done in his life. Everything seems like a victory. When he eats and doesn't automatically go to the bathroom, we rejoice. (You never realize what you will be thankful for until it is taken away from you). Although we have been able to see some great strides in the right direction, we have recently been experiencing more setbacks. I took Kasey to get a sigmoidoscopy, last week, in oder for the doctors to do follow up tests on how his colon is doing. Which meant, again, my sweet love was put under and the doctors checked him out. Surprisingly his colon looked beautiful! (Things I never thought I would say).

Unfortunately, after the procedure, Kasey's bleeding started getting worse, and it was very reminiscent of his condition before going into the hospital. So, back to the GI we went. This time, the doctors physician (who was with us some of the time in the hospital), told us that since the steroids weren't working, we would need to look into a more "promising" alternative. She suggested removing his colon or going on immune-altering medication. Not the type of promising suggestions we were looking for. So we left the doctors office and told them we would have to do some serious research and some serious discussing. But we only have so much time with Kasey losing blood. We can't just take a month to pray over everything and visit other doctors offices and ask hundreds of questions, we need to make decisions and we need to make them now. Such a stressful position we are put in. And not to mention that stress makes ulcerative colitis worse - it is like a mean game the disease plays on us.

When I have said that this affects our whole life now, I am not using that term for dramatic affect, it literally alters the way we do things now. What we eat, where we go, how we resolve conflict in our lives, how much we commit to people and responsibilities, and how we view and respond to our relationship with God. Our date night consists of me checking Kasey's pulse in the movie theater, and sitting at our dinner table reading articles about how God uses suffering. Life is just different, not bad, just different.

Kasey and I believe that God could still heal Kasey any moment. But He hasn't, which means we are sifting through tons of information in order to make the best decisions with what we have been given. While this time before our wedding is usually spent planning, preparing, and figuring out ways to celebrate, we have found a new appreciation for each others love and are learning to celebrate in the things that mean the most to us. The way we do things now, is very different. We have to consciously do things on our time, when it isn't the most convenient for us, in order for us to make sure we are slowing down in life and taking care of Kasey's health.

We have grown a new appreciation for the suffering Jesus went through when dying for us. We spend time reading scriptures that remind us that we are not alone in the minimal suffering we are experiencing. We pray a lot. And then we pray more. We do whatever we can that works for us in any given moment when things are hard and confusing. We are learning to trust God, more, with our whole life and believing that He will honor the steps we take. Since there is no big flashing sign that says, "DO THIS," we are having to step out in faith even when we don't see an end or solution to his health issues.

All we ask for, continually, is prayer. Prayer for our decision making. Prayer for wisdom. Prayer for health. Prayer for miracles. And prayer for unity, strength, and a joyful spirit, as we walk through this journey. We are becoming more and more aware, that this isn't a sprint to the finish, it is a marathon that needs endurance. So pray for us if we come to mind - that would be a huge blessing for the both of us.

I give everything to You Lord

Monday, July 21, 2014

Our Trip To The Hospital

Kasey, my fiance, and I have been dealing with some health issues that have come up in Kasey's life. We have been worried, confused, and desperately seeking answers. The depth of our worry has increased this past month because his symptoms have gotten worse. For about 6-7 months, Kasey has had bleeding in his stool (large amounts of blood loss) so we went to get a colonoscopy to see if there was anything the doctors could see from the results. We had a follow up appointment 2 weeks after to discuss things with the doctor. He was diagnosed with a disease called Ulcerative Colitis. The doctor explained what the disease entails and he order a low dose of steroids to try to stop the bleeding. Well, it didn't work.

Kasey started feeling even worse, so he became
adamant about informing the doctor all of his symptoms. He was experiencing things like, high blood pressure, faint, light headed, winded, exhausted, short of breath, and at one point we were sitting on the couch and Kasey turned to me and said, "I feel like I could literally have a heart attach any minute." It was very scary. The doctor told us on Monday (July 14th) that he wanted him to get a blood test done, to check his hemoglobin levels since he had been loosing so much blood in his stools. This was the first time something registered for Kasey and I. Low blood count would equal faintness and fatigue, we looked at each other and knew that this effected out spirit the same, positive, way. So Kasey went the next day, Tuesday (July 15th), to get the testing done. By Wednesday (July 16th) they called him back and said, "You need to go to the ER right now. You have the potential of passing out any second. Your hemeglobin level is at 5.9." (Kasey and I had no idea what 5.9 really meant and what normal blood levels should be at. Come to find out, they do blood transfusion when blood levels hit 8. And he was far beyond that point) I got a call at work on Wednesday, from Kasey, telling me what the doctor had said. I grabbed my keys and I left work. Driving to his house felt like a million miles away, I had no idea what to expect, and honesty got worried that I might lose him.

I picked him up and we were off to the ER. The nurse that took us to check his vitals and get him admitted was shocked to hear that his levels were at 5.9. I didn't understand still, so I asked, "What should normal blood levels be at." Come to find out, for a guy like Kasey, on the lower end of normal, his blood levels should be around 11-12. They got us situated in a room and we found out that Kasey was going to need a blood transfusion. We naively asked, "So, how long will this take? 5 hours? 10 hours?" The doctor politely looked at us and said, "Probably over night." This, in a weird way, was God's way of answering our cries
and prayers for healing, resources, and answers. I sat next to Kasey in his bed and told him, "This isn't exactly how I thought God would answer our prayers." But being at the hospital was an answer to prayer, we just didn't know it was how God needed to bring us peace. Well, 5 days and three pints of blood later, we are still at the hospital. His levels only went to 8 after all the blood he received, which the doctors told us his blood count was probably closer to 4. They said he could have gone into cardiac arrest. So Kasey was right that night we were sitting on our couch, he could have had heart complications and possibly died. A very scary realization that we both faced this past week.

So now what? Kasey and I are making due with what we have. These are the cards we've been dealt and this is the life we have been given. We are making the best of this whole situation and praising Jesus for Kasey's life, along the way. The disease Kasey has, doctors say, is a life long condition. It may go into remission with occasional flare ups, but it is something that we will have to work through indefinitely.

And as much as I don't want to settle for the diagnosis we've heard from the doctor. It is hard to stand our ground and say, "We believe that God is going to do a complete healing of Kasey's body." I'm sure that sounds so hopeless and pessimistic, but it's where I am at. We believe that God is capable, we believe that He can heal Kasey in the snap of a finger, but we also know that if God doesn't heal Kasey over night, that our God isn't any less loving or faithful. I want to see miracles happen in Kasey's life. Kasey wants to see miracles happen in his life. So, as he and I work through doubts and questions and concerns, all we ask from you, is to pray. Pray that Kasey would experience an unexplained, powerful and miraculous healing. That his body would be made whole, and that we would be provided with the proper wisdom on how to best take care of his body from here on out. Pray for miracles! While we know that Kasey needs to be in the hospital right now, we have both talked about the expensive hospital bills and other responsibilities we have. Trying not to worry but instead just trusting that God would continue to provide for us. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, and financially. Please pray with us and for us! We would love your support in this new journey of finding a deeper sense of hope, a strengthen faith, and a positive outlook when it comes to life in and after the hospital.

I am so thankful for Kasey's life. He is still wildly passionate even in his hospital bed. I can't wait to see the comeback of my strong and contagious man. The enemy would love to knock him out of the game, but he has too much to offer this world, God isn't done using him, and He isn't done building a beautiful testimony.

Cheers to an amazing story that is being written before our eyes.

I give everything over to You Lord