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    Money and Marriage

    Solomon and Deona married with $90,000 in student loans and consumer debts. For the first two years of marriage, they struggled to find common ground when it came to handling their finances.

    “This couple’s story is not unique,” said Howard Dayton, co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries and Christian author of Money and Marriage God's Way. “Over time, I have noticed that a significant number of people calling into our money management radio program were married and dealing with financial issues concerning their spouse. Add the intensity of the financial crisis we have been in the middle of and you have a recipe for major league problems for many marriages. It's why I decided to write this book.”

    Dayton has now been happily married for more than 45 years. But as Dayton conducted research for Money and Marriage God's Way, he realized that while he had the money thing down, he needed to focus on the marital side of his own house.

    “We put a focus group together of marriage experts, including those who deal with stepfamilies and people recovering from divorce,” Dayton said. “For me personally, the experience of writing this book has had a huge impact on my own marriage. It helped me in many different ways to enhance our marriage relationship on top of what is said about money. I am convinced that many people totally miss the boat when it comes to money and marriage. God wants to use money to bring couples closer together instead of dividing them.”

    If you are considering marriage, Dayton believes you should think about these key factors.

    • Honesty tops the list. Research indicates that 55 percent of married couples are dishonest about what they do with their money. This clearly has the potential to destroy trust, so it is really important to start out your relationship with financial honesty.

    • Have a weekly money date to keep the lines of communication open. “While this may not sound very romantic, this exercise does have the potential to greatly enhance your marriage relationship. Start out your money date by praying and inviting God to be a part of the process. Review what happened last week in terms of income and expenditures, and make plans for upcoming bills. This is not a time to fight and nag. The goal is to make sure both of you are on the same page. I find in many marriages one person knows what is going on with the finances. And, the other doesn’t,” Dayton said.

    • Celebrate victories in your financial journey. More often than not, discussing money equates to a negative experience for couples. “Very few couples celebrate their financial accomplishments,” Dayton said. “I encourage them to be intentional about celebrating, encouraging one another, and expressing gratitude when they reach financial milestones.”

    Despite feeling like they were drowning in debt, Solomon and Deona decided to try these principles. Thus far, they have significantly reduced their debt. They attribute this accomplishment to creating a financial plan, sticking to it and learning how to make wise money choices.

    Check out Crown Financial Ministries, Financial Peace University and MagnifyMoney.com for information regarding budgets, reducing credit card interest and debt. You'll also learn more about eliminating unnecessary fees, maximizing cash back on everyday spending, and earning savings account interest.

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    Prepare for Marriage, Not Just the Wedding

    Looking for ways to strengthen your marriage before it starts? Try these tips to help you prepare for life after the wedding day.

    First, attend a premarital education class or premarital counseling. Eighty-nine percent of married couples who attended premarital education BEFORE marriage found it to be helpful down the road. Worthwhile classes will teach you communication skills and conflict management tools, along with addressing appropriate expectations.

    Find a mentor couple. Seek out an older, more experienced, happily married couple to provide wisdom and support to you as you begin your adventure together.

    Start thinking "We" instead of "Me." Marriage is a partnership. It will serve you well to remember you are on the same team. Make time to pursue activities together and explore common interests.

    Talk about your expectations for marriage. What are your goals for your marriage? How will you decide who does what around the house? Who will manage the money? Discuss your goals to help ensure a successful marriage. Unrealistic and unmet expectations often lead to resentment.

    Be committed. Since commitment is a choice, believing in the permanence of your marriage will actually help your relationship over the long haul.

    Talk about money. Save yourselves a lot of future headaches by discussing your spending habits and spending plans and goals. Always spend less than you make, save a little for a rainy day and try to avoid debt.

    Talk about children. Will you have children? If so, how many children would you like to have? When would you like to have kids? Will both of you work or will one of you stay home?

    How will work/friends/family/social activities affect your marriage? Also, discuss boundaries for your marriage.

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    How to Plan a Great Wedding Experience

    When you dreamed about your wedding, did you ever think so many people would participate in the process? 

    Your mother is hurt because you aren't wearing her wedding dress. The maid-of-honor has forgotten it is your wedding - not hers. Your fiance’s family thinks the wedding plans are too formal. How will you choose two flower girls when you have six cousins who are the right age?

    “These are the landmines that often hit brides out of left field,” says Elizabeth Thomas, co-founder of The First Dance. “After planning our wedding and finding out the hard way that lots of people had strong feelings about certain aspects of 'our' day, I wondered if there were other brides out there feeling the same way. I found out there were tons of them. My father and I decided to build this website to help engaged couples manage the people stress of wedding planning and have more wisdom to carry over to their marriage.”

    Checklists can’t predict which wedding tasks or people in your life have an emotion, opinion, or stake in how to complete a task. To make matters worse, sometimes the person with the emotion or opinion doesn’t even know it until it's already final or it’s too late. Thomas discovered this when her wedding invitations arrived.

    “I was so excited!” Thomas says. “I went into the living room to show my dad. Keep in mind that up to this point he had not seen nor expressed any interest in the invitations. He took one look at the wedding invitation and panicked! He started moving from room to room, but no matter what lighting he was in they were too difficult to read. They were unique invitations with red ink on red paper, orange ink on orange paper and yellow ink on yellow paper. We have a ton of middle-aged and older guests who will have similar eyesight to my father. Reprinting the invitations was out of the question. Needless to say, it was an emotional moment!”

    Ask any bride what they are experiencing. You'll find that underneath the “it’s my day, my way” mentality is the desire to have a joyous wedding planning experience. Nobody enjoys making their mom angry, stressing their dad about invitations or frustrating their groom. Some brides stress so much trying to maintain their ground that they just give up and let someone else have the final say.

    After surviving her own wedding, Thomas believes that couples can intentionally make the wedding planning experience pleasant for everyone involved. Here are a few ways to make that happen:

    To the bride: Over-communicate about wedding plans that involve your groom. Whether you two agree that he'll do a few tasks or you want his opinion on something, if he has no clue then he will have no idea what the decision is about. He needs to know who is impacted by it, the work involved and the timing of the task. Huge breakdowns happen when grooms are not given specifics around tasks. Then, the bride invariably believes he doesn't care or is not being supportive enough.

    To the parents: Keep your cool when others lose theirs. It’s not your wedding, but you do have a stake in it. Don’t be passive or pushy, but recognize that this is about more than money. It’s about emotion, relationships, loyalty, obligation, influence, control and competition. Money should not trump relationships. Don’t use it to blackmail, threaten, or manipulate - or you will pay a big price.

    Know your role in decisions. There are three general roles:

    • enthusiast

    • adviser

    • partner

    Roles will vary issue by issue and family by family, but should be as clear as possible to avoid problems. Sometimes clarity only comes after a disagreement or conflict.

    “I think the best wedding day is when the people you care about most feel loved, heard and valued,” Thomas says. “Every wedding checklist item is ultimately about your values, communicating those values with your spouse and about, well, married life!

    "Weddings, like marriage, involve hundreds of routine decisions, big and small. They involve small and large sums of money, and require a lot of work. The outcome of the planning and wedding day itself will stay with you and your loved ones forever. It can change your relationships for better or worse and set the stage for how you go through life in the future.”

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    10 Great Dates Before You Say "I Do"

    David and Claudia Arp and Curt and Natelle Brown found that many seriously dating and engaged couples had questions. Turns out, many couples wonder the same thing.

    “In many of our seminars, couples told us they were in love and wanted to feel confident that they could make their relationship work,” say David and Claudia Arp, co-authors of the marriage preparation book, 10 Great Dates Before You Say “I Do.”

    “While there are no total guarantees, there are certain areas couples can look at ahead of time that will give them a good indication about the potential longevity of their relationship. We wrote this book with seriously dating couples and engaged couples in mind. For seriously dating couples, the dates give them specific focus areas to help them determine if they should take the next step in their relationship. For engaged couples, it is great preparation for marriage.”

    When you are in love it is hard to imagine that any differences in opinion could really cause a rift in your relationship. After the Arps married, the honeymoon was over and their hormones settled, they discovered something. Marriage didn't quite meet their expectations, and little things irritated them.

    Surprisingly, after going through the 10 Dates, couples discovered a number of things they had not discussed that could be cause for irritation. For example, one couple discovered they didn’t agree on how to decorate their house. Another couple didn’t believe it was important to talk about how they will handle their combined income.

    “We looked for fun and creative ways to cover topics such as sharing hopes, dreams and expectations and appreciating your differences to managing your money and celebrating intimacy in your relationship,” the Arps say. “It was important to us to help couples talk about things they might not otherwise discuss.”

    Marriage preparation can help couples better decide whether or not they are ready to marry each other at this time. The 10 Great Dates give couples a road map to help them get to know each other better.

    What are your expectations for your marriage? Couples contemplating marriage shared a few of their expectations with the Arps:

    • I expect my partner to always understand and encourage me.

    • Our marriage will always make us happy.

    • We will talk about everything, and therefore we will avoid serious disputes.

    • With two incomes, we will be financially secure – especially since two can live almost as cheaply as one.

    • Our love life will always be exciting and satisfying.

    • I expect my mate to meet my needs—to be a lot like me.

    “Obviously, these people were shocked when their mates were unable to live up to their expectations,” David Arp says. “It is hard enough to meet expectations when we know what they are, but it is impossible when we don’t.”

    Even in the best of relationships, these expectations would be hard to live up to. Marriage is a choice.

    If you want to get your marriage off to a great start, do yourself a favor - get 10 Great Dates and go through it and/or participate in marriage education classes. Hopefully, these activities will help you understand each other better. Then, you can make wise relationship choices now and in your marriage in the future.

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    Wedding Expenses and Marriage Stability

    A friend's Facebook post that said expensive wedding rings lead to more divorce caught Randal Olson’s eye.

    “My girlfriend and I had recently talked about wedding rings,” says Olson. “She said she did not want a big wedding ring. After reading the study, I was thankful. I am one semester away from graduating with a doctorate in computer science. My focus is on research so I don’t take things at face value. As I read the study (A Diamond is Forever and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration), I ran across this huge table of many different factors that play a role in long-term marriage.”

    Some of the findings make perfect sense to Olson, such as:

    • Couples who date three years or more before their engagement are 39 percent less likely to divorce.

    • The more money you and your spouse make, the less likely you are to ultimately file for divorce.

    • Couples who never go to church are two times more likely to divorce than regular churchgoers.

    Other findings, however, took Olson by surprise.

    “I was pretty shocked to see that the number of people who attend your wedding actually has a huge impact on long-term marital stability,” Olson says. “Couples who elope are 12.5 times more likely to divorce than couples who get married at a wedding with 200 plus people. The more I thought about this, the more it actually made sense. Having a large group of family and friends who are supportive of your marriage is vitally important to the long-term stability of your marriage.”

    These findings surprised Olson, too:

    • There is a relationship between how much people spent on their wedding and their likelihood of divorcing. The findings suggest that perhaps the financial burden incurred by a lavish wedding leads to financial stress for the couple. Women who spent $20,000 or more on their wedding were 3.5 times more likely to divorce than their counterparts who spent less than half that.

    • The honeymoon matters! Couples who went on a honeymoon were 41 percent less likely to divorce.

    • A big difference in educational levels could lead to a higher hazard of divorce.

    • If looks and wealth are an important factor in your decision to marry a person, you are more likely to divorce down the road.

    “Some of my friends read these findings and commented that they were in the bad categories. They asked me if their marriage was doomed,” Olson says. “The answer to that is no, but according to this research, statistically they are more likely to run into challenges. I believe the biggest takeaway for someone considering marriage like myself, is this isn’t a list of do's and don’ts. However, this was a very large study and the findings are worthy of consideration to help couples have a more stable marriage."

    “I think planning is the key,” he shares. "It takes a lot of work to plan a wedding. Put that same amount of effort into planning for your marriage.”

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    Thoughts on Dealing With Grief and Loss

    Dan Summerlin loved sports and had started a softball team at his church, First Christian Church. While he was playing on the FCC team, his arm broke while he was throwing the ball from shortstop to home. Little did Dan and his wife Scottie know that his arm breaking would lead to the discovery that Dan had cancer. 

    From his diagnosis in May of 2016 until the day he left this earth on July 30, 2017, Dan Summerlin lived life largely. In spite of treatments and all that goes along with that, Dan did like he always had done: he lived. And when he was no longer with us, we grieved.

    On the one-year anniversary of Dan’s death, Scottie shared some thoughts that are worth passing on about grief and what she has learned in the past 365 days.

    “First, in my opinion, this can be a messy age in life,” says Scottie. “Many people are dealing with marriage troubles, parents passing, children leaving the nest, health problems, career crises, financial strife; you name it. All of these things cause grief and it’s not a competition. There’s no prize for the most pain. Starting over at any age is hard. And scary. Change is challenging.”

    Immersed in grief work through reading, counseling and talking with others facing major life changes, Scottie has put every type-A bone in her body to work in order to move forward. It’s her only choice. She is acutely aware that Dan is never coming home again.

    “What’s helped me most is trying to be understanding of others,” Scottie shares. “When someone cuts you off in traffic or can’t remember your name in the grocery store, or isn’t friendly to you, they might be grieving a loss of some kind. You don’t know what they’re dealing with. Grief is overwhelming. You’re very distracted. It takes months for your brain to get back to normal.”

    Somehow it nevers seems like the right time to have the hard conversations.

    “Have you talked with your spouse about what you would want if something ever happens to you?” Summerlin asks. “Spend some time doing it. People who lose their spouses tend to really struggle if they never talked about their wishes.

    “Do you have a will? Do you have a plan for your children? When something happens to a loved one, the people left behind are in no condition to make hard decisions. You can never have enough health, disability and life insurance. No one ever thinks something is going to happen to them. But if it does, it’s often too late to change policies. Money in no way buys happiness. But not having to worry about how you’re going to pay next month’s bills is a huge stress reliever.”

    Summerlin reminds us that people in pain are emotionally reactive. 

    “They can’t help it, so please be forgiving of them and decisions they make that you may not agree with,” Summerlin says. “Until you’ve walked in their shoes, you truly don’t understand their struggle.”

    If you have people in your life struggling with the loss of a loved one, give them your permission to move on so when that person is ready, he or she can give themselves permission to move on. The timing and what moving on looks like is different for everyone.

    Staying stuck in grief with the pain of the past is no way to live. Everyone deserves to look forward to the future with the ability to find some joy, peace and comfort each day.

    “Today I am thankful for Dan Summerlin for so many reasons,” Scottie says. “He was a wonderful man, husband and father. Was he perfect? No. Did we have the perfect marriage? No. We had real 15-year marriage struggles just like everyone else. But what I can say is we both always wanted what was best for each other. Now we were both strong-willed, so we could for sure disagree on what was ‘best,’ but I always knew no matter what, we loved each other and we would work it out.

    “The one advantage of anticipated death is the ability to plan. Dan and I were able to have all the conversations needed and he certainly set us up for success in his passing. He left the boys and me with a strong foundation of love and support. We could not be more grateful for our friends, family, school, church and community. They have helped us each day: before and after the cancer.

    “There was very little I didn’t know about Dan. I’m thankful for that. I have no regrets with him. He swept me off my feet from the first night I met him and I loved and adored him, as I held his hand as he took his last breath. I’m looking outside this morning, remembering what the sun looked like coming through the windows at the moment he passed. Honestly, yesterday felt more like the one-year anniversary to me since last year, July 30th was on a Sunday.”

    Summerlin shared that after Dan passed, she found the sweetest, yet most heartbreaking note that she thinks he meant to give to her before he died. He wrote it in the last few weeks when his faculties were leaving him. She wanted him to write letters to the boys, but he wrote one to her instead. 

    “Because he knew the best way for the boys to be happy was for me to be happy,” Scottie says. “And he gave me his blessing one last time, in writing, for me to move forward and find joy. And that’s what I try to do each day. Happiness is 100 percent a choice. No one or nothing can make us fulfilled. We have to choose it for ourselves.”

    After Dan's passing, Scottie started a support group for Widowed Moms Raising Children. The group, called Turning the Pages Together, is open to all women in the active stages of parenting, from birth through college and beyond. They meet twice a month, once during the day and once at night, at First Christian Church in downtown Chattanooga on McCallie Avenue.  For more information, contact Scottie Summerlin at [email protected], the organizer, Lisa Hale Gilvin, at [email protected] or go to http://firstchristian-chat.com/what-we-do/.

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    Can Your Kids Ask You About Sex?

    Research says that young people who "sext" are more likely to have sex, and that dating violence is on the rise. 

    So, picture this scenario: Your child sits down at the dinner table and asks, “What is sexting? What is sex?” or “How do babies get inside their mommy’s tummy?” 

    In response, would you:

    A. Laugh and change the subject?

    B. Get irritated and tell your child that those questions are not appropriate at the dinner table?

    C. Thank your child for asking such a great question and either seek to answer it or tell them that you will talk with them about it after dinner?

    Just thinking about answering these questions has and will cause anxiety for many parents. When asked about talking with her children about sex, one mother replied, “My parents didn’t talk with me about it. I think I would just die if I had to talk with my son about it. He’ll figure it out.”

    Let's consider that statement for a moment.

    When young people are left to figure things out for themselves, the results can disastrous. Parents can help their children/teens understand that relationships based on sex aren't healthy or cool by talking openly with them about topics such as sex, love, lust and romance. It's also an opportunity to help your child think about how certain actions now can impact their goals for the future.

    If you are on the fence about talking to your children about sex, sexting and the like, consider the benefits.

    • Children develop an accurate understanding about their bodies, and about sexuality, instead of getting inaccurate information from friends or the media.
    • They learn that talking to you about sex doesn't have to be embarrassing.
    • You equip your child with information they need to make wise choices for the rest of their life.
    • You are teaching them life skills like self-discipline, problem-solving and planning for the future… skills that will help them move toward productive living.

    So, here are some helpful tips for taking the plunge and starting that conversation with your kids:

    • Be an askable parent. Encourage open communication. Tell them it is okay to talk with you. If you don’t know the answer, find the answer together.
    • Don't overreact. The number one complaint from teens is that parents jump to conclusions when they do ask questions. The goal is to keep the dialogue going.
    • Take advantage of teachable moments. The latest sexting research, the pregnancy of a friend and television sitcoms are teachable moments.
    • Listen. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen as your child shares. It is a great way to learn what they are thinking. Hint: If you want to know what is really going on, do carpool duty and keep your mouth shut.
    • Less is more. State the facts, be honest and keep it simple and age appropriate.
    • Share your expectations and values, too. Whether it is sex, drugs, alcohol or something else, tell your children what you expect. Be clear about your family values.

    The best way to protect young people is to educate them. Are you an askable parent?


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    The Impact of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing on You

    For many years social scientists have been warning society about the cost of family fragmentation. There have been ongoing discussions concerning the impact on children and adults emotionally, educationally, economically, physically and in other areas of life. A 2008 report reveals the economic cost of family fragmentation to taxpayers.

    According to The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing, by the Institute for American Values, The Georgia Family Council, The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest, divorce and unwed childbearing conservatively cost taxpayers $122 billion annually. The costs are due to:

    • Increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty,
    • Criminal justice and education programs, and
    • Lower levels of tax revenue from those negatively affected by family fragmentation and increased childhood poverty.

    “In 1970 the number of children residing in two-parent families was 85 percent,” said Dr. Ben Scafidi, principal investigator for the report. “In 2005, only 68.3 percent of children reside in two-parent families. This is a dramatic decrease over a short amount of time. Clearly we are seeing the impact.”

    Long-standing research shows the potential risks to children from broken homes include:

    • Poverty,
    • Mental illness,
    • Physical illness,
    • Infant mortality,
    • Lower educational attainment,
    • Juvenile delinquency,
    • Conduct disorders,
    • Adult criminality, and
    • Early unwed parenthood.

    “This report isn’t just about the money; we are talking about real people and real suffering,” said Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council. “The economic and human costs make family fragmentation a legitimate public concern for all of us. Historically, Americans have resisted the impulse to surrender to negative and hurtful trends. We fight problems like racism, poverty and domestic violence because we understand the stakes are high. And while we’ll never eliminate divorce and unwed childbearing entirely, we can certainly be doing more to help marriages and families succeed.”

    The 2008 report sponsors say this is not a slam toward divorced people or single parents. It is purely providing information that we have never had before, and it could be an opportunity for communities to take grassroots prevention efforts to the next level.

    So what can YOU do?

    • If you have a teen, encourage them to participate in healthy relationship skills class.
    • If you're engaged, participate in skill-building classes that teach you how to have a healthy, long-lasting marriage.
    • If you're in a healthy, long-lasting marriage, encourage newlyweds and offer wisdom along their journey.
    • If you belong to a religious organization, look for ways to engage couples and families in ongoing programming that seeks to meet them where they are and give them skills, hope, words of encouragement and a network from which to draw strength in tough times.
    • If you're in a business setting, make sure your employees know about community resources and encourage them to take advantage what is available.
    • If your marriage is in trouble or distress, seek help.

    It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The report states that a 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.1 billion annually. This doesn’t even take into account the heartache and emotional upheaval that could potentially be prevented if this report is seen as a call to action to the people of our country.