Timothy’s Heart

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Loving Dangerously

Timothy was always getting sick, coming down with one infection or another. I couldn’t figure it out- did he have additional respiratory complications? Was it the low-weight issue? Or maybe, just maybe, he had a heart defect. In fact, there was a good chance that Timothy had heart disease; children with Down Syndrome have about a 50% chance of also having congenital heart defects. It was a very distinct possibility, and because his color was dusty it seemed like a good likelihood.

In February an echocardiogram confirmed that Timothy did indeed have a few problems with his little heart. If he grew strong and healthy and plump, the defects could possibly resolve on their own. But if Timothy continued to do poorly, and his heart remained the same or got worse, he would need open-heart surgery.


The months went by after Timothy joined our Room of Hope, and he…

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Flouting the Rules: Why I Date (and Court)

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Confession: When someone asks whether I date or court, I usually answer them based on my best guess about their religious, educational and social background.

Are they a starry-eyed homeschooling teen craving advice? I’m courting. A disillusioned, angsty millennial wondering if I’m a sheltered Quaker? I’m definitely dating.

For the record, I’m trying to wean myself off the habit… and in my head, I do prefer to call it dating. I’ve rationalized the verbal discrepancy this way – when it comes to relationships, I engage in a unique blend of practices, models, and applications based on how I believe the principles of Scripture best apply to my current situation. And that blend is a “method” whose exact match I haven’t found anywhere else. Not in a book, not in a seminar, not in a sermon. Not in a movement, not in a trend, and not on a blog.

But how can I put that casually? Here’s how the discussion usually goes:

[insert well-intended, generally awkward question about method of relationships]

[marli does quick mental tally of situation]


Then, I always try to follow-up with the exact same sentence:

“But I get discouraged by the baggage that often comes with that term.  So, the simplest way to explain it might be that I am in a very intentional relationship – I wouldn’t start seeing someone unless I wanted to explore the idea of marriage with them, and unless we were both spiritually, financially and emotionally equipped for marriage. It doesn’t mean if I start seeing someone, I’m engaged. It just means I’m interested in them, and want to see if we would serve God better as a couple than we could serve Him separately.  Does that make sense?”

I’ve been in relationships with two absolutely wonderful, godly young men. One preferred to call it courting, the other dating. I ran with either term, and my approach to the relationship stayed exactly the same.

And guess what? Regardless of what we called it, both times, the goal of the relationship was achieved. I enjoyed getting to know both young men. I grew because of them. I was pushed closer to Christ. And when we realized God wasn’t pointing us toward marriage, we parted respectfully and with genuine concern for the other’s wellbeing. And yes – it hurt like crazy, both times. It was emotional. It was very, very hard. And I am so grateful for the radiant Christ-likeness both of those men modeled.

Phoebe put it so very well here:

God’s will is not for us to find our identity in a relationship with any human. I believe that God’s desire for His children in any relationship is to honor Him. The purpose of marriage is for a man and a woman to seek and obey God together. And I believe He wants the same for our relationships before marriage, whether we call it “dating” or “courtship.”

In either situation, we will be tempted.

In either situation, emotional heartbreak can occur.

No method will ever fix these problems, unless God is the main focus in our lives. And even then, we will still be hurt. Our response through relationship struggles should be to turn to God for healing and love.

In the words of Jesus, the greatest commandment is to…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Matthew 22:37).

No matter your method, you won’t have a happy relationship until you achieve that first.

I have been challenged and freed by the Botkin family’s webinar, Marrying Well: Practical Wisdom on Courtship. While they have chosen to call their route courtship, they enthusiastically acknowledge that it doesn’t gel with many traditional ideas about courting, and that it has played out differently in each of their children’s lives. None of the routes they chose are meant to serve as models, or as direct applications. Because you are unique. You serve God in a unique way. You are meant to display His glory in a totally different, never before seen, brilliant blend of culture, talents, history, ability and calling.

And why would you confine that radical combination to one relationship model?

Search the Scriptures. Run fiercely after the Lord.

His Word is a light to your path. Don’t hang out with fools, or mockers, or scoffers but delight in the law of the Lord, and on it meditate both day and night. If you’re doing that – really, truly doing that – I’m sure whether you go to the right, or to the left, your eyes will see your Teacher, and you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.

[Psalm 1/Isaiah 30]

10 Random Poems, For No Particular Reason

IMG_6493Sunday evening, a friend tossed a copy of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s, “I Wake and Feel The Fell of Dark, Not Day” across the coffee table to me (Warning: read at your own risk. It’s a ennui sucker-punch.) I’d read Hopkins, but forgot how deeply I loved him. Now I’m reading anything I can get my hands on.

This poetry spiral (a habit for me. I find a poet and breathe their work for a week or two) reminded me that I’ve not shared my passion for metered-verse here. So this is a rapidly compiled list of ten poems – not necessarily my absolute favorites, just the random selection that sprang to mind.

Click on one you don’t recognize – maybe it’ll open up a new world :)

10 Random Poems, For No Particular Reason

John of the Cross – The Living Flame of Love

John Donne – Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Kubla Kahn  This one filled C.S. Lewis with “inconsolable longing”.

Gerard Manley Hopkins – God’s Grandeur 

Paul Laurence Dunbar – We Wear the Mask

Walt Whitman – Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

T.S. Eliot – Ash Wednesday

William Carlos Williams – This is Just To Say  Probably the most adorable refrigerator sticky note, ever. 

Pablo Neruda – Come With Me

Javier Sicilia – The Track in the Wilderness

Win an iPad… (or, the ParentalRights.org Membership Contest)

EliteEmailBannerSome exciting things have been brewing behind this computer screen, and I’m so grateful I can finally share them with you!

Last month, I started working part-time for ParentalRights.org – a valuable organization that is working to pass a parental rights amendment to the Constitution, and to protect parental rights within the states. Yesterday, they launched their new membership program, which is full of fantastic resources and materials… Though I am a little biased, since I helped put it together ;)

But, don’t judge the shameless self-promotion too quickly please! I compiled it by talking with many of the parents I know and asking them questions… What did they want to see? What kinds of materials would be helpful to them? What kinds of things would they appreciate learning more about? Then, I followed up on their suggestions with some truly educated and experienced leaders in those fields.

So I’m really serious when I say it’s some fantastic resources :)

But, here’s the fun part. To help spread the word about the new program, ParentalRights.org is launching a membership contest. In it, you’ve got the chance to earn an iPod, iPad Mini, or $1000 in cash.

Yes. You should check it out.

Do it for me will you, so that I can win something vicariously? It’s kind of lame to get excited about contest prizes only to realize you’re not allowed to enter… because… you helped create the contest. It’s a downer. But you could still win!

Even if you’re too busy to enter, help me share it on the web please? FB, Twitter, Instagram… you name it. I would appreciate it so much!

Hope you all have a beautiful day!

P.S. And for those of you whom I love and keep asking – yes, I am still doing art :) I have no intention of giving that up anytime soon…

Laughing Without Fear

photoShe is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Proverbs 31:25-17

I found this article on Fox News this week, and was utterly inspired by how carefully the author presented her plan for being stay-at-home working mother. I could give disclaimer commentary, but I think it’s a solid piece that is very thought provoking. While you may not be able to follow her exact example, think about how you might apply her general principles to fit your own goals.  


How I’m Planning to Be a Work-From-Home Mom

When I was in high school, I met a woman named Kathy who changed my entire conception of how I could balance motherhood and work.

Kathy was my grandmother’s next-door neighbor. A mother of two, she ran a small accounting business out of her home—carefully balancing clients and projects with diapers and play dates.
To me, she had it all; time with her kids. meaningful work, and the freedom to schedule her life the way she wanted.

Kathy hired me to babysit for her kids one summer, and I was thrilled to peek into the inner workings of her life. As a high-schooler, I didn’t know exactly what career path I would head down, but I knew that by the time I had kids, I wanted to live like Kathy.

So, when I got engaged to my husband three years ago, I told him of my intended plans. I told him I wanted to stay at home with our future children for at least the first two to three years of their lives (maybe longer, depending on life circumstances), while holding down my own small business doing financial planning that I could scale based on my family’s needs.

Of course, I knew that my desire to stay at home wasn’t the only solution. Both my and my husband’s mother worked full time and raised well-adjusted children. Plus, in these economic times, having two steady incomes makes life much easier. Was it really necessary for me to ditch a traditional career to spend extra time with my children?

For me, that answer was yes.

With the work world becoming more flexible, I believe that it’s possible to have a fulfilling career that supports, rather than detracts, from motherhood. And I’m crazy enough to think I can engineer that life for myself… if I start working on it now.

Always supportive and practical, my husband asked me what we needed to do to make my vision happen.

Here’s what we’re doing.

After running some numbers, I estimated that it would cost roughly $50,000 to $75,000 over three years for me to stay home with two kids. That takes into account diapers, clothes and food (for them), but also big-ticket items like light child care, health care and unexpected expenses I cannot yet foresee.

Since we plan to have children in three years, we have time to save roughly $30,000 (barring any large emergencies). Doing the math, that means we’ll have to fund $20,000 to $45,000 of our child-rearing expenses with income.

a40025f858e84e5c8e8098533659a78dWe Devised a Savings Plan

Currently, my husband and I both work in finance—he, in business development for a bank, and I, in investor relations for an asset management firm. We have no debt aside from our mortgage (more on that later), so we are able to save $1,000 per month toward the baby fund. Our baby fund is part of our emergency savings fund now, although we’ve talked about separating it out to be clear on where the money is going.

Combined with contributing heavily to our 401(k)s at work, and my maxing out my IRA (seeing as how I may not be able to contribute when the baby comes), we’re saving roughly 25% of our pre-tax income.

While this may sound like an uncomfortably high savings rate for most, the truth is that we make a great income (almost $120K pre-tax) and we’ve been in savings mode for almost three years now (first for our wedding, then for a house!). We haven’t let “lifestyle inflation” catch up with us, so we just keep plugging along like we’re making 25% less than we actually do.
We Started Cutting Costs Now

We’ve actively made the decision to reduce as many essential living expenses as possible so we have fewer required bills each month.

A major example is our mortgage. When we purchased our home, we got a mortgage that we could afford on one salary—first because it extends the life of our emergency fund, but also so we could live more easily on one salary.

In addition, we’ve reduced a lot of our other fixed/recurring expenses. Over time, we’ve cut cable, opted for a limited cell phone plan, and stopped paying for “extras” like gym memberships. As the cherry on top, last year, we paid off all of our non-mortgage debt so that we don’t have monthly debt bills.

It can be frustrating to live so frugally—especially considering that our combined income is well into six figures. “Six figures” is the point most people associate with financial smooth sailing—as if surely you should be able to save well and live well at the same time. For us, that hasn’t really been the case. We still have to actively decide to make frugal decisions, delay gratification and save for a future that’s hard to visualize.

It’s made easier by the fact that we hold each other accountable, and try not to deprive ourselves of the little things that keep us happy—like a date night once per week, and time out with friends.

4dfb8ea07d4d43cc11df08f6ff2be7eaI’m Building Up My Business

In dreaming up my ideal work-from-home business, I wanted something I could scale easily and feel really excited about. I decided to pursue financial planning. I recently received my certificate in financial planning, the first step in my journey toward becoming a fully fledged Certified Financial Planner. While I fulfill my experience requirements, I’ve started offering budgeting, saving, and debt repayment services to young women and couples.

Right now, I’m keeping the business small and focused to build consistent income and a good reputation. My hope is to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $30,000 per year to supplement my husband’s income and our baby savings.

After my children have gone off to school, I don’t plan to reenter the workforce, but to ramp up my business instead. Although maybe I should be concerned about rejoining the workforce after time off, I’m surprisingly self-assured. I feel certain that there will always be a job for a motivated financial planner, and especially one who has shown she can bring in business.

We’ve Discussed What Will Change When the Baby Comes

When the baby comes, I plan to take off the first three months to adjust to motherhood. My husband plans to continue working full time, providing income for the family and continuing to grow our retirement savings.

After the newborn phase, I plan to get back to my home-based business, working in the mornings and spending time with my children in the afternoons. Like Kathy, I hope to hire a part-time nanny or babysitter to help take care of the children while I work.

If I’m able to bring in income beyond what I need to supplement the baby expenses, I will contribute to my Roth IRA.

Then Again, I Acknowledge …

From the outside, I am sure it seems crazy to be saving and planning for a child who doesn’t exist yet. What if I don’t like being a stay-at-home mom? What if my business fails? What if my husband loses his job? What if I don’t ever conceive? There are a lot of moving pieces, and I know that I can’t predict the future will play out as beautifully as I have planned.

However, above all, I think I’m giving myself options. Very few people ever regretted saving for a big event, and very few parents would be disappointed to have a financial cushion for their kids.

In conclusion, I find a lot of comfort in saving up to stay home with my kids, and I find a lot of excitement in building a business that can support myself and my family. I’m sure one day far in the future, my children will be thankful for my efforts, and that will make it all worth it.


Free Desktop Wallpaper

Hi there!

So, to explain some of the silence… I’m thrilled to unveil my art website, marlirenee.com‘s redesign. To celebrate, I’d love to share some Scripture based wallpaper I recently created.

1. Give a shoutout, or share the link to www.marlirenee.com on any social media platform.

2. Send a screenshot of your post to me at marlirenee@gmail.com.

Voilà! I’ll send you a link to download 5 beautiful desktop backgrounds. Enjoy!