While my last post was filled with drama about how I got myself into this mess, the true drama for me is finding the way out.
If I could remember the very day I made this decision I would celebrate it yearly. I don’t remember, but at some point around age 27 I cut up all my credit cards and said “No more.”, and that was truly the end of it. I wish I could say that was the easy part and the freedom was instantaneous…nope.
The next 4 years were the best years of my life for growing in my relationship with Jesus and in knowing myself. It was filled with a lot of change for me, a lot of soul searching, prayer and bible study, some counseling, suffering, prioritizing, purging, giving and more. I had a great church family and I was surrounded with a lot of friends my age. I know having those in place gave me the courage and support to make the changes I needed to make both personally and financially.
I changed a lot of my habits around this time. I remember one particular event as being a catalyst to help me along. I decided to sell my house that I had only owned a few years. It was modest, but I could not keep a committed roommate, so I felt the money I was spending would be better used to pay off debt. But the actual event I am referring to is something that happened in the selling process. My realtor Chris, a friend, gave me a few hours of his life and came over and made my house more ready for buyers. I had a particular look…kind of “shabby chic – repurposed junk – antique – objects I liked”.
It was a decent style at the time, but unless you knew me personally, it looked like a cluttered house. And here is the thing…I “loved” my stuff and never felt cluttered. These things defined me in a way…told a story about who I was and what kind of things I loved around me. But Chris and I went through the house that night, removing to the garage a great number of unnecessary items, both furniture and decor. We basically filled my one car garage.
(It’s actually interesting that I have old pictures of my house. I loved my decor/style so much that I took pictures before we cleared it out to sell. My current self would be breathing in a paper bag if I had to live in this today! Lol!)
And there was something freeing in that. It happened over time as I realized that those things were in the garage and I didn’t miss them, and there was something about a more cleared-out space that felt refreshing. It completely changed me. I would not mention it and make such a big deal about it here if I didn’t think that that one event made a big difference for me.
So I believe it was a start of a “purging” of my life. I recall giving some of my things to friends who needed them. I recall becoming realistic on pricing my garage sales…so things would actually sell! In general, “things” stopped being as much a part of the definition of me. And that was a great lesson. I sold my house and lived for about 2 months with a generous couple in the church with an extra bedroom. Then I lived for about 8 weeks, in July and August, in the steamy attic of a girlfriend and her roommate who lived in an inner-city house in Indianapolis. Great experiences…and humbling times. I had to accept help that was offered and make sure to treat those offers with respect and not take advantage of staying too long. So in the fall I found a roommate and we signed a lease together for an apartment.
Over the next few years I worked really hard to pay as much of my debt as possible. I felt very proud of myself. During this period I had one very hurtful experience that in the end taught me a lot and made me stronger. But it was just horrible to go through. I think it was in the year 2000 that an opportunity came along for me to work in a parachurch organization. I was really excited about the job, but they offered me WAY less than I was making at the time. I wanted it so badly. I kind of thought it might get me on the track I wanted to be on career-wise. I was willing to sacrifice to do it, but I knew I could not give up on paying back my debts.
So I talked with the guy who wanted to hire me (who would be my direct boss) and laid it all out, telling him the minimum I could accept for the job (which was more than he was offering but still a lot less than I was making elsewhere). I told him that I had debts that I was paying off (mistake!!), and I even told him the amount (red flags everywhere!!!). He really wanted me for the job so he gave me what I asked for. It was an even bigger sacrifice for me in every day life, but one I wanted to make. So I gave it 150% and really loved the job. I gave him all the best of everything I could do for the organization.
Within the year I found out that he had a low opinion of me that he had developed toward my financial situation, because of the truth I had shared with him about my debts. He, knowing nothing about my past and all the debt I had already paid and the sacrifices I had made, pretty much humiliated me by judging me, putting me down, and telling me how I should or should not spend money. And he tried to justify himself by basically trying to convince me that I deserved his lecture because of my obvious wrong living. It was a low point.
There was no denying that although I had far to go, that I had already accomplished something amazing in my life. So I didn’t doubt that. But his thoughts of me had poisoned him and every opinion of me. And with sadness for all the hope I had for my future in that job, it ended soon after that point, when he and I could not find a healthy respect for each other.
I share that part of my life to let you know that even the most Christian, well-intentioned people will judge you and hurt you. I hope you don’t know that from your own personal experience. Our hope must be in Christ, and our steady ground is Him. He is unshakable, so we can rest on Him and when those around us judge us and hurt us, He knows. He knows our heart and our intentions and our past and present and future. By then I knew…God was the only one I could count on in any circumstance. He is the rock upon which I lean.
By the time I was 31, I had paid off half of all my debt. I was still paying the consequences, but I was truly living a new life. It was freedom. I tell people all of the time that “There is no shame in overcoming.” I do not feel the shame anymore, only the joy of the overcoming. The strength and courage and patience and will came from God, and He brought beauty from ashes. Next…I got married and a new financial chapter begins. (to be continued…)