I guess we’re not in the wilderness any more.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that since about 2005 our finances have been a bit… sporadic. While Pete worked full time (and more), and I cared for my elderly dad, started a business, and continued with the volunteer ministry God placed me in, we’d only get a paycheck every few months. We used up our savings, we simplified our lifestyle, we prayed—a lot! And God provided.
As you read this, Pete and I are off enjoying some much-needed R&R. More specifically, we’re at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, an hour plus south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Imagine 50,000 white Snow Geese, an undulating floe covering the waters of a shallow lake, then, with a tremendous honking and flapping of wings, rising en masse to fill the dawn sky. This has to be one of God’s most incredible spectacles!
Bosque del Apache is also the winter home for thousands of Sandhill Cranes, ducks, and other birds… and hundreds of birders and nature photographers. Our coming here was my 2012 Christmas present from my dad. It’s just what I wanted.
“Our credit cards are maxed out, and I don’t know what to do!”
“I can’t sleep at night—I just lie there and worry about our finances.”
I’ve been hearing a lot of comments like these lately. Many of our close friends are at the end of their financial ropes, and the cords are fraying. While my husband and I are doing all right—we’re paying all our bills, at least—we too are feeling the effects of a challenging economy and several years of missing income.
I knew when Pete made the switch from commercial consulting to full-time ministry that our financial situation would change. We were used to being somewhat frugal—at least we thought of ourselves that way—but this would be on a whole new level. Sensing God telling me we needed to simplify our finances and learn to live with less, I sought counsel from older (and hopefully more mature) members of our church. And I was astonished that no one had any advice for me. All I heard was, “You’re doing fine!” Really?
[5th and last in a series about God’s provision]
By far, the best part of this whole experience is not how God provided for our every need—and even some wants. Yes, that was amazing. I am thankful, grateful. But that was just the physical outworking of an inner transformation.
Some of what we’ve learned was relatively straightforward. Material possessions do not create happiness. New stuff isn’t necessary. In fact, God put me on a “stuff diet.” Not only did we avoid shopping, we cleaned out closets. For several years, we took joy each day in finding three things we owned and giving them away. The surprise? It was easy. We recommend this as a wonderful way to count your blessings while blessing others.
On the other hand, we learned that receiving is hard. As our friends and family blessed us, we had to learn humility to be good receivers.
My biggest lesson, however, was much harder to grasp.
[4th in a series about God’s provision]
Our income stopped.
Suddenly, with little warning, all funding sources dried up. There was just enough trickling in to pay our office overhead, but no salaries. We said good-bye to our office assistant, who needed a job with a paycheck. Our other co-worker, Cecilia, drastically simplified her life, and incredibly stuck with us as she undertook her own journey of faith.
And there we were. Pete and I had a mortgage. We had the normal expenses of owning two cars, living in a house, and wearing clothes. We had a habit of eating regular meals. We had one daughter, still in college, who was planning a wedding. Our other daughter, already graduated and gainfully employed, was more and more frequently referring to this guy named Jeremy. Hmm. Parents aren’t that dense.
I should add here that we regularly tithed to our church. We gave additional support to an assortment of ministries and missionaries. Never, not once, did we believe that God was judging or punishing us for any extravagance or lack of generosity on our part. It was with a clear conscience that we went to God and asked,
“So, what’s your plan to pay for all this?”
[3rd in a series about God’s provision]
Pete was still capable of earning a lot of money as a consultant to the computer industry. In fact, it was just as we were in the process of moving that he was offered an absurd sum to put his ministry on hold for three to five years while he worked for a secular company. Then we’d have plenty of money to do whatever God wanted. This was so clearly a test, it wasn’t even a temptation. We had our marching orders.
We arrived in Colorado with no visible means of support.
The unexpected extra profit from the sale of our Silicon Valley house covered our expenses for the first couple of years. Then that was gone. While we prayed hard and followed excellent advice for generating donations, our income was still far short of what we thought we needed. Maybe we weren’t very good at raising funds. As “behind the lines” workers, living in beautiful Colorado, we certainly didn’t measure up to most people’s notion of supported missionaries. Maybe, however, God decided it was time to answer my prayers from five years earlier.
[2nd in a series about God’s provision]
I’d like to tell you a little about our life in the last few years, as one story illustrating God’s goodness in trying circumstances. Perhaps it will give hope in a dark season.
I’ll start sixteen years ago, although that is certainly not the beginning. We were living near San Jose, living the Silicon Valley lifestyle. We had the requisite house, two cars, two kids, and a steady, dependable income that covered our expenses with a bit left over.
Even at this point, we weren’t quite typical. Pete worked as a computer technology consultant. He was paid on an hourly basis by his many clients. As his rates climbed with his growing expertise, instead of raising our standard of living, he started to work less. We determined how much money we needed to live on, and stopped there. The time this generated was donated to various local Christian mission organizations.