Prosperity and Pain
My wife, Melyssa, and I were really hurting. We d get together with friends and they would pour salt in our wounds without even realizing it. Our conversations with these friends often turned to the new house, the new car, the big vacation, or the kids sports camps. Yet my family was headed in the opposite direction.
We were going down the tubes financially, losing our house and bordering on bankruptcy. It was an increasing challenge not to compare ourselves with others. Eventually, Melyssa and I didn t feel like talking much with our friends, and even ignored talking with each other. Our conversations centered on our decreasing finances, and it was depressing, so we thought, Why talk and just get more depressed?
I had been successful throughout my years in the high-tech industry. We had our house custom-built in 1998, and two years later, we bought a new minivan with all the options. I was a well-paid project manager for a rising-star company. But when the financial markets turned in the spring of 2001, our adventure capital investors pulled their money, and the doors closed on the company and on my secure income.
I looked for another job in the computer industry, but instead took a promising job as an executive recruiter. Three months into this job, 9/11 hit and most companies stopped hiring. After nine months of basically no income, I quit.
Fortunately, my family was able to rely on the substantial savings we set aside before I lost my high-tech job. We stopped eating out and canceled vacations and weekend getaways. We spent less in any way we could. Our three-year-old daughter didn t notice much difference in her life, but our 11-year-old son experienced plenty of first-hand nos to fun things and activities that his friends were enjoying.
In time, we went through our savings and took a second loan on our house. Melyssa started a home-based business, and then went back into nursing. I started a new job in 2002 with a start-up company providing computer support for small businesses. But after a year and only making $15,000, I took a better paying job as the general manager for a home theater company.
We had always lived well below what we made, yet now every month we were paying $2,000 for our two mortgages and $500 on our minivan. In two years, we had depleted our second mortgage as well as our retirement and college funds; $80,000 total.
We tried to sell our minivan with no luck. The day after we parked the van at a used car lot, a driver on the street hit a light pole that landed on our van. Repairs cost us a $500 deductible. With only a year left in payments, we decided it was more economical to keep this reliable vehicle.
Next we tried for four months to sell our house and were now three months behind in mortgage payments. We could make our current payment, but the mortgage company refused to accept partial payments on the back $6,000. In January 2004, we had to foreclose and move into a rental home.
Losing our house was scary and humiliating for us all. I m a seminary graduate with plenty of head knowledge about God, but this series of trials challenged to me to trust the true God and not just a god who always lets man prosper. I clung to the belief that God is in control and always does what is right, and this is what carried my family through all the financial blows.
At times both Melyssa and I were ticked off at God. I grew spiritually apathetic and had no desire to communicate with Him. This apathy carried over into my relationship with Melyssa and our family. Our son was angry and said, If this is how God treats us, why would I want anything to do with Him?
But God did not abandon us. In March, 2004, He provided a job for me as a pastor at one of our city s largest churches. Yet our financial nightmare was far from over. Our debt was complicated by my injuries from two car accidents that left me, a former mountain marathoner, suffering with chronic neck pain. We ended up in a lawsuit against the insurance company. We lost the case and were saddled with all legal costs nearly $50,000.
Now we were in debt around $125,000. Creditors called us constantly and talked about garnishing our wages. We saw no other way out than to file bankruptcy. We were devastated. Here I was a spiritually struggling new pastor who filed and lost a lawsuit and then declared bankruptcy. Talk about shame!
There are many credit ramifications in declaring bankruptcy, and I don t believe we ll ever fully recover financially. I m 47 and have the savings of a 20-year-old and no college money for our kids.
We re still hurting as a family, but we absolutely see some strengths from all this. We re learning to be honest with each other, with our friends and with God. We have a greater appreciation of the little blessings in life and of the people who have stuck with us even when didn t feel like being around them.
God completely broke us and I think that s what I needed. Through this experience, He has given me a more compassionate heart and an incredible opportunity to guide and help people through financial, physical or emotional pain.
Not long ago I counseled with a suicidal man who had major financial problems. I told him our story, and upon hearing my journey through the worst of it, he was able to hang on to life. That one conversation showed me an even greater purpose to our hitting bottom financially: God loves us deeply and has a perfect plan for our lives, even if it includes seasons of pain instead of prosperity.
* Last name withheld upon request.
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