Here in the U.S. we live in a credit-driven society. If you do not use credit cards, have a car payment, mortgage, student loan and other types of loans, you are viewed as if there is something wrong with you.
The purpose of this blog is not to debate whether or not a Christian should ever go into debt. Most people would be unable to pay cash for their homes and many are unable to pay cash for their vehicles. Believe me, I understand that. Also, businesses often need a line of credit in order to to do business. Also, I am not saying that a Christian should not have any credit cards. Many people do use credit responsibly. They use a credit card to pay their monthly bills and then at the end of the month, they pay the bill in full. I know someone who pays their mortgage using their credit card and then a few days later, they pay the credit card bill. In the meantime, they get the perks offered by their credit card company and have taken some wonderful trips with the points they earned. It works for them.
I'd like to share a bit of my story however, as a reminder that things can happen when we least expect them to. It is my the hope that it will cause people to at least give some thought about credit, debt and the Christians.
In 2007, my husband and I were both working. He had been employed by the same employer since 1985. While I had taught part-time for the most part while our son was growing, I was now teaching full-time in a large school district which I'd been working in for 17 years. Though there had been layoffs, I had enough seniority to avoid them.
We had put off buying a home as we were able to rent a home my mom owned for a very good price until 2000. At that time, the cost of housing had skyrocketed so we rented for a few years before buying a house. This was our situation in the fall of 2007. Yeah, like most people, we did have debts but I'd just gotten a big raise and we'd soon be debt free in about a year or so. It was no big deal... so we thought.
Then, in December 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer...
Even when one has insurance, serious illness can have a devastating effect on the household finances. Especially if you are unable to work while undergoing treatment which lasts for eight months. What do you do?
A lot of people do what we did. We cut corners where we could and borrowed. I remember right before I started chemo getting a call from a bank which offered me a $2,000.00 line of credit which I could get a cash advance on that day. Did I bother to ask God about it? No. I did what I had done so often before. I viewed this as God's way of helping me out. This is just one example.
Yes, debt had mounted by the time I finished treatment in August 2008 but I was starting to work again and we could make the payments. We'd be fine in a couple of years. It would be "okay". Just as I came out of chemo, my pancreas had decided it had enough and called for a work slow-down. At least I had several doctors it couldn't sneak past and they caught it just as it was slowing down. Whew!
Except... I had a ruptured brain aneurysm and a stroke in December 2009. Uh-oh. That put me out of work for a bit and that was enough to put us underwater. Now historically, we would have normally had equity in our home and been able to take out a loan to get back on our feet. However, the housing market had collapsed and our house was "underwater", meaning we owed more on the house than what it was worth. Uh-oh.
There were a couple of rough months but we got back up on our feet by April 2010. Things would be fine. They might take a few years longer but they would be fine. Then..
In January 2011 it was determined that the SAH I had suffered may have caused some damage which they had not previously detected and I was put on a medical leave while they tried to determine if it was temporary or permanent. While I recovered amazingly well from the rupture (it happened in my sleep), there was some damage which was impairing my short-term memory and this was causing a problem with my job performance. Most of 2011 was spent hanging out in doctors and psychologists offices trying to figure out what I could or could not due, seeing if cancer had come back and having lab work done and wondering if I would get long term disability when it was finally determined I was not medically fit to return to work.
At the beginning of 2011, we were facing more debt than we had ever owed before. We were also facing the potential of a 60% drop in our household net income. Oh, and I could not file for unemployment because technically, I was on a medical leave of absence for up to three years so I was employed even if I was not working at the moment. If I could not return to work and if I was not granted long-term disability, we would not be able to keep our home even if we filed bankruptcy. This was one very scary situation to say the least. It is bad enough when you are healthy but when you are not, well, it is a bad situation.
Even if I was granted LTD, there was was no way we could possibly meet all of our financial obligations even if we cut things down to the bare bone. The loss of income would still be too great due to debt above and beyond our mortgage. That's just the way it was and we had no one to blame but ourselves.
This is the first step in taking charges of your debts. Stop blaming your situation or other people for your debt. You are in debt because you signed the document, you ran up the charges or you allowed someone else to run them up and then leave you holding the bag because you were silly enough to say that you would be responsible for the debt of someone else. It is not their fault, it is your fault. Until you start taking responsibility for your actions, God cannot help you get out of the hole you dug yourself into.
Next, admit to God that you were a poor steward. Rather than wait, save and buy later, you had to have it now. Rather than ask God to provide for your needs, you trusted in a piece of plastic or the bank to provide for those needs instead. I remember when the ramifications of this hit me square between the eyes. Think about this rather carefully and you will see what I mean and this leads to the next step. We must repent.
True repentance means you can not go back to doing business as usual. A change in your behavior must take place. Now you may not know how to change the situation but God does.
Just after we'd gone through these steps, God placed the tools and resources right in front of us for teaching us and helping us to become good stewards. Yes, He did have a few people step in to help us over some rough spots and we greatly appreciated that. He also provided my husband with additional free-lance work as well as overtime opportunities. However, it was up to us to properly manage what God had given to us and we had to make sure that we did not neglect giving back to God and others as well.
I received my last full paycheck from teaching on March 11, 2011. That was just over a year ago. Over the past year, God has faithfully enabled us to pay every single bill on time for the entire amount due. We were able to meet and even exceed every pledge we'd made to our church and other charitable organizations. We have paid off 33% of our debts aside from our mortgage and one vehicle was paid off six months early. We hope to have the other one other one paid off by this summer which would be six months early as well. Creditors who were not willing to reduce interest rates, suddenly said yes. There is now even a possibility that we will be able to refinance our mortgage even though our property is currently "underwater". Slowly but surely we are climbing out of debt as we seek God's guidance and follow His instructions.
As I said in the beginning, the purpose of this blog is not to tell people they shouldn't take out loans or buy something on credit. That is something they have to ask of God. I am only sharing what happened to me when I remembered who I was and who God is. All that I have is in reality His. If we seek Him for help and follow His instructions instead of doing what we think best or doing as we please, He will help us become better stewards and He will supply our needs for He knows you will use what He gives you wisely. He will help us so that we will no longer be a slave to the lender but be truly free!