Confessions and Searching for Redemption

Whenever I see a disturbing, recurring pattern in our children, I start praying about the source of it. Ingrid has lost her temper twice this week — is she overtired? Are her sisters pushing her buttons? Dagne burst into tears three times today. Did I actually see her eat lunch? Greta is taking deep sighs and reporting strange symptoms. Have I hugged her and kissed her enough? She needs touches — lots of them. It makes her whole world go better. If Elsa is nitpicking her sisters, do I need to encourage her to skip a few activities, so she doesn’t have too much on her plate?

These are the little patterns that I observe and smooth over like a good mother should.

Yet, in my life, there are larger, disturbing patterns which are harder to see. I lack the perspective to recognize the patterns quickly, and, because my habits and emotions are involved, the willpower to solve them.

I guess that is where the Holy Spirit comes in. If you invite Him, He asks you to start cleaning up your life, and all the while He’s cleaning far more than you ever could.

I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get to sleep again. I hate that. But I tossed and turned and started praying about our lives and what is our purpose and why are we here and where do we go from here, blah, blah, blah. For some reason, the case of beer I bought was bothering me. It sort of wriggled around in my gut and I couldn’t figure out why.

I justified. It’s cheaper than buying just a six-pack. A beer a night is good for the stomach. It helps the digestion if eaten with food. It’s cheaper than wine.

But it wasn’t just the beer. I mulled over the loss of the house, the choices we were making about where to live, and about the kids’ activities.

I got home late because I picked Elsa up from volleyball and checked out some houses. Paul was annoyed. It was 8:15 p.m. and the whole family had waited for us to eat.

“I thought you’d eat without us,” I said.

Paul threw his hands out, exasperated and said, “Can’t we just have a meal together?”

I thought about my earlier post and felt guilty. I hadn’t gone a day without breaking the cardinal rule that dinner together as a family is sacred.

But it’s our whole lifestyle. Elsa wants to play sports in Prineville because they have talented coaches there. We’re willing to make some sacrifices because … the girl has talent. She’s a prime candidate for a scholarship. We view it as an investment. But she also wants to attend school in Redmond. Paul works in Madras. All three of these places are about a half-hour away from each other — driving 60 mph. Gas is still nearer $4 than $3.

The girls want to begin co-op — a group of homeschool moms and dads who get together and pool resources to teach a variety of things. That’s in Redmond. And it costs. Not much. Just cleaning fees and lab fees — just enough to cover the costs of running it. But just the same, it costs.

And all the while, there are unpaid orthodontist bills, unpaid phone bills, sewer bills, power bills, water bills … things we left unpaid because we only had the money to eat.

Greta wants to play volleyball. Guitar is supposed to begin.

And I justify spending money here because we only have the kids once. We can’t do this over. I recognize that it’s a one-time deal. I want to equip them for all the possibilities in which they show talent and desire. Unfortunately for our pocket book, there’s hardly anything in which they don’t show talent. And … being good at something only increases the desire to do it. They have the temper that loves challenges, loves to learn, and loves to work at something until they are skilled.

So I prayed about the source of all these problems and everything points to the girls’ parents and the choices they’ve made regarding money. And perhaps, since I’ve been the one to do the bills, it points directly at me.

It goes back to when we decided to borrow money to get our degrees. That set us back and started us on the wrong track. It fluctuated for awhile when we bought Christmas presents we couldn’t afford. Then, we’d pay it back over time. We’d get debt-free except for the school debt. But it was a disturbing pattern. Borrow. Pay back at interest. We followed well-meaning advice and bought a house before we should have. And then, when we had to move because of a job, we had to pay for a house payment and a rent. That set us back. But … we’d work hard to get everything back to rights except for the school debt.

Then, we had an opportunity to live rent-free and right next to our place of work. We thought, “This is our chance to pay off that school debt.” But we had scrimped and scrounged for so long that we felt we “deserved” to live a little. And I felt the pangs of cabin fever and had to get the girls involved in something so I could escape the loneliness of the house. Thus, gas expenditures from trips into town for this and that and every kind of “good” thing available ate up any rent saved. We added a truck payment to our debts and I worked to pay it off. Paul hated my working opposite schedule and asked me to quit. So we sold the truck. At a loss.

Then, the epiphany came. Paul and I had all sorts of lovely ideas to reach out to others, to minister. But we couldn’t do it while enslaved to debtors. The words, gain your freedom seemed to roll through my mind.

But, instead of doing it the slow, bit-by-bit, careful way. We planned on gaining our freedom in one sweeping move. We’d build a beautiful house and do all the work and … if we couldn’t afford it, we’d sell it in two years for a fantastic profit. This is what everyone was doing. Everyone was pulling out equity and paying off debt and saying it takes money to make money, so borrowing to build wealth felt like wisdom. The property values were rising. I encouraged us to buy before things got too expensive.

We paid $20,000 for our lot. Within months, our lot was worth $120,000. When we began building, we pulled out a loan for $280,000. Our home was assessed at $425,000.

And you all know the rest of the story.

Four years later, the real estate agent listed the house for $160,000. We got an offer for $140,000. The bank refused it.

It gets worse. The mistake could have been recognized sooner. The first year, we recognized we couldn’t afford  the house and planned to let it go. A well-meaning, loving relative strongly recommended to not stop making payments. He thought we should attempt to refinance. But we had underestimated the cost of the building of it and had borrowed to complete it. No one would refinance it when we were maxed out. So, he loaned us money to make it look like we didn’t owe that much.

It was dishonest. Plain and simple. It was Machiavellian.

Had we remained scrupulous and principled, we could have perhaps worked out a modification with our home. We could have settled with the credit card companies. We might still have our home.

Instead, we’re out of home and we still owe our relative.

The bank wouldn’t refinance.What eventually happened would have happened two years previous if we had only refused to borrow — again.

I’m even more ashamed to admit that we had just completed a Dave Ramsey course when we were convinced to borrow to save our home.

But that was just one point in our relationship with money. Lets go back further. When we built the house, after we were assured we could get the loan and had paid for the plans, we discovered we needed to look like we had money in the bank. Our loan officer assured us this is done all the time, the banks know it, but they have to follow protocol. So we were advised to attach our names to a relative’s bank account to show that we had money in the bank.

Wow! Writing that down in black and white is extremely shameful. I am really embarrassed. But confession is the first step to forgiveness. And perhaps a very public confession will bring about a deeper forgiveness?

We did it. Well-meaning relatives were kind enough to make it happen. Paul was more bothered by it than I was. I didn’t like it either but I didn’t want to lose all that money we had already committed. Why didn’t they share this information when they gave us the go-ahead? Why didn’t we understand this fact before we had spent cash on plans?

The fact was … we couldn’t afford to build our home, let alone keep it. We should have admitted it and accepted the consequences. We should have never borrowed under these shady circumstances. It’s about principles and habits — not results. The ends don’t justify the means.

All the little manipulations, the little lies, the little maneuvers, enslaved us and enmeshed us further.

I’ve been praying, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and it always makes me think in terms of money. I don’t loan my kids money. If they left it at home, too bad. I don’t wish to enslave them. It is fine for me to give them money. Gifts are not loans. But why would I ever wish to enslave my own children? I want them to learn to never, never, never, never, never, borrow. Ever.

Ever, ever.

The Muslim law doesn’t allow for it. The Bible doesn’t give much room for it either. If the Lord’s prayer does have to do with money, people who loan money and demand repayment are going to have to pay for their sins — which is impossible.

To sugar-coat it even less, people who loan money and require repayment are going to hell. Hmmm.

I don’t know if that is how it is supposed to be interpreted, but it makes me consider.

Debt is slavery. Why would anyone want to dirty their hands in such a business?

So … how does all this preaching affect me? Right now, I’m feeling like … cut the netflix, the beer, the wine, the coffee, all of the kids’ activities, move to Madras next to Paul’s job, don’t go anywhere, and pay off debt.

I tend to be extreme. Paul says I run life like I run the heater — full blast or off. And I’m not the only member of the family so we’ll have to decide together.

But I know this. I want to be free. We’d love to give, to do mission work, or give to others, but we can’t because we owe. Worse still, our kids get scholarships or other people give to us because we can’t afford things.

I’m sorry that our children have to suffer because of the choices we’ve made but that’s life. We should have taken care of these issues years ago. We can no longer live like we have money when we don’t. We’ve created a bankrupt inheritance for them and they must participate in reversing it or inherit, not only the debt, but the habits that created the debt. They’re doomed financially unless they learn lessons we never modeled.

All this ranting comes from my reading the girls a missionary story about George Muller. He was the man who started the orphanages in Bristol, praying for all the provisions. Sometimes, they had nothing in the cupboards. George would have the kids set the table anyway and pray expectantly. Sure enough, food would arrive. They never went hungry.

Anyway, George felt he needed to go to Prussia but didn’t have the money for it. So he prayed. A woman gave him a large amount of money for that very purpose.

But George knew she was in debt to others.

So he sent it back and told her to pay her debts.

The next day, the money came from another quarter.

For some reason, this story hit me hard. God does not want our money when we owe others. God doesn’t need our money. We have no business giving to anyone when we owe others. I wonder if we even have any business giving to God when we owe others. If we owe others, we are enslaved to them. Shouldn’t we free ourselves from the snare before we start trying to rescue others?

The words still echo in my mind. Gain your freedom.

I wonder if the only way we can do this is the slow, difficult road. Eliminating expenses. Working extra to pay off debt. I should get rid of our cell phones. Get a land line. Get rid of internet. Get a part-time job.

I ran the idea past Paul this morning. He was moderately convinced. He wasn’t sure that the girls should have to quit all activities — that they should have to pay for our mistakes. Good point.

I pointed out that they will have to pay sooner or later. They must pay for our mistakes unless we change the inheritance we have for them.

We’ll see. Paul always needs time to process things.

This issue, like all issues, seems to be a faith matter. If God wants us to be debt-free, will He provide for our children if we remove them from all activities that cost money? Will it build family togetherness or build resentment between us? If God wants us to be debt-free, will He bless us in our endeavors to make money? Should we take the more extreme path or the moderate one?

And how does this all fit in with the quest for the timeful life? Perhaps living in Madras next to Paul’s work will provide us with all sorts of time to pursue what is truly important? Or will we hate it and feel smothered?



  1. Danielle, and Paul
    It might not make you feel any better to know, that you are not only not alone, but are nowhere near the top, in regard to stories of financial desperation.
    No doubt, you’ve read, or heard of Bernie Madoff (ponzi schemer), or his son who commited suicide, because he could not handle his tarnished name, and fall from lavish to impoverished status. You can quickly find thousands of riches to rags stories, with tragic endings. The two of you are just enduring what any person, including my wife, and I have had to endure, in terms of losing on real estate, and most other forms of investing. You are not foolish, because you tried to invest, and it didn’t work out. Brilliant people, armed with as much knowledge as was available, lost every thing.
    Guilt seems to be a big part of parenting, and I say this in a do as I say, not as I do manner, but guilt is a negative emotion. Don’t give it any more time than you have to. Learn your lesson’s, get objective, and move on.
    I wish I had done so many things differently with my children, and it causes me nothing but pain, when I think that way.
    Paul, and you, are EXTRAORDINARILY good people. In your heart, you wish to help others. You have already done so, in more ways than you give yourselves credit for. I know your commitment to your children, and there are often times, when that may be all you can do, and you have to TRY to do it to the best of your ability, with the finances you have available. You are loving and committed parents, and the end result is, and will continue to be EXTRAORDINARY children.
    I say these words as encouragement, and not as advice. I am a co-commiserater, and at the age of 46 am dramatically less financially secure than at the age of 36.
    I wish you the best of luck, and go easy on yourselves.


  2. Danielle,

    Like Don, I am not giving this advice because I have made the best financial choices in the world or because I have superior knowledge of anything to do with money. I have read Dave Ramseys book though and generally agree with the points behind it. I don’t feel that it has to be an extreme get out of debt in 6 months plan though. Be realistic, set a realistic budget. I recommend evaluating with the girls what activities they want to keep and what they could do with out. Also, finding them “jobs” to help cover the cost. I did everything from mowing lawns to babysitting to earn extra cash to pay for things like camp. I know that money was always very tight for my parents, but they never made me or my siblings suffer for their poor financial choices, they always found a way. I think that Dave Ramsey’s shoestring budget can include some of the extras like sports and co-ops, as long as you are completely honest with your other spending. It was very hard for Kevin and I to be realistic on how much money we were spending on things such as alcohol and entertainment. On that note, maybe sports, and guitars, and co-ops are entertainment…


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