Like a lot of folks today, times are lean in our household. Charlie and I watch every penny … as it rushes out the door to keep some creditor at bay. It wasn't always this way for us. Four years ago, we opened a Christian business and enjoyed the bounty of being paid well for hard work. Our income rose over six figures and we loved giving our toddler son vacations to Florida and trips to see the grandparents while doing work that would further God's kingdom and put Truth into the marketplace.
We weren't wise enough to put back money in case a rainy day dashed our sunshine. We grew up in a generation that's only known sunny days. We didn't listen to the sound words of Christian financial advisors like Dave Ramsey and start an emergency fund. We simply didn't think a financial emergency of this magnitude would happen to us. We're Christians; we have that veil of protection, right?
But the trips and ease came to a crashing halt in August 2008. That was the month our biggest client didn't pay his $20,000 bill—a bill we'd counted on to get us through the end of the year as well as supply Christmas presents for our son.
And then came September. No check.
October. No check.
November. No check.
Bills piled up. Creditors began calling. As I entered the hospital in October to give birth to our second child, I cried tears of fear and frustration. How would we afford diapers for this new little one when we could barely afford the family we already had? Why were we working as hard as ever, but without two nickels to rub together?
Divided, We Fall
Suddenly, we'd become those people. You know the ones I'm talking about: the ones who don't pay their bills on time. The ones who get reported to collections agencies. The ones whose credit scores can be mistaken for shoe sizes. The ones who obviously have no integrity about themselves or they wouldn't be in such a financial mess.
We cried out to God. We pleaded forgiveness for our ineptitude at saving for just such an occurrence. We resolved to be better stewards if we were ever given a second chance. We kept waiting for things to get better—working and waiting, waiting and working. I told my husband no Christmas presents for me. He gave me the one thing he could afford: a love letter written in his own hand.
I've seen marriages fall apart over debt. According to debt expert Howard Dvorkin, "Fifty percent of all marriages end in dissolution and the number one reason for that is financial pressures." Now, living under a mountain of such pressure, I can understand why. Charlie and I have yelled, cried, shaken our heads, quit, come back, quit again, and gone to bed silently seething. We aren't truly mad at each other. We're at a loss about what to do with the six figures of debt we face. We want the other one to whip out a miracle wand and make it all go away. He hates feeling helpless. I hate feeling insecure.
Last night, I snapped at him again. Two collections agency letters had come in the mail. The stress got to me, and I snapped. He didn't respond. I walked out. I made it all the way to the hallway before I stopped, not certain where I was headed other than away. But what did I want to get away from? Not Charlie. I love him. He's an incredible man, an amazing father, and the true love of my life. Why did I walk away? What did I want to leave behind? And in stomping off, had I left whatever it was?
United, We Stand
I turned on my heel and walked back to my husband, who still sat in his recliner. The collections agency letter rested on the arm of the chair.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you. This situation—"
"I know. It's awful."
We looked at each other for a few seconds. Thoughts skittered through my pounding head. What if I loved him now like I did in the good times? What if I stayed kind and happy even when the world didn't give us a reason to be either? Was I happy before because we had money? Had I really placed my security in something so shallow?
Yes. There it was, the hard truth. Good times = loving wife. Hard times = shrew.
"I love you." When was the last time I said it and meant the words?
He smiled, the lines at his eyes a little deeper than they were five years ago when we wed. "I love you too."
Choose You This Day
There's a smile on my face as I write this. I haven't smiled in many months, so it feels a little foreign to stretch my skin into a shape it took often before August 2008. But I smile in the face of the financial attack we're under because I know we're together in our fight. No debt collector will come between us. It isn't "his" debt and "my" debt, it's "our" debt. We'll walk on, paying as we can every step of the way, resolving never to go back into debt once we're out, committing to teach our children a better way than we took in these first few years of marriage.
Our true debts, the ones that would keep us separated from the loving Father who brought us together, are forgiven because we believe in God's Son, Jesus Christ. That's the perspective we've learned to keep. Not to allow this world and its financial havoc to beat down our marriage. God loves us, regardless of our bank account. What he has brought together, man cannot tear asunder. For richer or poorer, we stand together. And hopefully, we'll be stronger as a couple because we've faced the stress and debt and financial challenges together.
Rebeca Seitz owns a Christian public relations firm and is the author of five Christian novels, including Sisters, Ink, Coming Unglued, and Scrapping Plans. She and Charlie live in rural Kentucky with their two children, a dog, a cat, assorted fish, and 28 chickens. (Though, with the way things are going, it might soon be 27.) www.glassroadpr.com.
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