There are times in our lives when we are presented with the opportunity for profound change. Given that change and uncertainty go hand and hand, the decision to embrace change is not always an easy decision to make. However, there are also times in our lives when we are not presented with the option whether or not to embrace the change. That is my story.
For the past two years, I have been in the midst of what my former Pastor aptly titled a “Divine Storm”. A Divine Storm is defined as a time in your life when God completely shakes every aspect of your life at once. A time when your whole life is completely turned upside down and not one aspect is left untouched. It’s God’s time to perform what I call His “surgery without anesthesia”. A time when He removes anything within you that does not reflect the divine design He has for your life. It is a time to go to the depths of your soul and extract out that which is detrimental to your living and holding you back from His plan for your life. A Divine Storm presents an opportunity to heal brokenness deeply held within. A time of total transformation and transfiguration. A time to become who you were always meant to be. So that is my story, to experience a tsunami of a Divine Storm.
My journey has not been easy to endure and is definitely not for the faint at heart. During this time I have been forced to deal with those things I worked many years to hide. Those hidden pains, challenges and fears which were well hidden behind the façade and mask that I wore on a daily basis. While my path has been difficult and oftentimes perilous, something within my soul – even in the midst of the most treacherous periods – knew I would make it through. I would not only make it through, but truly come out better. Something deep inside me knew that through the pain and difficulty, my life would eventually settle in place again. Little did I know that when settling would occur, I would be forever changed by this journey. As I reflect, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything in the world. I wouldn’t trade my journey and relationship with God for a billion dollars (the irony in that statement will be evident as my story evolves). You truly could not give me anything for my journey.
During my Divine Storm, there were seven core areas that God honed in on. He examined, extracted, removed and healed me at the deepest level: spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, nutritionally, sexually, and financially. With seven being the number of completion in the Bible, I know that this journey could have only been initiated and orchestrated by God.
While each of the seven areas brought profound challenges, revelations and a depth of healing I could have never imagined – the most difficult was my financial life. It was there that the greatest revelations were unearthed and revealed to me. It was my tsunami of a financial storm which extracted out issues that were deeply hidden on multiple levels. I eventually made peace with this aspect of my life. However, my journey towards financial peace had more ups and downs than I could have ever imagined.
In a matter of a few months, I went from living independently, managing a growing business, traveling around the world, having more than enough to meet my needs, and daily enjoying the life I was blessed to have; to losing everything I owned, going through another round of severe illness, moving from the city I had lived in for 20 years back to my hometown to live with the my parents. At the age of 41, I had lost everything I had worked years to obtain and truly struggled with what to do next. This was a startling transition to say the least. And the expediency by which it occurred was absolutely mind boggling. It literally left my head spinning. Very unexpectedly, I had hit “rock bottom”. I had no idea how profoundly not just my financial life, but my whole life would be transformed on this journey.
“Train Up A Child….”
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it
I have always been pretty fortunate financially. Growing up, my family was “lower middle class” and grew into “upper middle class” according to society’s standards. We rarely lacked for anything – at least form a child’s perspective that’s the way it seemed. In reflection, as an adult, I realize that was not necessarily the case.
We learned from a young age the importance of hard work. This belief in hard work came honestly. Much of it was instilled from my maternal grandfather. I rarely remember a time visiting my grandparents that he did not inquire of the adults whether they had worked that day – even on a Sunday. I saw the same work ethic in my own father who worked 6 or 7 days a week for the majority of my childhood to provide for our family.
With that being my lineage, I began to focus on working at an early age. I had multiple jobs from the time I was legally able to do so, and prior to then I was the neighborhood babysitter. I experienced early on what it was like to work hard and be paid for your work. And while hard work and earning income was a deep part of my lineage, effectively managing and holding onto the results of that hard work was much less prevalent in my family. This issue would become much more relevant in the midst of my divinely orchestrated financial storm.
I achieved pretty significant success in both my educational and professional life. I was fortunate to obtain a high quality undergraduate and graduate education (along with hefty student loans). As a result, I was also fortunate to obtain what were considered “high-paying” positions. Throughout my career, I was often compensated greater than my age and experience dictated. At each stage of my career, there was upward mobility in both position and compensation.
From a young age, I was always celebrated for my accomplishments and as a result I sought to achieve more. My worth was based on what I achieved and not who I was. This thought pattern of feeling worthy because of my accomplishments was placed deeply in my psyche at a young age. This search for self-worth continued well into adulthood and reflected in my professional life. This pattern became a cycle in my life: work hard, earn money, be celebrated, feel love, adoration, feel good about myself. I had the misguided belief that if I continued to succeed then others would think better of me than deep down I thought about myself. I was continually seeking fulfillment and to fill the emptiness within. But the reality is no matter how much money I made or how many titles I had, I would not feel the satisfaction I so desperately sought.
On this path, I rarely reflected on why making more money was so important to me. I just assumed it was what I was supposed to do. I now realize the many years I spent seeking increased income was only covering up something deeper within – deep undergirding of discontent. I now realize that along my pathway of career and financial success there was deep disappointment. At each stage of forward progression, came greater disappointment. Disappointment that this next phase of achievement did not bring me the happiness I so desperately desired. I now realize that my pursuit of happiness through what I did, what I owned and how much money I made was an empty way to live. And, as I moved forward the emptier I felt.
The Pursuit of Money is the Root of All Evil
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the others. You cannot serve both God and money.
As my life continued, so did my pursuit of more income. At the pinnacle of my career, I became a consistent member of the “six-figure club”. I made more money than I could have every imagined. And from the outside looking in, I truly had it together. I had the big salary, traveled when I chose, purchased whatever I wanted when I wanted it, always drove a new car, purchased a brand new condo, and new custom furniture. With my high paying positions, I garnered all of the status symbols that society dictates someone my age, with my background and education should obtain. However, with this financial success there hidden demons that had yet to arise. In the midst of my Divine Storm, my credentials meant nothing and did nothing for me. All of things I had worked many years to obtain became more and more irrelevant.
And at some point there was a shift. My upward progression in income that I had been blessed to receive over many years, began to move in the opposite direction. As this progression shifted downward, the rebalancing of my relationship and management of money was beginning. However, I could have never predicted how dramatic that shift would be.
Along my career path, I transitioned into being an entrepreneur and started my own business. In pursuing my new business venture, I continued to live as if I still had that six-figure salary I had become accustomed to. I continued to spend, consume, travel and live more excessively than warranted. As with most new businesses, income was inconsistent. There were ebbs and flows in my monthly income. During those dry times, I began to live more and more on credit – a fatal mistake.
Owe no one anything except to love one another.
My former financial status afforded me access to a great deal of credit. Banks and credit card companies were constantly offering me more credit. And being naïve to the realities of debt, I gladly accepted. I received my first credit card from American Express while in college and held it for almost 20 years. Having begun the pathway to debt so early, this only continued. I recall receiving one of my credit card bills and my limit had been increased from $10K to $25K. Additionally, I had been approved for a $90K home equity line of credit on my beloved brand new condo that I had just purchased.
It’s stupid to guarantee someone else’s loan
So at the young age of 32, I had access to more than $140K in available credit. And I used it. I was a credit card company’s dream customer (and my own nightmare). I had a high credit rating and access to thousands of dollars of open credit. This access allowed me to travel, lease and purchase new cars, take my family on trips, give my family money when needed, buy expensive Christmas gifts, pay for family member’s bail, rent, security deposit, consolidate others credit cards and provide continuous funds. I became an open checking account for my family. Anytime anyone needed anything it was access the “Bank of April”. In all honesty, I cannot place the blame solely on my family. It was my choice to give, it was my choice to spend. No one held a gun to my head. I could have said no or not continually offered. But, I had yet to learn the lessons so clearly articulated in scripture.
During this time, my family had absolutely no idea the amount of debt I was in and neither did I. I rarely assessed where I was financially. I maintained a continual focus on my finances and created many versions of budget spreadsheets. However, I avoided analyzing my true net worth. Additionally, I had yet to address the underlying issues that caused me to use money in this manner. And with a mentality of continuous consumption, I assumed that the funds would always be there, so I happily and often times unhappily supported my family financially and lived well beyond my means in doing so.
In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has
Despite being in increasing amounts of debt, I was always blessed to take care of my responsibilities and pay my bills. However, those payments were often only the minimum payments presenting no real opportunity to eliminate my debt. For a very long time, I attempted to out-earn my debt. And for a long while that worked. I always earned enough to pay what I needed to each month. Even when my expenses were $10K a month, I always seemed to earn enough to keep my head above water. I kept my head above water and periodically actually saved some of my income.
As I treaded through my debt and financial situation, I often renegotiated my financial agreements, delayed and deferred payments and made interest only payments. Rather than aggressively paying down my debt, I deferred my responsibility to a later date. In the meantime, I used my substantial income to soothe my underlying issues by rewarding myself, giving away to others – do anything but paying off my debt.
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.
With the onset of my Divine Storm, there was no more deferring to a later date. I found myself in a whopping $500K worth of debt – with illness, no income, no savings, no assets, and no feasible way of getting out of my financial situation. I had absolutely no idea how and when I would get out of this situation. Fortunately, a year or so before the onset of my financial storm, I was introduced to Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University (FPU). I worked with one of Dave’s approved financial coaches for one-on-one support. Connie was truly a God-send. She began to plant the seeds that I would need just a year and half later when the eye of my storm hit. She worked hard to help me use Dave’s tools to manage both my personal and business finances. And for a period of time, it worked. I leveraged Connie’s guidance and used the amazing tools offered by Dave and the Financial Peace team. However, deeply rooted issues would prevent me from being consistent in my practice and financial management. She often forewarned me to begin planning for a rainy day. She was right. When my day came it wasn’t just rainy, it was a monsoon.
In reflection, I now realize that when we are truly not prepared to receive blessings, we don’t always know what do with those blessings. Along my journey, God provided me with hints of what’s to come. I received nudgings to change the way in which I was proceeding. However, my level of unconscious living was so deeply engrained that those nudges were rarely heeded. However, as is His gift of free will God continues to allow us to make our own decisions.
Along the early stages of my journey towards financial peace, God provided hints and divine guidance that I needed to make a change. But, I continued to make my own decisions and move in the opposite direction of the guidance I received. I now realize that He was providing those whispers of guidance to shift my behavior prior to the onset of my Divine Storm. He loves us so much that He blessings us with guidance that the direction we’re going might not be best. However, I often need a “brick wall” moment to cause a shift in my behavior and fully relinquish control. And that’s exactly what He provided me. My “brick wall” moment came in the way of my Divine Storm to stop my momentum forward into continuing dysfunctional and unhealthy behaviors in all aspects of my life – especially in my finances.
Through my Divine Storm, decades of unconscious spending and living were thoroughly exposed. My years of misguided financial management, accumulation to soothe the pain deeply hidden inside had come to a head. I was forced to examine how I got to this place. How I got to the place of being blessed with substantial income at every phase of my life and to no longer having a checking account? How I moved from the place of a continuous access and receipt of more than enough to depending on my parents for my daily life? How I moved from being in the “six-figure club” to applying and receiving food stamps to provide for my daily meals. How I moved from traveling the world to opening my parent’s front door to accept a summons for lawsuits against me for my debts. How did I get here?
God Already Has The Plan (So Does Dave Ramsey)
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety
In the midst of my storm, I reconnected with my Dave Ramsey coach and shared briefly what I was dealing with. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure that even Dave Ramsey could fix my situation. I’m sure in the back of her mind my coach wanted to say “I told you so” but she was too gracious and kind to do so. I updated her on my situation and shared with her that I was considering taking the Financial Peace University (FPU) class. I wanted her perspective on whether I should participate in-person or online. She adamantly recommended the in-person class. She believed I could really benefit from sharing in the experiences of others in the class. And so did I.
With that recommendation, I signed up for FPU with the small amount of income I had. After an initial false start, I fully committed to FPU in the Fall 2012. I actively participated in the class and worked hard not to miss any of the classes. The information shared was life transforming and just the knowledge I needed to reframe my relationship with and management of money. I definitely fell into the category Dave referred to as a small percentage of participants who were in “crises mode”. However, I was determined to leverage everything I was learning in any way that I could to better my financial situation.
Despite my limited income and excessive debt, I still focused on using the tools I was provided. I can attest that every one of the tools works. The “Zero-Based Budget” provided me with a much needed framework for planning my spending each month. With my mounting debt, the “Debt-Snowball” provided a plan to begin paying down my debts, even if only small amounts. It was truly gratifying and a great relief to pay off even one of my credit cards.
There were times when my disposable income only allowed me to make $5 payments to my creditors. I used Dave and FPU’s format for collection letters explaining my current situation to my creditors. Along with each letter I sent along my $5 checks. In the back of my mind, I thought for sure they would return the checks given the amount barely touched what was due that month. To my surprise, they cashed the checks!! I guess something really is better than nothing.
I also adhered to Dave’s recommendation to contact my creditors every two weeks to update them on any change in my financial situation and indicated I would do so in my letters. I recall speaking to one creditor and the representative was literally in shock. She said that in the years she had been in collections, she had never received a call like mine. She had become so accustomed to customers being frustrated and lashing out at her for their past due bills. My call was a pleasant surprise. She thanked me and let me know I had literally made her day. As an act of generosity she delayed the collection calls for two months – a welcome reprieve. I was truly grateful.
On my journey towards financial peace, I have been guided to share my story with other FPU classes in my area. This past fall, I served as a table facilitator for another FPU class which was an amazing experience. I felt some irony in assisting in the facilitation of the class, given my financial situation. However, I’ve learned through my journey that we “learn to teach and teach to learn”. I often share with my groups that I should serve as a cautionary tale of what could happen when the unexpected causes an upheaval in your life and you’re not prepared for it. I also help them understand that many of us struggle in our finances because of deeply rooted issues we may not be fully aware of. Through the grace of God and using these tools, those issues too can be resolved.
In my former financial life, I literally made every mistake Dave refers to in class. However, the blessing is that I have the opportunity to begin again. And as Dr. Maya Angelou says “when you know better, you do better.” Fortunately I now know better and am doing better. Given Dave’s history and impetus for founding Financial Peace, I know that I am in good company. I also know that my current financial situation is only temporary and a new day is coming soon.
If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
It is not an overstatement to say that Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University saved my financial life. However, not in the way that Dave and his team might expect. What Dave and FPU has done for me is bless me with a solid foundation to manage my future financial blessings. I now have a clear blueprint for the future, once the door to my financial storm of the past is completely closed and sealed shut.
I recommend Dave Ramsey and FPU to everyone I know. It’s now a part of what I call my “life healing toolkit” and something I’m happy to expose others to. I recently founded a new business venture to help women in particular, who might be experiencing some of the same struggles I experienced in my life. Recognizing that much of my struggles dealt with trying to be all things to all people, I learned the hard way that “superwoman is a myth” – she does not exist. We are only one person and can only do so much. The rest we must be willing to surrender to God. Thus I founded “Saving Superwoman”.
As a self proclaimed Life Strategist and Peace Coach my new business “Saving Superwoman” is committed to helping other women through their life journey, heal deeply within and truly begin to live a life of purpose. I strongly feel that it is my responsibility to pass on to others all that I’ve learned and experienced. It is my responsibility to use the lessons I’ve learned through my pain, difficulty and challenges to be a blessing to others. My first client and her husband just signed up for Financial Peace University last week! I was so excited to pass this gift on to others and look forward to blessing as many as I can.
Wealth hastily gained will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it.
While I’m still working through my financial situation – or rather God is still working through my financial situation – I continue to utilize the tools I’ve gained through FPU. When I receive even a small amount, I immediately go to my zero-based budget to see how to most effectively distribute God’s blessings for the month. I continue to tithe no matter how small it is. There have been some months that my tithes were $3. I remain grateful to give back to God that which He has given to me. I have now learned what it means to be a good steward of God’s blessing and no matter how small I will heed the precepts of his guidance and give back from that which I have been graciously given.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
As I fully embrace my journey towards financial peace, I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin again. I’m grateful that God has blessed me with a clean slate. But, I’m most grateful to be blessed with the tools, resources, guidance and information to live my financial life dramatically differently. I now know that true financial peace, renewed abundance and prosperity are in my future. This time around, I know deeply in my spirit what it means to be a good steward of God’s blessings. I also know at the deepest level that I truly am worthy and deserve all of the wonderful financial blessings God has for me.
For anyone else with an experience similar to mine or much less severe, I HIGHLY recommend the tools I’ve been blessed to receive. Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University was a lifesaver along my journey. Because it is a spiritually-based program, the guidance being fully supported by scripture only strengthens my confidence in the guidance.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is the tree of life.
And while I’m not the typical success story of a graduate Financial Peace University, I also know that I’m not completely unique. I am a part of that small percentage that Dave refers to be as being in “crises mode”. Fortunately through the grace and mercy of the almighty Father and the blueprint of Financial Peace University, I am blessed to step forward into a new day. A new day of proactively managing my money and not allowing my money to manage me. A day of following God’s blueprint of what it means to be a good steward of His blessings – of the blessings that He’s provided to us for the healing, growth and development of His kingdom.
So, as I step forward I do so with great confidence because this time I have true power on my side. I have learned the error of my ways and step forward in confidence that I will be blessed and will be able to be able blessing to many others.
As was so eloquently stated in my recent fortune cookie – “He who never makes mistakes, never does anything great”. I know that my mistakes of the past will be the foundation for me to do something great in my life and in the lives of others.