Testimony time

November is Stewardship month at our church. I know, I know. Some of you think every month is Stewardship month in churches, and maybe for some of them it is. But our church doesn’t just focus on money during this four week emphasis. We focus on stewardship as a whole – gifts, talents, abilities, time, as well as money. Stewardship is merely the willing and effective management of the blessings that God has given us – and most blessings are not financial blessings.

Sam and I have been asked to give our stewardship testimony this coming Sunday, as it relates to IOU NO MORE and our road to becoming debt free. We’re always happy to share how God has taught us the true meaning of stewardship as we’ve allowed him to be the Lord of our checkbook as well as the Lord of our lives.

Our journey of stewardship began eight years ago when Sam was abusively confronted by a debt collector. Thankfully it was a phone call and not a personal visit! The collector was cold and he was cruel. He told Sam that “he needed to pawn my wedding ring because there was no way he could call himself a good husband when he couldn’t even pay his bills.” Little did the guy know that pawning that ring would only have been able to buy us dinner at McDonald’s as it was just a simple gold band we’d picked up at Service Merchandise for about $39. Ah, the romance never dies!

That night, Sam and I had one of the most intense “family meetings” of our entire marriage. It wasn’t ugly but at the end of it our emotions were raw and our heads were reeling. Sam had laid it all on the line that night – including a huge stack of bills, credit card statements and past due/shut off notices.

When we’d married three years prior, we decided that as the main bread winner he was going to be responsible for the checkbook. But I want to point out that he was not solely responsible for our poor financial state at that point. I had brought debt into our marriage, he’d brought a horrible credit rating, and neither of us could manage our way out of wet paper sack much less the barrage of bills that just kept piling up. We both knew how to spend freely, and neither of us thought to tell the other one “no” once in a while. In three years time, we’d managed to wrack up thousands of dollars in credit card debt, in addition to the credit card, car and student loan debt I’d had to start with. We were literally standing on the precipice of bankruptcy.

That night we prayed together and did something neither of us had ever done before – we asked the Lord to help us change our behavior. And He did!

It took us five years to pay off our mountain of debt (except for our mortgage) – nearly $100,000 to be exact. We had setbacks and wins; but in the end we had escaped the shackles of our own making, and we were finally free to actually enjoy life! And I will tell you that nothing feels better than an exotic vacation paid for entirely with cash, or Christmas presents that don’t have 8 months of payments attached to them. Emergencies stop being ’emergencies’ and just become ‘inconveniences’ when there’s cash sitting in the savings account. And giving is actually fun when it’s done in cash. The days of worrying whether or not we’ll be able to pay our light bill or keep groceries on the table if we pledge money to the church, or the Red Cross, or the Firemen’s Guild are long gone when you’re spending cash that’s in your hand. Living debt free is really that…LIVING!

I have had lots of people shrug their shoulders and quip, “that’s so nice for you guys, but we’ll never be able to live without a credit card, or student loans, or car payments, or (you fill in the blank).” And I will strongly disagree every time. You see, when you decide to become a good steward of your money, you discover that Prime Sports Package on your cable that’s costing you $189 a year just doesn’t look so good anymore. And that boat that’s costing you $325 a month just isn’t as shiny as it was on the showroom floor in March. And that trendy outfit in the store window just doesn’t seem worth its $600 price tag. Your priorities radically change once you’re actually parting with a few Uncle Ben’s and his brothers Grant and Jackson.

So what about y’all? If you’re married or living as a couple, who handles the checkbook in your family? Do you live on a budget, or just spend it as fast as it comes in? Are you a saver who plans for little emergencies, or are you one of the people who will “think about that tomorrow”? Come on, I’m here and I’m listening….

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