Last year was my first time choosing a "word of the year." Even though this concept has been around the web for a while, it was new to me.
Even so, my word came rather natural to me: Freedom.
Over Christmas, we had watched a documentary with family called 58: The Film. I mention more about the film >> here, but one thing I took from it was how debt (and so many other things) truly are a "bondage." We get so used to the stress and it's so common to see everyone else struggling that this bondage seems normal. This was the first I truly recognized how bad off I am in relation to the light--the hope--that Jesus offers in freedom.
Freedom from our debt. Freedom from our expectations and the requirements we place on ourselves. Freedom from other's opinions. And so much more that I knew would be uncovered as I threw myself on my knees asking God for freedom.
Well, in the last year, He uncovered a whole lot more freedom than I expected.
My main focus starting this "year of freedom" would be our more tangible journey to debt freedom. I outlined those details (our total debt, our goals, etc.) >> here. Basic math told me that achieving actual debt freedom in that one year would be literally impossible. Our student loan total almost doubled our yearly income, and we still needed to, you know, eat and pay rent and stuff. So, apart from a significant change in our income or some other large donation, I understood paying off our debt in a year wouldn't actually happen.
I hadn't ruled out a miracle. With a renewed understanding of the power of prayer that I shared >> here, I would be praying with passion for freedom--literally from debt and however else God chose to give it. The pastor that encouraged me with those thoughts on prayer told a story about his and his wife's own journey to debt freedom. People out of nowhere wrote them checks for large sums of money that obliterated thousands of dollars in debt. He didn't know it at the time, but his wife had been praying earnestly everyday for over a year for freedom from their debt. And God came through in big, obvious ways.
Naturally, the details of his example stuck with me. Whether it's moving a mountain or removing debt, God can handle it all and with faith in Him, I knew He would come through for us.
So, that's what I did this last year: Put my faith in God. Got on my knees before Him, asking for a miracle. Specifically, freedom in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation.
After a month into this new year I can finally say, He came through for me. In big and incredible ways! Although nothing like I had imagined or hoped for this time a year ago.
God didn't deliver us from our debt.
Actually, instead, He blessed us with our third pregnancy. I'll talk more about this "family planning process" in another post, but for this post I'll just say this news has been an adjustment. It means so many things to decide financially (New apartment? New car? Five more years before I go back to work?! In the meantime, no more Christian education for the kids and continued delay in paying off debt?), that we have felt a little more burden and stress in this new season than blessing.
And I was having a hard time coping with this as November and December rolled around. Did I not have enough faith? Am I supposed to pray longer? Are the big miracles really only reserved for special people? Is a life of "poverty" really what God has planned for us?
In reading Beth Moore's Believing God along with various parts of the Bible, answers have recently become apparent that I have been praying over a year for.
First, Beth talks about the importance of praying for the big miracles, and believing God even when they don't happen. Because if God doesn't work the miracle in the way we expect, by what we know about Him we can be sure He has a bigger thing working behind the scenes. There is always a reason, and even if we don't see it, God is who He says He is and He is still able to do what He says He can do.
So, what does this mean as we face growing student loan debt (that's what happens when your loans are on Income-Based Repayment) and a still-low income with our newly growing family? Does it mean that God isn't still on His throne and in control, or that He is choosing not to bless us with our physical needs?
Of course not!
My apparent unanswered prayers just meant He had something else coming, and it became more obvious this week: Freedom.
We had a discussion in church (Sabbath School) about the phrase "God won't give you more than you can handle" especially in relation to 1 Corinthians 10:13. It was a good discussion but what stood out most to me was the end of verse 13:
God will "make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."
I find it interesting that with our "escape" Paul writes that we will also "bear it." Insinuating the escape might be more on a spiritual level than a physical level a la Paul in Philippians writing about joy while in prison. Or David's "spacious place" of Psalm 18:19 while he is yet pursued by and hiding from his enemies. This is described in Philippians 4:7 as "a peace that passes understanding."
And it became apparent that while I've been pleading with God to change our circumstances--to have us make more money and pay off our debt--the change He was really setting in motion is on another level. It's longer lasting and ultimately more important. And it likely means we'll be "poor" (more about that below) and in debt for a while longer.
But He hasn't forgotten us. He hasn't ignored our cries. He is making our way of escape so that we are able to carry on. A spiritual power to endure these physical and human hardships. I couldn't ask for a better deliverance!
Because we aren't going through anything that is uncommon for man (1 Corinthians 10:13). God is faithful who won't let us endure more than He is able to endure through us.
But that's not all.
Nehemiah 9 talks about all the ways God provided for the Israelites while they were in the wilderness (clothes that didn't wear out, feet that didn't swell, food from Heaven, clouds by day and fire by night), but they remained "stiff-necked" and did their own thing. And I realized how I have been doing the same thing. It's worth looking around this "wilderness" I feel like we're stuck in and instead note all the ways God has provided and continues to provide for us.
Here are just a few: Never over-drawing on our checking account. Always having money (however little) in savings. Always being able to pay our bills in full. Saving for Daniel's retirement, paying off private student loans, sending Brylee to a great preschool the last couple years and now all-day kindergarten at a Christian school. No car loans and always affording necessary repairs that come up. Always having food, including the luxury of eating out; always dressing decent, including the luxury of sometimes going on mini-shopping sprees. A fully furnished home, up-to-date medical care, and occasional opportunities for travel.
These are no small thing when you consider our tight budget!
I am in awe of the abundant ways God has provided our needs and blesses us even while I complain about His intentions to leave us "poor."
Obviously I have been stiff-necked instead of noting and thanking Him for so many provisions. That changes now. May I not forget, and may I not turn my back while in this "wilderness." Because He is here, too, blessing all the way.
Finally, Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular text for its promised hope and future that we cling to.
However, the whole context of the chapter shows that the people are in captivity away from their Promised Land. They are being instructed to go ahead and build houses in this foreign land and plant fruit trees there in the place of their captivity (verse 5).
They are also encouraged to have children, and have their children marry and have children so their numbers will not diminish, because they will be there for a while (verse 6).
In verse 7, they are also told to seek peace while they are still held captive in this foreign land.
Then, after seventy years (70!), God will perform His good word and cause them to return from captivity (verse 10). And that's what gives them hope and a future in verse 11--something that will take seventy years to come to fruition.
In the meantime, they are encouraged to find peace in this place.
In this place. A place of uncertainty and captivity.
And that is the freedom God has lead me to over the last year, and especially over the last couple months. That even while we look forward to a Promised Land of prosperity to pay off debt and freely give, there is still peace and blessing to be found here. In this moment. On this budget.
He hasn't forgotten us, and He won't forget.
So, may we not forget Him--or forget to freely live--while we wait. Freedom is ours in the process, not just the outcome.
PS, we're still on our journey to debt freedom. I'll likely share more about that this year. Here are a few I've shared already (or see all my financial posts >> here):