The first 20 years of our 40+ year marriage we were broke. Dead broke. Bankruptcy-near, foreclosure-imminent broke. Store brand boxed mac ‘n cheese broke. To this day, I shudder at the thought of the packet of ‘cheese’ flavoring that poured all over those noodles each night.
The light at the end of the tunnel was truly another oncoming train. Every step forward seemed to be followed by ten steps back. 99% of phone calls were bill collectors. The mail heaped with bills we could not pay. (Side note: we charged tires at Sears that we were still paying off when the car was eventually junked. We estimate that we paid for those tires 14 times over!!)
But in spite of all of that, the kids were healthy and happy, so we were ok.
Until we weren’t. The stress of it took a toll on our marriage. There were a few bad days when we were inches from calling it quits. But we did stay together because each time we got close, God whispered to us to hang on another day.
So, we hung together for over a decade by what seemed like a thin thread. And we prayed. Even though it seemed that God wasn’t there, that He had stopped listening. We prayed anyway.
It was a dismal time. Financially. But God was there in the midst of all of it. He wasn’t absent. He wasn’t silent.
It’s just that we weren’t listening.
We lived in a tiny little rental house, better described as a bungalow. I remember overwhelming feelings of extreme, bitter envy that drove me to despise its tiny-ness, to feel utter disgust for its very existence. One day, like a bright lightbulb in the corner of a dark room, I realized that God had provided this tiny, rundown rental house for our delight. Its quirky layout, each little room seemed to suddenly appear to be a little microcosm of his abundant, creative blessing.
I had never seen that before. Yet it had always been there.
I was immediately energized to honor what God had provided. Feeling true joy for the first time in years, I drove to K-Mart and bought 2 gallons of cheap white paint that should have been labeled as ‘barely covering.’ I painted two rooms that day. I washed the windows and the curtains. I scrubbed the original wood floors that I had never noticed were incredibly beautiful. I hung pictures on the wall that the kids had painted. I walked down to the meadow and picked a big bouquet of purple and white phlox and sat it in the middle of our rickety old dining table.
And I cried. On my knees. I cried.
Nothing had really changed. The phone rang as I walked in the house from my flower picking. Another nasty (they were allowed to be nasty in those days!) bill collector. But those two rooms looked so incredibly beautiful to me at that moment because God had met me there.
That day something had come unhinged in my hardened heart and I felt richer than I had ever felt before. I had let God’s comfort wash all the fears and discouragement out of me.
The God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. ~2 Corinthians 1:4
I experienced this verse firsthand so I can shout this out loud and proud: God does comfort us in all our troubles. But even more, I have grown to believe the second half of that verse. God comforts us so we know how to comfort others; and because I was comforted, I have been able to comfort many a woman who walked that same path.
As we enter into our ‘retired’ years, where no money is being deposited into our life’s savings to offset our monthly withdrawals, it would be easy, maybe even rational, to take on a fear of the return to poverty. What if we run out?
And to that we proclaim: why worry? Through our experience God provided us with this deep wisdom, this life lesson: He’s got our back no matter what. And that cannot be priced or valued in the world’s standards.
Our experience taught us what the apostle Paul knew so well.
I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~Philippians 4.12-13
We certainly would never choose to be in poverty again, but we are absolutely sure that we can be content, that we will be ok, no matter what happens.
All is ok if things must be sold.
All is ok if we have to move.
All is ok if Christmas spending needs to scale back.
All is ok if a $1 can of beans is our big meal for the day.
Because we have experienced it and lived well by God’s provision.
Because we have learned that there is no poverty that can destroy a person except the poverty of the heart – when hope is lost, and faith is gone.
Because we know that God will never leave us even when we are on the doorstep of leaving him.
He’s still there. Waiting to comfort us, to lead us to His contentment.