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He Gives and Takes Away

“It is perfect! But can we afford it?”

Our hearts raced as my husband and I stood in the driveway at what we thought was our dream home. A custom-built, two-story home with a whirlpool, a central vacuum system, gorgeous woodwork and a stunning 21-foot stone fireplace in the mammoth living room that had a cathedral ceiling. Best of all, it was nestled in nearly 8 acres of woods with a pond and a creek that ran along the back of the property. The owners told of the wildlife that bravely came right up to the breath-taking backyard deck; deer, wild turkey and pheasant.

“This is it!” we reasoned. “A perfect place to finish raising our kids and retire.” We knew the boys would love the on-sight hunting in their backyard and Kenzie would be delighted to have her own room with a bathroom next door.

You see, we had never been a family that “kept up with the Joneses” Oh no, quite the opposite! Due to my husband being in the ministry and then spending a few years working for a local resale appliance and furniture shop, we lived very frugally. We had five people dwelling in a barely 1,000 square-foot home for many years. Our kids were nursed and wore cloth diapers. There wasn’t money for formula or disposables, even if we wanted them! We shopped at second-hand stores and garage sales. And , we were the last in our circle of friends to own a dvd player and a cell phone–(we still just have a little pre-paid phone we use only for emergencies!)

Yep, Mr. & Mrs. Jones were waaaay ahead of us in life.

Then, my husband landed a job at General Motors. For the first time in our lives, we had a good wage and health benefits. (Until then, we either went without insurance or purchased our own basic policy with $1,000 deductible per person.)

So, when he began making Cadillacs, things eased up for us. Although the first 5 years were bump and go with several short-term layoffs, soon we were making enough money to purchase a really nice home. So, we went to the bank. They told us not only that we could afford the home we had our eye on, but that we could afford to spend even $50,000 more, if we wanted to.

So, after praying and seeking opinions from godly people, we dove in. As the process unfolded, we prayed that if we weren’t supposed to live there, it would all fall through. Each time we asked God to shut the door, it seemed He kicked it even wider open for us! The owners threw in many items to the deal; a new snow-blower, an air-hockey table, furniture and two deer blinds for hunting.

The big test would come when we stuck a for sale by owner sign in our yard and tried to sell our home. We prayed that if this new dream house wasn’t for us, then our home wouldn’t sell.

It sold in three days. At nearly full price.

So, it was full steam ahead. Friends and family were thrilled for us. And I must say, I felt it was God’s reward. Especially to my husband.

You see, the man has the gift of giving. Sometimes until it scares me!!! I only tell you this because I am wired very differently. He insists we tithe off of our gross income. (Hey, net would be fine in my book. You don’t actually see all those dollars Uncle Sam takes away each week!) He has been known to buy appliances at a good deal through his connections and then “sell” them to a needy family for a fourth of what he paid. Often he will hear about a construction worker/father who is having trouble making ends meet in our Michigan economy. “Send them a $100 gift card from the grocery store anonymously” he’ll instruct me. Why, once he sold our mini-van (my favorite mini-van) to a family for 1/3 of the blue book price. And after we had people interested at full price!!!!!

So, in my mind, I thought this dream home was long overdue. And it was a reward for my giving, others-centered husband and our “We-can-do-without-an-XBox 360” kids.

However, it didn’t take long for us to see our dream home turn into a nightmare.

We moved in in January of 2006. The propane costs to heat that place were waaay more than expected. It was located 15 minutes north of our small town. And even further away from the capital town of Lansing where Todd works. That meant lots of gasoline. Gasoline that doubled in price soon after we moved in!

And while we were able to make our mortgage and bills on time, it was by the skin of our teeth! We have become convinced that banks do not take into account that a family tithes. Our budget was so tight, it squeaked!!!! Seriously, here we lived in a house that was amongst the nicest in our area and, when my dishwasher broke, we had to save for four months in order to pay the $100 to get it fixed!!! Yes, we could afford the home, but just barely.

But what was worst of all was the fact that we could no longer afford to be generous.

When we’d hear of a missionary who needed extra money for a project or necessity, we had to pass. When we wanted to give an extra bag of groceries to the local food pantry, we couldn’t. When Todd’s sister went through and awful and unwanted divorce that ruined her financially, we couldn’t help in the way we wanted. No more anonymous gift orders from my hubby; a man who grew more down with each passing day as the stress level mounted. Not only the stress of paying the bills, but of keeping up that big place and the yard and woods, especially when a wind or ice storm fell some of the trees.

In fact, after living there just 5 months, Todd lost 90% of his hair almost overnight. Medical tests proved it was nothing serious. It was probably due to stress. So, we made the tough decision to put our dream home on the market. The sign went up in May on Memorial Day 2006.

It sold on June 17th. Uhh…..June 17, 2008!!!!!!

Yes, it took two long years of living on a shoestring to finally sell that home. Oh, and since the housing market had taken a nosedive just weeks after we originally bought it, we had to sell it for ….gulp……$65,000 less than we paid for it!!!

My heart sank.

But we obeyed what we felt to be the voice of the Lord moving us to a smaller home in a subdivision near town. Our expenses dropped by $500 a month.

Now, I thank God for the prompting. For it looks as if, bailout or no bailout, Todd will lose his job in January. While I know it will still be tough to find another one in Michigan, and we really don’t want to move our kids again, we are thankful that at least the mortgage here is smaller and our gas and heating costs are less.

The moral of the story? I’m still trying to figure that one out. We have talked for many hours with our kids and have come up with a few lessons learned.

First of all, be careful what you wish for. Your dream may turn into a nightmare. And sometimes God gives you what you think you so desperately want just to show you it wasn’t what you really wanted in the first place.

Second, a dream house is not worth it if it robs your dream of helping God’s people who are in need. It is waaay more fun to spend your money on others than on yourself!!!

Third, in our “I-can-do-it-even-if-I-have-to-max-out-six-credit-cards-and-take-twenty-years-to-pay-them-off-society” a family who refuses to have any debt besides their home and live within their means is a rarity. Neighbors, strangers, people at Todd’s work, why even Christians thought we were nuts to put our house on the market after such a short time. They all said, just use credit cards until things turn around. Or Karen can just work full-time instead of being home with the kids. Then you can have the big house. Sorry, we choose mom at home over a big house. (Now, I know many moms of small children have to be in the workforce to help afford even a little house. That is a given!!! In fact, if Todd doesn’t land a new job soon, I’ll be one of them!!!)

I tell my story to encourage you to realize that, although living in an awesome, big house seems glamorous and exciting, it is not worth it if it stretches your budget and your nerves (and your marriage!!!) to the limits. Now we aim for adequate. And we realize that some of the sweetest times we’ve had as a family, came in that little old starter home with all five of us stepping over each other!!

We have decided that it is better to be a family who lives simply, so others may simply live.

Sweet Downsizing Blessings,

Karen

P.S. When you hear of the auto talks on the news, will you pray for us? Pray that Todd finds a new job in the Mid-Michigan area. And pray that I don’t let the spending freeze we’ve enacted put a damper on Christmas. God is giving me some great, low-cost ideas I think the kids will love. And pray for God to calm my anxious heart. I just want to trust and rest instead of fret and worry. (Both of which I am an Olympic champion at!!!)

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24 Comments

  1. Hi Karen:

    I came to your blog from P31, which I’ve visited on and off for several years now (since before my oldest, who’s now almost 5 was born).

    I wanted to share that you have my prayers, and that of my church — we regularly pray for ALL searching for working — and my personal prayers will include you and your family.

    From a wife with a husband in marketing who’s been laid off eight times (yes, eight) during out eight years of marriage (approximately four of those were in the 18 months following 9/11), I can guarantee that although it scary, the good Lord always provides.

    And though I may wear a path in the carpet from pacing or spend many a sleepless night worrying how we’re going to pay the bills or clothe two tiny boys who outgrow clothes faster than I can buy them — God always opens a door and finds ways to bless us in the midst of what feels like earthly tragedy.

    Keep your eyes on the Kingdom, and know that you have my prayers.

    In Him,
    Karyn

  2. Karen,

    Thanks for being so open and honest. My husband also works in automotive and was laid off on Friday. He too is trying to find a job in the West Michigan area. Since we knew it would probably happen, we are keeping Christmas very simple as well and I am trying to be very creative. Your prayer where so good to hear. They not only apply to you and your family but to many other people as well.

  3. Dearest Karen….I have your site bookmarked, but often find I just don’t have to time to read every entry, as I write a little blog myself. But, I truly feel God led me to this post. A little over 2 years ago, God prompted me to quit my job. I kept debating with Him…now isn’t that silly…but I did about how in the world He expected me and my husband to live on just his income….long story short. I obeyed, and He has truly taken care of us ever since. I was making about $ 4 more on the hour than my husband, so it was a huge pay cut for me and him….every month is a struggle…but God has came thru in providing for us in such unexpected ways….just because we obeyed what He asked us to do. I still doubt so much….but I know better….I know we are in His will!!! You are very much in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your honesty and sincerity!!! May God Bless you and your family and may you have a wonderful happy Christmas!!!

  4. Karen,
    I just happened upon your site and read your story. I will add you and your family to my prayer list. This is a beautiful story. You are an amazing lady. I know that you will keep your faith in our Father, and I also know that you know that He will not fail you. God bless at this Christmas season.

    Julie

  5. Hello Karen,

    I found your blog through Bonita’s and I am very moved by your story and my husband and I will pray for you, your husband and children. Your heart for God and the transparency of your situation is an encouragement to so many I’m sure.

    As I read there were two Scriptures that came to mind:

    “I would have fainted had I not believed to see the Goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord be of good cheer and he will strengthen thine heart”

    I want you to BELIEVE TO SEE GOD’S GOODNESS to continue in your lives even as you face the potential job loss of your husband. Where one door closes God does indeed open another.

    Second Scripture: “My God shall supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory which is in Christ Jesus”.

    May the Lord’s presence embrace you and your family and may you rejoice in knowing that indeed He is Lord and He is your Lord and all is well.

    Lovingly in Christ,
    Lisa Shaw

  6. Karen,
    I’m thinking about you and praying for your family night and day these days (every time I watch the news!). Your transparency is a breath of fresh air to me and it smells like the fragrance of Christ. I’m sending a huge cyber hug!

    I just wish I could see your kid’s faces when they see how creative and thoughtful they’re parents are on Christmas morning. Only a mom who really KNOWS her children could come up with the idea that you shared with us. That will be the most valuable thing that you could ever gift them with.

    Much love,
    Amy

  7. Karen,

    You absolutely wrote this post for me as it addresses every single thing that has been on my heart recently. We are that family that has never had money to live in the home I’d like to have. We’ve had to make many sacrifices for me to be home with the kids and I am a stickler for frugality. That said, we’ve steadily paid off debt in the last few years and now only have the house and braces left to go.

    I also live in Charlotte with all it’s affluence and sometimes it’s so hard to look at all of my friends who have beautfiul homes and few money troubles and I long just once to own a home that I really like and be able to decorate it.

    This whole house deal has been weighing heavy on my heart recently. That and getting a book published are the two things that seem to elude me no matter what I do. Just last night I was crying over both. Then this morning I read this beautiful post that reminds me of things I know, but that are so easy to push to the side when we “want” something.

    I am your husband in a lot of ways. I live to give. To do anything that would stifle my ability to give would likely make me lose my hair too and that just wouldn’t be attractive on a woman!

    Thank you for putting things into perspective. Only heaven will reveal how much you’ve helped me today! Bless you! Bless you! Bless you!

  8. Karen~
    Thank you for sharing . Your heart for Christ is all over this testimony! It is such a rarity to live a frugal lifestyle (still working on it). We have been stretched to the limit for five years now, and just when we think we can’t cut anywhere else, we know clearly God has called us to adopt once again. Sometimes I feel guilty for ‘robbing’ the kids of material blessings, but they amaze me by their understanding that people are really the treasure, not stuff. May God bless your family as you continue to focus on Him! We are praying for your family.
    Connie

  9. Thanks for sharing, Karen. Sometimes, it’s so easy to wish for a bigger house, but I’m happy that we don’t have a problem affording our “smaller” house while I stay home to raise my boys.

    BTW…I made the Cream of Potato soup from your Homespun Gifts book for my sons’ preschool teachers for their Christmas gifts. They claimed to love them! Thanks for the practical, but frugal ideas :-).

  10. Karen,

    Thanks for sharing your story. While we loved our dream house in the woods, it did not cost us more money but time! My husband was always doing something, mowing, snow, leaves….who knew natural beauty took so much work. Yes, it is crowded and more expensive here in CA but we get lots of time together to do things. I am with you in the prayer about jobs. We are in a similar position. Thank you again for sharing your story and for being so open. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  11. Karen, thank you for your open heart today. As soon as I completed reading your entry I prayed for you and your husband in these uncertain times.

    Praying for you to have peace regarding the job market and praying your Christmas will be sweet and filled with moments that become treasured memories that will be priceless. Blessings to you.

  12. Karen…. you WILL get through this. I’m not saying it will be easy – I speak from experience. We lost almost everything financially because of 9/11. One day you are paying the mortgage with 2 kids in Christian school, and the next day your husband calls to tell me not to mail any of those checks to the creditors because there is no money there. Christmas of 2001 for our two boys was a Blockbuster buy 3 movies for $15. And you know what? They lived to tell about it!

  13. This is a testimony. This story will preach!

    Karen, you are in my prayers. May God bless your sweet heart and carry your family through this time. May He honor your husband as the head of your home and bless him with a job that far exceeds his wants and desires and may your ability to give match your giving hearts. Amen!

  14. Karen, what an incredible story! We had the joy of living in our ‘dream home’ for about 10 years, then God called us to move. It’s a long story, but we know we are where God wants us for now – even though this was more a necessity move because of school for our son.

    I love that Acts 17:26 says that God “determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live”. He knows where we need to live to be in the center of His will. I also take comfort in Isaiah 32:18, “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”

    My husband also works for GM in Canada and things certainly seem uncertain although he has been given no definite word yet. As I pray for our family, I will remember you.

    May God continue to write His story over your life,
    Joy

  15. Stacey (and Karen),

    I am with you girl(s)! How many times have I looked and thought the same thing? And how many times have we already had to pass on helping someone else when things have gotten tight just being where we are?

    Thanks for the reality check Karen. I heard about a Rob Bell video that pertains to this issue… not to say that you are here. I have heard you speak and read your stuff enough to know you are not about the Joneses, but perhaps God is sending me a message. Thanks for putting it out there Karen. here is a link to the video:

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&rlz=1T4SUNA_enUS270US271&resnum=1&q=Nooma+and+kickball&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&resnum=4&ct=title#

  16. I posted this morning , and i’m back tonight to say “thank you”…for being open and honest; for saying what so many of us are afraid to say; for admitting you made a mistake by buying more than you needed or could REALLY afford, and for doing what you know you had to do no matter what the neighbors or the family or anyone said. We have an almost identical ‘all the doors kept opening” story, and are getting ready to do the same thing. I pray that your husband will find work, and that you will always know that God is using you and your common problems and situations to reach so many of us.

  17. Stacey–
    Oh, I prayed this morning as I hit “post” that someone just like you would read this today and be blessed. It is easy to get caught up in thinking everyone has perfect lives, perfect homes, perfect marriages, perfect kids, etc…. I long to be real and to point others to the only perfect thing I know—our great and gracious God!!!
    Karen

  18. Thanks for your honesty and openness, Karen. I’ll be praying for you and your family. By the way, I am using your “3 gifts” idea for our 4 kiddos this year, and I love it (hopefully they will too!).

  19. I just want to thank you for being real. I have struggled with jealousy looking at pictures and seeing beautiful homes and decorations…I am sorry you are going through this, but I know if you had not gone through this and had not shared it, I would not have the comfort in my heart that I do now. I hope that makes since. Please also know you and your family are being prayed for. I am also praying for that perfect job the Lord wants your husband to have…yikes…and the location too, regardless where it is! God bless you and your precious family this Christmas. I pray you will be touched by Him in such a way it mesmorizes you.

  20. I hope it is an encouragement for you to hear that I can see God written all over your entry. One often mis quoted verse in the Bible is God won’t give you more than you can handle….what it really says is, God won’t let you be tempted more than you can handle. Sooo, when He gives you more than you can handle, He gives you a chance to lean further on Him. Kind of like the Footprints poem. It is humbling being the one receieving rather than giving. My prayers will be with you this Christmas, and as long as you need them… When I don’t hear how it is affecting people personally, it is easy to say “If I owned a business I wouldn’t be eligible for the government to bail me out” Which is the same thing I have heard from many people. IT is so hard. It will affect many people, and from what I gather, the Bid Dogs that make the Big money won’t be affected. It is so sad!

    Blessings to you……From another chilly cold girl in Minnesota…..

    Shannon

  21. Thanks for the info, Karen! Money is pretty tight in our family, too. My husband and I bought our first house in Oct. and it is a life-changing experience! Would you mind posting some of your low-cost ideas for gift gving? (Especially for the kids?) We’re really trying to stick to a budget. Our daughter is 8 and while we will give her some gifts, we’d also like to be more creative ths year!
    Maybe we could all post about things we’ve done in the past that went really well or things we’re thinking about doing? I don’t know; but I’d love some ideas!

  22. So sorry about the impending job loss! My husband lost his, as well, 2 weeks ago. Your words are encouraging, even though you are dealing with hard times. Prayers being said!

  23. Karen,
    Thanks so much for sharing. I’m sure that was easy for you to do. May God make Himself overwhelmingly known to you and your family as you go through this uncertain time. Focus on the things you are certain of, like the love of Christ. Hang in there!

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