5 Major Lessons I Learned from Debt

There’s an old saying that goes something like this…life will teach you what you need to learn.

I think they meant that life will teach you what you need to learn whether you like it or not. So here’s 5 major lessons I learned (some begrudgingly) while digging out from under our 2.4 million dollar mountain of debt.

Lesson #1: Humility. Each of us has a battle to fight, something to learn. I have a natural confidence that has led me to some risky ventures. When you can’t pay your bills or when you’re 11 days away from foreclosure or when the lights get turned off, humility is something you begin to embrace. I’d never had these problems before. For 27 years I’d always been able to pay my bills and then some. A Bank of America telemarketer once gave me a $70,000 credit line over the phone simply for being a good customer. I hadn’t understood suffering or the level of pain that comes with struggle. Learning to be humble was a big lesson for me.

Lesson #2: Grace. God is good. He forgives even when we can’t seem to forgive ourselves. We all need grace at some point in our lives. There’s a country song that says…we all fall down, lose our way. I lost my way in the acquiring of things. I put more importance on my address and the square footage of my house than I did on my own self-worth. Oh, I still embraced love and joy and compassion and Christ. But mercy and grace have been harder for me. Learning to forgive myself and my mistakes has been a several year event.

Lesson #3: Organization. I’m naturally disorganized. I’m a piler. My happy free spirit would rather go out to lunch with a friend than organize my bills. As the debt mounted, I lived in total chaos and denial…getting the mail but never opening it, dodging the thousands of collection calls that came in with the punch of the reject button or by simply turning off the phone completely. I downsized a 8,000 square foot house and a 2,000 square foot barn to a 1,000 square foot apartment through 5 years of selling off stuff. I learned to put the bills in one place, to open them up, to pay what I could. I finally got it all sifted, sorted and simplified so that it wasn’t overwhelming. Again, another multi-year process.

Lesson #4: Teamwork. Dennis (my husband) and I have always been a good team. We’re true partners. But in the midst of the debt doo-doo, we became ruthless opponents. We played the blame game without ever verbalizing it. We pointed fingers subtly, matching each other tit for tat when our pain got to be too much. We slept together and raised the kids but we were like two ships passing in the wind. Until we came together and defined our battle plan to declare war on our debt, we failed. Only when we opened up, cried, yelled, said what we were feeling and turned to each other for comfort, did any level of understanding begin to take place. And even then it wasn’t easy.

Lesson #5: The Beauty of Simplicity. Somehow in the midst of debt everything got amazingly complicated. At one point we had 14 rental properties and our own home. We owned 2 businesses. We were raising our 3 kids and taking care of 2 dogs a cat, a horse, a barn and 9.3 acres. Our son played piano and hockey and soccer and rode dirt bikes. Our daughters had endless sleepovers and all the girly-girl embellishments of life. We went on amazing vacations. Most of our time was spent moving fast…simply trying to keep up. We’d lost the beauty of a simple dinner, sleeping in late on Saturday and being together. We had equated success with money and the size of our house, as most of us who are truthful about it do. Finally, we remembered that time and love and togetherness were more priceless than our bank balance. That simple things mean the most. That raising successful children is a hard-earned reward and that having a successful marriage is a treasure.

Some of these lessons make me sound and feel amazingly shallow. I’m not. I value people over anything in life. I praise God for my blessings and work hard to make a difference in someone’s life every single day of my life. Debt is hard. It wounds you. Proverbs 22:7 says that the “ rich rule over the poor and the borrower is the slave to the lender”. We lived in bondage, struggling to free ourselves from the prison of debt we had created. We’re still fighting. Life’s still teaching. But now, we’re winning.

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