Does 96.2% of the Way Really Matter?

We’re almost to the top of the mountain.  The debt mountain.  We’ve eeked it out and paid off over $2,306,796 in the past 5 years…most of it from debt we incurred when our real estate investment company failed. 

That’s a big chunk of change.  More than some people earn in an entire lifetime.

So why does it still feel like we’re crawling our way out?

Why does the 3.8% ($93,204) that we have left feel like it’s going to be our undoing?

Why do I still feel so inept and defeated?

On the grading scale of any educational institution, at worst 96.2% would be an A-.  Even the most savvy student would take it.  It would help most GPA’s, not hurt it.

It’s still an F in my mind. 

We still have 3 real estate investors, 2 vendors, 11 medical bills, the IRS and 1 miscellaneous bill to pay.  18 bills that stand between us and total freedom.

So, what are we to do?

Keep moving forwardKeep tryingKeep doing what we’ve been doing for the past 5 years.  (It is working or we wouldn’t be at 96.2%.) 

Be proud of the fact that we didn’t take the bankruptcy that everyone and their brother advised us to do.  Be proud of the fact that we’ve struggled through the pain when it would’ve been inordinately easier to wipe the slate clean, walk away and start over.

Keep selling stuff.    Keep the faith.    Keep our heads held high.  Keep telling our story whenever it will help someone get out of or stay out of debt.

Keep growing and learning.  Read blogs like ManvsDebt and the MinimalistMom.  Read the Bible.    I’ve never really understood this verse “Consider it joy through trial” but I cling to it anyway.    Keep working. 

Keep deflecting the well-meaning comments for me to ‘get a job’ and ‘get on with my life’.    Keep expecting a miracle.  (They do happen you know, just look at any newborn baby or read the book of John for the 7 miracles that happened there.)   Keep building EncouragementToGo.

So is the grade an A- or is it an F?  Does it really matter.

We’re still climbing.  I’ll let you know when we bury our flag in the Summit.  We’re going to make it (and so are you).  It’s only a matter of time.  And yes, the answer is 96.2% of the way DOES matter.


The 9 Toughest Things of My Life

We all have tough stuff in our lives.  Some of us have tougher things than others.     We can’t go around or over or under this stuff, we have to go through it.   While I’m not happy about the rough things, I know that it’s part of our journey.    Our lives are a mosaic of experiences.    These are the 9 toughest ones of my life:

#1:  My childhood.  My Mom has OCD and the entire family suffered from lack of treatment from OCD.  We hid the secret well and didn’t let anyone know.  Except the 3 of us that is.  My Dad paddled as hard as he could to maintain a sense of normalcy for us.  He was a good provider, a loving Dad and suffered from decades of depression.   My Mom spent most of her time thinking about her OCD and washing things.   I believe she loved me but she loved her disease more than any of us.  She needed treatment and never got it.  I attribute much of this to “keeping secrets.”

#2:  Losing my nephew to SIDS.  Horrific.  He was only 10 weeks old and died of sudden infant death in my Grandmother’s care.  The only saving grace was that Grandma was watching him.  She did everything she could to save him but he was gone and there was nothing anyone could do to bring him back to us.   I still remember the smell of his little sleeper.  That was over two decades ago and I still miss him.

#3:  Losing my entire fortune at age 45.  Devastating.  Humilitating.  When we tallied the dollar signs that we owed, they totaled $2.4 million.  Not chunk change.  Now, 5 years later, we’re down to owing $89,000.  (Oh, and if you sued me, you’re not getting any)  Great blog to read on the topic of debt:

#4:  Getting organized.  Took half a century (i.e. 50 years).    Organization is my most unnatural characteristic due to my ADD (attention deficit disorder).  After incident number 3, we downsized 4 times in 4 years until at this very moment we live in a beautiful apartment overlooking a lake.  Simplification has come with a great price and brings with it an amazing freedom.

#5:  Getting back on track after incident #3. Exhausting. Digging out is always tougher than making the mess.    We’re still shoveling but we’re almost there.

#6:  Getting my Mom out of my head.  An endless loop.  I love her.  I hate her.  I love her.  I hate her.  She’s my Mother.  The Bible says honor her.  I love her.  I hate her.  I believe I am honoring her by having her out of my life.

#7:  Being sued by my own Mother.  My Mother and I hadn’t talked in 9 months before I received the letter from her attorney that she was suing me for the money I owed her and my Dad.   I was stunned and spent an entire morning walking around in a stupor.  She had drawn the sword.   She won a civil judgment but she lost her daughter (me) for good.    Some relationships are toxic.

#8:  Owing my Dad money when he died.  Sad.   I’m so sorry Dad.  I hope you know that in Heaven.   Our relationship was priceless to me and I’m so sorry I disappointed you in such a big way.   You gave me all the gifts that money can’t buy…depth, a Christian walk, what it looked like to honor marriage, writing, love, honesty and transparency in a time when men who told how they felt were deemed weak.

#9:  Going to jail.  Humiliating and maddening.  I went to jail for an expired license plate ticket (a bench warrant unbeknownst to me had been issued when I hadn’t paid the ticket) .  At age 49 I was handcuffed in high heels as my husband whizzed by on the interstate.  The first police officer called for back-up.  Two cop cars with guns documented my degrading nonsensical moment.  They removed the shoelaces from my stilettos so that I didn’t choke myself in the cell.    My family had to take a call from the “Inmate Prison System” and my one-year old grandson was waving from my daughter’s arms when I posted bond.

Synopsis:  In reviewing my list, I found that money, family and mental health were the three toughest challenges I’ve had to deal with in my life.  They still are…but I am taking proactive steps toward each of them.   Two of the 9 (22%) were 100% totally out of my control, the other 7 (78%) I take complete responsibility for.  Pareto’s Principle prevails…everything falls into the 80/20 rule.

I encourage you to document the 9 toughest things of your own life and then group them into topical categories (usually there’s a pattern).  Somehow, seeing them laid out in black and white takes some of the threat away and makes them conquerable.  They make up your life.  They’re part of what’s molded you into being the human being you are today.  Don’t discount them.  Document them.  Then see where you can work and what’s out of your control.

And don’t be discouraged, we’re all a work in progress.

What if Your Pain Exists To Help Someone Else?

Sometimes your path seems so twisted you wonder if you’ll ever again wander the yellow brick road of life.  After we lost everything in our business, I muddled through for what seemed like half a decade.  Oh, Dennis and I had paid off over $2,000,000 in debt, but even that didn’t seem like any accomplishment.   It wasn’t enough and it wasn’t fast by our own personal standards.  The hill ahead of us still seemed like Mt Everest.

As our son Travis neared college age, we wondered how we would send him to college.   Then, as if an angel from Heaven appeared, we met Major Chandler at the University of Central Missouri.  We didn’t have a scheduled meeting.  The business school rep managed to get us an impromptu 10-minute meeting with the Major because Travis had expressed a slight interest in the military.

We got the meeting.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.  It changed Travis’ destiny.

The Major took out a bright yellow sheet of paper.  One sheet.  Black type.  I remember the words he said… “I can get your entire four-year college education paid for if you can meet these requirements.”   He made it seem so simple.

Travis was up for the challenge.

We delved into months of applying for the four-year Army ROTC national scholarship and after jumping through some major hoops, Travis got word.  He was recipient of the national scholarship, an award worth over $81,000, not including his room and board.

Dennis and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Travis was going to college and it was paid for.

But we could not have known what lay in store.

There are few perfect paths in life.  There are very few people you look at and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re doing exactly what they’re meant to do.

We look at Travis and his accomplishments in his Army ROTC program over the past 3 years and know that he is exactly where God wanted him.  His perfect place.  He’s become a Special Forces Combat Diver.  He maxes the PT (physical training) test at 350 when the test max is 300.  He competes with his best buddy Ethan.  He’s in top physical, mental, emotional and yes, even spiritual shape.   He’s a leader in every since of the word.

He’s exactly what the Army was looking for.  And the Army was exactly what Travis was looking for without even knowing it.

So the question is…If we had not collapsed financially, would Travis have found his perfect place?  Was our bend in the road really the bridge to Travis’ future?     If we had been able to write checks for college like we could have 10 years earlier, would Travis have ended up a wandering frat boy with parties and boobs on the brain?

Travis will leave the University of Central Missouri in May of 2013 with no debt, a degree in Business Administration and a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army.    He has a career path ahead of him filled with promotion and adventure.  He’ll also leave with lifetime memories of the buddies he made along the way, the divers he risked his life with training in the Atlantic Ocean, the commanders who gave him countless opportunities to show what he was made of and a family so proud we think our hearts will burst.

In John Eldredge’s epic book “Wild at Heart” he writes that every man needs three things in his life in order to really feel like a man:

#1)  A battle to fight,

#2)  An adventure to live and,

#3) A beauty to rescue

Trav is well on his way to accomplishing #1 and #2.  He’ll never have to ask himself longingly “do I have what it takes?”  because he knows the answer.  Yes, he does have what it takes.   And I know he’ll find the real beauty (#3) as his life unfolds.

When I look back on my own pain over the past few years, I thank God for the blessings that have come because of it.  I wouldn’t trade one minute of my pain for my son’s glory.    We’re all richer because Travis found his path.

5 Really Good Things To Do When You’re Angry

Last weekend Dennis and I had one of those fights that came out of nowhere and blindsided us both.   It was Sunday afternoon and we were taking a leisurely drive talking about our goals when suddenly everything went south.  (I’m sure it had something to do with money, but now 4 days later even that important detail of what the fight was really about escapes me.)

You know the kind of south I’m talking about.  The kind that makes you want to screech the tires and slam doors.  The kind of mad that makes you want to get away from the person causing you pain as fast as possible.

I was driving.

As our argument got more heated, I headed the car for home.   We continued the tit for tat groveling into the house.  The decibel of the fighting got worse and Dennis (who never does this, it’s only the 2nd time in 30 years of marriage), said “I’m gonna leave.” He grabbed his car keys and headed out the door.

I was glad.  I couldn’t wait for him to get out the door.

Stunned, and not sure what had really just happened, I loaded the dishwasher and slowly wiped the counter.

Then, I loaded the washer.

I switched on my Adele CD and joined in her croon “I Could’ve Had It All.”

I grabbed my Pledge and dustrag and violently attacked the furniture.

I wiped down window shades filled with dust that hadn’t been hit in 6 months.

I pumped the Windex onto the TV’s that were covered with an invisible black film.

I wrangled with the sheets and made the bed.

Nothing could stop me.  I was like a mad woman attacking my anger like some housecleaner Hercules.

That lasted for about 15 minutes.

With my back to the bedroom door, I didn’t even hear Dennis re-enter the house and then the bedroom.  I was too busy letting the tears stream down my face as I sprayed more Windex and mopped gunk off the bedroom TV.  He was within 1 foot of me and the TV when I finally noticed his presence.  And then I turned around, locked eyes with him and fell into his arms.

We embraced for what seemed like a very long time.  Adele kept on singing her lusty soul tunes.

We kissed.  Said I’m sorry.  Made-up.  (I’ll let you fill in the details on this one.)

And for that, I’m very, very glad.

When you’re in love, fighting is inevitable.  I don’t advocate fighting nor do we do very much of it. 

But sometimes a good fight is the cleansing agent that paves the way to greater understanding.

It’s what you do with your anger that counts.  Holding it inside is the absolute worst thing you can do.  It’s toxic.

It’s okay to get mad.  It’s okay to be furious.  And occasionally, it’s even okay to leave to just put some space between the anger and yourselves.

There are good things to do with anger, and there are some very bad things.  Here’s 5 really good things to do when you’re angry.  They may seem silly, but they provide a good bridge until you can get to the other side again.

5 Really Good Things To Do When You’re Angry

#1.  Clean the house.   Turn yourself into a whirlwind.  Attack the toilet.  Scrub holes in the kitchen floor if you have to.

#2.  Hop on the treadmill.  Pound it out.  Increase the level or the speed and put your fight into the machine, not each other.  The other alternative to this is taking a walk.

#3.  Sob it out in the shower.  Cry yourself dry.  Then, with your hair still wrapped in the towel, take a nap.

#4.  Call a friend and rant to your heart’s content.  Do not, I repeat, do not call your family.  Friends can usually get over your spouse’s supposed shortcomings, family cannot. 

#5.  Organize just about anything.  Your closet.  Your junk drawer.  The entire garage or house if you’ve got that much anger.  Then just make sure to get rid of the stuff you’ve purged immediately before you can cool entirely down.

Hopping on the treadmill and taking a walk are two different things.  Dennis is a take-a-walk kind of guy.  He actually went out to sit by the lake while we were fighting and didn’t really ever leave at all.  I’m more of a hop on the treadmill kind of woman.  I can pound out my frustration on the machine.

But the best thing of all to do when you’re angry is this…make-up.  Mingle your tears and hug it out.  Say you’re sorry.  Begin again.  Because of all the things worth fighting for in this crazy mixed-up world…love is the most important thing of all.

3 Keys to Transforming Your Life

Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords didn’t get the choice as to whether she wanted to transform her life. A deranged shooter who put a bullet in her brain made that choice for her. She went from being a vibrant Congresswoman in the United States House of Representatives to being a childlike replica of her old self. She had to fight for the word spoon and how to say I Love You again. Oh, she’s coming back. She’s ready for the fight. But it’s not the one she would have chose. (Pictured left: the old Gabby and the new Gabby following the shooting)

The rest of us have a choice. We get to decide how our lives look. We wake up and decide whether we’ll do the same old thing we’ve been doing the day before, or if today is going to be different. Two weeks ago Monday I decided that I’d had it with my out of control eating. I didn’t like huffing and puffing up the stairs and I certainly didn’t like the eyes of my 20-year old US Army Combat Diver son as he watched me eating potatoe chips and dip.

In that moment, I decided to go from fat to fit. I’ve been overweight at least 21 years now. (Funny, my son is going to be 21 next month but I’m not blaming anyone.) Oh, at first it was a mere 20 pounds, then 35, then 50. Before I knew it my 5’6″ frame was carrying 207.4 pounds, at least 57.4 pounds overweight. This wasn’t the woman I wanted to be.

So I decided to change. In that one instant.

In the first week I lost 4.2 pounds. Mainly, I used Weight Watchers. I got up and moved 6 out of 7 days, even though I would’ve preferred lounging in bed in the early morning. I drank more water than I had in the past 10 years combined.

What do you need to do?
-Create more income
-Find your soul mate
-Change careers
-Get rid of your clutter
-Improve your finances
-Become a better you

It can be done. I will do it. And you can do it too.

The 3 Keys to Transforming Your Life:
Key #1: Decide. Everything starts with a decision. Write that decision down. My fat to fit decision looked like this. I will go from Fat to Fit at 50. Simple.

Key #2: Get help. You’ll need a support team. I joined Weight Watchers. I created my own blog, mainly to keep myself accountable.

Key #3: Create a plan, even if it’s just a sketch on the back of a napkin. What would this success look like? What are the baby steps you need to take to get started?

Making a lasting change, starting anything new…remodeling your life isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Should Christmas Come If You’re In Debt?

“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.” -Charles Dudley Warner

Being in debt impacts every area of your life. And there’s no more monetary holiday than Christmas. It’s supposed to be a religious holiday…a celebration of Christ’s birth. Seldom do we focus on the gift of Christ and focus instead on the precious presents themselves.

I’ve made my list and checked it twice. I’ve decided who to buy for and what they’ll be getting. I do my best to consider each person’s life, not just the item they have written down on a list. I hate buying off lists. It requires no originality, no thought, nothing but cold hard cash.

The best Christmas my family ever had was the year I dictated we give “Gifts from the Hearts” instead of things we could buy. I can still remember the gifts to this day, almost 12 years later. My daughter Candice wrote me a poem titled “Peace”. Here it is.

By Candice Thompson in the year 1999

Peace is visible like the moon on a starry night,
Peace is as warm as when you’re in your mother’s arms,
Peace goes down like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter morning,
Peace is encouraging to hear when you’re feeling down and blue,
Peace is as flowing as a beautiful river,
Swish, Swish, Swish.
Peace is like being hugged by a huge teddy bear when you’re scared,
Peace is powerful to people who practice patience,
Peace smells moist and delicate,
Peace is to the soul as love is to the heart.

That Christmas was different from the rest. We had to think. We had to create. We had to do something other than spend an almighty dollar.

And that was the best Christmas of all.

But my question was…should Christmas come if you’re in debt? The answer is definitely YES. This is a time to do some soul searching. What is Christmas all about? What does it really mean to my family? Can I get by on less, and still celebrate a glorious holiday?

Christmas isn’t about stuff. I’m not getting all Scrooge-like and advocating presents be banned. I’m simply lobbying for more substance and less stuff. More together time and less frantic rushing. Fewer gift cards being passed and more truly spiritual moments.

Christmas is about finding what people really need and filling that up. Those are the true gifts. And they haven’t a thing to do with being in debt.

How Uncomfortable Are You?

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” ~M. Scott Peck

We only change our life when we get so sick of the current version that we can’t stand it anymore. Or when something blows up. Or someone dies or gets cancer. Isn’t that sad? We have the power to change things but it usually takes a catastrophic event to do so.

It took me being $2.4 million in debt and almost losing my home to wake up. I kept hoping things would turn around…kind of like hoping Santa Claus will show up on Christmas Eve. It took me being 58 pounds overweight and huffing and puffing everywhere I went to wake up to get myself fit again. It took me downsizing 4 times before I realized renting might be the best option until things stabilized again.

I love adrenaline. I think adrenaline’s what got me into some of the messes I’ve been in in my life. But mostly the change agent was pain. Life felt too painful and when it’s too painful, we wake up.

If you’re uncomfortable with your life and your finances, I say good. Because pain is a mysterious transformer, an alchemist. (Definition of alchemy: a magical power or process of transforming a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.)

Often we don’t even know how we created the lives that we have. We simply know they’re not working. And that’s when it’s time to take charge and make change.

Let me know what changes you’re planning to make. I’m making plenty.