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Delivered From Debt: A Christian Testimony

 

Delivered From Debt: A Christian Testimony

By Maria Elena Hawke

Shakespir Edition

Copyright ©2016 Maria Elena Hawke

Cover photo by Dodgerton Skilhause.

All Bible verses included in this book are taken from the King James Version.

Permission granted by the author to reproduce and distribute this book in any audio or written media as long as it is reproduced in its entirety and it is distributed for free.

“Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 3:2

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand:

repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

Mark 1:15

Table of Contents

Awakened to a Crisis

Repenting from My Old Ways

Learning to Negotiate With Creditors

Losing Pride and Finding Work

Selling My Worldly Possessions

Kindness from Christian Friends and Family

The Miracle of My Car and a Little Doggie Named Max

The Miracle of the Tobacco Pipe

My Payment Schedule

“Being the Poor” and Learning to Steward All of My Income

Losing My Pride to Gain a Far Better Home

Waiting on God for a New Computer

The Man Who Delivered the Couch

Investing in Heaven Rather Than Retirement

God’s Healing Miracles

Staying Faithful to Avoid Relapse

I Owe Others Forgiveness, But God Owes Me Nothing

From Religion to Salvation

Other Works Mentioned

[][] Awakened to a Crisis

In April of 2007 I found myself in a financial crisis. After several months of waiting for my ship to come in from the royalty checks for a book that still hadn’t taken off in sales, I suddenly realized (almost overnight) that increasing interest had caused my minimum credit payments to reach such high levels that I was not going to have the cash to pay the next month’s rent. I knew that I needed to high tail it out of my little duplex within two weeks because I wouldn’t be able to simply promise my landlords the money later. It would never be there. I had to get a cheaper place that I could afford. I went to church that Sunday and cried nonstop through the service. I was asking God to save me from the fate of delinquency on my loans. I was very desperate. In just a couple years since my divorce my debt had increased to over $59,000.

I know it sounds like I was probably a shopaholic, but I didn’t have a large or expensive wardrobe, had taken no luxury vacations, had not made investments, owned no jewelry, did not spend much on home decorating, and felt that I was pretty frugal with my spending overall. However, I had made a series of very bad financial decisions. Let me list them here: taking a loan of about $33,000 to earn a Master’s degree from a private school, giving my ex-husband about $6,000 for the asking, spending $10,000 to attend writer’s conferences (these were definitely not fun vacations for me) and by paying a large sum to get my book published, using credit cards after my divorce to supplement my income rather than just getting another job or spending less, and renting a $650 per month duplex that was larger than my needs required when there was cheaper housing available for me. The Master’s degree was at my ex-husband’s command, but I gave in knowing it was not what God wanted me to do. The other decisions were completely my own. I had no material wealth or benefits to show for all this spending. My job did not require me to have a Master’s degree, nor would it have hindered me in any way to have gone to the cheaper, public universities. The money I had spent on the book did not pay off as there were no sells to justify it. And my credit card spending was mostly on consumable items that were used up as soon as the money was spent. So I didn’t feel or act like a big spender. Yet I was in serious trouble for not managing my money properly.

Up to that point in my life, I had never been delinquent on a loan or more than a month late in making a payment on a bill. Just two years before that time I had an excellent credit rating. I had always considered myself to be a very responsible person when it came to money. I carefully attended to paying bills on time and had closed four or five loan accounts in the past as “paid in full,” including two school loans. I had no excessive lifestyle habits, like gambling, traveling, shopping, smoking, or drugs. The only trip I had taken in the last couple years was business related. I didn’t even own a pet or any nice furniture. And although I love to eat, I must not have done that too much either because most people consider me to be on the slim side. So what had I done wrong?

Simply put, I had been living above my means for way too long. I was living in a fantasy, funding a lifestyle that, although modest, was more than I had money for. I used credit to pay two years’ worth of taxes, get through a divorce, and publish and market a book. After that point, I began to use credit for basic purchases, thinking that I had no choice because my part-time employment didn’t leave me with enough cash to finance all these expenses. This two year history of poor financial decisions and a little bit of hard luck (not being able to obtain a full time job) had reduced my cash flow to less than zero.

My plight was the result of two irresponsible behaviors: (1) spending as if I already had the increased income I was expecting to receive if my book took off or if I found full-time employment, and (2) refusing to do the math to plan a budget. On one hand I kept thinking that my income would soon increase, and when it did, I could then catch up on my bills. On the other, I thought that I didn’t need to know how much I was overspending until I was ready to “catch up.”

I don’t wish the reader to think that over spending was my only sin at that time of my life. I had many sins that I was in denial about at the time. I was a defeated Christian, living in ignorance of the spiritual bondage that controlled my life. But perhaps God worked so faithfully in me about my irresponsible spending because I was finally willing to acknowledge I was wrong in at least that area. Even though I was in denial about many other sins, God was merciful and gracious to deal with me in this one sin that I had finally become convicted about. Since that time He has continued to faithfully lead me closer to Him and farther from all sin. Although this book focuses on my deliverance from debt and overspending, God has since delivered me from many other sins and is still converting my thinking and actions to conform to His. He is a good God!

When I first doubted my ability to pay the next month’s rent, I suddenly had the motive to figure my actual spending versus income to see if my doubts where wrong. In other words, I was looking for any hidden dollars in my budget that might be floating around for just such an emergency. On a piece of paper I made two columns. One column was my take home income (after taxes and deductions) per month. The other column listed my minimum monthly payments on each of my 12 loan accounts as well as my monthly rent, gas, food, car insurance and utilities expenses. The math proved there were no hidden dollars available, but what I did find was very surprising. First, I quickly realized that due to increasing interest rates as well as my increasing balances on the credit accounts, I was at that time paying $450 a month in interest alone! That was most of what I was paying in rent a month, yet if I were to only pay that much each month to my creditors for the rest of my life, I would never lower my balances. (By the way, you can calculate what you are spending in interest each month per creditor by dividing the yearly interest rate by 12, and then converting that number to a decimal and multiplying it by your balance.) I also discovered that I owed about $1200 per month in minimum payments to creditors alone! My take home wages were about $1400, plus I had rent coming due in two weeks and still needed gas and food. You see, over the course of two years, as I continued to only make minimum payments on my credit cards while refusing to cut down on spending, my minimum monthly payments kept creeping higher and higher until they had reached this horrifying amount.

After picking my jaw up from the floor I made some more calculations. I next discovered that the dollar amount in minimum payments to my creditors that month far exceeded what I would owe my landlord in a couple weeks. That really hurt because it meant that my physical survival on this planet was worth less in dollars than my obligations to creditors who had no concern for my personal wellbeing. It also meant that I had put my physical survival below importance to my desired lifestyle. The other realization that really hurt was that, now that I had finally been honest enough to calculate my spending in comparison to income, I realized for the first time that I had NEVER needed those credit cards to survive. My income had always been enough to cover basic food, gas, utilities, modest rent (there were rentals available for $450 and less), car insurance, and a small amount for doctor visits and clothes. The money had always been there! If I had understood that and stayed away from the credit cards I would have avoided the catastrophe altogether. I would have still been in debt for my school loan and financing my book, but not in a crisis.

Finally, I found that the amount of my most basic expenses (rent, gas to work, minimal groceries, car insurance, and utilities) combined with my minimum payments to creditors equaled more than I had earned that month. This amount did not include all the little extras that I had been paying for up to that time, like eating out, maintaining a website, and purchasing work clothes, renting movies, etc. So, of course, after months of waiting for things to get better, reality had finally set in. The hidden supply of money I had hoped to find did not exist. I was at the brink of either getting evicted for not paying rent or getting turned into collection agencies for not paying my creditors. Neither predicament seemed appealing.

I had suddenly made a life changing realization: I was poor because I had spent too much, not because I had earned too little. I was bringing home between $1200 and $1400 per month, and I had just realized that I could have paid rent, gas, insurance, and food costs with only $1000. Furthermore, if I had been living in a cheaper apartment I could have also had enough cash to pay the utilities. If I had only done the math sooner and discovered this before running up so much credit! I had been willingly blind for too long. I sat there remembering a time in my youth when a wise man once told me to “Buy with cash.” He had said it with a knowing smile on his face. Another wise couple had also once told me that if I wanted anything and could not afford it, all I had to do was save up and then it would be mine, debt free. God allowed me to remember this advice through all the years that I ignored it. Now that I really wanted to follow it, I couldn’t because all my cash belonged to the creditors.

God spoke to me further and revealed to me that I had sold myself into financial slavery, and it was no one’s fault but my own. He reminded me of the verse that says, we cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24). But I would now be forced to serve mammon by literally working to pay my creditors. I would not be able to give my earnings to God for a long time. I would not be able to help myself much either. I realized that I had become an economic slave; my money was not my own. The credit card companies literally owned my income. From now on every penny I earned would belong to someone else because I had been borrowing to keep my fantasies alive. One fantasy was that I wanted to live in a clean, open, light home. My duplex was just that. I did not want any reminders of the home I had endured in my marriage. The home I had lived in with my now ex-husband had been a large but gloomy, clutter filled place. I was too good to be put through the torture of living in a gloomy place again—or so I thought. Another fantasy was that I wanted to be a published author. The third fantasy in my life was that I could tithe with borrowed money rather than earned money. And I also had taken a trip to Canada to do research for a story I was writing. This was no luxury trip, and it wasn’t fun either. But it was a trip I could not realistically afford. But going to Canada fueled the fantasy that I was an author who did research.

After some reflection I realized that I did not need to live in such a nice duplex, I had taken an unnecessary trip to a book conference that year, and purchased more copies of my book than I actually needed to have on hand. There were many other big and little ways that I had over spent in the last two years. I had given large amounts of money away beyond my regular tithe to the church—money that was raised on credit, not given out of my income. I had also purchased clothes and decorative items that I really had no use for. The most significant thing I learned was that, not only had my credit purchases caused me to get into debt over my head, but all the credit purchases I had made in the past two years were entirely unnecessary. If I had cancelled my credit accounts two years earlier and started paying them off and only shopped with cash, I would have never gotten into financial trouble. My take home income was just enough for me to live on. I had been using credit mistakenly to “survive.” Like many Americans, I typically paid my bills each month with my net income, and then proceeded to charge everything else from food to theater tickets. All my income was needed to pay bills because I had let my credit balances get out of control. Without debt, I could have lived very comfortably on my meager wages.

After praying and crying in church, God made it clear to me that He was going to help me out of this crisis, but only through repentance. I understood that repentance in this case meant paying the money back as well as I could. It meant learning to be a good steward of my income. I had to act quickly, though, because the rent that I no longer had the cash for was due in two weeks. The next day, Monday, I cut a deal with my landlord to exchange part of the next month’s rent as an “advance,” so to speak, on the deposit amount she expected to refund back to me when I moved out. Then, within two weeks from that Monday, I moved into cheaper quarters—a very ugly and dirty room on a cow farm—and cut all personal expenses to the bare bones, enrolled in credit counseling to lower my interest rates and minimum payments, and became determined to find a second job if at all possible. In order to move without spending any more money, I had asked some friends from church to move me for free. They did just that. I collected boxes from grocery stores and packed all my things in advance; then my friends came over with their trucks and had me moved in two hours’ time.

In summary, I had looked up the cheapest rental available at the time and asked if I could move in in two days, the church helped me move for free, and my current landlord agreed to lower my current month’s rent as an advance on the deposit fee that I was expecting to get back. Additionally, my new landlord agreed to let me pay only half the current rent before moving in and make up that payment the next month. My new rent would be $415 per month.

The monthly expenses I cut were: movie rentals, restaurants and fast food, all rich foods and sweets, all gas money except enough to travel to work and church (This meant I would have to stay at home every day that I did not work or go to church and that I could only attend church on Sunday. It also meant that I had to run errands on the same days that I went to town for work and try to hit all the stops using as little gas as possible.), clothes (I did not purchase any new clothes again for about two years), ceasing my website, not going to the doctor unless in severe pain, and not seeing the dentist or getting hair cuts regularly. In order to get my teeth cleaned during the next few years I would hop from one dental practice to another so that I always got the $50 new client fee. Finally I found a dentist that would always clean my teeth for $50 if I signed a paper revoking my right to sue if I suffered any damage or illness due to them not taking X-rays. And of course I only got my teeth cleaned once a year. I got my hair cut about every three months—the point of growth at which I could no longer comb it or blow dry it well.

I found a credit counseling agency in town and started working with them. They told me the lowest they could get my minimum payments down after consolidation of accounts was $750 per month. This arrangement would also lower my monthly $450 in interest to about $250 in interest. They were very concerned that I would not make the payments because these payments would still be much higher than my rent, but I assured them that I would be faithful to make the payments and not take out any new credit because the math had proved to me that this was my only hope of getting out of debt. The credit counselor was doubtful, but she let me into the program anyway. I was so thankful because there was no way I could pay the debt at my present high interest rates and payment plans. God knew this too, and that is why I think he caused them to give me a chance. I was warned that if I ever missed a payment or took out another credit card that they would have to drop me from the low interest/low payment plan. But they did not need to make these warnings. I was determined and eager to follow that long ignored advice to pay with cash. Now I longed to only pay with cash, even if it meant starving at times. And it did.

At this time in 2007 I also owed about $2000 in back taxes, plus a car loan and my school loan. The student loan, car loan and the taxes were my responsibility to pay as required. They did not fall under the covering of my agreement with the credit reduction agency. But thankfully, God had given me the insight to pay my school loan ahead when I was still married. Because of the extra payments I had made when married, my school loan payments would not be due again for almost two years. This was good as I had absolutely no cash to pay on that loan for that entire two-year time. But I still had to come up with a way to pay the back taxes and car payments.

That previous tax season I had paid my taxes with credit. This latest January I had written letters to the IRS and my state revenue service asking them to accept small sums as an initial payment and allow me to make payments on the rest. Well those tax people are so accommodating. They don’t mind you paying late because it only means you have to pay them much more. They accepted my hand written requests for a payment plan. They were fine with me making payments as long as I also paid extra fees and a high interest on what I owed. The IRS would have let me take longer than a year to pay them back with high interest. But my state income tax people required that I pay in full within a year or they would access my checking account and try to garnish my wages as well. So paying my taxes on time was as much a priority as paying the credit counseling agency on time. The third most important responsibility was to make the car payments because I did not want to lose my car. I lived about 40 miles from work and there was no bus transportation available. I’ll tell you more about the car later.

[] Repenting from My Old Ways

I was now on my way to becoming debt free. And that is not a glamorous position to be in. The first year was extremely hard. It meant missing many meals, experiencing rough living conditions, and being restricted from leaving the house and visiting with others. My grocery spending was $20 every two weeks. That paid for a enough rice and lentils to keep me semi-full over those two weeks, plus some fruits and vegetables to supplement my food supply. God taught me that the cheapest food on the planet is potatoes. The next cheapest food is rice. A whole sack of potatoes that would last over a week was $1.29. A week’s worth of rice was about $1.50. I also became shrewder about nutrition because I had to get the vegetables with the most nutrients and avoid the others with less. Spinach has more nutrients that lettuce. Yams have more nutrients than ordinary potatoes. Peaches have more Vitamin C than oranges. I learned all this with God’s help. I sometimes had a lot of stomach pains because lentils and rice without meat makes you full of gas. I learned that a large bag of fruit would cost me about $5.00. And that fruit was so good. It was always a treat to buy my fruit. Of course, food costs have gone up now. But at that time I could get a bag of warehouse store fruit for that amount. Now before this time I was buying smoked salmon, dark chocolate, gourmet breads, olives, and many other rich foods. Sometimes I even threw food away because I couldn’t finish it all before it went bad. But the first year and a half I could only spend $40 per month for food and $60 per month for gas. That was it. The reason the $60 got me to work for a month was that I had the odd work schedule of working full-time every other week and having the weeks in between off. So a gas bill that should have been $120 was actually $60. God caused some of the friends in my life at that time to give me food handouts, and I also went to the local food pantry once. I would have gone to the pantry every week, except that pantries only operated during the day when most people work. I understood their thinking: “If you have a job, why do you need free food?” But because of my high debt and my desire to not go into bankruptcy, I could not afford food. Also, of course, my previous extravagant spending that super-exceeded my income had put me in this predicament. So there was only one time during my food crisis that I was able to make it to the food pantry when it was open and I had the gas and the time off to make it there.

Missing any payments to the credit counseling agency would result in being bumped off their program and going back to the high interest rates and impossible monthly payments with the credit card companies. So all other bills were secondary to the huge Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) payment and my state tax payment each month. This meant that for a long time I had to negotiate deals with the utility companies when I had to pay them late, not to mention juggling car payments and late IRS taxes.

At this time I’d like to tell you about how it was to move from the lovely duplex with a private garage, double sink bathroom, and high ceilings to my next “home.” My friends from church carried my belongings to a cow farm where there was a room available that was on one end of a work shop. After the people from church left me alone in this new place I began to cry because it was so gloomy and dirty looking. It even smelled a little bit. The carpet was a dark shag. The walls were dark plywood panels. I’ve always hated dark walls because it depresses me to be living in darkness. The front door didn’t always shut properly. One winter day I came home to the door wide open and had to check for foxes, possums or other small animals that may have wondered in. The bathtub did not drain properly, so while I showered, the water collected menacingly around my feet and rose higher as I showered. There was no fan in the bathroom and the light was a small travel lamp that I had to plug in and clip to the toothbrush holder. At night I could hear mice or possums walking through the walls and ceiling. My washer and dryer machines were hooked up in a shed nearby, which meant that in the winter time, I had to go out in the snow to do my laundry. The cell phone reception was so poor that I often got disconnected from calls with family and others. The internet speed available was only dial-up, which prevented me from doing much research online. I love research and love learning new things, so this was especially hard to deal with since I was effectively grounded from leaving home on most days. The kitchen counter was a kind of vinyl-like covering that was very mildew looking, and I was afraid to use it to prepare food on. It seemed like it could never be really clean. The cabinets also were mildewy and dark looking. The heating was poor so that I had to use a portable heater in my bedroom at night during the winter. I also had to sleep with a wool blanket. There was black mold in the bathroom that I could never totally clean off the back of the toilet because it was impossible to reach there. So I was often breathing this stuff that wasn’t good to breath.

To make my health worse, I had obtained a second on-call job with the post office delivering mail in rural neighborhoods. I was very grateful for that job because it allowed me to pay all those back taxes. But when you are a rural carrier, you must use your own vehicle to deliver the mail in. So I had to buy a used 1980s postal jeep for about $600. Now I had no money whatsoever to get the vehicle repaired. It had axle problems, and it made very dangerous turns. But even worse, it leaked carbon monoxide into the driver’s area. I did not know I was breathing carbon monoxide as I worked. Neither my coworkers nor boss could figure out why I delivered so slowly. None of us dreamed I was being air poisoned as I delivered. The one thing I noticed was that I was always faster in the morning than the afternoon. By the time I got near the end of my route my coworkers would sometimes have to help me finish it by taking some of my mail after they had delivered theirs. My boss followed me once in the hope that she could learn what I was doing wrong that caused me to take so long on the route. She had a couple tips but that didn’t improve my time. Finally, after delivering mail for four months and finally paying off all the late taxes, I quit because I knew I needed to get out of that job before either the jeep flipped over on one of those dangerous curves or they had to fire me for going so slow. God had so much grace toward me! Praise His name! Not only did He get me out of the job just in time, but He used that short lived job to get my taxes taken care of, and He was merciful to get me out of that health hazard of a vehicle.

God also helped me to sell the postal jeep two weeks later! That was a miracle because that jeep was pure junk as far as I was concerned. The man who bought it from me was the one who told me that I had been breathing the carbon monoxide. That knowledge actually made me feel better because it explained the mystery of my slowness. It also explained why I was so unusually tired after each shift of delivering mail. I remember coming home and being able to do nothing but sit in a chair all evening. Even though I was cold and hungry and needed a shower, I would sit there for up to three hours sometimes, unable to get up and take care of my needs. Finally I would force myself to get out of the chair, cook and eat my lentils and rice, wash my face and get in bed. I developed an infection in my skin at this time due to not being able to take hot baths because of the tub problems and not taking enough showers due my fatigue. Anyway, God got me out of it just in time. Between the mold I was breathing at home and the carbon monoxide I was breathing during my deliveries on the weekends I was very sick and fatigued most every day. One night while talking to my mom on the phone, she said, “You need to hang up and get something to eat right now.” Being a nurse, my mom could tell by my voice over the phone that she was talking to someone who had dangerously low blood sugar. I obeyed her, and was grateful that she was able to tell me that.

Those were hard days, but I had caused my own problems through sin—not just my financial sins but others as well. Even so, God preserved me and kept me and continued to teach me to get out of debt.

The one good aspect of living on this cow farm was that the animals made for interesting neighbors. I used to stand outside my room and just gaze at the cows every evening. The little baby bull calves were so curious and cute. The baby bull calves were the only ones that were curious enough to stare back at me. The mother cows were more suspicious.

Cows are dramatic creatures. When the man who wanted to buy came, they were filled with terror. At the point of his finger, they would stampede in circles, mooing and panicking. I always thought they ran in circles so that his finger couldn’t really point for sure at any one cow. The bull of the herd didn’t say much, but when he did “moo,” they all moved in instant obedience. I noticed that the bull was smart and only mooed when they were in real danger, like when a stranger entered the gate. The rest of the time, most of the orders came from the senior mother cows. They worked as a team to moo the herd to greener pastures or out of the way of the farm owners.

One night when I came home, the cows were wondering loose because one smart female had crawled under a fence and let the rest out behind her. So I called the couple who were my landlords and helped them herd the cows back behind the fence. The coolest thing I’ve ever seen the mother cows do was when a menacing German shepherd dog came over to stare at and harass the cows from outside the fence. He had wandered over mischievously from the neighboring farm. Well those mother cows were not going to put up with him. They came to the edge of the fence as a group. They seemed to be saying to the dog, “This fence won’t stop us from walking all over you.” And that German shepherd was so frightened to see all those huge cows in his face that he ran home with his tail down.

I liked the cows, but hated everything else about living on that farm. I was very sad and lonely there, but that was my home for about a year and a half.

During this time, gas was more important than food. If I couldn’t afford both, my money was spent on gas because I had to go to work to have any hope of being able to buy food again. And since my mom is a nurse I knew from her that you can live 40 days without food. After the 40th day your body begins to feed on its own organs. Maybe that is why Jesus only fasted for 40 days. Maybe it would have been a sin for him to fast longer since He would have been willingly damaging his body had He fasted to the point of His body having to feed off its own organs. I don’t know. But I did know that if I missed a few days of food I’d still be alive. But I never missed a day of food the whole time, glory to God! There were many days when the food I ate was not satisfying and left me feeling hungry, but I always had at least a little something to eat. If anybody brought donuts or cake to work to share I was right there at the table taking more than my share. I had no shame. Since I was thin, my coworkers just laughed it off. They weren’t offended by my piggishness at all. Or at least they didn’t show it.

I saved some money on gas by never going to run errands unless I was already passing through town on my way home or to work. I could not afford to go home first and then go out again later. There was a ladies’ Bible study that I liked to participate in, but I could not go every time because that would mean staying in town two extra hours to wait for the study to begin, not being able to go home first and get some food and not having the cash to buy fast food in town. So in order to attend the ladies’ Bible study, I had to miss food for a whole day and stay in a cold car for two hours after work waiting for the study to start. Eventually I stopped attending that study because it was too hard on my health.

I’ll share a story here that illustrates the damage that religion does to people. Now when I say “religion” I do not mean the gospel. The gospel is God’s word. Religion is man’s laws and traditions. This ladies’ Bible study I was attending had very religious and harmful rules. They insisted that you not drink water during the teaching session. They also forbade you to use the bathroom during the session that lasted over two hours, except for a brief break in the middle. So sometimes 12 ladies would have to wait in line at the small bathroom during a five-minute span of time. I had recurring urinary tract infections at the time, which require that you drink a lot of water and urinate frequently to get better. But I could not drink water on the evenings of the Bible study because it violated the rules. Also, because I was only eating rice and lentils most days, which require cooking, and I lived 45 minutes from work, this meant that unless I had the energy to get up earlier than 5 am and cook my lunch and put it in a plastic container to take to work, I would not be able to eat until dinner. So on the days of the Bible study, I had to go without food from morning until about 9:00 pm when I finally got home and could cook my food. (I was so tired due to the carbon monoxide poisoning all the time that I could not get up before 5 am to cook.) This was due to the fact that, as previously stated, I did not have the gas money to go home and eat and then go back into town to attend the study. So in order to attend the study on my work days I had to get up at 5:00 am, get ready for work and drive 28 miles on country roads to get there by 7:45 am, then go all day hungry and return to town at 5:00 pm, where I waited in my car until 6:30 when the Bible study began. Then I would have to leave my water bottle in the car and attend the meeting until 8:30 pm or so and then go home to eat. For this reason I felt I should only attend every other week, when I was off work and could eat, drink and pee before going to the study. (Even though my budget did not permit me to drive to town unless I had work, I thought the Lord might provide a way.) But the rules also forbade that we miss every other week! If we missed one week, we were kicked out of the study and had to ask permission to come back.

So I told my friends that I would have to stop attending because I could not follow the rules. Mind you, none of these rules can be found in Scripture or had anything to do with the studies. But the ladies at the study would not accept my leaving and they pressured me to ask the leader if I could attend every other week. So under pressure, I explained to the leader my situation and asked if she would allow me to attend every other week. She said that would not be allowed and stressed the importance of following the rules. Later that same evening, when she was delivering the teaching sermon to us, she talked about “some people” who do not want to follow the rules because they have “drug addiction” or are engaged in other sins that prevent them from following the rules. She looked at me when she said it. That was when I realized that she did not believe my “story” about needing to go home to eat and not having the gas money to come to town twice in the evening. I never went back to that study again and did not return the calls that were made to my home asking why I was not there. What was the point of trying to explain if it ended in them not believing what I said?

So I had to leave a very good Bible study because of the controlling and harmful religious rules that dominated the group. Incidentally, I later heard that that entire Bible study group was disbanded within three months after I stopped attending. This was because attendance had become too low. I praise the Lord, Jesus, that I am not a slave to religion anymore! I was religious most of my Christian life, and just as bound to sin as I was to religion. Religion does not teach freedom from sin and dependence on Christ. It teaches bondage to sin and man’s rules. It teaches fear of man rather than fear of God. Now it is my joy and salvation to fear God and no one else!

During the time that I was having lots of urinary tract infections God taught me that watermelon was the cure. I would drink lots of water and buy watermelon whenever I started to get sick and this was much cheaper than seeing the doctor. Plus, the antibiotics that doctors give are bad for you over time, but watermelon is always good for you. Watermelon has a particular molecular structure that grabs e-coli bacteria and pulls it out of your urethra. So you get better when you eat the watermelon. That is what I read on-line and it has proven to be true for me. So I saved money on doctor bills.

I also saved money on food by shopping at grocery outlet stores or grocery warehouses. Safeway and Fred Meyer were out of the question because I couldn’t afford those prices. I also learned some interesting things about saving money on food, such as that $1.00 buys two snack packs of peanuts, which also equals almost half my daily calorie intake.

I saved money on clothes by not buying any at all for the first year and a half. For the next year after that I could afford Good Will and the Salvation Army store clothes, but not all the clothes I bought at those places turned out to be good enough to wear to work. After I had paid off some of my debts I could start buying new clothes at WalMart. It was about two or more years into my journey to becoming debt free when I was able to buy new, cheap underwear and clothes from WalMart. That was a great feeling!

I owed money to five creditors, whose payments were included in my monthly check to CCCS. CCCS allowed me to make extra payments to one creditor at a time so that as each creditor was paid off, my minimum monthly payment would reduce. For instance, if out of the total $750 payment I owed one creditor $100 per month, and that creditor got paid in full, then I would from that time on only owe CCCS $650 as a minimum monthly payment. This is why as time went on I had more cash flow to spend on food and clothes. By the time I had been paying off my loans for a year and a half, I could spend $100 on food a month. It was at that time that I stopped taking food handouts, except from one couple who were close friends and had a huge garden from which they gave me of their surplus. I didn’t feel guilty about taking food from them, and it was a great supplement to the food I purchased. It was also around this time that I again allowed myself to buy the $5.00 foot-long sandwich at Subway. I had really missed those sandwiches! But I had had to wait until I could afford them before enjoying them again.

Pride was one of my driving forces. But even though pride is a sin, God graciously used that pride to help me get out of debt faster and in a more honest way. I was too proud to take money or handouts unless it was a dire situation. But I want the reader to know that God later dealt with that pride. He has delivered me of much pride that caused me to justify my sins and refuse to forgive others of theirs. Hallelujah! God didn’t destroy me for my pride at that time like He could have. He mercifully used it for my good; yet He did not fail to convict me and deliver me of it later. Although I should have been refraining from accepting more handouts than needed because of wanting to trust God, my pride was what really kept me from taking handouts that were unnecessary. But God used this and dealt with the pride later.

[] Learning to Negotiate With Creditors

These creditors were now my slave owners because they had full rights to all my income. Thankfully they were willing to work with me. Now there was no negotiating with CCCS. If I missed that payment I was up a creek without a paddle. But I still had to negotiate with landlords any time I could not pay the rent on time. I also had to negotiate with the utility companies on a regular basis because I could not always pay the utilities on time during those first few years.

Every month was a juggling act. Even with the income from my second job there still wasn’t enough cash to pay all the bills. I owed CCCS $750 each month, my renters $425, needed $100 for gas to my teaching job and food, and still owed at least $150 on the power, phone and internet, plus $50 for car insurance on average a month, extra for oil changes and my $120 car loan payment, which was separate from the CCCS payment (the internet was still a necessity because it allowed me to apply for jobs). The post office gave me gas money for my deliveries; so that gas expense for delivering mail did not come out of my regular income. But most of the money I took home from the post office was spent on the back taxes and doctor appointments for my recurring skin infection, and a teeth cleaning. So my other $1200-$1400 a month from teaching had to cover the rest. I also had to occasionally buy stuff like dishwashing soap and toiletries. I could only pay one or two utility bills a month, not all three. By the way, the water was free from the well on the cow farm.

I need to share here about my grandma, who raised me. I thought all my life that my grandma hated me—in part because she didn’t buy me enough clothes and I wore ugly ill-fitting hand-me-downs and old rags for years. She didn’t even buy me underwear, but she knew I had some to wear because of the hand-me-downs. I felt very hurt about that and other insults for most of my life, but in truth Grandma never bought any clothes for herself either. She did buy me about two shirts and two pair of pants every year just before school started, and I got a pair of shoes about once every year and a half, when the old ones were not wearable anymore. But for herself she didn’t buy even one piece of underwear. The only way she ever got new clothes was if my mom or my sister-in-law bought her clothes. Everyone knew she would never buy clothes for herself; so when her wardrobe got unbearably shabby someone would add to it. There was also the time that her luggage was lost on a plane flight to Oklahoma to attend a family funeral. Since her brother was a lawyer, he got the airline company to replace her clothing and luggage while she was in Oklahoma. But later God made sure that the airline found her lost luggage too. So she went home with new underwear and a new dress at that time. So in Grandma’s own mind she probably didn’t ever think that she had robbed me of clothing, since she spent more on my clothing than her own.

I actually have a lot in common with my grandma. We both inherited scoliosis and a frugal way of living, although her frugality toward herself was far more severe. And both of us were in heavy debt—she by giving her income away to support others and me by throwing money around on projects, charities and personal wants that I couldn’t afford. Just before my grandma died, she had two big regrets. She was worried about how those she loved would be able to take care of themselves after she was gone, and she regretted that she had not lived long enough to pay off her debts. Her big dream was to finally pay her debts. It’s very ironic that a person who lived in so much personal poverty owed so much to creditors when she passed away. She left me two good legacies in regard to debt, however. She taught me by example to always make my minimum monthly payments and to call the creditors if I could not. She also told me that creditors will work with you if you call as soon as you know you cannot pay that month. So I knew two things from seeing what Grandma had gone through, which were that I did not want to die with my debt as she had, and that I did want to work with the creditors.

The first year or so I had to juggle my payments on the utilities and the car loan. On the first month I chose which bill I would pay and called the other creditors to tell them I would pay but that they would get their money late. I would let them know when my next pay check was coming and how much of that pay check I could use to pay them. I also asked them to not give me late fees and every time they kindly agreed to not give me late payment fees. The next month I would rotate, meaning that I would pay the creditor who didn’t get paid the month before and then call the other creditor(s) to ask them to wait for a late payment. Sometimes I would just offer what I had, whether it was $50 or $15, and let them know when they would get the rest. Sometimes I would make a partial payment to one creditor, a full payment to another, and no payment to the third. Giving them at least some amount of money and telling them what date they could expect the rest helped them to trust me because they could see I was doing my best. I was always careful to not make them a promise I couldn’t keep. I would give them the exact date and amount I would be able to pay next. Because of my honesty, they were even more willing to work with me. My grandma taught me these negotiating skills as I had often listened in on her calls to the companies she owed money to.

All the landlords I had during those years often said, “You usually pay us early each month, Maria. So it is fine if you have to pay late this month.” That was another helpful strategy that was used with the landlords and the utility companies. Because they got paid early most of the time, they were willing to give me grace when I had to pay late. Sometimes my landlords allowed me to pay half of what I owed one month and then pay the late portion along with the next month’s due rent at the time that my next payment was due. But they weren’t the ones who came up with these payment plans. I would come up with the payment plan, let them know as soon as I discovered the money would have to be late, and ask them to agree to my plan. I never had to beg or lie, and only had to argue. God taught me to work with creditors in a friendly, honest and assertive way, just as my grandma had done when she was alive.

The most challenging phone call was made when I received a letter in the mail stating that my former internet company was going to turn me into a collection agency for having a delinquent account in the amount of about $600. They said that I had not paid my bill for six months. I realized what must have happened. With this particular company I had decided to open up an online account to pay them directly from my checking. But somehow the account setup had a problem with it. So not only did they fail to send me bills through the mail, but they also failed to send me emails to notify me that my bills where due. Under normal circumstances I should have noticed that I wasn’t receiving a monthly internet bill. But at that time, before my credit card payments were consolidated, I was paying 12 separate bills a month. As each bill came in the mail I would place it in a special spot on my desk. As soon as I received my next paycheck I would pay all the bills that were sitting on the desk. So I just figured that if there was no bill on the desk I did not have any payments due. Among all the other bills I never noticed I was not receiving an internet bill. Upon receiving the letter I called the company and spent about half an hour explaining the problem and convincing them to not turn me into a collection agency. They didn’t believe my story at first. But I finally convinced them it was true and also aggressively laid the blame on their shoulders for not sending me any notices. That was not the best way to act like Jesus Christ. But at that time I only had an infantile notion of how to live like Jesus. So I felt right in blaming them for the problem. Well God was merciful and caused that company to reverse their decision to turn me into a collection agency. And once again He allowed me to be able to work out a payment plan with the person on the phone. There was no way I could pay the full amount until the next month. At that time I still had the job with the post office, so this helped me to come up with the money.

Twice a year my car insurance was due and once a year my new taxes were due. So at those times of the year there were always other bills that could not be paid. But God is good, and He helped me, not only to make the payments and the late payment arrangements each month, but also to make extra payments to CCCS at times so that my minimum payment to them reduced over time.

[] Losing Pride and Finding Work

Before and after the time that I had my great debt crisis I had been bitter for years because God had never helped me to gain full-time employment. I was also very bitter toward my employer for overlooking me several times when I had applied for full-time work. Jobs that I had applied for had been given to men who had less teaching experience and less education than I. I knew it was illegal, and I also thought it was unfair. I had more special trainings, certificates, and had done more projects for the college than any of these men. I pridefully thought that the world and God owed me something for my hard work and worldly accomplishments, as little as they were. It never occurred to me that God was possibly disciplining me for sins that I was committing at that time in romantic relationships and also for unforgiveness toward others. It also did not occur to me that it was not my spiritual place to be a Big Wig at work. Those full-time positions would have given me more prestige and made me feel accepted. But acceptance was one of my biggest idols at the time. I had always longed for acceptance from people, and getting a full-time job would have fed into that longing to be accepted in the eyes of man. That was an idol I was not to have. Even against my will, God was keeping me more humble and more dependent on Him. The one thing I finally realized was that perhaps God didn’t want to give me an income that would only allow me to blindly spend more and keep me from repenting of my sinful spending habits. Another small truth I was willing to accept at the time was that God had kept me from those positions because I wouldn’t have been happy in those places. Even I knew this. Those full-time jobs were at locations that I did not want to work and with people I did not want to work with. I knew that but wanted the money so badly that I would have been willing to work in those places anyway. But God cared enough about me to keep me from those miseries. Yet I was still bitter because it wasn’t “fair.”

This feeling of unfairness and the longing for acceptance from man started in my childhood. It seemed to me that my parents—my mom and grandma—had favorites among the siblings in our family. It seemed that my grandma loved the oldest boy and the youngest girl more than anyone else. It also seemed that my mom only spent her money to care for the needs of the middle boy and girl. My twin sister and I were kind of left out in the cold, as far as getting fed, clothed and loved. I was restricted from participating in school activities because “there is no money” and told that I could not do many things because I was a girl. So I did not like living this life of a girl who was not anyone’s favorite child. Maybe from my parents’ perspectives they did not have favorites. I don’t know why they did what they did. My grandma gave so much food to her favorite children that they became overweight. She also gave them lunch money and other spending money daily and weekly. I went to high school with no money and no lunch. I got so tired and hungry that I had to drop my elective classes in my senior year because I could barely stay awake during the classes. I would go to lunch with my friends and watch them eat while I claimed I wasn’t hungry. I was too afraid to ask for help or food. My twin survived this abuse by bumming food from school friends and eating all the chocolate bars that she was supposed to be selling for school fundraisers. So she got fat but was very malnourished. But in truth both my grandma and my mom showed me love in their own ways.

I will count the ways here: My mom paid for me and my twin sister to have braces in high school. My oldest brother also needed braces but never got them. When I had back surgery in sixth grade for scoliosis, my grandma sat by my bed for days when I was in the ICU unit. This was no small feat for Grandma because her own scoliosis and arthritis made it very difficult for her to walk more than a few steps. Grandma could not stay in the hospital with me; so she had to pay for a motel room and then leave her motel every morning and walk up a very steep, icy hill in shoes that had almost no traction in the bitter cold of December to make it up to my room every day. Then she sat in a hard chair all day watching over me in the corner of the room. I knew her back must have been hurting because hard chairs have always hurt my back too. But every time my eyes were opened she was there. My mom had also driven me to the big city, a 356 mile round trip, hundreds of times for my medical appointments over the years, which cost her a great deal in gas money and sleep (she worked nights and had to take me on those trips during the day). And during a few of these trips Mom had taken my twin and I on mini vacations to the coast. But even though I was shown love, it was never enough. I clung to the belief that because they did not treat me with all the advantages they treated the other kids, that I was hated, even though I got some special treatments that the other kids didn’t get.

I was tormented by evil spirits of rejection, abandonment, and shame in spite of the fact that my parents were trying to love me as much as they thought they should, based on what they knew from their own faulty upbringing. My grandma was highly critical and accusatory. She even accused me of things I had not done. I was hurt by that, but it was her way of keeping me from sin and it was probably modeled from what her parents taught her. Yet in my mind I accepted her attitude toward me as evidence of my lack of worth, both in her eyes and in God’s eyes. I didn’t think that God cared for me either except in a detached way and only to keep me out of hell. I did not think God wanted to keep me from disease, spiritual torment and self-hate.

Another childhood hang up I had that carried itself into adulthood was the negative feelings I had about my body. I always believed it would be hard to find a loving husband because of my deformed, short right arm. It’s about 2/3 as long as my left arm, which is normal. My right elbow does not bend and I am missing a right thumb. So as a child I tried to cover up this huge flaw with sweaters and coats even in the summer time. I never wore tank tops, sleeveless clothing or anything thing that shows the arms and shoulders. As a child I was always very hot and uncomfortable in the spring and summer because I would go nowhere without at least a sweater on. When people would notice my deformity and stare, it made me feel very uncomfortable. This happened on almost a daily basis. And after the back surgery I had to wear a body cast for nine months, which added to the humiliation concerning my body. I never let on about the way I felt because that would only draw more attention to my problem. But it was a daily plague. Walking past mirrors and seeing photos of myself has been painful to me most of my life. I rarely got teased by others. But that didn’t stop me from hating myself as much as if I had been teased every day. My body was my shame.

So as a child, my coping mechanism was to try to be somehow better than my siblings in an effort to earn my parents’ love, even though my siblings seemed to have more going for them than I did. I was the “good kid” who did not disobey, lie, or get in trouble at school, did my homework, did not fight, etc. My mom always bragged that I was the only kid she didn’t have to spank. But of course that did not earn me that acceptance from man I was looking for. A little bit of bragging was not enough to quench my insatiable desire for acceptance and attention. However, I kept using this coping mechanism of being “good” in my adulthood, even though it clearly did not alleviate any of my hurts. I spent my childhood trying to prove to my mom and grandma that I was as good or better than my siblings in the hope that they would love me if only they could see that I was a better kid than the kids that they did love. But my mom and grandma never took the bait. They never noticed that I was deserving of their affection and financial resources. (By the way, all those medical appointments and the surgery were freely provided from a children’s charity.)

When I met my husband I was 28 but had the emotional maturity of a 12 year old. I was still putting my needs for acceptance and love ahead of my needs for physical and emotional safety. My soon-to-be-husband was complaining about his ex-wife and had a laundry list of what he wanted in a new wife. I thought, “Finally! This is my chance to prove I am better than someone else so that I can be loved.” So I agreed to a hasty wedding, thinking I had hit pay dirt. I believed I could do all the things he complained that his ex had not done for him. So I also believed he would finally be the person who would love me as soon as I had proved myself. Of course that love never came because the laundry list only got longer. As soon as I did one thing for my husband, five more things were required. I was never thanked or rewarded for any one thing or for the hundreds of things that I did for him. This was the beginning of several years of abuse and hurt. It was my childhood over again, but on a far greater scale. I got nothing out of that marriage: no children, no acceptance, no status as a wife, no property, no protection from harm and no Godly ministering or instruction. I had learned nothing from my childhood because I had hardened my heart and become bitter, accepting spirits of rejection and shame. For this reason I went into marriage with those same evil spirits. Now, many years later, I realize that the option was there to repent, forgive, and believe the word of God—that God truly loved me, not for what I did. But I used my marriage as an excuse to become even more bitter and unforgiving. This resulted in more rebellion against God.

I was sinning throughout my marriage in big ways and small ways. I fought for my rights, told lies to get my needs met, played mind games with my husband to try to get my needs met rather than trusting in God. I totally did not believe that God wanted to bless and protect me. I thought I was on my own, just as I had felt as a child. But this time I was not going to be meek and “good.” This time I was going to fight back. As time went by I became more and more of a survivor—doing things secretly, telling lies, trying to force my husband to meet my needs, even lashing back when he physically abused me. He continued to verbally and physically abuse me while isolating me from friends and family. In childhood my grandma had verbally abused me with put downs and accusations on a regular basis. But in marriage all this was repeated with the add-ons of cussing, threats, and public insults. I played the same mental game with my husband that I had played growing up with my siblings and grandma: I pretended that what he said didn’t hurt me out of the fear that if he knew what triggered my worse feelings, he would just do it even more. So I kept my mouth shut about a lot of stuff.

My husband was a serious hoarder. As the years went by our house became more and more cluttered to the point that the interior was no longer nice to live in. You could hardly walk around because our house was filled with so much junk. The yard was a safety hazard because of junk piles that even barricaded the doors. The house was becoming a physical prison. Eventually my husband built a tall fence with a cattle guard-styled gate to keep others from stealing his precious junk. We lived in an upper-class neighborhood and our house was like a junk compound. But by this time, I was so emotionally detached from my husband and the marriage itself that I didn’t feel ashamed. I had passed beyond shame and despair long before that.

My husband was a thoroughly evil person; every sentence he spoke included at least one lie. He was greedy, controlling and sadistic. I became bitter against churches and pastors who condemned wives for not submitting to their husbands in everything. I patted myself on the back for being such a good person that I had not poisoned my husband or stabbed him in his sleep. I was angry with God and the church because I wanted to leave my marriage but could not do it without losing my reputation as a Christian and as a “good person.” No one ever noticed my neck or wrist having bruises, and I saw this as another sign that no one cared. But what I realize now is that my judgment against my husband, God, “friends,” pastors and the church brought judgment on me. I also now know that I never had to defend myself. God is my defender. I would not submit to Him because I did not trust Him. But that was my sin and caused me more suffering. God could have intervened if I had let Him. But I shut Him out and tried to save myself using physical and mental effort. I cried to God in prayer to save me from that marriage, but I wanted Him to do it on my terms. I wanted Him to kill my husband so that I would be out of the situation but still have a “good person” status in the eyes of the church. I didn’t recognize my own sin and my corrupt heart. I gave myself excuses for my evil thoughts, unforgiveness, condemnation of others, and eagerness to sin. Now you may be thinking that I held a grudge of unforgiveness against my husband. But I did not. I was unforgiving of those who should have helped and loved me. I knew early on that he was not capable of loving anyone. And he was so evil that with time I ceased to expect or hope that he would become a loving person. I never really had to forgive him because he was what I knew him to be. It was those people who were partly kind or at least kind in words whom I could not forgive for not helping me. I expected more from them. (By the way, the Lord led me to forgive my mom completely right before my credit crisis hit. Today she is one of my best friends. And the Lord led me to fully forgive my grandma several years after she had passed away. Halleluiah!)

Near the end of the marriage I was led into adultery by the spirits that now controlled me. Again, I was still hooked on the false notion that if I could just prove I was better than so-and-so, maybe I would earn love. If someone else’s husband was disappointed in his own wife, and I could be better than her; then maybe he would love me instead. And again this strategy to find love and acceptance did not work. Of course not even one person on the planet really loved me at that time.

By this time in my life my mind was the most corrupt it had ever been. I was filled with unforgiveness and condemnation against the organized Christian church, and many other people in my life. I was in denial of my sin and felt that any sin I had committed I had been pushed into by God and by my husband. I felt justified somewhat in the decisions I had made. I got angry when I read Scriptures about women being commanded to submit to their husbands. I was a liar to everyone. I was not just covering up my husband’s sins toward me, but now also covering up my own sins as well. I didn’t feel bad about hurting others through my actions. I was just surviving. I felt that God had set me up for a life of sin. The churches I attended didn’t teach me how to be free from sin. I saw other Christians sinning just as much as I was. And some Christians were so eager to point the finger and accuse. I saw hypocrisy in the church, as some sins were considered sin and others were ignored. I knew adultery was a sin, but reasoned that all the judgmental, unloving people were just as bad as I was. So they had no right to condemn me, and God should see me as their equal. Also I hated people, not the evil in them. The evil I loved because it was in me too. I saw evil as my only comfort. I saw people as my enemies. Now I know it is demons that are the enemy we must fight, not people. And we must fight in prayer, not in the flesh (Ephesians 6:12). But back then I was very mentally ill. I had gotten to the point where wrong was right in my mind, and I was against others, just as I perceived them to be against me.

Two reasons I patted myself on the back were these: (1) When I first got married I adored and loved my husband. I did anything I could think of to please him. I would have died for him. It was only the abuse—or so I thought—that had caused me to rebel and cheat on him. (2) When I was a child I obeyed my parents to the pain. I respected and honored my grandma and mom just as if they had been great parents even though I felt totally unloved and forsaken by them. So why had God led me into so much persecution? And why did He cause me to be born with humiliating deformities? I thought God was playing games with me. I was really hurting and thought that God owed me something—owed me a lot! I was in total darkness and only had the demon spirits to listen to. I believed what they told me about myself, God and my situation. The demon spirits were setting me up, not God.

There is one beautiful thing that happened all those years of my marriage, and I do mean beautiful. Even during that time, when I was steeped in sin and thoroughly unrepentant and angry, God kept revealing a truth that never failed to sober and calm me. Whenever I had prayed to God to complain of the way my husband treated me, God always had the same response. When I told Him of my husband’s abandonment, slander, anger, false accusations, greed, illicit lusts, putting possessions and others before me, etc., God always said, “Now you know how I feel because that is exactly how you treat Me.” And every time God was right. I knew it. I had put many idols in between God and myself. One big idol was romanticism. I had an idealistic way of viewing love. I was looking for a knight in shining armor. I could not handle imperfection in a mate or in myself or others. Everything had to be just so. Because God did not make my life conform to my romantic ideals, I thought He wasn’t a good God. It probably wasn’t very romantic for Paul and Silas to be sitting in jail together, but they praised God anyway (Acts 16). I wasn’t capable of praising God in my distress. I just blamed Him. Another idol was my own martyrdom. I saw myself as a suffering saint, and this view of myself caused me to be self-righteous and think that I was never in the wrong. I was sinning in my heart and mind. But as long as I wasn’t sinning outwardly, I considered myself to be sin free. I sinned even when I had respected my husband and when I obeyed my parents because it was an inward sin. I saw myself as righteous in my own eyes and saw others as being lower than me because they sinned outwardly. So I was a righteous martyr in my own eyes rather than a self-righteous person suffering from my own demons.

God had turned my marriage into an allegory of my relationship with him. I was the abandoning, abusive, lying, selfish, condemning spouse. I only wanted God for what I could get out of Him. I wanted multiple gods in my life. I wanted material things rather than a relationship. I wanted to look good to people rather than to actually obey the Lord, just as my husband wanted others to think he was a caring husband rather than to be one. The cruel life, which I thought God had set me up in, was of my own making.

After the divorce, I was angry at God because He never gave me children, parents, or a husband who loved me, and wouldn’t allow my book to sell. So I thought at least He owed me a full-time job so that I could better support myself. But God didn’t owe me anything. He knew that I wanted to muscle my way to salvation and happiness. That is not His way. He also knew that I had abandoned Him long ago to pursue love and acceptance from the world. That was not His way either, and He could not honor that. Also, I still never dreamed that I was under a curse rather than God’s blessings due to my own willful sin. I felt that I had to sin in order to have any degree of wellbeing. I was convinced that my sin was at least partly God’s fault.

Well, I still hadn’t fully repented of all that sin and bitterness. But God had the grace to explain to me that His plan was not for me to have full-time employment. He wanted me to imitate what my sister-in-law had done for extra income, which was to take on multiple low-paying part time jobs rather than to hold out for a dream job. This was a liberating experience to become freed of the pride that caused me to think that I deserved and needed a full-time prestigious job. My work schedule was more flexible and fulfilling with multiple part-time jobs than it could have been with full-time work. I could always say “no” if it was a bad time for me to work or I was too fatigued. The money was better too, because a full time job would have meant more deductions from my paycheck.

At one point I had four jobs—teaching, delivering mail, subbing in schools, and working on-call in a drug and alcohol treatment facility. I couldn’t keep all these jobs forever. The postal job was harming my health and it was very risky to drive that jeep. I really hated working in the drug and alcohol treatment facility because I had no gifts or patience for helping people with those problems. And the mind games that the clients tried to play with each other and with me was too reminiscent of past abuses I had suffered. Almost every penny I made went to bills, but on some months I was bringing home $3000. This brought my debt down much sooner as it helped me to double and triple my payments. So although I couldn’t maintain all these jobs forever, the Lord used each of them for a time to help lower my debt.

[] Selling My Worldly Possessions

One of the first things I had to do when the debt crisis hit was to downsize my whole life. Not only did I have to move into cheaper dwellings, but I also had to try to sell every possession I could. Through the years I sold furniture, my precious college books, CDs, DVDs, electronics, home decor, anything I could. I used Craigslist.com, pawn shops, resale shops, used book stores, and the newspaper classifieds to shed what I could. I didn’t make much money, but these sales gave me more food and gas cash. The disappointing thing was that there was a lot of stuff I couldn’t sell for cash. So I ended up giving some stuff away or turning it into the Salvation Army as I continued to move into smaller and cheaper quarters.

One time I had to sell, rebuy, and then sell again the same book. It was a book that I had been given by the college for a workshop. But the next year I was required to teach a class of the same workshop for the next group of colleagues, so I had to go back to the book resale store and buy it back. Thankfully they bought it back from me again later. So God had provided for me again because I did not have to pay extra to buy the book online. But instead of meditating on that, I became bitter about it. The subject of why I had to rebuy my book back came up in a conversation with the administrators at my school. When they found out that I had had to repurchase the book, they laughed out loud. They joked that they knew it was because I probably needed gas or food money. That hurt me because I felt their unfair hiring practices were to blame and they of all people should not have laughed at my plight. They were all men earning between $60,000 and $120,000 literally laughing at me, an underemployed professional due to their illegal hiring practices. So again, the enemy, Satan, used this occasion to instill more bitterness and unforgiveness into me. In truth, the administrators probably did not know how hungry and poor I was, and were only laughing at the thought of a person being that poor. But I held it against them as just as if they knew all that I had been through. It would be years later before I would be able to forgive. Interestingly, I learned years later that, not only must I forgive two administrators for discrimination, but I also needed to forgive the whole college as an institution! I had never dreamed that I was holding a grudge against an institution. It just didn’t occur to me that that was even possible. But when the Lord revealed it to me through a Christian teaching that I had read, I knew He was right. I did need to forgive the whole college! Weird but true.

Another interesting thing happened around this time. People at my church were enrolling in a program that promised to teach them how to get out of debt. But the hitch was that they had to pay $100 each up front to buy the DVDs, books and other materials that served as study guides in the program. I had a friend enrolling in the teaching. But I told her not to pay the $100 because God could teach her to get out of debt for free, just as He had been teaching me. I also told her that the first lesson God had shown me was to not buy anything I didn’t need. That is why I had to cut all my expenses right off the bat when I first began to pay off my debts. I thought that to pay the $100 up front was operating under the same impulsive buying habits that had gotten us all into debt in the first place. I can’t discredit the program because many people have enrolled in it and say that they learned from it and/or paid off a lot of their debts. But one thing I can tell you is that Jesus taught me how to become debt free without my putting any money down first

[] Kindness from Christian Friends and Family

I remember a time when a young couple named Kyle and Amy invited me to their home one night. The whole evening with them was kind of mysterious, but after I got home I understood why. It was New Year’s Eve, and we had been at a candle light service at church. While we were still at church my ex-husband showed up and tried to talk to me. I was terrified by this experience, but Kyle and Amy were there to stand in the way between my ex and I until he left. They knew I was really living the hard life during that first year off of credit cards and that I was shaken up from being confronted by my ex. So they asked me to come over to their house after church. They gave me some dessert that they had left over from dinner. They were very loving to me that night. I felt so much love coming from them I cannot explain it. But the whole time I was wondering why I was there. At one point Kyle insisted that I give him my car keys so that he could fill up my gas tank from a gas tank he had on the property. I told him he didn’t need the keys because the tank opened without them, but he said he would have to move my car because he needed to pull it up to his tank. To this day I do not know if they really had a gas tank on their property. But at the time I took him for his word and gave him the keys. Because of my pride it took some little encouragement from them to get me to agree to the free gas.

When Kyle came in about a half hour later and gave me the keys back he next offered to send me home with some food from their freezer. His wife encouraged me to take it. I barely knew them and couldn’t believe they were being so kind. It was sort of embarrassing to take the food and gas, but I was thankful. Then it was time for me to go home and I said goodbye. By that time it was late. I got in my car and found that Kyle had written me a loving note about wanting to give me the money that was enclosed in the note. It was $50. I will never ever forget Kyle and Amy’s beautiful kindness and gifts that evening. They had supplied me with a full tank of gas, food to eat, and more cash than I had seen in a long time. I get a warm feeling thinking about it even now. And after I reflected on that evening with them the next day I realized that they probably did not have gas on their property. Kyle may have needed my keys to drive my car to the nearby gas station and pay to have it filled up as well as to put the money in my car. That would explain why he was gone for such a long time. But if he lied, it was a noble lie because God knows I wouldn’t have given him the keys if I had known what all Kyle had planned to do for me. Praise the name of Jesus!

Another time, I got sicker than I had ever been in my life. I now know that the reason I got sick was because God was warning me about sin in my life. That sickness was pretty incredible. It started out as bronchitis that went on for a couple of weeks. I was using home remedies because I did not want to spend money on a doctor visit. And I thought I had the bronchitis nearly beat. But then one day I had these intense pains in my head. The pains were very sharp and hitting me about every five to seven seconds. It wasn’t a throbbing pain, like a migraine would be, but a severe piercing pain. I got home and made a phone call to cancel that evening’s engagement and then lied down. I felt that if I didn’t go to my room and lie down on the bed quickly I’d have to lie down on the floor where I was standing. At first I thought I just needed some rest because of the bronchitis and would get up again in a few hours. But I never got up gain that day except once to use the bathroom. The next day the pains in my head were so debilitating and I was so tired that I was getting dehydrated because I couldn’t get up long enough to fix myself a hot tea or cup of water. I also didn’t have the energy to sit upright to drink. I called my sister-in-law and asked her to bring me a big fast food drink cup of water with a straw in it so that I could lay it on the floor beside the couch where I was sleeping and roll over and sip from it. She brought over several long curly straws and a huge cup, gave me a worried look as I assured her I was going to be fine, and then she went home. For three more days and nights I lay there in agony. The pains felt like someone was stabbing the sides of my head with a knife every 5-7 seconds. The pain was especially severe in the nighttime when it was dark. For some reason sunlight alleviated the pain. I guess that was a sign from heaven that I needed much more spiritual light in my life. But I didn’t take the hint. I was still upset at God for making my life so desolate and lonely. I didn’t see that it was sin that made my life that way. I saw myself as having been frame with a deformed arm, a troubled childhood, and facing a cold, unloving world.

I had repented of the affair but was still sinning off and on through fornication or by wanting to be in romantic relationships. I saw my fellow Christians as those hypocrites who would drop kick you at a moment’s notice if they caught you in sin that was unapproved by the organized church. That was my experience. I was caught in sin three times when attending church as an adult. Each time people suspected me of sin they would report me to the higher ups, gossip and shun me. They did not talk to me face to face about it in an, honest way, restoring me to God. They saw me as a wolf in the flock who did not want to repent. Actually I didn’t want to sin, but felt compelled to sin in order to get some sense of relief from the depression of this worldly life. Most of the people I associated with were either accusers or users. Some were both. The Christians I knew could not lovingly confront me about my sin because they hadn’t repented of their own sins, so they accused me behind my back and shunned me instantly in the hope that that would cure me. It didn’t. Shame is not a cure for sin. I think they were afraid to confront me because they didn’t have the knowledge or wisdom to know how to restore me. So really they were as helpless as I was. They also had faithless religion that relied on will power to keep from sinning. They were disappointed in me because I lacked will power. They just saw me as someone who didn’t try enough. That is also how I saw myself. But I believed that my emotional needs had to be met somehow, and I saw sin as the only way.

Getting back to the pain in my head, it was causing me to moan so loudly at night that I wondered what my neighbors on the other side of the wall must be thinking. So I moved into the living room to lie on the couch. That way there was an extra wall between us to muffle my moans and groans. After each pain spasm ceased I was breathing hard, partly from the exhaustion of enduring the pain and partly from my continuing bronchitis. When the pains in each temple hit, they caused my face to tic. I’ve never had a tic before or since that time. A tic is when your face contorts uncontrollably, and that is what the pain was causing me to do.

After four sleepless nights, I told my mom on the phone that I was going to see the doctor. I had already missed one day of work and could tell that not seeing a doctor would only cause me to miss more work and lose more pay. So now I could not afford to avoid the doctor because a doctor’s visit would cost just under what a day’s work would pay, and I could not work.

Back then I had a tricky way to get into the doctor’s office without insurance and without cash. I would tell the receptionist that I did not have insurance and was going to pay with cash, all of which was true. What I didn’t tell the receptionist was that I had no cash at the time; otherwise they would hesitate to let me in and tell me to go to the emergency room. Emergency rooms are much more expensive than doctors’ offices, and I and you have to wait for hours. Also in that town you get better care at the doctors’ offices. So I would lie and act like I had the money. Then after the appointment was over and I sat at the payment desk, I told the truth that I did not have the money at that time and would have to pay them on my next paycheck day. I would tell them when my next paycheck was due and keep my promise of paying when promised. That’s how I got into the doctor almost every time because I almost never had the money as sicknesses are never expected. Typically, my money was already spent on bills before I knew I was sick. Today I know that you do not have to lie to get your needs met. God would have caused them to accept me if I had asked Him and believed. But back then I was a survivor, just doing what I knew to do.

My mom was concerned that I did not have the money to pay the doctor. But I assured her that all I had to do was lie when I went in and lead them on about the money and that I would be able to pay them with my next paycheck a few days later when it came. Well my mom wouldn’t hear of that! She was filled with compassion for me, and she told me she would send me $450 through the WalMart money sending system. I told her the doctor would be under $100 because they always gave me discounts for paying with cash and that surely the medicine wouldn’t be more than $20. But she insisted that I must have $450. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. So I accepted. I knew God was blessing me again because that $450 would, not only take care of the doctor bill, but would also cover the days off work that I was sure to miss. I knew that even after getting the medicine it would take me at least one more day to get on my feet.

The doctor discovered that I had trigeminal neuralgia along with a nasty case of bronchitis. In the old days before heavy medicines they called TN the “suicide disease.” I can imagine why a person might be that despairing if they couldn’t be cured of it. The doctor doped me up real good with narcotics, an inhaler, antibiotics and seizure medications to take for a week. He promised, “You’re going to feel good.” Well, he was right about that. I was dizzy, but able to go back to work two days later. TN is a disease of the nervous system. Most of my life I was a very fearful, nervous person. So I think there is a spiritual parallel there between that disease and my way of viewing the world and God. But again, God took care of my need, and it didn’t cost me a thing in lost income or doctor and pharmacy fees. I love you, Father God!

Now at the time that I had this sickness I also was terribly attracted to a man whom I wanted to love me back. God was using the sickness to give me some distance from that man and to give me a clue that I was in dangerous spiritual waters again. I did not heed God’s warning and continued trying to get this man’s attention. But God was merciful and prevented that man from having the slightest interest in me. I am so grateful that God kept me from sinning with that man! God really went out of His way to intervene.

[] The Miracle of My Car and a Little Doggie Named Max

One of the most amazing things that God did was to turn my car into a cash cow. I had taken out a loan for about $4,500 for a 2001 Pontiac Sunfire in 2005 before my debt crisis began. During the first few years of getting on my feet there were several incidences with my car that resulted in it paying for itself. The first time was when I was leaving a grocery parking lot. I had completed backing out of my space to leave and was ready to put the gear into drive when another lady in a van backed into my rear driver-side door. She didn’t dent it very much more than it had already been dented there from a previous accident that the previous owner had had. But she left her paint behind. At first I apologized, and she thought it was my fault. But we did exchange insurance information. As I drove home I realized that the accident had to be her fault, and I had proof. The only way she could have left her paint on the back rear door with her back bumper was if she had backed up when I was already straight in the lane and ready to move forward. She simply didn’t see me, but I had the right of way. Her insurance agreed when they heard both stories and saw where the paint had been left. I chose to collect the cash settlement rather than getting a new car door because paying off credit cards was more important at that time than having a nice looking car. The settlement was for nearly $2000.

On another occasion, the county had hired a company to repave the highway that I had to drive on to get to and from work. After the company repaved the road there were flying rocks for weeks. Somehow they had used the wrong type of road topping or laid the road topping down at the wrong time. I don’t remember which had been the case. But because so many cars, including mine, received paint and window damage, the county offered to settle with any car owner who made a claim. I didn’t really care about my car’s paint and window damage. I just wanted the cash settlement to pay off more credit cards. That settlement was another $2000. At that point I felt very honored to have such a dumpy looking car. I knew God was helping me to get some debts taken care of and I liked the awful way my car looked more and more each day.

Then came a little black doggie named Max. After I got divorced I had started taking long walks. Those walks turned into hikes up steep hills. Hiking became my greatest solace. But it was always kind of lonely. I hiked for several years alone. Then I discovered the joy of hiking with a friend’s dogs. Dogs never let you feel lonely, and they are fun to watch on a hike as they look for squirrel and rabbits and act so happy and excited to be in nature with you.

I was still looking for acceptance and love and living in and out of sin with relationships at this time, but along the way I learned that I needed a dog for companionship. This was a good realization because I was lonely, yet I really wanted to get out of an emotional dependency on people. So I thought a dog would give me the companionship and at least some of the love I was looking for. It was a good time to get a dog because all my debts were paid except two. So I had the cash flow to spend on a dog. I was also looking forward to having someone at home to care for so that I would not feel restless and be able to start building a healthy single life at home. I called the animal shelter and asked if they had any dogs that could hike. They said they only had one dog who would make a good hiker and that he was very athletic. When I met him, he held his ears tightly against his head, like they were pinned to the back of his head in a submissive, fearful way. He shook all over with fear and excitement, and he was very skinny and beautiful. He is a black Lab/Border Collie mix. He looks more like a Lab but has the herding drive and some of the intelligence of a Border Collie. From that time to now, Max has been the only man in my life. He is a perfectly loving, attentive and loyal companion who always expects the best from me and believes the best for me. He is one of the best blessings God has ever given me! He is also a terrific hiking buddy.

But when I first brought him home he had many emotional problems. He had been wounded by people just like I had been. He was needy, clingy, terrified of abandonment and rejection, and he was very neurotic—just like me! The second time I left him in my car he chewed the seatbelts off and chewed my window visor, the back seat and all four door upholsteries. When I came back to the car it looked like a gerbil cage on the inside. I called the insurance company to see if they would cover the damage, and they said they would. They said it wasn’t considered to be my fault and that they could cover it without raising my insurance. Max went with me to see the man about replacing the upholstery in the car. I said, “I want you to see what my doggie did.” The man petted Max as he inspected the car and then told me he could do a nice patch up job for $450. That was all I wanted. Next, Max and I went to a car dealer service shop that would do a professional restoration job and they gave me a quote of about $1600. I told the insurance company that I could get it fixed for $450, but their own rules required that they pay for the car to get professionally upholstered with new seatbelts and a perfect match to the old upholstery. They were the ones who had sent me to the dealer. Everyone at the dealer’s shop complemented Max on his handy work, and we all agreed that he was a very good dog because he had just earned me $1200. That was the amount that I would take home after the cheaper shop fixed the car. Max literally paid off my last credit card!

Since then God used the encouragement of my neighbors to help me and Max heal together emotionally. I believe that God loves me through Max as He does through people as well. And God has turned Max into a beautiful house pet. We have a nice routine together. It’s wonderful living with him and not being alone. With Max I now have a home, not just a place to live. And I feel we are family to each other. It may sound weird that someone would appreciate a dog that much. But I was sad for years because I never had children or a good marriage. But God had supplied me with lots of young people to “raise” through my teaching job. But my most precious child is the little, furry four-legged boy at home. Thank you, Jesus, for Max As the months went by, Max learned to trust again. We’ve had many adventures together, learning how to live with each other and belonging to each other completely.

Another way God blessed my finances was to use Youtube.com to teach me how to make my own simple car repairs. I had hit two deer on the highway in the Pontiac. Not only did God keep the car from getting extensive damage, but he also taught me to buy the parts and install them myself. The first accident caused my right headlight bulb to go out. So I watched Youtube tutorials to learn how to change the bulb. Then I went to the parts store and they picked out my bulb for me, which cost under $5. Then I installed it in front of my apartment. Of course an older man who happened by insisted on doing the work for me, but I supervised to make sure he did it right It only took him a few minutes, and during that time he taught me something that Youtube didn’t: never touch the glass of the bulb with your fingers or it might not work when you put it in. Don’t ask me why.

The second time I hit a deer, it took out the entire headlight assembly. So I ordered the whole part, which was almost exactly $100. I watched Youtube and then tried to replace it on my own. I know I could have done it alone! But once again a neighbor came along and did most of the work for me. So once I had the faith and willingness to work on these problems, God sent others to help. And it only cost me a bit over $100 to cover the damage of hitting two deer.

By the way, Youtube has also helped me to solve other problems without paying for help, like learning how to snake a toilet and how to unhook the little thing that holds in the sink stopper so that I could clean the sink drain. If the bathtub ever needs to be snaked I might try that on my own too.

[] The Miracle of the Tobacco Pipe

In the early 1800s, a man named Alban Bodo von Krafft was born in Germany. His father was a Lieutenant in the German military. When Alban got older he went to machinist school in Germany. Then, at 21 he left from Hamburg to America to find a better life. He settled in Brooklyn, New York. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Union Army. Even though he was not a US citizen at that time, he fought in our war. Initially he deserted his company and then shortly after he reenlisted under an alias. I think he may have deserted to get married or to say goodbye to family or because there were not enough German speaking men in the first company he enlisted with. Back then immigrants of the same language and background would stick together in their communities. His wife died shortly after he went to war, and he received a permanent wound to his leg from shrapnel.

Later, he was captured and eventually taken to Andersonville Prison, a filthy place riddled with diseases. He caught some sort of lung infection there and suffered from that for the rest of his life. He never received a Purple Heart or other medal. His pension was $2 per month, and when he tried to get the amount increased, it was denied. His family lived with many other German immigrants in the poor tenement buildings of Brooklyn until he died at the age of 45. I know where he was buried and someday I hope to see his grave.

The reason I know his story is because I spent nine months researching it. God helped me to find ship records, birth, marriage and death certificates, his National Archives military records, his baptismal certificate and his ship records. The reason I researched his story is this:

My great-great grandfather, George Dexter Brewer, opened up a butcher shop in Kansas City when his family first came west. None of the relatives I grew up with knew how he learned to cut up meat because he was raised on a farm. I was told that his family came from Maryland. But after doing some research on him I found that he was living with his wife’s family on a farm in Maine in the 1820 census. Later they headed west. But before they could go west they had to go south. The one thing everyone in the family knows is that George Dexter Brewer was given an elaborately decorated, hand carved wooden tobacco pipe by a man, whose name was carved on the pipe. The man’s name was Alban Krafft. I guess Alban had been in America long enough by the time he entered the war to know that most people wouldn’t care or know what “von” meant. So he left that off of the pipe. But he also added on to the pipe the date it was carved and that it was carved at Sumter Prison, also known as Andersonville, Georgia. Von Krafft’s military records prove that he was at the prison on the date that is carved onto the pipe. The date shows the day before the month because that is how Europeans write dates. Also carved onto the pipe is a delicate netting background behind stars, stripes, and other designs that commemorate his patriotism toward the U.S.

Brooklyn had a lot of butcher shops in those days. My theory is that George D. Brewer traveled south to New York after the Civil War and George found a job in a butcher shop. Many of the shops were owned by Germans and Brewer is a Germanic name, so George probably fit in although he could only speak English. It was in Brooklyn that he met Alban von Krafft. Maybe Alban was a customer at the shop where George worked. The two became great friends. Alban was much older than George. When George had earned enough money to continue his family’s journey west, Alban gave him the delicately and beautifully carved pipe he had made while a prisoner in the war. Alban was estranged from his oldest son at that time, as his family records seem to show. Perhaps he saw George as a son figure and wanted to give him the pipe as a remembrance. Or perhaps the painful memories of the war were dissipated a bit by giving the pipe away. Nevertheless, George valued and cherished the pipe. The story of his friendship with Alban has been in my family ever since George took possession of the pipe.

The pipe was eventually passed down to my grandfather, also named George Brewer. George had no son to pass it onto, so the pipe went to my mother. And my mother instinctively knew I would be more interested in the pipe than my other siblings; so she gave it to me when I was in college. When I was married, I wanted very badly to uncover the mystery of who made the pipe and how we got it. So during a time of unemployment, I spent many months learning how to research genealogy and other records. The records I found on Alban von Krafft were several inches thick. I still have them as well as pictures of the pipe. But the pipe is now in good hands.

A couple years into my financial crisis I realized that the smartest thing to do with the pipe was to sell it. It would help me pay debts and hopefully get it into a museum or other place where the world could enjoy it. Up until that time, only my family had seen it. I also felt it was wrong to hold onto material things rather than using them to pay my debt. And I believed that my grandfather would be pleased if I sold it at a good price to help pay my debts off. Even though he died young and I never knew him, I know he was a practical guy and not materialistic.

The going rate for Civil War pipes is $500-$700 because most of them are undecorated and made with clay. My pipe was very special. It was hand carved from walnut burl and included elaborate decorations and proof of its own provenance. I also had all those records to verify its provenance and history. So I knew this pipe was worth much more than the clay pipes. God helped me to find a buyer on the eastern side of the U.S. who is an expert on Civil War memorabilia. He had made appearances on Antiques Road Show. He bought the pipe and copies of a few pages of my research to prove its provenance for almost $2800. He told me that he expected to sell it to a serious collector for up to $3500. He originally offered to buy it for $2300, but I told him that I needed enough to pay the car loan completely off. So he agreed to the higher amount. And that ended my car loan payments!

Just so you know, I originally tried to sell it to museums, but they didn’t understand its value and told me they thought it wouldn’t be any more special than their other Civil War pipes. They said they would take it for free and put it in an attic and maybe show it once a year at the most. So I did not want to give it to them. The check I received from the Civil War expert paid off my high interest car loan after all the insurance claims on the car had paid off the remaining credit cards. So all totaled between the insurance claims and the pipe, God gave me almost $8,000 to help pay my bills faster so that I could start eating and living better. Hallelujah! It is so special to me that God literally added cash to my pocket to pay more bills so that I didn’t have to work all the bills off. That was an extra blessing that I could have survived without. But He helped me to do better than survive. Because of these extra windfalls of money, my cash flow increased years sooner than it would have otherwise. By “cash flow” I mean the money I had each month to live on.

I kept the original copies of my research and the professional photographs of the pipe for my family to enjoy. The photos are so detailed in pixels that they are as good as holding the pipe in your hands. God caused a beautiful man who died in poverty to create something that would one day help get me out of poverty. What a legacy Alban von Krafft left to me and his friend, George Dexter Brewer. Alban died in poverty, but he helped his friend’s great-great granddaughter get out of it.

Eventually George Dexter Brewer settled in Oklahoma, where he opened another butcher shop and later a grocery store. My grandma remembered and told me how nice he kept his store. Every morning he would search the fruit tables for rotten or old fruit and throw it out so that his customers did not have to search for good fruit on the display. His customers preferred his store to others.

[] My Payment Schedule

The previous tables show how much money I owed each month before making my payments, once my credit crisis started in 2007. I wrote in each row the name of the creditor, the approximate or exact interest rate (some rates were over 12%, but rounding it down helped me to not lose heart), and the exact amount of money I owed that month (if I knew the amount). Sometimes I did not write the amount I owed down because I knew it was overdue and that was disheartening enough. But later I would start writing down the amount once my feelings were more positive because I was making payments again. If you total each column of numbers going down, you can see what I owed that month. I did not write the dates of each month, but this payment schedule starts around April of 2007 and ends around October of 2010. The reason the list ended is because that was the month my old computer broke down. I used to keep this payment list on my computer and check it throughout the month. Then suddenly I was without a computer for nine months and lost interest in checking the schedule.

This payment history lasted for three years and three months. It was on the 8th and 9th months that I paid off the state and the IRS for back taxes. So that must have been about the time that I was finished working at the post office, because that job provided the extra income I needed to pay the taxes off. The 17th month was when I paid the car loan off; so that must have been the month that I received the check from the Civil War expert for the family pipe that I sold. The 39th month was the last one that I recorded my unpaid balances. During that month I owed less than $900 on the Chase account. So I imagine that account must have been paid in full by the 41st month, leaving me with a little over $27,000 of debt left after three years and five months. At that time I had been paying my debt off by about $9600 per year working multiple on-call and part-time jobs. It must have been about August of 2011 when I paid off the last credit card because Max came to live with me in July, so that is when he chewed up the car. By August we (Max and I) would have had the money left over from the insurance settlement to pay off the debt to Bank of America. After paying off the Chase account I would have been able to put $500 on the B of A account every month. So it would have taken seven to eight months for me to get that loan down to $1200, which is the amount of the last payment that was made with the last insurance claim for the car.

Once the final credit card was paid off I celebrated for about two years by being more extravagant with myself and my family. I spent a lot of money on Christmas, started buying good food again, started buying clothes, and bought things for my relatives, like a new car window and other stuff they needed. I also started buying birthday presents and spending more on my hair and skin care, and I started traveling regularly to see my mom and made a couple more expensive trips to see family who live farther away. I’m glad that God allowed me the money to be able to do those things. But after looking again at this payment schedule that I hadn’t seen in about two years, I was reminded of the joy I had felt each month when I paid the bills and rejoiced at the balance amounts that were becoming smaller than the previous month.

Once I only had my school loan to pay off and I was no longer following a payment plan, it was easy to just make the minimum monthly payment and live a little. But in truth, if I had continued to pay the most that I could each month, I would have been totally debt free in September 2013 rather than still owing $11,000 on the school loan at that time. So I think I had needed to spend more on myself and others, but not by as much as I actually had spent. I could have saved money by not traveling as much and by not spending so much on gifts and luxuries. Paying for the car window and other needs was good, but buying frivolous gifts for my family was probably not what I should have been doing with my money. Also, if I had been willing to wait a little longer to feel rich, I could have kept paying my debt off first, so that at this time I could have been debt free and celebrating a little.

As it is I started to crack down on my spending again in September of 2013. I started a new payment plan at that time. I wrote down the income I received from both of my jobs and what dates that income would be deposited into my checking account. Then next to each date and amount of money to be earned I wrote down all the expenses and payments I would be making with that money. According to my new payment plan I would be able to pay off up to $1000 each month, so that my school loan came down to $8000 by the end of December 2013. I stuck to the schedule and was able to get my total debt down to $1900 in May of 2014.

In July of that year, I needed a new vehicle. The Pontiac was getting too cramped for me and Max, and it needed a $1500 repair. At that time it was worth less than $1500; so I decided that was our excuse to get a more decent rig. I prayed that the Lord would help me find a roomier car that was used, had manual doors and windows (so it could be repaired cheaply), had less than 50K miles on it, and was under $6,000. That’s what I wanted! I took Max to two different lots, checking out all the possibilities. I kind of felt sorry for the dealers that had to help me. I put them through the ringer. I used their computers to research the vehicles they were trying to sell me, used their phones to call my bank on rates and call friends for advice, and wouldn’t let them waste my time with information and pitches that didn’t serve my purpose. They were probably really relieved when I left their lots. I also insisted that Max get into each vehicle I considered so I could make sure he’d have enough room and air. The Lord finally showed us a little 2002 Toyota Tacoma with 100k miles on it. I knew enough about cars by that time that I realized that 100k miles on a Toyota was only half its life or less. So that was good. They wanted to sell it to me for $9,000, if I remember right. But we got it talked down to $7000 including the fees. That was close enough to the $6000 I had wanted to pay, and now Max had an airy truck bed with sliding windows and a top to ride safely in. I was happy! And of course it had the manual doors and windows I had wanted too. I took out credit to get the truck. But by this time my credit rating was so high from paying off $58,000 in debt that I got a 1.5% interest rate. So I knew I could pay it off within one year. But this of course set my debt free time back by a year. Also I had a family member who needed dental work, and I wanted to help out with that. So it would be another full year before I was debt free, but for two really good causes.

[] “Being the Poor” and Learning to Steward All of My Income

Before my debt crisis I was giving 10% worth of my take home income to my local church organization every month. Once I calculated my true financial situation, I knew that, not only was there no more money to tithe, but that I had effectively been tithing on borrowed money for a long time up to that point. It was like I was “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” as my grandma used to put it when she borrowed from one credit company to make a payment to another.

So I realized that tithing was going to be out of the question for a very long time. In fact, I hadn’t even been tithing for a while. I just thought I was. The credit companies were tithing for me. So for several years I didn’t give a penny to any church or charity as I worked to dig myself out of this financial hole. I’ve heard a lot of people say that even when you owe money you should tithe. All I know is that I could no longer tithe or pretend to tithe. God seemed to be saying, “You are the poor now. People are going to have to help you out, rather than you helping them.” Even though it was my fault for becoming poor, it was true that I had now become a person who needed handouts. So I asked God to forgive me for getting into the position of not being able to tithe. I still shudder at the many years and huge amount of money that has been spent paying creditors rather than giving to help God’s people. All these years I could have given many thousands to others in need, but because I selfishly wanted to frivolously spend on my dreams and luxuries, now I could not give anything. Almost $60,000 would have to be given to creditors who were already rich before I could give to the poor and needy again! I prayed for forgiveness a lot. One prayer didn’t seem to be enough. I still shudder at the huge amount of my money that has gone to Satan’s kingdom instead of God’s.

I also had to swallow pride and accept handouts when needed. Sometimes my friends offered more than I needed and I resisted those offers with a clear conscience. But most of the time that people offered me food or money, I really did need it.

As I write this book, I have plenty of cash flow to live on. So now I am finally putting some money into God’s kingdom again. But I still have to check myself regularly because it is so easy to overspend on self and justify that. I will never use credit again. All my purchases for the last eleven years have been with cash. But spending too much cash on one’s self is just as bad as running up credit. It is still greed and lust. And I still get tempted to give in to those lusts of the flesh.

One neat thing God showed me a few years ago when I was really hungry was that there are a lot of other people out there who are hungry, and it only costs a few bucks to feed one of them lunch. For $5 you can give someone a huge foot long sandwich. Or you could give them peanuts and bananas for under $2.50. One day I had a few dollars on my debit card to go and buy food at the dollar store. I had to be wise and get the most nutrition and calories for my buck, but they didn’t have what I was looking for. So I left because the other foods wouldn’t have provided me with a good enough amount of fiber and nutrition to justify spending my last $2.00. Before I went into the store, a bum sitting there asked me for money. I told him I only had a debit card. I went back home where I still had two snack packs of peanuts and two bananas. The Lord told me to give the bum the peanuts and bananas. It would be a real weird lunch for him, but it would give him over 600 calories, plus fiber, protein, vitamin E, fatty acids and the other loads of different vitamins that are in bananas, including B for energy. It would also be very filling. So I went back to the store, which was less than a mile from my place. I said to him, “Are you hungry?” He said, “Yes, I am.” I put the food in his hands and said, “This is really good for you,” and left him. He had a funny look on his face, but he was hungry. I could tell because he was crouched down on his haunches to rest and he talked slow. I’m sure he ate it. That was the day that God taught me that it doesn’t take much to feed someone and that I could do that from now on when the opportunity arose even though I couldn’t give large amounts of money away.

So from that time on I gave food to bums on the street when I met them, which didn’t happen more than a couple times a month. I didn’t have the courage to witness to any of these people, but we would exchange “God bless you-s.” One day a couple came to my door asking for any spare food that I had. I gave them what I had including some popcorn. But silly me, it never occurred to me that they probably had a home; so I popped the corn in the microwave first before giving it to them. When I gave the lady the hot bag of popcorn, she said in surprise, “Oh, it’s popped!” She blessed me and walked on. As she went to the next house I realized they must have wanted the food to take home. I had to laugh at myself. Oh well. Hot or cold, food is good.

Now I knew each of these times that if I gave food away, God would replace it long before there was any chance of me starving. And of course that is what He did.

[] Losing My Pride to Gain a Far Better Home

From before the time of my financial crisis until 2015, I had taught at a school that offers staff housing as well as student housing. But years ago I thought I was too good to live where I worked. I thought it would be depressing, boring, and too isolated to live at the school. So the first five or six years after my divorce I kept living in places that were in the nearest main town. I thought my “life” was in town. That was pride.

The first two places I moved to after leaving the nice duplex had each cost around $430 a month for rent and utilities. But finally the Lord got through to me that the best place to live would be at my school. I loved hiking and my school is in the woods. I was wanting a dog, and by living at school I could see my dog at lunch time and it wouldn’t be alone for 12 hours, which is how long it took me to get home including work and driving time where I lived in town. Also, I wanted out of some relationships I was in that weren’t good for me—a romantic relationship and a friendship. You see the people I didn’t want to hang out with anymore lived near the school and it was so tempting to stay with them to save on gas in between work days. If I lived out there myself, the temptation to spend the night at these friend’s houses would be gone. Also, I could downsize my spending even more if I lived at school because the housing cost was much lower. Living there would save me an extra $200 per month in rent and possibly $60 a month in gas, if I was frugal with my trips to town.

I was convicted of not seeing all this before. My pride at maintaining a certain lifestyle only got me into more sin and it was wasting my income unnecessarily. Moving was a good thing for me! I was so happy after the move that I regretted not doing it sooner. Now my living expenses were the very lowest they could be, I was in a beautiful place, able to get a dog for companionship, and not tempted to hang out with people who influenced me the wrong way. Another blessing! Starting in 2011, Max and I could walk in the woods every day. We had clean air, much cleaner than the air I used to breath in town. My commute became a two minute walk across a parking lot and compound. And my total expenses for rent and utilities, including phone and internet, went down to $415 per month.

[] Waiting on God for a New Computer

Every time I want to buy something I don’t have the cash for, I simply wait until I’ve raised the cash. This usually takes no longer than two weeks, when the next pay check comes in. Sometimes it takes a couple months if I have pressing bills or it is an expensive item. But the item I had to wait the longest for was my laptop computer. At the time my old computer broke, I still had a lot of bills and it took 9 months to raise the money for the laptop. The good news is that waiting gave me all the time necessary to do the research to get the best computer for the price I wanted. I asked for a teacher discount too. I custom ordered the computer according to my needs after asking my computer savvy coworker and students for advice. The total cost was $430 for a good research computer with document software that could burn discs as well. In addition to all the other practical uses, this computer brings me the gospel every day through online resources. And it allows me to burn gospel information for my friends and coworkers. To God be the glory!

[] The Man Who Delivered the Couch

After I got Max I preferred to sleep on my couch at night because that way Max and I could be in the same room together. He was very nervous when I first got him, and he needed his crate to sleep in when I was at work so that he would feel safe and not want to chew the house up. But his crate had to be very large so that he could stand up and stretch when needed during the hours that I was gone. My bedroom was too small to hold the other furniture along with Max’s crate. So Max and I got into the habit of sleeping in the living room together, me on the couch and him in his crate nearby. I would save my bedroom for my brother and mother when they came to visit.

The only problem was that the couch my mom gave me before I got Max was a loveseat style and very uncomfortable. So I had to get a new one. I looked at used couches on Craigslist.com and found one that was full length and looked like it would be exceedingly comfortable. I called the man who was selling it and we talked about the length because I wanted to make sure it would be long enough for me to lie on without having to curl up. I never told the man why I was so concerned about the length. But because we kept miscommunicating about the length, he had to call me back a couple times to correct the information. I don’t remember all the details of our conversations, but at the end of each conversation I had to tell him that it seemed the couch would not be long enough for me. We hung up.

But then I looked at the picture of it on Craigslist again and noticed that it seemed to have very cushiony arms. “Maybe the arms would conform to my head and feet and not feel uncomfortable,” I thought. Well a few hours later the man called back and said, “I’m not trying to harass you, but my wife said I had to call you back.” He sounded afraid that I would be offended by his third call. He told me that the arms were removable and that would make the couch longer any time I needed more length. He insisted that he did not want to bother me again, but that his wife had forced him to call back to explain that to me. She was sure I needed to know. So I laughed and confessed to him, “I actually wanted to call you back, but I was afraid you would be annoyed if I called you again.” So then he felt better. The couch was to be sold for $50, which was a very good price. But I asked him if he could deliver it since I had no truck to pick it up with. He told me that from his house to mine, it would cost him $40 in gas just to deliver the couch. I knew this was true based on the price of gas for a truck like his and the round trip miles. So I offered to give him $100 for the couch, the gas, and for him to collect my old couch, which I could not take to town, and drop it off at the Salvation Army for me. He agreed to that, and that is how I got the most comfortable couch in the world. It’s the best bed I’ve ever had. When the man arrived with his teenaged son, he was very cheerful and friendly. They were Mexican, and I am part Spanish/Mexican too. So it felt like family delivering me the couch. When they put the couch in my living room, I instantly lied down on it to see if it fit. Then the man said, “So that’s why it had to be a certain length.” I explained to them that it was so Max and I could sleep in the living room together.

Before they left with my old couch, the man said, “Well, since we’re here, is there anything you need us to fix?” At that time I had seen the Lord bless me so much that I was not shy about accepting His blessings. I would have let them fix even my toughest problem in the apartment. But as it turned out the only thing that needed fixing was my closet sliding door that had come off its hinges. I was unable to put it back on the hinges. They easily took care of that and asked if there was anything else. But there was not. We parted with smiles and warm hearts.

His wife had done the right thing by making him not fear opinions and call me back. Another thing I knew about his wife even though I never met her was that she is a good cook. That couch smelled of cooking grease. But I knew God would take the smell out within a couple weeks, and He did. God bless that wonderful family!

Today, Max no longer needs his crate to feel safe when I am gone. So he now sleeps on my bed at night and on the couch when I am gone. The Lord has healed Max greatly!

[] Investing in Heaven Rather Than Retirement

Did I tell you yet how I got saved? Well after 42 years of being a defeated, sinful Christian, I learned about deliverance and healing. Those are the parts of the gospel that most churches today don’t teach. Most churches only teach that we need to believe Jesus died for our sins and recite the salvation prayer. They also teach that we will continue to sin until we die, and that we just need to keep asking for forgiveness and keep trying through willpower to not sin. Well I can tell you that human willpower does not stop sin. It only covers it up to the public for short periods of time. Meanwhile the defeated Christian is still suffering from sinful thoughts, which are sin anyway, and then those thoughts fester to the point that the person starts acting out on them. Remember, Jesus told us that evil thoughts are just as sinful as evil acts (Matthew 5:27-28).

That was how I used to live because I didn’t understand my own baptism in water or what it meant. I didn’t know that baptism isn’t about getting wet in front of a bunch of people who then clap and serve you ice cream. It’s about going into the water in faith, believing with all your heart that your sinful nature is being “crucified,” or drowned, in the water and then coming up with the same faith that Jesus is now alive and resurrected in you so that you now have His desires and do His works, not your own human works (Romans 6). I did not know that keeping this same faith every day and every minute of the day is what stops sin. Because when you have faith that Jesus is alive in you, you become like Him and you don’t even want to sin any more. That is how salvation is through faith.

I thought that faith was only believing that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. But the demons believe that, and they have no faith. Jesus did die on the cross to pay the price for my sins so that I could be forgiven. But He also died so that I could have victory over sin through faith in Him. I do not have to sin anymore! Romans 6:22 says, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Hallelujah! I am free by His power to resist sin. Whenever the devil slips a sinful thought into my head, I can instantly rebuke that thought and cast it out of me in the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17). By the power of Jesus’ name, the devil and his lying thoughts have to go because I believe! There is power in Jesus’ name to save me from the bondage of sin, not just the price of death that comes with it. Jesus also received stripes and had infirmity laid on Him so that we would be free from sickness. We have freedom from sickness as well as hell and the bondage of sin. We can command healing in the name of Jesus, just as we can command a demon to leave us in the name of Jesus through faith. We are not subject to disease or the bondage of sin or the second death in hell. But only through faith! Willpower and human works are useless against the devil. Only faith saves us. Now as long as we live on this planet, the devil will tempt us and try to put thoughts in our mind. The devil will also make us sick any way he can, and we will have to use medicine and see the doctor at times. The Lord will allow this so that we will be urged on to repentance or so that God will get much glory for our healing, or both. But we have authority in Jesus’ name to rebuke and cast out anything the devil does. We may not get healed right away, but we should never hesitate to believe and ask.

I finally started hearing and learning the full gospel truth in 2011, and I’ve never been the same. I am now really saved, not just believing in forgiveness, but deliverance and healing as well. In 2013, a Christian couple prayed with me over the phone to have deliverance from spirits of affliction and sin. We specifically prayed for and cast out the spirits that were working lies and encouraging sins in my life. I confessed my sins to Jesus and was delivered from a spirit of rejection at the age of 43! I have not felt lonely or rejected since. I no longer am needy and wanting to be in relationships that aren’t good for me. It took three hours for that phone prayer to come to a close. I confessed MANY sins! I confessed all that I could remember. I was not confessing to the couple on the phone but to Jesus. However, vocalizing my confession on the phone while they listened without judgement only encouraged me to be more honest with the Lord. I was desperate to be clean and to become the person Jesus wanted to make me. I was willing to be honest on the phone because Jesus was listening, forgiving, and delivering. I confessed the embarrassing sins along with the not-so-embarrassing ones. I needed total spiritual cleansing.

Now I am seeking Jesus with all my heart, seeking Him in prayer and His Word and trying to listen to Him carefully. I am taking authority over evil spirits that try to influence my life and others around me. What liberty there is in knowing Jesus! I have so much more to learn. But God has taught me some good spiritual lessons about money since I was delivered. He has taught me that hording wealth or property is not what He wants me to do.

In 2014 I started praying for an opportunity to empty my retirement account so that the money could go into His kingdom. Then my treasure will be in heaven. I will never retire anyway, and Jesus is coming soon. Furthermore, I believe that giving Jesus my small retirement in some way helps me to make restitution for all those years of not tithing to Him while I was paying my debts. You may argue that that belief is not Biblical. But making restitution is what I wanted to do in my spirit, and that is what I prayed for. Jesus may come in a few years or days or I may die before I reach retirement age, anyway. I do not know, but I don’t worry about the money. I want to work and live as cheap as possible and have treasure in heaven.

All my life (before getting fully saved) I had wanted three things the most: to travel to Europe, get married to a loving husband, and have children. Well the loving family is out if the question at this point. But I don’t need that anymore anyway. I just want Jesus. I asked Jesus to take the desire to travel out of my heart because it was an idol in my heart, and I knew it. He has taken that out now through prayer. Thank you, Lord! We cannot go to heaven with idols any more than we can go to heaven with sin. Only the pure in heart will see the face of God. I want to be pure and stay pure until I die or the Lord comes to get me. Nothing in this world is more important that going to heaven. Nothing is more important than obeying Jesus and repenting when needed and fully believing all the Word of God.

Jesus also delivered me from an addiction to movies. Through prayer I was able to cancel my Netflix account for good and I am no longer tempted to engage in fantasy through movies. This has liberated my spiritual life and been a great blessing to me. The Lord also gave me a beauty makeover. He told me to stop wearing eye shadow and tight jeans. At first I was afraid to stop wearing eye shadow and eye liner. And I needed pants for my hikes in the woods and for work too. So I was afraid to give up my jeans because they were warm and familiar. I was afraid to stop wearing the eye makeup because it made me look younger—I thought. But when I stepped out in faith and threw the jeans and makeup away, Jesus made it simple and gave me a peace. I quickly began to like my naked eye lids better than the colored. I enjoyed this more natural look. I also found wide-leg pants and enjoyed wearing them. They were much more modest yet still functional for being outdoors and doing things. I got lots of compliments on my wide-leg pants too! They looked fashionable. And I now have skirts that I like to wear to work. Jesus never wants to hurt us. When we obey Him we receive blessings, not curses. When I was growing up my parents never bought me one dress. I never felt comfortable in dresses because they only dresses or skirts I had ever warn were poorly fitting hand-me-downs that were extremely ugly. So my thoughts about myself in dresses where that I was not fit to wear them. But the Lord showed me that I was fit to wear them and that I was His bride and He wanted me to have nice skirts to wear. So I started buying skirts and dress shirts and feel more like a female than I did before. The shirts and skirts I wear are very modest and comfortable too. I love to wear them.

After I repented fully of dating and fornication, Jesus took my acne and skin infections away for good. Jesus showed me that my acne problems were a manifestation of the self-hate I had carried all my life. He also showed me that the skin infections and rashes were a curse I had brought on myself from seeking affection and attention from men. Now that is my own individual story. I am not proclaiming that all your illnesses are from sin, nor that particular sins bring on particular illnesses in any individual. But for me it was true that my acne was a result of my fears of inferiority with other people and my self-hate. One day I was full of faith and had already cast out the demons of rejection and the fear of rejection through faith. So I knew I could cast out acne too. I looked in the mirror and told acne to go in the name of Jesus and thanked Jesus. I never had to do my daily acne treatments again. It was gone through faith! With the infections and rashes, Jesus had made me a promise that every time I dated my skin would break out, but that if I remained single and chaste, my skin would be whole. I finally obeyed Him and from that time I’ve never had to see the doctor again for rashes or infections. Again, that is my story alone, but it is true. You may have a similar story of healing one day if you don’t already one.

When I was young my financial goals were to own a house, build a retirement, travel to Europe, be debt free, and tithe. Now my goals are to live as cheap as possible, only owning a car as property, give to God and His people, and never waste God’s money on investments or worldly idols. I am so full of joy over these new desires. God will supply my every need. God has different callings for different people. So I am not condemning anyone who happens to have a savings account or investment. But we must always make sure that what we do have is for the Lord. That is all.

If I am naked and persecuted at any time, and it is for His glory, it will result in a crown anyway. It would be something to rejoice over. If I don’t have the strength to endure it initially, I will pray for the strength in Jesus’ name and He will give it to me. In truth at this time I am not suffering even a little bit. All my needs are met, and I am very comfortable. I have nothing but joy unspeakable!

By 2014 I had to work only two jobs and had only my school loan to pay off. I only owed $1900 on my school loan by May of that year. That is a far cry from over $59,000 on many high interest loans in 2006. It was a great relief to realize that I did not have to keep looking for those hard to achieve full-time positions. I quit looking for “good jobs” that were “worthy” of my skills and training and found work in the regular world as a humble, willing worker! Another amazing miracle of all this is that God caused me to pay off all that debt while only working part-time jobs until the last five months, when I finally had full-time employment. It’s really inconceivable. It’s a total miracle!

Today I finally understand the blessing and beauty of being a woman, and not a man. When I was growing up it seemed that girls were second class citizens, and in my marriage, as a wife, I was certainly treated worse than a second class citizen. I felt that I was treated in a subhuman, slave-like way. But those feelings of being subhuman were from Satan and not from God. Recently God has led me to embrace and rejoice in my place as a woman. I fall under a special spiritual covering when I am quiet and submissive to His will. What freedom! I don’t have to act like a man anymore. I don’t have to try to fix or control things in my life. I don’t have to make relationships better between myself and others. I don’t have to earn a huge income or receive awards at work. I can rest in the peace of Jesus, knowing He will fix and mend whatever needs healing. The Creator Lord is my husband and He is the perfect husband. I don’t have to be anything but his unspoiled bride. No stress. No pressure. During the last two years I’ve come to understand what Jesus meant when He said His “yoke is easy” and His “burden light” (Matthew 11:30). Obedience does become easier with time once you submit to it. Jesus does the rest. It is Jesus alive in you who causes you to desire to follow the Lord, and it is Jesus in you who actually does the following because Jesus always obeys His Father (John 12:49-50).

When I tried to be good as a child and adult, I was operating by will power. That is one of the reasons I gave myself so much credit for my “works.” But these works were false because they were based on self-pride and control. Jesus was not living in me and doing these works. So by doing my own works, my heart and mind became and remained hard and I became very prideful and didn’t give God any credit for my ability not to sin. My heart was full of sin, but as long as others were not aware of it, I was pleased with myself. I thought God owed me something for my self-righteousness. But when Jesus is alive in you, He takes care of all your needs. All that is required is obedience, forgiveness of others, and resting in Jesus. No more playing the hero to myself. What a relief!

I am learning not to strive and pressure myself, not to be ambitious, not to be my own God and savior. If God wants me to suffer, it is either to discipline me or to earn me a crown. Either way it is for my good. Either way I can embrace it and thank God for it. What joy! People who submit to the Lord in everything are blessed! When I was young and suffering in my home life I didn’t see my circumstances as a test from the Lord. I saw my circumstances as proof that the Lord hated me. But those circumstances were a test. I passed many phases of that testing time by being kind to my family members who persecuted me. But I failed in the end because I blamed God for all of it and turned my back on Him. I now know that had I remained faithful to the Lord and accepted His love, my life would have been very different. It may still have had many persecutions, but I could have rejoiced in those persecutions knowing that I was earning my crown and my mansion in heaven. And the Lord may have given me a loving husband had I followed Him as a young adult. But I rebelled and turned to the wrong kind of men and friends to try to win love on my own terms. But praise the Lord, He has shown me how to live faithfully now and to see trials as just that and not as a cause to hate myself or to hate God.

I remember that in high school there a boy who loved me with all of his heart. He was kind of poor, but his family took good care of him. He was handsome even though his hair was overgrown. He was short, but very manly in character. I could not stand him because he acknowledged my short arm and accepted me fully with that deformity. I did not accept myself at all with a deformity. I did not want to acknowledge that I was handicapped and did not like being reminded that I was different. So when this boy openly and lovingly proclaimed that he loved me very much even with my short arm, I rejected him. I did not love myself and could not understand how anyone else could. My pride was wounded when he acknowledged my arm. I wanted him to pretend that I was normal. That wonderful boy loved me so much and respected me as much as he loved me. So when I rejected him, he did not argue or try to manipulate me into a relationship. He let me go. When I rejected him I was really rejecting myself at the time and did not know it. My conscience told me to retract my rejection and give him a chance, but I stuck to my rejection.

From that day on I pursued relationships with men who ignored my arm and pretended that I was not handicapped. But none of those men loved me a single bit. I have always regretted rejecting that boy whose name I cannot remember. I remember his face and his gentlemanly ways and his unconditional love. I know that rejecting him was the second biggest mistake of my life because it led to so many other sins. My first mistake was rejecting Jesus’ love.

But the Lord has shown me that this tragedy was another analogy for my relationship with the Lord at that time. Jesus also loved me fully and accepted me fully with my handicap. But I rejected Jesus and myself in favor of pursuing the fantasy that I was normal. Well, I can only praise Jesus for taking me out of fantasy living and fantasy pursuits. I pray that one day I will see that boy in heaven and be able to tell him that he was right and I was wrong, and then laugh about it together. There will be much laughter in heaven because all that is bad now will be very good up there.

[] God’s Healing Miracles

Since I truly started walking with the Lord, my health has greatly improved, which has saved me money in doctor’s bills and prescriptions. I know the devil may try to make me sick at any time. The devil does afflict people to try to make them lose faith. But sin also causes a lot of physical problems too. I suffered from poison oak allergies for many years. My allergic reactions were so severe that I would suffer for weeks, even on Prednisone. Most of the times I got the poison oak rash, I hadn’t even been in the woods. I would get it from a man who I was in a relationship with and should not have been with. It was a sin for me to marry my husband because he was not a real Christian and he had been divorced. He gave me poison oak numerous times by touching me after he had been outside and gotten it on his clothes. Then years later I had a boyfriend who did the same thing. With both men, even though they knew I was hyper allergic, they were still careless about going into the woods or outdoors and bringing it into the house and touching me, furniture and other items. But I don’t blame them for my terrible rashes. I know the rashes were from my sin in being in those relationships. God was letting me get sick and suffer to encourage me to repent of those relationships. The time I got trigeminal neuralgia, I had a serious crush on someone whom God did not want me to get involved with. As it turned out, God did stop that relationship from happening. And the sickness was part of what God did to warn me to repent from wanting to be in a relationship with that particular man.

I do not think God sent all my sicknesses to warn me to repent. I believe the devil caused my deformity and caused me to be a very sickly child. I often had colds that would last for weeks and months. The devil also tried to drown me when I was very young, but I was rescued. But I do believe that either through repentance or deliverance we can have victory over sickness when it comes. In the case of the second relationship that caused my poison oak outbreaks, the more time I spent with that man the sicker I was. And as I stopped seeing him my rashes disappeared. I knew beyond any doubt that it was God clearly speaking to me. He spoke to me in other ways to get me to repent, but allowing these rashes was his trump card against my evil will.

I save $30 a month now by not taking my acne medicine and have not had one breakout since. I believe in faith every day that I am healed. In 2013 when I was full of faith and believed I was healed. From that time on I stopped using my acne medicine at night and started eating sweets whenever I wanted. I have never broken out since because I was healed by faith.

I’ve only had a couple of colds in the last two years or so since I repented of being in sexual relationships. Before that time I had regular infections including bronchitis, sinus infections, outbreaks of poison oak, the flu, and other sicknesses. I don’t see it as a coincidence that my health improved so greatly. It cannot be.

In 2013, I had a pain under my gum line. It was a sharp pain and felt exactly like the pain I had had a year or so earlier when there was a bunch of hard tarter under my gum line that was causing a tooth ache. So I rebuked the pain in Jesus’ name and thanked God for healing me. Within a couple minutes the pain dissipated as I felt a tingling and numbing sensation in that spot in my gums. Then I remembered that about a year before when the hygienist had to dig out that tartar it had felt the same way—numb and tingly. In a couple minutes all the pain, numbness and tingling was gone. But when I was at the dentist the last time this pain occurred it took the hygienist about 40 minutes to dig all the tartar out. God only took a couple minutes! I thanked him for doing it so fast.

It is not a sin to go to the doctor, and I will still go anytime I need a doctor. But I have been so healthy that the last two years I have not needed to see a doctor at all. Halleluiah! I’ve also stopped getting my teeth cleaned, mainly because they don’t seem to need it like they used to. I’m not trying to say that the whole world is rosy when you get saved or that you won’t need hygiene anymore. But I have seen my life get simplified and healthier in many ways since I repented of my sins and worldliness. I do not believe in a “prosperity” or “wealthy and healthy” interpretation of the gospel. But there are blessings that come with repentance.

Now I won’t disagree with anyone who says that God lets us suffer physical diseases at times for His glory because I’ve seen that this is true too. I still pray for healing every time I need it and usually get the healing. But there is one thing that the Lord has never healed for me: my deformed bones resulting from birth deformities and scoliosis. Once I began to believe in the physical healing that Jesus gives to us, He healed me of my acne completely and miraculously so that I no longer had to watch what I ate or do my acne regime at night. He is now showing me how to deal with arthritis by eating white mushrooms. He showed me many years ago how to deal with urinary tract infections by eating watermelon and how to deal with skin infections by taking hot baths. So those are all types of healing even though with most of them the Lord has shown me what foods or methods He has already provided to keep me well and away from the doctor.

But I wanted Him to heal my crooked and deformed bones too. I prayed fully believing that He would heal me, but it did not happen right away. So I wrote to a minister who has prayed for healing for others with success. He prayed for me, and I still was not healed.

Then I went to a “healing room,” which is a Christian place where you go and they specifically pray for your healing. (There are thousands of healing rooms all across the US, in every state. You can look them up online.) At the healing room, a man and a woman prayed for me in a private room. The man told me that as soon as he touched my card (the form that I filled out to describe my prayer needs) he sensed that I had had great sorrow in my life. I confirmed that this was true, and thought it was very interesting that the Lord had revealed that to this man. My sorrow had truly been great, maybe in part because I am such a sensitive person on the inside. I had experienced deep sorrows over many things—mostly rejection, poverty, deformities, abandonment, and also some things that are not mentioned in this book. My sorrow itself had had a very debilitating effect on my life. But I did not come to the healing room to be healed of sorrows. So I overlooked the man’s comment.

We proceeded to pray for the healing of my bones, which did not happen. I left the healing room, not feeling defeated or unloved by God, but a bit confused about why I did not get healed. I knew there must be a reason and asked the Lord what was hindering my healing. But I did not seem to get an answer—just a sense that God loved me no matter if I was healed or not.

Some months later, I attended a camp meeting service of a church that fully believed in healing miracles. My main objective in going to that camp meeting was to be healed, but I didn’t tell a lot of people that. The morning that I arrived, before the services started, I was walking to my friend’s cabin to meet up with her so we could sit together in the sanctuary. As I walked to her cabin, I saw you young girl whispering to her little girl friend on the walkway and pointing to my deformed arm with that distrustful look I’d seen so many thousands of times in my life. It’s that look that says, “You are suspect because you are different; keep your curse away from me.” When I saw the girl pointing and whispering about me, I could barely hold back the tears. She was just a little kid who had no idea she was hurting me, and I had been through this enough times that it shouldn’t have bothered me. But it really hurt bad because now I was saved and delivered from the bondage and attraction of sin and had already been healed of acne and I trusted the Lord. But I still wasn’t healed of the main thing that was a recognizable flaw. The devil was laughing curses at me, and I knew it.

I went to the sanctuary and could not stop sobbing. I wept uncontrollably throughout the whole service. My friend told me it was the presence of God that made me cry. And I could not tell her the truth that it was this very deep sorrow that I had carried all my life, mostly because of my deformities, which I believed were partially to blame for the rejections I had suffered. The camp meeting was wonderful, and I was blessed in many ways. But I went home without the healing I had wanted.

A couple days later, when watching live sermons of the camp meeting at home (I could only attend in person for one day but was able to watch the rest of the meeting online), Jesus spoke very clearly to me and told me something that changed my life. He said, “When I died on the cross, I did it with your sorrows on my shoulders. I paid the price so that you would not have to carry any sorrows, but you won’t give them up. I command you to give me those sorrows, which are already mine.” He reminded me of these verses in Isaiah 53:3-4:

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him sticken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

I was shocked, convicted, and overjoyed. I immediately got on my knees and repented of carrying those sorrows all my life that Jesus had already died to free me from; in faith I gave my sorrows that minute to Jesus just as He had lovingly commanded me to do. And I have NEVER felt that sorrow since! I am not only delivered from rejection, abandonment and loneliness, but that day Jesus also delivered me from the sorrow that proceeded from it all. I AM SO GRATEFUL! From that day on I have not gotten a lump in my throat, or a pain in my heart area, or any negative feelings when I think about the past. I can objectively remember without pain. It was on that day of repenting from Sorrow that I realized that what I really needed healing from the most was my sorrows, not my deformities. I still wait for Jesus to heal my bones one day. But in the meantime, I AM HEALED OF MY SORROWS, WHICH WERE MUCH GREATER THAN THE DEFORMITIES! Praise His name!

Right after I got saved the Lord made it clear to me that He did not want me to marry ever again. (I am not claiming that all Christians should be single, only that the Lord told me to remain single.) At first I was very sad when the Lord told me this because a happy marriage and children were the main dreams I had had all my life. But I could not deny that He had been showing me for many years that He was not interested in finding me a mate, and He spoke into my heart unmistakably in telling me to remain single. For three months I mourned all the sins I had committed in relationships and in not trusting the Lord and obeying Him. I was so regretful and sorry for my past sins and the fact that I had already missed the opportunity to be in a healthy marriage when I was young because I had rebelled. I cried many nights during those three months. But when I was done mourning and was in full acceptance of the plan the Lord had for me, something wonderful happened. Jesus put a beautiful JOY in my heart for the single life! Again, once I had stepped out in faithful obedience, He made it easy to obey Him. He delivered me completely from loneliness and has made me enjoy the single life to its fullest!

Before I got saved, I believed that loneliness was a part of my personality. I thought that rejection was a part of my identity. Now Jesus showed me that Loneliness and Rejection in my life were evil spirits that had been tormenting me for years because I believed in them rather than believing in the promises of Scripture. Now, it is true that people will reject us and that we will be standing alone often in this life. But the hovering depression and emotionally debilitating feelings of rejection and loneliness being part of my identity were lies coming straight from the Enemy. And those lies that I believed had made me think that God had rejected me too. So the Lord showed me to repent of those lying thoughts about my being a “lonely reject” and then cast those spirits out of my life in Jesus’ name. I did that, and then I could see without blinders. I could enjoy and love being single and being able to dedicate my whole life to Jesus. And I now saw the obvious purpose that had been for my life all along.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that the negative thoughts and feelings that plague them are actually seducing evil spirits. What a joy when I realized that “Maria is not a lonely reject; Maria has been lied to. Maria is loved and precious in the sight of God!” My identity totally changed. Some people may feel that certain thoughts like suicidal thoughts or attention seeking are just a part of their identity. But those are seducing spirits too (1 Timothy 4:1 warns us of “seducing spirits”). You must repent of those thoughts and then cast them out by the power of Jesus’ name and His blood. They have no power over the blood of Jesus when we repent and take the authority over them that Jesus’ death on the cross gives us.

I remember one day shortly after I had cast the spirit of Rejection out of my life (Remember—you must first repent of sins and evil thoughts before you can cast those same spirits out. It doesn’t do much good to try to cast out Rejection if you haven’t repented of it yet.) I had just signed off work. My coworker who had come into the building to relieve me from duty was swarmed by a number of students who were happy to see him and had lots to ask of him. Now when I was at work they had left me alone. But when this coworker came in, the students ran to meet him. So as I left the building the spirit of Rejection whispered into my mind the thought that the students liked my coworker much more than they liked me. Immediately I knew this was Satan trying to get me to take that spirit back into my life. I rebuked Satan and that spirit of Rejection with full conviction in Jesus’ name, thanked Jesus for his power and His deliverance, and went home full of joy! I had a great evening and did not give another thought to whether I was liked or not. It didn’t even matter what the world thought of me; and those students had every good reason to be happy to see my coworker, just as I had been happy to see him! I was LOVED by God, and I loved myself. That was the last time that spirit tried to torment me. Sometimes evil spirits will try to come back; just rebuke them and believe the promises of the Lord. They will give up trying to harass you once they know your faith cannot be shaken. If you want to understand better how demons mess with the unsuspecting person, I recommend Howard Pittman’s book, Placebo.

I want to tell you two true stories from my life that prove God’s power, if you don’t already know His power. These two miracles happened at times when my faith was very strong. The first incident happened when I was in fourth grade, a year after I had started reading the Bible for myself. At that time I didn’t have much sin in my life. I obeyed my parents, did not lie, cheat, or take things that weren’t mine, and I didn’t engage in fights with other children or talk back to adults. My mind and heart were sinful to some degree, but because I was trying to obey and reading in the Word, this miracle was able to happen:

A neighbor boy invited me and my big sister to the river nearby to fish with a stick and a string. My sister and I had little interest in fishing, but we were happy to accompany him to the river. While he was fishing and I was playing in the sand, he said, “Oh no! My brother’s going to kill me!” I ran to the water’s edge where he was and asked what was wrong. He pointed out to the water where a red thermos cup was floating like an empty boat downstream and toward the other side. It was moving in a diagonal direction away from us and already over half way to the other side. This was a narrow and shallow part of the river, but it was still too deep for us to wade in and get the cup. The boy told me that the thermos was borrowed from his brother.

Instantly I was filled with the Holy Spirit, and I said, “Don’t worry. God is going to bring it back for you.” I led the boy in a prayer, reminding God that where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name there God is and asking God to bring the cup back to us in Jesus’ name. Then I thanked God. During the prayer we had our eyes closed because I closed mine and told the boy to close his. This boy didn’t have time to argue with me. I was just telling him what to do, and it all happened real fast. When the prayer was over, I told the boy to open his eyes and look across the river, and told him that he would now see the cup coming back. My faith was so strong, that I did not look in the direction of the cup until I had finished proclaiming that the cup was coming back. Somehow I knew through the Spirit that I had to prove my faith, not only by telling the boy that God would answer our prayer before we prayed, but also by proclaiming that the cup was coming back before I had a chance to see it coming back. Once I looked over the river toward the cup, I could see for myself that the cup was returning, floating in the opposite diagonal direction from which it had floated away. It was now traveling up stream and toward us. Again, the Spirit led me to prove my faith in advance by telling the boy not to go into the water to get. I believed that if our faith was weak and we tried to fetch the cup before God brought it back, that God might stop making it come back on its own. We only had to wait about a minute before the cup was just inches from the sand. Then I told the boy he could pick up the cup. I think that boy must have known that something powerful was happening because he never argued or asked questions. He just did as he was told.

After the incident we both went back to what we were doing and never spoke of it again. I always felt guilty for not witnessing to the boy after and talking to him about salvation. But I hope that God gave that boy the grace to cause him to always remember that miracle as a testament to His power. I hope that that boy is praying and receiving miracles today, but I don’t even remember his name. Now as you know, I became bitter and unforgiving in later years and lost my faith. I still prayed to God, and He answered many prayers. But there were no more miraculous, right-before-your-eyes kind of miracles again until I was in college many years later.

At the time of the next amazing miracle, I was in college and hadn’t been in any sinful relationships for six years before that time. I was in a state of repentance for my sins and trying very hard to obey the Lord. I was attending church and reading Scripture and praying with tears often. I still had a lot of corruption in my heart and was struggling with lusts of the flesh, although there were no outward manifestation of sin except for my anxieties and emotional outburst at times. So again, although I definitely had spiritual problems, I was in the Scripture and seeking salvation.

Anyway, I was sitting in a study room in the county library working on my school assignments. There was another study room next door and the walls were paper thin. Each study room had a round desk and several chairs, so that you could study in groups if you wanted to. So I could hear almost everything through the walls. I heard a group of adults come in. I could tell that a lady was leading the group and had asked them all to meet her there. At least two couples were there and maybe some others. A couple of the other ladies introduced the men they were with to this lady who was the leader. The leader told them that she was going to show them how to pray to multiple gods or spirits to get personal power for themselves so that they could have whatever they wanted in their lives. In my spirit I knew that this lady was a practicing witch and that she was trying to teach these couples how to pray to demons. As the leader began to pray I was filled with the Holy Spirit and was thinking to myself, “They won’t be able to do this as long as I have to hear it.” I was on fire and fully believing that my own prayer to God would stop their prayers and break up the meeting. So, silently and with zeal, I prayed a prayer of intervention.

In my youth I had read in the Bible the story of how God brought an evil spirit to King Saul to trouble his mind (1 Samuel 16). So I knew that God was in charge of spirits, even evil ones. I immediately started praying for God to send two spirits into the next room where the group was gathered: a spirit of Confusion and a spirit of Shame. I asked God to send these spirits into that room next door so that all the people there, including the female leader, would wonder why they were there and be terribly embarrassed for being there, even to the point that they would flee the room and never attempt to pray to demon spirits or see each other again. I prayed harder with every second, fully expecting and believing that these people would be filled with shame and confusion and leave the library, never to see each other again.

Within seconds, as I prayer I heard one of the men angrily say, “This is stupid!” I continued praying and another man or maybe the same one said, “What are we doing? This is stupid.” By this time there was a lot of confused mumbling and murmuring amongst the women. I could hear people shuffling in their seats uncomfortably. Then the lady who had brought them together said, “I don’t know what’s happening!” Her voice sounded apologetic and disappointed. There was more mumbling and I could hear people getting out of their seats. The lady in charge started telling them that maybe they could get together next week and try again. But I heard a man telling his wife or girlfriend that it was time to go. All this happed very quickly. Within a minute or two the room was empty.

I was so excited and pleased at the result that was achieved from prayer. It was a great feeling! The prayer of one Christian to God almost instantly sent multiple prayers to multiple spirits from non-Christians into a tailspin. I had prayed that they would leave the building instantly and never see each other again as a group. I also prayed that they would be so ashamed of themselves that they would never try to pray to spirits again—ever. I believe that God answered that prayer.

At first, when I heard the people leave the room I already knew they would leave the building immediately and had no need to check and see. But then I wanted to check because I wanted to see the proof so that I could brag about what God had done. So after about 20 seconds I left my study room with my book bag over my shoulder. I checked to see if any people were still in the lobby on their way out. But they had already left the lobby! So I hurried out the front door to see if they were driving away in their cars or getting into their cars. But no people were in the parking lot, only empty cars. So they had left so fast that all I got was their dust to look at! So the spirit of Confusion had abruptly ended the prayer meeting to these multiple gods or spirits, and the spirit of Shame had driven them out of that building with speed. I had only delayed leaving the study room by about 20 seconds, and that was too long to catch a glimpse of them. Prayers to God are powerful when you believe! For anyone who might wonder how I knew to pray for shame and confusion in that situation, all I can say is it was the Holy Spirit’s idea because He caused me to have the faith and pray the prayer.

Now some readers may question how I could be filled with the Holy Spirit and pray successfully for miracles before I had gotten saved. All I can say is that God can use anyone to work His will. That does not mean that those He uses are saved at all. It only means that God is all-powerful. There are many cases in the Bible where God used the unsaved, even cases where he worked through non-humans. Here are those I can remember: (1) Rahab the prostitute saved the army of Israel in Joshua 2, (2) a donkey talked to Balaam in Numbers 22, (3) John the Baptist said that God could turn any rock into a son of Abraham in Matthew 3, (4) Samson, a man of sin, was filled with the Holy Spirit when destroyed the Philistine army inside its temple in Judges 16, (5) Jesus said that the rocks could sing praises to Him in Luke 19, (6) King Saul, and evil man, prophesied for hours as he was filled with the Holy Spirit in 1 Samuel 19, and (7) Jesus warned that many drive out demons Jesus’ name will not enter heaven because they never repented of their sins in Matthew 7. So God can and does use the unsaved to perform His will. That is a hint to us that we must repent and believe in order to be saved, just as Jesus told us (Matthew 3:2)! Being used by the Lord and being filled with the Holy Spirit, even to perform miracles, is not proof of salvation.

Now both of those times that the Holy Spirit worked big miracles in me I was immediately after attacked so that I would be pulled away from God again. Shortly after the childhood miracle, one of my mom’s friends tried to molest me right in front of her. I fended him off without her help, and that made me hate my mother. I judged her for that incident and really despised her. Next thing I knew I was diagnosed with scoliosis. This began many years of bitterness and self-hate that led me away from the Lord. By judging my mom I had brought judgment on myself.

Shortly after the miracle in college, I met my husband and leaped into a life of slavery to him. When I met my husband, I just took his word for it that he was a Christian rather than looking for the “fruit” in his life that would prove he was a Christian, as the Bible tells us to do. I wanted to believe what I was told rather than using Godly discernment. From the start of my marriage my spiritual life started going downhill with increasing rapidity. So you can see how hard the devil worked to get that power of the Holy Spirit out of me. The next time I am filled with the Spirit and see his power I will be expecting that an attack might come and I will remain in the Word so that I will not fall into temptation. I will be ready next time. The devil won’t take that power away again.

[] Staying Faithful to Avoid Relapse

The temptations are still there to overspend. At the end of 2012, I started spending more money on clothes and for the first time in my life decided to build a small wardrobe of nice clothes. Typically I dress in casual, comfortable, very cheap clothes. One of the blessings of being a teacher is that no one expects you to dress well So at this time I decided that I was going to learn to dress better and look better. Well, that didn’t work out too well. I bought clothes through catalogues. I’m from a small town, and the clothes were limited in styles. So I spent a few hundred dollars on clothes that I could not wear because I bought stuff that was so nice that it just made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t feel like myself, since I was used to dressing in such an average way. I returned some of the items because I could tell right off that they didn’t fit right. But by the time I realized I didn’t want most of the items I had already thrown the receipts and packaging away and could not return them. So some of my female students benefited from my bad wardrobe investments because they became the recipients of the clothes. That was good for them, but I had spent my money poorly. I learned never to buy from catalogues again and to stick to wearing clothes that are modest and not so flashy. I have no one to impress and shouldn’t act as if I do. Recently I read the book Living Waters by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway. In the book, Yun states that we Christians do not have a right to worry about what others think of our looks or what they think of us at all. That was convicting for me. How true it is that I was not put on this planet to impress and “wow” people or to win their approval. Spending money on my image is not the right thing to do.

[] I Owe Others Forgiveness, But God Owes Me Nothing

When I first started writing this testimony, my intent was to just focus on what God had done to help me get out of debt. But the more I wrote, the more God kept saying, “Well, you haven’t told enough.” I began to realize that He didn’t want it to be a safe little book that only talked of my debt, a problem that many people have. He wanted me to talk about many sins in my life and what He had done to lead me to forgiveness and deliverance. Two interesting things that have come to mind as I wrote this testimony are that, (1) there is a bigger debt that I have been delivered from, which is the debt of eternal torment in hell for my sins that was paid by Jesus on the cross, and (2) although I became debt free in 2015, freeing me from financial slavery, I am now a slave to Jesus Christ and hope forever so to be. I now want to be a slave but not to the credit companies and loan departments or to the consumer industry that tries to legitimize “the American dream.” I want to be a slave of Jesus Christ. That is the only way to live fully in this life. 1 Corinthians 7:22 sums up my testimony pretty well: “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freeman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.”

I owe every person I know forgiveness, and that debt will be forever outstanding because I cannot be forgiven by God unless I forgive others. One thing I repent of often is having critical and judgmental thoughts of others. I want full deliverance from judging, and I want a pure, soft heart like God’s heart. I am still praying for that and have seen God make a new creature out of me (in the process). I am not complete yet.

Another thing about God that relates to debt is that He owes me nothing. Everything He has done for me I was unworthy of. So it is all gravy, as they say. I used to think God owed me the same worldly happiness that I perceived others were experiencing. My perceptions were based on my desires. But who needs what this world has to offer when they have joy unspeakable from the Father of lights? Worldly happiness is a fiction, and it is nothing compared to heaven.

Remember when I said that I always wanted to travel to Europe? Well God replaced that desire with the longing to see heaven. Who needs Europe when heaven is waiting? Heaven is the place to vacation and live. Every vacation in this world is a pathetic joke to being at the throne of God or even in the outer limits of heaven. I can’t wait to see flowers that sing praises and a sky that is never dark. That’s where I’m traveling one day.

I praise God that He finally led me to a gospel preaching church. I hadn’t been in church for a long time because it was apostate churches that had led me astray most of my life by not teaching me about repentance, deliverance and freedom from sin. So once I got saved I stayed away from churches for a while. I started reading the Bible carefully and slowly so that the Word could sink into my heart and give me life. I started praying and watching online preachers and listening to gospel messages on websites that taught the full gospel. Eventually I longed for ministering and fellowship with like-minded believers who believed in the full gospel, not the religion that the carnal church organizations teach.

For a while I had joined a prayer group by computer and phone. They ministered to each other and to me greatly. But eventually I felt that some of their teachings were religious too. I also longed to be face-to-face with the body of Christ. I kept seeking Jesus in prayer and reading books and listening to sermons on line that teach how to pray and walk with the Lord. Then in 2014, God blessed me by leading me to a small, faith filled church that believes in salvation, deliverance, healing, and practices prayer. Thank you Jesus! I could feel the Holy Spirit among them. They testify and worship in faith. There is no church that should become our religion. But I am thankful to be in fellowship with the body of Christ. I cannot idolize any particular church. There is a big difference in me now that I am saved. I used to go to church looking for love and acceptance, looking for friends and a social life and status. Now I go with Jesus by my side and alive in me to minister and be ministered to. I am a new creature! I am becoming more new every day. There is no more comparison of myself and my life to others. No more envy of what others have. No more feeling like an outsider. No more neediness. I am a servant of Christ Jesus. My identity is in Him alone. I have no needs but to obey Him and listen to Him. What joy and peace there is in the Lord. How good He is!

God brought me out of apostate teachings and the organized religion. But it was not His intention that I remain an island and be isolated from the body. God has brought me out of sin and filled me up with His Spirit. He has given me gifts of the Spirit that He uses to minister to others. He is increasing my boldness every day through prayer and faith. I want more of His love for others so that I can be honest and straight with people, not watering down the gospel in fear that I might offend others, but learning to let the Spirit speak through me in love so that others can be saved. Thank you Jesus! I’m as rich as anyone can be in this life.

In April of 2015, God had me pay my final debt bill. This was another miracle. Remember when I explained how Jesus had commanded me to give Him all the sorrows of life that I had been carrying since I was young? We’ll the day after I surrendered my sorrows to Him another miracle happened:

Before Jesus lifted my sorrows, I had always believed the lies of Satan that my deformities were the main reason that no one had ever loved me completely before. Well, one good thing that my mother had done for me when I was growing up is that she had never given me one drop of sympathy or assistance regarding my short arm and other problems. She didn’t even care for me when I had a cold. But the fact that she never sympathized with my handicap actually helped me to become a very self-sufficient and able bodied person. I actually had a mental denial of the fact that I was handicapped, and it always made me angry when people “accused” me of being disabled or handicapped. I thoroughly denied any such condition. So I did everything that people with two good arms and hands do. EVERYTHING! This became a pride issue with me, and I refused to see myself as handicapped even though I fully accepted that I was deformed, and therefore, not worth of true love and acceptance.

Well, when I repented of carrying those sorrows, the Holy Spirit also told me to repent of all the times I had judged and gotten angry at people who pointed and stared at me and to forgive all of those who said that I was “disabled.” So I also repented of being angry with others for seeing me as handicapped or accursed, and asked the Lord to put a love in my heart for anyone who saw me that way.

The next day was my test! A coworker, Paul, and I had a conversation on the phone in which Paul suggested that I apply for a full time job with the federal government using my disability status to get hired. Normally, such a suggestion would have made me very angry, and I would have replied, “I’m not disabled.” That day I did tell Paul I was not disabled, but I had a cheerful attitude and was not angry or offended by him at all. I even felt a love for him and appreciated the fact that he was trying to help me out with that suggestion to gain full time employment. Up to this point the Lord had prevented me from having a full time job. He had worked my miracle of paying off so much debt with only part time jobs. In our weakness He is strong (2 Corinthians 2:9-11), and the Lord had kept me financially weak while paying off around $9000 of debt a year, without increasing any debt. When I hung up the phone I praised Jesus for truly freeing me from sorrows, bitterness, and anger against others, and for giving me this test over the phone to show me that I was indeed free! I also thanked Jesus for my caring coworker, Paul. But once I was finished praying my thanksgivings to Him, He said something very startling: “You ARE disabled, and I’m going to get you a full time job with your disability. Apply for the federal position claiming your disability status.”

That word from the Lord totally stunned me, but I knew it was from Him and no one else. So from that day on I accepted the fact that in spite of all my abilities, I was disabled in some ways. I researched what red tape needed to be accomplished, got the documentation I needed to prove I was disabled, and applied for the job.

Now, again the Lord showed me that it was all Him who got me the job. I was found qualified, which you have to be for federal positions even if you are disabled, but there was no competition and no interview needed! Under the rules of disability status, a federal employer can elect to hire you even without interviewing you or anyone else. And that is what happened! Once headquarters determined I was qualified, my employer had permission to hire me without competition or an interview. What a miracle! I had never heard of such a thing up to that time.

My first job in the federal service was a night job. It paid very well, but I knew my body could not do that forever. I was 44 years old and arthritis was setting in, although I did not know what it was at the time (all I knew was that I was very stiff and tired all the time). And my dream was to have an office job. So five months later I was hired to work in a different location doing office work during the daytime. I did have to interview to get this new office position with the government, but the Lord showed me every step of the way that He was with me and orchestrating everything to get me that position. It meant a cut in pay, since I would be working days, but I knew it was the best thing for me and that I could now live on the lower income since my debt was almost paid.

The other part of this miracle was that the government paid for my move to the new location. Not every government job includes relocation expenses, but this one did. And this is how I paid the last $1500 of my debt because I did not need all the relocation money to move. So within three weeks after I moved to my new day job, I was debt free. And this means that out of the $59,000, plus the $7000 for the truck I had bought and the other money that went towards a relative’s dental needs, the Lord had paid in total around $9500 out of His own pocket. Yes, God has a pocket. He has insurance money, relocation allowances, and all other kinds of resources that belong to Him. I did not pay all my debt with my income because He was faithful and participated in paying it with me. Without the Lord participating in these debt payments, I would still be in debt today. But He allowed me to get out of debt sooner. In April of 2015, the Lord and I had paid all the $59,000, plus the $7,000 truck, plus the other few thousand for the relative’s teeth. And there was no more debt! This means that the Lord had paid almost 1/7th of the total debt that I had during all those years. This doesn’t include the money that I made from selling belongings. So if we add in that money, it comes even closer to 1/7th of my total debt that He paid. It’s kind of like He let me rest for 1 Sabbath’s worth of my approximately $70,000 of debt. I don’t think that is a coincidence!

Since April 2015 I have been totally debt free, spending only cash with my debit card for the last 11 years. THANK YOU JESUS!!! This same year, Jesus also freed me from my state retirement account and allowed me to empty it and give all that money for Bibles to be printed in Chinese and given to Chinese believers. Now I have some treasure in heaven! I prayed that for every Bible that was printed, at least one person would read it, and that everyone who read one of those Bibles would be saved. I know that God has answered that prayer because it is according to His will. I read in a book by Derek Prince, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior, that when we pray for God’s will, the answer is “Yes.” I expect to see some Chinese people in heaven who read one of the Bibles that were printed with the retirement money. That retirement account was very small due to my working only part-time on part-time wages, but it was Jesus’ retirement money I am not ashamed to tell you about giving the money away because it was less than 10% of what I had earned during those years that I was paying off my debt and not tithing. So it was the least I could give to thank the Lord for what He had done for me. It was a small thing. But in heaven it will be a big thing because it will be souls that were saved. So every small thing you do to help save a soul is a very big thing to God.

When I was almost debt free I asked the Lord, “You are coming soon. When you return I will be debt free. But what about the people who want to pay off their debts and repent of overspending but cannot pay it all off before you come? Will they be forgiven?” The Lord answered, “Yes, they will be forgiven because they are walking in repentance. If they are sorry for overspending and immediately start paying their debt to the best of their abilities, then if all the debt is not paid when I return they will still be forgiven for that sin because I forgive when repentance begins, whether full restitution can be made or not.” The Lord is so good that He forgives at the moment that we repent and ask for forgiveness! He does not hold back forgiveness until we have made everything right, although in order to walk in repentance we must do everything we can to make things right. For instance, if you murder a person, you can never bring them back from the dead—you can never undo that sin. But you can turn yourself in and tell the police every detail of the crime and plead guilty to the judge and serve your time and apologize to the family. If that is all you can do, then that is all that is required for restitution. But once you have committed to repentance and following through and ask Jesus to forgive, He forgives at that moment. How good He is!

If you have faith that Jesus is the Son of God and He died for your sins, and you know you need salvation, then you can accept through faith that He has saved you. Once you have faith that Jesus is your savior, and you have repented of your sins, you have full authority in His name to rebuke the thoughts and desires that the devil tries to put in your heart and mind. You also have full authority in Jesus’ name to cast out any demon or spirit that is affecting your life and causing you to sin. You just say, “I command you, spirit of (lust, greed, self-pity, attention seeking, or whatever it is), to leave me in the name of Jesus. Go and do not return to me in Jesus’ name!” Then you rebuke the lies that the devil is putting in your mind in Jesus’ name and ask God to forgive you for committing those sins or believing those lies. Then you walk on with the Lord in victory. You may have to do this several times a day at first. You usually have to do this at least once in a while as far as getting those lies and thoughts far from you when Satan send them. Jesus was setting the example when he said, “Get behind me, Satan!(Matthew 16:23)” It is vital to read the Bible so that God’s truth can get into your heart and mind. It is also vital to praise God. Only those who obey and wash their robes clean with the blood of the Lamb will go to heaven (Revelation 7, 12). Obedience cannot be accomplished through will power—only through faith. I was not good at worshiping God, so I had to pray for God to change me so that I could worship. Now I can do it through faith even when I don’t have the human ability to do it. I also had to pray for God to make me a prayerful person. Now it is much easier to pray for others and myself and that God’s “kingdom come” and His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I still must pray out weariness and fear. I must be pure at heart in order to see the face of God. That is all that matters.

I have never had visions of heaven as some people have, but the Lord has revealed to me some truths about heaven. First, there are no mirrors in heaven. This is because we do not have to groom ourselves. God keep us clean and keeps our hairs in place. But this is also because there is no self-worship or body worship in heaven either. We will all be beautiful, but we will not see ourselves. We will only see the beauty in others. God will get the glory for all His beautiful creatures, none of them will worship their own beauty as Lucifer did. Second, there are no bathrooms in heaven, and we will never be naked there. The white robes we wear will forever be clean, bright and on us. We will never take them off. We will have no sexual organs and no digestive organs. So we will never need to bath, eliminate, or care for ourselves like we do here—not even by brushing teeth. Third, we will never be hungry. People in hell will be hungry and never have food. People in heaven will never be hungry but will eat for pleasure when they want to. We will only eat plants, but plants will never die or get used up. Fourth, although there are many mansions in heaven, no one will need shelter. The newly saved and the children who did not have time on earth to earn mansions and gifts will be very happy at the tree of life and the river of life. They will never be cold or uncomfortable. Fifth, everyone in heaven will have a loving family, they will all be friends, and they will all be fully accepted, loved, experience affection, closeness, and complete belonging.

This is why you lose nothing if you don’t have a loving family on earth. Whatever we don’t have here WILL be there in abundance, including affection and intimacy. No one will want to have sex or need to reproduce and no one will have the capability to reproduce. But THERE WILL BE INTIMACY! I do not understand how this will be, but the Lord assures me that those who have no loving affection now will have it there. I can promise you that because He has promised me! So you must know that you are never alone and will never be alone once you accept the truth that Jesus loves you and is Lord of all and worthy of all worship.

This earthly life will be over soon, and we can’t take what we have here to heaven. But heaven is forever, and Jesus has things there waiting for us that are incredibly better than anything we have here, including the relationships we have here. So you must not cling to any worldly thing, even a relationship, at the expense of losing your salvation. If Jesus tells you to sell all you have to walk with Him, sell it joyfully! You have great reward coming that will last forever. If you are persecuted for being a Christian, rejoice! Your reward is eternal, but your persecution will end in a short time. If you are sick, lonely, ugly, unwanted, but have Jesus, REJOICE! He said that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). If you are the lowly of this world and the last of this world and gain salvation through Christ, you will be first in heaven! If you are unnoticed here and have salvation, you will be seated with honor at the wedding feast of the Lamb!

Do not cling to the things of this world. Satan uses those things to distract you from your goal. Satan tries to make people focus on the fleeting pleasures and rewards of this temporary world so that they will miss eternal happiness and blessings. Do not let Satan fool you into that trap! There are no ugly, unwanted, ignorant, or poor people in heaven! Give up everything for Jesus. Don’t let mockers, rejectors or persecutors stop you from entering the gates of heaven and receiving your eternal rewards!

[] From Religion to Salvation

I was raised in a Protestant Christian household, but our home was full of abuse, neglect and chaos. I learned in church at the age of four that Jesus was the Son of God and died on the cross for my sins. The Holy Spirit revealed to me at this time that God was real and that what I had learned in truth about Him and His Son was true. I accepted Jesus into my heart at four. However, at this age I knew nothing of my own depravity or my own sinful nature. I also did not know that I needed to repent of my sins. In fact, I thought I was a very good kid and not a sinner at all.

In third grade I earned a Bible by memorizing verses from Scripture and reciting them to my teacher over a number of weeks. My Sunday school teacher was very kind and wrote a loving inscription on my Bible before giving it to me, stating that she hoped I would stay near to the Lord. So that year I began reading the Old Testament, starting in Genesis. Throughout grade school and high school, I continued to read the Old Testament, getting through most of it a few times. I loved the Bible and believed what it said. I also spent some time each week praying to the Lord.

But as each year went by, I became more and more convinced that the Lord didn’t love me as much as I loved Him. I began to see God similar to the way I saw my parents—just not there when I needed Him and watching me suffer without caring. My home life was so dismal that going to school was a relief from home. Even if I went hungry in school, at least I was relatively safe there, in spite of the foul language, harassment and occasional fights that took place in school. At school I knew what to expect. At home it was anyone’s guess as to what might happen to me. At home hunger and rejection were constant themes. There were always threats of verbal and physical abuse. I was not allowed to go places or engage in extracurricular activities, so television became a pastime and a way of learning about the world and dreaming of the day when I would be in charge of my own life. I grew to believe that God didn’t have an interest in me.

All these years I attended churches where I saw hypocrisy and socially controlling behaviors and systems. In public my mom and grandma acted like they were long suffering poor people who were doing their best to raise my siblings and I without a father. And in their own minds I think they believed this. But I saw that they mismanaged their incomes and deliberately spent more of it on “the favored offspring.” I felt like I was not only disliked, but that my actual existence in the family was resented. At church, the pastors and others seemed to be playing games with each other. They would rather gossip about each other and engage in bickering than love each other and obey the Lord. I saw greed, narcissism, lust, and controlling behaviors in most every church I attended, just like home life. I secretly hated people. I was kind to people as much as I could make myself be, but I judged and hated most of them in my heart. I began to feel pretty self-righteous and thought that I really was a good person living among devils.

The Lord had kept me from taking drugs, engaging in sex, or doing a lot of the things that young people fall into as teenagers. I was trying to walk the “narrow path.” But I did not know that the narrow path involves changing how we think as well as how we act. My heart was very evil, but because I did not physically act out my evil desires, I believed myself to be a saint. Because my siblings fell into the typical sins that young people in the US fall into, and I had not, and also because they were pretty mean to me at times, I saw myself as being a much holier person than they were. I wondered why God hated me so much that He had placed me into such and unloving and hurtful family environment.

But when I became a young adult, I could no longer maintain the “holier than thou” countenance. After moving away from home, I plunged into the sinful life. I was drinking and dating. But through it all, the Lord kept my faith in His Word and in His identity as my Lord and Savior. He graciously showed me how desperately I needed salvation. But I still did not understand the importance of repentance, nor how to repent. I thought my sins were no greater than the sins I saw other Christians doing. If they were sure of their salvation, then I figured I had a good argument with God for my salvation. Just as I had compared myself to my siblings and felt I was better, I compared myself to other Christians and felt at least as good as them.

My other problem with repentance was that it was too hard to do. I did not know that you repent of your sins by faith, the same way that you believe in Jesus by faith. I thought you had to repent by will power. Human will power against the lusts of the flesh is totally ineffective. In fact, it is impossible to live a sin-free life through human will power. That is why I gave up trying after a while. I figured God was going to have to put up with my sins because He had put me in a world that forced me into sin and given me a body that wanted to sin all the time. So I kind of figured it was His fault that I sinned. Several Christians condemned me for dating. But they were all remarried after divorce. And Jesus said that remarriage after divorce is adultery. So I figured they were hypocrites to criticize me for secretly practicing fornication when they were openly practicing adultery by Jesus’ own definition of the word (Matthew 5:32). (Some people argue that Matthew 19:9 gives Christians permission to remarry if their former spouse cheats on them. Actually, Jesus never gave Christians permission to remarry after divorce anywhere in the Bible. That verse only says that if your wife has already cheated on you, then if you divorce her, you are not causing her to commit adultery through remarriage—because she already had committed adultery before you divorced her! So when she remarries after you divorced her, she does not become an adulteress because she was already one in marriage. So in that case it is not her former husband’s fault that she became an adulteress. But still there is no permission given for the spouse who was cheated on to remarry, and thus, commit adultery himself. Even Paul’s words in 1 Corinthian 7:15 do not permit remarriage, as is often taught. Paul only permits divorce if an unbelieving spouse choses to divorce the Christian spouse. People interject remarriage into those verses even though it is not in there.) Jesus has a high standard for righteousness! I did not even want to try to attain to it.

But Praise the Lord, the truth that Jesus spoke in Scripture finally got through to me. The Holy Spirit taught me that, not only was repentance mandatory for salvation, but that it was fully possible through faith! The spiritual lightbulb really came on one day when the Lord explained to me that the same faith I had that Jesus died on the cross for my sins—that same level of faith was what I needed to also believe that Jesus was alive in me and making me into a new creature and putting new desires into my heart and mind. So it didn’t take more effort to believe that Jesus was alive in me and changing me from the inside out; it only took a full realization of what He died on the cross to achieve. His death was not only to forgive my past sins, but to free me from the very bondage to sin that causes sin! He died for my spiritual and physical healing as well, and for my sorrows! It doesn’t take MORE faith to believe all that. It only requires that you apply the faith you already have that Jesus is God’s Son and He died for your sins—apply that same faith to MORE promises—ALL the promises in Scripture about Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It is that simple. And it is all through the most child-like faith. The same child-like faith that caused me to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died for my sins when I was four is the same faith I have today that allows me to be free from the bondage and lure of sin. What grace and freedom this faith brings! The devil will keep tempting, but Jesus has won the victory!

Most of my life I believed that I was born again because all the preachers had said I and all the people in our church were born again because we believed that Jesus was the Son of God who died for our sins. But I never felt like a new creature. I did not understand that if you are born again you are different. But now I fully know that I am born again! I am different! And I also know that I was not born again all those years that I was taught I was. I only believed part of the gospel—that Jesus died for my sins. I did not believe or even know the rest of the gospel: that faith in Jesus brought victory over the bondage of sin and all afflictions of the devil. I didn’t know that through faith we change from the inside out. It does not mean that we never fall, but that we are no longer impulsively and helplessly entrapped by the world and its offerings. We are free to rebuke the devil and send him packing any time he harasses with lies or tries to entice us. We are truly free!

Satan has continued to attack me much this year. When I moved and took my latest job I began to struggled with fears, and my testimony was weakened. It was hard for me to pray due to discouragement and a spiritual heaviness that weakened my faith. I had to keep reminding myself that I must fight against the devil in the spirit, not in the flesh. Sometimes the devil will attack by telling us, “You’re not doing enough to spread the gospel. Why don’t you just stick to something you’re good at, like watching TV.” The devil would love for us to lose heart and hide under a rock. I was very tempted to do that this year. But we must keep witnessing and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, even when our efforts seem so pitiful to us. Satan knows that a pitiful effort is more effective than no effort at all. So we must know that too. And in our weakness the Lord is strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9). I know my biggest failing this year was not in failing to witness, but in not praying enough so that Jesus could do the work in me rather than my trying to struggle alone. But He is good and is building my faith once again. Jesus is teaching me not to give up believing that He can do His works in me.

I pray that anyone who reads this testimony will be led by the Holy Spirit into full Truth, knowledge of the gospel and power in Jesus’ name and be led daily into repentance, faith, deliverance, and forgiveness toward others. I pray that through repentance and faith you will be transformed into an obedient servant of the Lord who worships Him in truth and rejects the lies of the devil. I pray that you will be healed from your spiritual and physical infirmities and that His will be done in your life, even when it includes suffering and testing. Amen!

[] Other Works Mentioned

Living Waters by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway, 2008, Zondervan Grand Rapids Michigan.

Placebo by Howard Pittman, 1999, New Philadelphia Publishing House.

Secrets of a Prayer Warrior by Derek Prince, 2009, Chosen: a Division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 


Delivered From Debt: A Christian Testimony

In 2007, Maria Hawke had a personal debt of $59,000. She owed $420 per month in interest alone and owed almost double the amount of her rent to creditors in minimum monthly payments. To make matters worse, she was trapped in part-time employment, unable to earn enough to dig herself out of this financial hole. Maria was a defeated Christian, living in sin and carrying burdens of sorrow and emotional pain that had been a deep part of her life. But the Lord miraculously intervened and took her on a 11 year journey to pay off every cent of her debts, repent of her sins and find true salvation and deliverance. Today she is totally debt free; she has not used credit cards for 11 years. But most importantly, she is saved and living for Jesus!

  • Author: Maria Hawke
  • Published: 2016-01-16 16:40:11
  • Words: 38296
Delivered From Debt:  A Christian Testimony Delivered From Debt:  A Christian Testimony