Friday, March 21, 2014

"I Will Praise You" - Music Friday!

(This post is rather is at the bottom!)
There's not very much to share with you as far as the story behind this song. I don't remember it and my journals are all packed up. Yes, we are in the middle of moving. Three weeks ago, moving was the last thing I imagined I'd be doing right now!

So, I will tell you the story behind our move instead, because it kind of fits in with today's song, being a praise and worship song. And this move is really a blessing that we didn't see coming. And if you can't see how this story has anything to do with the song, that's okay. Just go with it. ;)

(If you're a close friend, you've probably already have heard all this, so just skip it!)

A few years back, 2007 to be exact, before the economy went downhill (we all remember that, right?), my husband and I pursued the ultimate dream of independence and wealth and opened a restaurant. That was stupid, we know. And to add to our stupidity we took out a huge business loan to embark on this venture. My husband's main motive was to get out of debt. Yeah. Get in a lot more debt to get out of the little debt you're in. Smart. It sounded smart at the time when we looked at numbers from other stores and my husband made the business plan. Really, it did. A no-fail plan.

Everything was inflated and the expenses for build out were crazy because everything was expensive then and our home was worth twice as much as it had been when we had bought it in 2001. Do you want to guess what we did? Maybe you're afraid to. I understand. Prepare yourself...

We took out a home equity line of credit and paid off a good chunk of the business loan. We defied those naysayers that said your first year in the restaurant business was your worst. They were so wrong! Our first year was phenomenal! We did awesome! We were the star store of Arizona! Woohoo! We were successful! Ha!

And then the economy tanked. And people stopped eating out so often. And having our own business wasn't quite so appealing anymore. The reality of actually owning our own business crashed down on us, especially my husband who managed it. The hiring and firing, the endless training (there was always someone to train), the constant employee drama (there was a drug ring among some of our employees, would you believe it?!), the dwindling profit, the never-ending work that had to be done all the time, and to add to all that, the huge burden of the debt we were in.

By the grace of God, we sold that store at the end of 2010. Yes, we took a BIG loss. But it was enough to pay off the rest of the business loan and now we only had the mortgage for our house and the HELOC. "Only" isn't the best word to use, but in light of having three loans, two was better. I should add that before we sold the store, Gary had hired a manager and God had graciously provided Gary with another job in the field that he left (to open this lovely business), so we had a steady income with which we were able to cover the payments for these two loans.

A couple of years ago, our family went through a financial seminar and we were able to see, from scripture, that debt was wrong. We had always known that to a degree, but we had never considered a mortgage a "real" debt until we really examined the scriptures and the math. You pay for that house a few times with a mortgage! Goodness!

God greatly impressed on our hearts to get out of debt. And so we diligently stuck with it. We had learned to live on less in the lean months from the store before my husband had gotten another job, so we continued that lifestyle and the rest of the money went toward our debt. Last year, we paid off the mortgage for the house. We were down one with one to go!

My husband is a numbers man and he estimated we would be able to be completely out of debt and have the HELOC paid off in six to seven years. That seemed so far away, but we have been keeping at it. You feel like you're digging a tunnel through a mountain with a shovel, or maybe even a spoon. Slowly.

And then, about three weeks ago, my daughter answered the phone and took a message from the bank where we have the HELOC. After family prayer on a Monday night, my husband said rather casually, "Oh, I called that lady back and our HELOC is maturing in May." Um...!!!!! Apparently, because of changes that the Obama administration has made to these loans, our terms have suddenly changed and $100,000+ is due in May. Um, yeah. Thanks for giving us two months to cough that up. haha!

My husband and I spent some time discussing the situation that evening and the next day. It got us thinking. Really, it was just a push from the Lord in the direction He was wanting us to go in. We, as a family, have made a decision to not get into any more debt. Although we could renew the HELOC (and actually we will to protect the house in case it doesn't sell by May), we didn't have the peace about continuing to stay in debt. It didn't take long for us to arrive at a decision that we both knew was right: Sell our house, pay off the HELOC and rent. NO MORE DEBT!

We decided that if we were going to go to the trouble of moving, we wanted to move into something bigger. We are a family of six in a three-bedroom home right now with 1365 sq. ft. We are very thankful for our current house and have found creative ways to make it work for us. My husband has gone crazy with adding storage wherever he has been able to. And the truth is, we could keep living here and we would be happy. We were quite prepared to stay in this house for a number of years and pay off the HELOC little by little. But God has decided to move us into something bigger that will meet our needs better in this season of our life.

We looked at a few homes that very same week, but none were right for us. Toward the end of the week, we looked at one more. It was incredible! Gary called about it and got the initial papers turned in along with the processing fee. We found out we were first in line and there were other people after us interested in it. God literally led us to this house and everything went through and we our move in date is April 1st.

No joke, guys, this all happened so fast, we were just shocked! I mean, it was basically one week and everything was in place for a completely new direction for our lives. When God wants to move (or wants you to move, literally!), He will make it happen!

So that is the crazy story of our life right now! I am so blessed by what God has done and is doing and how He has led us. A year ago, I would be bummed out about all this. I would be focusing on everything that I'm losing. But I am so thankful to see how God has been slowly changing how I look at things and that I have been able to see how He is blessing us at this very moment through this circumstance. It amazes me how good He is!

I hope you enjoy this simple praise and worship song. May each one of you see the marvelous work of God in your lives, even in the things that don't look great at first glance. God is worthy of everything we can offer Him! Have a blessed day!

All glory to Jesus,

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"In the Middle" - Story Behind the Song

(Song is at the bottom if you're in a hurry!)

Image credit: "In the Middle II" by flickr user Hartwig HKD
CC license:

This song...I don't remember what was going on when I wrote it. The only clues I have are from my journal and that year, we had opened up a restaurant. I had concerns over that. I see that I wrote about being in a wilderness of sorts and that I was asking God to help me not look at my circumstances. But perhaps the most telling is this entry from just four days after writing this song:

8/9/07   "I had to trim my tomato plants a couple of days ago. The plants were growing so wild and the weight from the tops of them was bringing the whole plant down upon itself. In trimming it, I had to cut off parts of the plant that had very small, very dwarfed tomatoes. These tomatoes would have never reached their full potential. Instead, they would have matured into fruit that could not have been used and in addition to this, the energy and resources that went into them would have taken away from the rest of the plant.
   Last night, I was contemplating this, as sometimes it is the same in my own life. God does pruning and I look at the pile of trimmings and there is dwarfed fruit in the pile. I complain to the Lord, pointing out that there is 'fruit after its own kind' in the pile. It's true that since it is fruit that should be there, it is therefore arguably 'good' fruit. But what if this supposedly 'good' fruit would never reach its full potential, that it would never be used; that instead, its only purpose was to suck life out of the plant and the rest of the good fruit. It shouldn't remain.
   I don't know if I'm fully grasping the entire message in this picture, but I do know it has helped me see more about God's pruning. I tend to lose heart during that process. In actuality, the Lord is really narrowing my focus to the fruit that will completely mature and be useful. God is much more aware of the fact that chaff will be burned up; the excess that cannot be used will be destroyed.
   Thank God that He takes the time now to trim us! If He waited until the end of this age, there would be a great deal of 'waste'. He certainly has our best interest in mind when He prunes us!"

   And that, my friends, is the story behind this song, "In the Middle". I was in the middle of struggling with God over my situation at the time, but it doesn't take long to realize that it's simply useless to struggle with God. What good does it do? And why do we think we know better?

   As I'm in the middle of another situation that is difficult, I find encouragement in these past experiences and my heart takes comfort in being reminded that God is my Father, He loves me, He wants to prosper me and do me good. I'm learning to surrender. I'm learning to say "thank you" with each snip of the pruning shears, even though it's painful. I'm learning to love those dear hands that are molding me - a lifeless, dull, ugly lump of clay - into a vessel that the Potter can use in His house, though they may work me in a way that doesn't make sense or is uncomfortable. Yes, I am learning. Praise God for being such a patient teacher.

   I leave you with the verse that was written along with the journal entry I shared with you.

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
James 1:2-4

All glory to Jesus,