Monday, December 1, 2014

Beauty From Ashes

We all have a story to tell. Today, I'd like to tell you Kathy's. It's a little long, because it encompasses both a spiritual renewal and a financial one. But they go together, and I hope that you'll stay with us here.

I've known Kathy for many years; our kids went to school together and we went to church together. Kathy was married at the age of 16, when she discovered that she was pregnant. Back in the 1970s, that was a bigger deal than it is today. She got married, had her baby, and finished high school. But she felt afraid, ashamed and alone. She met Jesus not long after that at a youth retreat. She says this: 

Looking back, I can see that God had His hand on my life even before I really knew Him. He was establishing endurance, perseverance and strength in me because He knew what I would need for what was ahead.

What was ahead was a long road, typical of two young teenagers trying to get on their feet while caring for a growing family; a long road of financial insecurity and instability and frequent moves (12 times in 10 years). A feeling of constant crisis. But Kathy, like many of us when we're young, desperately desired love and acceptance. She was in rebellion, not unlike most teenagers, and she mistakenly thought that getting married and having children would somehow make her all grown up, fixing everything she was running away from. 

Kathy had four more children, and was a stay-at-home mom up until her youngest was 2 years old. It was then that she began to help supplement their income with jobs from child or elder care to pet and house care; whatever odd jobs she could find helping families. Over the last 25 years, Kathy has worked with over 85 families! 

Kathy didn't drive. She walked or took the train. Kathy didn't have a checkbook. She payed her bills with money orders. She never asked for a handout; she was always willing to work, and God always seemed to provide what she needed, from a car to groceries. 

She prayed, immersed herself in the Word of God and listened to the advice she received from the respected deacons and elders at church. She raised her children the best she could, attended support groups and sang praise songs while she walked to her jobs.

Almost twenty years ago, Kathy went to a retreat that changed her life. At that retreat, she read a verse from Isaiah:

"Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband-the Lord Almighty is his name-the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit-a wife who married young, only to be rejected." says your God. "For a brief moment, I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back." (Isaiah 54: 4-7)

This was so freeing because I felt so forgiven from my choices of when I was 16. I felt so loved by the Lord and knew that He saw the way the marriage was. Because I felt abandoned, rejected, deserted and distressed at the time, I felt that Jesus could really see inside my heart and really cared. He was compassionate and would take me back despite my wrongs. That night at the retreat, at the age of 40, the heavy cloak that I had worn since I was 16 was finally taken off of me.  What a heavy weight I had carried! After that night, it was as if the Lord sent so many resources into my life to start helping.

Kathy made the decision to stop being a victim and start living victoriously. She started to give seriously and cheerfully back to the church what they had so graciously given her.

The Lord brought change in me and gave me answers of what and why there were issues. He gave me courage to learn healthy boundaries that I never knew to have. People around me may get mad at me or be mean to me because they are seeing me change, and they don't like that. 

When Kathy was 46 years old, her husband passed away. She continued to chop away at the mound of debt they had both incurred throughout the years, but now she was doing it alone.

With the encouragement of people in her church family, Kathy stepped out of her fear and got a driver's license, then a car and finally, a checkbook. She took a course by  Dave Ramsey and began to apply the principles taught by him, using the "envelope system."

Simply put, the envelope system is just that. It uses a series of envelopes labeled for each bill or financial obligation you have for the month. As Kathy gets paid (she now has a full-time job with benefits), she slips the necessary cash into the envelope and puts it aside for when it's due. Used correctly, the envelope system actually frees the individual from financial bondage. 

Kathy uses this system for everything from groceries and haircuts to saving for things like unseen car expenses. She paid off a five year car loan in three years and learned that getting out of debt can be accomplished by consistently sticking with the plan. Her diligence in blessing God through her continual tithing and giving back has resulted in blessings like a larger apartment with lower rent and securing jobs which include meals. She even has a healthy retirement fund started. 

The envelope system works because I am not in panic mode as much and I don't live on impulse spending. I have learned to practice waiting so much throughout my life so this system works for me. I don't feel restricted; in fact I feel more relaxed. I find that it keeps money running away from me. I am in control of my money rather than my money controlling me.

What prompted me to share her story is that a few weeks ago, Kathy shared with a group of us that she looked at her checkbook recently and saw "too many zeros."  She went over and over and over each financial obligation and realized that she had been doing such a great job of allocating her money, that she actually had extra! She laughed at the irony, the craziness and the sheer joy of this! This was a first and cause for celebration!

I have grown to realize that in the face of any hopeless situation, hope is there, even if I did not always feel it.  God can take the sour and bitter things in my life and blend them into something that smells and tastes as sweet as honey.

All of the struggles and the trials have been used to know a God of compassion, a God who walked beside me, who gave me so many amazing ways out and rescued me as he pulled me out of the pit. Some days, I didn't know how I would live to another day and when that happened, he always showered me with strength so I could make it to another day.

I have had the privilege of watching Kathy transform from a fearful, insecure and dependent mom, who must have felt trapped, into a confident and secure woman of God, who knows that her freedom comes not from being independent, but dependent on a faithful God who supplies all her needs, and even some of her wants!

I asked her what advice she would give to a woman in her predicament, and she told me this:

When you have a relationship with the Lord, He forgives you and helps you with new mercies every morning. If you seek Jesus in each day, you will see Him in all  of your yesterdays, knowing that He was always there and you were always in His care.

You go girl!

Blessings Along the Path,

sharing with Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Good Morning Mondays, Testimony Tuesday


  1. Mary, this is truly such a wonderful story and one that can bring hope to so many people. I have heard many wonderful things about David Ramsey's program. They actually hold his seminar at our church once or twice a year and the next time it comes around I hope to attend with my husband.
    Basically though, I am praising God for how He transforms, provides and so much more.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. Thanks, Beth. I adopted some of Dave Ramsey's principles in order to pay off debt (and it's a slow process, but it's working), but Kathy is really dedicated! What a transformation. I love to see that. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Thank you for sharing Kathy's inspirational story. I am so thankful that God works in our life taking away our fear as we learn to lean on him.

  4. What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing it at Good Morning Mondays. There is beauty in the ashes as God refines us and brings us to himself. Blessings