There were very few people who knew that the sale of our old place in San Pedro was in fact a short sale, and there was a good chunk of those who did know that still didn’t really understand what we were doing. Pretty much everyone knew we were in the process of selling and we were continually fielding questions about how much we were going to make from the sale of our place and what a good investment it had been so many years before.
Would. Coulda. Shoulda.
It has been a little like living a lie these last seven months. It was like we had this dirty little secret and we were sneaking around in the dark attempting to cover our tracks and leave no trace of the awful, shameful lives we had been living.
Five years ago, Sam and I sat down and scrubbed the ruins that had become our financial situation. We prayed earnestly, honestly and fearfully for many days, weeks and months about what to do. We sought solutions and advice from believers and non-believers and sat down with financial advisors who recommended filing for bankruptcy or merely walking away from our home. In the end, Sam and I opted to follow the Lord down a path of an amazing 5 year plan that was equal parts faith and fear, but in the end we are now sitting in a wonderful rental property in which we feel amazingly blessed and wonderfully loved.
We made some mistakes. Scratch that: We made a plethora of mistakes. The story of our downfall is not an original one, as we simply piled up a mountain of debt and signed-up for an ill-advised second mortgage that put a stranglehold on any sort of savings we attempted to set aside. We also refinanced our original mortgage and let’s just say that the adjustable rate had every right to “adjust,” but we were simply overmatched by the heft of the new rate.
Regrettably, very early on in the plan we suffered the tragic loss of my Mom, and if losing her wasn’t enough of a blow to take, the proceeds of my inheritance all went to paying off that mountain of credit card debt I mentioned previously. I know my Mom was always very happy to help her kids in times of trouble – financial or otherwise – but Sam and I struggled to justify trashing her legacy with payments to Amex and other financial institutions. At the end of the day, however, we knew it was the responsible thing to do and sat down to write some tearful checks to creditors.
In year three of our five-year plan the payment on our first doubled, and we soon started to wonder if perhaps the plan was two years too long. Still, we hung on and scrambled to make payments knowing that this was our home and this was our debt. With our credit card payments a thing of the past, we nonetheless lived paycheck to paycheck with Sam magically somehow getting us through the months resisting every temptation to whip out the dreaded credit cards.
Yes, you read that correctly. You’d think that we would’ve learned a lesson once that final Amex payment was mailed, however old habits die-hard, and we still find ourselves – even today – contemplating those plastic beauties that are currently residing in a tea-pot. “Oh the things we could buy!” Yep, it’s a sickness. Still, we managed to avoid using them even though the temptation was (and is) strong.
Toward the end of the third year we again started reviewing the terms of our adjustable rate mortgage and came to the realization that in year five we were going to need to either refinance to remain in our townhouse or be faced with the real possibility of a foreclosure.
The painful reality was that the payment in year five was again going to double. There was no chance of being able to afford that monthly outlay.
If you’ve ever been faced with a scenario where all of your mistakes suddenly form a big, dark wave and that wave begins slowly moving towards you with every intention of crushing you, then you can have some sort of idea of what foreclosure, or at least the thought of foreclosure feels like.
This was our debt, our bad decisions, our financial future and past all staring us down and we were cowering in fear. The prayers continued and we ultimately decided that the right course of action was to once again refinance our place with the prospect of essentially never being able to pay-off the obligation. Sam heard of a creative finance program and decided to make a call to an advisor who had been advertising the plan on the radio. After 15 minutes of conversation with the consultant, Sam became convinced that throwing more money at the sinking ship was clearly not the answer, and that we would need to swallow some pride while taking a leap of faith by putting our place on the market as a short sale.
The thought of walking away from some financial obligations was a sickening one, and a subject that had us on our knees in prayer – for forgiveness and direction – and we were ultimately blessed by a recommendation from Sam’s brother Matt, who told us of his friend Mike Cox, a realtor for Coldwell Banker, and his partner, Kelli Cooper, who just happens to be a short sale expert. A meeting with Mike and Kelli and several reassuring conversations with them later, and we enlisted their expertise to walk us through the short sale process and the place went on the market.
Kelli told us in the beginning that things would progress very slowly at first and that we likely would have many days, perhaps weeks or months when interest would be low, but in the end it would feel like a major sprint to the finish line and she was proved very right in the end, but it was during those super slow times that both Mike and Kelli earned our gratitude. There were days when I was ready to pull the plug on the entire process and there were nights when Sam couldn’t sleep, wondering if the place would sell. God used Mike and Kelli to calm our fears and talk us off the ledge of our apprehensions.
Meanwhile, Sam’s Uncle Sam offered us the chance to rent a place from him in Torrance. Not only was he going to bless us with a roof over our heads but he was also amazingly generous in allowing us to be involved in remodeling many of the rooms of the place we now call home. I’m not certain if Uncle Sam realizes or even believes that God used him to bless us, but we know that He did and will never downplay the miracle of it all.
In the end, Kelli was exactly right and the slow, plodding course of our short sale quickly and wondrously transitioned to a frantic race to the finish line, as an all-cash offer was suddenly on the table for our San Pedro place, and when all the paperwork was completed and the sale finalized, it was slated to close a mere five days after our scheduled move in date.
Any doubts that I had previously about God’s perfect timing were put to rest through this process. I’m not sure why I’m ever surprised by His timing in answer to prayer, as He is proven perfect time and time again.
We’ve been in the new place for almost a month now and I’d love to tell you that we are well on the road to financial recovery, but it is going to take some time.
As we continue to try to balance the books things are still a bit dicey, but we have learned many valuable lessons and feel as though we’ve been given a huge reprieve. Still, when standing at the gas pump there is a strong temptation to fill the tank by way of a plastic card. We have some work to do around the house and thoughts of credit card cash advances dance around in our minds, as we are still prone to desires of instant gratification.
Thankfully the pangs of the Holy Spirit, with reminders of our past mistakes and the folly of such irresponsible thinking – along with helpful friends and family who are holding us accountable – keep us from making the foolish mistakes again.
And what was all the money spent on anyway? It’s all just stuff. Stuff that we now find in boxes in our new garage. Stuff that we are bagging and dropping off at Goodwill. Just stuff.
This morning I was lamenting another batch of stuff that was piled up in the van for another ride to Goodwill. Sam had taken the kids out to run some errands and mentioned that there were many garage sales in the area today and jokingly asked if perhaps we couldn’t see about dropping the stuff in the van at one of these sales on consignment. I took the idea to heart, but had another thought: Why not just make a big sign that read FREE STUFF and just put all of it on the end of the driveway to see if anyone would take it. Sure, why not.
Well, as you might imagine, all of it was gone, loaded into a guy’s truck before the ink on the sign was even dry.
Our “stuff” was gone, symbolic of our issues and worries. In the blink of an eye, and part of God’s perfect timing, stuff that had represented our old way of thinking was out of our lives and driving away never to be seen again.
When I went out to retrieve the sign I noticed that the guy had failed to take an old phone that was a random component of a box of stuff that had been placed outside.
I looked at the phone and wondered what credit card we’d used to purchase it.
I wondered how many creditors had called that phone demanding payment.
I was so thankful that those days were over. Thankful for the realization that stuff is just stuff and nothing more. Not to be cherished or coveted. Just stuff.