The Gift of a Crisis
It was the worst day of my life. Not one of the worst days. Not a day where not one thing seems to go right. Worse than that.
Worse than any day I’d ever experienced before that day, worse than any day since. And I would say that like most people, I’ve had some real doozies.
I was in crisis, the kind that took my breath away and made me believe I had no hope. My world crashed.
We were four months behind on our mortgage. All of the credit accounts were maxed to the hilt, and beyond. We had bills on top of bills, collections up the wazoo. We had no money and worse, no jobs. Not one between us. Nothing coming in. I hate to tell you even how much credit-card debt I’d run up and the size of our mortgage and automobile leases. It was really, really bad.
This was not a crisis that developed overnight. It started gradually, of course.
Not many people start out in financial trouble. Neither did I. It happened quite innocently, really.
Over the years, one thing led to another, and the whole thing began to speed up. I always told myself everything would work out. Somehow it would. It had to.
But it didn’t.
Instead, the proverbial perfect storm gathered despite all of my brilliant plans, schemes, and dreams. I thought I had it all under control. But I didn’t.
I couldn’t stop it. It brought me down to a very deep and dark place. It changed my life.
My worst day happened more than 30 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday. That’s how much it has not faded, how poignant it remains to this day.
Only recently, have I come to terms with that time in my life. I’ve peeled away the shame, sorrow, and guilt.
Do you know what I’ve found under all of that? Joy, peace, and gratitude for the crisis.
I can see the beauty that came out of my broken heart. The crisis was a gift. Like a skilled surgeon, it cut deep to remove the fantasies, lies and deceit. Becoming real was hard and painful. A lot of good things are.
I’m told that “crisis” comes from the Greek word meaning to sift or separate. Have you ever sifted sand at the beach looking for that perfect shell or panned for gold? Sifted through a vacuum cleaner bag to find a lost earring or diamond? Searched through bags of garbage in a landfill looking for something you lost that is so precious? That’s the picture.
My crisis removed the fakery. It ripped away the sham that made people think we had it all together. Credit has a way of letting us build false lives that look good, but are like a movie set. It’s a nice front, but that’s about all.
Are you facing a crisis today? I have been where you are. I’ve lived through this day—the day you woke up terrified. I understand. I get it.
I may not share the details of your crisis because every situation is different. But I know where you are. You’re confused. You think this is the worst day of your life. But you’re wrong.
This is the best day of your life because you’re about to find out what’s real. You have been handed the gift of crisis.
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I am so grateful for the crisis that picked me up, slammed me to the ground and left me for dead. It woke me up in the most unloving way possible. But I woke up.
I can mark on the calendar the day that happened. And I could show you the day that we paid off the very last dollar of credit-card debt some 13 years later.
I could point to the last day of January 2014 when my husband and I became completely and totally mortgage-free—owners of the most beautiful home I have ever seen. I say that because for the first time we are homeowners, not only home buyers.
We are debt-free. We have no mortgage. We owe nothing to anyone except for a huge debt of gratitude.
That is a debt I will never be able to repay fully. But I plan never to stop trying.
Debt of gratitude–how lovely. Thanks.
I totally agree…suffering is necessary and very beautiful. And we all do it on this earth. Thanks Mary!
So what, exactly, did you do on that worst day? With no money, no jobs, no credit? What was the first thing you were able to do?
Mary Pat, I came to the end of myself. I was out of hope, no place to turn. I was out of options, certain my husband would leave me, take the kids. I was empty. And that’s exactly how I needed to be for God to get my attention. I am ashamed still that it took that level of nothingness in my self for me to look up. It was like the floodlights of heaven shone into my deep dark soul and it was ugly. I saw for the first time what I’d done to my husband, our family—our lives. How could anyone ever trust me again. And that’s when I recalled all of the Scripture I’d learned as a child—it flooded into my mind. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us … ” “My grace is sufficient!” … “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart!” I’d learned 100s of verses, but they’d never penetrated my heart, until then. Basically, I surrendered. I gave my heart, soul, and mind to God, through his son Jesus Christ. I asked God to forgive me and to change me! It was a long, amazing, joyful journey back and that’s the short version of how my crises has become one of my greatest gifts.
Your story is very inspirational. Thanks.
Isn’t it funny how we all vividly remember that crisis moment when we say “Enough!” Mine occurred broken down in a parking lot 1000 miles away from home, a car engine that quit, 2 small scared babies, and my husband and I not even having enough money to rent a car, and no hope of plane tickets or money to fix said car. Thank God for family, but at 35 years old it is embarrassing to have to ask for help. Within 2 months of that disaster we had read your books, put an envelope system in place, and I went back to school for a year to get a teaching degree. 5 years from that date we had paid off all of our enormous student loans, and now 8 years on we are almost debt free. We can gain control of our own lives, but it takes commitment and work. Thank you Mary for sharing your story with us.
Wow … I am so proud of you Holly. And thrilled by your tenacity and perseverence. And to see your debt-free day in clear view ahead is so exciting! Thanks for letting me know!
What did you do to start getting out of the crisis? We are there and I have no clue where to begin. Help please!
Kristen, Send me a private message by clicking on “Ask Mary a Question” above.
Cut out anything you can that you don’t have a contract with–cable tv, phones, internet—absolutely everything. Yes, it’s drastic, but I know from experience that it works.
So where you are now is where we were Dec. 2017 — and then a health crisis hit drastically changing income. Our savings is nearly depleted (will be gone in two months if I figure things correctly). Our credit cards remain currently paid off (never carried a balance on them for all of our 42 years together). Our house, paid off six years ago, is our only future source of income (because retirement income doesn’t cut it and hubby didn’t believe in investing). We have been hit with a septic system failure; we now have no choice but to tap into the house’s value for the repair (because you can’t even sell a house “as is” without a functioning waste disposal system). All that to say, just because you are good now, doesn’t mean life won’t throw you a curve ball and change it all.
Perhaps you should get some sound advice regarding a “reverse mortgage.” What you have shared leads me to believe you may be a good candidate for this kind of relief.
Have you ever seen the movie “The Ultimate Gift”? Reminds me a little of your story. The grandpa arranges a bunch of scenarios for his grandson before he can inherit his money, and one of the scenarios involves him losing EVERYTHING and starting from scratch. Great movie; I show it to my financial literacy students.
Thanks tboofy. I need to see this movie now. For anyone else interested, I googled the movie quickly. It’s based on a novel, same name, by Jim Stovall.
Sorry, but the worst day of you life is the day you bury your child.
Kay, I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine the death of a child, something I have not experienced. My point is not to upstage anyone’s crises, but rather suggest that crises, even horrific tragedies, in our lives can either make us bitter or make us better. For me the worst day of my life was the catalyst that would go on to change my life forever and make it so much better.
In no way do I fell you were upstage anything. You have reinforced making a crisis into a growing and learning experience and have passed on the lessons learned. How better to live than to keep others from the pain of your mistakes. Losing something that absolutely cannot be replaced teaches us to be acutely aware of the things that we can change and your hints are your gift to us all.
I thank you everyday Mary for your crisis because it helped me to face mine and start to get out of it. Thanks for bringing dark debt into the light of day. You give the best gift anyone could ever want… HOPE!