Let me start off by saying how much of an honor it is for me to be able to stand in as a guest contributor to the Fun, Finances and Foolery blog. My name is Ian Garland, a very proud cousin and friend of Denée Reaves. My appearing as a guest blogger all began with one of our irregular update calls in which I was simply filling her in on some changes happening in our family.
This may be the first time that she hears this from me, but Denée has been a major source of inspiration and encouragement concerning financial stewardship and discipline. She doesn’t say a whole lot, but her example and consistency have both impressed and impacted me for many years. What was so inspiring to me was that we were introduced to life-changing financial principles the very same day, but I witnessed Denée do the hard work to implement those principles and take ownership of her financial future while I struggled to put forth the same effort and embrace the same sacrifice.
I want you to know that I am just an ordinary person who lives life according to the compass of the Bible. I believe it is the greatest source of truth, and if mined, one will unearth treasures of wisdom that will impact both physical and spiritual life. The Bible touches on nearly every subject, condition, and emotion known to man, money not being the least of these. Where my family and I are in our financial life is owed, not to a pattern of discipline in meticulous budgeting and accounting, or even a steady pattern of consistent sacrifice, but to the grace of God and living out my value of putting God first. We have felt as if we were living under a cloud of financial pressure that might never go away, but in remaining faithful to the supreme value of putting God above all else in our lives, we saw him make a way where there shouldn’t have been a way. Now we are living in blue skies.
You see, at one point my motivation for financial freedom was simply to build wealth for wealth’s sake. I wanted to obtain a level of financial freedom that would absolve any practical worries. However, I found that this was not a great enough motivation to keep us consistent in the disciplines that would bring our desired ends to pass. What my wife Annie and I are deeply motivated by is living to serve and to invest the best of our time, our talent, and our treasure into enriching the spiritual lives of others. We have felt a shift in our priorities over the last several years including an increasing call to minister full-time even though we were both deeply entrenched and thriving in our separate careers. Opportunities for advancement and growth were readily available, but still, there was no greater fulfillment than investing in the lives of others.
We knew that one day our present path would come to an end, and we would transition into the ministry, so we began to view everything we committed ourselves to and all the decisions that we made considering the call of God. This included getting serious about our finances, especially knowing that this transition would significantly impact not only our regular income but also our future planning both for ourselves and our children. We devoted ourselves to doing everything that we could to diminish our debt, increase our savings, and reinforce good financial habits. In a little under two years, we paid off $20,000 in debt with much more still to go.
During this time, we sold the house and used the proceeds from that house to purchase another home that we were told would not increase in valuation. It was not the home that we dreamed of, but our objective was not to live lavishly; our objective was to bring our finances more into alignment with where we felt God was taking us. In moving, we reduced our mortgage payment and contented ourselves with an older house knowing that we were after something much more important to us than material gain. However, mere days into living there an unforeseeable problem began to arise with the house that began to impact our quality of life. Certainly, we had no plans to move just yet, but little did we know God was orchestrating plans that we were completely unaware of and this house played a major role in the unfolding of those plans.
It was suggested to me that selling our house could be profitable given the current market. We prayed and consulted with those whom we trust about our impending decision whether or not to sell, and it became clear that moving forward was the right thing to do. Not only was selling the right thing to do, but not buying right away and instead renting would put us where we needed to be. It would allow us time to save money and look to buy another home when the market was more favorable for buyers. We didn’t realize that we were being positioned to answer the call of God. But then one Sunday as we were in service, a thought came to my mind, of which I am convinced was divine direction: “what if I positioned you in the housing marketplace at this time so that you can fulfill the calling that I have upon your life.” All of a sudden everything made sense and the great purpose behind us moving was revealed. Selling the house was never about getting a bigger or better house, rather it was about freeing ourselves from the financial limitations that would have strained our ability to wholeheartedly say yes to the calling of God.
Only a week later, we received a call from our pastor requesting to meet with us. In that meeting, he shared with us a dream that we had been praying about for the last year. He and his wife had been praying about the needs of the church and specifically have been praying about bringing us on board to serve on the ministerial team full-time. With our house under contract and the clarity that, at settlement, we could pay off all of our remaining debts, have 3 to 6 months of income saved, and be able to rent in a desirable location that would allow us to save the majority of our income, we knew that this was God’s divine direction for our lives. As a result, we were able to say yes to the calling whole-heartedly, with no financial concern or mourning over the end of my secular career. This moment was all about stepping into our created purpose, and living in our value of putting God first. There was no position, achievement, or material gain that could have had a greater pull on us.
Having sold the house and wiped the financial slate clean, we have been emboldened to be even more disciplined in our finances by automating our savings, continuing to find ways to reduce our monthly expenses, shopping secondhand as often as possible and hiring a wealth manager to continue future planning. While answering the call to full-time ministry seemed like it was going to be a material sacrifice, it has opened the door of both material and spiritual blessing. We feel like we are back in control of our finances. We feel the peace and liberty to move forward and make decisions without our past trailing behind us. We are optimistic about our children’s future and sharing our testimony of God's faithfulness in finances with them. As we put God first with our motives and actions, he performed a miracle in our lives and moved a mountain that we thought was immovable.
Our values to serve God and his people never took a backseat to the pursuit of wealth. We committed ourselves to be ready to respond to the calling of God before we knew that an opportunity to do so would come to fruition even in the next decade. We never stopped giving sacrificially, we never stopped ministering to others over meals that we technically should not have paid for. We never stopped participating in the work of God when others might have suggested that we pick up a second job. Our values remained consistent, and we were content not to ever achieve our financial goals if it meant not putting God first in everything. It is more clear to us now than it ever has been before that indeed when you put God first you will always be taken care of.
So I ask, in your pursuit of financial freedom what could happen if you remained true to your values? What unexpected possibilities open up when you courageously live in them? I encourage you to try it and find out.