In Memory of Bill
For seven years I’ve been debt-free. No credit-card debt, no school loans, no mortgage… nothing.
I might not be in this uniquely un-American state of being if it was not for my friend Bill.
Growing up, Bill and his wife Linda were pillars in the little church I attended with my parents. Linda taught my Sunday school class and put up with more than her fair share of trouble from me. If you think I’m crazy now… well, as a kid I was really… different.
Bill was a deacon. He ended up a deacon because he was already doing everything a deacon would do. If something needed doing, he’d probably already done it. He would grin at you as he hauled out a bag of trash or stacked tables, or shake your hand and ask how you were when you walked in. He was always laughing, too. To be around the guy was to feel lightened in spirit.
What does this have to do with my being debt-free?
A decade ago I was in rough shape financially. I had been freelancing in radio production work and as the economy tanked, so did one contract after another. I was left with very little. Rachel and I owned a small house in Tennessee which I had rented out to a friend while I was living near family in Florida. When I lost my work, I couldn’t keep up with the rent on my own house in Ft. Lauderdale so I moved into a trailer park… and then the “friend” who was renting my little house in Tennessee quit paying rent and wouldn’t answer calls. Instead of talking through whatever was keeping him from paying up, he sent me an email threatening legal action against me. Without that rent money, I couldn’t cover the mortgage on that house – and I could barely cover the rent on our trailer!
I was in trouble. Rachel and I had just had a baby – which was also expensive – and things were very stressful. One day I called Bill to say hi and we ended up having a conversation about faith. He told me that he also had been in debt once and simply decided to pray that God would pay it off. Bill had done so, and after some months of praying, out of the blue a man wrote a check and paid off his mortgage.
Personally, I thought that was rather presumptuous. Just… ask God if He would pay off my debt? But… I decided, why not? The worst that could happen was God wouldn’t do it, right?
So I started praying. Bill’s direct and simple approach seemed as good as any option. But… I didn’t end up debt-free right away.
A friend stopped by the house in Tennessee for me and said “David – guess what? The house is empty!” At that point, I decided I needed to cut my losses in Florida and go back to Tennessee with Rachel and our young children… so we moved back into the little rental house. The bathroom floor had half rotted out and a few things needed repair, but it was cozy.
And I kept praying. And I decided I wouldn’t take on another penny of debt for any reason.
A couple of years later, along came the Nashville flood. Though we were outside the city, the rush of water through the drainage channel behind our house turned into a rushing brown torrent and destroyed years worth of soil-building. I had a foot of mulch, garden beds, planters, a bridge… all swept away and ripped down to the subsoil.
I told Rachel “I’m done! It’s over! We’re outta here!”
And that Monday, I listed the house for sale.
Eventually, it sold and we moved back to Florida, this time settling in a rental house in Citra. Now we were debt-free and we had come out ahead a little bit thanks to the house sale, but we owned nothing. I was not making much money still but I was doing okay. And we had a few more children. And I really wanted some land to call our own… but the money I had in the bank was less than half the cost of a cheap house.
And I kept praying.
Then – out of the blue – we found out that Rachel’s aunt had set aside money for Rachel in a college fund which had never been claimed. Rachel had used some of it for college but thought it was empty. It wasn’t. In fact, there was $41,000 dollars in the account!
We were blown away. All the time I had been praying, there was already a provision laid up for us.
Rachel claimed the money and along with what we had made off the sale of our cottage in Tennessee, we had just about $75,000. We looked at a foreclosure that was listed for $109,000 and liked it, so I offered $50k, much to the chagrin of my real estate agent, who didn’t want to insult the listing agent. “Just offer it,” I said, and she did.
The listing agent was angry about the low offer, but presented it to the bank anyhow. Lo and behold, they came back with a counter offer of $85,000. I told them there was no way I could do that and I offered $65,000.
And… they came back with a counter of $75,000.
I was debt-free and owned a home. Granted, I had scrimped and saved for years and had killed all debt except for mortgage debt… but God had done the rest and more than we could have saved. And Bill was the one who said, “just pray!”
I called him after buying the house and shared the story. He laughed and wasn’t surprised at all.
That’s a man of faith for you. I’m always surprised when things work out well. He wasn’t.
Back in time a little further…
I grew up with Bill’s daughter AZ. She’s maybe 2-3 years younger than me and was cute and slender. We never dated, though, and I met Rachel when I was 20 and never looked back.
After bringing Rachel along to church with me a few times, Bill pulled me aside between services, his hand on my shoulder.
“What are your intentions with that girl?”
“Rachel?” I asked, taken aback. “Well, I like her a lot. I’d like to marry her.”
He shook his head at me. “David, come ON!” he exclaimed. “What about AZ???”
He looked at me like I had completely let him down.
“I can’t BELIEVE you!” he said.
I never knew I was supposed to marry his daughter… and by the time I did, I was way too in love with Rachel. If you’re reading this, AZ, I am sorry you missed the chance to marry the most handsome gardening author in the tropics.
As Bill got older, he became sick with a degenerative disease that really took its toll on him. He spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. When I was in town, I would sometimes see him at church or go visit. Linda would tell me to stop making jokes and making up ridiculous songs on the piano, though, as I would get Bill laughing so hard he’d start losing his breath.
On the 24th of February, Bill’s breath finally did give out and he left this world for the next. He was with family when he died and he left behind his wonderful wife plus loving children and grandchildren.
I miss you brother, but we shall meet again. You shared the faith that helped me pay off my debt to the bank… but to you I owe a debt I cannot repay.
Have a blessed Lord’s Day, everyone.
* * *
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you[a] and watch.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.
-Psalm 5, ESV