Remembering my home life as a kid, paralyzed by constant insecurity, I know you don’t have to be rich to be obsessed with your financial situation. People who don’t have any money tend to be just as fixated on material matters as people who have lots of money. The reasons are different, but the problem is the same.
After all, everything written on the subject of investing or wealth management or financial independence seemed to be speaking someone else’s language—someone who knew stuff I didn’t and had resources I couldn’t access, apparently. From what I could tell, I must be too stupid. I probably didn’t have enough money to bother, anyway. The stock market’s made for rich people, right? Those who invest are those who have money to invest. And that wasn't me.
My favorite part about the gospel story is seeing how Jesus elevates the poor and the hurting—how in God’s economy, utmost value is given to the people no one values. Of course, I’m biased… but so is everyone else, one way or another.
The point is, right from the beginning of the first gospel, as soon as Matthew starts laying out the record of Jesus’ ancestors, the account sweeps us up in a socioeconomic saga. Here are tales of power and poverty, class and clashes, generosity and generational dysfunction. We see prisoners becoming rulers, prostitutes becoming heroes, overlooked young boys becoming kings, disgraced teenage girls becoming saints, and a quiet tradesman becoming the Savior of the world.
Across this list of names from ancient history, we see great wealth and wretched loss, astounding rises and crushing failures, great honor and deep shame, excellent role models and major moral disasters. Most genealogies of the time would leave a lot of these people out—but that’s part of what makes this story so compelling. From a kingdom perspective, the misfits are named right next to the blessed.
Of course, in order to see all of that, I had to get to know the whole story. Angered by growing up in a physically and psychologically abusive home, I’d turned away from God very deliberately at the age of 11—and the years to come would show for it. For 15 years of my life, I loathed mentions of church and avoided Christians like pathogens.
Yet in that long season of spiritual crisis, I always knew I was “searching for something.” I read about world religions, studied discussion forums, debated in chat rooms, and interrogated clergy about their belief systems, looking for a faith that fit me. That, I eventually realized, was the problem—any faith that fit me back then would’ve been a terribly sick and self-absorbed faith indeed.
Along the way, while bitterly denouncing biblical advice in public, I privately picked up the bible a hundred times, determined that this time, I was going to read it all the way through and finally figure out all of those answers that were supposed to be in there. Every time, I made it about as far as Noah’s genealogy in the Old Testament before I closed the book and walked away, shaking my head and thinking, This has nothing to do with my life.
In a way, the same sort of limited thinking is what prevented me, til the ripe old age of 36, from embracing financial independence as an attainable reality in my life. We all know there are the haves, and there are the have-nots. Jesus Himself says, "The poor you will always have with you."
At every stage of my life, even back when I inexplicably worked in a lucrative field where my career had taken off, I’d always lived paycheck to paycheck, struggling to get by. When my income increased, my debt load increased with it, as I followed blindly along with my Millennial cohorts, conditioned for chasing endless financing options in our pursuit of a baseline standard of living most of us never consciously chose for ourselves to begin with.
In mid-2011, after my life crashed and burned, I filed bankruptcy and discharged more than $80,000 in debt I couldn’t afford in the middle of a divorce—an overwhelming black hole of everything I owed, with nothing to show for it. Through that experience, and my process of 12-Step spiritual recovery which began around the same time, I finally saw how much I’d wasted, burning up time, energy, and resources to keep up with a way of life I never actually wanted in the first place.
Much to my back-country hillbilly family’s horror and bewilderment, I walked away from everything, starting over from scratch and taking nothing with me. There began my liberation—fresh soil for the planting of countercultural seeds, sprouting new growth from healthier roots. After I lost everything, I realized a core principle which would inform all of my interactions with material things from that point forward: The more I have, the more I have to hold me back.
Left to my own devices, I’d be perfectly happy living in a camper out in the driveway at my family’s old farm place. And if I still lived a single life, with no one but me, myself, and I affected by my decisions, I probably would.
But I met a man in recovery who had the guts to invite me back to church with him while he was on his own path next to church. That man became my husband a couple of years later, after we were baptized together. And that meant I had to think of somebody else besides myself again.
So, like millions of other married and remarried couples across time immemorial, my husband and I are still—seven years later—learning how to navigate a bizarre mishmash between each other’s ever-growing and shifting values, goals, experiences, motivations, attitudes, mistakes, and do-overs, all in an insane attempt to channel two completely different, highly dysfunctional human beings toward a unity of purpose in our actions and intents, for the sake of a mutually satisfactory shared reality that will somehow manage to endure for our lifetimes and, hopefully, generations to come.
As Jesus told HIs disciples when they basically said His idea of marriage was crazy: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Which brings me back to the gospel of Matthew, and all the other “impossible” stories represented by the names listed on page one in Jesus’ given genealogy. I’d struggled for years to understand how the pieces fit into place. I’d tried over and over again to read the bible and get to the point. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Every time I picked up the bible to read, I approached it the same way I’d learned to read any book—from page one.
Not til my mid-twenties, after I hit rock bottom, did I ever meet someone who could show me a different way. “Don’t start with Genesis,” I was finally told. “Start with Jesus.”
We don’t know any different til we can see something different. For me, at that time, it meant a strange new sense of freedom to open a book closer to the back (in Mark’s gospel), skipping ahead in the narrative to read the climax first, in order to grasp the buildup and the conclusion. After despairing over my empty, aching soul for most of my life, hating Christians and resenting God because I didn’t understand either of them, it turned out just flipping to a different page would set me off in a whole new direction for my life.
To this day, as trivial as it might sound in comparison, that same kind of change in perspective continues to bring life-changing differences into view. Just three months ago, I would’ve rolled my eyes at the topic of investing, thinking it was too complicated or too expensive or too confusing or too something for the likes of me. But just as it seemed “impossible” for me to see how Christians could make sense of Scripture, when it came to the real and present likelihood of gaining financial freedom and building generational wealth in my lifetime… I just needed somebody to show me a better spot to start.
On January 1st of this year, I saw a TV commercial, of all things, advertising an investing app for beginners to get started with as little as $5. It had to be a God thing... from there, I was off and running. Once I had an anchor point to hold on to, all the other pieces began to fall into place, and next steps began lining up.
Now, this is no prosperity gospel—you will never hear me saying, “Just buy my monthly subscription service, and God will bless you abundantly.” I don’t even have a monthly subscription service.
This is just an ongoing story about what happens when we start to believe God does the impossible. So far in 2021, that’s brought me to The Serenity Project—an experiment in winning the wealth-building game. I don’t know where it’s going, but I know where I’ve come from, and I can’t wait to see where God takes it next.
Over the last 10 years, both on my own and together with my husband (who comes from a drastically different family upbringing—think small-town South Dakota poverty for me and suburban-city California wealth for him), I’ve worked to clear away the wreckage of the past and make way for all-new possibilities in our future. Considering we found each other shortly after both of us lost everything, you could say we’ve seen some things.
- We’ve learned a lot about what we want, what we need, what we value, what we expect, what we believe in, what we hope to see happen...
- We’ve stumbled at some points and made great leaps at others.
- We’ve developed strong disciplines and fallen into bad habits.
- We’ve worked and worked to get ahead, just to get knocked down by another setback.
- We’ve gone from thousands in savings one day to overdrafts on our checking account the next.
- We've dreaded going to get the mail at some times, knowing there'd be collections letters waiting for us, and rejoiced around tax season at other times, blown away by unexpected breaks that came just in time.
- We’ve stepped out in faith and seen incredible doors open.
- We’ve progressed from not knowing how we were going to pay our rent one month to buying a house together six months later…
- ...to paying off our mortgage within four years…
- ...to refinancing so we could buy my folks’ old farmplace after my dad had a stroke, so my mom can live there rent-free while we pay off their mortgage, too.
- We’ve come from wondering if we’d ever get to spend any free time together or have a chance to enjoy anything in our lives...
- ...to buying a small business (in the middle of a global pandemic, nonetheless) and working side-by-side...
- ...to giving first jobs to high school students and sending good meals home with families in our community ever day.
- We’ve kept right on living paycheck to paycheck, only now it's not necessarily because we’re broke all the time...
- ...but because we enjoy giving away what we’ve been given, and these days, we know that’s what we want to do with our lives.
Ten years ago, I never would’ve imagined I’d begin 2021 by becoming an investor, much less thinking up new goals as a Christian money blogger. (More about goal-setting here.) At that time in my life, I would’ve laughed in your face if you’d suggested I’d ever even call myself a Christian at all. So what kind of impossible story is yet to be told in your life?
In the year ahead, I plan to continue writing about my experiences as a beginner investor, using the Stash app to build a portfolio in the stock market. I’m not saying you should do it, too—I’m just gonna try it myself and let you know what happens. I’m learning as I go, so if you’d like to come along for the ride, we’ll be learning together, hopefully doing our small part to turn the tables and win the wealth-building game, for the good of greater society.
Does that sound overly ambitious to you? Maybe we just haven't allowed ourselves to think big enough before.
If you like anything you read here, please share this post with your social media networks to get more people thinking about how we can all start winning the wealth-building game together. Like to connect? Drop me a line or visit on Twitter.