This is a story that is near and dear to my heart. It’s raw and authentic. It’s one that has taken a very long time to be spoken out loud. However, the minute my husband and I had the courage to talk openly about it, we began to see hope in the eyes of many in similar circumstances. That’s when I realized, this story was not meant for us to experience only, but it was meant to be shared, to help others, no matter how difficult it would potentially be. If you’re not interested in reading a story about the hardships of life and the hope that can come through them, you are welcome to close the page here. If you need some encouragement and think you may potentially relate through some situation you are dealing with, I strongly recommend you continue reading.
Have you ever gone through a neighborhood and driven past a house with papers on it? You know, that home that looks vacant, with no sign of life passing through it since God knows how long. As you look closely you see a piece of paper taped to the front door, and possibly on the front window. I’m not talking about the homes that have the official papers that say this isn’t a safe home to be in because it was a drug home or anything like that. I’m talking about the home that shows signs of, well, a foreclosure.
I pass by these homes now in a moment of silence as I wonder what could have happened. What was their story? What happened to the family? Where are they now? I wonder if they look at this home with tears in their eyes, knowing that due of a series of unfortunate events that took place in their life, their precious home was taken away from them. I wonder if they fought to save it. I wonder if they knew they could. I wonder why, why does shame come when people live in this turmoil. A shame that causes them to shut up, shut out and not say a word to anyone, before its too late. I wonder if they look at those few or several years with regret, or if they found a way to learn something during the chaos and become stronger in the process. I wonder about the papers taped to the door.
When I met my husband in 2011, he was earning the most money he ever had in his life. He had finally “arrived” at his dream job and even as a single dad, was on top of the world practically. With 5 beautiful children, he got to be full time dad to them through the week, and then when they went to their moms on the weekend he got to take part in his childhood dream as a professional firefighter. With so much extra income, he began a hobby on the side, which entailed purchasing older vehicles, like Mustang’s and Nova’s and many other car names that are not coming to my head right now (clearly I am not car smart like he is). Then he would fix and clean them up and sell them for two or sometimes three times the amount he paid for them. After working hard to improve his credit, a month before he and I began dating, he was finally able to purchase a home for himself and his children. A home that fit them so perfectly. Where each one of the kids actually had their own room, and with a family of 6, that is pretty hard to find in a small town like Umatilla. Life was good, life was comfortable with room to breathe.
January 2012 came, and we both went to Success School for our Advocare business, to further our personal and professional growth and development. Afterwards, Jeff stayed in Texas an extra week for additional firefighter training for his job at the Army Depot back home. While at this training he got a text message and then later a call from a co-worker. In a nutshell, the message and call relayed that the fire department was shutting down in August of 2012. Though the Army Depot was in the process of closing down, the fire department staff had been told for the past 2 years that they were to be part of a transition force during the shutdown continuing with employment until 2014/2015. This was a huge shock to my husband, especially since just months before he was asking for assurance from his supervisors that he would have a couple more years on this job prior to purchasing a home. This was a surprise to the whole staff. For us, after it had time to sink in, we remained positive and looked for the silver lining in the storm clouds looming on the horizon. We recognized that our part-time business with Advocare was growing, we saw it as our “Plan B”, knowing we could just keep pressing forward and not have to worry about the job loss when the time came.
On February 12, 2012, Jeff asked me to marry him. No, he didn’t wait till Valentines Day because, like me, he likes to be different. As the next few months went on and options for the Fire Department staff members began to be revealed, we realized what a slim picking of choices Jeff had if he desired to remain a government employee. Having joint custody of his children, relocating for a job would mean giving up parental/custodial rights with the children. That was immediately out of the question. The next option was another dead end. If you’ve never had a federal job, this might be a little confusing to understand, because it was for me at first. When he began work at the army depot he started out as a GS-5 level worker in security. Gradually throughout the 9 years he was there he gained promotions and got to a GS-9 level job. The levels equate to higher pay. But when he heard about the fire fighting opportunity, his dream job, he knew he had to apply. However, this dream job required some sacrifice as it would result in a reduction from GS-9 to a GS-4. Considering all the positive and negative aspects, along with a significant cut in pay, the positive far outweighed the negative. Fortunately, this position was different from all his previous jobs as he worked 3 days straight at a time for a total of 72hrs per week. As a firefighter, you have to stay on site at all times of the day and night to be ready for any emergency that could happen. So he would work a 72 hour shift vs 40. With the additional hours per pay check, and training hard, Jeff was able to quickly get his pay check back to its previous level within 6 months. Then over the course of the next 3 years and working hard through training and advancement, he was able to significantly surpass his previous jobs income. When the news came out that the depot was closing sooner than expect and everyone had to find a new job, the depot would only look at his highest level from the past 3 years, which was a 7, not a 9. Plus the depot would look for any job at that level, not just a fire fighting job. So not only would he possibly get a job with nearly half the hours on the clock, but also at a lower level of pay than his highest accomplishment. This would have reduced his yearly income by half. I hope that made sense to you so you can understand where we were. Looking at all of our options, we decided to focus on our plan B business to gain income instead of what the depot had to offer, because our option looked much better than theirs.
We got married, and the next day the paperwork went in for the end of his job as a firefighter. A few weeks later we found out I was pregnant. On top of that being newlyweds, we got really distracted with that season of life and simply wanting to spend every moment together. It’s hard to say this, but the dream we had of being at home together and working together, which was our purpose initially in our business, suddenly became our distraction or excuse and we took advantage of enjoying those benefits too soon, not having put in the work first to earn those freedoms. What that meant was, once Jeff’s severance package was gone, our income was a $1,000 a month at best. With a healthy dose of reality quickly setting in, this brought us into a tough decision. Were we going to continue to work our business, (which due to our poor time management, was growing slower than we anticipated) or get another job. We decided to change some habits, push hard and get back to work. We ended up the last half of that year nearly tripling our income making almost 3,000 a month and even earned a trip to Cabo, Mexico, right before our baby was born. Then we made a poor, but common leadership mistake and became more like managers instead of continue to lead and pave the way for our team. The next year in 2013 our team began to dwindle away and our income went back down to 1,500-2,000 a month. Now, with 6 children and two adults in a home, that was not enough income. Our problem with our business, we weren’t consistent and when obstacles arose, I had a hard time weathering the storm. All that to be said, it wasn’t a failure, we just had to grow to gain better leadership skills and understand what it took to tough it out. We needed more personal growth to happen before our paycheck would reflect it consistently. Unfortunately, we had a choice most months; we either pay our mortgage, or pay for the other bills like electricity and water and enough food and gas to make it through each week. We choose making it through the weeks and pay the bills. The other downside, now looking back on this season, was we had no financial education. We weren’t making smart financial choices. I don’t mean that we were blowing money left and right. I actually went into a poverty mindset, I would never spend money, because I felt like we didn’t have anything to spend. But we didn’t save, we didn’t invest, we had a scarce mindset and that hindered us in the long run. Before I knew it, we were getting letters in the mail with threats of foreclosure.
Now I was new to all of this. I had only rented homes before, I never knew what it meant to own a home, much less what the process took to get one, because I wasn’t around at the time when Jeff got the home. I remember when our taxes came in the following year, we tried to give them what we owed, but we were 2,000 dollars short, and they wouldn’t take any of the money because we didn’t have ALL the money. We were stuck, and the sad part about it was, I started losing hope in our vision. I began to struggle when speaking to people about freedom, when I knew we were struggling behind closed doors. I believed the lie that said “how can you speak freedom and hope to people, when you don’t bare that kind of fruit in your life.” I began to feel like I was lying to people, and because shame was building up inside and I wouldn’t dare talk to anyone about the struggle we were dealing with, except my husband. On top of that control raged inside of me, and I kept wanting to put my hands on the steering wheel of life and say I can do this better. The poverty and lack of mindset was filling my every being and I was becoming an emotional mess that dealt with it, mainly internally.
The Summer of 2013 we found out we were in active foreclosure.
And. I. Lost. It.
I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know how long that process was. All I knew was the outcome and that was our house being taken away and our kids and us were going to be out on the streets. I feared that happening, so fear made the decisions we made next. Fear aborted our purpose, fear forced Jeff to look for a different job, fear made me look for another job (I was still teaching Zumba on the side). Fear looked for another home to rent. Fear said, “get me out of this house before they tell us to get out”. Fear grabbed a Realtor and said, “here you go, sell it and get this thing out from under us”. Then fear walked away and lived a mediocre life trying to keep the house out of sight and out of mind. Fear is a horrible guide for your life. Take my advice and punch fear in the face (or read Start by Jon Acuff if you need help with being aggressive with fear).
That fear made my husband shrink, because I took the position of decision making which basically said, “what you’re doing isn’t working for our family, and I can do a better job.” And unfortunately that same fear made me say the same thing to my God. I sat on throne of deciding for our life and I kicked out the people who were supposed to sit in that position as the head and the king, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. But there’s good news to this story, we never stopped growing.
If there was one thing my husband and I have been good at, its being a student of life. I have probably read more book since I have been out of school than when I was in school. The best part about it, is I have chosen the books I want to read, unlike school. Those books have been the financial education we needed and the personal growth we were lacking. In the season of working, my husband and I began putting 10% of our income towards debt, 10% towards tithe, 10% towards savings and 10% towards assets (aka, paying yourself first). If you have not heard of these concepts before, read “Rich dad, Poor dad” and “The Richest Man In Babylon”. At the same time of working, we began small goals that we could do with our Plan B business to gain momentum again while not sacrificing time with our kids. We also never stopped meeting new people and kept people in our inner circle of friends. If you don’t understand this concept and want to, now would be the time to pick up the book, “The Power Of Who”. With having people we could trust, when they gave advice, we began to open up about what we were going through. The great thing about opening up is people will see things that you won’t about your situations because they are outside of the box. But choose wisely, who you open up to. The biggest question we asked, when asking people for advice was, “Do the bear the fruit of the kind of life we want to possess?”.
The first thing that had to go was my control. A friend once said to me, “Ashley, you are not meant to handle the spiritual blows in your household; Your husband is. By you trying to be in his position, it shows that you don’t trust him.”
“But I do”. Was ALWAYS my answer. I trust my husband, OF COURSE I trust my husband. And then one day someone said it in a way that hit me hard. “If you trust your husband, then you would trust that he is hearing from God and being guided to do what is best for your family. And if you trust God, you would trust that He is speaking to you husband.”
Neither one of them had been true. I didn’t believe they knew what was best, because I was uncomfortable and in fear. On top of that the decisions I made out of fear was not helping us at all. Jeff was never seeing the kids. He only had one day off with them and that was the day he had to take them back to their moms, he and I both had no days off together, and trying to get even one day off together was like trying to pull teeth for him to get that at his work because he was so new and everyone wanted weekends off. We were paying rent on a house we were locked into for a year, and the house after 6 months of it being up on the market never sold because apparently the price was too high. The next 6 months we decided to try to sell it on our own so we could drop the price and then that made people question why it was so low. We couldn’t win when it came to trying to sell our home.
The long hours and Jeff’s work telling him to sacrifice more to win (for only a months higher pay check) wasn’t worth Kyleigh crying herself to sleep when she was over at her dads, because she never saw him. Not to mention our plan B income began matching his, more than full time job, and my 31 hour a week job was double what he made most months. So he put in his two weeks there and began implementing what he learned there into our business, which really started making a difference. Then another curve of life hit us and we found out I was pregnant with our second child. I continued to work my job but things started to get difficult. I began realizing that working in an office with only one employee was not wise for a family that has young kids. Young kids are so unpredictable when it comes to being sick and things like that, and this job was not so much in support of a call the morning of that said “I can’t come in today.” I began to get anxiety if I had to call out or ask for time off. I would literally repeat over and over in my head “20 seconds of courage, 20 seconds of courage, you can do it” before stepping in the office and asking for the time off. I knew I would get a glare and when I got back to work the following day I would hear how horrible the day went that I wasn’t there. I don’t operate or function well in that environment. The hardest part was I LOVED the job. I loved working by myself and working with customers. I loved learning something new and was being given the opportunity to work in a field that I didn’t have to get a bachelors degree in. The pay was nice and the hours were great. But when my boss said he expected me to be on maternity leave for 2 weeks, I knew it would come to an end. In reality, he said 2 weeks to 2 months depending on if I had a c-section and needed more time to heal, but I knew I was going to have a home birth and a c-section wasn’t going to happen. Long story short, we took a leap (after gaining advice from people) and I put in my two weeks that summer. We were suddenly riding on the statement “Living by faith and not by sight”. Some of you might remember me writing about this piece last summer.
The following week we got a letter in the mail from the property management company on our renewal for the rental. It stated if we wanted to keep living there and signed another lease, they were going to up our rent…. to almost the same price as our mortgage. With the house being on the market for a full year and still no serious buyers, we took another leap of faith and went back home. Yes, after a year of foreclosure and trying to sell the home, we moved back into the home. Stronger, wiser, and ready to fight to save our home.
Now I will say here, Jeff had tried to save it the year before. He tried calling- they would never return our calls. He tried filling out the paperwork and sending it in- they would mail letters back saying we didn’t give all the information and ask us to call back for further understanding. He would call- no one would get back to him. Then the case would be denied with them stating we never got back to them. It was stressful. But a year later, we moved back in and began fighting harder and smartr.
A lot happened between August-October that grew Jeff and my wisdom and direction on what to do with the home and we began praying like it depended on God and working like it depended on us. The beginning of November we were faced with a crazy reality. I was due the following month and we got in the mail a certified piece of mail that said our sale date was December 11th. The week after my due date. By this point, we had been sharing our journey, the good and the bad for almost a year, so when this came we had complete peace about it, we just kept going and kept informing the people around us so they could keep praying with us and make room for the miracle God was about to do. Faith was the only thing that got us through this season.
One day Jeff got on the phone to call Wells Fargo. He asked for our specialist and they said “She’s unavailable right now, do you want me to direct you to her voice mail?”
“Is it going to end the call after that?”
“Then no, I will stay on the phone until I can speak with her.”
An hour and a half later he FINALLY got through to her. You guys, this alone was an answer to pray because in the whole time we were going through this foreclosure process, we had NEVER gotten our specialist on the phone. After this phone call Jeff was encouraged, and overwhelmed at the same time. He realized there was a way, but the way required lots and lots of paperwork. Little tip if you are going through this right now, if the bank has sent you paperwork to fill out and send back, don’t. The specialist while on the phone with him told him that there is an automatic thing the computers does once someone is in active foreclosure, but unless you have talked with your specialist, it might not be the paperwork you need to fill out to complete the loan modification or save your home. In essence, you’re wasting time until you speak to the person who can give you direction. Which is what we found out once the calls with our specialist began coming every week as Jeff worked through the loan modification.
I’ll try to make this part quick; it was a long month, but since our case was finally active they pushed out our sale date to the end of January. During this time too we were asked to join the Chamber staff in our town. That was a dream job to us. Not only did it fit with what we do with our business by networking, but it also enabled us to step into another passion, which is to make an impact on our community. To help unify our community even more than it already is and work towards the vision of making the Umatilla and Morrow County, places people want to be a part of and live in. The communities themselves are already doing incredible jobs of this, our heart, was to just be a part of that vision and make it come to life with others. In turn this has helped fill in some of the gaps we have needed in our finances. Remember, we are trying to get back to the highest paying job Jeff had received. This has been a process, but we are getting closer and closer with each passing day. Because of this, we got a call at the beginning of the year that told us the bank had approved the loan modification. And the foreclosure? Well, they removed it.
No more sale date
No more fears
No more Sheriff stops at our home to hand us papers
No more signing certified envelopes
No more papers taped to our door and windows
No more foreclosure
I cannot express to you the joy of watching a 2 and a half year miracle become a reality. I cannot express to you the strength we have received in our marriage, and in ourselves. Things have been rough, nothing is perfect, but we don’t expect it to be. We are learning new things, growing, becoming better leaders, but more importantly we are making things happen and seeing things becoming a reality. We are also seeing hope come back to people as we have shared our story. I never expected this, but as we shared our story and told people the shame we lived in for a while people started to say “Me too”. A friend told me once something I hadn’t ever thought of.
“In this area Ashley, you have no idea how many people are going through the same thing you guys did, because of the army depot closing. You weren’t the only ones who have struggled financially after the depot closed.”
The magical words; You aren’t the only ones. You are not alone.
How many of you reading this, have felt like you were the only ones. The only one struggling; the only one who felt this way. How many of you have put a smile on your face in the day and cried yourself to sleep at night? How many of you have lived in fear? If there is one thing you get from this story, please let it be this; you are not the only one.
Punch fear in the face; dust yourself off from laying on the ground in shame and speak your story with strength. Make room for the miracle God wants to do in your life, then watch it become a reality. I know its possible, because if he did it for us, he can do it for you.
***A few hours later***
In reflection on posting this story I also wanted to state something else. My husband and I are always here. There is no judgement with anything you are going through. We understand how hard it is and how even your marriage will be up for question on wether it will stand the storms. We aren’t perfect, we certainly aren’t counselors, but we can provide you with the tools we received to get through. Just know, you truly are not alone.