I’m pretty sure Dave Ramsey would not approve of our current financial situation. I feel like he’d be telling us to cut our losses, return to the states, get a job (or two, or three) and start paying off our debt. I hear you Dave. I am not a fan of carrying debt myself, especially when some of the debt is owed to our family. Not cool.
If you asked me a year ago what our financial situation would be like right now, I would have told you the forecast was looking good. Based on the information we had, which my super smart and cautious husband looked over with a fine tooth comb, I would have told you that by Mid April 2012 our family would be busy paying back loans and planning an amazing trip to Mozambique or Botswana with some of our “fun money”. Neither of those things are happening. Instead we are living off of French fries and digging ourselves deeper into debt.
Petrol station? What petrol station? Long, long ago, in April 2010 when our partner first introduced the idea of partnering with him to build and run a petrol station, we thought it would be easy peasy. Oh, how naïve we were. We originally thought the station would be up and running by January 2011. Thankfully we did not make plans to move immediately or we would have really been screwed. Then the deadline for “all systems go” was May of 2011. We made a decision to move in June to give the kids a chance to finish up the school year. Again, thank you Jesus, because as you all know, it is now April 2012, which is over a year past the first deadline and almost a year past the second deadline and not only have we not broken ground on the station, but we don’t even have all the permits to start building! (Sorry investors, truly, if only you knew how sorry we were.)
Things with our partner are starting to feel a bit strained. It used to be that when I said less than kind things about him, Darin would be quick to jump to his defense. Now Darin is no longer doing that, which is a pretty good indication of the level of confidence he has for our partner. This is just such a less than ideal situation. In fact it really, really stinks. In all of this, I feel like I am learning to trust in God a lot more and in the plans of man a lot less. That’s a little nugget of goodness that I’ve gleaned from this whole ordeal.
Before we made the decision to move to South Africa, I made a list of pros and cons. One of the pros that held the most weight for me was that Darin and I would grow closer to each other. I was certain this would happen because when we lived in South Africa for 10 weeks in 2008, our marriage had gotten so much stronger and we really seemed to thrive as a couple, so I just figured living in Africa leads to a happier marriage. I guess what I forgot to figure in was the frustration of a business that hasn’t gotten off the ground, the stress of borrowing money, the lack of a support system, and that you really can’t compare a 10 week sabbatical with a definite return date to 10 months of living in limbo.
So, we have some stress to deal with and it seems like our communication skills have taken a hit as well. A lot of topics that used to be up for discussion now seem full of conversational landmines. “Let’s talk about the business that hasn’t yet come to fruition!” “Let’s talk about what I did with my day! Oh wait, you were here for the whole day as well, so basically my day and your day have become one and the same.” “Let’s talk about what you did at Mama Cathrine’s today? Oh, well I would have done things differently, but you’re right, I’m not you so forget I said anything.” “Hey, guess what the kids did today…”, seems to be the only safe topic left for us to talk about.
Our mission work
I have been having flashbacks to 2008, when we first got involved at Tshwaraganang. I think we met Mama Cathrine at about week 3 of our 10 week stay. We went out to the center at least 2 times a week after that to play with the kids and just hang out. It wasn’t until about week 7 that I went with Cathrine into the township and saw real poverty with my own eyes. I was only able to go out with her that one time because my parents had just arrived and soon after their arrival, we headed off on a trip to Cape Town for the remainder of our 10 week stay. I was so disappointed in myself for not taking advantage of opportunities to get out and see more of our temporary home sooner and I said that if we ever returned I would jump in a lot faster.
We’ve been here 10 months and other than doing a home visit in Northwest Province several months ago, I have not been out in the township with Mama Cathrine. I think that at the beginning of our time here I figured “We’ll be living in South Africa for the next 5 years at least” so I wasn’t in a hurry to get out there. Then when I realized we had no money to send our kids to school, I knew I had to get a lot more serious about home schooling, so I really made that a priority and put a lot of time into planning lessons and making sure we stuck to a schedule. There was also a period of time where Darin was having a lot of meetings with our business partner, and some of these meetings came up at the last minute so I felt like I couldn’t make any plans with Mama Cathrine or anyone else for that matter.
More recently, Darin and I have been asked by a church in Pretoria to be their hands and feet out in Hammanskraal to help Mama Cathrine get her center registered. Due to our current situation, we have no money to pay for someone to watch our kids and seeing as I’m their teacher, it only makes sense that I’m the one who stays home with the kids while Darin goes to meetings with people from the church and at Tshwaraganang. This is great for Mama Cathrine, and great for Darin as it gives him something to keep busy with, but it is not so great for me. I hate to even admit that as it makes me feel small and petty, but it is the truth.
I think that realizing how unsure we are about how much time we have left in South Africa I finally feel like a fire has been lit under me to get out and get busy. Thankfully we do still have time here and once we’re done house sitting, I plan to set something up with Mama Cathrine. Darin can do a science lesson with the kids once a week; fun for everyone.
By now I figured we’d have a business that was up and running, kids in school, and that we’d be living a more scheduled life. Not that I don’t enjoy many aspects of our unscheduled life, but I just thought we’d have a different looking routine by now. As I’ve said before, we love the house we’re living in right now, but I really thought that at this point we’d be in a more permanent living situation that was central to the petrol station, the kids’ school and the work we planned to be involved with in Hammanskraal.
As mentioned previously, I figured we’d have money by now and that we’d have the freedom to do more things. Does that sound shallow? I sometimes feel that way when I think of what I expected our life to be. I thought we’d get the petrol station up and going, make some money and then hit the town, or many towns. We had talked about going to a lot of the countries that surround South Africa, as well as doing a lot of travel in the country as well. We had made plans for how often we’d return to the states and how we’d be able to easily afford flying to Washington, Minnesota and Michigan for a whirlwind tour of all our family and friends. We had talked about buying a dining room table and decorative pieces for our house here and then having money to ship it all back to the states five years from now.
It’s not that I imagined us having a super extravagant lifestyle, but maybe I did have my hopes set too high. I do think that having things not go as planned hasn’t been all bad, and maybe it’s really been for the good. I think we have learned to be more generous with less and I know that we all have learned to be content without a lot of things that we might have considered necessities before, like unlimited internet, TV, and the kind of budget that pretty much allowed us to do the things we wanted without really considering how necessary those things were.
Which leads me to believe…
It’s not very smart to put so much confidence into my own plans. Thankfully, as I mentioned just a few days ago, these times of uncertainty are allowing us to see how faithful God is and how much better it is to go to bed and wake up each morning trusting Him, instead of laying in bed and spending the day fretting over what I feel should be happening. Does this mean I’m totally ok with how things seem to be turning out? I wish I could say yes, but lately I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about how long we’ll be in South Africa and how we can make a way to stay here longer, and if we can’t where will we live when we return to the states and how will we furnish a house because we sold pretty much EVERYTHING before moving here because we figured we’d be here long enough to make that a wise choice and we’d come home with enough money to start all over! Phew. That is a lot of worry to carry each day, so I am working on that, among other things.
But I trust in you, Oh LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hands. Psalm 31:14-15a