Ever since Chris retired from the police department a couple of years ago, we have been living off of the savings he earned in his 20 years serving the community of Albemarle County, Virginia. When God gave us the vision of a horse ministry, we had no idea of His timing. While we don’t know how we are supposed to get from point A to point B, the one thing that has not changed, waivered, faded, or diminished is the fact that God has called us to operate a ministry using horses (as well as other farming operations) to help heal hurting people and share the love and truth of Jesus Christ with them. This journey with God has taken us into a much deeper relationship with Him. Each step of the way, we have prayed and asked Him to show us what He would have us do. Many times, these decisions perplex our friends and family as they just don’t make sense but they were necessary for us, on our journey, to learn to truly rely on our heavenly Father. Building that piece of trust and faith is going to prove to be vital to running a ministry. We need to know that God is with us, He knows what we need, and He provides for those needs. Developing this base of trust in Him will allow us to focus on the people He brings and not the operations of the ministry.
As we have watched our bank account diminish, we just knew that God was going to show up. He HAD to or we were going to run out of money. On Saturday, November 24th , that’s exactly what happened. What I had to learn is that God didn’t have to show up because He was already there.
So here’s what happened…in early November, we had no income. In fact, we had been without an income since Chris left Love INC in August. We had talked about Chris going to work, but we truly desire to be walking with God in this and not doing it alone so we prayed. We prayed a lot about what we should do. Chris tried several times to write up his resume but it never flowed. He looked for jobs and found a few that he was qualified for, but never felt the green light from God to make the contact. By the second week in November, we were down to $1200. Our rent was due on the 15th and our car payment on the 21st. The $1200 we had left was just enough to cover both of those bills, with nothing leftover. This was it. The money situation was finally as real as it could be. Here we were, a family of 7, faced with not being able to buy groceries and continue to pay for any of our expenses. This was a bit of a hard pill to swallow because Chris and I are both capable of working jobs that would have us living a very comfortable lifestyle, but it hasn’t been God’s plan for us to do that. We wrote our rent check, leaving us just enough for the car payment. We had decided that we would put our groceries on our credit card. This wasn’t a choice that either one of us wanted to make, but it was that or no food. That week, I went to the store and purchased $171 worth of groceries. When I attempted to use the credit card, it was declined. The funny thing about that is that we never use the physical credit card. We put our cell phone bill on it each month but pay it electronically, so we never use the card. Come to find out they had issued us a new card back in February and neither one of us knew about it. It either didn’t come in the mail or we had misplaced it but we were very busy with a brand new baby at that time, so who knows what happened to it. Anyway, I had to put the groceries on our regular checking account, taking us below what we needed for our bills.
For about a month prior to this, Chris had been working part-time with a friend building a hay barn, learning some practical, new skills, and making a little bit of money. He had deposited $180 in the bank the same day that I had gone grocery shopping. That money covered the groceries and we were back to being able to pay the two upcoming bills.
During all of this, we weren’t sure if the rent check was going to be cashed or not. Our “landlord” is our neighbor, friend, Christian mentor, farming mentor, pseudo parent and grandparent; you get the picture, we are like family. He and his family know of the calling on our lives (and support it) and our financial situation. When I handed him our rent check, he lovingly questioned whether or not we could afford it. I assured him that God knows our needs and it would be fine. Chris and I were not 100% certain that he was going to deposit the check, even though we told him it was perfectly alright to do so. Because of it being Thanksgiving week, I guess the banks were a little slow and the check didn’t go through until Saturday, November 24th. That very same day, I went to the grocery store for a few odds and ends. When I went to check out, our bank card was declined and I didn’t have the new credit card yet. I quickly looked at the bank account on my phone and my heart just sank. 36 cents. The rent check had been deposited. That was it. We had reached the end of this crazy, God-given visionary adventure. Embarrassingly, I had to leave the shopping cart and go home.
When I got home, still kind of in shock, I told Chris what our balance was. We both crashed hard. Immediately, I felt as if the whole idea of God was a lie. We had been obedient to, what we thought, was His leading and He lead us to this? To not being able to feed our family? To not being able to afford a place to live? Everything we were teaching our kids, the reason we had sold our home, and quit our jobs was a complete lie. Then came the rabbit hole. At that moment, I didn’t believe in God at all anymore. If I did’t believe in God anymore, how would I function in life? Believing in God brings my kids so much joy, how could I encourage something that makes them so happy but that doesn’t hold an ounce of truth to me? How would I talk to my friends? Most of them are believers and now I’m not. How is this going work? I spent a few hours in that dark place and it was terrible. I felt absolutely alone and isolated.
I can’t speak for what happened in Chris’s heart during that time, but I know from what he told me that he went to a place of being very hard on himself. As the head of our household and the one who has initiated many of our big changes, he felt completely irresponsible for getting us into this position, that he had somehow let us down. We had such a “good” life before all of the Godly changes started taking place. From the outside, we had it all! Now we had nothing. After taking the brunt of the blame, he got mad at God.
After only a couple of hours in this desolate state, I had to pick Abby up from ballet. I pulled myself together, knowing that our pastor’s daughter is also at ballet on Saturdays and that he is usually there waiting for her when I pick Abby up. I walked into the waiting room and, of course, he was there. Thankfully, the only other people in the room were people that I knew; another church member and her Mom. We were having a normal conversation and I was surprised at how well I was holding it together. In the back of my mind I was trying to imagine a life without these precious people because I was not going to church anymore. The conversation was going along just fine until our pastor asked me if we were ready for Christmas and how we were handling technology and having kids that are a little older than his family. Because money had been so tight, even before hitting the bottom of our bank account, we had not purchased any Christmas gifts yet and we really didn’t know if we were going to be able to. Well, after seeing only 36 cents in our account, Christmas gifts were not exactly a priority. I completely lost it! I blubbered and ugly cried and shared everything that had happened financially and what was happening in my heart. To my amazement, I am beginning to understand that it is fairly normal to have a crisis of faith. He didn’t even blink an eye! He was so patient and kind in his response. Our amazing pastor and my friend, gave me the space I needed to vent the sadness and then took time to share some biblical truth with me. I honestly don’t remember what he shared, but I know that deep down, my soul knew the truth and was able to release the despair. I am so very thankful that when I turned my back on my faith, that my faith did not turn its back on me.
When I got home, Chris was feeling a little bit better, too. We had a melancholy afternoon, just going through the motions of life, but we were looking forward to our small group meeting that evening. At our small group, I shared our situation with another woman whose family is in ministry. She reassured me that she had been in the same desperate situation more than once and it was normal to feel the way that I had earlier in the day. It was nice to be around our friends that night and get our minds off of the fact that we didn’t know how our upcoming bills were going to be paid, how we were going to get food, or what we should do moving forward. We had the credit card and the plan was to transfer our bills to it and use it to purchase our groceries. Chris would probably find a job and we would put this whole ministry dream behind us and go back to whatever kind of life we had before.
The next morning at church, we had a visiting pastor from India and his associate, Bennito, share the message. His name is Shelton and he is a dear friend of our friend, Francis. We made plans for the three of them to come over for a visit after their lunch.
After church we shared our situation with another friend of ours who is also in ministry. He suggested that we go to our creditors and ask for grace in light of our circumstances; to explain our situation to them and pray that they would have mercy on us. That same morning, the host from our small group asked if he could borrow our son for a minute to help put a few things in our car. Groceries. Someone bought us groceries. I felt relieved but a bit guilty that we were that desperate. My feelings aside, it was a beautiful and practical gesture! The first tangible indication that God is most certainly aware of our situation and showing us that He will provide.
That afternoon, Shelton, Bennito, and Francis came over to our house to pray for us. We had met Shelton about three years prior, before we started down this path of radical obedience, while he was in the US visiting Francis. Chris gave him the abbreviated version of our story and caught him up to the current situation. The three of them then prayed over us, sang over us, and anointed us with oil. It was such a sweet moment in our quaint, country kitchen. They suggested that Chris and I put out a fleece for God and ask Him for some clear direction. Should Chris get a job? Should we leave the ministry vision behind? Should we just wait? Should we work until something happens with the ministry? It was a really nice afternoon so when our Indian friends left, Chris and I went for a walk on the farm. We went to one of our favorite spots and prayed. We asked God to give us some kind of direction by the time the prayer team met on Tuesday.
The next morning, Monday, Chris went to work on the hay barn and I prepared to transfer our bills to our credit card. Early in the day, Chris got a call from a friend from church, the same man that we had shared our situation with the day before. He said that he wanted to come speak to Chris about a word God had given him to share with us. The word was that we were not to go into credit card debt and he gave us $200. This was enough to cover the two bills that were due the next day. Praise God!!
When Chris finished work that afternoon, he got a call from the prayer team at Love INC. They typically call every week to check in with us, see if we have any prayer requests, and pray for us. This day, Chris was able to share our recent situation. The lady on the phone immediately started crying. You see, she wasn’t the one who normally called, but that morning, God had given her a verse that was specifically for us. The verse was 2 Chronicles 20:17, You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. God had given us our answer! Chris couldn’t contain himself and just started weeping on the phone. When he told me, I cried, too. We were amazed at how clear the answer seemed to us. Admittedly, while I was overjoyed to receive such a clear answer to our prayer, I was a little bit dismayed that we just need to wait. More waiting. Couldn’t He just give us an address and say that this farm will be for Risen Ridge someday, you just have some things to learn between now and then. That would be easier to wait for than the open ended direction that we received. But it’s God, so we wait. We wait in our pennilessness and hopeful anticipation because we believe that the bible is true. It reads in Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
When I got home from running errands that afternoon, there was an envelope on the chest freezer on our porch. Inside was a card from our Love INC family. They had prayed for us that afternoon and taken up a collection of $80. Our $75 cell phone bill was due in two days. Between the $200 we had gotten that morning and the $80 that afternoon, the three bills that were due that week were covered. I was starting to see what God was and is doing and it is so beautiful! Our friends and family, people who love us and who have been emotionally involved in this journey, started to help us financially. I had to write down the gifts that were coming in because it was all happening so fast. The blessings have been abundant!
There are many verses in the bible where God instructs us to be the body of Christ; Romans 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:12–27, Ephesians 3:6, Colossians 1:18 and Colossians 1:24 are a few examples. It’s one thing to read something, but it is quite another experience to be on the receiving end of the body coming together to help. I have been loved deeply in my life by family and friends, but I have never felt this kind of love before. It’s something different, or maybe my perspective is different. It’s a large group of people whose deepest connection to me is not blood or years of friendship, it is God. His love is like a river that flows through us all and when we stop building dams and clogging the river with our own junk (like worry or insecurity), that river freely flows, connecting us all with its life-giving bounty. I had to experience, even for just a few hours, what it was like in the desert. That desolate, lonely place held no life-giving river of God’s love. My soul longed for His love in a way that it never had before and because of that, now I can see His love connecting us all. The gifts that people began to give to our family were a reflection of their own joyous obedience to God’s instruction to be the body of Christ. It was, and continues to be, an out pouring of love.
We know that Christmas is not all about gifts, but especially with children, it is so nice to be able to give gifts to family and loved ones at a time when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour. We were able to give gifts and so much more! I was able to take the kids for a visit to my parents in South Carolina, all of our bills were paid, and we had to have new tires put on our minivan. All of our needs were abundantly met! Not only were we taken care of, but I know of at least one instance where the giver was obedient, even though it didn’t make sense (like giving their last $50!) and their $50 gift returned a $4000 blessing from God to their family. Another person is generously helping us every month. When I told him that it wasn’t necessary, that God knows our needs, he put his arm around me and said, “God talks to me too, you know.” God’s ways are not our ways and if we are just obedient, He has this all figured out already. The trick is learning to leap off the cliff knowing, for certain, that He will catch us.
In the midst of the blessings people were giving us, God gave me something to do to help us out. Because we live on a dairy farm and we have our own milk cow who will give us milk in another year or so, I enjoy searching the internet for things to make using raw milk. Cheese, soap, ice cream, yogurt, and whipped cream are just a few of the things I have tried or plan to try. What I never looked for but stumbled upon, or rather, God had me stumble upon, was buttermints. I came across a recipe that uses cream in the mints and so I made a batch using fresh cream. They were delicious and I really felt like it was a great way to share the ministry of Risen Ridge and to give people some cute Christmas presents. What I didn’t anticipate was selling over 130 jars of buttermints and having them be a big financial support during the month of December. I decided to only charge what people wanted to give and it turned out that God knew exactly what we needed, imagine that.
I will always look back on December of 2018 as being one of the most amazing months I’ve experienced. I have said it before but it bears repeating, I can totally relate to the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert for 40 years. God was performing miracles right before their eyes, yet as soon as He seemed absent to them, they doubted His sovereignty and went astray. God performed miracles for our family for over a month and I felt like my heart had somehow changed; that my relationship with the Lord had deepened and I really trusted Him. However, as the new year began, and the gifts became more sporadic, doubt crept in once again and that trust that I thought was solid and deep became shallow and shaky. On January 2nd, Chris and I had yet another discussion about what we should do moving forward because the bank account was getting dangerously close to zero again. Without warning, a brother in Christ stopped by our house for a visit. He, too, has experienced a financial trial while waiting for God to come through on His promises. He shared some of the wisdom he gained during those stressful times, how faithful God had been to him and how faithful He would be to us. He left us with an envelope. In it was a $500 gift and a note that said God had wanted him to give to us but that He wanted him to wait until January. Our friend had not realized until the day before, that God’s timing was so that we could we experience our “36 cent day” before he blessed us. Blessing us even one day sooner, would not have had the impact that it did on that day. Our faith was renewed!
For now, we have surrendered to God knowing that this is just a new way to live. I should rephrase that…we are trying to surrender to God knowing that this is a new way to live, but hoping that it doesn’t last very long. We need to be comfortable not planning our future, but knowing, really knowing, as much as we know that our hearts will keep beating and that the sun will shine again, that God is in control and that He is taking care of us. The God who created the stars in the heavens, every grain of sand in the ocean, and every cell in every body of every living thing is taking care of each of us. I am thankful for the challenge and I pray that God uses this growth for His kingdom.
Risen Ridge Ministry continues to grow in ways that are mostly unseen. Chris and I are learning to trust God and His timing. We have the 501©3 paperwork ready to send to the IRS and will send it as soon as we have the funding we need to go with it. After it is in their hands, it will be approximately 3-9 months until we are an official nonprofit. We do know that if someone is waiting until we are a nonprofit to give Risen Ridge a sizable gift, documentation of that will speed up the process. We don’t know of any such gifts at this time. We have also learned that the charitable giving laws have changed a bit this year. While I don’t know the details of those changes, I do know that if a gift requires a tax receipt, once we are officially approved, gifts can be retroactively recorded based on our date of incorporation, which was August 18, 2018. We are also moving forward with our team of supporters. Our board of directors will hold official, monthly meetings and we will also hold monthly meetings with our team of approximately 15 people. I know that God will move during these times and He will continue to give us direction in His time.
Thank you so much for being part of this journey. We need your prayers, encouragement, and wise counsel. Please continue to keep Risen Ridge in your prayers, for clear direction from the Lord, once we are able to send it… for the paperwork to land on the desk of a Christian reviewer at the IRS so that it goes swiftly and smoothly, and for His continued provision and patience for our family as we draw even closer to Him and learn to trust. Stay tuned for some exciting ways that Risen Ridge is going to get to work now! Why wait until we have horses when we can be of service right now?