A Long Tunnel (part one)

Have you ever driven through a tunnel under a river? One of those long, long tunnels where all you hear is the seams in the road, and the fluorescent lights make the world turn a sick yellow color? At a certain point in the tunnel, the light from where you started from disappears, and if it is a particularly wide river, you may not yet be able to see where you are going. This is a great moment to NOT think about the amount of water pressing in on you or the little tiles popping off the walls as water sprays through. It’s a great moment not to panic.

It’s also a moment that perfectly encapsulates our financial world last year. I know I fell off the blogging cliff (so to speak) and many of you may of wondered where I went to. Well, I have been under the river, clinging to faith that the tunnel will end and trying very hard not to panic. It’s kind of difficult to write in that place. It’s difficult to write about the sunshine and roses and the beautiful secure place that you came from. And it’s difficult to write about your yet unseen destination. I found that the only thing I could do was to trust my sweet heavenly Father who was in the driver’s seat the whole time saying, “We’re almost there, Tracy. I’ve got you. You’re safe with me.”
The beginning of our tunnel was the decision for Matt to go full time in self-employment with our business Jones House Creative. It was really exciting at the beginning (as all adventures are) and also very clear. From the start of the tunnel, we could see accross the river to the other side. We felt like God was leading us and the tunnel of self-employment didn’t look at all scary. It just looked like the next step in the journey for us.

However, it was at about that mid-way point when reality of our situation set in. I don’t think I actually panicked (that often), but I also found that the only thing that I knew for certain about finances anymore was that God had us. I didn’t know where our next job would come from, or our next paycheck. I didn’t know what we would do when our savings ran out, or even how we would pay for Christmas. It seemed in so many ways that we had picked the worst year to start a business. The economy was (and is) struggling and many companies are cutting their ad campaign budgets completely.

There were several moments where I just wanted to turn the car around and head back to the side of a salary and steady income. I know how to budget a salary. I know how to save money… but how do you budget and save when NO money is coming in? There is no budget that will work on a $0 income. At some point last year, we both realised that this is why people get small business loans to start their business. Starting a business is hard.

However, Matt and I have a commitment to not being in debt, so we decided that we would not get a small business loan, and we also decided to live within out means… no matter how small that means was. Either God was with us in the journey and was going to take care of us, or we were in the wrong tunnel. There were moments, when it really felt like we might be in the wrong tunnel, particularly when we had bills due and were waiting for a client to send their payment. There is so much about my plan for budgeting in self-employment that is excellent, but I have learned some amazing lessons this year which taught me that it didn’t go far enough. For instance, having a budget as a guideline is wonderful, but if your client is two weeks late in paying, or even six months late, you need a contingency plan.

I now have a budget and a super trimmed down bare bones budget for months like that. I look forward to sharing all of the tips and insights that I have gained in the coming while. I feel like there is always a lesson to be learned in the journey of life, and if God has given you a voice or a pen, then pass that lesson on for the people that are behind you. It may only be the lesson that tile number 214,508 marks the half way point… but to the next person through that tunnel that information may be a life preserver.

We still are not on the other side of the river yet with Matt’s business, but we are starting to see some signs of light. First of all, Matt LOVES what he’s doing. He gets to be creative all day and his clients really love working with him and use him again and again. He has some corporate clients now and is doing consistent work for them. Ladies, I don’t know about you, but there is so much that I will go through and even “suffer” to see my husband fulfilled and happy in his life. It truly makes the journey easier.

Secondly (or thirdly if you want to break up the first point), we were able to pay all of our bills last year, not go into debt and even to end the year with money in our savings! When we looked back on that fact at the end of the year, we were both amazed at the faithfulness of our God. It feels so tight and hard sometimes when you are going through the difficult times, but you always see God’s hand in hindsight. I wish I lived with future hindsight. I would never worry. However, maybe that is what faith is anyway. It is knowing the end from the beginning, not because you can see it, but just because He said it is there.

And maybe that is the real secret to the tunnel analogy. It feels like a tunnel when you are constantly looking for an escape from your current situation. When will the end come? When will you be delivered from what you are going through? But if you change your perspective and embrace the fact that the journey of self-employment is really the destination… all of a sudden you aren’t trapped under the water, you are celebrating the fact that you aren’t drowning and are still alive.

Our family has food, we have a home, our bills are paid… the tunnel didn’t spring a finance destroying leak. God was absolutely right when He led us into this adventurous tunnel and He’s right when He says that He will keep us safe, but the challenge for all of us is choosing to believe Him before we get to the end. “Future hindsight”, hmmmm, also known as trust, or faith (or foresight, as my husband pointed out, but I don’t think that makes my point nearly so well). I think when we get to the end of the tunnel we may find that faith was the destination all along.

In closing I want to share a short story from Hebrews 11:7 in the Message Bible:
“By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God.”

And from Hebrews 11:1,
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.”