Shawn and Cheryl Nicholson* save every receipt and track expenses with a spreadsheet. They have to, if they want to stay afloat financially. The excess income of former high-paying jobs has vanished, and debt continues to drain their budget.

Yet Shawn and Cheryl are financially free.

No, they’re not free to spend money as they please, but they have found a freedom that reaches much deeper than their pocketbook. They have discovered the meaning of "having enough."

Living the dream

It hasn’t always been this way. During the tech boom of the mid-’90s, Shawn and Cheryl lived in the heart of Silicon Valley. Shawn rode the management fast track of a high-tech firm, while Cheryl handled marketing for an upscale retailer.

"The feeling then was, It’s the new gold rush, and we’re going to get our share," Shawn said.

The couple married and agreed on one main goal.

"We wanted to make money and drive good cars," Cheryl said.

They bought a home in the good part of town with amenities such as a $5,000 refrigerator and $1,000 dishwasher, and they lived their version of financial freedom. Buying was easy: If they wanted clothes, they bought them. If they wanted a vacation, they took one.

"We’d go out to dinner every night – and we’re not talking McDonald’s," Cheryl said. "We’d go to $60-a-night restaurants just because it tasted good. And at one point, we had three cars because we felt like having a new one."

Though the two were Christians, church and faith took a back seat.

"The things that were important to us were making money and having fun," Shawn said. "It was all about the here and now; it was very selfish."

Money management was simple. When cheques came in, they spent them. And if there wasn’t enough money, there was always another loan.

Shawn and Cheryl had "arrived."

"We had the cool jobs at the cool companies, with the cool house and the cool neighbourhood," Shawn said.

An unexpected turn

Yet the trappings of success couldn’t hide their growing unrest.

"Something was wrong; there wasn’t any peace," Cheryl said.

The more they invested in the pursuit of pleasure, the less they invested in their marriage. Relational intimacy faded.

During that period, the couple found a church and joined a small group. Both sensed God’s stirring, but neither was ready for His next plan.

On a whim, the couple joined a missions trip to Mexico. For several days, the group visited neighbourhoods filled with mud streets, dirt floors and piles of rubble.

"It was kind of embarrassing," Cheryl said. "Here we were, unhappy in a big house, when their homes were made of pallets and old garage doors."

One evening, Shawn and Cheryl watched streams of people attend a makeshift church service. Despite the poverty, the pastor asked people to give to the church.

"I saw kids coming with one peso – virtually nothing. But they came because they believed in Jesus," Shawn said. "You could see the joy they had even with so little."

Road to freedom

The couple rode in silence back to the United States. Miles of freeway revealed miles of excess and reflected their own empty lifestyle. Shawn’s and Cheryl’s hearts broke.

Within 20 days, they sold their large house and moved into a 1,000-square-foot home, then they slowly started selling the things that had led them into debt.

Over the next year, the couple began volunteering more at church, became small-group leaders and began planning for future missions trips.

"It felt so good to get the focus off of us," Cheryl said.

The dominoes kept falling: Cheryl quit her job and began work at a non-profit. Eventually, Shawn left his job, too.

"God just totally changed our hearts," Shawn said.

More than money

God changed their marriage, too. The couple put more emphasis on spending time together, improving communication and changing their attitude toward money.

"Once you realize you’re managing God’s resources, buying stuff means prayer, asking for His direction and making sure you’re diligent in how you spend it," Cheryl said.

Plus, the couple has found joy in giving to others – letting go of what they used to hold onto. In short, they’re free.

Shawn said, "God changed our hearts from more, more, more to ‘Lord, this is Yours; what do You want us to do with it?’ We’re more content. We have everything we need and more."

*Names have been changed.

Patrick Dunn lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the time of publication. He has been learning how to share his thoughts and feelings without hyperventilating.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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