Bankrupt . . . but Blessed!

GavalLaughing around our dinner table, my wife and I, and our four young children heard the knock at the door. Taking the stairs down to the front door in our split-level home and flipping on the porch light, I opened the door.  There stood a tall man complete with a holstered gun, black nightstick, handcuffs attached to his belt, and a black jacket that said in bright yellow letters—SHERIFF.

Inviting him into the entryway, I said, “How can I help you?”  But my heart sank; I knew why he was there.

“I’m here to serve you a subpoena; you need to appear in court, and the bank will be taking your home.” I was stunned by his blunt statement, then immediately dropped my head shaking it back and forth.  This visit was not totally unexpected, but hearing those harsh words certainly brought the reality of it out into the open.

Though he was just the messenger, in the humiliation of the moment, I found myself trying to explain how we had come to this point.  After listening politely, he said, “You seem like a nice guy, and I’m really sorry to have to serve you this subpoena.”  Thanking him for doing his job, I offered him some dinner, which he declined, and he was off into the night.  Our dream home, the home we had prayed for, the home we had built, was now going back to the bank, and we would be out on the street, or so I felt.

Five years before, in 1987, everything looked bright, and my wife and I were a little fearful but optimistic as I struck out on my own as an Environmental Consultant.  I believed this was the direction the Lord wanted me to take, and so I did.  The average hourly wage at that time was about $9 an hour.  The first year I charged $25 an hour and found work.  The second year I charged $50 an hour, and no companies complained.  The third year I charged $75 an hour and still no reaction.  So the fourth year, I charged $100 an hour.  One afternoon the CEO of a large national company took me out for lunch and said, “You know, Nick, you could have been charging us $100 an hour four years ago, and we would have happily paid it because we saw you as cheap insurance to stand between us and the Environmental Protection Agency!”

As I began to realize my worth in the marketplace, I became more fixated on making money, and my relationship with the Lord began to drift into the background.  Down in my heart of hearts, I knew I was off track and going downhill spiritually.  Somewhere in there, I prayed in a meager-mumble, “Lord help me to be focused on you and not on myself and my skills.”  The answer to that prayer came with the recession of the early 1990s.  In consulting, I was spending half my time helping companies unravel the complexities of federal environmental regulations and the other half of my time doing custom fabrication or repairs for non-commercial research laboratories and private industry.  My standard practice was to put all the costs of a fabrication or repair job on a credit card.  My billing cycle was every 30 days, so I could buy the materials, do the job, and pay off the card each month after the company paid me, and I would then keep the difference.

But as the recession set in, companies started pulling in their purse strings, and ALL my clients started paying me 60, 90, 120 days out or not at all!  Some of the companies I had contracts with were very large, and they knew it would cost me more to go after my money than what they owed.  As the recession deepened, nobody was contracting the services I offered.  This launched me into using credit cards for the essentials of living–buying food and paying utilities–and turned into the vicious cycle of using one credit card to pay another.  Soon, I was in over my head, and in answer to my meager-mumbled prayer, it wasn’t long before I was on my knees praying for help, and my focus turned back to the Lord.

As our debt increased, we began receiving calls from credit collection agencies.  Every time they would call, I would try to explain our situation and offer partial payment, but they would hear none of it—“Pay the full amount, or we’ll ruin your credit” they threatened. Some even started swearing at me on the phone and would call at all hours of the day and night, so I felt I had to resort to using an answering machine to screen the calls before answering.  Dealing with the creditor phone calls personally was certainly annoying, but it went to a whole new level when the neighbors started coming to me saying they had received a strange call asking if we still lived in our house, or if I still had my car, and other such questions.  The creditors were trying to locate me and see what assets I still had—and generally harass me via my neighbors!  And, yes, the creditors knew exactly what they were doing since everyone knows how embarrassing it is having your neighbors know you’re sinking financially.

When I didn’t think it could get any worse, it did . . . when I received notification in the mail that I was being sued–by TWO companies!  One of them was one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in our large city.  I tried to negotiate with them, but again, no deal, and against my desire, they forced me into bankruptcy!!  The last thing I ever wanted—but now, I had no choice.  My wife and I were devastated, and we were so out of money that I couldn’t even afford a bankruptcy attorney.

Needing to respond to the lawsuits, I went to our local Supreme Court law library and started digging into bankruptcy law.  After days of digging, I discovered bankruptcy law was a massive pile of convoluted information with no clear direction–at least none that I could find.  One day standing between two large shelves of law books and in complete despair, in desperation I prayed, “Lord, I know this is all my fault from when I turned my focus from You to money, but I know you have forgiven me, and right now I really need help and guidance about filing bankruptcy–I REALLY need help! In the name of Jesus, Amen.”  Still standing and despairing and staring at the floor, I noticed a skinny binder in line with the toe of my shoe.

Pulling out the small, thin binder, I flipped it open and almost fell over with shock—it was a continuing education course for attorneys who wanted to start practicing bankruptcy law!!  It said, “#1. Tell your client to…, #2. Then file this for your client,” and so on. It was a step-by-step guide of how attorneys should take their clients through bankruptcy!  I bowed my head and said, “Thank you, Lord, for this awesome instant answer to prayer!!  I know I don’t deserve it, but thank you so much!”  I started following the guide and later found other useful legal self-help books.

As time went on, and as I kept studying and filing documents with the court, a date was eventually set for a court appearance.  This had been a long and involved process; from the time the sheriff showed up at our door to this point had taken over two years—two years that we miraculously got to stay in our house!  Before the court date, I filed a half-page brief with the court regarding a new bankruptcy ruling by the United States Supreme Court that I believed applied to my situation.  The law firm suing me responded with a 32-page rebuttal!!

My day in court finally came, and it was intimidating.  The courtroom was a large room with a very high ceiling; there were two old wooden podiums twenty feet apart, one for me, and one for the opposing attorney.  About thirty people sat behind us, and there was a large gulf of deep red carpet that dipped down several steps from us to the judge on the distant opposite side of the room and then back up a few steps to his bench.  The judge sat in a throne-like wooden chair at a mammoth wooden bench that was surrounded by a very ornate wooden railing.  Like I said, it was intimidating.

Looking over at the trim and fit law firm attorney in his $1,000 suit, I watched as he tamped and evened his handful of documents, ignoring me like I was a worthless piece of smelly street rubbish from the alley behind the courtroom.  He was getting ready to go for the jugular—my jugular!!  The judge looked at me and said, “Son, what is your stand on this bankruptcy issue?”  I read my half-page document and then waited.

The judge then turned his attention to the confident, arrogant attorney who was just opening his mouth to speak, but before he could get a word out, the judge held up his hand for him to be silent and said, “Counselor, are you aware that the decision you based your entire argument on in this case was rescinded yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court?”

Silence permeated the courtroom. The attorney looked stunned . . . and totally speechless.  For a few moments, he looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.  In an attempt to recover, he started rapidly tamping his wad of documents and then said, “But your honor, there are still the merits of the case to be considered!”  The judge ignored him.

Looking back at me, the judge said, “Son, you have chosen one of the most highly contested issues in bankruptcy law; why, I don’t even know what I think about it!  Then with the crack of the gavel, the judge declared, “Case dismissed.”  That was over twenty years ago.  I was not sued; the bank did take our house, but with the Lord’s help we were able to find a townhouse apartment that accepted a family of six.

Over time, the Lord restored everything to us including another house, but most important of all, the Lord restored my focus on Him!!

Yes, bankrupt . . . but blessed!

“For the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.”   –Proverbs 3:26  (KJV)

Copyright © 2014 by William D. (Nick) Nichols

4 Comments

  • SAM I am says:

    Your story brought tears to my eyes!
    What a story of redemption ~ and perseverance and trust!
    Thank you for sharing with us!
    I allow things of this world to fill my view and time, not putting God first on a day to day basis!
    Thanks for this challenge and reminder of Who and what is most important in our short lives!!

  • Scot Darby says:

    Nick and Barb,

    It is always encouraging to hear from you. Keep up the good work.

    Your friend,

    Scot

  • Rodney Rapp says:

    Always remember —– The lord is still on the throne and he watches his own.
    Thank You lord for watching over Nick and Barb….
    RR

  • George Strobel says:

    Great story Nick! Whats going on with your life? George

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