The fear I felt as I lost it all, and how I recovered

Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

The moment I met real fear

There is one moment in my life when fear washed over me more powerfully than ever before. It was a phone call I will never forget.

A few months before, my wife and I had started a church in Decatur, GA. We wanted to start something that could serve and love the community in a new way. As a part of that process, we had to raise support. In our support raising, several months earlier, we found Molly (not her real name, but close ;) ).

Molly popped up out of the blue. She found my blog and started emailing me questions, which I was happy to answer. Then, she asked how she might support our church plant. I didn’t have a good answer, so I gave her a link to my Amazon wish list, which included books on church planting. Molly bought me every book on the list, more than $500 worth. That got my attention.

After that, Molly asked how she might financially contribute to supporting our new church. I still didn’t know her well, and her story about how she had money and why she wanted to give it to a stranger was a little odd, so I was cautious.

My family needed to move to Decatur to start the church, so my conversations with Molly turned toward her donating money to help with that. Initially, she promised to give $800 per month, then later, she raised that to a little more than $1,000 per month. I was still a little skeptical, so I told my wife we couldn’t start looking for a place until the first check cleared the bank.

The check came and cleared the bank, so we went looking for a place to rent. Decatur was an expensive town, so we ended up finding a house for our family that was $1,500 per month, most of which would be covered by Molly, thankfully. We moved to Decatur, and things were great, for a while.

Month two came, and the check from Molly came as planned. The church plans were going well. Money was tight, though. We were getting about $1,000 per month from Molly, $1,000 per month from our parent church, a few hundred dollars a month from individual donors, and all the rest of our income came from my picking up website projects here and there.

Then month three rolled around, and there was no check. I called Molly and got excuses, but a promise it would come soon. When it didn’t come the next week, I called Molly and got no answer. I waited a few days and tried again, still with no response. After another week, I got nervous. I googled Molly’s name to try to track her down. That led me to a blog post where she was mentioned, and I reached out to that blogger.

The phone call I mentioned earlier was with him. We connected on the phone, and he gave me the news that Molly was a fraud. For some reason beyond comprehension, Molly was known for making financial promises to pastors and churches, getting them in over their head, and then pulling her support. She had done this many times, and in several of those cases had gotten churches into much larger commitments than my $1,500 rent.

In that moment, my world shifted. My largest supporter was a fraud. We had moved and signed a lease based on the promise of a fraud. We had put our financial well being into the hands of a fraud. And now, most of our money was gone.

A cascade of things happened next. We could no longer afford to rent space for church services, so we started meeting in our home (the one we couldn’t afford). I took a part-time job as a Middle School supply teacher, while also ramping up my website work and trying to keep the church afloat. Because I wasn’t “full-time” with my church plant, my parent church pulled their support prematurely, making our financial situation even worse.

Eventually, we made it through our year lease on the house and moved out. We were in such bad shape financially; our best option was to move into the basement of a family in our church, sharing a kitchen with them. It was the worst time in my life to that date.

Coming back from despair

Why am I sharing this with you? Because, the fear, the anxiety, the hurt, anger, and shambles of a lost dream eventually led to something beautiful.

Yes, at one point, I was working three jobs to support my family, but one of those jobs was building websites. That turned into a company that grew and was acquired. It also spawned a nonprofit that has helped build free websites for more than 500 nonprofits worldwide.

After our failure at church planting and our painful recovery over 24-months, we landed on our feet. And we have thrived.

Fear and failure can make us great

Fear and failure don’t have to be bad. If our response is to give up or give in, that’s when fear wins. But, if our response is to try harder, dig in like we never thought possible, try new things, take risks, and dare greatly, maybe fear isn’t that bad.

Maybe fear is that thing that refines us like fire refines precious metal. We can have fear, accept it, and use it to make us better versions of ourselves. It can motivate us to think in new ways, work in new ways (like from home), and collaborate in new ways.

We are entering an uncertain time. Health, jobs, and the economy are in scary places. Some of us will have hardships. Some of us will fail. That’s ok. That failure, that fear, that hardship can do more for you than you know. And maybe, you will come out better in the end than you ever dreamed.

The story I told you above started in 2008. I was losing a church and starting a new company right when the Great Recession was ramping up. 2020 will create similar stories of success out of fear and failure. If your story is one of them, reach out to me, I’m happy to help.

Husband. Father of six. Wearer of fedoras. Startup co-founder (with exit). Nonprofit co-founder & CMO. I write about personal growth and nonprofit marketing.

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