The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 5: Hard Times, and New Beginnings

In Part 4, I had reached a roadblock where I thought I would be finding a fresh, new beginning … my old blog on the free WordPress platform was covered in ads. It was something I didn’t realize would happen when I made the switch to my shiny, expensive self-hosted website site back to the free blog. I needed $51 to remove the ads for a year. But my zero-expense commitment had me at a roadblock. $51 was a lot of money to just magically appear, especially when I didn’t have a job to fund it.

I decided to try to make that $51 bit by bit, in whatever way I could. I knew it would take a while to raise it, but I had to start somewhere. So I went around the house and took photos of a few things I’d planned to donate. I put modest price tags on the items, and submitted them online to sell.

I was shocked when the items began to sell, left and right. Everything was wanted, and they were wanted right then. I was shocked when nearly every single item sold within 48 hours.

The moment my funds reached $51, I went straight to my laptop and opened up WordPress.

I was surprised to find a notification … I had a message from WordPress, so I opened it up. It said, “Happy Anniversary!”

Nine years ago to the day, I had started my blog.

by Gaelle Marcel

Chills swept over me, and I had to look through a blur of tears to make the subscription purchase.

I published a blog post right away, feeling inspired and quite at home. I was once again both rejoicing and humbled. By the next morning, the stats showed triple the number of views than I’d regularly received on my well-established, expensive, self-hosted website.

God’s clarity of direction was astounding.

Blog – CHECK.

Podcast – UNKNOWN.

The next area God had been leading was the podcast, which was now blank, because the episodes had been auto-deleted. They had reached their ripe old age of 90 days, which meant auto-deletion on the current free subscription plan.

God still had plans there. I knew it. I didn’t delete the whole site … I just left it sitting out there, empty.

It made my heart ache.

I began to make focused prayers about the podcast then.

This provision was different than the blog, however. This provision would need to be continual. I needed at least $12 per month to keep the episodes live and available … which meant it wasn’t just a one-time purchase.

I had posted a few more things to sell, thinking God’s provision would follow the same pattern.

Nothing sold.

I prayerfully presented some brilliant (or so I thought) ideas for how to obtain that monthly amount. Every one of them was met with a definitive no in my heart.

You know the no I’m talking about … it’s not a “Thou shalt not steal” kind of message that comes straight from the scripture. It’s the guidance of the Holy Spirit within your heart. It’s that Voice you learn to become acquainted with when God is leading you.

“But God!” I reasoned. “I could approach a business or Christian establishment with a proposal, essentially making a business deal to gain support! That looks so professional, doesn’t it? With the backing of a business, it looks so much more important, doesn’t it? Don’t you think that’s a great idea??”

NO.

“But God, I could take on a freelance writing job. It would just take ONE job, a simple one, to provide the FULL means for the podcast subscription. Doesn’t that sound perfect? If you would just thump aside that roadblock, it would work out perfectly. So … how about it??”

NO.

“But God, the businesses … it would look so important … can we please go for that? I mean … you know?”

I said NO.

Fine.

I knew He would provide. He always does. (2 Corinthians 9:8, Hebrews 13:5, Luke 12:24, Matthew 6:33, Matthew 7:11, Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:19, Psalm 34:10, and many more).

by Philipp Cordts

I decided not to worry about the subscription for now … Let’s focus on just reproducing the episodes. If I upload some now, there will be a whole 90 days before God provides the paid subscription. Let’s keep moving forward, I told myself. Don’t focus on what you don’t have.

That was the whole point of the zero-expense commitment, after all … to stop focusing on what I don’t have, and looking to God 100% for provision, getting out of His way, and doing things His way.

I already had a good mic … I’d bought it using the money my parents had given me for my birthday last July. The previous episodes had been recorded using the best sound booth I’ve ever tried … my car! Although it was essentially soundproof, the small space was uncomfortable, and it was cumbersome to carry my laptop and equipment into the garage. It was time-consuming to set up a makeshift platform with stacked books inside the cab to set my mic and laptop on. Everything slid off the books. It was difficult to balance things in my lap while also trying not to bump or drop the mic. So I tried something else.

I had used leftover birthday money to buy some foam soundproofing panels. I had mounted them on the walls inside a closet upstairs in the office, and couldn’t WAIT to use it for a recording booth! A few test runs had proven that it was the most perfect space. But then we started homeschooling, using the office for the classroom. I needed that closet for school storage.

Out came the foam panels, and in went a shelf stacked with school supplies.

At one point I attached the foam panels to cardboard, making soundproofing walls that I could set up and take down as needed. I ran a few test recordings … it was terrible. Plus the huge panels of cardboard were hard to store, and always in the way.

I was back to square one with the podcast.

by Kelly Sikkema

The first issue that needed to be resolved is the treacherous climb up and down stairs, and the trip across a concrete garage floor balancing my mic, laptop, and books to stack for a makeshift “desk” in the car. There was no bag, backpack, or case that allowed this transport to be any safer than just carrying it, piece by piece, and setting up my temporary “sound booth” inside the cab of of the car.

With that many trips up and down, an accident was bound to happen. Visions of shattered electronic equipment, with zero funds to replace it, filled my head.

I felt outright fear.

I simply HAD to come up with a safe, efficient solution for transporting the equipment and using my car for an office.

On a break during school lessons one day, I began researching a way to make a car desk. There were standing desks. There were lap desks. I mean, could there be such a thing as a car desk?

There is.

And they’re expensive.

Some cheaper alternatives proved to be platform the size of a lap desk that hooked onto the steering wheel … but still, I needed funds to purchase one. And they looked a little flimsy.

I put aside that, and began researching a protective case for my mic. I nearly swallowed my tongue when I realized they were around $100 for the cheap ones.

So, what now, God?

In that exact moment, the solution arrived as a sudden idea.

I sat back in my chair and began giggling.

Could it really be that simple? There’s no way.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 4: Deleting the Website, and Closing the Podcast

Not only was substitute teaching at my son’s preschool fun, I was enjoying the extra income, thanking God for the provision to fund the monthly costs of the podcast.

My chosen podcast platform was Buzzsprout. I loved the ease and functionality. A free account allowed each episode to stay live for 90 days, then would auto-delete without a paid subscription. The paycheck from subbing provided for a paid subscription, which allowed the episodes to stay live indefinitely. I had three episodes live, three additional episodes ready to upload, and several more future episodes outlined.

It was a perfect scenario.

Until it wasn’t.

When summer began, the opportunity to sub at the preschool ended. Although working through the summer would have been ideal, the income wouldn’t justify the additional childcare costs required for my own two boys. When the paychecks ran out, so did the podcast subscription.

The days of the live episodes were numbered, and the clock was ticking.

by Aron Visuals

God, I prayed. I really thought this was something You led me into. If you want it to continue, please provide the means.

I still refused to go back on the zero-expense writing commitment. The whole point of the commitment was to STOP taking things into my own hands, and rely 100% on Him. If I could just manipulate the episodes by re-uploading them after each expiration, I could stretch it all out until the new school year began. Then new paycheck of subbing at the elementary school would be more than enough to cover a new subscription.

In anticipation of my new upcoming job (pending the paperwork processing), I started researching how to create lesson plans, how to plan out a school year, teaching methods and approaches. I filled up a notebook with what I learned. I drilled Caleb’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Holt, with questions, because she was a former kindergarten teacher. I found her methods to be flawless, peaceful and effective. It never occurred to me that all of these things would be unnecessary for a sub, because the lesson plans would be outlined for me by the actual teacher for whom I was filling in. Out of the pure enjoyment of it, I studied relentlessly about the best setup for a classroom, ideal learning environments, and the varied learning styles of children.

I had it all planned out.

Shortly after I received word that I was officially hired as a substitute teacher for the elementary schools, my husband came home and informed me of something that would change everything.

by Guilherme Stecanella

There was a job site ready for pipe installation in Little Rock that would be perfect for field work. As a pipe estimator at a large general contractor, Kris was excited for a chance to do some time studies hands-on. He lit up when he talked about it. I saw it as an adventure for our family, knowing it would be both difficult and fun. It would only be for about three months. He would move there July 5th, just two weeks away.

This is great, I thought. My sister lives right outside Little Rock. We could visit her while we’re there visiting Kris. This is just a temporary change. We can handle this!

Then my husband had a suggestion. “What do you think about homeschooling?”

Frankly, I was a little shocked. Two years earlier, Wesley began asking me to homeschool him. I didn’t even realize he knew what homeschooling was. I didn’t think I would make an adequate homeschool mom, and in all honesty, neither did my husband. He knew my plan was to put the pedal to the metal on my “writing career” once both kids were in school full-time, and he supported it. So at that time, homeschooling just didn’t pan out. The subject came up again when Wesley was in second grade. Again, he was begging me to homeschool him. We arrived at the same conclusion as before: It just wasn’t for us.

Now, things were different. Kris would be living in Arkansas through August at least, possibly September. With the kids in school, we wouldn’t be able to see him very often at all.

We talked about it. And prayed about it. And talked about it some more.

A fire was lit in my heart. I was actually craving to create lesson plans for school. I began studying school calendars, homeschool methods, curriculums, and state requirements.

I could do this.

I wanted to do this.

I couldn’t WAIT to start teaching our boys.

But that meant … I wouldn’t be subbing at the elementary school.

Okay, God. Now what? I thought you were leading me to teach at the school! The desire to teach was so sudden and constant. Why would You lead me to this, then suddenly move it away again?

Oooooooh. I see it all clearly now. The newly planted enthusiasm for teaching … the urgency of it … it all made sense now! God must have been pulling me toward this all along. I easily applied everything I’d researched about teaching to home-education. I suddenly had new ideas for blog posts and podcast episodes about homeschooling. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Everything was clicking into place.

Except for one thing.

I logged into my website for the first time in months to begin outlining the new homeschooling blog post series, only to find that he subscription to the self-hosted site would soon.

I needed about $120 to renew it.

I was so busy planning out my boys’ education and getting ready for this new, temporary “normal” of a traveling husband, I almost forgot about the zero-expense writing commitment.

I had no choice but to cancel my self-hosted website subscription.

That didn’t necessarily mean I had to quit blogging, though, right? I could simply take my blog back to the original, free WordPress platform. It was just a matter of transferring the content over. Right? Simple. Easy. Quick.

Perfect. Right?

Nope.

My heart dropped when I realized that the blog had ads all over the pages and posts. Not just any ads, but weird, spammy, junky ones that were suspicious, annoying, and distracting.

My heart sunk even more when I realized the podcast episodes were only three days away from deletion.

I needed $51 to remove the ads off the blog for a year. I needed about $18 per month for the podcast subscription.

I began to pray, and God began to move.