The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 6: God’s Hilarious Provision for Podcasting, and Conclusion

In Part 5, my prayer focus turned to the podcast, where The Simple Word sat empty. The episodes had reached 90 days old, which means they were auto-deleted. This was the rules for a free podcast subscription plan.

My immediate concern, however, was how to safely transport my mic and laptop to my oh-so-glamorous recording studio – aka, my car.

It seemed like a tiny, ridiculous request to pray for God to provide a carrying case for my mic. The ones I’d found online started at $100 (gulp) and I had no other bag/packpack that worked.

I prayed anyway.

Suddenly, the most perfect solution popped into my head.

I sat back in my chair and began giggling to myself. Could it really be that simple…?

The boys became curious about my solitary laughter. They ran over and begged me to tell them what was so funny.

I went downtairs into the garage, followed by my two sons who were berating me with questions. What are you doing? Where are you going? Why are you digging around on the shelf? What are you doing with my old lunchbox?

It was Spiderman.

And it was perfect.

I brought the Spiderman lunchbox back upstairs and set it on my desk. The boys watched curiously.

“Do you guys want to see what it looks like when God provides in the most unexpected ways?” I asked them.

I explained everything to them. Deleting the website. Making the money to remove the ads. The podcast … everything.

Wesley went to my closet and brought out the mic, which was attached to its own tabletop stand. “It won’t fit. It’s too tall,” he said.

I turned a screw on the side, and the mic folded down on itself, cupped and protected by its own stand.

I slipped the mic inside the Spiderman lunchbox, zipped it up, and laughed and laughed.

The boys laughed.

I took the mic out and put it back in. I zipped it and unzipped it. I stood up and held it by the handle, like Wesley did when he carried it to school as a three-year-old.

We laughed and laughed.

I went to the closet and remembered that I had a large three-ring binder that wasn’t being used for anything. I brought it out, carried the Spiderman lunchbox-turned-mic-case, and went downstairs to my car.

The boys followed, again asking me questions as they descended the stairs behind me. Where are you going? Are you going to record? Why do you have a binder? Why are you going to the garage? Ooooooooh…. that’s perfect!

I set the binder on the passenger’s seat. It’s wedge shape turned the tilted passenger’s seat into a perfect, flat desk.

Wesley nodded his approval as we shared a WOW moment. Caleb discovered sidewalk chalk in a bucket and began drawing on the garage floor.

“Welp,” I said. “Let’s go back upstairs and finish school.”

Basically, I floated up the stairs.

A Spiderman lunchbox is such a tiny thing. It’s something that’s been gathering dust on that shelf in the garage for literally five years. It somehow survived my massive truckloads of donations. There it sat, with its large white eyes, waiting for God to use it.

It gave me renewed hope, however, that more of His provision was coming.

Because when He calls you, He equips you.

The next day, I found myself preoccupied with thoughts about the podcast subscription plan. As long as I stayed on a free plan, the episodes auto-deleted after 90 days, and I needed at least $12 per month to keep them active.

God began leading me in His plan for how He intended to provide for the podcast subscription.

And I immediately began begging Him not to do it that way. Any way but that way. I’d been saying YES to everything so far … but this? God. Please, no.

He was leading me to ask friends and family for support.

And that was the LAST thing I wanted to do.

Let’s pause for a moment here to get a little more personal … I don’t like asking for help. I pride myself in being an independent woman. With my husband traveling for work, his absence left a gaping hole in our family dynamic and left us all scrambling for balance. It was disheartening, and in some ways, it angered me. Not at him, but at myself. It was all I could do to hold it together for myself and the boys while he was gone, because the pain of missing him was so immense.

It made me feel weak. And that’s what angered me.

I’m crazy about my husband. But being without him was just too hard.

Did that mean I relied on him too much? Did I need him too much? I wasn’t nearly as independent as I thought. This realization really messed me up. It dawned on me that God was dealing with me through all of this in a way I wasn’t expecting… He was breaking down my pride. Not just my pride over “my” work … But my pride in general.

And here I thought this zero-expense endeavor was MY commitment to GOD. Nope. It was just one tool that He used to show me that I had a pride issue that needed to be fixed. After all, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

So … I prayed, and said YES to God.

I opened a Patreon account, then called my mom.

As I stumbled through an awkward and clumsy explanation, my mom listened. I caught my own reflection in the mirror. My face, neck and chest were fiery red. The skin burned with a sense of embarrassment, all the way to the tips of my ears.

My mom happily agreed to contribute. It was nearly everything I needed for the month.

As I agonized over it all via text with my sweet friend, Cindy, she fired a message back that said she’d like to contribute. I’d not even officially asked her yet.

Her portion covered the rest, and then some.

I felt immediate relief. Finally, I didn’t have to approach anyone else with any more invitations to contribute. After all, I’ve not even finished writing the “bonuses” that Patreon contributers would receive for their generosity.

To my horror, the Father nudged me yet again. He wanted me to approach the other names He brought to mind as I prayed for provision. Of course, I argued, pointing out that my needs were met. Why approach others?

He’s been silent on His reasons, as He often is. But there’s one thing that He made clear to me … My vision for the podcast is very different from His, in a positive way. My only responsibility is to be obedient. To trust. And to say YES when He calls, no matter what.

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.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 3: How an Accidental Love for Teaching Snowballed into the Unexpected

It was Sunday morning. I had been going over the Sunday School lesson since early that morning, and nearly had the whole thing memorized. I ran through it with my husband just to make sure I didn’t sound too monotone and boring.

My husband gently reminded me that they’re only second graders, that they’re not a ravenous pack of wolves, and that I would be fine.

I felt happy that I was helping my friend Allison, the associate children’s minister at my church. I was simultaneously fearful that she would secretly vow to never ask me to teach again.

I stood at the front of the Sunday School room, paper in hand, greeting the kids as they came in. It was immediately awkward. The Shepherd (the patient heart who takes prayer requests and keeps the kids on track) kept trying to do her usual routine, but I kept thinking she was finished, and so I inadvertently interrupted her, then apologized, no less than 14 times.

Then I began the lesson.

About thirty seconds into the thing, I was surprised … I mean, really surprised. I was enjoying myself. I was enjoying the kids, and the lesson, and … shocker … the kids were attentive the ENTIRE TIME.

I think they actually enjoyed it.

by Ben White

They laughed at my jokes. They asked questions. And at the end, when I playfully quizzed them, they remembered what they’d learned! When it was all over and the last kid had been picked up, I ran up to Allison and said, “Oh my goodness! That was so much fun! Can I do it again?”

Allison’s eyes went wide and she scrambled for a pencil and pointed at the calendar. “Um, yes, actually. How about here? And here?”

For the next month, I taught Sunday School for kids, made a loving new friend named Barb, and enjoyed it so much, I forgot about writing completely. I was certain this must be my new calling. Yet somehow it still wasn’t enough.

I had the grand idea of substitute teaching at our local elementary school where the boys would soon be starting third grade and kindergarten. The process of applying to be a substitute teacher was tedious and time-consuming. I had visions of lovingly guiding brilliant, thirsty little minds and hearts. We would laugh together. We would discover new, exciting things. We would bond.

This was it. I had found my new passion: teaching.

It was still spring, the school year had not ended yet, and I was anxious to start subbing right away. I applied at Caleb’s preschool, and was soon hired. I began the work of subbing with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. It was so much fun, and I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying it! How had I not discovered this sooner?

From the extra funds of subbing, I decided to try something fun. I started a podcast.

by Sai Kiran Anagani

I called it The Simple Word, and the intention was to dig deep into biblical concepts in less than ten minutes per episode, geared toward kids. I scripted out the episodes, recorded six, uploaded three, and was humbled by the positive response.

Wait a minute … in the middle of all the teaching enthusiasm, I had discovered yet another passion.

Writing the script was a blast, and I desperately wished I had more time to sit saturated in the Word. I had so much fun comparing versions, researching timelines and cultural references.

I learned SO MUCH.

Using NIV, ESV, ICB and NLT versions of the Bible, I dug and read and compared and cross-referenced. And that wasn’t the only fun part! I was fascinated with the editing process, and would spend hours after everyone went to bed playing with the different vocal effects. Ideas for more content flooded my head and heart. I had started something that I never wanted to end, and it filled my heart up to overflowing. Better yet, my kids loved it, and it resonated with their little souls. It somehow fueled the excitement over subbing at the elementary school, because I was anxious to spend time with more kids within the age group that the podcast would be created for.

I absolutely couldn’t wait until the fall when I could start teaching elementary kids!

Little did I know, however, that I would never get that opportunity.

Again, God had other plans.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 1: What I Lost, and What I Gained

I was sick of it.

I’d had my sights set on the “next step” for years, but yet, nothing was happening.

My next step was fiction novel-writing. I’d already had a few fiction short stories published, won a couple of awards with them. But I wanted more. I wanted to reach higher.

I wanted it so bad, I could taste it.

by Plush Design Studio

I wanted book signings where I could answer questions and help people who were struggling just like I’d been for so long. I could just see it all. I would be asked questions to which I could give wise and helpful answers.

“So, how did you manage to write novels with being a mom of young kids?”

Would my answer be like one author: “I wrote three novels with one hand on the keyboard and a ten-month-old on my knee.”

Gulp. I tried that once, and ended up with something that looked like this:

The trees towered fjjsbrjqh over her, like giants dnsnkfnnh shouting down their disapproval, dbsjkdfjhehhw but djdhshha she scrambled to her feet and trudged on. Fnabgqgehbdkakhh

Nope. Not for me.

Another author said: “I waited until my kids were in school, and spent a few hours each day working while they were gone and the house was quiet.”

Hm … While Wesley was in elementary and Caleb was in preschool, I somehow wrote far less than I did at midnight when they were babies. Now that we homeschool, our school days look verrrrry different than ever before.

Then there’s Melanie Dickerson, one of the most gentle-spirited women I’ve ever encountered. When I asked that question, she shugged and said simply, “I really don’t know. I just wrote.”

The clock is ticking. I’d always said I wanted a full-time novel-writing career by age 30. As Diana Gabaldon says regarding her start to The Outlander series, “I was 35. Mozart was dead by 36, so I knew I’d better get started!”

I’m 36 now. I’ve written four novels, none of which have seen the light of day. I decided that I was missing something. Something I didn’t KNOW that I needed to know.

I went on retreats. I went to conferences. I invested in workshops. I took online courses. I bought *more* books on writing, the ones that all the “experts” say you’ll need or else you’ll never know what to do. (Word of advice: read what you want. Not what you should. Because obligatory reading is … Well, exactly as boring as it sounds.)

As you can imagine, all of this took MONEY. I felt so guilty as I dropped dollar signs into a bucket labeled “novel-writing investment”. I built an impressive website. I did all the right things to drive traffic to it. I played the social media game exactly as the experts suggested. None of it worked, and I’m sure the my-heart’s-not-in-this spirit showed through. (Some writer friends reading this will be nodding their heads now).

by Marc Schaefer

Now, in all my hot persuit of finding that key I seemed to be missing, I lost something else …

My love for writing.

by Matthew Henry

I’d become sick of it. Actually, totally sick of it. I hated to even say the word “writing” because it had become connected with frustration and negativity. It wasn’t fun. I hated it. To my heart it tasted like bits of cardboard in a bowl, eaten like cereal with a paper spoon.

When it came time to turn in our taxes for 2018, I added up all the writing expenses (minus the meager freelance writing income I’d intended to fund my “self-investment”). I wept. I wept and wept. Because for years I had convinced myself that what I needed was to educate myself … To learn how to write. I obviously didn’t know how, because I’m 36, and no published novel to my name.

I felt embarrassed. And ashamed. And in all honesty, I felt burdened.

I mean, hadn’t God called me to write? I can answer that whole-heartedly without hesitation: YES. Then why, for Heaven’s sake, had I failed to do so?

The answer, in short: I have no idea. But yet I know exactly why.

Let me explain. I thought I was doing the right thing by making moves to reach my “next step”. It wasn’t a waste, necessarily. Because God uses ALL things for good (Romans 8:28). But every single move I made was with the goal of my own career in mind. I believe that works for most people, most of the time, but it didn’t work for me.

Because that’s not what God intended when He called me.

When God calls you, it doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it rarely does. Because God’s calling is strategic to His High Plan. Tony Evans says, “If God showed us the whole journey, we’d never take the first step.”

What I had essentially done is this: I had taken God’s calling, packed up His equipment (because when God calls us, He also equips us (2 Corinthians 9:8 and Hebrews 13:21)), and went in my own direction. I ended up with a shiny website that no one visited. I had a million shiny words that no one read. And I had a shiny, prideful view of my own capability that wasn’t serving any purpose at all.

I prayed about it. I repented of my own selfishness. Then God got real with me.

I committed to a zero-expense year of writing, having no idea exactly how much I would be giving up, and what I would gain in the end.

What happened next is something I never thought I would ever do.

Ever.