This Changes Everything
“Of course The Good Story HAD to have a “good story,” Kelly… you didn’t think God was gonna make it smooth and easy, did you?” -says my not helpful friend who will remain anonymous.
Actually, yes…I did hope we’d have it smooth and easy because “hard, long and painful” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But we all know that in order to truly become more like Christ and radiate His nature, we have to be polished through friction, abrasion, pressure, and longevity of trial. Sounds so fun, right? Let’s be honest, we want the results, but we don’t want the hard-won journey to it!
If I can ask you a huge favor, could you carve out some time for this post? This is the “big one”! The Ebenezer stone we get to lay down marking a historic moment for The Good Story. This foundation stone represents how God SO FAITHFULLY carried, provided, stretched, pushed, pulled, and bent but never broke or crushed these two bruised reeds. In his faithfulness he upheld and provided, as Isaiah 42:3 so poetically states.
We have worked hard to keep the pronouns we use in our communications to the collective “we.” The Good Story is a whole made up of many parts like our 30 Ambassadors and four Board members. We never wanted people to associate only Ryan and Kelly Portnoy with The Good Story or think they were giving financially to “The Portnoys." Although the vision was given to us and much of the work falls on our shoulders, you are joining a global movement in the body of Christ that goes directly into the heart of the Great Commission. THAT’S what The Good Story is. THAT’S what you are partnering with through your prayer and giving. You are part of something that outlives you and has eternal ramifications revealed one day in eternity.
For this one post, though, it is important that we share as The Portnoys. This personal story is also The Good Story’s… drumroll… “good story.” It includes miracles, lavish provision, crisis of faith, becoming foolish to become wise, sorrow, joy, a MASSIVE RESCUE PLAN UNLEASHED… all the good stuff! It sounds like Peter Faulk in the beginning of The Princess Bride trying to convince his grandson to let him read the book. Although there are no pirates, sea monsters, princesses, giants or ROUS’s, there is an incredible adventure we are compelled to share! In fact, Psalms 96:2-4 commands us to:
The Beginning of the Journey of Faith
In 2007 a young man, a very pregnant wife and a toddler bought a cute little cottage in the city. It was a GREAT year to be a buyer and they paid what was reasonable for their lives. Unfortunately, 2008 hit, the realty market spiraled, and housing equity plummeted. Some of you have been there and know this pain of selling a house bought pre-2008. We feel you!
Fast forward five years. This same couple, now with a third big-eyed cutie in tow, felt the Lord calling them to the country to a quieter, more intentional rhythm of life. The market was still not great and after months of having their cottage for sale they secured a “lease purchase” buyer. The buyers were almost at the point of securing a loan but needed to raise their credit score and buy the house at the end of 12 months once they qualified. Not ideal, but it was the best we could secure in that market. We signed the contract with them and we also signed a contract on a disgusting foreclosure in the country to which we turned into a beautiful refuge.
Well…12 months later they let us know they were not going to fulfill the contract and instead moved back West! Unable to pay two mortgages, we were forced to immediately rent the cottage for the next year so we could figure out what to do. Having two homes was never the plan and now that the realty market was so soft, our mortgage for that neighborhood was seen as quite high, so it was not an equitable house to rent. When our renters moved out we took over the payments on the cottage on November 1, 2014. With rent and utilities it runs around $1,000 a month, which is a massive amount to come up with each month.
So here is where the story gets interesting.
We prayed that first month of November. We prayed and we prayed and we prayed. We fasted and prayed some more about what to do about the cottage. You want to know the first lesson we learned over the last few years of trial? Praying together as a couple EVERY DAY avails the wisdom you are seeking. It forges you together under the stress of trial. The Lord speaks to His people, and He particularly speaks in unifying ways. Both Ryan and I together and separately knew the Lord was asking us to sell the house. But sell in a market that is soft? Sell a house which you still owe the majority of your principal on and will probably not appraise for that value anymore? Yes… sell the house, Portnoys. We knew it in our spirits that the Lord was asking us not to understand but to obey.
November 2014 kicked off 27 months with two house payments. You read that right. Twenty-seven months of white-knuckle faith on our knees asking the Lord constantly to provide and always begging the question, “Do you still want us to sell the house?”
YES… always the answer was YES.
We endured the emotional highs and lows of five failed contracts, one failed short sale, months of not one showing of the house. People constantly advised us to just rent it, but in our guts we knew that would be disobeying.
Now don’t get an idea that we walked this confusing and unknown path with angelic faith and confidence. I cried buckets of tears. I made elaborate and convincing plea bargains with the Lord to just take this house, telling him, “I can’t take another month, I’m at my end!” Ryan prayed one time while mowing the yard, “Lord, if you want to knock this big tree over in the backyard and crush the house… that’s okay!” We were open to any angle to see the house gone. We weren’t as open to God leaving the house in our name for years.
For 27 months we served an empty house with our time, emotions, and finances. For eight months a year Ryan weekly drove the 40 miles round trip to bring the mower in. Monthly, I would sit and weed the yard and beds. I would weep as I weeded, the metaphors of what I was doing blubbering out of my mouth. My heart was ugly with weeds of resentment and fighting depression over the length and stress of this trial.
BUT WE NEVER DEFAULTED ON A PAYMENT. You know mortgage companies don’t accept credit cards—you have to pay cold hard cash each month. Ryan hadn't had a raise in eight years, so coming up with an extra $1,000 was impossible with his salary. Guys, we watched God do miracles. He provided in unseen and humbling ways. Random checks and reimbursements would show up in our mailbox on the last day of the grace period. Once a $500 anonymous cashier’s check was left on our windshield at church designated for the cottage. Friends gave us groceries, took us out to dinner, gave us free date nights. We were humbled by the generosity of those around us. Our life group came over several times to help overhaul the yard, clean the house, and repaint rooms.
Serve, serve, serve this empty house. Pray, pray, pray…Lord, are you sure you want us to sell? YES was always the answer. We fought, feeling foolish when people questioned us. All we could say was, “God hasn’t asked us to do anything but sell this house and somehow each month He keeps providing, so we keep obeying.”
Stay with me. Desperate for cash to keep up the mortgage payments, we decided to refinance our current home in October 2015. Because we got a great deal on this foreclosure we knew it had equity in it, but we didn’t know how much after all the work we had done. We wanted to refinance and take a “cash out” on the difference so we had some money to lower the price of the cottage so we could negotiate and still pay commissions.
When the bank called to say how much it appraised for, we were blown away. We prayed for a specific number for the “cash out.” The Lord said, “Too small guys, too small… I’ll more than double that!” We were handed a massive amount of money, tax-free, and it only raised our mortgage $39/month. BONKERS! We immediately paid off our student loan and remainder of our car loan with the surprise excess.
MIRACLE: we became debt free while having two mortgages! Who does that? Jesus does that. He wiped our financial slate clean AND gave us the exact amount we had originally prayed for “left over” to keep paying the mortgage and hopefully negotiate a sale. I can promise you that if we had not obeyed that first twelve months to keep the house on the market, we would have never entertained the idea of refinancing our current home. The amount of debt we had left to pay would have easily taken us another decade at the rate we were going. How could we ever have predicted what He had planned for us? We were blindsided by this financial freedom.
In January 2016 we watched the house explode with showings, but no offers. Cricket… cricket… cricket… How is this possible if it’s getting shown constantly? Our human reasoning couldn’t make sense of the silence. In April, Ryan and I decided to do another round of concentrated, intentional fasting and praying for the direction of the house. Lord, what do we do? Are you asking us to still sell it?
Do you want to know what we heard this time? Cricket… cricket… cricket… We felt no tug in our spirit to rent it, we felt no tug in our spirit to take it off the market. We felt… nothing! It was confusing, so we decided to stay the course and wait on the Lord to show us. With the arrival of spring we began the drudgery of the endless cycle of mowing and weeding. Serve the house, serve the house, serve the house. My heart was heavy watching the account grow smaller and smaller each month. My hope was disappearing with each mortgage debit from our savings.
FROM LOW TO LOWER
Then June 15th happened. The rug was violently jerked from underneath us when Ryan unexpectedly lost his job. It was a sorrowful, painful and shocking ending. Not only were we brokenhearted at the circumstance surrounding this loss but we only had 90 days of income ahead of us and two mortgages. Lord Jesus… we NEED you! What in the world would you have us do? Why Ryan’s job too?
I have to pause here and circle back to November 2014. The month we took over mortgage payments on the cottage was the same month we officially named our ministry vision The Good Story! Before that time, it was just an ambiguous vision we mulled over constantly that somehow combined creatives and technology experts from the Body into The Great Commission to somehow equip and train missionaries with their skills. We started telling people about this concept we were unboxing. Ryan began working on a website and we lined up his brother to film our launch video later that winter. A ball started rolling in a direction we could have never predicted for our lives.
We saw and knew in our hearts that this cottage and this ministry were inexplicably tied to one another. But why? Why was something that brought us such sorrow and loss linked with something that brought us such joy and fulfillment? Why, for the last 27 months, were we forced to live in this tension of opposing forces?
We officially launched the ministry vision of The Good Story on April 7, 2015 to an overwhelmingly positive response. Ambassador applications started to roll in from like-minded creatives that also longed to engage God’s global bride. Missionaries started hearing about it and applying for services. It was intensely gratifying and exciting.
We headed to Slovenia on our first international trip representing TGS just three months later, and two months after that we boarded a plane to Hungary and France. Requests for services started filling up our inbox and this “crazy idea” to merge these two parts of the Body started taking shape. What joy it was to put our kids to bed at night and then plug away at The Good Story. We were interviewing Ambassadors, Skyping with missionaries around the world, networking with other missions agencies. This was all happening in the margins and the “PM hours” of our life. It was a lot to juggle as you can imagine, but the work was so soul-satisfying it didn’t feel like work.
When Ryan finally finished plowing through our 501(c)3 nonprofit application and mailed it off, we had mentally prepared ourselves for a LONG, tedious road ahead jumping through government hoops to get our nonprofit status. After all, the statistic was 12-18 months to get approval. You can imagine our shock and awe when a mere two weeks later we were holding our acceptance letter from the IRS. No questions asked, no re-writes, no extra paperwork… nothing but the Lord’s incredible favor on this ministry. We were official with God and the law! We knew that only fundraising stood in our way from being able to step fully into this ministry.
How do two introverts raise funds for an entire ministry? We didn’t know either, and frankly we felt terrified and inadequate. A couple months after getting our letter from the IRS, the Lord led us to assemble a wise, godly and educated Board to guide us. We now had a better framework to create an operating budget, fundraising goals, and marketing strategies.
The idea of Ryan and me working as full-time employees of The Good Story was just one part of the operating budget we needed to raise. We needed the Lord to provide funds for many areas in order to stabilize and expand this nonprofit. Last April we voted as a Board that the best way to steward any giving was to not spend anything until we raised our entire 2017 operating budget at 100%. This included paying our salaries. What a wise decision!
When Ryan’s severance period began on July 1, 2016 we were faced with the looming question of what to do. Do we try to fundraise full-time? Does he need to go find a full-time job somewhere else while we keep chipping away at fundraising in the margins of our life? Does he work part-time? Does he find a job at the end of the 90 days if we aren’t fully funded? What do we do about our second mortgage? Lord Jesus, rain down your wisdom.
Again we prayed and prayed and prayed. We had to be very careful who we consulted so that our ears were carefully attuned to the Spirit’s voice and not the well-intended human wisdom around us. Once again, the Lord answered our prayers with the unified impression that Ryan was not to get a job, and we needed to put all our efforts towards fundraising, inviting anyone Kingdom-minded to join this movement. We also consulted a realty lawyer about our cottage and made the decision to enter the INSANE paperwork and process of short selling the cottage again. It was denied the year before but now that our circumstances were far more dire… perhaps this time it would be approved.
IT. WAS. HARD. Hard to obey. We still had two mortgages and three children, and only a few months’ income guaranteed. After September 30th, it was all a guessing game financially. But obedience isn’t comfortable. It isn’t logical, and it feels darn right foolish half the time. But fear is not a reason to disobey. We fought to keep our minds and hearts steadied on obedience and our pitchforks raised to chase out the foxes of doubt, fear, foolishness, despair, and depression that so violently threatened to ravage our spiritual vineyard.
It didn’t get easier. It continued to be uncomfortable, humbling work, but we stayed with it, and people were drawn to this ministry. People wanted to partner with TGS in generous, encouraging, faithful ways! We started to see our funding percent tick, tick, tick upwards, swelling our hearts with joy and hope. Each day we rose, sent the kids to school, got our coffee and prayed together. We asked the same question every day: “How do we obey you today, Jesus?” The Lord knew I would fall into a puddle of tears if I thought past that day.
I want to stop and say something about these trials. No one was terminally ill, no one died, our house wasn’t seized from us and we aren’t living out of our car. We know full well that so many around us are suffering or have suffered far greater tragedies, trial and loss. For us, this was an endurance trial and slow erosion of our comfort, securities, finances, job, and any sense of control we thought we had. We saw God’s long arm of provision carry us financially for 27 months and his lightning-fast provision of our nonprofit status in two weeks. He displayed his sovereign timing before us. When we were faithful, He was faithful. When we were faithless… guess what? He was still faithful. This was the classroom we needed to prepare us for what I imagine will be a repeat lesson in the future for a ministry funded by faith. We haven’t graduated from Faith School, we just moved up to a 200-level class.
HOW DOES THIS ALL END? You might be wondering about the cottage. Maybe you saw in our December newsletter that we were 75% funded and wonder what’s happened the last two months. Are we at 100%? What happened after the severance checks stopped?
Well, dear TGS reader… the ending is just so jaw-dropping and perfect that your perseverance to this point has earned you an awe-inspiring, God-sized finish.
We returned home from our second Hungary trip on September 28th. We were overwhelmed, in the best way, at what God was doing amongst the Roma people but physically wrung out from the intensity of the trip. We were also keenly aware that Ryan’s last check and insurance was dropping in two days. Here we were at the precipice of choice again. I love that the definition of that word is: "a steep place," literally "a fall or leap.” Boy, that’s what it felt like. If Ryan didn’t get a job, we were either going to fall hard financially or leap into some unknown provision. We were 45% funded at this point. Almost halfway there but still not able to draw a salary from the budget.
We prayed and prayed and prayed some more. We knew in our guts what the Lord was saying to us even though it defied all logic and hit every panic button in my mind. He asked us to not get a job but instead keep doing The Good Story with all our heart, soul and might. We kept on with the projects and fundraising, watching our savings rapidly run out. By my calculations, we would make it to February before we were truly out of all financial resources.
So what of the cottage and that second short sale process we started in July, you ask? It took ALLLLLLLL the way until December 28th for us to get through negotiations and find out our bank approved us for the short sale and approved our buyer, but we still had MANY hoops and nail-biters left before we would hear about a bona fide closing date.
FEBRUARY 2017- THE MIRACLE IN THE SKY
So on February 1st we were still waiting to see if the cottage would actually close, and as I assessed our bank account that day I knew for a fact that by February 15th we would have triple zeros in all our accounts.
We were at the end.
It felt like we were playing chicken with our lives and for “funsies" we strapped our three kiddos to our back to jump off the cliff with us! I kept visualizing an old Road Runner cartoon where the railroad tracks are heading for a cliff and the train will surely fall into the abyss. The Portnoy train was full steam ahead to our financial demise.
I cried a lot, but Ryan was resolute that this was the moment of our rescue. We knew we were obeying what he asked us to do, but it sure didn’t feel like a rescue was about to unleash.
On the morning of February 7th, I woke up facing a window in our bedroom at dawn. The trees in our backyard and the half-drawn curtain only allowed me to see a little bit of sky. What I saw in the sky made me bolt upright. As clear as if three balloons were glued together was the number 100. I shook Ryan and asked if I was crazy or if he saw it too. Sure enough, he did! I tried to get my wits about me and took my phone off the nightstand to grab a picture. I wish I was ten seconds earlier because the second zero was already starting to drift away and the bottom of the one. But as Ryan is my witness, as plain as day there was a 1-0-0 in the sky. I half joked to Ryan and said, “You think it’s a sign?” He chuckled a half-hearted, “Maybe.” But in my weary heart I dared believe and even hope that maybe, just maybe the God of the universe himself formed the clouds together and opened my eyes at the exact moment they would be passing my window to display his majesty and tenderness for one worn-out woman. As if to say, “Hang on another day, your salvation is coming, my dear Kelly.” And I tucked that daring hope deep into my chest and rose to work another day.
The following day we got ready to head “in town” to work. As we drove from the country to the city, sipping on our coffee and chatting, I received a text. It was from someone very close to us, in whose life the Lord had also been orchestrating a VERY good story after much sorrow.
The text said, “Hey, how much more money do you need to hit 100%? I have some people who are interested in supporting you.” My blood pressure started to raise a bit in excitement. What is happening? I wrote him back, “We still need $23,000 to meet our operating budget for 2017.” He immediately asked for our routing number because they were going to wire us the balance in full that day. I couldn’t believe my eyes so I had to ask him in plain English: “Are you being serious? You are giving The Good Story $23,000?” “Yes, I am dead serious.”
On Florida Ave. at 10:33 am on February 8th, The Good Story got fully funded for 2017.
A moment promised to me in the clouds the morning before happened. It makes me cry just typing this all out. Truly more than we could have asked or imagined. I had dared hope that a miraculous sign in the clouds was true, and I felt so loved that He would give me that special moment with Him.
The next day was our scheduled Board Meeting. How providential. The meeting now took on a very different agenda as we could look at 2017 with a fully funded budget and make a motion for two salaries! How sweet it was to rejoice with the Board that the Lord’s hand was so clearly on this ministry.
The following day our realtor told us we had a closing date! February 14th the cottage, our personal millstone, was removed from our necks and cast away from our lives forever.
The day after we closed on the cottage, we deposited our first paycheck from The Good Story. That was February 15th, the very last day we had money in our account.
In a matter of one week the Lord gave a promise in the sky, funded The Good Story for 2017, took a home from us after 27 months, and deposited income into our zeroed-out account.
Within days, The Good Story was fully funded and the burden of the cottage was lifted. One left our life forever and the other became our life in ways we’ve only dreamed of!
It happened. It’s all true. Even two weeks later we can’t fully digest the magnitude of God’s rescue plan for our lives. We have been handed a new rhythm to walk in. Before we felt like toddlers trying to get our sea legs—completely unstable. Now we feel like we were handed a flat, steady and open place to run free.
There is much work ahead! This year holds many incredible and exciting things waiting in the wings for The Good Story. Just wait till next month when the Academy launches officially!
We pray that you have seen Jesus throughout our story—our VERY GOOD story that God has written for us and for this ministry. We bumbled our way through the last few years, biting down hard on the stick of faith while God removed ugliness from our hearts, minds, and lives. We are grateful for his grace, patience, tenderness, faithfulness, humor, and of course His provision.
If you have been on the fence about whether to partner with us in this work, we hope you chose to jump in! It is so abundantly clear that God is on the move at The Good Story. Every new partner and one-time gift from this moment forward is now laying the foundation for 2018’s operating budget! Isn’t that amazing? Prayerfully consider becoming a part of our financial family today.