(written by Donna, Tim Pletter's Paralegal)
When a new client calls Ambrogio, Pletter & Associates to seek information regarding bankruptcy, I often hear the trepidation in their voice. Some people are more open about their situation than others and are willing to share their story with me. I am more than willing to listen, not particularly because I want to give them the legal perspective on things (I leave that to Tim), but because I am being given the opportunity to listen to what is going on in their lives and, most importantly, in their hearts. In that moment they just need to be heard, understood, and to be shown compassion more than they need legal advice. After all, this is their life and for them it seems as if it’s falling apart. To be able to tell these people that I know and understand what they are going through sounds like a cliché to them. Initially they think it’s because I work for Tim and that I hear these stories every day. But when I am able to tell them that I, personally, have been where they are and that I, too, have had to file bankruptcy and have had to reestablish myself financially, the trepidation I first heard in them often turns to a sigh of relief. They now know they are no longer alone.
It has been over twenty years since I filed bankruptcy with my ex-husband. We had two young boys ages 4 and 1 at the time, and the fear, embarrassment, uncertainty, and guilt that I felt then cannot be easily forgotten. Although I had several years of experience working in the legal field, I had never worked in the area of bankruptcy and knew nothing about it; its process or its consequences. My family and friends could not understand what I was going through having not been through it themselves, and at times it seemed to be implied that it was due to our lack of responsibility. Feeling alone and misunderstood only added to the stress. Ultimately it became a topic that I refrained from discussing with anyone for fear of being judged.
We made it through the bankruptcy process, our condo was foreclosed upon, and we finally moved into a rent. I was divorced just a couple years later and found myself raising my two boys on my own, bearing the bulk of the financial responsibility. I was working only part-time at the time and had to take on a few more part-time jobs to make ends meet and work around school schedules. I learned how to stretch a dollar and stick to a budget. It took commitment, self-discipline, and sacrifice. In hindsight, I could not have done any of it without my faith and knowing that God would provide all of our needs. Don’t misunderstand, I would get frustrated every now and then, and sometimes resentful, but we all had to learn to be content with what God was doing in and for us, and it taught us to appreciate everything. Now that both my boys are adults, making their own money and managing their own finances, they both have actually thanked me for not giving them everything they wanted and showing them the value of hard work and financial wisdom. The lessons we learn through dark times are invaluable.
Like most people, my life’s journey has not been without heartache or disappointment. But through it all I’ve learned to trust in God and believe the promises he has made to us in the Bible. The Bible has a lot to say about money, including investing, lending, borrowing, giving, and the forgiveness of debt. The Old Testament provides that lenders shall forgive debt every seven years, which is reflective of the current bankruptcy law of being able to discharge debts every eight years. Leviticus 25:39 makes it clear that people are generally expected to pay their debts. However, the moral and legal obligation to pay debts is balanced by the need for compassion and the requirement that debts be regularly canceled (Deuteronomy 15:1). This is where I found my peace about what I had to do, and where I gained the wisdom and courage to persevere and raise my two children on my own, all the while maintaining a debt-free lifestyle. When I was given the opportunity to work in the area of bankruptcy in 1995, I began to see how God was using my tests to be my testimony and to tell people that they are not alone, and there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel.