Saw this bumper sticker last week: “I started with nothing and still have most of it.”

A lot of us are in that boat these days.  The stats on foreclosures – up 75% nationwide last year – tell the story.  The moving van appearing out of the blue next door makes it real. 

Yes, many of us have been foolish.  After years of upward mobility, Tripp and I rode out a business failure by refinancing our house.  By the time we realized the wiser response would be to downsize (after all, 6 had flown the coop, leaving us with only 6 at home – and did we really still need 4 bathrooms?), it was too late.

Our house had already dropped in value 20%.  A bitter pill to swallow, but wanting to sell quickly, we priced it accordingly, praying to have enough to put down on a house half the size and cost.

I was actually looking forward to less house, and I know Tripp was looking forward to less tractor time.  Both of us were looking forward to not borrowing on credit cards for mortgage payments – plus escaping that fateful ARM balloon day. 

Yes, indeedy, that simple life was looking mighty appealing.

But we were a year late to hear the alarm. Suddenly everyone was selling and no one was buying. In six months on the market, our house was shown fewer than eight times.

Adding insult to injury was our 2006 tax assessment, which inflated our property’s value by 20% - and which we didn’t dare appeal since we were trying to sell.

But I’m not here to whine – I’m here to lift some of the shame and secrecy and to share something we learned that can help anyone facing foreclosure.

The fact is that banks do not want to foreclose on homes right now – what are they going to do with a bunch of houses that no one wants to buy?  Many are willing to work with families – they just need to hear from them first.

If you need mortgage relief, here is what to do:

Call your mortgage company. Tell them your story. Ask for the Loss Mitigation Department (at least that’s what ours called it).       

Yours may be willing to negotiate.  Ours sent us a two-page financial statement to fill out and asked us to write a letter explaining our circumstances.

Write your letter in the most real manner you can – as though you’re writing to the human being who will read it.  Send everything back as quickly as possible.

Our bank came back within a week and put a hold on our loan payments for four months so we could pay off our credit cards – plus gave us a fixed rate lower than our start rate for the life of the loan.

To tell you the truth, I’d still like to downsize, but I’m grateful for a little breathing room. 

And grateful for a reminder that the best things in life have nothing to do with money at all.  As Bing Crosby crooned in White Christmas:

When I'm worried and I can't sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
When my bankroll is getting small,
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds.
If you're worried and you can't sleep,
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings.

I’m also reminded as a follower of Christ that when we don’t follow scriptural guidance we’re headed for a fall. 

Our sin was presumption – a common failing among believers in a Christian culture saturated with the idea that wealth is a symbol of God’s blessing.  

But God’s blessings often take a different form than the world’s - as a parent of a child with Down syndrome I learned that lesson long ago.  In this case, the blessing is to be stripped of material security and reminded forcefully that our joy in life shouldn’t depend on ceiling height or the number of bathrooms we have. 

The blessing is being prepared to let it all go with no regrets.

Proverbs 3:11-14 assures us:

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline
       and do not resent his rebuke,

 because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
       as a father [b] the son he delights in.

 Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
       the man who gains understanding,

  for she is more profitable than silver
       and yields better returns than gold.

The greatest blessing is knowing that God cares enough about me that He will never let go, even when that means removing the things of the world to get my attention. 

Now that’s the kind of security I really need – the kind I needed all along.

Barbara Curtis, award-winning author of seven books and 700 articles and columns, lives with husband Tripp and six still-at-home children in Waterford, VA.