Giving from the heart
"There have been days and weeks when we looked at each other and thought, oh my goodness, how is this going to work? But the Lord was there and He was faithful to help us work through and navigate those waters.” – Karen Gilstrap
Tommy and Karen Gilstrap met at University Baptist Church in 1990. Karen was attending seminary, while Tommy was working night shifts. They met one Sunday during Bible study, and within a year they were married. Together they spent the early years of marriage trying to figure things out on their own.
“We were both raised in Christian families and our parents were very good at teaching how to budget, but sometimes those lessons don’t always translate. And of course, as young adults, you want to do your own thing and figure it out for yourself,” Karen said.
Tommy joked that they were both “spenders, neither one of us savers. We were outlet mall junkies. We could tell you every outlet mall between here and Georgia.”
Ten years into their marriage, they decided to pursue adoption. Originally looking into international adoption from Russia, they felt led to Guatemala where Tommy’s parents had been missionaries. It was a long journey, they said, but bringing their daughter Maria home has been the biggest blessing of their lives.
“Several times during the adoption process it was beyond apparent that God was closing a door, opening a door and re-directing us,” Tommy said.
“We had a peace,” Karen added, “where you just know you did the right thing. Our church family has been so supportive since day one.”
In 2012, Tommy and Karen received some unexpected news that would change the course of their lives. Tommy was laid off from his job at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where he had worked for more than 25 years. And two months later, he was diagnosed with cancer.
“I went from having a decent income to having no income. It was really a struggle financially to be able to figure out how to make things happen,” he said.
“When someone in the role of provider loses his job, and you have to rethink all of the things that you’re doing and where you thought your life was headed, that is a great challenge to a married couple,” Karen said. “It has been a challenge making sure that I am still the wife and mom God called me to be, but at the same time being the primary breadwinner and doing the things that needed to be done for our family financially.”
Thankfully, God had already been working in their hearts about their spending habits. Karen and Tommy had completed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class at UBC, where they learned new methods of spending, giving and saving that ultimately allowed them to stay afloat during lean times.
Karen said the thing that God taught them the most during this season is that He is always faithful.
“There were days and weeks when we looked at each other and thought, ‘Oh my goodness, how is this going to work?’ But the Lord was there and He was faithful to help us work through and navigate those waters,” she said.
Tommy said it was important for them, even during those times when money was extremely tight, to continue tithing to the church.
“When our financial status changed, we immediately discussed what kind of things we can eliminate,” Tommy said. “We got rid of the home phone, other things of that nature. One of the things that we said we wouldn’t eliminate, even temporarily, was our tithe to the church.”
The ability to give to the church was Tommy and Karen’s way to be the “hands and feet” of Christ, to show his love to others and participate in ministries they otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in.
“We tend to focus so much on stuff and the things money can buy for ourselves, but if we can focus on church ministries and the way our finances can support them, it will change our perspective on money,” Tommy said.
“I don’t know that God cares so much about our money, but He cares a lot about our hearts,” Karen said. “He wants us to give sacrificially.
When Tommy lost his job, I felt a great sense of peace. When you have turned everything over to God, including and especially your financial position as a family, there is a peace that cannot be explained by our words or our actions.” – as told to Jenny Pope