We are days before Christmas (3!!!), but I already feel like it has begun!
On Saturday, I told ArtGuy that my life is starting to feel like "It's A Wonderful Life". Not the losing-the-mortgage-part or the standing-on-a-bridge-wondering-why-I-was-born part, but the part right at the very, very end. The happy part. The part where Mary and George Bailey stand in their living room, and people who love them surround them, bringing help, surrounding them with community so they know they are not alone.
It is no secret to our friends and most of our family that things are really tough for our family, financially speaking. I mean, ArtGuy and I have lived 15 years of financial stress, so financial difficulty is not a new thing, really. ArtGuy worked a series of under-paid jobs early in our marriage that brought us to a state of debt. I used to tell him that if I knew we were going to rack up that amount of debt, I would rather have done it buying big items, like tvs, computers, and fancy stuff. We would still have the debt, but at least we would also have some cool stuff to show for it.
Not that we would have. I remember thinking before our marriage that at while we would never be wealthy, we would also never be in debt, since neither ArtGuy nor I are big spenders.
No, instead the debt mounted up over car repairs, home repairs, and banal things like that. Ugh.
Now ArtGuy has a great job, but awful health insurance. So bad, the boys and I cannot have it - it would cost more than our mortgage. So, we are on a high-deductible, private plan.
Our deductible is so high every time I have to take someone to the doctor (or the times I have gone to the hospital) compassionate health workers sit down in front of me, look me gently in the eye, and softly say, "Are you aware of how high your deductible is?"
You know it is bad when it shocks anyone in the health care industry....
Anyway, as high as it is, we have met it...twice..in the past four years.
Now this year, everything is breaking. Our lights do not work in our upstairs schoolroom and hallway, my dryer has to run 3x to dry a load, our bed (a Sleep Number-type) does not hold air, and our van...our poor, poor minivan, is held together with a prayer. And we have had a couple of weeks over the past few months where I get that dreaded phone call from ArtGuy, saying, "How are we fixed for groceries?". And I know that means we are out of money, and it is time to stretch the pantry again. Rough when you have four ravenous boys.
We planned on replacing the van after Christmas. We do not have much money, so it is likely to be a similar, older vehicle, but hopefully in better shape than the one we have. In order to do this, since we have no money, we are using ArtGuy's Christmas bonus.
We began preparing the kids a few months ago that this Christmas would be small. That everything we have is going to get us a safer vehicle for the family. And good boys that they are, they accepted this with no complaints.
God really blessed me back in August, when I hit a clearance sell at a bookstore. I was able to purchase some items for the boys' Christmas then, knowing money would be tight at Christmas. And again in October, a trip to my grocery store (which has a wonderful toy section) led me to an incredible mark-down on some items for The Monkey. So, while our Christmas will be smaller than normal, we are able to have a nice one!
I work a little every month, as a cantor singing for parish events. It is a great job. I am blessed to ever be allowed to do it. I do not make a lot, but it has always helped us out, especially for Christmas. This year I was able to get some extra work in the fall, mainly to pay for various things (the 2nd half of The Young Adult's math class, a winter coat for Cookie Boy, etc).
Then in early December, we found out ArtGuy's car needed a lot of work to pass inspection. My whole bigger paycheck, plus some. It was devastating. I mean, on one hand, I was so thankful we had the money at all, since we cannot go into debt any deeper. On the other hand, we are now officially broke.
I cried a little. I shouted out on facebook some, just as a way to blow off some of the stress. But I have been striving to remain cheerful and trusting.
I have been trying to plan for this moment. I knew it was coming. Our financial situation has been very tenuous for a couple of years, and the van has giving us signs for a year or more that it was close to exhaustion. I have tried to find extra work. We even looked into me going back to work full-time. I even went after a job and made it to the final stages of hiring, when I withdrew. My salary would have been about enough to cover day-care for The Monkey. Not worth it, yet. In a couple of years, maybe.
Then, I decided to concentrate on my writing. Surely THAT'S how God was going to help us. I worked as much as homeschooling 4 boys would allow, and finished one book I really believed in. But as the months went by, I received the same answer - no. Some did not publish that kind of book (for the religious ed classroom), and others loved it, but due to budget cuts and all, my book just would not make enough money for the publishing houses to publish it.
Well, then, what was the purpose in all this? If God really, truly cared, then He must know the place our family was coming to. And if He knew, and if He cared, and if He realized how hard we were trying, why was He not helping us to find a solution?
It started a little over a week ago. The first gift came, out of the blue. It knocked our socks off. And we felt blessed. But it wasn't the last gift. A few days later, I found out someone paid for The Young Adult's highland dance class for the month (we had to drop it this month. No $ = no extra activities). I cried.
But that has not been the end.
Some of our gifts have been anonymous, and some have had our friends' names on them. Some have been material. Some have been gifts of prayer, which believe me, have held me up in a very real way. All ways, ArtGuy and I feel so blessed, so surrounded by love and care. So cared for.
I cannot begin to express the fullness of my heart. ArtGuy and I still have to figure a way out of our mess, and try to keep this from happening again. The material help we are receiving will be of real, physical benefit to us. It will help pay bills, make repairs, and move forward.
But the bigger benefit of all this is not physical. It cannot be seen, but it most certainly is felt. It is the real love we feel from those around us. Why this outpouring of care and love from our friends and family now? I do not know. I do see the hand of God in it, the reminder that we are not alone, that we are not forgotten.
It is really beyond my ability to put into words what is in my heart. All I can do is give thanks constantly, and to live my life in grateful appreciation for the love we have been shown.
"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath..."I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!..." (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)