Yesterday I needed to do a little grocery shopping. After thinking through what was needed to supplement what I already had for making meals for the next week, I visited three different stores looking for the best prices. I picked up Halloween candy, grapes and a cantaloupe, a huge package of chicken quarters and breasts, the big jug of the Coffee Mate my daughter uses and a jar of salsa needed for the Taco Lasagna I was making for dinner.
And paid for everything in quarters.
Earlier, I had sent ou a big THANK YOU for the change jars my husband and I both keep that produced $30 dollars. It would be enough.
Mumbling something to the cashiers about garage sales and not wanting to lose money in “fees” at the CoinStar, I managed to stave off most of my embarrassment at piling up the coins for payment (and was particularly relieved when no one was behind me in line.)
There is money in the account for rent and a couple of bills needing to be paid before next payday. There’s a $100 bill in the change jar that I can use for groceries or gas. And, in case of an emergency, there’s always credit cards. So it’s not like we are destitute. I don’t expect we’ll even be late on anything. But it felt better to use the coins, to conserve what we have.
See, we are in on of those “In-between” season. Having gone through our entire savings over the last 18 months while undergoing breast cancer treatment – and all that entailed – we just happen to be in-between the time when money is so tight is squeaks, and some relief on the not-too-distance horizon. With careful planning, and a lot of God’s grace, we are going to make it through this time just fine.
Come December, and the last of 17 months of COBRA insurance payments will be made. That’s $650/month. My husband is expecting his annual bonus check come the first week in December, too. And it looks like my part-time bookkeeping job is starting to give me more hours. Fast forward another 7-8 months, and hundreds of dollars will be back in my husband’s paycheck when a 401K loan is paid off. So, all things being equal, by this time next year we “should be” in a much better place.
It’s having that relief in sight, and seeing every day miracles of provision, that keeps me from getting blue. Actually, I am feeling a deep sense of heart-satisfaction and peace right now in spite of the squeeze.
Several years ago, I had this moment of clarity that broke my heart AND filled me with the realization at just how short the human life really is. I realized that an entire season of my life was over – a major one! – never to be experienced again. I was staring my own mortality in the face. How FAST it all went (even if, at the time, it didn’t feel that way)! In a breath, it was gone – that Long-but-Short season of being a young, newly married woman creating her first home, bearing and raising two babies, and facing more years ahead of her than she did behind her. So much promise and possibility in those years, even while I clipped coupons to stretch the food budget, made trips to the pediatrician, and sewed costumes for school.
There was a lot of magic going on in those days, as I made “something out of nothing”. I still have a binder full of recipes cut from magazines for using hamburger 50 different ways, and making casseroles out of leftovers.
Even back then, being a two-income family was a necessity if one (a) wanted to stay off government assistance and (b) wanted to provide a decent (lower) middle class existence for a family. While in my heart I longed to be a stay at home mom, my pragmatism was what drove me. I would rather have my kids safe and sound in the “extended family” environment of a good babysitter while I brought home the bacon, than to subject myself to food stamps and, them, to poverty just so I could “stay home”. As it turned out, I was a job creator myself, providing the income for another mom to stay home, while bringing home money and health benefits for my entire family. In retrospect, it was worth the trade-off. My kids didn’t suffer. They were loved, and knew they were loved, by not only me and my husband but by a “village”, so to speak.
Can a child EVER experience too much love?
Boy, there were some tough at times, to be sure. Sure, we made do with nice second-hand furniture, and help from my parents. When the second baby came 15 months after the first, and expenses doubled, I truly didn’t know where the money would come from for childcare, pediatrician visits, diapers, formula and clothing for two little growing bodies.
There were many many mornings before work spent in prayer and a lot of tears. There were also sublime moments of gratitude and overwhelm when “things worked out”. We never went without anything important. It might come in at the last-minute, but the money was always there to pay the mortgage, or to buy food or to put gas in the cars. We even had a little extra for pizza on the weekends, something special for the kids on their birthdays, and goodies under the tree from Santa.
Later, as a single mom of two teenagers, there wasn’t money for college but both my kids have held jobs since their teen years, and have since grown in their respective careers. Now – at 29 and 30 – they are wonderful people and productive members of society.
With a lot of hard work, and even more of God’s grace, we made it.
Fast forward to today. There are three generations under our roof again, having banded together for a season because we can all do better together than we can do apart right now. Once again there are “children” to care for. A family to cook for and nurture. A child’s laughter and wonder to experience on a daily basis. It’s like I am experiencing a renaissance of my Motherhood years…something I thought was long gone.
Here I am again, cutting coupons and looking for creative ways to make “cheap” cuts of meat taste yummy. (Which is an oxymoron these days.) I am being extra careful to use up, reuse, make do, and make sure to shop smart – and, where appropriate – in quantity again. It’s not easy, with 3 adults and 1 growing boy. There are some challenges when adult children move back in. My house isn’t as neat and quiet as it was before a 7-year-old lived here full-time. But Oh! It’s been satisfying on SO many levels! Deep and heart wrenchingly so, as this time around, at 60 years old, I am so much more mindful of the fragility and fleeting preciousness of life here on Earth.
Ok, so I kinda swallowed my pride, put on a “face”, and used quarters yesterday. BFD! No harm was done to me in the making of those purchases…except for, maybe, my ego. The Taco Lasagna was delicious, the rent check is in the mail, and my grandson had a wonderful Halloween treak-or-treating and handing out the candy that Grandma bought earlier in the day. $15 worth of the good stuff. Peanut Butter cups, Tootsie Pop suckers, and malted milk balls. YUM.
Just like my kids back in the day, he hasn’t a clue there are medical bills to be paid. He has no concept of the exorbitant and ever-increasing cost of living that is crushing the middle class. All he knows is he is safe, warm, well cared for, and well-loved. The adults in his life are – collectively – providing everything he really needs. (Even if Mom DOES have to say “No” to buying the 37th wrestling action figure…at least, for now).
And so, I find myself frequently choked up and on the verge of tears as I witness God – again and still – miraculously providing for us. For example, I wrote my floral design teacher to tell her I couldn’t make this next session because I didn’t have the material fee, and hoped my course fee could be applied for a future class when things were a little better. She told me to come anyway. To come in early, in fact, so we could chat. I left class Saturday with a beautiful arrangement, a bag of pumpkin seeds to roast, and a heart full of love for her.
Then there was last Friday, when I went “Treasure Hunting” at the Good Will to pass some time, and found the most adorable top for my daughter ½ off – a whopping $2.99. It ended up being the “perfect” thing for her to wear to a big family reunion she was going to. It fit like a glove.
My husband does a little handyman “side work” for a rancher friend, and ended up coming home Saturday with a HUGE bag of pomegranates (so many I gave some to a friend), a ton of fresh beef (4 lbs. Of ground and a nice looking roast), and a crisp $100 bill!
It’s really mind-blowing, sometimes. In the very middle of a difficult season, I feel such gratitude. Such JOY. It’s like a deep river of satisfaction and peace running through my belly, holding me steady and refreshing my soul. I feel it when I peel carrots and potatoes for a big pot of stew, knowing the family will smell it as they come in the door, hungry and tired after a long day at work. I am awash with it as I fold my grandsons clean clothing, or witness his excitement at a freshly carved and lit Jack O’ Lantern or hear him tell how he made Super Student at school – again! – this week.
Seasons come and go. Good times and bad. Hard times and easy ones. Abundant times and slim pickings times. Healthy times, and not. For everything thing, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
And, if you’re lucky, some seasons actually come around again.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear….for your Father knows that you have need of these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” Matthew 6:25, 32-33