This is one of those miracles we hear about that can either be acknowledged as coincidence, or luck, or the Universe, or karma--or it can be acknowledged as a direct answer from God given to two people who were at their breaking point last Christmas. While this isn't how every story goes for every person, I share this for our children (or anyone else) who will find themselves at their own breaking point in life. It is written as a reminder that when they think they have done all they can, they may realize there is more they can do.
They can Ask.
"Hi. Ummmmmm, do you know how much money is in our bank account?" He sounded really frustrated.
"Not the exact amount, but it's not much," I answered.
"I'm here in Ohio at the car rental place, trying to pick up the car I reserved. They're telling me I can't get it." He said.
"What? Why? You've already paid for it!" I replied.
"I know, but you have to have at least $200 in your bank account in order to pick it up, they put a hold on that money in case something happens to the car."
"Oh. Oh no...." I trailed off. I didn't know the exact amount in our account, but I did know we did not have $200.
"Yeah. Tomorrow is pay day, but they don't deposit the money in to the account until like two in the morning. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm stranded in the car rental place. It's really late here, and the people I'm staying with tonight--I would feel awful having to wake them up. I barely know them and they're letting me stay as a favor to a mutual friend! And they would have to bring me back by 6:00 in the morning so I can come and pick up the car in time for my interview. This is so humiliating."
"I am so sorry Ben. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," he paused, and I could hear it in his voice, and in the silence following his answer--it was the sound of someone broken. "I'll figure it out and call you back in a little bit."
"Okay. I love you."
"I love you too," his voice was subdued, the life having gone out of it.
I hung up the phone, leaned over, put my head in my hands, and began to cry. This was not the first time in the past couple of months our bank account had been almost completely empty and we had held our breath until payday.
I knew he had several more upcoming internship interviews. I also knew rent was due in 2 weeks. I knew the amount of money coming in from pay day, and I knew that it was not enough to cover our rent as well as cover the traveling expenses of the interviews. I knew we would have to make a decision.
My chest felt tight. I could picture Ben there in the car rental place, defeated. I knelt down and prayed. For me, for Ben, for the ability to endure this emotionally taxing time.
When he came home from his trip, we sat at the table and talked. It was the most weary, humble, worn-down place I had ever seen my husband.
"I've looked at flights for the next interview, and there's just no way it's going to happen, " he said. "We just don't have enough."
"I know, " I replied softly. "I've been thinking though--do you remember what Paul said to us during their visit a month ago?" My mother in law and her husband Paul had stayed with us for a few days after Claire had been born.
"No, what?" Ben asked.
"He asked us if we had ever prayed and asked God directly for what we need. He asked if we had ever prayed for money. At the time I thought that sounded so...wrong to do. It felt greedy and selfish and temporal. But maybe it's not? I've always prayed and asked for extra strength to get through financially hard times, or for the ability to find more work to pay the bills, or to be able to find someone we can sell some of our things to. God has always answered those prayers...maybe He would answer this one?" I explained.
Looking at me from across the table, Ben shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well it's worth a try I guess. We know right now we're doing everything we can to get through this. We're both working, we're both trying to raise good children, we're both consecrating the time that we can to God and serving others. We're not asking for money for a boat, or more jewelry....we're literally asking so that we can further our chances of getting out of this financial situation, and to finish school."
"We know our hearts are in a good place, and God does too," I agreed.
So that night we knelt down together and again separately, and asked God directly for money.
The next day my mood was somber. I began opening the mail, looking forward to the Christmas cards of friends that always make me so happy.
In the pile was a letter from one of Ben's aunts. I opened up the card, and gasped as money floated out of the card and rested on the counter. I picked up the money and stared. We hadn't heard from this aunt in several years, and she had never sent us money before that I could remember. Goosebumps lined my arms and tears filled my eyes. I could feel God telling me this was a direct answer to the previous night's prayers.
I continued going through the pile of mail when I came across another Christmas card--this time from Ben's grandma in Indiana. When I opened up her card to find a check written from her, with enough money to completely cover one month's worth of rent, I went straight into what I like to call The Ugly Cry. I read her words as tears poured down my face, with her explanation that she and her husband had worked very hard to earn that money and saved it for years, but that she realized it might be needed in our lives. She asked us be wise with it--if it was needed then to use it, and if not, then to put it in an account for our children's college funds.
I could not stop crying, and I'm crying again now as I'm writing these words. I took pictures of the money sent by Ben's aunt and the check sent by his grandma, as well as pictures of the words of love and support they sent along with them.
I sent the pictures to Ben while he was at work, saying that our prayers had been answered. Within seconds he replied, saying he couldn't believe it and could not stop crying either. After texting him, I went into my bedroom, dropped to my knees and cried through my spoken words of gratitude to a God who had answered my prayers, and asked him to bless the lives of those who had allowed Him to work through them.
For the rest of the afternoon my heart felt so full. My eyes were puffy from crying every time I thought of the cards we had received.
Ben called to tell me he wouldn't be home from work until about 10 o'clock, so after dinner I started the bath/bedtime routine on my own. Claire would not stay asleep unless I held her, so I tucked her tiny body into the baby wrap and walked around until I had bounced her to sleep laying against my chest.
I put Leah and June in the bath and they immediately started fighting. Leah (who was having a rough night) began screaming and crying, which woke up Claire who also began crying.
I was trying to lift a dripping, refusing, screeching Leah out of the bath when I heard a knock on the front door. I set Leah back in the bath and tried to calm down Claire. I was flustered and slightly embarrassed to know whoever knocked probably heard the insanity going on inside.
When I opened the front door, there stood our bishop and friend Jon Mabb. My hair was everywhere, my clothes were wet from the shenanigans with Leah in the bath, Claire was crying against my chest and I could still hear screeching from the bathroom. I gave a little laugh and a look like "Well, this is my life! I'm a mess!"
He smiled and said simply, "Merry Christmas. This is from the ward." He handed me a red envelope and turned to walk away.
"Oh, well thanks!" I said, thinking the envelope must be a Christmas card the bishopric was doing for the members of the church.
And then, I remembered.
A few weeks earlier I had seen an email from Bishop Mabb to our ward members, saying there were some families in need for Christmas and to let him know if anyone would like to anonymously donate to them. Ben and I had talked, both wanting to give something to people we loved so much, especially during Christmas. As we talked we realized we sounded nuts--we couldn't even afford our own lives at that point! What were we thinking? "There will be a time and season we can donate money...right now is not our season," we told ourselves. Still, it was hard for us to not do something, so we picked a couple of families we knew could use some help and decided to serve in other ways.
As I held the red envelope in my hand I realized what it was and began to cry again. I had not considered the fact that our family might be one of those he was mentioning. I could barely open the envelope because I was so overcome with emotion. I slid down against the door and sat down on the cold tile floor with Claire still attached to me. I opened the card to find more money, generously donated to us by those doing the work of God. I sat there for several minutes letting the tears fall again, feeling so completely undeserving yet so completely grateful at the same time. I texted the bishop to tell him what this meant to us, I texted Ben to tell him of the third miracle of the day, and I offered another prayer to God, thanking Him for showing us of His awareness of us as individuals, and His love for us as His children.
Growing up, my family used to watch the movie "It's A Wonderful Life" every Christmas. I found it incredibly dull and boring. But about 7 years ago, I bought it and began the tradition of watching it every Christmas Eve while I wrapped presents.
Watching it as an adult was a different experience. I began to completely understand and relate to every emotion George Bailey felt. I watched as his shoulders grew more hunched and the furrow in his eyebrows grew deeper, and I knew that weight and worry. So did Ben. I watched as he almost threw the broken piece of the stair banister and Ben and I knew that inner rage and desperation. I watched as he pretended to fix Zuzu's petals in order to preserve his daughter's innocent happiness, and I knew that feeling of love and the need to protect. I watched as he yelled at the teacher for being the culprit of his child's illness and I knew that feeling of the need to find blame somewhere, anywhere. I watched as he stood on the bridge staring into the dark water, and I knew that feeling of wondering if the lives Ben and I have lived really even mattered, or if somehow we were just doomed to feel like it would always be this excruciatingly painful uphill struggle with ridiculous hurdles that continued to land in our paths.
But it's the final scene of that movie, that makes me Ugly Cry no matter how many times I watch it. George, Mary, and their children, surrounded by those whose lives they have affected by love and service, being lifted from their darkest moment by those who could give their love and service in return.
As I sat on the tile floor leaning against our front door, I knew it was only myself and my baby in that room but I also knew what the Bailey family was feeling as I wept, surrounded by the knowledge that our lives do matter, and though monetarily we could not show up for others...that the ways we had shown up, for each other and for others, in the eyes of God, had been enough.
This was a life-changing day for Ben and I, and we both know we will never be the same. Because we asked, God answered. We were able to pay our rent and Ben was able to go to the rest of his internship interviews, specifically to the interview that brought us to San Antonio. Our financial struggle did not end that day, but our needs were taken care of. It was enough. It was so much.
We are forever grateful.
"All you can take with you
Is that which you've given away."
It's A Wonderful Life.