Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Remember When Wednesdays: The Debt Story Part I

The light at the intersection was red. Thankfully. Laura's words had pierced my soul and I was hoping, praying that she hadn't noticed. When she spoke it was as if God Himself had spoken; I realized He'd been trying to speak to me for a long time, but it was the first time I'd actually listened.
"The light's green," Laura said. It  brought me out of my haze and we continued chatting as I tried to ignore the lightning bolt that had just shot through my heart.
Everything was normal when we arrived back at the house. Our husband's were playing in the yard with the kids and we started on dinner.
Later, when Officer Hottie and I had a minute alone, he asked how the trip to Target went.
"Um...Laura said something that really hit me."
"Oh yeah?" he replied. "What was that?"
"Well, you know how she's really into homebirth but she had Kaleb at the hospital? I asked her why and she said their insurance hadn't covered home birth. She said they had a conviction from the Lord to never go into debt, and that the conviction He gave them was stronger than their own personal ideals, so they decided that instead of putting his birth on credit they would go to the hospital."
I could see the twinge across his face as the words "conviction from the Lord" slapped him as hard as they'd slapped me. I could see his shoulders slump a bit as he deflated. Laura and her husband, Julian, came out of our guest bedroom then (which was really just our son's room with an extra mattress thrown in) so I knew the conversation would have to be finished later.
A few days later I waved to Julian and Laura and their kids as they left to go back home and I nearly forgot about how God had spoken through her. When we went to put our son's room back together we found a pile of their clothing and pillows. I laughed as I packed it up to take the the UPS store. Laura said she'd send us money but I laughed her off. "Pshhh. Shut it."
The day after sending the package I sat down to balance our checkbook. After having friends here for a week I was happy to see we had some money left over. Sweet. Maybe we could go out for dinner one more time before payday? I do love to eat out.
The next morning I awoke in a panic. My heart was racing and it was like God was again talking to me..."Did you pay the credit card bill?"
Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. I forgot to pay the bill. I forgot...I forgot...
Officer Hottie was already at work so I ran out to the computer to check our ledger balance...sure enough...I hadn't paid the bill. My heart sank. The minimum payment was $250 and we only had $100 left in our checking account.
Wait? Where did all that extra money go? What happened to all that overtime?
I frantically looked through the list of transactions; they screamed to me as I passed each one.
The Old Spaghetti Factory. You didn't have enough money to eat here!
The Children's Museum. Why would you even go here if you don't have money?
The Woodland Park Zoo. You paid more for GAS than for admission. And the lions were sleeping!
Trader Joe's. Really? REALLY? Chocolate covered ORGANIC pretzels? Really?
I could feel the tears building up as each transaction left me feeling more panicked and angry. How did we do this to ourselves? Where were we going to find the money to pay our bill? We'd never not paid a bill before...the weight of responsibility and failure was heavy on me as I reached for the phone to call Officer Hottie.
Through tears I explained that we'd spent our money and had no way to pay our credit card bill. Or to tithe. All that money that we'd blown through that we were going to give to our church. I felt as if we'd not only let ourselves down and been completely irresponsible but that we were also letting down God; that we had misused His blessings and cheated on Him. OH was calm and practical, promising to call the Credit company and see what we could work out.
"How did we do this? How did we get here? How could we let this happen?"
I thought back to a few months earlier when I'd overpaid our internet bill by $30 and it took our account negative. Why hadn't that forced us to look at our finances? Or two years before when OH started with the police department and his first paycheck was $700; I remembered the terror of the realization that we had no moeny and barring a miracle we wouldn't be able to make our mortgage payment. Why hadn't we allowed that to put a freeze on our spending? I thought about when he transferred to his new city and got a pay raise of over $300 and the first thing we did was buy a new car and get into a car payment. What else could we have used that $300 for? Certainly we had bills we were obligated to; how did we forget that?
My heart was heavy and burdened as I mulled over the mess we had made for ourselves.
Oh God, what are we going to do?
Little voices lifted me from my fog of self-despair. I had to turn on Mom mode and go. Change the diapers, get out the cereal, get them dressed, take a shower, go to the park ... the day moved on, each hour taking us closer to the dreaded payment deadline. I tried not to think about it, to shove it away as had been my practice for years but it was different this time. I knew things had to change, I just didn't know how we could change them, and that frustrated me almost more than not being able to pay our bills did.
The next day I woke up with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. A knot. A pit. Butterflies. I'm not sure what to call it. I hated waking up and feeling dread. It was going to be a hard day. I got the kids ready for church and while they were eating sat down at the computer to check my email. Someone had responded to our ad on Craigslist for our bedroom set. The weight, the dread, lifted slightly.
As I packed the kiddos into the car I begged the Lord to have the people buy the set. If we sold it, I knew we could pay our bill - we would make it another month.
I sat through worship and when the pastor got up to give the weekly announcements I was hardly paying attention as I was sitting next to Mom and there's always something important for us to talk about. I heard the pastor saying something about financial classes and immediately grabbed the bulletin from my mom's  hands. Sure enough there, was going to be a financial class offered for women. An answer. Hope. Help. The weight lifted a little bit more.
That afternoon a couple came over to look at our bedroom set. Officer Hottie was working and had given me explicit instructions on how to load the gun and answer the door. Having a gun on my person made me more nervous than strangers coming to our house. He's such a cop sometimes. When they arrived I saw they were an elderly couple and quickly tossed the gun on top of our fridge; it was making my pants fall down anyway. They walked into our house, took a quick look at the set, and gave me $350 in cash. I wanted to hug them, to cry, to jump up and down. I wish they knew how they saved me that day. I briefly thought of the $1700 we'd spent on this set that I just HAD to have when we first got married and the measly $350 I now held in my hands but the remorse was temporary as the burden of not being able to pay our bill that month lifted completely.
I carefully tucked the money into my purse to take to the bank the following morning. I was ecstatic that our bill would be paid on time. However, in the back of my mind I was already wondering how we would pay next month's bill and praying that the financial class would hold some answers for us.

To be continued...


Sister Copinherhair said...

Oh...boy...I feel like you have been able to see inside my head. I have been there and today, I still live paycheck to paycheck.

Momma Hen said...

Sister Copinherhair: My goal/hope in sharing our debt story is that a) people will understand we weren't "just lucky" or "make a lot of money" and that our reality before beginning to get out of debt was that we were on the verge of a major financial crisis. And b) that if we could do it, anyone can.

Katie said...

I LOVE this! I feel as though I am right there with you!!! I can't WAIT to see how this awesome story unfolds...Mama Hen, you are INSPIRING!!! I've read the first chapter of Dave Ramsey's book, but I really want to dig in and figure everything out! Thanks so much for sharing your story! xoxoox

Jenney said...

Fantastic story! I love hearing how people have been inspired to get their finances in order and be debt free. We have been debt free for nearly 2 years now. Such a relief!!!!

Twyla said...

You make me laugh, as always. And you make me think a lot, too. Thanks for sharing your story!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing - I've been here so many times - that sick, sick feeling looking at the bank statement going "what happened, how did I do that?" and that horrible knowledge that I did that, no one else, and I could have done it differently - and yes, the sure knowledge that I've squandered a gift, resources given to me, entrusted to me. We're making progress on our debt, but it could be so much better still. Jenney, thanks for sharing that you've made it! From Raechelle, a friend of Tied by his love