Thursday, August 20, 2020

What I've Learned About Money and Generosity

There are topics that I never plan to write about. You won't find me writing about child training; I have too much to learn. I won't write about marriage; Ed made marriage too easy.

Personal finances is a topic I'd rather not address. But in the last year, I've been asked numerous times, by friends with worried expressions, how I'm supporting my children. They weren't being nosy. They were honestly concerned, sometimes nearly in tears. Some told that their greatest fear was being a widow.

I've found myself repeatedly assuring them that we are doing fine, that I'm not stressed about finances. In fact we have more than we need and have a larger emergency fund than any time in our marriage.

For several reasons, I've decided to share this post publicly here. I figure there are others who are worried for me who haven't had the courage to ask. Also, many of you have given to our family. You are the reason I don't have financial stress.

For years Ed and I were the typical couple whose expenses threatened to be higher than our income. In our first years of marriage, Ed put every spare cent into paying off our house. We were having a baby with its attached hospital bills nearly every year, but Ed still managed to pay off our house in record time. He then began saving for an addition to our house which he did a few years later. He was also investing in a business. I'm so grateful for his wise money management during those years. 

As our family grew, Ed's income didn't keep up. I know it frustrated him to be squeezed tight some months. He looked forward to just a few years when his business investments would start to pay off. In the fall of 2016, he bought a CNC router and installed it in our basement. He hoped this would bring in some side income and be a project he could do with our children. He had some big jobs those first months which allowed him to pay off the router investment quickly, and our bank account began showing more breathing space than usual. 

But then, in May 2017, Ed was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When faced with brain surgery, a few thousand in the bank look rather meager. Ed was barely communicating at this point because of his severe headaches, but he told me to start paying bills with the credit card, and we'd worry about them later. 

I was never involved in the bill paying, Ed took care of those details, but I always vaguely worried about money. Now I was faced with a husband who was seriously sick and  an overwhelming number of bills. But I can honestly say that I wasn't worried. This had to be a gift from God.

Our church, like many Mennonite churches, has a practice of helping each other with medical bills. But I didn't know if the fund could handle a brain surgery. But our church and another church gave substantial gifts, and I was able to pay Ed's hospital bill before he was even discharged. I can't tell you what a gift that was to me. The future looked uncertain, but I had a tangible reminder that God cared for us.

Ed was able to return to work quickly, and his router business continued to do well the next months. Our vehicles were very old, and Ed wanted me to have more reliable transportation. In the fall he used the money from his router business to buy a van that was almost two decades newer than our other vehicles. He began teaching me to handle the family finances, a task I hated though I appreciated his goal of preparing me. 

We were astounded at the gifts we received during Ed's illness. Many checks arrived in the mail, some from people we didn't know. Sometimes  a bill arrived in the mail and in the same mailbox was a check for nearly the same amount as the bill. When Ed's doctors found out he had six dependent children, they gave discounts and applied us to programs which wiped out almost all of Ed's chemo and radiation costs. When Ed's tumor grew back, he chose to participate in clinical trials at the National Institute of Health. Since he was a volunteer, they did not charge us for his second or third brain surgery or any of his treatments. Even our travel expenses were reimbursed. 

By Ed's death, all of his medical expenses had been paid. I had seen God work in so many ways in the previous two years that I didn't fear the future, even though I had six children and no breadwinner. 

I balked, but my family insisted that we set up a memorial fund in Ed's memory for his children. The generosity was astounding. I also had several churches and individuals offer us regular monthly support.

My dad, brothers, and brother-in-laws discussed various options that would give my family long-term income. Several of my brothers are carpenters and have bought houses to fix up and rent. An old house they had worked on went on the market. Half the house was remodeled into two apartments and an office, the second half of the house still needed major repairs. 

So last August, I wrote out a check for an old house in the historical district of a small nearby town. I wished that Ed could have seen how well God would take care of us through the help of God's people. 

Since then, family and friends have put an uncountable number of hours into this house. I love the my brothers are willing to save some of the old features in the house, including many fireplaces. We finished one of the apartments in the winter and were able to get it rented right before Covid. We are now working on the final apartment. Hopefully it too will soon be rented. 

Each month when I take the stack of rent checks to the bank, I'm humbled again at the generosity of so many people. I don't know what the future holds, but at this point, we have no financial needs. When my daughter began orthodontic work several months ago, I remembered how I dreaded that day when our dentist had first told us that she needed braces. I imagined the squeeze on our bank account. But  now, I could easily write out the check.

I've learned two things the past year. 

1. I've had to learn how to receive. 
I've always wanted to be the one who gave. I have a streak of independence and would much rather be the giver than the receiver. I don't mind accepting something like a baby meal because I know that I'll have an opportunity to return a meal in the future. 

But I've had to accept gifts knowing that there is no way that I can ever repay what I've been given. I'm dependent on the generosity of others. 

Soon after Ed's death, I complained to a friend about always being on the receiving end. She told me that God commands us to help the widows and the fatherless, and I had to allow others the blessing of giving. I've tried to remember this, but it is still hard. 

2. I've had to learn how to spend.
I'm a tightwad. Ed would probably tell you that I lean toward miserly. I don't enjoy spending money and shopping puts me in a bad mood. My typical method of shopping is to get on Amazon, read all the one-star reviews, and decide against the purchase. 

When Ed was alive, he made sure I stayed balanced. He'd insist that I make a purchase that I was stalling on. Once he was helping me in the kitchen and noticed my broken hand mixer (which I could use if I held it just right). He ordered a new on the same day. Because he was involved and observant, he noticed our needs. I was recently looking in our online purchasing history and I found that his last order, a few months before his death, was pillowcases and a kitchen trash can. 

But now I was the one who had to fill the van up  with gas, plan a vacation, and order household needs. For one that hates spending money, it was an adjustment. Add the fact that I wanted to be a wise steward of the gifts we have been given, and it could be crippling. I've had to tell myself repeatedly, "Ed would tell me to just buy it." Friends have been helpful by giving me gifts and telling me to splurge on a treat for the family. I'm slowly becoming more comfortable making purchases, which seems silly at age 44, but my tightwad tendencies haven't given up easily.

Thanks so much for those who have given us support through your prayers and gifts. You have helped this past year be much less stressful and your generosity will continue to bless of our family for years in the future.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Gardening, Painting, and Celebrating in August

The typical August finds every weekend filled with gatherings of friends. Adding gardening and canning means that August is usually one of the busiest times of the year.

But Covid canceled all our weekend plans in August. It is rather startling to look at a calendar with blank pages. 

But we are finding ways to fill and enjoy this month.

Cuddling kittens.

Digging potatoes.

Husking sweet corn for supper.

And many days of painting at the last apartment at our rental house. 

Covid had halted this project for a few months, but thanks to huge amounts of help from others, we are nearing completion.

But our August highlight will be Saturday when we gathered in a park under huge trees.

With family and a few friends.

To celebrate the marriage of my poet brother to his princess bride.

As the sun set, we gathered in the huge gazebo

To enjoy great food washed down with laughter.

The nieces.

The nephews.

Each of my siblings' weddings have been special. But at this one, the joy in seeing how God brought these two together was extra special. Only God could have found a girl so perfectly suited for Todd. So glad you are part of the family, Tanya.


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