Now you're imagining Donald Trump and you have that song stuck in your head, don't you?
Lately I've been asked the same question literally a dozen times. The question varies slightly, but the gist of it is always the same.
"How do you guys do it?"
What they are asking, really, is how can we afford for me to stay home? How can we make ends meet in one of the highest-cost places in our nation? Is my husband rich? Did we win the lottery and not tell anyone? Did we get an inheritance? Is someone giving us money? Does one of you deal drugs?
The answer to all of those questions is a huge, emphatic no. As a matter of fact, we lived well below the poverty line for our area last year. We probably make significantly less than pretty much everyone we know. But you know what? We are not in need of anything.
We are in fact hugely, richly, extravagantly blessed.
So I have decided to record down my answer, and it's going to take a few posts. I finally cracked and am writing this tonight partly because I need a reminder for myself of that we've learned about money in our first five years of marriage. I've written here before that money is a consistently a huge source of anxiety for me, and it's an area I've worked on in my heart for a long, long time. We are actually getting brand-new granite countertops this week (these are more of a need than a want...more on that later this week) and while I am very excited, I am a little anxious (surprise!) about the money.
Yet, crazily, this string of small home improvements lately has me acting like the Mouse who got a cookie. A cookie with crack. You know, you give him a cookie and he wants milk and before you know it he wants everything in sight? I'm kind of acting like that. I need a reminder that I don't need anything right now. I have food and a warm house and health insurance. I have diapers for my baby and I even have a car. With gas in it. And the ability to go buy more gas and more diapers and more food when I need them.
You see, distinguishing between true needs and true wants was one of the first steps in our journey along this money road. While neither of us has ever been a true spendthrift by any stretch (especially me- like I've said before, my parents at times jokingly called me their little Scrooge), when we went from two incomes to no incomes and back up to one income, we had to wake up a little.
It's funny, too, because we were never rolling in the dough by any stretch. We started married life with my husband working for a non-profit youth ministry and with me working as a substitue teacher. I didn't have any income that first summer. He was still on intern salary. I'm actually not sure how we paid our bills those first few months!
Then slowly we started to make a little more. He moved out of intern salary and I was making more as a long-term substitute and eventually I was hired as a full-time teacher. We had two, albeit low, salaries and we were doing just fine. We could pay all of our bills, go out to eat, afford inexpensive vacations and go to Target without thinking too much about how much we were spending and we were still able to save about $1,000 a month.
Then things changed. Drastically.
While we were pregnant with Sweet Pea, we both left our jobs. Voluntarily, yes, but in both cases we knew without a shadow of a doubt that it needed to happen, even in the face of no income for an unknown amount of time.
Very quickly, things that had formerly been "needs" became very obvious "wants." We pinched and we tightened and we were even more careful than ever and we learned something that we'd been learning anyway but which became ever so mightily clear and evident:
God provides for needs.
I could tell story after story about this, and over time I will, but I know it now beyond a shadow of a doubt. I have no intention of sounding hokey, or over-spritualizing, or sounding like one of those awful Sunday morning t.v. preachers. I just know that bad things happen, but miracles happen, too. And while I doubt that pleading with God for a Rolls Royce is really going change things much, I do believe that the honest prayers of a couple saying, "Lord, we don't know how we're going to pay this medical bill" are heard and answered by a God who loves us.
Part of that answer will come in the form of taking an honest look at your finances and realizing that you could be a much better steward of your money in some areas. It might mean not going out to dinner for awhile or realizing that your clothes might not be at the height of fashion but they are warm and clean and cute and fit well. You will learn to be way more thankful for what you already have and thankful for small, crazy blessings like finding the exact stroller you wanted for your baby in lovely condition at a random thrift store on the side of the road in West Virginia for $12. Contentment, while hard to learn, will slowly but surely fill areas in your life you always thought were void.
Part of that answer might come in the form of a friend needing a home for an intern at their business and offering to pay you more than they should for a room in your house. It might come in the form of you gratefully, thankfully answering with an emphatic YES and enjoying the fun of making home nice for a new friend.
Part of that answer might come in the form of an entirely, completely unexpected gift that makes you cry and laugh and praise God all at once.
These things happened to us, but they have also happened to countless others who relied on God in all the good, the bad and the ugly. I've heard the stories. I've heard the stories and felt bitterness in my heart because I didn't understand why God had rescued those people when He wasn't rescuing me, while all the while He was and I was too dense to see it.
God provides. Period. He provides for your needs and it takes a lot of long, hard work to understand what your needs really are versus your wants. It takes a good, long, hard look at your heart and sometimes it takes asking yourself, "What, if we lost every last drop of our money, is the very worst that could happen here?" Chances are, you won't starve. You might not have cable or an iphone or a new dress. It might mean using the same the same hand-me-down couch that your parents bought when you were nine for the first five years of your marriage and being grateful for it. You might not get a fancy new stroller but no matter what, in this country if your baby gets sick you can take her to the emergency room and she'll receive medical attention. Isn't that wonderful? It's not like that everywhere. We are blessed to live in this nation and we are blessed to have communities of friends and families that God uses to help when we're down. It's incredible, absolutely incredible, how He works our stories out and together and for good. Always for good.
So, how do we do it? First and foremost, we rely on God- because He provides.