Sometimes it is hard to confess just how tight our finances are. It's a matter of pride for us not to let on that we're worried about where the next gallon of gasoline may be coming from, or whether we've got enough bread and milk to make it to payday.
In order for me to tell you about my Christmas miracle, though, I have to confess it, to lay it right out there in plain sight. Financially, it's a tight time for me. This whole year has been a pinch, no kidding.
I'm self employed, so I have no benefits that come from working for a company. Sure there's no doubt there are other ways I could make money. I admit right here also that I'd like to think I could still earn a living in my profession after a 30-year career. (Lord, yes, it also hurts to confess that 30-year thing...)
Anyway, my income has been less than minimum wage, to be perfectly honest. And from that I have to pay all of my business expenses, including equipment costs and all that blah-blah. Every penny that I earn is important and valuable.
This year I've had a summer full of expenses for my car as well as a big chunk of money spent to attend the funeral of an aunt, my dad's last surviving sibling. Those two particular things put me behind the 8-ball. And last month one of my editors forgot to pay me. Yeah, that was a real treat.
But the paycheck I get this coming week is supposed to include that pay, along with some extra bits and bobs I picked up last month. It will be a pretty nice check, if everything was handled right along the way.
Ah, but see, that check doesn't come until Saturday the 30th. And I'm flat broke. I've held on to $7 in one-dollar bills for the past two weeks to make sure I had money for my Saturday morning coffee meeting with a good friend and minister. A friend blessed me with a gift certificate that same week. I felt so blessed all inside and out for that simple, wonderful gift.
Last week I was doing some cleaning and stumbled across a little packet of folded up money. I figured it might be a couple of bills, but when I unfolded it, it was $5. OH my! I knew I could cut back to a small coffee and put the change in with my other $7 I was still pinching, and have enough for a coffee and a couple of gallons of gasoline. But then I saw a small cocoa was less, and it was a better substitute for my usual white chocolate mocha. I didn't miss my usual at all! (In fact I may switch to cocoa!)
I could give you more examples of those small moments where I've stretched a buck or found some loose change in a pocket, but the point is I've been blessed to have ENOUGH.
I wasn't so sure about Christmas eve and Christmas day, though.
It was important to me to celebrate my holiday alone this year. I NEED this holiday alone. It's hard to confess that too. We're made as social creatures and it's just peculiar to want to be alone at Christmas. But I have my reasons, many of them.
I've been stretching the food budget all month, cooking at home and making things that will stretch for several day. Who can seriously say that grabbing something at a drive-through is better than having a pot roast with onions, carrots and potatoes? Or cooking a turkey breast or a ham? All of these things are great reheated or used in sandwiches and they make several meals. My crock pot and my oven are my friends!
Even so. My last pot roast is past its prime at this point (or Past the Point of No Return, I'd say), and the ham bone is ready to go in the bean pot. Tasty, but not festive enough for Christmas celebration, even if I am going solo. The cupboard isn't quite bare, but there's mostly small cans of veggies in there -- great side dishes, but we need a centerpiece.
Somehow, I still have $3 or $4 from that $7 that's been lasting all month. I knew that wasn't going to cut it, so I was delighted when I remembered I still had ONE PIGGY BANK I hadn't yet tapped. It was a giant Hershey bar piggy bank that was so full it wouldn't hold anything else.
I knew the Hershey bar would be stuffed with pennies, but I thought there might be enough other change in there to cover the cost of some ground beef and a bag of potatoes. I started shaking out my riches. The first handsful were all pennies. I moved down to the floor, where my cardboard cutting board from sewing last night was still unfolded. Makes a great counting surface.
I kept shaking and shaking. A few quarters -- wonderful! Tons of nickels and dimes. Things look good again! Ah, but something's cloggin the opening.
One dollar bill. Then another. Then ... $7. All in one-dollar bills.
I shook until there was no more rattling. Then I checked inside with my finger just one more time and felt another bill in there. Hmmmm... maybe I can get some real chocolate?
I pulled the bill out and started crying. It was $20. Oh my gosh. I started crying harder. Not because this meant a GREAT feast, but because of the many times in my life when I've been blessed by a $20 bill when I was in real need.
There was the time I was walking at the mall, penniless, and looked down to see a $20 on the floor in front of me, with absolutely not another person anywhere close to it. I did what I thought was the right thing and turned it in to a clerk at the closest store, figuring someone would need that enough to come back trying to find it. Yeah, the clerk thought I was a fool for sure.
Funny thing ... that same hour, I went home and walked my dog in the little park across from my apartment. Just the two of us among the trees as she did her business. And there, against the trunk of the tree in front of me, was a $20 bill.
I kid you not.
I started laughing, looked at the sky and said "Thanks, God. I get it. And I thank you."
That's exactly how I felt again today when the last thing in the Hershey bank was a $20.
I folded up those extra $7, by the way, and put them in the spot where I keep my coffee money. I'll make it through, for sure, until that check comes.
So then what? I jumped up, put that $20 in my pocket with the dribs of the month's money, and hopped over to the grocery store before it closed for Christmas eve. I got a 5-lb. bag of potatoes, some bananas and a couple of oranges -- one for tonight and one for tomorrow. Then I headed back to pick up some ground beef. And stopped in my tracks, when I saw the butcher moving around turkeys that had just been marked down. I had a $9 package of ground beef in my hand that I put back, and instead got an 11-pound turkey for $7.25. Yes indeed. A feast will be had here tomorrow.
I picked up a package of frozen yeast rolls, a $3 pizza for tonight, a half gallon of skim milk and a bottle of Diet Coke (on sale for 88 cents).
Guess what my total was? OK, I'll tell you. $20.84. I guess God made me pay for that Diet Coke myself. LOL!
Every time I have one of these events in my life, I remember the hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." Let not your heart be troubled.
More than my petty budgeting issues, let's take tonight to remember the even greater gift given to us.
The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
May peace and joy be yours this day.