January was just one of those months. We had some unexpected costs with the trip to Israel (tips, meals on the road, airport parking, a night in a hotel so we didn’t kill ourselves driving back after our late flight landed in Houston), with Wes’s broken foot (super expensive shoes for rehab, the bills from the doctor, all the gas for all the trips back and forth to Jackson to see that doctor), and the end of Wes’s doctoral work (one final huge payment to his professional editor on top of what we’re paying as we finish up the last few tuition payments and graduation fees, hallelujah!). And the dogs needed to go to the vet and would (of course) need their super expensive heartworm/flea preventative. No worries, though. These were all expenses that would have been easily covered during a good month of book royalties.
But last month was the WORST month of book royalties. I mean that sincerely. I haven’t seen numbers that low in three years. What happened? Why did it happen? Why did my book sales and my pages read stink so magnificently? I have no idea. And I know – my worst month in three years is still way better than I ever expected I would have back before I started writing. And I should count myself lucky that I even get paid anything to do what I love, AND there are better months coming in terms of book royalties. But wow. This low month hit at a really bad time.
Right as all of this was happening and I was adjusting our budget to make our finances work for the month, the girls came home with notes about ordering yearbooks. Sigh. My agreement with Ana last year was that I would cover half the cost if she covered the other half with her allowance, which she readily agreed to. Emma must not have been aware of that agreement because she got out $40 – the full cost – from the allowance that she’d saved, planning to take it to school and pay for it all herself.
“I’m going to pay for half, Emma,” I told her. “You don’t need to pay it all alone.”
I expected her to either snatch her money back eagerly or shrug like “whatever.” (Both real possibilities because she’s just at that age.) Instead, though, she looked at me, put her hands over her heart, and said, with such sincerity in her voice, “Mommy! Thank you! That’s so kind of you!” There was no expectation for me to pay any of it for her, and the grateful way that she accepted half of the cost really touched me. She has a grateful heart. A thankful heart.
I had a moment like this with Ana not too long afterward. Because of the expensive month we had in January, we were considering modifying some of our vacation plans for the summer. That’s just life, of course, but I felt so bad about it. I think it’s a stay at home mom guilt, that when life is expensive we can start thinking that it’s our fault, that we’re the reason that our families have to tighten up the budget because we have the extravagance of staying at home and not working a “real” job. And my guilt only felt compounded because it was my really awful month that was leading us to adjust our expectations for the summer.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Ana as we discussed how we might have to change our plans. “I wanted to treat you to a really special trip this summer, and now, I’m not sure if it’s going to happen.” And Ana said to me, “Mommy, we have a good life. And I have all that I need.” Instead of taking that as the most wonderful, God-sent affirmation, my distracted and covetous heart prompted me to say to her pure and grateful heart, “If I worked a real job things would be better.” She answered me with this, repeating herself, “No. We have a good life. And I’m glad you’re here for me whenever I need you.”
I considered arguing with her on this, telling her that I could still be here for her even if I worked, that plenty of working moms drop everything to be everything that their kids need, but luckily the Holy Spirit prompted me to just shut up already (for real) and take the affirmation and learn a thing or two from my preteens. People have told me for years and years that these – the junior high years – would be the worst years and that my kids would have attitudes and be rebellious and make me want to pull my hair out. But I’m discovering that these years are some of the best and that God is using my children to teach me about having a thankful heart, a grateful heart, and appreciating this good life that we have.
I’m thankful for children who are my sisters in Christ, who can point me in the right direction when I get distracted by things that really don’t matter, who I can do the same for when they will inevitably be swayed in the same ways. I’m thankful for daughters who are content (most of the time) with what they have and who they are, who have generous and thankful hearts, and who go out of their way to encourage others. Why in the world would I be upset or stressed about life and the way life sometimes goes when I see the faithful hand of God in the most important things, in the prayers He is answering day by day, as He grows the babies that I prayed over into young women who are even now image bearers of His grace and kind heart?
I have a good life. A very, very good life.