This week my husband and I had a big "family budget summit." I'd looked forward to this meeting for weeks. We carefully scheduled time on the calender to have a global financial planning session for the next year.
Turns out that having a fourth baby means starting over from scratch on all necessary infant equipment. The infant car seat that we bought with Hannah has passed it's expiration date. I donated Maria's IKEA high chair to Goodwill during one of my weepy "why am I suddenly infertile at 33?" episodes. Then last month, Alex managed to break the expensive crib that was supposed to last us forever. So the expense tally for "the things that we'll need in the first year for a new baby" is -rather- HUGE.
Because this baby is bringing a new sense of order to the Benjamin household, I dreamed big. I imagined my husband and I having a huge Dave Ramsey style meeting where all of our household expenses would be carefully charted out on Excel Spreadsheets. For the first time in nine years of marriage, we'd be super organized about our spending.
I thought the only thing I needed to bring to the table was patience. I'd carefully dole out the baby's needs to fit with our growing savings account. First, I'd purchase a new car seat in July. Then I'd get cute pink baby clothes in August. In six months, when the baby could start to nibble on cheerios, I'd have the funds to buy a high chair. Finally, when I was ready to stop co-sleeping with the baby at 8 months, I'd have the enormous sum of $450 to buy a new crib and new Sealy mattress.
We started the 2010 Budget Summit with great hope. We'd recently finished paying off our credit card debt. As a result, we expected to get a nice increase in our spending allowance.
After we crunched the numbers, however, we had a rude shock. After figuring in the doctor bills, the lab tests, the dental co-pays and my future hospital stay we had $25 dollars of Jon's paycheck left over each week. $25 for "everything" from home school supplies, new shoes for rapidly growing kids, bicycle tires, Zip Car rentals and the host of other things a family of 6 needs each month. We had enough to cover our monthly bills and expected medical expenses, yet nothing "extra".
Jon took a deep breath. "Well, I guess everything else that we need gets filed under 'Depend Upon God.'"
It was the perfect Carmel moment. Our "big budget summit" had taken exactly fifteen minutes. Turns out that God had entrusted two Carmelites with just enough money for rent, utilities, food and health care. Our big plan for acquiring Clothing, Cribs, School Supplies, everything four children need to exist in America is labeled simply "Depending on God to Provide."
Prayer works. After my failed planning session, I didn't pout. I didn't pick a fight with my husband. I didn't fall into depression. I didn't start making plans for Jon to take a second job. Instead, I simply shrugged my shoulders. "That's so Carmel," I said.
Two days later, my Sister called. She found an infant car seat for $10 at a garage sale. I told her to buy it for me. I didn't get my hopes up. The car seat might be ratty or unsafe. I just took my Sister's find as a little confirmation from God that not all car seat purchases need to cost $150 at Target. (Cheap car seats are especially good for a family that doesn't own a car and literally only needs one for the trip home from the hospital or for an emergency doctor run.)
The next day, the head Maintenance Guy from our Apartment Complex dropped by. He took one look at my pregnant belly and said yes to an entire apartment make-over- For FREE! Because we're going on our fourth year in the same apartment, he said we could have all of our walls repainted, new carpet laid, a new dishwasher installed and a new ice-maker for the refrigerator.
We saw Head Maintenance Guy later as our family walked to the pool for a swim. We all gave him a happy wave. My husband said 'You know the maintenance guy only did this because he's got a soft spot for children and he wants to make life better for a pregnant woman."
I started to protest, "I'm sure it's thanks to my great negotiating skills! I know my tenant rights. I used to be an attorney, you know."
My husband rolled his eyes at my naivete. "Abby, we rent a two bedroom apartment in a giant complex in a major Metropolitan City. We are so not on the VIP treatment list. You got that us that star-quality apartment treatment because the guy has a soft spot for struggling, sweet families."
"Well, may our Father in Heaven repay him," I said.
This afternoon, I heard a knock at my door. Outside was our elderly Jewish neighbor who is a recent immigrant from Israel. "Do you want two new couches?" he asked quietly. "My daughter is cleaning out her storage locker. She has two nice matching sofas and no where to put them. Would you come look at them?"
I put on some flip flops and followed him outside. In a rented garage, I saw two sandy brown sofas under piles of Israeli art and children's toys. "They look great!" I said.
"I'll call my son and have him bring them over to your house today," my neighbor said.
A few hours later, three sweet Jewish men entered my house, my neighbor (the grandfather), his son, and his grandson. The trio smiled at my children and chatted in Hebrew together (or Aramaic? What do they speak in Israel in these modern days?). All three men sweated with the effort of hauling couches in the hot Southern sun, yet all remained cheerful about this gift of charity.
The son, Paul, said that he had three girls. One of the little girl's name in Hebrew means "Footprint of God." "Do you have three girls?" Paul asked looking at Hannah and Maria bouncing happily in front of him.
"My other child is a son," I said. "I will have three girls in August!" and I rubbed my pregnant belly.
"I bring you a crib!" Paul said.
"What?" I asked.
"A crib. I got a nice crib in storage. From Sears. Color of deep wood. Nobody in my house use anymore. You home all the time? I bring it by soon. I just love children! I love them!"
I stood there in shock, trying not to cry in my living room over three sweet Jewish men who loved children and who think that a family of six fit perfectly inside a 2 bedroom apartment. One of these men somehow guessed that I needed a new crib for a fourth baby.
God is good! I'm the apple of His eye! You are too! Living the virtue of poverty in 21st Century America is incredibly exciting. A little scary, perhaps. But very fruitful.
(Update: I received the car seat today from my Sister today. It's perfect! It's in near perfect condition with an elaborate stroller attachment.)