Thursday, May 30, 2013

Redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb

Dear Austin,

My grandmother used to have a favorite song that she always wanted to sing for others in Sacrament Meeting.  It was a song called "Redeemed".  I may have written about it before but it points out that the singer is "Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb".  Especially after my last post, I have something to write about being redeemed from.

Last week was pretty tough.  When I wrote the post to Magdalene, I felt about as low as I'd felt in a very long time.  I could have been very content to go live under a rock somewhere, and forget all our financial worries.  Having felt ridiculously horrible I called a friend and asked for some help.  I was given some very wise counsel, which helped me arise from my stupor of depression.

Interestingly enough, the next day something incredible happened.  I got to attend a field trip with Magdalene to a butterfly museum.  The day was hot and sticky, and sitting on a bus with 45 screaming first graders was not what I expected.  However I got to observe and enjoy the beauty of butterflies while chaperoning 6 very unique children.  It was enough to stress me out, to say the least.

However I took a few pictures, and shared them with my friend.  It was pointed out to me, that the butterfly is representative of "transformation".  When I arrived home from the trip, I had received an unexpected bill.  Several months before, I had applied for "charity aid" to cover the remainder of my hospital bill from when my appendix had been removed last November.  I hadn't heard anything since a month or two ago, so receiving the bill signaled that I had not qualified for the assistance.  One more bill to add to the pile.

But my heart was calm.  I wasn't worried, and I knew God would take care of me.  I had been transformed, from even just the day before.

Opening up the bill, I saw the $13,000+ amount due for hospital services.  I also knew there was another one sitting somewhere in my home which was $500+ for the physician's bill.  Flipping the bill over, I found the number for the financial services department.  I figured if anything, I'd better get on a payment plan; first though, I would inquire about what happened with the charitable thing.

When I spoke with Todd, he put me on hold for a few minutes.  I started cleaning the kitchen while I waited.  He came back on, and said something that was half cut off.  "What?" I asked him.  "The charges are dropped.  You owe nothing," he said.

Shut the heck up.  WHAT???  The charges are cleared???  We qualified.  $13,500+ in medical bills were wiped completely away.  It was as if we had won the lottery.  (Your dad had actually purchased a ticket a few nights prior.  It was the first time I was ever glad he did.)  But this was better.  I knew this came straight from the hand of God.  I cried, but this time, as opposed to the day before, they were tears of sheer joy.

I have heard my friend say that we must know the bitterness of hell to understand the joys of heaven.  That was indeed the case.  I don't know that I've ever felt such pure love from Christ as I have last week.  It would take us months, if not years to pay off that bill.  We could have not done it without a miracle.  Receiving this miracle was one of the most powerful feelings in the world.  It made feeling poor entirely worth it, to know that what I experienced was completely, sheerly, wholly the goodness and complete MERCY of GOD.  There is no other way around it.  God is so, so, so, so good.

Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  I cannot even begin to fathom, when all is said and done, and we meet God at His judgment bar, how incredible it will feel to know that we will be redeemed from sin because of the work of redemption He has given to us.  What an incredible, priceless gift that not even money can buy.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Current Great Depression

Dear Magdalene,

I've been meaning to write you some things for some time, but haven't really known where to start.  I hesitate broadcasting what I'm about to write online, but something keeps nagging at me to do it.  I hope that's ok.

This post might not be very inspiring, but I also feel the need to write it for a place to compare your future from.  While we don't exactly know how things will be in the future, being able to look to the present, which will soon be the past, is often nice as a reference point.  I hope what lies ahead is better, yet I'm trying to be grateful for what we have today.

About two weeks ago we all went to the local school carnival.  You and your little brothers wanted to play games, which all required tickets.  Most of all, you wanted to go through the bouncy house thing, which cost $2 a run through.  Each run through would take about 30 seconds.  While that might be pocket change for some people, paying $6 for three of my kids to have 30 seconds of fun just seemed wasteful.  It's a miracle you didn't meltdown in screaming that you couldn't go through.  I'm guessing it's because your friends were around.  Despite my stinginess, something inside me broke at not being willing to pay that for your limited enjoyment.  I had $5 to spend for the day.

I'd like to tell you what kind of work it takes for our family to earn $6.00.  Many people might laugh at this, but some will understand completely.  To make $6, Daddy has to throw boxes at work for about 35 minutes.  That's a lot of money, and a great paying job, if it were in a country like Thailand or India.  For us, it doesn't make ends meet.  But it's the best we've been able to find so far.  And Daddy drives 45 minutes to get there.  I know you don't realize why he's never here when you are, but let me explain Dad's schedule.  He's up most days at 5:30.  He works in town from 6am to 2pm.  He comes home, catches a power nap, and leaves between 3 and 4pm to drive 45 minutes so he can throw boxes for the next 5-6 hours.  He gets home about 10 to 11pm, showers (because he's filthy and often all scratched up from all the boxes).  He crashes in bed about 11:30pm, and the next day he starts all over.  He even gets to work Sundays.  They generously let him off for Church, but he surmised they wouldn't hire him unless he was willing to work when they wanted him to.  And we needed the income, so he agreed.

Two months ago we had a chance to get ahead.  Because our income is so low, we got some "Obama money" as many call it.  A fat old tax refund of about $8000.  That would take your dad at least 6 months of income to bring in, before expenses and what not.  It felt like the windows of heaven were opened.  I cried, because it felt like such a generous gift.  We figured out how we could spend it wisely, and even pondered how we could invest a small sum into a potential business, while paying down our debt significantly.

Within a week of receiving that check, your grandma passed away.  Daddy flew to Utah to try to see her before she passed.  The money was a Godsend, and made it possible for you and me and your brothers to join him for the funeral, which proved a wise investment.  Daddy needed our support.  However, airfare wasn't cheap, and because we left all our things in Utah when we left last summer, we realized it was the only time we could pack it up to bring it home.  So another $2000+ went toward moving our things to join us in PA.  We had a small buffer left from Obama's "stash" – (I say that facetiously.  Many of our friends would scorn the fact that we even got it.  It's at the expense of their taxes.  It certainly does not come from Obama's pocket or book sales.) – so we listed our home that Grandma was living in for sale, and hoped it would sell quick.  It's been two months, and it's still on the market.  We even offered to finance people.

All this said, we're trying, honey.  I wish I could blow $2 for you to laugh for 30 seconds.  I wish I could buy you anything you'd ever want, but the truth is, I don't even know how to pay the bills – and there are many.  To add insult to injury, we are now responsible for our share of Grandma's funeral costs.  $2500 bill started yesterday in $25 increments.  We'll be lucky if we can pay it in the next 5 years.  I don't even know the interest rate, but I wasn't given an option in the first place about anything pertaining to it, so I just leave it up to Daddy to worry about.

I don't know how to make things better.  My hope is that I can get my own starter business off the ground soon enough.  It's slow going, and the massage element will likely destroy my body over the next few years if I'm not careful.  The reason I'm sharing this is, I want you to know we are trying our best.  We are working our asses off, quite literally.  We're already living with your other grandparents, and I'm not sure what else to do to cut costs.  Daddy's already working two jobs, and despite being highly qualified, the good paying jobs are just slim, and those hiring can be especially picky, as the hiring pool is large.  College was a waste, but we believed what everyone told us.  Don't believe everything everyone tells you.  I'm finding that most of the time, they're all wrong.  But there are a few inspired people out there, who will help keep you straight.

There is a spiritual element in this.  I don't glory in being broke, and believe being "poor" is a state of mind.  However it's so easy to see how being broke can lead to being poor.  That said, Jesus warned us about wealth.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  That verse resonated so many times, as I see countless people driving in surely hard earned shiny new cars, enjoying travel, fun, food, and all the luxuries that come with wealth, while I trust that my meager investments in oils and massage tools will someday get us there.  But why?  Why do I seek after that, if Christ says it is harder to get to heaven that way?  And why does he say that?  What is it about wealth that makes it hard?

I would guess it's the blind eye toward the poor, and the priority of bigger and greater over helping those who cannot cover the basics.  The whole of America is guilty of this, even among many like us who are without much income.  In our "broke" state never have to worry that we'll have food in our cupboards.  No, we have a stash of dead food to last us at least 18 months.

I hope that in writing this, you and I both have a point of reference to look back on, and smile at how far we've come.  We all hope that things get better, but the truth is we're in an economic depression.  The news media will never call it that, because their guy is in office, but it is what it is.  Our great-grandparents experienced this, and now we get to.  I wish we could have their words to read, to see how they got by, or how they made dandelion soup, but they were too busy working their butts off just to make ends meet.  Maybe that's why we only have the records of the rich.  We sure don't have many journals from farm laborers, coal miners, and the steel workers that are in our family tree, but it's the bankers and politicians who show up in the biographical annals.  Maybe that's why the generic name of the father of your illegitimate great-great-great-grandfather is only listed on the birth certificate, because he could afford to keep his fatherhood off the other published records for us to find – although it is likely he was one of the most prominent men in the state.  Today, I think it's sad what we value.  I hope in all this, you and I learn something more than the value of money.  And I hope I can teach you how not to melt down when you don't get what you want.  Laughs are much more enjoyable than tears, especially when I'm the one who gets to do most of the listening.