I have been getting several emails a day these past few weeks from readers who are struggling financially and who have appreciated some of the tips I have shared here on saving money in various ways.
I feel honored that these readers have shared their hearts with me, shared their struggles, and shared their questions and tears that are impossible to miss. I am so grateful that some of the things I’ve learned, based on where I’ve been, have been things that have been applicable in the lives of others, too.
Before we go any further, I want to take a moment to share a story with you.
When we were in the deepest part of our financial valley, we had three small children and later, four. It was while I was pregnant with our fourth child that I and my kids had met a few friends at the beach a little more than an hour away for some Lake Michigan fun. It was really hard for me to justify the cost of the gas to get there (and this was back when gas was cheap!), but I knew it was something that we needed to do. I also felt completely ashamed to turn down the invitation because we couldn’t afford to get there.
We went and had a great time, but like most times, the three of us friends lost track of the time. Our kids were busy and didn’t really care about the fact that we stayed well past lunch.
With my children who were six, four, and two at the time, we piled into the car to come back home, and as I’m sure you can imagine, the complaining about being hungry started as soon as the last car door was closed.
Over the half hour that followed, the complaining got more frequent, and it eventually turned into whining and then crying. I knew my kids were hungry. In fact, they had every reason to be starving.
With more than a half hour left to go, I pulled off at an exit where there was a visible McDonald’s sign. Although we had no extra money at this time in our life, I managed to squirrel away a dollar here and a dollar there to tuck into my wallet for times of an emergency.
As the few bills came in and went out of my wallet over time, I never once looked at how much money was there. I never really wanted to know because I always knew that it wasn’t much.
As I sat in the parking lot of McDonald’s with three crying voices coming from the back, I knew I had to peek into that spot in my wallet to see what money I had.
Two dollars. I had three starving children and two dollars with which to feed them.
The tears began to swell, and then they burned down my cheeks. First just a tear or two, and then there were steady streams. I soon regained my composure and pulled my van to an out of the way parking spot. Then, me and my seven months pregnant belly crawled around on the floor of my van, scrounging for some spare coins, praying that I’d find some.
With all out screams now coming from the backseat, I pulled up to the drive-thru menu board and determined that I could afford one hamburger and one small order of fries.
After I paid, we pulled into a parking spot, parked, and I retrieved the picnic blanket from the back of the van and placed it on the ground underneath a tree for our picnic.
I divided that one hamburger and that one order of fries among my three children. I’m sure you can imagine about how long it took for them to eat their portion.
If you’re thinking that my kids were still hungry, you’re right. And they told me so. The crying had subsided, but all three of my kids told me that they were still hungry and asked for more food.
I can tell you in that moment, I felt like a complete and total failure as a mother. My kids were hungry, they were beyond hungry, and there was nothing that I could do about it. Of course I knew that home was only 40 minutes away, which would mean that they could have something else to eat, but my kids were understandably asking me for more food – and all I could do was tell them that I was sorry while praying they didn’t notice my quivering lip, crackling voice, or tears that were threatening to fall once again.
I share this story with you to let you know that if you find yourself here, I get it. I totally get it. I know how hard your life is. I know what it feels like to have hungry children with no way to make their bellies full.
Now that I’ve shared a story with you, I want to encourage you.
While I don’t know your exact struggles, I can say that there is beauty to find among the ashes. There are gems to be found among the dirt, and there are lessons to learn that will transform you to the point where you will never be the same – but in a good way.
However, you do have to keep your eyes open to see the beauty. You have to sift through the dirt in order to find the gems, and you have to look through the tears pouring from your eyes to see the lessons that will greatly enrich your life.
This is where my encouragement meets you. I know it’s hard. I know it’s heartbreakingly hard, especially when you have kids who are living through your struggles with you.
My encouragement to you is to look for the joy right where you are.
Are you wondering about the beauty I found among the ashes? I have to send you over to where I wrote about it. Lessons Learned While in a Financial Valley was published over on Money Saving Mom earlier this year. It’s the heartfelt account of what I learned…and why I will be forever grateful for having been in this very deep valley.