Time and money

I took today off work. Not yesterday and not tomorrow, just today, Wednesday, December 29. This was because everyone on my team can’t be out all at once, and other people had claimed the days adjacent to Christmas and New Year’s. But it worked out beautifully. I worked two days, I’m taking one day off, tomorrow I’ll get off work early, and Friday is another off day, followed by the weekend. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and for the first time in months I’ve got time on my hands with nothing I need to be doing. I went to bed feeling no time pressure, and this morning woke up late and didn’t care. My wife and I took a leisurely walk in a lovely neighborhood here in town, then had a leisurely breakfast, then watched a leisurely Christmas movie.

Then we got dressed and went out to “paint the town,” as my wife likes to say, by which she means that we’re going shopping and we’re gonna buy stuff.

A few weeks ago I got word that I was getting a raise, which wasn’t unexpected; but I also learned that my salary was being adjusted in compensation for not having gotten a raise last year, in the midst of the pandemic. It ended up being a good year for the firm after all, so I got a healthy bump in pay. For the first time in our married lives, my wife and I can go out and buy pretty much whatever we want, without worrying about straining our budget.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean we’re rich. When I say “whatever we want,” it should be understood that we have modest tastes in “stuff.” But even modest stuff would strain our budget for most of our lives.

So we went out shopping, and I realized that I was more relaxed than I’ve been in maybe 30 years or more. We spent over an hour in the first store and I never felt the need to look at the time, nor at the price tags of the things she was buying.

She’s a gem and a jewel, and I’ve always felt sorry that we couldn’t afford nice things for her sake. She’s not high-maintenance by any stretch, but she likes to serve good food on nice dishes in a nice setting. We’ve somehow managed to do that, partly by racking up debt and partly by shopping in thrift and antique stores. We’d see something nice and imagine how it would look in our dining room the next time we celebrated someone’s birthday; and we might buy it, but not without qualms, a feeling that we were being irresponsible, that we’d never get out of debt at that rate, and so on.

She retired last year, a year earlier than expected. We both thought it would be a struggle once she retired; almost certainly we’d have to sell our house. Yet somehow — I’m not good enough at accounting to quite understand it — our money has been going farther than it did before. We hardly curbed our spending at all, yet like the Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17), when our checkbook was balanced we found that it never ran dry.

She’s never said it but when we got married, I think she had high expectations for me. She thought I was exceptionally smart and could be anything, a lawyer, an accountant, a business executive, whatever, even though I was just a clerical worker in an office at the time. And I thought I would do better too. It was a challenge figuring out how I would manage college since I was already working full-time to support myself, but I imagined some solution would present itself. But it didn’t. I could go to school at night, and I did for a while. But I had no goal, I didn’t know what I was working towards other than just “getting a degree.” Meanwhile we got married and had our first child, and at some point I dropped out.

She supported that decision. Classes took so much time on top of working hours, plus homework, that life was just a blur of working and commuting to and from work and classes. I might have endured it had I known what I was working toward, but I had no idea whether it would bear fruit in the end or not.

So we got by on what I made in my clerical job, and once the kids reached school age she started working at their school, and we muddled through financially, paying private school tuition for both our kids from K through 12, and doing what we could to get them through college, mostly by borrowing money from relatives.

This afternoon while we were out shopping our older son called. He had been told that his company would be adjusting everyone’s salary to “market rates,” and he just found out what his adjustment would be: He received a raise of nearly 15%. Just recently he had been worrying that the skill set he was acquiring in his job might not be worth much on the open market; something about them doing things differently from other places, and his job title not fitting what other companies meant by the term. But evidently his firm thinks his skills have value in the market, since they felt the need to raise his pay or risk losing him. He’s not yet 30, but makes almost as much as I did when I was 50 (about five years ago).

Life is good sometimes, and this is one of those times. I feel like my life has been a long chain of worries and regrets. Though my marriage is undoubtedly happier than most (thanks be to God), I’ve regretted not being a better provider. Though my sons are good men, trustworthy and faithful (TBTG), I failed them in so many ways, and have never felt that I’d earned their respect.

In the car heading home a Pearl Jam song came on, a lovely ballad called “Just Breathe.” The first verse talks about the inevitability of death, and how he felt blessed to count the people he loved on both hands. Some people have only one such person (he said), others none. I quickly counted up two hands’ worth of people whom I loved and who loved me. Tears came to my eyes as I thought of my wife, sitting there next to me. While we were dating, I knew she was a jewel. She was pretty of course, with a big, radiant smile, but much more than that. She was the kindest and best friend I ever had, and it wasn’t long before I proposed.

She’s still the kindest and best friend I’ve had, and it’s impossible to express how glad I am that I chose her for my wife, and that she accepted me. And she’s still here, and at last we’ve attained happiness. Our sons are grown, we have a lovely home, and we’re free of worries about money. I’m calm inside.

If this were a movie we could put “THE END” on the screen and call it a happy ending. But life is real, and there’s suffering yet to come. She’ll die, or I will — I pray that she goes first since I don’t want to think of her grieving my death. (I’ve seen her grieve; she does it without shame or reserve and it’s heart-rending. Someone so kind and sympathetic really feels it when people suffer.) Our sons or our grandchildren may have problems, or there may be accidents or illness. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. But let tomorrow worry about itself (Mt. 6:34); for today, I’ll rest in the present. We’ve carried our crosses and borne our burdens, and now we’re reaping our rewards. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Merry Christmas.

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