With our debt paid off, renters secured for our first home, new work-in-progress dream home purchased, and a wonderful nanny to take care of our daughter, I did something I never thought I’d do again: head back to work. But it was clear that this was the path God currently had for me.
Life felt much different with my salary (of course we were paying top dollar to have an in-home nanny). But still, we had some breathing room, and it sure felt like Christmas to me!
We finally managed to make it past Dave Ramsey’s first three baby steps:
Step 1: Have $1,000 in an emergency fund
Step 2: Pay off all debt (except mortgage) using the Debt Snowball
Step 3: Save 3-6 months living expenses in a designated “emergency fund”
While we were working on Step 4 (invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement funds), we were also able to start saving and doing some small projects around the house to help improve its condition.
My second year back to work, just as I got used to expanding some of our monthly budget categories and adding money to areas that had never existed before, I was faced with a hard decision: whether or not to finish my graduate degree. The program that I had started three years prior had to be completed within five years time of the start date. I knew it would make me a better teacher and make me an even greater asset to the school.
But it could only happen one way: cash flow the entire thing. It meant we’d have to put a girdle on our budget once more. Brent and I decided it was something I should do, so I started the difficult process, this time as a full-time English teacher, wife, AND mom. I spent most weekends locked in my bedroom, reading, studying, and writing (not to mention the work I had to put in as a teacher creating plans and grading high school essays on a regular basis). There were even times I went back to work after school hours just to grade essays and work on lesson plans.
My desk view at 8 p.m. one night.
My third year back to work was the most stressful. We were called to host an international student for the school year. Let’s just say it was a very, VERY difficult year. In the midst of the drama and stress of having a teenager from another country living with us, we were dealing with a stressful health issue with Elizabeth that had already been going on for two years. On top of that, I was teaching full-time and working on my final semester of grad school.
But we pulled through. I graduated with my M.Ed. that winter with a 4.0! Brent and I knew that one of the fruits of my labor would be a much-deserved raise (an exciting ordeal when you’re on a teacher’s salary).
Over the course of the entire program, we had cash flowed $30,000 (tuition, books, and fees), and wanted to see ourselves recoup that money in a reasonable amount of time. The school where I taught boasted a million dollar teacher endowment fund, so while part of me was concerned my raise might be nominal, I expected to be taken care of.
I sent an inquiry to HR about what kind of raise to expect. And I waited. And waited. And waited for an answer.
By God’s providence, I was home sick the day I received the emailed response of my inquiry: The school no longer provides compensation for higher education of its teachers.
It made no sense at all. I started crying, thinking, what in the world did I just complete that $30,000 program for? I couldn’t tell you one school that doesn’t encourage and compensate its teachers for bettering themselves by obtaining advanced degrees.
I was devastated. I was hurt. I was angry. I felt abused.
Sobbing, I called Brent and shared the news with him. It was clear: I absolutely COULD NOT work for a school where I didn’t feel valued (isn’t that true of any place someone works?) It wasn’t about the money itself. We didn’t need the money. It’s about feeling valued.
And then I let the words come out of my mouth: Maybe I should just stay home again.
I couldn’t get those words out of my head the rest of the day and I began praying. By the time Brent came home from work, I told him I really thought staying home might be what I needed to do. We had barely survived the drama of the year, so maybe I needed time off (forever). He agreed to the notion as long as I could make the budget work (I’m the CFO of our household, a position Brent happily gave to me).
It was hard to leave students who I’d had under my wing since their 9th grade year.
I didn’t care if we went back to beans and rice, rice and beans, I was staying home.
I handed in an unsigned contract. I didn’t ask for a raise, I just expressed my disappointment that such a decision had been made. And sure enough, when I walked out the door, they reissued my contract (with a raise) in attempt to save me. But, it was too little, too late. I was so disappointed in the school I had come to love. A school that told me what an asset I was. They had proven it was nothing but lip service.
So our budget got scaled back once again, not as tight as the first time around, but not with the squishiness I had come to enjoy. But we felt at peace.
I graduated with the graduating class that year.
That summer as we were looking at my final paychecks, things started to take a financial nosedive. We sunk a decent chunk of our emergency fund trying to fix our AC over the course of two months. We were facing having to have a new AC put in (the current one was only 3 years old). Then, our renters called and said they would be moving out. The thought of possibly having to pay two mortgages for an indefinite amount of time before we could get new renters made my head swim. We would surely run out of money.
I looked at Brent and told him maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe I needed to get a job (certainly not teaching, though).
But he assured me that he felt like this was the direction God had told us to go, and that he would provide. He always had.
Weeks later, in the midst of my worry and doubt, Brent’s place of employment created a management position within his department, so he decided to interview. He was already the systems administrator for his company’s 5 national locations, so we knew a promotion like this would require even longer hours, travel, and greater commitment.
After weeks of waiting for the rounds of interviews to end, he was notified of his status: He was now in management! We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. His first new paycheck picked up right as I received my last one from the school. We didn’t miss one single beat.
God took what I thought was terrible news and used it to guide me back home, which is where I needed to be for the upcoming year.
With Brent’s new position came a crazy travel schedule (something he had done very little of before). It was challenging having him gone so much, but it would have been worse if I had worked full-time.
And remember the depression I had previously battled? It reared its ugly head again when I wasn’t suppressing it with the busyness of work. Looking back, I realize that I had still been dealing with it while working, it just made itself manifest in different ways, many of which were not healthy for me or my family. My self-coping strategies were no longer enough and I was forced to seek help, something that has been a game-changer in my life. I doubt I would have faced my demons if I had been working full-time, just trying to make it from day to day.
So all was well. Until I received a phone call a year later from my former place of employment…
I promise Part IV will bring things full-circle. 😉