Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lessons from My Bathroom

Before :(
After :)

After nearly three months the bathroom repairs are finally complete.  I almost wrote about them being done the first week of October but a freak “non-tropical storm” blew the siding they repaired off my house. This resulted in a waterfall of rain cascading down the inside of my bedroom window and onto the floor.  Since then they came out to repair it and the room is finished. Mold, mildew, wood rot, and German cockroach infestation are a thing of the past and the bathroom is all aglow with new bathroom area siding, drywall, concrete board, tile, countertop, mirror, and sink. (See blog entry The Day The Wall Fell In for full details of what it was like before the fix)  The total bill ended up being just shy of our quote.  After our $2,500 deductible, the insurance company barely gave us ¼ of what we needed. My dad was right-insurance company’s motto should be “We’re There…Until You Need Us!”

So how may you ask did we pay for such a HUGE unexpected expense on one income? Through God’s mercy!!! We prayed a lot, scrounged up the deposit, borrowed some from family, and then our amazing church family paid for the rest.  My thank you letter to our priest pretty much sums up the whole ordeal:

Dear Father Ward,
I just can’t express enough in words how much the people of St. Mark’s have blessed us.  When we found out that the bathroom repairs would total $5,900 we were shocked and overwhelmed.  After two major car repairs this summer our tiny nest egg was used up.  Since then we’ve been living paycheck to paycheck with only enough for our current bills and a bit left over for groceries.  How could we possibly pay for this newest expense? We made multiple attempts for loans from the bank, which were all denied.  We tried to sell our car but the bank misplaced the title attached to Mike’s bankruptcy that recently ended in July (they are still trying to track it down). My parents tried to help as much as they could, and we were very grateful.  Trendsetters Construction could start the work, but it wasn’t enough to finish.

We got a notice from the insurance company telling us they would only give us $ 1,372.59 and that they were canceling our policy effective in December. All seemed hopeless. Would we have to live with our walls open, filled with black mildew & mold, a hole where our toilet used to be? It is in these times that we feel our human limitations the most.  We were out of ideas and had nowhere to turn except to God.  We prayed for a miracle. Then you emailed.

You have no idea how much this provision has meant to our family.  Now we see light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to this trial being over.  St. Mark’s is truly a family parish, one that supports its members through ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and all walks of life.  I am so grateful to God that we found your little church four years ago and decided to stop by for mass one Sunday.   I am proud that my daughters will grow up knowing such a wonderful group of people.  May God bless you all and return similar blessings to each of you.
Sincerely, Jamie, Mike, Jenna, and Naomi

We had a miracle provision in an impossible situation. And there were many of these sprinkled throughout the whole episode.  Ivan, the most wonderful handyman ever (who happened to be Mindy’s arch nemesis for reasons beyond my comprehension) found us a mirror and a bathroom vanity that a rich person was throwing out after a remodel job.  I found a countertop on sale at Home Depot and a $20 sink at Habitat for Humanity.  Ivan was amazing and installed both at no charge. The entire process was quite the educational experience.  I took away from it a greater capacity for patience, endurance, flexibility, persistence (by combating the evils of insurance companies), and perseverance. But it wasn’t the bathroom remake process that was the hardest part for me.  The hardest lesson was learning to receive.

In the beginning, I vowed that Mike and I would provide for the repairs on our own even if it took months or years to make it happen. I even tried tutoring ungodly hours at to try and get some extra cash but after 30 students and only $141, Mike and I agreed I was wasting precious sleep. Once the walls were open and my family and I started getting sore throats and sinus infections from the mold inside, I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait without doing harm to my loved ones.
This was the first time in my life that I couldn’t save myself through resourcefulness and brainstorming. It made me feel sick to my stomach. But why?  William Sloane Coffin once said, "Many of us overvalue autonomy, the strength to stand alone, the capacity to act independently. Far too few of us pay attention to the virtues of dependence and interdependence, and especially the capacity to be vulnerable." That was my issue.  I didn’t like receiving because I hated the feeling of vulnerability.

My parents are far from rich and I knew that they could use the money they had offered us.  At first, I protested. How could I accept this? As an adult, aren’t I supposed to be self-reliant? Doesn’t this just prove some sort of weakness?  Besides, I don’t like being in another person’s debt and I had no idea when I would be able to repay it.  “Once we get the title and sell our car, we can pay the money back, but I have NO idea when that will be.” But my mother gently said, “Would you please receive this as a gift?” Her gesture had little to do with how much money either of us has. She wanted to bless us pure and simple. It was the same with our church when Mike had explained to Father Ward and he responded, “Please, don’t worry about paying it back.  It’s not necessary.”
When I deposited the checks and made the last payment to Trendsetter’s, the overwhelming generosity left me teary-eyed.  My mom’s words rang out in my head, “Please, let us bless you with this.” In turning away their gifts I was blocking off their acts of kindness. I fought back the bubblings of guilt and replaced it with joyful acceptance. Upon fully receiving I realized that generosity is a two-way street. It’s an openness of heart that’s just as much about graciously receiving as it is about giving.
Someday from now, when Mike and I are in a better place financially, I plan to pay the kindness forward.  Until then we utilize our time, effort, and acts of kindness in place of money in an attempt to bless those around us.  After much contesting and phone fighting with Universal Property and Casualty Insurance I got them to reinstate us after showing them the completed work photos.  I have not received another dime toward the repair work and plan to continue to be a squeaky wheel until we get some oil.  Tonight I stand back in wonder that three months ago our bathroom was in such bad shape, Jenna referred to it as “The sick room.” Now, the bathroom looks so Better Homes and Gardens fancy I can hardly believe it is ours. Who would have thought it’d also be the center stage of such important life lessons?

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