Last weekend I drove to Iowa with my cousin Travis to see the band Alabama play at the Mississippi Valley Fair. I grew up listening to their music and they didn't disappoint even though my all time favorite Alabama song - Angels Among Us - was not played.
I'm a believer in "everything happens for a reason" and can't help but think that the reason this song was not played was because I didn't need to hear it sung by Alabama but to witness it in my time of need, to be reminded first hand that there are real life Angels among us.
As I was driving home from Peoria last night, the check engine light came on in my van. My van that I love, with 119,000+ miles on it that I pray will start and run safely every single time I need to get in it, the van that loves to surprise me with something every month or so that needs attention, the one that I swear I will be paying on for eternity, the one I can in no way afford to replace... my van, sigh, the check engine light was lit up like a neon sign.
I immediately pulled over to grab the manual, the one that's pages are no longer bound to the binding of the book from how many times I've flipped through it praying to find an "it's nothing, don't worry" answer (FYI - that answer is nowhere in the book). It said what I dreaded... I needed to have it checked immediately.
So, I waited. Well, a little. I drove home and settled in for the evening. I prayed and prayed and then fell asleep praying that today when I woke up and went to go somewhere that the light would no longer be lit up.
That, however, did not happen (does it ever?!?) so I called the dealership who was fantastic enough to get me in today to run a scan to see if it was actually something and if it was something was it something that had to be repaired now or something that could wait.
With both kids by my side, we went to the Art Hossler dealership. What I love about being in our small town is that we know at least half of the people working there :-) They greet us with smiles, they are understanding that it will take Parker time to get out of the van - and leave it in their hands - and go sit in the waiting room. They talk to the kids, addressing them by name - asking about things they like - it's exactly what you would expect from a small town dealership. They also know, I'm broke. Not just kinda broke but seriously in debt, struggling to breathe, stretching every single penny broke. And, yet they are amazing to the kids and I and respectful of my situation.
We settled into the waiting room with a few other people - all very nice and polite. Parker was clearly anxious so after explaining that we could not talk to Dan on speaker phone because that was not polite, we gave him a quick call. That's the amazing power of Dan - after Parker says "hello" and hears his voice, it's ok to take him off of speaker and let him talk just to me - just knowing he's on the phone is calming. After our call, Allison hung out on her phone, listening to music while I kept Parker entertained.
For a few brief minutes early in our time in the waiting room, there was a lady who was a computer teacher for Illini Bluffs working hard preparing for the upcoming school year. The older gentleman who would later talk sports with Parker also talked to her which is how we learned that. As they talked computers, another lady, one with the beautiful necklace who had earlier offered me a chair as I was sitting on the floor next to Parker, said the best way to understand or fix an issue on her computer was to ask her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Everyone smiled and I was more relaxed knowing we were in a room of understanding people.
There was some conversation in the room and as people left and moved in and out we re-arranged our seating. The nice gentleman who was sitting where we ended up briefly talked sports with Parker even saying "da Bears" which left Parker (and this gentleman) grinning ear to ear after an employee walked by asking Parker about sports scores.
Jenice came in to let me know the results of the scan and the price tag associated with the repairs. The older gentleman and the lady with the beautiful necklace were still in the room with us as a younger man and the computer teacher had both already left as Jenice quietly talked about what needed to be done with me. There are some things that you simply don't have options with, the safety of my children is one of them for me. I had to have the repairs completed, they had everything on hand and could do it now. With a deep breath, I told her ok. It was not a horrible price tag but it was everything I had saved for the next 2 weeks to get us through.
As she left, I opened the calculator app on my phone and quickly started adding up what bills had been paid, including this to be sure I wasn't going to be overdrawn... again. While I was sure I was in the clear because this money had a different purpose, it was more than I had saved back and needed to walk through the numbers to be sure as I fought back the tears that were welling up in my eyes.
I never imagined that at 42 I would not be financially stable and prepared for any bumps that came up on the way. I have always worked incredibly hard but getting ahead hasn't happened. As a single mom to 2, one with challenging special needs, staying above water is not even possible yet, let alone getting ahead. This was not part of my life's plan and it's the most embarrassing and crushing to me. It's difficult not to feel as though I am failing as I sort through mounting bills and look ahead at required expenses.
As Parker talked my mind raced with trying to figure out what bills I could re-arrange, hold off or pay less on to now be able to find this amount of money again without having to call my parents. Because, despite their willingness to help, this is my responsibility. I'm a bit stubborn and extremely proud - asking for help does not come easily - at all, ever for me. Plus the amount of my IOU to my parents is reaching ridiculous proportions - even if they aren't tracking it, I am - determined to one day pay them back.
I stopped thinking about money and started responding to Parker. I knew if I kept thinking the tears would certainly start falling and crying in public for that horrible feeling of feeling that I am failing at being an adult is not my favorite thing. Parker, at 17, is (thankfully) always in need of attention and fantastic at changing my focus.
I stopped thinking about my bills and focused on what I would have to do and kept Parker entertained and then on getting Allison to her pizza party. At Parker's request, we waited outside for her dad who graciously picked her up to take her for me while we waited (to her embarrassment... in the fire truck as he was working. I'm sure I'll stop laughing at some point over how mortified she was. Who wouldn't think that was cool?!? A 13-year-old girl apparently). I took a moment to be thankful to be on good terms with my ex-husband and able to call on him to help with the kids in unexpected moments like this.
After she left, Parker and I walked around the showroom. He was too anxious to go sit back down in the waiting room, other people had come into the room - he just couldn't so we didn't. We walked around and I peaked at sticker prices knowing that I have to get my credit in check as my van isn't going to last forever. I estimated payments in my head and tried not to look as overwhelmed as I felt knowing how far out of my league this soon to be necessity will be upon me. As we finished walking as far of a distance as we could away from the $75,000 car in the showroom as I joked to Parker that I don't even owe that much on the house Jenice came back to let us know our van was ready to go.
We walked back to the bay, she pointed to where the van was and I told Parker that I had to pay first. Jenice looked at me and said something to the effect of "there's no bill." Confused, I said "What?" because zero was not the number written down that she showed me previously. She said, "It's been taken care of." I don't recall each comment back and forth as what she was saying was starting to sink in for me. My eyes were filling with tears. When I asked "who?" she said, "I cannot tell you, we promised we would not. It was someone from the waiting room, a lady who asked to do this but insisted we not tell you who. She did not want the attention or thanks, just to do this for you." Given that only 2 people were present when Jenice came in and only 1 was a lady it was easy to narrow down to the lady with the kind smile and beautiful necklace. I instantly wished I had talked with her when she offered me her chair instead of focusing so much on Parker.
I understood and could respect her wish to remain anonymous. I cannot do a lot for others but what I can do I will but never for the thanks, simply because it's what my heart wants me to do. I could respect that, even though every ounce of me wanted to tearfully go into the waiting room and see if the lady with the beautiful necklace was still there, hug her and tell her that the money I was going to have to use for this repair was the money I had saved to buy school supplies for my children and our groceries for the next 2 weeks. That no part of me can explain the sense of relief knowing I can do these things without falling further behind on something else. That she truly was an angel in my very dark moment, showing me the light of above. I also knew that was exactly what she did not want to happen - so, instead, I tearfully hugged Jenice and asked her to pass it along with my sincere thanks as this was a tremendous gift for us.
Jenice told me of a radio broadcast about overfilling the cups of others and how this fit so beautifully into that message. A message we should all learn to live by.
I cannot do a lot for others, I am simply not in the position to at this point in my life. I hope that when I "grow up" I am in the position of this angel and able to help out someone who tries to hide the overwhelming news of an unexpected bill.
Until then I can still continue to pay it forward in small ways, something I've always enjoyed doing - small things to brighten someone's day... paying for the meal behind me in the line in the drive through, shoveling someone's driveway, mowing their yard, helping carry groceries to a car, opening a door...not for the thanks or recognition but because it's what we all should do, being a little kinder, reminding others someone cares - not for the attention or thank you but because it's the kindness we all should show for each other.
While I do not know the name of the angel who made such a tremendous impact on my day, odds are someone who reads this may. My hope is that if it's shared enough, my thank you will get back to her, that she will know that she helped us in such a huge way I'm still in tears over 5 hours later and am incredibly grateful for her kindness.
I am NOT asking anyone to name her, she did not want that and I would like to respect that. I simply want this thank you to get back to her so she knows how very, very much I appreciate her thoughtfulness and to thank her, so much, for being an angel among us.