Year 26 is great, but my birthday was not.

At the end of August, I made an Instagram story about my 26-year-old confidence. That has been true, and I have faith that it will continue to be true, but this particular lap around the sun didn’t start that way. In fact, I started the year at arguably one of the top two lowest points in my professional career. Spoiler alert: I didn’t stay in that place for too long, and now it’s a seriously amazing story of how God provides.

My birthday, April 6, started like any other Tuesday; well, except for the mouse I found in a shoebox I had hoarded away in the basement. I wouldn’t have even looked there that morning, so really it was a blessing I did, but because my colleague needed shoeboxes for a project, I decided to check in the basement cabinet where I stored them. That was super gross, and it became even more traumatic when I got home after work wondering if I had made the whole thing up. Words won’t do what I discovered justice.

Yeah. A mama mouse and her babies nursing or being born or whatever. May they rest peacefully at the dump.

I digress. My students are always very sweet on my birthday, but even their kindness couldn’t have saved the discovery I made during sixth hour. Because I’m crazy (I actually really don’t know why I’ve done this besides the fact that I’ve done it every year so far), I knew I had a publisher’s deadline for the yearbook the week of my birthday, which is always stressful, but on my birthday, I opened a piece of mail that punched me in the gut and made that deadline seem like nothing. I received a bill from our publisher, same as I always do, but this time, that number was significantly higher than the funds I had left in my budget. In fact, as I stared at that piece of paper letting my students’ chatter fade around me, I knew I was deep in a hole and I had no idea what I was going to do.

Luckily, my mentor was there, and she told me what I already knew: I had to go to my principal. Something else awesome about being 26 has been my extreme, unfounded anxiety derived from any interaction with my principal almost completely subsiding (praise God!), but I still felt that anxiety on my birthday. I scheduled a meeting and waited.

In the mean time, I disclosed my embarrassing, careless financial situation to some other mentors at work, and they were all nothing but encouraging (except maybe one… but I know his humor means he cares!). Despite this, I couldn’t help feeling like I had failed all of these people who believed in my abilities to perform well at my job. I searched back in my financial records to see what exactly had happened to put me in that position, and the ugly truth that I had inherited an EXTREMELY healthy budget that was now depleted just slapped me in the face over and over again.

Upon reflection the last several months, here’s what I realized: my bosses and colleagues did trust me to do a job, but I received little to know training, especially in terms of managing the finances for what’s essentially a small business. However, did I ever ask for help? No, not really, and I know that’s one of my downfalls. I’m so much more comfortable helping others than I am asking someone to do the same for me. I also just didn’t know what I didn’t know. I saw a big number and I rolled with it. Did I make some unnecessary purchases? Sure. Were those same purchases also in the best interest of my students? Absolutely! Over a year before we really needed them, I got them additional cameras and a couple MacBooks that helped us with coverage through the pandemic. I got them floor to ceiling whiteboards for brainstorming and planning that we still use daily. I even took three of them to a national high school journalism convention in 2019, which is something I don’t know if/when I’ll ever be able to do again for many reasons.

On the day my meeting with my principal came, I begged myself not to cry. I even intentionally went to my lead teacher first, hoping I would get out my tears with her. I definitely did that, but then the waterworks just POURED out of me in my principal’s office. He was THE MOST understanding, forgiving, and supportive, and I think maybe that’s why I cried. Something in me wants people to ridicule me and tear me down when I mess up (maybe because that’s how I treat myself when I’ve made a mistake), but he did the opposite after awkwardly sliding a box of tissues my way. He covered my bill without hesitation, and while he did tell me I needed to get it together with my finances and obviously not spend anymore money until I paid back my debt, he told me even more about how it’s okay to ask for help and it’s not okay for work to become your life or else you’ll get burnt out.

I left his office with smeared makeup and snot caked into my mask, and I still just wanted to cry. I don’t know if he knew how much he saw me, really saw me, in that meeting, but he cracked my facade right open. Work was my life, my identity even, and all of the sudden I was faced with the reality that I had been a terrible steward with what I was given at work. Back in my room, two of my seniors were there eating lunch, and again I willed myself to keep it together. I didn’t, but I always tell my students that my room is a safe place to cry, so I suppose I was practicing what I always preach. When they asked me what was wrong, I only said that life was hard, I had messed up, but it was all going to be okay. Our program’s debt wasn’t something they needed to worry about; the burden was mine to carry. Maybe they’re reading this now… If you are, just know that I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me or worry about our program’s future.

My principal likes to have a plan, and he especially likes when you give him a head’s up on your plan. So through my tears, I did tell him that I planned to hit one of every sporting event and other upcoming school events to sell pre-order yearbooks. I assured him that at the latest, my debt would be paid off in November when I closed ad sales for the next yearbook. Oh yeah, that reminds me — because I run a small business, I didn’t feel comfortable asking my students to sell business advertising to other struggling businesses during the pandemic, so that was a big chunk of change I gave up last year. In fact, if I had sold the same amount of advertising space I sold in the previous yearbook, I would’ve been able to pay my bill and then some. If you didn’t know, many yearbook programs are entirely self-funded, so selling advertising is our lifeblood.

So to those events I went, honestly feeling pretty hopeless. During this time, I was also finishing one graduate class, Media Management, and starting another, Media Promotions. My professor was the same for both, and he and I built a strong rapport, so in the weekly assignments, I opened up to him and found both understanding and guidance. He liked to make jokes about it too, but luckily I’ve figured out how to do the same and cope. Seriously, like I said in my vows to my husband, I let my life become all too serious sometimes and that’s just no way to live.

Through the summer, I amped up my program’s social media presence, still set on my November goal for paying off my debt. My yearbook does fall delivery, so I got my books at the end of July and the front office helped me pass them out. In the past, I had an overabundance of extra boxes of yearbooks (something else that ate up my budget), but last year, I only ordered 16 extra copies to sell at distribution. I’ll probably order a bit more this next year, but frankly, I have been so tired of throwing away my product year after year when I don’t sell that many extra copies. Add that to the list of things I’ve learned as a small business owner: supply and demand!

While I hadn’t forgotten my debt, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind anymore; at least not until the new school year started and I got my final bill for last year’s books in the mail… Would you believe me if I said it was a few hundred dollars over the exact amount I needed to pay my debt? That meant all of my hustling in the spring quite literally paid off, and everything I had made and will continue to make doing presale for the new yearbook will go straight into my budget to make it healthy once again. Only God!

So that happened, and I love this story because I think it perfectly shows that when you work, God does too. Had I done nothing and kept a “woe is me” attitude in the spring, my debt would’ve been paid off eventually, but only God can take my hustling and tailor the outcome to be exactly what I needed. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says this, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” I love that verse because at the heart of it, God is not just blessing you, he is blessing the work you do, which is exactly what He did for me.

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