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Living in the Land of Little Rain, part 2

alec vanderboom

I finally started working on the financial aid applications for Tessy's medical bills. For some unexplained reason our portion of her hospital bills so far is almost $8,000.00. That's about $2,000 more than out expected "yearly out of pocket maximum" for our health insurance plan, and well over what we can pay upfront if we cash out our IRA.

We've been here before. Financially nervous. Not freaked out and drowning in debt (that would be our life in 2005 when we were totally unemployed with two children and living in Jon's parents house), but "uncomfortable."

Jon calls this our "20% in the red rule". God gives us a firm 80% each month for our family's expenses and the rest of our "extra" needs we sort of handle on a wing and a prayer.

I didn't know where the extra $2,000 was going to come from in our budget through if we ended up needing to pay the full amount. (Medicaid send us an official denial. Individual hospital determinations are still in the works.) So I started calling all of our Student Loan Creditors to see if there was any wiggle room in 2011.

The lady from a call center in India told me something so shocking, I dropped my jaw, the phone, and I almost dropped Baby Tess. "You have 16 more months of forbearance time on that loan Miss. . ."

Remember the prophet Elijah and how he granted a poor widow a jar of oil and that never ran out in the midst of a famine?

I've got the 21 Century equivalent, a Sallie Mae student loan forbearance on a gigantic law school loan debt that never runs out. It's been ELEVEN years and I have never, ever paid a dime on my student loans. Oh, I've paid blood money to the pesky private loans companies--but never on the main, gigantic loan.

Legally dodging my loan payments were "normal" for the first four years. Every student gets a 6 month deferment to find a job. I chose a low-paying job helping the poor, so I qualified for an extra deferment where the Federal Government paid the interest on my loans for another 2 to 3 years.

Then when I was expecting my first baby in 2003, my husband and I took out matching Federal Consolidation loans. We were both working at the time. We were surprised to find out that the "new" loan came with 4 "extra" years of forbearance time, which we immediately put to good use.

We were converted Catholics who used the "four year grace window" to scrambled to find a sane work/life balance for our new family. In four years we had 3 more pregnancies, we moved 4 times to 4 separate states, we started a new business, we lost a business, and finally found my artistic husband a steady job in Washington D.C. that almost supports a family of six.

In the back of my mind, I always thought I had to go back to work to pay back the monthly payments on my law school debt. Most of my friends don't know, but I stuffed my first 3 pregnancies so close together because I thought I'd only be home a short time.

After my miscarriage, I started to realize that God wanted me to be a stay-at-home mother full-time and forever. I got really scared. There was a period of about 18 months in my early Carmelite journey when I had this note on my prayer alter; "Jesus if you want me to be a full-time servant for you, I cost $109,092.78!" (That was the amount of my unpaid Student Loan Debt at the time).

In 2007, Jon started paying on his Sallie Mae loan as agreed.

It's 2011, and I still haven't started paying mine.

We are a husband and wife with matching Sallie Mae Consolidated Loan terms. We file joint tax returns as proof of our identical financial circumstances. When Jon calls to ask for extra forbearance time, the lady from India says "I'm sorry Mr. Benjamin, you have exhausted all of your forbearance time. You may receive more only if you become unemployed."

Abby, "Mrs. I'm Completely Unemployed For Jesus" calls, and it's "Oh, don't worry about it Mrs. Benjamin, you still have 16 more months left."

As a unpaid, stay-at-home Mom, I somehow got the forbearance pot that has never gone empty.

In 2007, I was told I had 12 extra months left. More forbearance time appeared for no reason in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, I suddenly had 24 extra months left. In 2011, I've got 16 more months left. 24 - 12 does NOT equal 16!

Then the Indian call-center lady, continued to make my day. (If my next daughter is named Preema, you'll know why!) Starting in April 2011, my entire student loan payment will effectively disappear. Sallie Mae changed the rules and now considers the educational loan debt of husband and wives together, instead of separately. We will pay the same amount on two grad school debts that would have owed with one.

After my last pesky private school loan is payed off in 2012, I will no longer be a stay-at-home wife with a gigantic inverse dowry for her husband. (A girl who brings large debt into her marriage.) I'll just turn into the regular wife that clips grocery store coupons for profit, rather than sadly sending out gigantic chunks of her family's income to her student loan debts.

Considering the circumstances, I think that we'll somehow be okay with Tessy's medical bills this year.* God has very surprising ways to bless poor families that depend upon his providence to care for "extra" sick babies placed in their midst.

*For you Math whizzes out there I know that an extra forbearance time isn't technically free as I still have to pay the accrued interest on my loans. However, my interest rate is so low that it's practically free. Considering the price of hiring a babysitter for Baby Tess, and paying Catholic School fees for her three older siblings, my "interest" penalty for stay-at-home motherhood is nothing.