Welcome to another edition of the What I’d Like For You To Know series. If you’re new here, the idea behind this series to is to ask women to share something about a specific life challenge or circumstance, addressing some of the misconceptions and (most importantly) telling us all how we can reach out better.
This is a time of year when even those of us with our heads on straight can sometimes get side-tracked by all the stuff. Today’s guest poster, Kate from A Simple Walk and Happy To Be At Home provided me a much-needed perspective shift.
Here is her family’s story.
I was convinced there would be no Christmas. We did not have money for presents for the children. We were barely able to scrape together the few dollars that it cost to buy a tree. But we found a way, because no matter what, presents or not, we had a lot to celebrate. We were healthy, we had a roof over our heads, and we had each other. We were quickly coming to realize that beyond that, it did not matter what else we had.
That was just the start of what would prove to be a very long year for us.
Our annual income throughout that time put us far below the national poverty line for a family of five. In fact, our monthly income was so low, we now look back in complete astonishment. How did we do it? How did we keep our home, stay clothed and warm, fed and happy?
Here are some things I want you to know about what it is like surviving (and even thriving) well below the poverty line:
1. The children always came first. Whatever we did, and whatever we had or did not have, we made sure our kids were taken care of and that they were loved and happy. We kept all burdens and stress from them as much as possible.
2. There was no room for pride. At the end of the day, all that mattered was getting it done. We had to cast pride aside in order to go to the food pantry at church. We had to cast pride aside in order to accept offers of help from the wonderfully generous and compassionate family and friends in our lives. We realized there was actually a great deal of pride in doing whatever necessary to take care of our family.
3. We were broke, but not broken. The world wanted us to believe that because we were "poor," we should be broken, miserable shells of our former selves. That’s just not who we were though. Instead, we focused on our faith and our family. We drew together to support one another and became more whole than we could have ever imagined.
4. We coveted prayers, but not pity. We did not want anyone to feel sorry for us. Honestly, that just doesn’t help anyone. Pray for us, support us, push us, understand our position, but please don’t pity us.
5. We were not about to accept the status-quo. It’s true, we were happy throughout that whole year. That did not mean that we were naïve to our situation though. Nor were we willing to settle and think that was what our life would always be like. Not at all! We fought everyday to grow, move forward, and put ourselves in a better financial position.
6. There was opportunity at every turn for growth and creativity. We just needed the right perspective to see that. I will admit, there were times when I struggled with perspective, but they never lasted long. I saw that time as a wonderful learning opportunity. I remember one specific day when I was certain I wouldn’t be able to pull anything together for dinner. The refrigerator and freezer were empty, there was no money for more groceries until the next day, and there were only a few bags and cans in my pantry. I decided, instead of allowing self-pity to creep in, that I would face down the challenge and come out victorious. I remembered reading that lentils and rice made a complete protein. There were a few jars of tomato sauce in the pantry too. I added some frozen vegetables and spices. We dined like royalty on a very delicious lentil and rice vegetarian chili that night. We still love that meal today.
As that difficult year went on, we began to see a very small light at the end of the tunnel. We weren’t surprised though, because we had never given up hope that it was there, even though a lot of other people told us we should. We knew perseverance would pay off in the end.
We began to realize that even though we knew our situation was improving, many people were not able to see it that way. We were still treated as "that poor family with lots of kids" by many. Our struggle became not only about continuing our financial growth and improvement. We also had to struggle to prove ourselves.
Here are some things I want you to know about crossing over to the other side of the poverty line:
1. We are well aware of our current and past financial situation. We know we have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of us. Please know that we are honest with ourselves.
2. When we turn down offers of help, it is not because we have suddenly become too proud or too naïve. We have crossed that line and now we need to forge our own way with our own means. We can do it!
3. We have learned the common sense of frugality and will not change our spending habits just because we can. We will continue to spend wisely and only on necessities. Living frugally does not mean that we are depriving ourselves or our children.
It was a difficult year, but I continue to be grateful that we lived through it and that we keep moving forward. We learned we are a stronger family when we work together. We learned God’s promises are real. And that Christmas I mentioned earlier? It turned out to be the BEST Christmas of our lives. We were blessed to be adopted by a wonderful group from our church who showered the children with gifts. Looking at the piles of presents under our Christmas tree through teary eyes, I realized that whatever the upcoming year held for us, we would survive.
And not only that — we thrived.