What I’d Like For You To Know: Surviving Poverty

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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.

We did.

And not only that — we thrived.

To read more of Kate’s posts, visit her blogs, A Simple Walk and Happy To Be At Home.

48 thoughts on “What I’d Like For You To Know: Surviving Poverty

  1. karen says:

    This is a beautiful post. Sometimes the hardest thing for me to learn is receiving. We struggle financially because I made an abrupt career change after taking in a young adolescent with challenges. We plummeted into financial poverty, but not poverty of the heart. Not only have we survived on much, much less, but we have still participated in micro-giving to others in need. I started a blog to open my world that had become small and isolated as a caregiver. I look back astonished, too, at the connections and events that miraculously filled every need exactly when we needed it. Countless gifts of compassion and friendship we’ve received along the way. No regrets.

  2. Tasha says:

    I was in tears by the end of your story. Growing up we had a Christmas like that. We had no money, although my brother, sister and I were too young to know. Of the many Christmas’ I’ve had, that one stands out as the most fulfilling. Not one of gifts, but of love.

  3. Nic says:

    Shannon, thanks again for this series, and for raising awareness. Last week, after I had just read the PPD blog, a colleague called and told me she was suffering from severe PPD. I was able to respond very differently than I would have done previously, thanks to that entry.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My husband lost his job last year and while our situation wasn’t as severe, I can totally relate to this. I wish I had been able to express to well-meaning friends that we may have been down, but we weren’t out.

  5. Tammy says:

    It is nice to hear about other people’s problems.My husband has had so many job losses that we laugh in saying that he lost them before it becamse the in thing to have happen to you.We have lost 2 cars and a house also-gee sound familiar from the news but this was again before it was the norm.We didn’t have a bail out and are still paying on some of the debts that occured to beig unemployed with no health insurance.

  6. AmyG says:

    Beautiful post and it hits home for me, especially right now.
    It reminds me a Christmas, when my, now 6 yr old, was 2. I had an emergency appendectomy in November. Ended up being out of work for 3 weeks. I was not paid for that time & we live pay check to pay check. My co workers new my situation. One day, I came into to work and found my desk and the floor below, covered with gifts for my daughter. And a card that was filled with money, enough to pay our light bill that was getting ready to be disconnected! I could do nothing but cry. People are amazing in times of need!

  7. Blessed says:

    The year my Dad spent most of his time off work and in treatment for Cancer we, a family of six, were living in that same place – that year my sisters were all young and don’t really remember it, but I was a teenager and I remember coming home from school to find that someone had left bags of groceries on the porch, I remember people bringing us the abundance from their gardens and I still remember the gifts that were under the tree for me from our church family who adopted us that year. I kept the sweater they gave me for a long time, long after it didn’t fit me anymore, as a reminder of God’s grace, provision and the love of his people.

  8. Tara says:

    Your faith, perspective, perseverance, and lessons in enjoying the blessings from God are beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your heart! I know this will be such an encouragement to others who may be in the same situation.

  9. Martia says:

    What a special post. I grew up in a very poor family. We lived in a free house and had very little, but I never remember feeling like I was poor. As we stood in line each week to get free cheese and peanut butter, I thought we were getting it because we had won something! I think my parents always followed your rule of “the children came first” because my siblings and I had a wonderful childhood.

  10. Sarah @ Short Stop says:

    I’m weeping. Our family was below the poverty line for much of my young childhood, and my parents, just like you, always put our needs first. I could not see that as a young child, but as an adult, I am moved to tears every time I relive our lean, but wonderful, Christmases.
    Your children are incredibly blessed to have you as their mother.

  11. wanda says:

    This is very familiar to me. This year has been the hardest of my marriage. My pastor hubby resigned from a very unhealthy church position. We had served them lovingly for almost 7 years. Our departure was so painful. No one reached out to us.
    We also have 3 teenagers to take care of.
    He didn’t work for 4 months. It was life-changing to say the least.
    We nearly lost our house…..almost all of our dignity and many who we thought were our friends.
    This Christmas is completely different from any Christmas ever for us. We have a completely different perspective (like you) about what is important and not.
    God bless you for sharing. Your story is more common than you might think. We knew there were other people hurting and struggling like us…..but now we know of so many more.
    Loved this post.

  12. Mandy says:

    Thank you for this lovely post. As a single mom with three kids, I too live way below the poverty line. What is so frustrating is when the government tells you that you make 4 dollars too much to qualify for food stamps or any kind of help. But we do okay and I have truly learned it is all about how you think about things, what your perspective is. This year there was not a whole lot of extra money for Christmas so my kids and I are making gifts for eachother and we have never been happier! I also still try to teach my children that we can be of service to others as well. Last night my 6 year old said “mama we need to make some scarves for the mitten tree at school..it’s for the poor kids”. I was just giggling inside and thinking to myself… WE are the poor kids! 🙂
    Have a blessed Christmas!

  13. Grafxgurl says:

    Thank you for that. I am from India and my whole life, my parents lived frugally and thats how i thought life was supposed to be.
    Then i married an American and came to live in the US. My husband is from a family that were literally poor, but still that “poor” was richer than how i grew up.. just because in America.. things that are considered poor are considered luxuries in the East.
    But we are trying to live frugally and not spend on things that we dont need.
    Jesus’ life is the epitome of frugal living!! He lived as we SHOULD be living! FEASTING ON THE WORD OF GOD!!!

  14. Lizzie says:

    Thank you for sharing this (and Shannon for hosting it)
    I too am in that bracket, but there is nothing to complain about. God has abundantly blessed us and we are able to be thankful for so much.
    Yes, the not having enough $ is a burden, but thankfully my son has no clue that we’re broke;)

  15. MM says:

    Thank you for sharing this…I needed to hear it. My husband and I are not struggling with poverty, but my heart is struggling with faith in God in this economy. We have one child and another on the way…a surprise pregnancy. I have no idea how we’re going to manage with two kiddos on our salaries, but I HAVE to believe that if God is blessing us with another child, he will provide a means to care for it. Thank you for reminding me to keep a different perspective.

  16. MrsNehemiah says:

    we have been here too. both when we were children/young teens and after we started our own business for several years.
    the difference between my childhood poverty and my DH’s is that he was not as protected from it as I. He associates poverty with the emotional distress his parents were in. and I have mostly good memories about how wonderful a small treat is when you’ve dined on rice and beans most nights of the week. as an Adult I can see how stressfull that time must have been for my parents, but even at 15 I didn’t have anxiety about it, not even during the three weeks of “camping” in the county campgrounds. it was only years later that I realized we were homeless during that time! it was a camping trip, of course all we had to eat was hot dogs!
    Mrs N

  17. Joy says:

    Thank you for this timely post. We are currently loosing our house on the 23rd of this month, so our focus to say the least is not on the newest greatest toys, but instead trying to find a roof over our heads. With my son’s birth in March, he was born lifeless and not sure he was going to make it. It is moments like these, the loss of the house and life on the brink, that bring things back into perspective. My faith has grown during these life altering experiences, and for that I am rich!! Thank you again.

  18. Vicki says:

    I really needed to hear this, especially today as my heart began to fill with fear, rather than trust & hope in God’s ways. I started my morning reading in our local paper how job eliminations will be inevitable for the county jobs in our area in order to reduce the budget deficit…my husband works for the county. Then I went an online news page & read an article about “pay option” loans & all the troubles that are expected to come for those who own one of those loans…WE own one of those loans.
    I long to trust the Lord at times like RIGHT NOW, even though we are not even IN a crisis moment, yet.
    Your thoughts & perspective are crucial at anytime – in need or abundance. Thank you for reminding me that “bad times” do not have to last forever & that love & hope are more important than any financial troubles we may face.

  19. Shawnee says:

    When me and my family were down on our luck the local SRS agency gave us this link
    http://www.211.org/
    Here you can find all types of charities and organizations that will help with utilities, medical, baby items, food, etc. It proved to be a very useful source when we needed the help.

  20. Christine says:

    It’s a hard thing to go thru and it’s a hard thing to write about, I’m sure. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and your perspective. Blessings to you and your family!

  21. Kimberly says:

    Inspiring and uplifting…as a family that is living this “season,” I can only second everything that Kate has so eloquently expressed. May God continue to bless her family…thanks for a post that is a timely reminder, as so many families find themselves facing the uncertainty of the growing economic crisis. Such candor and so very much hope…

  22. Sheri says:

    That was beautiful, and inspirational. We’ve been through some rough times, and after being out of work myself for a couple of months earlier this year, I have recently been reminded of how it felt to have that daily struggle and worry. What I learned, and am still learning everyday, is that no matter how dark it seems, there is always a light, and we are always blessed.
    I’m so happy that things are looking up for you. Thank you for sharing your story.

  23. Style by Anastasia says:

    I love the positive message of your post and have learnt a great many tips to take forward.
    You and your family truly have the right outlook on life. No doubt it’s something you’ve worked on and I truly admire that.
    Anastasia

  24. Carrie says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing! Because of the full-time ministry my hubby & I are involved in, we also live below the poverty line, but we’ve never had to wonder where any meals are coming from- God always provides MUCH more than we need. Isn’t it amazing to watch Him work?

  25. Brandi says:

    This Thursday’s post really spoke to me!!!
    My husband lost his job in Oct. We went an entire month without a paycheck, and we had NO savings to get us through. 2 years ago we used it up to obey God’s call to move to AZ.
    It has been amazing to see God’s people, our friends and family help us through our trial. My husband is now employed but doesn’t make near what he used to. We, too, are considered below poverty.
    My faith seems to be strong one moment as if I am standing on the highest mountain top, then at other times it falters and my foot slips sending me tumbling down the mountain side.
    I have to admit that I do struggle with being “happy” on a continual basis through this. I hated pulling out my WIC voutcher for the first time at the store the other day. I dread making my appt. for food stamps and government healthcare. I am depressed over not being able to purchase presents for anyone this Christmas. Because of someone’s generosity, we were at least able to buy gifts for our kids.
    Thank you again for sharing. I truly am working on a thankful attitude, and your post was a great inspiration!!!

  26. Dee says:

    TY really needed it. We have been married almost 10 years and in that entire time one or both of has been in grad school. My husband is nearing the end of his PhD. He has been stressed over the amount of school related debt. Sometimes it has been a struggle to keep going but it looks like he will finish his dissertation by the end of next year and have a “real” job by the end of this year. TY for helping me remember that this situation is temporary.

  27. Deb says:

    thank you again for this amazing series – i was in tears reading the OP and also some of the comments.
    Kate – Your spirit shines through so brightly and your perspective was not what i was expecting when i saw this in my reader! Thank you for sharing!

  28. ExtraordinaryMommy says:

    This is a truly beautiful post. You have taken a challenge that is facing so many families right now and drenched it in a light of hope. Strength of family, strength of faith, strength of hope. Your family sounds remarkable.

  29. xanz says:

    Many can benefit from hearing stories of courage and victory over adversity.
    What jumped off the page to me (as the quite… *ahem, “mature” mother of now adult children) is that these little ones were probably more aware of the struggle than anyone knew, and that they were watching.
    How we cope with the challenges and the messiness of life is more than a win or lose for the moment, but the lesson and the legacy that our children receive growing up under our care.
    These children learned that wealth and happiness are not tied to money. They will quite likely one day come to understand that contentment is not a goal to achieve, but a byproduct of the right kind of living, and perhaps most important,we do not abandon our values and principles just because things are tough. A strong foundation works and it works in lean times as well as in abundance.
    Merry Christmas and thanks for the inspiration. A lovely example of stewardship, devotion and faith, as well.
    gentle thoughts…

  30. Tammy says:

    I was so touched reading your post. Not many understand situations that lead one to live below the poverty line.
    Government agencies don’t always bridge the gap. Many don’t qualify for any help what so ever.
    I can’t begin to count the months where what we paid out in perscriptions, doctor visits, supplies, etc. has way exceeded what we’ve brought in.
    In what seemed like the blink of an eye savings accounts, college accounts, etc. were gone trying to provide for our son’s needs.
    And we are looking at hitting his lifetime benefit rate sometime this year.
    You are right when you say that there is no room for pride. We had always been on the giving side. Being on the receiving side is rough. Humbling. It’s hard on your self esteem. But we are committed to provide Parker with the best medical care possible.
    One thing Reed and I have done is keep a little book of all that has been given in Parker’s behalf. We plan on paying each act of kindness forward. It is important to us to keep the love going. Our whole family is involved in paying it forward.
    Because of our experiences our family has learned so much and grown so much closer.
    Our testimonies have never been stronger.
    My kids have learned first hand that love is a verb. These are lessons that will stay with them their entire lives, and influence the lives of their children.
    There really are some things money can’t buy. Lessons you can learn only because of the love and support of others.

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