There’s a plethora of news articles discussing poverty as it relates to society as a whole. There are Government studies, prejudices, and surveys. There are misconceptions, stereotypes, classes to educate those in the throes, assistance programs that help (or don’t), and people fighting every day to overcome the odds.
Let me be very clear at this point: I am not a statistic.
My Social Media brand states quite simply, “I’m a Christian. Writer. Mom. Single. Daughter. Friend. Worker. Chef. Believer.” I’m also a baseball nut, coffee drinker, Disney lover, cat owner. I’m sympathetic, empathetic and at times extremely temperamental. At no point have I ever been a statistic.
I am a person. My home is where I live and where I raise a family. We are not charts on a piece of paper or a spread-sheet column.
The very first thing you should understand about me is that I am blessed. I believe in God, I have felt His hand upon my daily moments and I know without Him I would be lost. I am poor by the world’s standards, but definitely not by His.
Trying to live up to the world’s idea of how my life should be is utterly exhausting. Working long hours while running a household can be overwhelming. And so rewarding.
I am deeply bothered by the stigma that my life brings to me and my daughter. I’m often overwhelmed at the inconsideration pushed upon us for lack of funds. I’ve prayed and thought long and hard about writing this post. There are some things that private. And then there are times when my voice may be the only voice someone hears. For others who can’t speak for themselves.
Poverty is not One Size Fits All or even Most. Poverty is deeply personal, intimate, and unique to each person. Not each family. Each. Person.
This is my story.
This is by no means a complaint against the world. Nor is it a cry for help. It’s not meant to take away any other person’s individuality or be thrown to the masses. This is simply My Story. Or at least the parts of it I can share.
I can’t say I was born into poverty. I think maybe I was, myself and my brothers. But we didn’t know different. Dad worked hard for income, Mom worked hard at keeping a home. At some point in my youth, both worked. We all came together for dinner around the table. We went to school, did our homework and worked our chores. We played games. We talked. We went to Church. We were a family. When my brothers were each old enough, they found part-time jobs to supplement their own pocket cash. I babysat the kids across the street. We didn’t know what poverty was.
We had a clean house. Home cooked meals. We didn’t know we were poor. We knew we didn’t always have as much as the kids down the block. But we always had more than we needed. And we were okay with that.
When I was 13, my dad passed away. Mom chose to move us closer to her sister, also a widow. Thus we transplanted from Michigan to California. My mom has always been an extremely strong, hard worker. If we were in Laura Ingalls’ days, she’d be known as a Pioneer Woman. When there’s a problem, she finds a solution. Even though the word “No” is often a part of our vocabulary, the word “Can’t” rarely is. Her home is immaculate. Her yard is landscaped. She’s always found a way to take care of what needs taking care of. I am very proud of my mom, and just as proud that my daughter inherited that same “Can-Do” spirit. We are not poor people. We are just people in poor circumstances.
We live in the largest county in America. Currently, our unemployment rate averages between 12 and 14%. That means one in seven people who used to work or can work, is not working. That doesn’t take into consideration the dependents that person is responsible for: a spouse, child, or other dependent. I don’t like the game people play with these numbers.
I’m blessed to have a job. I work 35 hours a week. It’s not much, but it’s honest work. It feels good to have a job I can go to. A place where I can contribute back to society and be a part of the outside world. I enjoy paying bills. I do! I like the feeling of writing out checks and buying my own groceries and putting gas in the car. I don’t like knowing that the payments I make aren’t always enough. I don’t like the calls I get each day asking me for money I don’t have.
But I like that each week, the calls are fewer. I like that each payday, I can afford to put just a little more money toward paying off the smallest debt. And maybe next payday, a little more. It’s not easy and there are often times when I’m unable to do anything more than the minimum payments… and sometimes not even that. It’s embarrassing. And that’s a stigma I face a lot. The stigma that being in poverty carries an attitude of apathy.
I want to be self-sufficient. I’m not there yet. I don’t know that I ever will be. But I’m learning a lot on this journey. I’m learning every day. How to cook differently. How to juggle a budget where the outgo always exceeds the income. How to get by for less than what society tells me I need. And how to ask for help when I really need it.
I’m blessed with a wonderful support system. I have family and friends and church and community. I’m not alone. I have people. My people. People who come alongside me to lighten the load however they can. A grandpa who constantly teaches Dot maintenance and farming. My mom who shares cooking secrets. My boss consistently trains me to be better at my job, and gives me opportunities to grow and not be just the stagnant front-desk person. I have people who see me through my struggles. And, yes. I have struggles. Who doesn’t? But I don’t struggle with life. There are worse things than not paying off debt in a timely manner.
For my family, Poverty is a matter of perspective.
My yard is still 90% dirt. That’s not because we’re poor. That’s because I live in the desert. That’s because I don’t know gardening. But I’m learning. Some day, my yard will be completely landscaped. For now, we’re taking it one square foot at a time.
I still treat Dot to the occasional pizza or Starbucks. We need that treat once in a while. When I was growing up, Mom had this saying on a bookmark:
“If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul”
– Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet
I remember asking her what that meant. She smiled as she told me, it’s another way of saying “Man cannot live by bread alone.” There must be more to life than physical needs. We must also take care of our spirit, our soul, our emotions.
Imagine my delight when in the first Spring of my somewhat fixer-upper home I discovered Hyacinth growing in my front yard.
We all need a time of refreshment. Being in poor circumstances no longer allows us the luxury of Disney passes or even a weekend getaway. My mom has another great wall hanging in her kitchen. It reads
Do What You Can
Where You Are
With What You Have.
And that’s why I still try to make time for Family Game Nights. Why we scrimp and save for our Girl Dates to Starbucks or McDonald’s. That’s why a 40-minute drive to Casey’s Cupcakes and the Mission Inn every few months isn’t indulgent ~ it’s necessary!
Because I refuse to let my daughter think she lives in poverty. Because she doesn’t. Because poverty is a temporary disposition that I refuse to settle into comfortably, and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure she doesn’t know what she’s missing.
I believe this poverty is temporary. I refuse to be a societal statistic.
And Frankly, My Dear… that’s all she wrote!
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There’s Hope for Bedford Manor
“Be Not Afraid”. Yes, I’m talking to YOU.
How To Eat For Free And Have Fun Doing It (Or, How Printing Coupons Gave Me a Really Great Weekend!)
WinCo Wins: Lunch for a Dollar!
Dear God, I Owe You An Apology (Quit Helping Me!)