I heard it said once that when you’re young, you tend to be more liberal, and as you get older, you grow more conservative in your views. I’m finding that to be the opposite, personally. Well, I suppose by most people’s definition, I’m still young (born in 1973, you do the math …and I haven’t had a birthday yet this year), but as I get older, I’m starting to realize that my rather narrow view of the world is widening somewhat. Maybe I’m not getting more liberal –maybe I’m coming to more of a balance. That, at least, sounds better to someone who was raised listening to Rush Limbaugh as I was driven around town as a kid.
A friend of mine uncharacteristically started a bit of a …discussion on her blog a couple days ago talking about general political stuff and dependence on the government and government versus the church’s role in aiding the poor. So, now it’s past my bedtime, but since I read that and got inspired, and since my sister had the nerve to post a link to my blog on hers (…hi, Amy! 🙂 ), I feel compelled to write something, even if it won’t make much sense.
When Sam and I were first married, he was in grad school. We were poor. But we didn’t acknowledge that much, because it was just us, and, after all, we were poor for a purpose. We wanted to get Sam through school without adding any student loan debt to the monumental amount (a pittance compared to what I hear is typical nowadays) we already had from our undergraduate adventures. After grad school, Sam got gainful (well, at least we thought so at the time) employment and we lived a bit more comfortably, and had a few kids. Now, we’re back, financially speaking, to where we were when Sam was in grad school, but we feel it more because our choices (among them, the choice to live in California on one income, have a baby, and try to do a home business on the side) are affecting more than just us. No, we didn’t choose to have Sam’s job eliminated or to make two moves in two years, but if we had been more financially responsible, it wouldn’t have been the blow it is to us now. It’s no longer an option to do some of the things we did back then to cut back. Our grocery budget is, to my shock, even below what the “thrifty” category is according to the USDA averages (…got to post a link here so you can see what that figure is), and we are at the end of our creativity to figure out where else to cut back. But, we’re really not doing that badly. Our rent is paid on time every month, we have enough food (enough so that I still need to lose some baby weight…), and our kids are healthy and dressed adequately. I guess we really can’t complain. But, nevertheless, we do feel things more acutely now that we have the kids to think of. We don’t often have to say “we can’t afford that,” in part due to the kids’ ages (6, 4, and almost 2), but also in part to the fact that we try as much as we can to present a simple life as normal. We don’t do elaborate birthday parties. We don’t spend our spare time at the mall. I confiscate the catalogs that come in the mail and toss them before they get pored over. Fortunately, we’re in a culture here that’s a lot more conducive to living this kind of lifestyle. If we had stayed in Arizona, I have little doubt that it would have been harder on Elanor to live this way, with peers that, along with being able to afford private Christian education, can afford new vans and trips to Hawaii and Disneyland every year. At her school last year, that was “normal.”
What we are trying to do, I suppose, is communicate to the kids that we aren’t victims. We aren’t martyrs. We accept living this way because this is where God has us now. We also accept that choices have consequences, and some of our choices were not the wisest. We try to encourage discernment, but discourage judging others’ situations and taking pride in where we are. Having pride in one’s poverty may sound ludicrous to anyone who hasn’t been poor, or at least less-well-off, but it’s a natural downfall when you’ve already given up on keeping up with the Joneses. What else can you take pride in? You could probably already tell from the tone of this post that that’s something I struggle with on a regular basis. I guess you could call it the “That SUV Looks Like $38,000 That Could Have Gone To World Missions” syndrome. It’s difficult to accept that God often places us in different situations for a good reason. Even Paul said he’d been in plenty and in want. The point is that we need to learn contentment in whichever situation we are. With that contentment, we lose a lot of the need and reason for pontificating on others’ purchases or dependence on public aid. With contentment, we realize that we have been given much, and that much is required of us, whether that’s time spent to teach life skills to someone who doesn’t understand that the reason they can’t keep their job at McDonald’s is because they don’t make a point of taking a shower regularly or waking up more than 10 minutes before they’re required to be at work, or whether it’s giving materially to someone who needs it in response to God’s call. Well, that’s about it for one night. Speaking of life skills, I’ve recently discovered that I’m a much better mom on more than 6 hours of sleep.