I am not poor. Not close. Not that I think it's really that important to anyone, but I state this more as a disclaimer. Not being poor means that I really don't have a right to comment about what it means to be poor. I don't really know. I can't really know. In fact, most of the people reading this blog can't possibly know what Poor means. Despite this fact, I read John Scalzi's beautiful 9/2/05
post and found that I could relate to more than half of the items on his "Being poor is..." list. His post has been bugging me ever since.
More thought provoking than his simple list are the 350 comments that followed. Many people added their own items to the list. In the end there was an incredible collection of perceptions regarding what makes a person poor -- I don't think I've read even half of them yet (I'm working on it). I am amazed about how little it takes to make an item list-worthy -- to make a person "feel" poor. It seems to me that as a culture, we really do feel entitled to certain luxuries. We somehow believe that our "inalienable rights" include a certain degree of material comfort. We are entitled to a high-paying job, a house not near a freeway, and enough cash to buy whatever our kids want whenever they want it. We shouldn't ever have to worry about how much everything costs, we shouldn't ever have to struggle for anything.
This disturbs me greatly. I would be an extremely immature, selfish woman if not for the struggles I have encountered through the years. I have counted pennies more days than not. I am proud to know what everything costs, and delighted when I stretch my dollar further than it seems possible. I'm not ashamed of my frugal lifestyle. I'm not embarrassed by my cheap car. If not for living 10 years in a too small house in a bad neighborhood with crack houses and gang bangers (next to the freeway), my just enough space house with a wonderful back yard in a great neighborhood would neither be possible nor appreciated. I have learned that receiving is often more difficult than giving, and asking for help is so hard -- but people really can be God's hands and feet in this world if we give them the opportunity.
Not that my struggles came without stress -- I was often stressed out, and continue to be. Like many people who live where we live, we owe way more than we own. We have very little money left over after we pay our ridiculous mortgage, and I know every day that we are about 2 checks away from losing everything - always. But I also know that our life is a choice. We choose to live in California instead of Iowa where we could afford way more for way less. Perhaps that truth lives in the back of our mind all the time -- if all else fails, there's always Iowa (no insult intended, Iowans). Perhaps the knowledge that our parents are there to help us up if we should fall, to take care of our children if there was a crisis, siblings who can (and have) pick up the slack for us when times get rough. And faith, of course. Faith that God will provide. If all else fails (and even if it doesn't), God will be faithful, even unto death.
Now before you jump to all sorts of conclusions regarding how shallow I am (and who knows? you're probably right), please hear me out. John's post was beautifully written, I was moved deeply by his words. For every item that I could relate to, there was another that reminded me that wow, it was never that bad for me. I am aware of the many priviledges I have enjoyed -- great parents, great husband, great education -- and even with every advantage, life is a struggle. It is hard. But I have always been aware of my choices, my options. In the end, I conclude that true poverty is living with the perception that you have no options, no choices, no hope. If we accept this to be true, then the reverse of this must also be true. Hope makes us rich, or at least keeps us from being poor.
So today, I'm starting my own list. I've been incredibly inspired by the strength and hope I have witnessed in people who have lost everything but their faith. How beautiful they appear to me. How beautiful they must seem to God. I will start the list today and hope that you will add to it. ++Lord, how I thank you for this wonderful life and this beautiful world. I praise you for your faithfulness. I thank you for your hand in my life. Thank you for the witness of great faith I have seen in the days following Katrina. Your people amaze me. Continue to bless them. Give back all that was lost 7 fold. And help us all to remember that riches cannot always be seen.
"Being Rich is..."
Being rich is having people who love you just the way you are.
Being rich is walking in a meadow, the sun on your face.
Being rich is knowing that you are a child of God.
Being rich is being able to ignore all the people so quick to label you as "poor".
Being rich is being proud of the food in your cupboard, because you earned that food with your hard work.
Being rich is being healthy enough to be able to work.
Being rich is knowing that despite their big houses and new clothes, you are way luckier than they are -- and way happier.
Being rich is a VA loan that requires no down payment to buy your first house.
Being rich is finding great neighbors in what others see as a "bad neighborhood".
Being rich is having a plumber husband who can trade odd jobs with the mechanic on the corner -- he can keep their toilets running while the they can keep your cheap car on the road.
Being rich is finding a perfectly good lamp in your neighbor's trash, a perfectly good dishwasher in the the dumpster, etc, etc, etc.
Being rich is living in a country where there is so much stuff, people throw out perfectly good stuff because they want the newer model.
Being rich is having a sibling or family member or friend to help out when needed.
Being rich is a room full of believers willing to pray for your aching tooth, and the love offering they put together to get you to the dentist.
Being rich is having a dentist nearby to go to.
Being rich is having an air conditioner or a heater, even if only in one room.
Being rich is having a school to go to, and books to read.
Being rich is knowing how to read in the first place.
Being rich is knowing that no matter how much you don't have, someone out there has less than you, and needs your help.
Being rich is knowing that the stuff you've accumulated over the years is really just meaningless junk.
Being rich is knowing that you will be okay whether you have a lot, or not. God loves you the same either way (no matter what anyone wants to tell you.)
Being rich is knowing that it all belongs to God anyway, and you're really just here for a moment.
Being rich is knowing that it's a wonderful life.