being privileged

I spent a good portion of yesterday reading this post, about what it means to be poor. I read and read and still didn’t to the end of all the comments, all the additions to the list. The one that hit the closest to home was “Being poor is knowing there is no margin for error.” I know that feeling, that nothing can go wrong this month so that I can cover all the bills. But that feeling was caused by my own choices–to spend more than I made, and put the difference on credit cards. I’m paying off that foolish choice.
I then began to read responses. Fred’s made sense to me. It only seems right to read, to study, to apply yourself. It makes sense to maintain as clean an area as possible, to straighten the house, to bathe your children. Povery is no excuse for filth.
And then I read this response, and even I flinched a little. His statements, while perhaps valid, are still grating. He seems so…unfeeling. I mean, stuff happens! Circumstances come that are not forseen, and it’s hard to dig oneself out of a rut. But based on what I’ve seen and always heard, if you work hard and spend your money wisely, you can overcome, right? And then I read all those responses to the original post, and I feel the desparation, and my stomach begins to clench a little, like it always does when I have to talk about money.
Because you see, we were poor once, too. At least, I think we were. I never felt poor, never realized I was poor, until later, when I heard stories of the miraculous provision that kept our family going. I’ll start from the beginning.
My paternal grandfather was raised poor. He and all his brothers are short because they didn’t get enough to eat when they were growing.
My dad was raised poor. They ate pickle and cottage cheese sandwiches, and scraped by on their farm. But of those five kids, three (the girls) completed college.
I was raised poor. My mom fed a family of 6 on $40 a week, but we never ate hot dogs or boxed mac and cheese or cold cereal. Those were bad for you, and as such, were only had when we were at someone’s house or someone gave them to us. We ate rice and beans, stirfries and soups, salads made from the pitched veggies behind a grocery store. The sickness mentioned in so many of those comments was never present, because we didn’t get sick. If we had a cold, we were stuffed to the gills with garlic and drank plenty of liquids. And a cold was the worst that we got.
So I wonder, why me? Why was I born into a family that, although not financially well-off, was able to pull up, to the point where we’re middle-class now, and all of us live comforable lives. Not extravagant, by any means. None of us kids have had everything given to us; my siblings are paying their own way through college. And I’ve come up with three things that I’m grateful for, things that were instilled in us, and things that made the difference between continuing the cycle of poverty and pulling out.
Dad worked hard, first on the chicken farm, then, after we lost that, wherever he could. And that’s one of the most important things he taught me: if you can’t get a job, just work. Work somewhere, anywhere, and you’ll get a job, eventually, because there’s always a place for someone who’s willing to work hard.
The second, the single most important thing he taught me, was his mantra: Do right. Love mercy. Walk humbly. It’s a paraphrase in “Dadish” of Micah 6:3, “He hath showed thee, oh man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” (Italics mine.)
And that leads us to the third thing: tithe. I don’t care how little we had, part of it always went to the church. My father’s goal is now to give one million dollars during his lifetime.
The link that I think is missing in so many of these discussion is that of faith. Face it: we cannot overcome on our own. We just can’t. No matter how someone may claim it, they did not get to where they are alone. There’s always someone. And if no one gave you anything-a break, a dime, a chance, a job-the sun still shone, some days. That’s God. I’m not saying that God has especailly blessed my family, to the exclusion of others. I’m not claiming that because we’re good people, He especially loves us. I just know that what struck me from all those comments was the hopelessness. So if believing that there’s more to life than simply life itself will keep people going, well, don’t you think we should encourage them in that direction?

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~ by wildeyedwonder on September 28, 2005.

7 Responses to “being privileged”

  1. Good post. Great post. Even brought a tiny tear to my eye.

  2. I’ve already bawled today, or I would have bawled on this post, too. Very nicely stated.

  3. God appears to have blessed your family with high intelligence and good looks. Intelligence and the willingness to use it alone can get anyone out of poverty in this country, several times in fact. Not that I’m saying it’s easy even then.

    But the people to pity the most are those born into poverty with low intelligence and little potential. Life is especially cruel to them. They’re stuck and they’re just one unexpected problem away from falling. Always.

  4. I had no idea you guys had ever been poor. But I could tell that all of you are smart. I hope you all do well. I think you will.

  5. MS-

    We were never poor. Being poor is a mentality. There is a definate difference between being poor and not having very much money. At all.

    Not having much money entails finding creative ways to stretch a dollar, educating yourself within your means and never feeling like a victim, all things that our parents taught us. Being poor is living paycheck to paycheck, feeling like a victim of The Man and never allowing yourself to take control of the situation, something I can never remember our parents doing.

    Really. We weren’t poor. We were frugal. Our mother taught us thousands of ways to cook inxpensives foods and taste good. Our parents taught us to self-educate. You can always, always pick up a book and learn something. Gifts that are handmade are often more heartfelt and appreciated than carelessly bought gifts. You can find more than two uses for any object.

    Our childhoods were simply preperation to think outside the box and challenge the status quo. After all, there aren’t many people I konw who can ward off an entire plague of pnuemonia with a clove of garlic and bottle of vitamin C.

  6. Awesome post. Ditto to that comment PC. I was thinking the same thing before I read it. Being poor and rich is all in the mind. I am rich. I have a family, food, a job, and a business. At this moment I can’t make the mortgage payments on the 3 houses I own. I have bills out the wazoo, more debt than any one human should have and have no money. I am not poor. I am broke. If I was poor I would just give up and not try. But since I am rich I have found a creative and legal solution to my mortgage problems.

    It’s not about what you have or don’t have. I watch my tenets struggle with everything, yet they can buy nicer cloths, cars, and TVs than me. Yet I have more debt then they do, more to worry about, more responsibility and I somehow come out ahead. Why? Because I made the decision and make it every morning, that I am rich, God will provide, and he needs a moving vessel to work with. I can’t do much if I’m a parked car. From what I can see none of the Slabaughs are poor, you all think rich and therefore are rich and I count myself lucky to be able to tap into some of your minds for advice and counsel.

  7. Sarah, I like the way you think.

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