When I was a girl we had Oreos in the cupboard, blueberry muffins every morning and fish sticks waiting in the freezer. Luxury foods that I didn’t realize were luxury. On Saturdays we ran errands. I went to the grocery, the beauty parlor, to the shops for new clothing, and to the movies. We fed cows, sold rocks at a mercantile store, and rode horses or ATV’s.
When I was still in high school, my parents gave me a paid for, beat up truck to drive and then upgraded me to a “granny” reliable car. Two cars, paid for, given to me, before I graduated from university.
My first job paid relocation costs, sent me to an all expense paid training for three weeks, provided a company car, benefits, a hefty paycheck and matching funds. Education “proved” to be entitled. My own badge, desk, stapler, computer, and a shared secretary. I’m not even kidding.
Married. Secure. Money. Travel. Fancy food. My palette desired the finer things. Entertainment. Theater, dance, movies, golf, biking, camping, exploring, museums, jazz. Cultured. Photography, wine, cheese. I liked it, I loved it. I wanted more of it.
A home. Decorating, renovations, tile projects, painting, hardwoods. Dinner parties. Steak. Strawberry shortcake. Pool parties. Fireworks. House guests. Bible studies. Movie nights. Games. Bonfires.
Kids. Miscarriage. Kid one. Kid two. Epidural wimp, give it to me when I’m dilated to four centimeters. Breast feeding. Stay at home mom.
Work as ministry. Life turned upside down. All for Jesus. What does that mean?!
Faith. Living by faith. Are you serious God? I can’t do this. I met that one woman once that prayed for everything. She saw God in everything. Cool stories. She kept Christian music playing in her home. Somehow her kids went to private school. A stranger gave her a van. Right before she ran out of food, she would find a bag at her front door. No way that was about to be our story. Really??
Eight years of marriage, and then we became poor. Only money poor, the paper stuff. But poor, according to the poverty chart, and in comparison to our friends.
Eight years of ease, hardship had to come before we began to experience rich.
We started the adventure of poor. We shared a car, instead of having two. We walked our kids to school. We prayed for food. We wore the clothes our friends no longer wanted. All our entertainment had to be free. We began learning how to live without spending money.
And our poor has always been an underlying secret. We can’t worry our parents. The business and ministry require obedience when the money is low and faith has to hold us. Our kitchen is open and one of our greatest lessons in open-handed living. We have never fed more people or had more food. 100 meals served every week, easy.
Until we lived poor, we didn’t understand rich. Today, we are God rich. We are learning dependency on the One who is faithful. We are learning to trust Him in all things. And the trusting can be very hard. We are out of control and that out of control gives us a longing for Him to be in control. We need Him and we want more of Him. He’s our hope and our song. He’s our salvation, not only from hell, but for every day. He’s saving us daily and every day we are falling more in love with Him.
Now, we have no idea how to relate to other people, the ones we look like on the outside. We don’t live like them and for us to be real with them is to be different from them. For them to be real with us is to be different from us. If we can focus on Jesus, we have a common denominator. But often, the focus is on the temporary and our temporary clashes. Man that makes me sad, but we can’t and we won’t go back to what life use to be.
As we spend our lives ministering to the poor in our community, it is amazing to personally relate to them. We work long days, but it does not get us ahead. We eat expired food. Our clothing has holes. We learn the urgency of self-control and sharing. Errands no longer occupy our time as errands require resources. We learn the free – parks, libraries, festivals, museums. We enjoy worship music, listening to stories and reading.
Travel is luxury which demands fuel, lodging, and meals. Travel requires transport, time off work, luggage. Sometimes God gives us free. Amazing stories. Humbling. Leaves me in tears. Prayer and waiting on God. He is full of surprises.
Limited resources teach us how to say no to good for what is best. To survive on little is to find contentment in little, to have joy in the pleasures of ordinary or what others may view as lack. Limited resources delight in the gift card for a cup of coffee, learn the enjoyment of leftovers, use the shampoo that makes our friend’s hair dry, and enjoy the comforts of a warm fire. We learn to treasure people over possessions, leaving the bushes half trimmed to listen to a friend, loaning our car to someone which leaves us at home, or visiting a friend in the hospital which makes dinner late.
By the way, meals take a long time because limited resources omit convenience. Drive thrus are too expensive and inexpensive, healthy food always takes prep time. The pinto beans have to sit in water for hours. Veggies must be chopped. Meals require creativity because we rarely have all the ingredients that a recipe requires. The complication of meals bring the family into the kitchen. The prep work can involve everyone, we can jam to music and have fun. We don’t eat meat a lot and eating only green beans or only popcorn can be very normal. When a friend invites us for dinner and they serve a meat, three sides, bread and dessert the delight is all ours. We treasure the treat and feel like royalty.
School requires many trips to the library and watching for what we can learn from the free. The adventure is finding the free and learning to experience the opportunities to the full. Field trips can be done through career exploration, nature and friendships with all different cultures. Relationships are our most valuable asset as every person we know can teach from their own lens of influence. We learn to notice what others excel in and glean from their wisdom and expertise. Living without teaches us the value of learning from all. Education becomes a way of life, more than a school project, spelling test or math worksheet.
Work often takes longer hours, with less financial results, but the privilege is to work as worship to Jesus. We must learn to fight against comparison and delight in the work God has given us. We all have a duty to contribute to the world, whether we receive compensation or not. Our investment in community should never be contingent on what we get. Many in poverty travel hours to get to a job and hours to get home. They collapse from exhaustion every day, but they do it again and again. Survival is a powerful contributor, but even if resources or circumstances can not afford us compensation, we still have the privilege and duty to contribute to the body of Christ. As the Word says, we are trusting our contribution will meet another’s need so that in turn another’s contribution will meet our need. (2 Corinthians 8:14) God is changing our perspective.
As our lifestyle has changed, the differences have become our normal. I don’t feel poor, deprived, slighted. Nothing about me wants to go back to carefree days; those days of depending on ourselves and not Christ. The entertainment, indulgence and ease always left me wanting more. I didn’t know what the more was until I realized… I wanted more of Jesus. I couldn’t hear His voice when we provided for ourselves. I couldn’t see His work when I was focused on mine. I couldn’t feel His embrace when my heart wasn’t fragile. I couldn’t toil and strive for the Lord until my hope was set on the living God. I couldn’t taste His provision when I believed we did it for ourselves. I couldn’t share in His glory if I didn’t share in His suffering. I couldn’t really love others until I experienced more of His love for me. I couldn’t be rich until I became poor.