A Thanksgiving Reflection: Praising God for ALL!“
Too Rich to be so Poor.” Years ago I found myself in government housing, alone raising three teen boys and a baby girl. I was in grad school and teaching for a stipend of $800.00/month, and I also made extra money with a part-time tutoring position where I taught study skills and tutored students for about 15 hours per week. On top of the teaching duties, tutoring, and parenting, I also had a full-time graduate course load, complete with homework and thesis research.
On a grad stipend, I couldn’t afford child care, but a Catholic family adopted us all while I was pregnant. Their daughter, who was an undergraduate student, babysat for me a few hours a week in between her classes, while I had to attend classes and teach. My boys (all at least 11 years older than their baby sister) would babysit at other times. A “baby minister” was provided somehow for my church music ministries. It was difficult to balance everything, but with great patience and great faith in God, much was provided for this single mother and her family. I was able to put God, and family first while working to improve the opportunities and quality of life for us all.
Yes, the working poor DO budget: I carefully budgeted the meager salary and managed to find enough to pay for gas, groceries, rent, a phone, insurance on a car, laundry (no washer or dryer),…..It was very difficult. There was WIC for the baby, which provided staples that I used to feed my other children, as I nursed the baby.
We had no health care provided, so if one of us became sick, something else would not be provided. When I applied for food stamps, I was told that my car (which didn’t run half the time) added to my 800 per month made me ineligible for assistance. My assets placed me 50 dollars over the 1,200.00/month limit for federal food stamp aid.
We had a “poor” jar in our kitchen and all loose change went into that jar, with silver coins, especially quarters collected in the prayer dish on top of the television. Once a month, I would put money from the poor jar into the slot at church for the poor. Sometimes the boys would do this as well.
Each boy received enough money to wash and dry one load of clothes per week. They also received money for family laundering, which included my clothes and towels.
We pushed the car to start it and rarely had enough money for gas. Thankfully the college had a bus route that stopped at our apartments and the children rode the school bus to school, except during the Fall when participation in band meant they had to be there before school or simply not be able to participate.
My housing was subsidized, so the rent was not the full amount. I knew how to cook from staples and managed to provide food for my growing sons. A big pot of “leftover stew” was always available in the refrigerator.
The Catholic Church on campus also provided a free meal after mass on Sunday evenings as well as a community meal on Wednesday evenings.
My family and I served often at the church and were grateful for the support and love of the Catholic Church.
Giving and receiving: On top of my jobs, my kids, and my school work, I also had a ministry with the area Catholic churches. I provided my musical skills, as well as my liturgical experience, to the Catholic Campus Ministry, and other area churches. I never said no if someone needed a musician. I spent at least 15 hours per week as I provided music for the church.
The church, in turn, nurtured my family and supported us through fellowship, and friendship. The college campus deacon and other men in the church would take my sons to movies, to purchase clothing, to eat pizza…. They included my sons in their movie nights….the church was our second home, and the people at the church were our family. Praise God for our church family.
In addition to the campus ministry, I also played music at a family parish nearby as a member in a charismatic folk choir.
All in all, 15 hours of service each week to the churches; music for 5 masses/week, 2 of which were for the Catholic school. I hardly noticed my poverty because my ministries actually ministered to us as much as we ministered as a family. All of my children sang during mass at the family parish, and our Sundays were devoted to the college parish family. Our lives were so full despite our lack of money.
Thanksgiving memory: I remember one holiday when we literally had nothing to eat in terms of the traditional Thanksgiving fare.
I always kept a pot of “leftover” stew going and, with bread or crackers, would sure fill an empty spot. Throw in a little rice too, and you are able to stretch it for some time.
My sons were always very good about not making me feel bad. They truly respected me for how hard I worked and understood that I did not have much to offer. They also respected my decision to have their baby sister, despite our financial situation.
Together, as a family, we all made it work. Our Catholic faith also kept us focused on the hope of a better future. We all trusted that God would provide for us somehow.
On this particular Thanksgiving Day, I warmed the leftover stew, and my sons selected their favorite 6 hour VHS tape of “Star Trek The Next Generation.” I placed the pot of stew on a pot holder in the middle of the living room floor, as we all sat Indian style around the pot. We all went around the circle saying what we were each thankful for on this day, as I nursed their baby sister.
As we were sharing, there was a knock at the door. To our surprise, one of our friends from the folk choir was at the door; she was delivering pecan pies to her friends from church. We invited her in and offered her to join us in a bowl of “Thanksgiving Stew.”
She thanked us and asked, “Is this all you are having?”
I smiled and said, “Well we are also having pie.”
She left and we continued our sharing. About two hours later, there was another knock at the door. We paused our Star Trek Marathon and answered the door.
To our shock, this beautiful woman was carrying groceries. She ordered my sons to come down and help her and they began bringing in Ham, Turkey, stuffing mix; all kinds of groceries. We didn’t even have a kitchen with space enough to hold all that she had brought. It was more than enough to even get us through Christmas. It was more groceries than we had ever had in our apartment at one time.
I will never forget this beautiful person’s generosity. She is the kind of person who is still doing these things, I guarantee it, and she would never want any mention of it or glory given to her. She is a true angel of God and she was granted tremendous grace through her giving.
Lessons Learned: Those years taught me great humility. It also taught me that God does truly provide what you need even if he doesn’t always provide what you want. I was also taught that we also receive grace when we allow others the opportunity to give to those in need. Many times the pride-fullness of a person can get in the way of allowing others to help.
One thing that living in poverty taught me was that all people have dignity. Some of the most giving people I have ever met in my life were very, very poor.
Father Jim Fisher once told me, “Dianne, you are entirely too rich to be so poor.”
Even in our poverty, we are still rich beyond our wildest dreams because we have the love of God. All we have to do is trust in this love, and accept that love from others as we give that love to others. God will provide for our every need. In His own time, and in ways we least expect.
This Thanksgiving, I find myself with two wonderful jobs and wonderful, fulfilling ministries. I have a home to live in with my daughter. I have a car that I do not have to push to start. My children have grown. My sons are all happy, wonderful husbands with their own families.
My daughter has grown into a beautiful young woman, with talents beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.
The Catholic family who adopted us all those years ago is still our family. God has provided adopted aunts, and uncles, grandparents…an extended family who loves us all as though we were actually members of their family.
I have friends, colleagues, and pets who love me. I have plenty of groceries. I have given to others in need and God has given back to me 100 times over. I still don’t have enough money. I still struggle financially, but I never want for anything that I truly need. Praise God for this wonderful life. I only pray that I am worthy of the many blessings I’ve been given. JMJ
Photo is one I took on a stormy day. I couldn’t help but see the light of Christ shining through. Praise God for this beautiful world.