Saturday, April 16, 2011


10:30 AM.  We pile the children into the van for the five minute drive to my aunt's house.  We haven't seen my aunt and uncle (from my dad's side) since early December.  They've spent the last two winters in the Florida trailer they purchased.

They are happy to see the children and remark how they've grown.  We settle in, and my kids play with the decades-old Lincoln Logs and other classic toys my aunt keeps in her closet.

Peter tells about his new love for birds and details all the things he's been doing to attract them.  My aunt listens politely, admitting she knows nothing about birds.  Miss Mary, my four year old, then pipes up and says she knows a lot about birds.  That makes me smile.

Yes, Peter's constant bird rattle has made a bird lover out of my Mary, too.  She can identify every bird that comes to our yard, which is quite a list.

Paul, my game lover, makes words from a foam alphabet puzzle, then asks to play Uno with my aunt.  Mary asks to go outside, though no one wants to go with her.

My cousin's dog, Tyson, is dropped off and Peter, my pet lover, only has eyes for the dog.

Miss Beth sits in uncle's lap, listening to bluegrass music.  She is surprisingly content and quite still, as she studies her new surroundings. We don't go visiting much, so this is quite a treat.  

Mary, my independent one, goes outside by herself, exploring the vast, marshy yard.

An hour and a half passes. We take the offered Florida grapefruits on our way out the door--grapefruits my husband later pronounces the best he's ever tasted.

As we head for home, my aunt and uncle prepare to leave on a trip to Amish country with their son (my cousin Rick) and his wife. Travelling an hour to get there, once a month they buy Amish cheese and other foodstuff--walking through the different shops, visiting their Amish friends.

Arriving home, we unload the van and the children.  A rush ensues as we prepare for husband's work departure--putting his dinner together, his various keys for the jobs, his work shirts, cell phone, work boots, wallet, glasses.

He leaves.  

I look around the house.  Instead of doing routine chores that morning, I'd rushed into a batch of homemade apple muffins for my aunt, whose birthday we missed while she was away.

Remnants of baking clutter the counters, the sink.  Pajamas--tossed aside by children preparing for an outing--litter the hallway, the living room, the playroom.  Spring clothes from the shed, still to be washed, sit in storage boxes, further cluttering the living room.  Another storage box of clothes stored inside the house need a dryer fluffing and hanging.

Breakfast dishes, still on the dining room table, scream at me.  The left over cinnamon toast will surely draw the carpenter ants I've seen in the past week.  There aren't enough to worry me--just enough to warrant a sweeping after every meal.

I walk down the hall.  The bathroom is full of husband's night clothes, my night clothes, used towels and washclothes. Beds sit, dishevelled, with favourite stuffed animals littering the floors.

All I want to do is cry.  Truly.

I push away nagging feelings--feelings I usually escape because I'm so busy.  We never go anywhere.  There's just this house and its shocking messes.  The contrast of me coming home to this, and my aunt taking a leisurely day in Amish country, gets to me.  

If I had to list the hardest things about being low income, not having anything to look forward to would top the list.  The working poor--a term I use to refer to those working long hours for low pay--make up a good portion of the impoverished in this country.  They usually have enough food if they plan well, choose carefully, and know how to cook.  But everything else is questionable--the repairs, the utilities, the fuel, the miscellaneous.  Staying above water takes every ounce of energy, and they're always fearful of the next car repair, the next appliance repair, the next pair of shoes to wear out. There's little time for true leisure.  There's little money or time for things that take the edge off.

Life can seem unbearable at times.  We rush around for errands and appointments, due to sharing a vehicle.  Every time I get into that van, I'm on a strict deadline.  Every time I walk through the grocery store, I'm on the clock.  No time to waste.  Even a trip to the park is rushed because of husband's schedule, and I end up grocery shopping after dropping the family at the park.  There's just too little time to do both.

My mind wanders, as it often does now, to the low-income students I taught for nine years.  They represented single-parent families, most of them. They were worse off than we are, with most not having vehicles or phone service. I remember that we teachers judged these impoverished parents for spending money--even foodstamp money--on candy.  Why accept free breakfast and lunch for their children, at the school, if they had money for candy?

Do you know what the last two years have shown me?  Those children had nothing to look forward to.  Nothing but more stress.  Candy was the one thing Mom could do to make them smile.  

As I tackled some of the messes around here, God tackled my heart.  I want you to know what true hopelessness feels like.  I want you to be able to put your arms around the poor, to comfort them in their sorrow--not judge them in their circumstances. 

I have the Lord to lift me in my sorrow, to remind me of my blessings. Those families didn't.  Some drank, used drugs.  We teachers judged that, too, I remember.  Now I know why they abused substances.  They were in pain all the time.  All around them, life was good for others.  They saw families out for dinner, families out for a movie, families in nice vehicles, families buying whatever food they wanted, families buying whatever housewares they wanted, families going on vacations.

They, on the other hand, went home to yucky apartments they were about to be evicted from--again.

The Lord says we will always have the poor.  Social programs designed to give the poor a chance simply can't reach everybody.  We're out of money even, as a country.  Even those we can reach often don't have reliable transportation to take advantage of opportunities. Or they don't have neat and clean clothes, or an ounce of confidence, or an ounce of hope, or a stable place to live, or the electricity and water needed to look good for the interview.  On so many levels their situations are hopeless.

I remember all the lice my students got.  Now I know why the same families got lice over and over.  They couldn't afford the quarters needed to wash all the bedding, the clothes, the toys.  They couldn't afford the lice shampoo and lice spray.  They couldn't get ahead of it, in addition to all the other serious problems they encountered.

What I write here is really hard to fathom if you've never been down on your luck.  It's so easy to judge, but unless you've lived it, you're blind.

I don't know why God allows some to have so much, and others get nothing but misery.  Why doesn't He give salvation to every one of the poor, so they at least have the Lord's comfort?

I don't know the answer, of course.  I don't need to know.

I just have to trust in Him, for my own sake, and for all those families living worse off.


Holly said...

I have felt like this before. Thank you for sharing. It greatly encouraged me. Holly

Christine said...

Hi Holly! It is a shame that police officers don't make higher wages. It is such a dangerous, tough job. I think they should be compensated extremely well for risking their lives for their fellow citizens.

Anyway, thank you for commenting today. I appreciate every comment! Bless you!