Friday, December 19, 2008

Would You Choose to Be Poor?

Would you ever choose to give up everything you have so that you can live a life in poverty? I'm not talking about giving up your earthly possessions so you can follow Christ. Or become a nun who takes a vow of poverty or whatever. I'm talking about being an average, everyday citizen. Who gives up family connections, education, jobs, a home... to be poor. I've known 2 people who seem to have made this choice. In one case, I have no issue with it. In the other, I am greatly saddened. Growing up, my mom and I attended an inner city church for a couple of years. My mom was able to minister generously to many of the families, children, and elderly there. It really fulfilled a calling for her. Once a week, this small church had a soup kitchen. We worked the kitchen on a regular basis. There was a man we came to know well as he was there each week. According to the story that had been pieced together over the course of a few years, our pastor had determined that this man chose poverty. Chose homelessness. He had been a lawyer. A great education, nice house, rising career. But he didn't want it. So he gave it all up and chose to live in shelters, on the streets, taking charity as it was offered. Some would say he was mentally ill. Others might say he was closer to God. Bottom line, to me, was that he was primarily impacting only himself. But there is someone else I've known... and this haunts me. This time, a woman. With a husband and children. I don't know a lot about them. But I know they struggle financially. They yearn to live in a safe neighborhood, far from street violence. They are eager to be comfortable enough to pay their bills every month and maintain a good amount of food and diapers and toiletries in the home. They say they just want a sense of security, stability. This woman is well educated. Very smart. Has incredible potential. But because she believes that staying home with her children is of the utmost importance... because her husband believes that doing a job that means something is more important than doing a job with a livable salary... their children live in an unsafe neighborhood... hungry... needing... This time, my feelings are vastly different. Perhaps because I've known hunger. And not even the kind of hunger and fear that someone who doesn't have a roof over their heads knows. Not even the kind of hunger that is temporarily satiated by a bag of food from a food pantry or a meal from a soup kitchen. I've just known the kind of hunger of having to wait a day or 2 to have something more than a few cups of cereal, a scoop of peanut butter, a jar of pickles. Not enough to make a meal but enough to see you to the next paycheck. But I've at least tasted hunger. So I will do everything in my power to make certain that my children are raised in a safe, secure, loving home. That they do not experience true hunger but that they are empathetic and compassionate to the hungry. I won't be shopping at Hollister or Abercrombie for their clothing... but they will be clothed in outfits suitable for the weather, with warm coats or bathing suits as the season calls for. I just can't understand why someone would turn their back on an extraordinary education... on friends and family who could help out... on even looking for a job, a good job that the extraordinary education could help you land... why would you give all of that up for the sake of living in poverty when you have children depending on you? Looking to you to fulfill their needs? Watching and observing you and the choices you make... wondering why you aren't caring for them, meeting their basic needs. What is the limit? When are the rights of being a parent overruled?

When does someone step in and make it stop? I used to work in foster care so I've seen children removed for neglect. But is that even the answer?

It blows my mind that anyone could be so selfish, so determined to prove a point, so set in their ways, so eager to make a social statement... that they would turn down opportunities to have a fantastic life for their child. That they would rather be prideful than a good parent.

My mom was proud. And taught me to be proud as well. But she also taught me to be humble and to know my limits. To recognize when I needed help.

I guess there aren't answers. Just questions upon questions upon questions.

9 comments:

Jim and Garret said...

Another great story Liz. These epople should never have had children. Potential parents need to understand the costs that come along with parenting. Children aren't pets. I'm so tired of teen pregnancies and the urge for people to breed without thinking about consequences. Pitiful!

Garret

tangobaby said...

This is a very thoughtful and interesting post. I don't have children myself but I can't imagine that if I had decided to take on such an awesome responsibility for the life of another person, that I wouldn't do every thing in my power to make sure that my little one was given every advantage I could.

I don't think that money provides all the advantages, in fact, I think sometimes it is a detriment in the wrong hands. My employment for the past decade has been with and for incredibly wealthy people. The kind of wealth that you or I will never really understand. And I have no illusions that their lives are happier or more fulfilled. In fact, most of the people I know with such wealth seem profoundly empty and miserable.

But back to your topic. I can understand where a simple and uncluttered life can lead to better understanding of reality, but at the end of the day, if you have children, then their needs must come first. Being safe, clothed, fed and educated should be a right, not a choice.

Great post and much to ponder.

Mel said...

I'm with you. I believe that when we have children we no longer have the luxury of making poor choices (no pun intended here). They can not decide for themselves where they will live, what they will eat, etc. We have to be bigger than ourselves and say that we are making the best choices for them even when we sacrifice our own wants. My mother always worked, as did my dad, and sometimes more than one job to be sure that we had the things we needed to grow up happy and healthy. We had a safe neighborhood, clean clothes to wear, nutritious food to eat and warm beds to sleep in without the fear of losing our home or going hungry. I was fortunate but sacrifices were made for that to happen. I didn't grow up with the best of everything but I was healthy and well loved.

I am blessed to be home but if I thought for one minute that it would mean my kids going without it would not happen. Not that we don't struggle at times, but the kids are always numero uno priority. I'm just counting down until my degree is done so the struggles will be less and less.

Ok, off my soap box...

Have a great Christmas and enjoy your beautiful family :)

Alix said...

That is so curious and heartbreaking Liz. We all make choices that define us to a degree, but when our choices cause the suffering of others, then maybe someone should intervene.

Choosing to be home with your children instead of working long hours to bring in a paycheck is not a selfish thing. But the needs of the family should dictate whether or not that is the right thing to do. I wonder why that dad is not stepping up to the plate to support his family.

DO people ever really choose poverty, or is that just the consequence of other choices.

To each his own, except when you are responsible for the wellfare of others, then I think you do whatever you need to do to keep them safe, fed, clothed, and loved.

addhumorandfaith said...

Choices and priorities. Apparently, she has chosen to put her pride in the poverty she "wants", for whatever reason, before the priority of her childrens' basic needs. All I can say is I don't think that is EVER God-pleasing.

Lynn Freeman said...

Wow....an interesting situation with a myriad of things to consider. My first thought is: I think that it's OK for mom to stay at home with the kids - admirable even if that's what she wants and what she honestly feels is best for them. HOWEVER, if Dad is falling short on providing for the family in that situation then she needs to rethink. Or maybe the dad needs to rethink his desire to be happy in a job vs being the provider for the family. Sacrifices like that MUST be made for the sake of the children. Selfishness and self-serving ideals must be set aside and he must do the right thing. So we get back to the mom - he's not doing it, so she should be doing what she can. Who's to understand how they think or why they do what they do? I'm sure nobody really knows the true story. I'm not in a position to judge anyone so I won't. At face value, yes, they are doing wrong by their kids and they need to acknoweldge that and make change. But maybe they are OK with how they live their lives and don't have a problem with what they're doing. Sure...we do. But we can't live their lives. We can get mad and cry and languish over this and what those poor children must endure, but at the end of the day we're not their parents. We do the best we can for our children and that is more than enough. If a situation like this helps you to realize that what you are doing is the right thing for your kids, then that's something good that's come out of this. I know me, personally, have a granddaughter who is in an eerily similar situation - mom doesn't want to work because she's uneducated and would rather party. Dad works when he wants to and only enough to hit the bar. I don't think she wants for food and clothing but her living conditions leave much to be desired. Maybe I've just learned to swallow all of that or bite my tongue but I think I've become almost numb to this from all the hurt I've experienced. And that's not good either.

Tracy said...

I think there is a lot more to this story than you posted, and even more that the woman hasn't shared of her story that we will never know.

I have a degree... in a fairly and absolutely useless field. If I went to work, the cost of childcare (not even very good childcare) would suck 90% of my paycheck. So, even though I have a degree, I stay home. I cannot imagine how much more difficult it would be to find day care solutions for three autistic children.

Yes... my husband is lucky that he enjoys his job. And we are lucky that the job he enjoys pays enough for us to live in a small apartment in a nice part of town and we can also own a car. But if his job was killing his soul. We would find a way out.

I have been poor and hungry too. And having experienced that, yes... it is hard. But personally, I would rather struggle through a period of difficulty than sacrifice my... I don't know the word that is right here... my core? my soul? And that seems to be the choice this woman and her husband are making.

I dunno... to me, everyone has different levels of what they need to be satisfied materially. And the information we receive from people online can be terribly warped and exaggerated. (as can employability and education) I honestly don't think the woman in your example is making the choice you think she is making.

Liz said...

Tracy, you are right. There is always more to the story. And there is also more to this story that you may not know.

My hope and faith is that all parents make what they truly believe are the best decisions for their children, for their families.

But I think that we are all also in situations where our own judgement is clouded.

Like I said... sometimes you see things that just bring about questions upon questions upon questions. And often, there aren't answers.

Mrs4444 said...

I've been poor, and we are pretty well-off now. I'd be willing to be in the middle somewhere, but I would not like to go back to my childhood, especially on a day like today (a worn, hand-me-down coat would not be good in 22-below zero windchill).