I woke up one Monday morning, like a person on the evening news revisiting a home reconfigured by a tornado or burned to the foundation by a fire, with only the chimney standing as a reminder of the former way of life.
Gone was my cherished half hour of a leisurely breakfast with Sharon and giving her the privacy of the bedroom and bathroom to dress as well as the presence of an attentive mom with time to locate a missing belt and disentangle a stubborn shoestring.
Gone were the afternoons of picking her up from school, myself, and giving her a snack, myself, and talking about things in her little world before she went outside to play.
Gone, too, the evening hours when I’d had a relatively untired body and mind available to rough house, help with fractions, explain grammar rules, and serve as an evening playmate for my cherished only child.
Replacing all those joys, overnight, was the need to wake at five-thirty to shower and dress myself; the pain of waking Sharon up at six fifteen; the scramble to get out the door at six forty for a dash to daycare at six forty-five and my bus stop at six fifty.
The bus deposited me downtown, in one of my three work outfits, feeling country bumpkin awkward, for an eight-block walk to the office in one of the coldest winters we’d had for years.
I quickly learned that the old trench coat I’d had since high school did not keep out the chill of the morning when the wind picked up speed as it swept across empty parking lots and streets.
Working in an office in itself was a jolting change. I had worked at home, completely alone, for a year and a half and before that in a three-girl office for seven years. Worst of all, though, was the fact that I could not stop thinking about Sharon. Every day was as wrenching as the first day of first grade. I knew I was losing something I could never recapture—-the hours and minutes of her childhood. My hours and minutes with her now were, perforce, rushed. For the first few weeks, they were also often agitated, no matter how hard I tried to stay calm.
The year before, Dorothy Wexel had blithely encouraged me to start typing at home, saying, “Oh, you’ll be able to write off all your expenses and part of your rent and other expenses and . . .”
That might have been good advice for someone at a higher income level, someone who owned a home and other big-ticket tangibles that could be itemized. It was less than sound advice for a renter, with a low income.
That is one of the devastating effects of poverty and also of single parenting. We often have no one to help us make financial decisions, or at least ones that fit our situation. Dorothy was trying to be helpful but she was thinking from a non-poor perspective.
Dorothy’s well-intentioned advice was particularly devastating because I had no savings out of which to pay an entire year’s worth of suddenly due tax. Even if I had known taxes would have to be paid, it’s doubtful I could have saved anything.
Making Lemonade out of Lemons
Grateful that I had at least had enjoyed one entire year of being a stay-at-home Mommy for Sharon, I began reading the classifieds. I also began reviewing my shorthand, still required for higher level secretarial jobs in those days.
Night after night, after Sharon was asleep and I had finished the day’s transcribing, I sat at that rickety card table. I filled page after page after page practicing the basic strokes, short forms, and abbreviations I’d learned for Gregg shorthand in secretarial school ten years earlier.
For twenty dollars, I purchased one interview outfit, a gray and white striped top and skirt on a double mark-down. I scheduled interviews while Sharon was at school, came home, hand-washed my outfit and had it hanging on our patio clothesline by two o’clock. It would dry in the afternoon sun and I ironed it that night for the next day’s interview.
Setting My Heart to Trust God
After several weeks, I was interviewed for a civil service position. Because the duties and the benefits looked good, I was hopeful; however, being hired by the Sheriff’s Office, even for a secretarial position, was a long and tedious process that included several interviews, background checks, and so forth
While I waited, I kept looking, desperately and consistently. But I found nothing that would pay our bills. So I kept transcribing, hoping something would turn up before the extension for last year’s taxes was over and before I had accumulated yet another eight hundred dollars of unpaid taxes.
I began working as an executive secretary in early December that year. That’s when the maelstrom hit Sharon and me both with equal force and effect.
The divorce came when Sharon was 3. Sharon and I lived in what I call “functional poverty.” We had food, clothing, and shelter but little more. I was paid per page for ridiculously long hours transcribing medical dictation. Those extra hours disqualified us for government aid, but we would have had less otherwise.
So, I was grateful my friends in Al-Anon had told me to prepare for a job that would support the two of us. The certificate I earned in medical transcribing, plus piano-fast fingers and solid command of English meant I produced medical transcription — fast.
I sincerely gave the marriage my very best for one year after my husband sobered up, as my Al-Anon friends also advised. But the divorce happened anyway.
By God’s great grace, I was able to pick Sharon up from daycare and bring her back to the office with me many weekday evenings so I could keep typing. After she grew up, she told me never to feel bad about those years when I had to work so many hours. Sharon said had been just the right age to relish the freedom to putter around the small office, sitting at an empty desk and drawing or making houses with ribbon boxes (yes, we used typewriters back then!)
Some nights, I lugged that huge IBM Selectric home, along with my Dorland’s medical dictionary tome and transcribing machine. I set it all up on a flimsy cardtable and played with Sharon from about six to her bedtime at nine, and then typed (fueld on coffee and cigarettes and desperation) until one or two in the morning before rising at six to start anther day.
All during those seven years, I was grateful each day, even before I knew Jesus, that I could make enough money to give Sharon what she needed and be consciously with her each hour she was not in school or daycare.
Single Parenting Done Right Requires Great Sacrifice
The biggest lesson I learned in those first few years of single parenting was that, done right, single parenting required nearly all of my time as well as nearly all my physical and emotional energy. I hugged the comfort of the “Little House on the Prairie” series of books to my heart. I identified with the hard-working parents in those stories. I especially thought of my own loving, hard-working father. I felt just like him. And that made me happy deep inside every single morning.
The extra sacrifice is necessary because it is God’s plan for two adults to raise children. When there is only one parent, they bear a double burden.
God Shows Special Concern for the Poor, the Orphan, and the Widow
Throughout the Bible, you will find verses where God instructs His people to watch out for and help those who are poor and those who are orphans and those who are widows.
He sees people in trouble and hardship and He commands those of His followers who have more to make some personal sacrifices to help those with less. Those sacrifices include not only finances but personal time and energy, just like the Wexel family did for Sharon and for me. Where would we have been without their obedience to God?
Joining and attending a Bible-belieiving church will bring you friends who will help, although do not count on them or the church to be perfect! They are just as human as you, but at least some of them will be on the lookout to help those who need help and those who are hurting.
One thing you can count on as surely as you can count on the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning: if you give your heart to God and follow His ways, He will take care of you and your family, somehow, some way.
Deutoronomy 31, verse 6 in the New International Version reassures us: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid of or terrified by them [your enemies, which include non-human ones such as poverty loss of hope, etc. – explanation added] for the LORD, your God goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.”
Change, broad, sweeping, life-altering change, most often comes suddenly and when least expected. It is no accident that such change is often compared to a storm. Depending on geographic location, the most apt analogy might be a tornado, a blizzard, or a hurricane. Regardless, the sequence of events in life-altering change and storms are similar.
First, there’s a frenzy of violent, intense activity followed by a calm requiring one to assess what was destroyed, damaged, and rearranged. One has to plan how to proceed with life in the new surroundings when the comforting, familiar landmarks of daily life have been forever altered.
These landmarks upon which we all depend include the hour of sleeping and waking, place of employment, manner of dress, days designated for certain activities. Perhaps, most of all it’s just the feel of a typical workday that waits for you Monday morning, like a laid-out suit of clothes you can gratefully, if a little resentfully, slip into without picking up the burden of conscious thought or the irritation of unfamiliarity.
As a blizzard or hurricane or tornado changes the visible landmarks by which we navigate through the roads, so financial storms change those comforting and familiar landmarks by which we navigate our daily life.
In late spring of the year Sharon was in fifth grade, we endured that kind of storm-like change. My income taxes confirmed the nagging suspicion I had ignored that being a private subcontractor was not the financial dream come true I had been led to believe by, not surprisingly, the owner of the company profiting from my labor. Imagine my horror when I discovered I owed $800 in income taxes. it might as well have been $8,000.
As I sat at our little rickety card table that morning, with papers and forms covering every inch, I knew this was another occasion to learn how to trust God more. There literally was no way to solve this problem that I could see. Over the years, I had told many other single moms that “God will make a way where there is now way.” It was my turn now to walk that faith out in my own life.
If I had had a computer way back then I would have listened to encouraging songs like this over and over and over – until I felt His peace. http://yhoo.it/1S5TOUs
In working on this blog, I have fortunately found many great bloggers who are sharing their insights about how to save money. Below are links to the top five sites I have found. Check out the “About” pages to see what these wise women want to share with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
And remember: the best gift you can give to a blogger is to comment on their blog posts, recommend then to your friends, and mention them on your social media outlets. So, if you appreciate the time these folks have spent publishing information for your benefit, show it!
Sharing with Those Who Have Less: A HUGE Blessing to the Giver
Besides benefiting Sharon and me, the new depth of contentment attained that night helped other people our lives touched. Sharon and I both had a long-time friend, Darla, whom I had known before the divorce and whom Sharon had known since Darla worked in Sharon’s daycare. Darla’s husband left and overnight made her a single mom with a five -year-old and a new baby.
One Saturday, Sharon and I bought a big ham and cooked it. We also bought enough sweet potatoes, green beans, cornbread, and fruit salad for four meals. Then we went home and spent about three hours making sweet potato casserole, green bean salad, cornbread, and fruit salad. We packaged all but one meal’s portion in freezer bags.
“Mommy,” Sharon asked as we tucked newspaper carefully into the floor of the car and then added the bowls and bags, “I think Miss Darla is going to be real happy.”
“Me, too, baby,” I said, “She does not have much money at all right now and we have some extra so we should help her. She will be happy, I am sure. And she will be glad to see you, too!”
Miss Darla was indeed delighted. As Sharon and I lugged the food, plus the three bags of groceries, inside, Darla’s eyes brimmed with tears. She hugged us both several times.
As Sharon and I headed back across town toward home, I was exhausted, thinking of all the Saturday chores of our own still ahead of me. I also would be up really late that night to make up for the three hours I usually transcribed on Saturday mornings while Sharon watched cartoons. But the blissful smile on Sharon’s face told me she had experienced, personally, the blessing of giving to others. What a priceless gift to me!
Generosity Should Become a Way of Life
Sharon and I had many chances to work together to help others the next few years while she lived at home. On another occasion, a few weeks later, a girl in her late teens, a recent immigrant from the Caribbean islands, also benefitted from the generosity Sharon and I were learning together.
Sharon was at school when I met Keesha at the tiny laundry room in our apartment complex.
Keesha looked like the teenager I later found out she was. She lacked the maturity necessary to be on her own at 18, and that deficiency was further complicated by having to cope with a new culture.
In the laundry room, I was waiting for a load of blankets to dry. Keesha kept putting quarters in the slot for the washing machine and opening and closing the lid on the washer.
“Excuse me, but you need to turn the handle on the coin tray.”
Keesha looked at me blankly, so I put my book down and walked over to her washer.
“Here. You just do this.” I turned the crank, and immediately water cascaded into the machine.
“Oh, thank you!” Keesha said. “We don’t have these at home.”
“You’re welcome.” I said and went back to my book, but only for a few moments because she kept staring at me. When I looked up, she smiled.
“Can you tell me where the free telephones are, please?”
“Well, there aren’t any free telephones. Local calls cost a quarter.”
I invited her home with me to use the telephone. Over a cup of tea and a plate I heaped high with cookies, we talked some more.
“Keesha” I said “Do you want me to take you to the grocery story this afternoon after I pick up my daughter from school?”
“Oh!, that would be wonderful!”
Keesha’s inability to care for herself was even more painfully obvious in the grocery store .
“My brother gave me this…” Keesha held out thirty dollars in ten dollar bills. “He said this will be food for one week.”
“Okay, I said. Why don’t you and Sharon start getting what you need in your buggy and I’ll work on my list.”
Sharon was all smiles, excited to be treated like a grown-up and, I knew, excited to be helping someone again.
We met at the end of the second aisle. In Keesha’s buggy was a six-pack of soda, a giant bag of candy bars, two magazines, and three bags of cookies. Sharon’s resigned look at me and shrugging shoulders told me she had likely tried to encourage more sensible purchases but had failed. The years of grocery shopping alongside me had obviously taught my child how to stretch the dollars to buy healthy food and how to ignore pricey junk food.
“You know, Keesha,” I began. “Let me explain how you can buy more with your thirty dollars. I know you want treats but they are expensive. Your thirty dollars will not even pay for everything in your buggy already. Let’s put everything back and start over.
I know some especially tasty things that don’t cost so much. Let me show you. You know I’m on a tight budget, too.”
Together, the three of us put the luxuries back on the shelves. The three of us huddled out of the way of other shoppers near the service desk as I explained to Carla the benefits of each item I wrote on her list: oatmeal in the huge economy box would be better than individual packets and would be a good winter breakfast; store-brand wheat bread was just as good as bread from the deli. Store-brand tuna, macaroni and cheese, and English peas would be a good dinner or lunch. Orange juice from concentrate, rather than fresh-squeezed was better as was ground beef, rather than the steak she mentioned.
Our little car was packed for the trip home, just like when Sharon and I did our monthly you-pack-it-grocery-store shopping. Sharon’s smiling face was framed in the rear-view window.
Back at the apartments, Sharon and I helped Keesha carry her three bags of groceries inside her tiny studio apartment. As I put the bag I carried on the only counter space, a 12 by 20 rectangle next to a refrigerator half the size of mine in a kitchenette the size of a closet, a fresh surge of compassion washed over me.
Keesha truly didn’t know how to take care of herself, she was alone in a strange country, and her only family contact was a brother who apparently had minimal contact with her.
“Do you want us to stay a while and help you put away the groceries,” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” was Keesha’s enthusiastic reply.
Twenty minutes later, as Sharon and I walked back to our own apartment, which now seemed spacious, Sharon gave me a conspiratorial wink.
“You gave Carla some of our food when you first met her this morning, Mommy. I know, because I saw Jewel-T tuna and canned milk and nacho-flavored cheese crackers in Keesha’s kitchen!”
If your children are very young, they might not realize how difficult your family’s finances are.
You can do countless things that will reduce the sting of that inevitable realization. That is the main focus of this book.
However, regardless of what you do, your children will one day understand that their family has less and does less than other families.
At some level, you yourself likely struggle with feeling and/or actually being poor. Because our world values the possessions, status, power, and recognition money can buy, all but the wealthiest face the green-eyed monster of jealous. And truly, those at the top of the monetary heap seem even more focused on things that come with wealth.
You must admit and overcome hidden feelings of jealousy, embarrassment, shame, anger, resentment, inferiority and especially helplessness and hopelessness. These feelings will keep you and your family trapped in your current financial and emotional situation. If I did it, you can, too. I admit it was not easy.
More importantly, you will pass these same crippling attitudes on to your children – unless you stop feeling poor – NOW. No, you cannot change your situation or all your attitudes overnight but you can make dramatic changes immediately – just by changing what you say out loud.
How do you stop feeling poor?
Begin by being grateful – out loud so your children can hear – for whatever good your family has. For example:
On your way home from driving, or walking, to buy groceries or pick up a bag from a food bank, say “I am so glad we have so many groceries! What do you kids want for dinner tonight?”
When you tuck them into bed, give them an extra hug and kiss and say “We are so lucky to have a warm and dry bed to sleep in.”
If you must send your children to school without breakfast or a lunch box, tell them “You enjoy that breakfast and lunch today at school. I want to hear what you had when you get home!”
You get the idea. Just look around you. You are surrounded with things you can talk about with your children.
In Matthew Chapter 6, verses 25 through 34. God carefully warns us not to worry about material things–because He will take care of us. He points out that the birds do not worry about what to eat or what they will wear and He feeds them. Then He says, “. . .Are you not much more valuable than they?” Think about that a minute.
In another place in Matthew (Matthew Chapter 10, verse 31) Jesus says He knows about each detail of our lives, that “even the very hairs of our head are all numbered.” (verse 30) Then He says in verse 31, “So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
For a beautiful rendition by Whitney Houston of the song based on this verse click here http://yhoo.it/1ZwhtMr
Reading that book with the peculiar orange cover that winter night was like talking with an old friend, one who knows you well enough to finish your sentences. I felt like Helen Hoover had covered many miles by my side, if not physically at least emotionally.
Fortunately, I had learned that books can provide friends when I was still a very young child, although I would not have phrased my appreciation of books quite that way. As a shy young girl, I had found friends in books and had gratefully escaped into the pages of “Black Beauty”, virtually every book in the “Black Stallion” series, “White Fang”, “Call of the Wild”, “Beautiful Joe”, ”Little Women”, and dozens of others.
As an even shyer adolescent, books grew in importance in my life. While I did have some friends and did participate in some activities, my greatest pleasure was always the safe solitude of reading a good book.
Making Much of Little
This passion for reading helped, of course, with grades but most of all, it soothed the loneliness that accompanies painful shyness. And it did, indeed, provide friends, especially as I began to identify favorite authors, topics, and genres.
As a newly divorced single parent, this love of reading led me to self-help books that started the healing of damaged emotions, a healing that began to be completed when I finally went to counseling. But my favorite book of all, after I gave my heart to Jesus, was the Bible. Here, I found true friendship, comfort and all the love I could absorb.
Yes, love of reading was a priceless gift that had served me well for all my life. On that chilly Florida night, so long ago now, reading gave me as much pleasure as Cinderella must have felt at the ball.
I walked the five steps to the kitchen, refilled my chipped brown bowl of crackers, and snuggled back under the scraggy blue blanket.
The winter wind whooshed between the long row of apartment buildings, paused, then whooshed again. Each rushing gust tapered off to a low, eerie moan. The top of the kitchen vent pipe clanked as it fell back in place after each onslaught abated. Florida was rarely that cold, and the weather helped me identify even more with the Hoovers in their Minnesotta cabin. I smiled and started another chapter, as content as I could possibly be.
That first winter, though, the Hoovers nearly starved. (As they learned later, folks in that area helped each other out and would gladly have helped them that winter. However, the Hoovers were city-folk and had no idea that potential friends, eager to help, were closeby.)
Helen and Ade had miscalculated how much food they’d need that first winter, a fact discovered after the only general store in driving distance had closed for the season. Because a blizzard kept all roads impassable for weeks longer than normal, the Hoovers faced true danger.
Miraculously, it was caring for the forest animals, who were also near starving that winter, that provided for the Hoovers. True animal lovers, they shared their corn with the deer and squirrels, and Helen dipped into the flour bin each morning to bake two huge pancakes for the birds. The squirrels stayed close to the cabin all day, and, gradually so did the deer. The birds grew so accustomed to their breakfast provider they would land on Helen’s hand and gobble up the two pancakes she held, pancakes that would have given her and her husband extra nourishment they needed.
However, such close contact provided Helen with keen insights about animal behavior for her stories and it let Ade observe the tiny details that made his line drawings so realistic. Because of their love and care for their forest friends and the lessons they thus intentionally learned, Helen’s animal stories began selling, as did Ade’s drawings.
Effects of Poverty
Throughout their life in the big woods of Minnesota, the Hoovers faced many of the same dangers the Ingalls family did in “The Little House on the Prairie”. http://amzn.to/1ZpVvQu (Here is a link to purchase a that series of books. I cannot recommend these encouraging stories highly enough, to read with your children as well as for your own pleasure!)
The Hoovers had to struggle to keep warm in below freezing weather and had to stretch beyond reasonableness, a scanty food supply. Helen ordered the food, that is, canned goods and staples for the entire winter, via mail order.
When the shipment arrived on day in late fall, they had to store it in the middle of what little floor space they had left in the little cabin.
I laughed out loud when I read that part. I had only to look around me to know just how they felt. I hadn’t finished putting away all the groceries from the monthly shopping trip Sharon and I had made that day for our own big grocery order for the month.
Over by the window stood that case of corn and another case of assorted canned goods as well as boxes and bags of cereal, pasta, oatmeal, cookies, and pop tarts. Other boxes and bags stood on the floor by the door and even on top of the television.
I smiled. Lack of space, buying in bulk to save money and counting every penny twice were all things I understood. I also understood the struggle the Hoovers had to remain hopeful, despite the odds, that their dreams of making Helen’s writing and Ade’s drawing profitable provide an income so they could stay in their beloved forest cabin. . . and keep on writing and sketching.
That evening, with Sharon all tucked into bed for the night, I poured some of the taco-flavored cheese crackers we had just bought into an old cracked ceramic bowl. Then I wrapped myself up in our old blue blanket, and curled up on the good end of the loveseat with The Gift of the Deer. (Available at Amazon at http://amzn.to/1JEa23V
During that year I typed at home, reading any book for pleasure was a true luxury. With so much transcribing to be done I dared not strain my eyes during non-typing hours. This book, though, turned out to be a special treasure. It provided inspiration and strength for many years to come, just as The Little House series had already done. Somehow, I knew all that while reading those first ten pages in the library.
Another Thrifty Family
Helen Hoover’s clear recounting of the same type of problems I’d faced clarified my own thoughts about living in difficult circumstances, things like making do and doing without, stretching each nickle, and inconveniences like small living space. Also, Helen and her husband had made deliberate decisions to shape their lives around the things they valued, no matter the cost to other conveniences or luxuries.
The story was of a couple, Helen and Ade Hoover, and their decision to leave the Chicago suburbs and live in a log cabin in the Minnesota woods. They both were kept busy just trying to survive and had only a few precious hours each day on their writing and drawing, hobbies they hoped to make profitable. The long, severe Minnesota winters were themselves challenging as was getting supplies like food and heating oil.
Every little task required great effort and planning. For Ade to make the trek to the general store to mail Helen’s stories and his drawings required careful planning ahead so that, for example, he could chop enough wood for the entire day the trip would take while Helen would be alone in the cabin all day.
Paring life to the bone, though, gave them keen appreciation of the blessings they typically had taken for granted back in the city— food, shelter, warmth, and companionship. Their simple life and their struggle with the elements taught them to cherish nature and the wild creatures they discovered who lived in the same ten acres of wooded forest they owned. Chipmunks, birds of all kinds, otters, beavers, badgers, and bobcats and were common sights. And of course, the deer.