How many times have you heard an old timer say, “We were poor, but we didn’t know it.” I smile whenever I hear that, imagining a happy childhood where one is content with what he or she has and unconcerned with what what isn’t had.
Sadly, I’m afraid that this generation will be telling our grandchildren, “We were rich, but we didn’t know it.”
I know I struggle with this. Right now, our family is certainly the “poorest” we’ve ever been–and we’ve never felt rich. My disabling illness and my husband’s previous employer going out of business haver certainly put a crimp in our budget. But when I checked to see if we qualified for food stamps, I got a wake-up call. We don’t. That means we’re richer than one out of seven Americans. And as an American, we’re automatically among the top one percent wealthiest residents of Planet Earth.
Put it simply: we are rich.
But it was hard to feel rich on our anniversary when we scraped together a few dollars for some fries and a shake to celebrate. Afterward, we decided to do some window shopping. As my husband pushed my wheelchair through the store, I found myself coveting. I quickly found myself wanting to purchase something–anything! I was tired of not getting anything new. Tired of saving up for something like bread bins only to realize we overspent our gas budget so there goes the money I’d saved. Tired of feeling so poor.
Discouragement settled in my heart where it remained the next morning. But as we went about our daily routine, my tune changed. As we did nearly every morning this past summer, we started by working in the garden. While my husband and I weeded, our children played in the pond, exclaiming at the changes they were seeing in the tadpoles. It was one of those priceless moments that I used to feel like I was missing out on when I was working full time–often putting in 12 hour days–to support our family. Suddenly I knew I wouldn’t trade anything in that store for moments like this with my family. I may not have money to spend, but I AM rich.
Cultivating this kind of attitude in our hearts is difficult enough, but passing it on to our children can be even more of a challenge. Our children also miss having vacations and birthday parties and allowances. Whenever they express a longing for one of the things they used to have, we try to remind them of the blessings we do have. “Yes, I know you miss going on fancy vacations, but in a way every day is like a vacation now that we get to spend our time together.” or “Yes, I know you miss having an allowance, but aren’t you blessed that Grandma gave you some spending money for your birthday?”
When my daughter’s birthday rolled around, we were indeed blessed that we had just had a more-profitible-than normal month with my husband’s new photography business and my freelance work. We searched the clearance racks until we were able to find a valuable gift for only a few dollars and planned an outing with my daughter’s best friend (who nearly shares a birthday with her).
On the day of the birthday celebrations, we decided to have the girls open presents together. I knew this was a risk. The girls have been celebrating their birthdays together for longer than either of them can remember, and even in the days when I was working, Sierra’s friend always received a mountain-load of gifts that left us looking like stingy parents.
We pulled Sierra aside, “Remember, Sierra, your friend is getting all her gifts today, including from her grandparents. You already got some nice gifts from Grandaddy, and Grandma Futcher is mailing you a very special gift in the mail.”
Sure enough, the discrepancy between what the two were getting was huge. So huge, that at one point the other girl’s mother disappeared and came out with a hurriedly put-together gift bag that appeared to be a few old-but-nice clothes from her daughter’s closet.
Sierra, however, wasn’t phased. She truly enjoyed watching her friend open her gifts, exclaimed enthusiastically over her few gifts, and never once complained about the difference.
Gratefully, I watched my daughter exhibit what it takes many of us a lifetime to learn: to be truly grateful for what we have and to also appreciate what others are given.
How will my daughter describe her childhood when she gets older? I can only hope she will tell others, “We were blessed … and we knew it.”