Have you been at a point where you look at your bank account and then at your pantry and wonder how you're going to feed your family for the week/month? Or the day?
We've been at that point lately. Our income is limited, so we budget and make the best of what is available. Tithe is first, then the bills, then necessities and food. We try to keep the bills down, like conserving electricity, water, and gas when at all possible. We trimmed away all the extras but the internet (which I use for my Etsy shop, communication, reading the news, and is part of our landline phone package, as we seldom us a cell phone). We try.
Then the utility companies got wind and upped their fees. Now the bills run higher than if we hadn't conserved in the first place.
In the midst of it, we've prayed hard about decisions to make. We had to stare reality in the face--we really do live in "poverty".
I always thought of poverty as barefoot and dirty, tattered clothing, filthy homes, stringy hair, dumpster diving for food, begging for daily needs from anyone who'd supply it. I saw poverty as a product of laziness in those adults who were in it. In my pride, I swore I'd never be in poverty, I'd never be so far down that I'd look like people I'd seen growing up, who were in abject poverty, who had the stringy hair, filthy faces and bodies, tattered and torn clothing that hadn't seen a bit of soap and water in a long while, smelled as if they hadn't had baths in many days, homes full of roaches and other bugs and vermin, etc.
I was wrong.
Poverty standards according to our government equals richness in other countries, basically most countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America. What we personally have for income for one month's time is about the same as 2 YEARS worth of income in Cuba, 4 YEARS of income in many African countries.
What I see around me now, as an adult who lives with her family below the "standard for poverty", is a much different scenario.
My family is clean, not barefoot nor dirty. No one has tattered and filthy clothing, as I mend holes and patch small places, and then wash each piece we own by hand to make sure they are clean. No one has stringy hair in our home. There's enough soap and fresh smelling sprays that no one needs smell rotten in our home. We do not dumpster dive for food or household needs. Our home has an occasional bug visitor, and immediate actions are taken to rid them from our presence. Vermin are met with 2 inside cats who love live toys and many neighborhood outside cats who are just as pleased with live toys that crunch. Our house is clean, slightly cluttered from "stuff", but clean. And there is no laziness.
God has provided what we need, requiring lots of work.
It reminds me of the Waltons, living in the Depression era, living on next to nothing, working hard to make each penny stretch, working hard to keep the family together, and having pride in not letting the home and family go to squalor. It brings to mind how Olivia and Grandma Esther worked hard to tend the family, not working outside the home but working long tiring days at home, and how John and Grandpa worked hard to bring in a meager bit here and there to provide, hunted and tended the garden, and taught the family that money wasn't everything.
It takes lots of work, planning, preparation, work, to make meals from scratch. One must make loaves of bread, timing the hours of rising and baking, working with the dough through hand kneading. Meats, when available, must be cooked thoroughly, with flavors from home grown seasonings when available, store bought when necessary. Dairy items are purchased as needed, when on sale, preserved in the freezer if possible for use later, sometimes purchased directly from the grower, other times from a local larger dairy that provides their own milk/meat/ice creams. Vegetables are purchased on sale fresh, or for the least cost per pound frozen and stored. Preserving is a necessity, whether by canning or freezing, to make the budget stretch and provide for later months. Fruits are a luxury, purchased in season when on sale, and preserved, eaten fresh, or added to pies and breads for a flavorful addition to a meal. Sweets are another luxury, made from scratch with ingredients on hand, with a bit from the sourdough pot kept constantly going to help in the need for leavening. Grains and dry beans are incorporated into many meals, which take hours to rinse and prepare. Drinks are water, occasionally kool-aid, home brewed teas in the teapot (Arizona and Lipton in the glass bottles are a rare sight).
Housework is done using elbow grease instead of many different gadgets. Dishes are done by hand, using inexpensive detergents or homemade soaps. Floors are swept with an old straw broom and mopped using a simple mop and bucket, rather than a high end steamer. Bathrooms are cleaned with simple cleaners, some homemade, and a window left slightly open to allow for air flow to deter mold. Carpets are vacuumed using a simple vacuum with bags, which can be used and reused if need be, and simple filters that can be washed and dried for longer usage. Dusting is simply an old rag with a few drops of oil and lemon juice, just enough to moisten. Mirrors are simply wiped with vinegar and a coffee filter. Air fresheners are homemade, blended with scented fabric softeners for a rose scent, or made from potpourri oils and water for a lighter fragrance. During the spring months, the windows are left open and the scent of honeysuckle drifts through.
Laundry is accomplished using a vintage washboard and elbow grease. I've posted my adventures on this in previous postings. During the spring and summer season, my board moves to the clothes line area to be within a very short distance of one another. Yes, it is work to wash each individual piece, each heavy towel, each pair of jeans, each sock, to make sure each piece is clean. It is work to wash, then rinse and wring by hand each piece, then haul them by bucket to the line, hang them, take them down, haul them back into the house, sort, fold, and put away. The alternative is spending hundreds of dollars at a laundrymat, using money not available. During the winter months, it is the same, using the washboard, simply inside my home where it is warmer, and hauling the items out to the line. It may take a day or two to dry, but they always dry, even when well below freezing temperatures. Soap for our adventure is made on my stove, using stock pots to derive the liquid mix, and stored in 5 gallon buckets.
Lawn care is tended by ourselves. A gas sipping push mower when funds allow for gas, a reel mower when funds are too tight for gas. No need for a rider, nor a lawn service, as there are many hands at home to help. A garden is a must, and with many hands can be tended to, weeded, watered, and harvested lovingly for nourishing foods to preserve and/or eat fresh. Plan for a spring and fall garden to maximize the availability of foods for the family, plant perennial herbs for year after year of yummy additions, and grow what your family loves.
Clothing is another labor, which I take on in sewing for myself, stepdaughter, and mend on other clothes as needed. Some things I just can't do, but I do what I can. Sewing clothing, at least what we wear, takes hours. Modest clothing doesn't usually come together within minutes, as there are layers, capes, longer skirts, tiers, gathers, etc. I make many of my stepdaughter's hair accessories as well, with a special treat of store purchased hair bands with frillies when possible. When a coat was needed for her, I hand stitched and quilted a calf length coat in order to save the 100's of dollars it would take to get the same type already made. I keep old clothing as the children out grow, and as my own and hubby's get faded with time and washings over the years, and reuse them for cleaning rags at the worst, patchwork pieces and rosette appliques at best. We don't shop high end, but clearance racks for the boys and hubby, thrift stores, and only pay full price if absolutely there is no other way around it.
In living below the "poverty line", it has become a blessing rather than the curse the world would have it to be. We must communicate effectively, as we do not use the smart phones and other hand held gadgets popular amongst the crowds, even the ones who haunt the welfare offices and food banks. We must speak to each other face to face before leaving home, lay out plans of where we will be, how long we think we'll be there, especially on longer trips. We must communicate on finances, as one false move and there are excess fees to render. We must continue to give back to God first, no matter what. We must learn to live within the means, to make do with what we have and be content. We don't have to have the latest gadgets, movie channels, satellite and cable, video games, internet phones, and other gadgets in order to be content.
We have to rely on Jesus and find our contentment in Him.
God has provided for us when we've had nothing in the bank. He has given us food when there is next to nothing in the pantry but dry beans and rice. He has given us a bit of gas when we've had to go to appointments for the children and were sitting on E. He has provided for vehicle repairs that were drastically needed that were emergencies despite careful routine maintenance.
He has taught us to be content in where we are, to make best use of what He provides, and to raise our children to be content where they are regardless of what the world tells them they must have. Our children have learned that using imagination provides fun, that creating their own games and races and interacting with others provides more enjoyment than staring at a screen and using only thumbs to do an activity. They do not beg us for the latest toys and games, they know it will not happen unless they save their own money earned by doing extra chores or earning good grades in school. They appreciate the small gifts we give them as funds allow, the homemade gifts at Christmas, the little things that they receive throughout the year.
Poverty doesn't have to mean poor. It is a standard set by the government, but not by God. The Lord does not care how much money we have, He wants our hearts, our service, our love. If we have give the Lord those, we are rich indeed.
There are blessings in poverty, once you look beyond the money.