Fresh off the high of reading Elizabeth Esther’s latest post, I was thinking of what the true American dream is. My answer, it is being with the ones I love. As long as we are together, in our home, in an apartment, the most important thing is we are doing it together. No physical building or fancy car could ever replace my husband and children. Which is why we live in a small home that we have clearly outgrown, drive old cars and–although Uncle Sam considers us poor according to our tax return–still consider ourselves richer than people with three houses and a yacht. (And I think Elizabeth is too!)
Shortly after reading her post, however, I was confronted with the ugly fact that the rest of the world (well, the rest of America at least) doesn’t see us that way. I received an email from a family member that was so condescending in it’s very existence my blood came to a full Italian boil. I simmered down, dashed off a quick, albeit clipped, response* and said mid-afternoon prayer. It doesn’t really matter what was in that email or what the intentions behind it were, the bottom line is this: just because my family is poor (financially) does not give anyone else the right to say how raise our children or live. Period. We are raising our children with God and in accordance with our values and beliefs and if that is offensive in some way to people who have a very secular view of true wealth, well, I don’t apologize for that.
A couple of years ago, a good friend of ours lost her job. She had struggled for years with drug addiction and alcoholism and had nearly died at one point by her own hand before reaching out and beginning to attend AA meanings and redefining what a life of value truly was. When she lost her job, it had the potential to be a very severe blow to the progress she had made as the majority of her life, her importance was determined by her checking account and success in work. However, with continued prayer and vigilance, with continued eyes toward the Cross, she did not relapse and ended that experience a much stronger person and with a better understanding and appreciation for how truly rich her life was.
Lent is a time of reflection, a time of challenging ourselves to live Christ-like lives by doing penance. It’s a time to own up to our short-comings and tackle them head-on (or at least one of them! people like me have a lot of them so one at a time!). It is a time to remember God’s will in our lives and respect it. And with respect comes acceptance. Even Christ, in the garden, asked God to deliver him from his fate, if it was His will. That prayer, thy will be done, is extraordinary. In my reflection, I am finding out the truth about how much our family does with less and how blessed we truly are. Jeff’s decision to become a teacher was following Jesus’ call to his disciples to “Come after me,” just as Jesus called Simon and Andrew (Mk 1:16). He had for years wanted to be a teacher but his main reason for not doing it was the money. A teacher could be truly successful because his or her value could not be measured by his or her tax return. Jeff had to abandon this way of thinking to return to school and take on a lower paying, higher stress profession where his “value” is not so easily defined by a Wall Street Analyst. This is not an easy undertaking. Certainly, we would be more financially secure if he were managing a country club and I was working full time, but we made a decision for him to work at this very worthwhile job while I stayed home with our children who let us know every day the value of that decision. Our choices are incomprehensible to most of the world. And especially, to some in our family. There are some who quite honestly, look down their noses at us. That is their choice. However, it does not give them a right to dictate to us what decisions are best for our family. At the poor advice of some of these people, we bought a house as quickly as possible which made Jeff accepting two positions he was offered in other states impossible as he could not afford rent there AND our mortgage here and our house would likely sell below value IF we were able to sell it. I joke that some family look at us like “Eddie and Katherine” from National Lampoon’s Vacation series, and they probably do, but Eddie and Katherine were happy. They had each other and they didn’t have the stresses Clark and Ellen did of keeping up (or ahead of) the Joneses. I’m not saying that Eddie and Katherine were perfect (nor am I saying Jeff and I are, far from it) but I have a lot of respect for people who know what they have, who know all material wealth is temporary and fleeting and live accordingly in how they treat each other.
God has called us to raise three children (so far), one of whom as special needs, with very limited funds. Are we creative with what we have, yes?! Do we think life might be easier with more breathing room in our budget, of course. But are we truly happy as we are, yes, yes we are. A thousand times yes. And people who do not understand that, I pray for.
*I realize that some would say, why respond at all? Well, the person who sent this email is one who freaks out if we don’t respond and also has a read receipt on every single thing he/she sends out so would know I opened the message anyway.