My parents did really well for themselves. They worked hard, risked a lot and succeeded in life, family, work and faith. They’re committed to passing that down to me and my sister and our families, and I’m incredibly grateful.
It wasn’t always like that. We scraped by for many years. My dad talks about wondering if we were going to make it, though I’m not sure what not making it might mean to him. I never thought we were poor. I’m still confused if we were or weren’t. I know we didn’t have much, and yet it rarely occurred to me that we were going without what others might have had.
I remember in third grade I had one pair of shoes. They were brown Ked tennis shoes. Since they were my only pair, they worked for church and school no problem. However, they also were my basketball shoes. That was a problem. Brown shoes with a red uniform – no good. We were all scruffy, small town kids, so it’s not like I was devastated for life about this. I don’t remember what happened. It’s not a life metaphor.
We got past that phase as a family. My parents’ business grew. We went of vacations and were more than fine. I had a car and clothes and a job when I wanted to work and went to college on scholarships.
When Julie and I were married, I was working for a Christian college ministry at Oklahoma State in Stillwater. I moved to work for them in 1993 and did that for three years, so 1994 was my first full year of 12 months of work. In that time, I got married and our daughter Ruth was conceived and born three months early (two pounds five ounces). It was a crazy, crazy time. We held on, drove back and forth to Tulsa for months and tried to figure things out. We stayed with friends and the Ronald McDonald house and leaned on our friends, family and church.
It wasn’t until later when the medical bills came that I realized we couldn’t pay these. In 1994, I made $16,500 with my job. We easily qualified for food stamps and other government assistance.
And yet – we had paid for cars, debt free college degrees and we were house-sitting for $200 a month. Our bills were practically zero at that time – gas was under $1 and we never went anywhere anyway. We didn’t have cable. There weren’t cell phones. AOL dial up didn’t cost that much. So were we poor?
I think what happens sometimes when I read the Bible is I can take myself out of the poor category more than I should. I think I’m rich – and if I’m rich I don’t need Christ. That’s not true. I need him, oh how I need him.
However, I also think I can over-identify with poverty. I can look back at my brown shoes and my 1994 tax statement and say, “I know what it’s like to be poor – and I did okay.”
But that’s not the same as being in third grade in a class with 37 kids and one teacher and barely anyone in the class knows how to read. It’s not the same as being dropped off at the library because you have a single mom who has three jobs and can’t pay for childcare for you. It’s not the same as not being able to get to where they’re handing out backpacks with school supplies because it’s a two hour walk to the nearest place – with no sidewalks along the way. It’s not the same as being dinged with multiple convictions over relatively minor infractions so they add up to fines and felonies and now you can’t get a job and have nowhere to go. It’s not the same as gaping holes in your roof – and you’re a 70 year old widow but the house isn’t in your name. It’s not the same as going home as 9-year-old to your screaming baby nephew, whose dad is your 13-year-old brother.
I may have memorized it decades ago, but I’m not sure I have any idea what Micah 6:8 really means:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?