Far from poor, but never enough

I approached the gate agent and asked, “is there any chance…?” I had volunteered to be bumped from my flight, and all I could think about was a voucher…a voucher that would give me more opportunities to visit people I love. When she said, “I think we’re okay”, I am sure she was bewildered by the crestfallen look on my face.

(I’m embarrassed to say that I am sitting at the gate holding back tears as I write this. Trying to pull myself together. I am guessing that the tears are more about the good-byes in my life than about a travel voucher, but still…)

I first have to say that I know that I am nowhere near anything that could even resemble “poor”. I stopped using that word to describe myself a few years ago, instead replacing it with “broke”.

I am blessed. I have a job that, although it pays less than I would like, is enjoyable. I don’t dread going to work, which is perhaps as great a blessing as having a job to begin with. I have a nice car that runs well, even if I can ill afford it. I have a roof over my head and a washer and dryer in my apartment (those who have had to share laundry facilities or schlep to the  laundromat understand this!)

I have just enough. I can pay my bills, and I somehow manage to stay afloat even when I make bad spending choices.

I have more than most of the world. I need to remember this.

But I also have less than many people I know. I struggle more with the basics than some of my friends do.

A travel voucher could mean the difference between getting to see friends I love and having to rely on conversations via email and Facebook sound bytes to stay connected.

(On the plane now, crying again. Must not scare seatmate. Who is smaller than me, by the way, and not a talker. Another reason to be thankful.)

Some people’s lives are just easier. I am a traitor to my purported allegiance to Jesus when I say this, but it’s my reality. I hate what capitalism has done to me. I hate that I am so bound to “stuff”. I know that the love of money is the root of all evil…only I don’t love money-I hate it. Hate that it consumes so much of my time and energy. Hate the envy it invokes in me.

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?” ’Or I may become poor and steal,and so dishonor the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:8-9, NIV

But some people do not struggle this way. Some people are somehow not chronically under-employed. Some people’s parents help them pay for college, or are there to help them out in a pinch.

Some people start off with more and earn more and have more. Some people don’t need to put an $80 piece of luggage on a credit card, and don’t have to nervously count the days until their next paycheck.

And because I live in America, and have been shaped by the ridiculous values this country embraces, I am filled with envy, and I get tired of having to limit what I spend, of working two or more jobs, of struggling, always struggling, as I watch rent and car insurance and bills increase. Of drowning in student loan debt because for too many years I could not afford to pay enough to even touch the principal, and the interest just continues to snowball. Of watching a $2000 IRS balance refuse to budge because I am paying $200 a month in fees and interest, and I just do not have a way to access that amount of money all at once.

I am tired of having to limit my travel plans and to struggle to work out even the smallest excursion with other friends who are similarly struggling…or worse, to try to keep up with my friends who don’t have to worry about every penny they spend. The shame I feel-the comparisons-how is it that they have found financial success while I have not?

It doesn’t help that I was a lower-middle-class kid in an upper-middle-class high school, or that I was in honours classes with a number of extremely talented people. People I graduated with are AP photographers who attend the White House Christmas party, financial experts who are regularly interviewed on TV, and even people who are creating TV, attending awards ceremonies that I will only ever see from my couch. I have friends who never attended college, yet make three times what I make. It’s hard not to compare and to find myself lacking.

But I don’t necessarily aspire to any of that. When I play the lottery (or, as a friend puts it, “pay Stupid tax”), I don’t want the big winnings…I just want enough to get out of the hole I’m in, to be able to say that I can get back to zero. I just want to be able to not have to struggle so much. Mostly, I want to be able to travel to see friends who live too far away, and to have some confidence or certainty that I will  be able to move back to New York someday…

They say that if you can’t change your situation, you should work to change the way you view it. Problem is, I still have not figured out how to do that…

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good and perfect gifts

not enough sleep two nights in a row, and running around from morning until night today, has left me feeling absolutely dazed and exhausted in that “beyond tired” way. and two very adorable little boys with birthdays ten days before Christmas means that I was driven to enter into the mass of people engaged in frantic Christmas consumption, which was really a very odd feeling, given the fact that this is my second Christmas of doing virtually NO gifts for anybody . . . probably for the first time in my life.  I have no choice, in a sense, as I really don’t have any extra money, but I definitely have mixed emotions about it, missing it and not missing it all at once . . .

today, though, I started to think about this whole thing, and found myself questioning previous assumptions . . . my obsession with finding the right gift, the perfect thing for that particular person, is something that I’ve always identified as a defect, a compulsion, a need to fill some emptiness that I refuse to be aware of. Today, however, I felt incredibly conflicted (especially with “the story of stuff” still fresh in my mind) and found myself starting to wonder . . . are “things” really inherently evil? is it really so wrong to show your love and care for a person by working really hard at finding the perfect gift for them? It’s something I’m good at . . . and my “love language” is giving gifts . . . and certainly we all have way more “stuff” than we need, but in some ways, isn’t it possible that there is some redeeming value in this? of course, that would probably be a more “Reformed” viewpoint, but somehow it doesn’t seem to fit in with my “capitalism is evil” sensibilities . . .

at any rate, I know that we have been warned that the LOVE of money (and of the things it can buy?!) is the root of all sorts of evil . . . and then there’s that “embroidered pillow” phrase– “don’t love things and use people; use things and love people” or however it goes . . . but things, people, capitalism, simplicity, consumption, time, and the crush of “stuff” in my life are all swirling around in my brain right now.

and I really should just go to sleep, but I was blogging this in my mind even as I was shopping, and knew I had to at least get this thought process started. and I want to end this with “more to come”, but the problem seems to be that there is never any time for “more” as the crush of life continues to push me forward at that roller-coaster dizzying speed . . .

or maybe I should really just go to bed . . .