Thursday, March 22, 2018

Post 6--Poverty and Wealth--Changing Our Beliefs

God, the Gospel, and a good husband make a powerful combination.

Poverty skews your view of the world and of yourself, I said in a previous post. Poverty of money does this to a degree, but when material lack is one ingredient in a thick unhealthy soup, the damage is much worse. Financial hardship leads to stress which leads to anger, and in a big family, everyone turns on everyone else, and everything feeds off of everything else, until you don't know what caused what, or who to blame, or how in the world to fix it. Depression, abuse, mental illness, rejection, chaos, shame, neglect—all of them blended and bubbled in one pot.

And unknowingly, we ladled out messages that we swallowed, believed, and acted on.

The saddest thing, I think, is that instead of supporting each other, we siblings turned against each other. My brothers saw me as a disgusting embarrassment and bother, and were physically and verbally cruel. Then I turned on my little sister Margaret and treated her almost as badly.

For example, when Margaret was about 8 or 10 years old and I was six years older, she was constantly having crises with socks. She didn't have any, or she couldn't find any, or they were all dirty. Could she borrow mine to go to school? Please please please?

Ok, FINE. She would promise to return them, and a week later I'd find them wadded under her bed, which meant that I punished her with shame. She was Just So Bad And Annoying and was going to Turn Out Terrible.

There were no solutions or answers, only chaos, anger, and repeated cycles of the same problem.

Now, having lived with Paul for 33 years, I picture how he would have dealt with this. First of all, if Mom was too stressed to take care of Margaret's socks at that stage, which she was, because besides everything else she was taking care of my grandma with Alzheimer's, he would have come up with a Plan for me.  I could have taken a week's worth of money I got from working in the school cafeteria and bought Margaret two nice pairs of socks to add to her ratty collection. Once or twice a week, we could have gathered all the socks in her room and washed them out in the sink and hung them up to dry.

It seems so obvious. Imagine—an actual solution to a problem!

When I talk about "the Gospel," I mean the entire scope the Good News of God creating us and reaching out to rescue us when we reject him. It involves God loving us immensely and sending Jesus to the world, Jesus dying for us and rising again, forgiveness when we repent and follow him, walking with him in a new life, guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and spending eternity with him when we die.

It's possible for the Gospel to transform everything.

We all believed in  Jesus back then, I think, and yet the essence and power of the Gospel did not get down into the cracks of our family.

So I grew up believing a lot of lies about my own worth and carrying huge insecurities about my value and safety, and about money, and lots of other things.

If I could advise my younger self, I would tell her to get healthy before she gets married, and to look for other qualities in a man besides the fact that he was wiser with money than her dad, and also smart and hard-working and he made her feel safe and was a capable and excellent manager.

By the mercy of God, Paul was that and a lot more, and it all worked out. I think it was because he actually understood the Gospel.

Paul had a very different view of money than my family did. He neither loved nor feared it. It was a tool that he could control rather than a monster that would destroy us.

Paul trusted God, and I trusted Paul, and even when we were very poor, I generally felt safe and life said Yes and we were taken care of and we had happy times and God did lots of miracles like making my first set of contact lenses last for nine years.

Some of our children say they didn't even know we were poor. Others still have painful memories of ugly clothes and never getting the doll they longed for. There's a lot we could and should have done differently, and I still pray for healing and redemption.

They also claim that I carried frugality to such an extreme degree that we never went to McDonalds unless it was Cheap Hamburger Day, and I would bring my own sliced cheese in a little bag to add to their burgers because it was cheaper than getting cheeseburgers, and I'd get one drink for them all to share, and I would never ever get them a Happy Meal.

That's embarrassing.

But they entered adulthood healthy and whole. And frugal.

What you believe is important, because it determines what you do. And what you do is important because it brings results and consequences.

I made a chart that shows the difference that believing and applying the Gospel made in my life—things I told myself, believed, acted on, felt, and did.

As you can see, I have come a long way in changing my beliefs. I have forgiven a lot, found redemption and healing, and been forgiven by others, especially Margaret.

I still have plenty of moments when I forget that I have a good Father who loves me, or one of the children tells me, "Mom! Just go buy a new dress! You're not poor anymore!"

But most of the time I am fully aware that I am incredibly, enormously, incomprehensibly, phenomenally wealthy. I really like the results of changing my beliefs.
With a Gospel Perspective:
Without the Gospel:
I have a Good Father who loves me.
I am abandoned and on my own.
I am watched over and cared for.
I am ignored.
I have value as a child of God.
My value comes from my success and behavior.
I can ask for help.
I must endure in silence.
I can care for others.
I watch out only for myself.

Sense of abundance
Sense of endless wanting
Hope for the future
Hopelessness and despair
Creativity with resources
Locked in a money mindset
Wisdom; open to advice
Stupid choices; not asking for advice
All my own efforts
Disappointment and discontentment
Ignoring or minimizing blessings; jealousy
Expectation of provision
Expectation of bad luck
Stopping unhealthy cycles--abuse, poverty etc.
Continuing unhealthy cycles
Work against each other
Money is a tool I can manage.
Money is a monster dominating my life.
There are answers and solutions.
This will never be fixed and we are stuck.
Solid, healthy identity
Need to prove I'm somebody
We will find a path through this.
We are ruined!

Tomorrow: a few how-to's for surviving poverty that are less hardcore than carrying your own cheese to McDonald's.


  1. I was that little sister, now at 55 so many are making sense to me , I am better able to understand why I do what I do and realize it was not always all my fault, but also knowing it was all a part of Gods plan for my life. So thankful for reversal of Destiny because of a loving heavenly father.

    1. Strange how it often takes YEARS to figure out this stuff.

  2. Thanks for articulating these things in such a helpful way for the rest of us. It must have taken an enormous amount of energy and time to write and compile this series. I hope this process is very healing for you. LRM

  3. May I kindly disagree with you? Forgoing happy meals at McDonald is not embarrassing unless you let it be. If this was where you were in your finances, and you couldn't afford it, then it was simply fact. I'm the daughter of another poor family who thought McDonalds was the fanciest restaurant on earth, and I know all about getting one drink to share with the family. Now if you had simply been stingy and scroogy, forgoing happy meals for the sake of the fat bank account, you'd have good reason to be embarrassed.

    What I find more disturbing is listening to children today discussing their favourite restaurants, and hearing them sneer at this one and that one as being Just Not Good Enough. Poverty might be a problem, but discontent and lack of good stewardship are too.

    Wow, that was quite the tangent. You're giving us lots of good thinking here.

    1. I, too, kindly disagree about the McDonald's episode. That was ingenious, figuring out how you could do McDonald's and not exceed your budget. If all the "poor" could be that ingenious, perhaps a lot of poverty could be eliminated. It sounds like you knew more about money management than you thought you did. And your frugality blessed your children in the end.

      No matter how much we have, knowing Whose it is, should affect how we use it.

    2. You're both very kind.

  4. Thank-you for sharing. There are several things in this article that speak to my heart. And for the record, I'm also a mom to six. :) 3 through birth, 3 through adoption. Our adopted children came to us via foster care, from a deplorable situation where they went without food, because there was no money to buy food. I myself grew up with Grandma giving us clothes, or fabric for my Mom to sew clothes because a dairy farm just didn't make enough for us. I see people go through tough times because of choices that were made, that seems to send their money down the drain. For myself, yes, it's personal responsibility and hard work that makes it able for us to share with others. My children think we are poor because we don't buy a horse or a fancy doll, or that battery truck they'd like to drive around out in the yard. I tell them that we have enough. Enough food, a comfortable home, enough clothes. Neither are we out buying milkshakes and cheese burgers every trip we take to town. :) God is good, and we have enough if we take care of what we have.

  5. You are very relatable; thanks for being so honest! Hugs~

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Very insightful perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  7. This post touched me about siblings not being kind to each other because they didn't have any idea that was one of life's options. I have had the exact same experience as your family, not so much because of poverty, but because our parents were shamefully neglectful and my father abusive.

    I can remember seeing movies and reading books where the neglected siblings banded together to take care of each other and I used to wonder why that didn't happen in my house. In truth, I think it probably rarely happens. The children are also in survival mode and angry and hurt. It seems to take a lifetime to figure some of this stuff out.

  8. Thank you for this series. I've really enjoyed reading it, and giving it a good deal of thought, and I agree completely with your expansion of the words 'poverty' and 'wealth' to include so much more than money. I grew up in a very wealthy family (financially and in many other ways), but we had our own issues with other kinds of poverty at times, as most people do, and I can relate to so much of what you've written here. I always thought those negative cycles that we can get caught in - sometimes for many years - have so much to do with different personalities unable to cooperate and find constructive solutions. But maybe that wouldn't be so much of a problem if the gospel was truly being lived fully by everyone in the household.

    Also, although I grew up in a wealthy family, my father was very serious about not spoiling us! When we went to McDonald's, we got tap water and a hamburger. No fries. No cheese. No soda. We were encouraged to start working at 15, and discouraged from asking our parents to buy us things. At the end of the day, I am so thankful to my parents for raising me this way. That feeling of endlessly wanting more can also exist among the financially wealthy, and it is so very damaging.

  9. Thank you, Dorcas, for writing about this. When we finally figure it out we realize what deep marks all kinds of poverty has left on us. I experienced much of what you wrote about, raised by primarily by two people who were not ready to be parents and even less ready to deal with a sudden disability that permanently took my father out of the workforce while he was still a young adult. Some of us are more resilient than others and I'm not sure if that's because of the gospel or if the resiliency allows the power of the gospel in. Either way, I'm grateful to have that gospel power in my life. Sadly, my brother was never able to recover from what we suffered as children. Hopefully your series and this last post in particular will shed some new light on the subject, especially for those who cannot begin to imagine how hard life can be, and for those who think that no one will ever understand.

  10. Wow Dorcas. I'm struck...with HOPE for my future! I was that little sister and now, at 28, married to my "Paul", with three little girls, I'm incredibly blessed!! God and the Gospel have saved me from the pit of destruction! But this wrestling, struggling, forgiving, conscious and intentional change take effort and energy and gets overwhelming. Hearing where you come from and seeing where you are today gives me so much hope for myself! God does have a beautiful plan for me, whether it feels like it or not. P. S. God is using godly women like you to 'mother' me. I look up to you very much! Thank you for your books and posts! They are life-giving!

  11. I came back here to leave a comment because I've been mulling over this the last few days. I had 2 sisters, 10 and 7 years older than me. I can't ever remember them treating me badly. We did not have the most desirable situation in our home, but maybe we were one of the few that it made us kids stick together? I also had 2 brothers, closer in age to me. We just had normal brother/sister fights. I guess I don't understand the shaming that went on, what really triggered it etc. I can't imagine my older sisters not helping me out if I needed socks. I'm not being critical, just trying to understand. Dorcas, would you have any more insight in this? I've really enjoyed this series, and the comments too.

    1. That's a valid question, and I take full responsibility for my behavior. I don't understand all the why's, although there was much more going on in my life than I related here.

  12. This made me laugh, then promptly cry. My experience is so very similar; impoverished Mennonite seems oxymoronic, yet there we lived. The embarrassment of the Sundays where we were responsible for inviting visitors for lunch, but having nothing but watery soup to offer. Being made to carry the grocery shower items to the car because our parents were too mortified to accept it themselves. Is it possible to remove the stigma of being raised poor in a Mennonite community? To me, it seemed our poverty was a sin laid on our doorstep,and on the rare occasion I go back, it presses again. I am so thankful that God is my bulwark, and whether real or imagined, the weight of my parents poverty is not my burden to carry.