It is hard to understand poverty unless you have lived impoverished. I never have.
My young family has certainly lived on less. We used food stamps and Medicaid during my husband's graduate work and definitely lived on the generosity of others during that time. In fact, there were days when we wondered how we would make it, but lo and behold, God provided. We are both changed because of our years spent on living with less.
I don't notice how that time changed me until the Christmas season approaches, and that's when I feel it the most. To be truthful, I get angry. I get angry when I see the excess that we spend on ourselves and our children all justified, of course, because of the "season of giving". I get angry when I hear that we over spend so much that we put our families into debt all for things we don't need. I get angry when I feel pressure to fit in or to keep up with the affluent all for the sake of the "season of giving".
My friends, if gifting our children with a hundreds of dollars worth of material things after shopping the sales to clothe ourselves in riches is what Christmas is about, then I'm ready to take down the tree.
I live outside Detroit. Twenty miles from my house is an incredibly impoverished community. The Census Bureau reports that 33.8 percent of Detroit's population lives in poverty. As I watch the snow fall from the sky while leaving a mall bustling with busy shoppers I question how it is that we have time to spend plenty of money on ourselves, but twenty miles away some child will sleep without heat tonight. These are the thoughts that plague me. This is why I don't like to shop.
You see, while I have lived in situations where my husband and I wondered how to pay for groceries, we have always had a roof over our heads and a warm place to sleep at night. This is not the case for everyone.
So this year I'm encouraging others to rethink how much we spend on ourselves, rethink how much we spoil our children, and consider for a moment what we can do to help someone who really is in need. I want to trade all the extra clothes, dolls, trucks, jewelry that my family doesn't need and instead teach my children that love and generosity and service are better gifts than ones that will go unworn, unused, returned, forgotten and/or disliked. The best gifts we give our children never are purchased.
I will give my children gifts and I want you to do that, too. But please remember, teaching our children to share is a gift that won't go uncherished and teaching our children self-control and contentment are gifts not marked by time or age.
We cannot rid the world of poverty, but we cannot ignore it and sleep well at night. Frankly, we cannot ignore poverty and still claim to be Christ-like.
This Christmas give meaningful gifts. Tell your family you love them. Give photos. Create memories. Volunteer together. Shop for a needy family together. Give to charities in someone's honor.
Give, for it is truly the season of giving.