Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Blessing of Poverty

I’m sitting in my office the other day with someone who came to speak with me concerning an unlicensed homeless shelter that she had stumbled upon. Things of this nature happen often for me because I oversee the outreach ministry at Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant, SC. People often come to me for advice or help but this story had a different impact on me. I wanted to hear more. I was intrigued by the fact that a place like this could be in my own back yard yet I had no idea it even existed. Anyway, as we were talking, I asked her, “how do you get to be involved in all of these things that you are involved in? How do you get to help so many?” Her answer was staggering: “Oh it’s such a blessing, I’m on disability.” We went on to talk about how she never imagined that disability could ever be a blessing but she is using it to serve God in mighty ways.

This conversation reminded me of myself and my own struggles. I have never been on disability, but have been through some things that, at the time, I thought were the worst that could happen. You see, 8 years ago I found myself living in a motor home in my dad’s back yard with 2 young children and one on the way. Although I had a small place to lay my head each night, I was homeless and wasn’t sure how I was ever going to get out of this predicament. Some very poor choices from myself and from others had put me there. I had been a stay at home mom for a few years which in and of itself made it difficult to find a job, but I was also pregnant with my third child at the time. I found a job preparing taxes at a local tax company. Tax season runs from January 1 through April 15, which was how long my job would last, and the baby was due April 30. Joshua was born on April 18, three days after my last day on the job. It paid $7.50 per hour, which as you can imagine, is below poverty level for a family of my size. It was just enough to put some food on the table and maybe a few extras but it certainly wasn’t enough to get me out of this dilemma. I spent the next 6 years moving from place to place, being evicted here and there. By this time I had taken a job at the church as an administrative assistant making more than $7.50 per hour but still not enough to make ends meet. Through my years at the church, I have changed positions and received a raise or two as I slowly climbed out of this deep hole I was in. The church has been very gracious in my times of need but I don’t think they truly had any idea how bad it was for my family.  Two years ago, I bought a home through Habitat for Humanity. This was the one thing that created stability for my family. We still don’t have many of the extras in life, but we are stable.

I have never had any significant amount of money, but I did like nice things. In fact, so much so, I went into deep debt over those things. It was what I thought was right. Everyone else was doing it. I filed bankruptcy by the time I was 21 years old. I think in hindsight, it was just another way to fill my emotional needs and the gaping wounds from my past. Those “things” made me feel good for the moment.

Through my experiences over the last 8 years, the LORD has done a work in me. He has changed the way I see the world. You know, there is an old saying that goes “you never know Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have”. I had nothing and He reached down, took me by the hand and showed me, a little at a time what the world looks like through his eyes. Now I don’t turn a blind eye to those in poverty. I don’t judge how they got there. The one thing that I have learned that has become more significant than anything else is that my family is not wealthy, but we are one of the richest families in the world. Not because of what we have but because of who Jesus is and what He means to us. What He has done for us. Francis Chan writes in his book “Crazy Love” in reference to Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” “How can I walk out of a mud shack and back into my two-thousand square foot home without doing anything?” He also asks whether or not we take the word of God literally or not? For me, I ask “can I walk into a house made of plywood with mold, asbestos, and for all purposes should be condemned and walk back in to my twelve-hundred square foot home without doing anything”? Can I go to the homeless shelter mentioned above where some have lived for over 20 years in horrible conditions and do nothing about it? What the last 8 years has done for me has allowed me to answer those questions with an explicit NO. God has used my circumstances to break down walls of pride and materialism as well as show me on a regular basis His hand of provision. He has also allowed me to see others as an extension of him. After all, He created them too (Proverbs 22:2). In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least we are also doing for Him and whatever we don’t do, we are not doing for Him. I know that I for one do not want to disappoint Jesus. I don’t want to let him down because He has loved me so much and has changed my life more than I ever thought possible. He has shown me how to love others by showing me his deep, abiding love for me. So, eight years ago I found myself homeless and uncertain of my future and what I thought was awful and cruel turned out to be one of the biggest blessings that I have received to date.  So today, I can say with 100% certainty that I am most Thankful for my journey through poverty and how God has used it to change me.

Psalm 69:32 ~ The poor will see and be glad ~


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