Through most of my life I was poor.
As a kid neither of my parents worked – we lived off of welfare. The family car was a beat up clunker that was given to us and living conditions were cramped, having to share a room with my sister.
The first of the month was always our favorite time because it was when food stamps were passed out at the welfare office. We would get up early to be there by 7 am, because 8 am was when the office opened and if you weren’t in line early there was a good chance you were gonna spend your day waiting in line. This was at a time before welfare debit cards when food stamps were literal paper stamps handed out – and in Flint a popular thing to do was trade food stamps for money or drugs. Thankfully my mom always used them to stock our cupboards with food.
We loved food stamp day because it meant we were going on a major grocery shopping trip. Grocery shopping was almost like a holiday, my sister and I loved it! We would spend the day helping my mom load the shopping cart with bulk food that could be easily turned into mass produced meals – but only if she had a coupon for it! Spaghetti, mac n’ cheese, and sausage & sauerkraut were main staples in our diet. It didn’t have to be nutritious, as long as it filled our stomachs. Meals were usually cooked up in a large pot that would provide leftovers for days. On the rare occasion that we had taco night, it felt like a gourmet meal!
I always knew when we were nearing the end of the month as the cupboards became bare and instead of sloppy joe’s and shepherds pie I was getting a slice of bread with mayo folded in half; PB & J if my mom had been frugal that month.
My sister and I never had a shortage of clothes but they all came from either Goodwill or church hand-me-downs. None of them ever fit right though, they were almost always too big – but that was fine with my mom, it just meant we would have them longer and could “grow into them.”
Even though we had a vehicle and at the time gas was around .75 cents per gallon, we would walk alot! Several times a week we would take family walks searching for pop cans (In Michigan all pop cans had a .10 cent refund.) The cans would be turned in for money that we would use for food and most of the time this is how we paid for our gas.
It never really occurred to me during my childhood that I was poor but as I got older I saw it for what it was. While we never had any money what my parents gave me as a kid was something much more valuable, knowledge in Jesus Christ. They took me to church every Sunday and Wednesday and made sure we got to go to any special events the church was putting on. Every summer there was a week long church camp that my parents could never afford (cost around $100 per kid) yet God always provided and every year there was an anonymous donor who paid the way for my sister and I to attend.
These childhood experiences helped shape me into the man I am today. I grew up in a time without computers, cell phones, Ipads or many other of today’s electronic conveniences. We had a small tv but we rarely used it – I spent a majority of my time outside playing, using my imagination and running around being active. I would catch frogs and dig in the dirt and build forts in the woods – and I was content. I was too busy living and having fun to even notice that my family was financially poor.
But the greatest lesson that I’ve learned as I look back – even though I grew up poor – I was rich in Jesus Christ. That’s a wealth that I will never lose. I’m rich in Him today and I will continue to be rich in Him for all eternity. Thank you Mom and Dad, for investing in what’s truly important.