Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Showstopper"

This afternoon I had a friend and fellow blog reader email me a link to an article on CNN's Belief Blog, wanting my take on it as she struggled with it.  Me thinks that for her 'twas a bit like the whole Tim Tebow and Tebowing focus at the moment for me, one which I am still on the fence about and will blog about soon, I am sure.  There was so much there in the article for me to think about, that I thought I'd work it out a bit here on the blog.  Maybe there are others for whom this will touch a chord as well.

Here is a link to the article, so you all can know what I am talking about...it's a fairly quick read and would be interesting to hear your thoughts as well: 

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/17/my-take-being-poor-on-christmas/?hpt=hp_c1

The author of the blog post, Tangela Ekhoff, was writing to share the contrast for her family this year versus prior years.  She is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA, and like many Americans they have been hard hit this past year and are struggling to keep afloat.  Her description of her disappointment in not being able to provide their children with the kind of Christmases they had grown accustomed to was one that resonates with many right now, I am sure.

As I read her post, I felt a bit conflicted...conflicted by my own feelings which I recognized as being judgmental, and I am not proud of it, and conflicted by our societal sense of what makes Christmas really "Christmas".  Now, would I feel the same if her byline didn't state her elder status?  Admittedly, probably not.  But read this quote which is her first paragraph of the post, and see how it hits you:

For my husband and me, the crown jewel of success as parents is the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning. It’s enough to breach the dams in my eyes. Every year, my husband (the better shopper) picks one big-ticket gift for our boys, the one we call “the Showstopper!”

Xmas Tree

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Xmas Tree Pictures - Pictures


Wow.  The first sentence was enough to stop me in my tracks, and I could see why my friend emailed me about this.  She and I often go back and forth discussing faith matters, both of us on opposite side of the proverbial Faith Fence...and yet realizing through dialogue that often we are standing with feet firmly planted on the same side.  So much for the Pagan/Athiest/Tree Goddess Worshipper vs. Christian battle.

"The crown jewel of success as parents is the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning."   How sad it was for me to read that, and to recognize that a mere few years ago on my own journey that might have been a little closer to my feelings than I now like to admit.  Today I would cringe in mortification at the thought of seeing Dominick and I as "successful parents" because we managed to "score" the right gifts for our kids for Christmas. 

Of course, all of us want to give gifts that the recipient delights in.  But how did we come to a place culturally where our children's response on Christmas morning equals "success" as parents?  What caused this distorted perspective?  No wonder parents continue along the path to ever greater "Showstopper" gifts each year, it is the way they measure their performance...as if the decibel level of the shriek upon tearing open the package is a grade on some sort of Parental Report Card.

The author goes on to point out that in their house this year, there will be no "Showstopper" gift, no special, over-the-top, Best of All, dream fulfilling gift for their children.  She shares that this year, they are in such difficult circumstances that instead of being the ones fulfilling the wish of a needy child whose name they find on an "Angel Tree", it will be a role reversal as it will be her own children's names hanging from that Angel Tree hopeful of being selected by an unknown, kindly stranger. 

She goes on to speak of the season of Advent, and that this year "My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially."  I am sure many have prayed similar prayers during these years of economic downturn.  Homes lost, dreams dying, stress rising, and no relief in sight.  As the reports just came out this week from recent census data, we are now at a point where fully 50% of all Americans are now categorized as "poor" or "low income".

I do understand...I truly do.  For a large number of us, we are watching as our middle class incomes are slipping away from us.  We are grasping hard at the ledge, trying not to fall backwards and land hard, finding ourselves firmly planted in "low income" and wondering how that happened so quickly.  We are beginning to realize that we just may not recover swiftly, or at all, and our children may be the first in many generations to find themselves living at income levels lower than what their parents were raised with. 

I have always been honest here within the blog about the financial challenges we face.  Many would ask why I would share such information openly, but I recognized a long time ago that people wanting to adopt are often afraid of lowering their standard of living to make it happen, and I want them to see that while there is truth in that happening for many of us, the rewards are far and away worth every financial step backward.  We all know the cost of adopting is exorbitant, and it is what keeps many children from finding their forever families.  If by being honest about the kinds of setbacks we face and sharing about the sacrifices which ultimately end up NOT feeling like sacrifices helps others move to "yes", then it is worth it for us to publicly speak about that which most will not.  Just as I hope that sharing about our experiences adopting older children has helped others be more receptive to the idea of sharing their heart with a child who may not be able to fit neatly in their arms.

This past year has been a tough one for us, we are a family of 7 with a stay at home mom trying to make it on a "Car Wash" guy's salary.  Our small town is experiencing a prolonged downturn, and things like auto details are a luxury, therefore business is very slow.  Understatement there...veeeerrrryyy slow.  We had some incredible quiet help with Christmas this year for the kids, without which we would have slimmer pickin's than usual, but thanks to a couple of dear friends' thoughtful gestures and a grandma's generosity, the kids will not really feel it too much.

And no, unfortunately, we won't be helping a child on an Angel Tree ourselves this year.

But I have to ask...what kind of parents would we be if that were the essence of Christmas?  And while we are definitely having a hard time, as I look around at all we have there is no way I would ever call us "poor", even though the fact might be that looking at our income this year we just might qualify for assistance in some areas.  We are like hundreds of thousands of others out there throughout America, we have our cars and our home, our electronics and our "stuff", but suddenly our income has shifted and we are not able to maintain the standard of living we have become used to.  Some things will have to be placed firmly in the "Wants" column rather than the "Needs" column, and there they may sit for years to come.

But is that really what qualifies one as "poor" these days?  That we can't always have what we want anymore?  That our kids may not shriek with delight on Christmas morning?

And the most disturbing thing to me about what the author wrote...is Advent about awaiting the arrival of Jesus, and praying for a return to our prior financial status?  Isn't that contrary to what Jesus teaches us?  Doesn't he speak of casting off all treasures and following him?  Am I really to think that I will somehow draw closer to God if my previous economic standing is restored?

Or will I ignore my donut "hole" and instead look at the entirety of the donut itself?  Will we recognize the fact that having less creates more opportunity for our family to be enriched with relationships with others as we spend time with them and each other.  Or that having a leaner year...or two...or three...or even perhaps a permanent decendence to the lowest rung of lower middle class...will build within us an even greater sense of gratitude for the necessities of life being met.  Will we all draw closer to God as we learn once again, and maybe finally internalize, that we can not count on the world to meet our needs, but that God and God alone is capable of doing that?  Will my donut include the recognition that no matter how hard life gets, we always have something we can share with others even if it is only time, love and care?

And is all of the above indicative of being "poor"?  Or is it actually a sign of the greatest kind of wealth? 

I know I can't speak to those who have lost homes, cars, and jobs.  Yet.  I hope I never can, for I hope we do not find ourselves in those kind of dire straits.  I won't pretend to understand the meaning of poverty in the ways many others can, although both as a child and as an adult I have experienced "lean times" over and over again, and in many people's eyes those "lean times" would indeed be classified as "poor".  And I can't help but recall how many celebrities and folks who have finally "made it" look back on their childhoods and say "We were poor, dirt poor, but back then we kids never knew it."

I have had "poor" Christmases, however that poverty had nothing at all to do with the number and cost of the presents under the tree.  It had to do with family turmoil, lack of connection to community, a sense of longing for Spirit that at the time I couldn't identify.  THAT was poor, even though some of the "poorest" years were ones in which our income was the highest it had ever been, and the shiniest paper covered an enormous number of gifts stacked out into the room.

True poverty is a poverty of spirit, and has nothing at all to do with how many bills are in my wallet.

So for this Christmas, I wish Mrs. Ekhoff a different sort of wealth, one which allows her to see that a restoration of her former financial status may not be all it is cracked up to be.  I wish for her a wealth that allows her to look around her, let go of the idea of gifts that need to be "Showstoppers", and instead elevate the gifts that really matter.  Of course I wish for all of us that the hard times would soon be over, but I also hope that the lessons learned during these times will remain with us all, for they are valuable lessons indeed.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're right on target, Cindy! Thanks for your take.
Reality is, it's very hard NOT to get caught up in the pressure for the "best" gifts, and to everyone, especially kids. We're bombarded with that message, starting earlier and earlier year by year. But you're right. If we lose sight of the spiritual side of Christmas, we are indeed poor -- much poorer than if we lose wealth.
Peace and blessings! -- and a blessed Christmas to you and all your family!
Kaye

Anonymous said...

For a good antidote to excess emphasis on STUFF, see John Wright's blog, listed to the right on Cindy's adoption blogs.

Paul wrote to the Phillipians (Chapter 4):

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do everything through him who gives me strength.


May God provide for our needs: knowing Him, food, shelter, love, work, encouragement. May the waiting children in Kyrgzstan come home this year.

Wishing everyone joy, peace, and contentment this Christmas.

Peggy in Virginia

Anonymous said...

The crown jewel of parenthood--there were many for me--the non-negotiable post high school education of some sort, genuine interest in and compassion for others, for life in all forms,ongoing curiosity and learning, capacity and desire to give and receive love, faith in the loving God. There is joy and laughter there also, but I never tagged it to gifts, although I am certainly influenced by this affluent society and my self-esteem issues that equate giving (not necessarily material) with being loving and valued.

We approach life from our own complex life experiences. If this woman had been untitled, we might have passed off her blog as that of any non-ordained lay person, but, yes, noting that she is an ordained elder I would expect a different set of values. We hold teachers, preachers, ordained lay people to a set of standards in keeping with their chosen profession or stated desire to love and serve. And then we find that some love and serve something else besides God and fellow humans. Disappointing, surprising, even shocking, yes, but with feet of clay making headlines in so many ways, perhaps we should just cynically accept their failues where we find them. Or we can shake the dust off our sandals and move on, or stay and advocate for, demonstrate faith, hope, and love for all.

What is the ultimate life goals we hold up for our children?

Pondering,
Lael

Kath said...

When I read it, that she considers herself poor because she can't afford expensive gifts for her children, I think that she is confusing the definitions of poor. Despite being ordained, she appears pretty poor spiritually, she has a roof over her head, a beautiful family, food to eat... She is so rich materially compared to many, but maybe most of those many are richer spiritually than she is.

In a few years time, her kids won't remember what they did/didn't get for Christmas, but they'll remember the spiritual lessons.

Karon and John said...

So very well said, You might enjoy my Christmas poem as I wrote it just before reading your post. It goes together well. Thank you for taking the time to be honest as it is a rare prized gift these days.