I live a privileged life.
I had no idea.
No one ever told me.
I just figured this was the way it was.
And then I met people not like me.
And I read about these people. And I studied them. I even met some in person. And they weren’t even from a different country or some faraway land where actual poor people live. No, they were my neighbors, and they became some of my friends.
I’m a white girl from Long Island, New York. Now before you get all judg-y and think we lived in some big mansion on the island next to Gatsby, let me turn this ship around real quick. I grew up living with my grandparents in their three-bedroom home on an acre of land, in a neighborhood surrounded by potato fields, and across the highway from Hughes Grumman. Later in life I would move, with my mom, down to Houston, Texas, where I would spend the other half of my childhood in a one-bedroom apartment. I wouldn’t say we were poor, but I knew the value of clipping coupons, shopping clearance, a good thrift store find, and of course, which day was payday.
But I had grandparents who loved me and doted on me and sent me money and took me shopping in the summer time when I would go back home to visit. I would get to go to the dentist at least once a year while with my grandparents, and we had health insurance about half the time. Not always, but I knew what is was.
Meanwhile, in other parts of this country and around the world, parents have to make the choice whether or not to take their children to the doctor, and some can’t afford a simple emergency room visit. Worse yet, some children die from completely preventable diseases that could’ve easily been taken care of had they just been able to see a doctor that day.
We live in a world of modern luxuries. Even if you’re the poorest of the poor, you probably still own an iPhone. Even if you’re living on the streets, you likely still have a cell phone. Even if you’re surviving paycheck to paycheck, you still have a roof over your head that is made of more than a tarp.
I had no idea I was so privileged.
Now before you think I’ve gone on some amazing adventure across several oceans and lived with the poor and have now committed myself to living as a martyr and only eating one square meal a day in solidarity, think again. I can’t even afford an airfare to Florida, let alone some country I can’t spell or pronounce.
No, here’s the deal: I’ve just decided to open my eyes. And apologize. For my ignorance. But to me, that is not enough. It is not enough that God has deemed me worth enough to open my eyes, open my ears, open my mind, and let me see things for the way they truly are, let me into His kaleidoscope of this world and truly know what it means to be in this body, in this place, in this time.
It is not enough for me to just know, and admit, and apologize for my ignorance. Now it is time for action. Now it is time to DO something about it. But what?
What can I do? Where do I even start? I can’t even begin to tell you that I have some idea of what my next steps look like. Do I start by supporting an orphanage? Do we pursue an adoption? Do we join any one of the hundreds of organizations that we can send money to in order to curb our guilt for having so much?
I don’t think that is the answer. And to be honest, some months, I don’t think we have enough. But I do know we have more than most, and therefore we need to get to a place where we are living on just enough and being generous in giving away the extra.
I’ve had this long-standing argument in my head about what I would call frivolities. I don’t buy pretty towels. I don’t buy matching kitchen towels and oven mitts. I don’t buy placemats, or centerpieces. I don’t buy sheet sets, only the fitted sheet. Why? Because I see those things as just extra crap. Crap I don’t need. For one, everyone in our family ends up kicking the flat sheet to the bottom of the bed anyway, and towels are used for drying bodies, not hanging on display. We own one oven mitt. It was given to us when we signed up for internet service with our old telephone company on the farm. Seems to me they could’ve charged less a month for service if they kept all the cups and oven mitts and sticky notes they gave away “for free” for signing up. But I digress.
I have always thought these things cost money that I either don’t have, or they just end up being crap I don’t need. I own placemats. But I never use them. I have things for a centerpiece from years prior, but my table isn’t wide enough and I’d just have to move it all the time anyway. What’s the point?
So, all this money I’m saving here on all these things I don’t believe I need…where is it going? Very likely our grocery budget…or more likely on other crap I don’t actually need. Not to mention my washer keeps eating my clothes and I end up spending more money on more clothes, which I wouldn’t need had my washer not eaten them.
My point is I could easily find the money I am wasting and put it toward something more productive, something that would benefit someone else more than me. Even if you live on very little, and are a minimalist, there is still a box in the back of your closet somewhere full of junk you don’t actually need, but maybe someone else does. I just want to be rid of that box…and many, many more. Maybe I’ll start in the kids’ rooms. After they go to bed. Or when they gone out for the day. See how much I can get rid of.
“Hey kids! Who wants to go with daddy to the pool today??”
But honestly, I should start in mine. Because I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how it is better to give than receive and tell them they have too much crap and tease them for being hoarders, but if they see mom hoarding all her “prized” possessions, and never giving an inch, then it will never be true or honest or real to them in their lives. And like I’ve said before, I’m trying to not raise assholes. The world has plenty. I don’t need to add two more.
So, what will you do today? Better yet, what will I do today? I took the first step with admitting I have a problem.
“Hi, my name is Wendy and I’ve lived a privileged life.”
Now what? Honestly, I have no idea, but I’m trusting Jesus will show me. If not today, then maybe tomorrow. And I can’t wait to share with you what He does.