Our talk lasted ninety minutes. At times, we tried talking over one another which is largely impossible when using cell phones. Mostly, we both tried hard to listen to one another and find what we agreed on and not worry TOO much about the things we disagree on. I think we both came to realize that we agree about more than we disagree. We realized that we both have a passion for the subject we were discussing; we just have different focus points in dealing with the issues which tripped us up. I think that, in the end, we agreed that what is the natural and best way to approach one another is with the deep-seated love which has always been the foundation of our relationship. It had been years since we had spoken for so long and we were both pleasantly surprised I think that we had so much to discuss and to share.
Before we ended our time together, she gave me an affirmation that is priceless; that is one of her gifts. She remembered with me the twenty-something year old me living in the "penthouse" apartment in what had once been a beautiful old home on East Watauga Avenue in Johnson City, my hometown. The "penthouse" was the attic which had been converted into a very small one bedroom apartment, with a "bonus room" which served as the nursery for my first two babies. The roof gables were our walls and ceiling. The entire house, home to a real estate business and a total of four apartments was roach infested. We lived sometimes with and many times without my first husband. I had an army of angels on earth who helped me get by, taking me to doctor's appointments, to the grocery store, and to church. But even with that, I had little money, sometimes none. I was often dependent on government assistance programs, and I was so ashamed of what my life had come to. This was not the dream that the twenty-one year old bride had imagined! My middle class life had derailed in a major way.
But this younger woman in my life talked about how I had allowed those early years of my adulthood to develop in me a compassion for and desire to help other single or pseudo-single moms. (I just made up pseudo-single! It's when you have a mate/partner who is present but not really providing support in any of its forms- financial, emotional, spiritual.) And now thirty years later, here I am living out my passion making new friends and planning to live among some of the poorest citizens of my city, ministering to them in tangible ways with transportation, friendship, shared meals, spiritual guidance and teaching, entertaining, tutoring and loving their children as well as them, the adults.
That young mom grew up into the woman I now am and my younger friend gave me a verbal blessing by praising me for letting my hard times inspire me to "give back."
Doesn't that feel so good?!!
But you know what? None of it is to my credit. My angels on earth got me through those years and they did it because they serve/served an amazing God Who has gifted us with redemption from the Garden on down through history. And you know what else? I didn't choose the hard times and I don't deserve the good times. I am blessed. And that means I have a responsibility to "pay it forward." You see, I was blessed to be born to middle class, white parents who nurtured, loved, supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I never faced ongoing and repeated abuse from either of them. We always had nourishing food in the house. We always had clean beds to sleep in and clean clothes to wear. We had help and encouragement to do our homework and the expectation that we would do it to the best of our ability. My siblings and I didn't have parents who were slaves to addiction. Our parents were respected by the community of their peers and they lived upright lives. My dad was in a very hated profession, he was a tax collector. And yet, through my young life and well into my middle age years, I have had people share with me how much they loved him and admired his integrity and work ethic. That is an amazing gift! I always believed, in my darkest hours, that my life and circumstances would be better someday. I knew that I didn't have to stay in poverty. I knew another life and I had the tools and the support to achieve escaping the poverty I found myself in.
I have friends whom I love who have had none of the advantages from which I benefit. They were born into poverty, with darker skin than mine. They had parents who were abusive, addicted, not there or combinations of those states. Some of my friends have known only poverty all their lives, poverty in their financial, emotional, and spiritual circumstances. And that was not their choice any more than my middle class birth was my choice.
I didn't "pull myself up by my bootstraps." I had tons of support and encouragement, and I had the know how, the college degree, not because I was so smart and able to realize that someday, it would enable me to escape poverty. My parents were the ones who ensured that all three of their children moved on to higher education! What if they hadn't cared if my homework was done. What if they hadn't been able to function beyond an elementary school level in their reading and writing? What if they hadn't worked hard and saved, and had a pension which paid for college (even after my father's early death?) What if our household had been full of chaos with mama's boyfriends over trying to "mess" with us? What if mama or daddy had spent their hours ignoring us pursuing their phone screen wanting more "likes" on social media or in their day, out in the bars looking for the next high or fix? What if mama or daddy or both had been in and out of prison throughout my childhood and I was passed from friend to family and back again and could never totally trust where I would be staying on any given night? What if they had spent the evening hours yelling at and cursing and beating us? How different would my life be?
And see, none of my blessings were my choice nor my design. I don't know why I was chosen to be born into and live in the family I have. I don't know why I have all the blessings and others have few or none. Some people want to say there is not a good God or it wouldn't be this way. I don't agree. If we read the word and believe it, we see that God created a perfect place for man and woman to live and work. He gave them all good and continues to provide goodness to all of mankind. Mankind has chosen all through time to believe the lies of the enemy of God and stray into choices that are not from God. I was blessed to come from parents who chose to serve God and make choices which followed His word and commands.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 1 Timothy 6:17-18 (NIV)
The other thing I know is that God did not bless me so that I could live a rich, comfortable life. He expects me to do what His son, God with us, Jesus, did. My "wealth" is not for me; whatever my gifts are are to be poured out and shared. God is about redemption and love. That is what I am to be about in order to be about my Father's business. For God says to each of us, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Luke 12:48