About Me

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Five years into widowhood, after one year of incredible happiness and nearly 14 years of single blessedness. Have given up perfect manicures and pretty hands in order to resume playing the soprano recorder and to see if I can figure out how to play bluegrass banjo. Singing in the shower. Still really, *really* love to knit!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Poverty and Charity and *That Word*

I have been bringing newspapers home from the office to pack up the breakables. Sometimes I stop and read an article that catches my eye. In a recent issue of the Dallas Morning News, they stated that a family of four living in the Dallas/Plano/Irving area needs approximately $23,000 above the Federal poverty level to really make ends meet. Which got me curious about where LittleBit and I fit into their economic model, at least theoretically. I did some googling.

Using this calculator I learned that the basic family budget [an alternative to the official poverty level that takes into account the relative cost of living for a given location and size of family], for a family my size is $28,572 per year. It was interesting to compare their numbers with what I lay out each month.

There is no provision in their software for one parent, four children, which is the situation I was in when I divorced the children’s father. And earned $10.50 an hour. And got $435.00 per month in child support. [In today’s dollars, if I had “only” three children at home, by their calculations I would need to earn considerably more than I do.]

Thankfully, I have no childcare expenses, and I work for a large company with good benefits, so my healthcare costs are less than average, even allowing for LittleBit’s hiatal hernia and my own prescriptions. My transportation costs are higher, because I drive between 300 and 500 miles a week, and I do have a modest car payment. [And they’re about to get higher once LittleBit is a licensed driver.]

I live on less than half of my gross, because the company takes out my car payment and my substantial 401K contribution and my emergency fund and another loan repayment for when I charged a year of living when the children's father was out of work and we got no child support, all of this before I see any of my paycheck. And I am insured out the wazoo: long-term care, HMO, vision, dental, and disability that come out of my gross, plus the auto insurance, term insurance, and renters insurance that come out of my net pay. And most of the time we are OK, and sometimes we eat a lot of ramen noodles to get to the next paycheck.

And by the way, the software makes no provisions for tithes and offerings, for charitable donations, for emergency savings or a year’s supply or a 401K. By all means, leave the obligations to the Almighty and to the neighbors out of the calculations!

In Texas, according to their figures, there are 1,462,000 people living below my calculated budget line, or 35% of all families with 1-3 children and positive income. That’s a little worse than one family in three who doesn’t earn enough to provide the decencies of life. Do you find this as infuriating as I do?

And of course financial measurements are only one aspect of poverty. By objective standards, the girls and I are or were have-nots, statistically at-risk for all manner of evils: drug abuse, teen pregnancy, gang activity. And yet, my three oldest are married to fine men, and I love Fourthborn’s fiancĂ©, and I have faith that somebody equally delightful will show up to claim LittleBit when the time is right.

I see more materialism among us than I think is strictly proper, a reaction to the years when we didn’t have a sou. And I also see great unselfishness from time to time and a fierce sense of family that under-girds the minutiae of who might not be speaking to whom at any given moment.

For this overmastering stability, for this calm in the eye of the tempest, I give thanks to God and for the Church. I think the solution to poverty, in the long run, is education, particularly spiritual education, and dedication to correct principles, and self-discipline, and the sort of generosity that teaches a man to fish and then to buy or build a boat and then to form a co-op with other fishermen.

This is a charity that I like. They are building a school for children in a leper colony in India.

And last year instead of traditional gifts, my sister made donations in my daughters’ names to this one, which among other things teaches women to sew and gives them a sewing machine as an alternative livelihood to prostitution.

Our church teaches us to fast once a month and to dedicate what we would have spent on those two meals for the blessing of the poor. In times past, our family has been blessed by other people's fast offerings, for which I am immensely grateful. There have been sacks of groceries that mysteriously appeared on the porch, trips to the Bishops’ Storehouse for commodities, and extra opportunities to serve so that it wasn’t just a handout. It’s an inspired program that helps the Saints get back on their feet.

Neither LittleBit nor I can fast anymore. We both take daily medications that *must* be taken with food. And I, for one, really miss the closeness and the increased sense of love and dedication that I felt when I was able to fast. Fast Sunday used to be my favorite day of the month. It got me through some really rough times because it brought me closer to the Lord and to people who were worse off than I was. And now, except for the testimonies borne in Fast and Testimony Meeting, it is just another Sunday.

So imagine my chagrin when I pulled up to church this past Sunday, and LittleBit dashed in to get a good seat for her youth meeting, and there I was with ten minutes before I had to be inside, sitting in the car polishing off the slice of cold pizza that was breakfast, and realizing that all my friends who were walking by the car, seeing me chow down, were fasting to bless others.


I did not feel very charitable toward myself at that moment. And if I am not loving and kind toward myself, how can I hope to fulfill that great commandment to love my neighbor as myself? I do take a strange and tender comfort in the counsel of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, where he talks about love and intent and follow-through. And I love the teachings on charity in the Book of Mormon. They are both comforting in the moment and a spur to greater effort.

So, no pizza for me in the car next Fast Sunday, unless I pull over in the pocket park along the way and savor the beauties of autumn along with my pepperoni.

Here is a link to a marvelous articleI read on Meridian Magazine yesterday morning. It just seems to fit in with what I've been thinking about.

On a lighter note, I got all the packing peanuts tranquilized and disposed of. And I found 13 pairs of neatly folded socks [and several orphans] that had jumped like Thelma and Louise off the foot of the bed and fallen behind the quilt rack after one laundry day or another. I even had time to ogle [but not actually work on] MS3 and eat guac and chips. By dinner time yesterday, I had filled, labeled, and catalogued 13 boxes.

LittleBit and I went to the bookstore for our Family Home Evening activity. She read a graphic novel; I began a novel that had been featured in a recent email from the bookstore. I was thinking that I would have to rearrange the budget to buy this book, when about three chapters into the story, what should appear but my Least Favorite Word.

A really good writer would have been able to convey the ugliness of what had happened to one of the main characters [caught by estranged abusive spouse, beaten unconscious, and waking to find him having his way with her] without using That Word or resorting to Victorian euphemisms like I just did. It is such an ugly word to describe what should be a loving and tender and sacred experience, one more example of the Adversary's counterfeits and desecration of that which should be reverenced.

LittleBit snapped this picture when she was visiting Middlest in VA this summer. She learned that it is illegal there to use nasty language in public.

In case the visual prompting is not sufficiently clear, they spell it out:

I would like to have one of those signs posted in our parking lot, and sometimes I would like to be able to take that sign down like a flyswatter and *beat* some of the guests of my neighbors with it. Especially at 2:30am. Surely the Lord wasn’t talking about them when he gave us Matthew 5:44. Right?


OK, back to work I go on that whole “acquiring charity” gig. *Fiddle.* Squared.


Tola said...

agree with you 100% on That Word. i really really hate it, for the same reasons you do. but the funny thing is, it started out as a euphemism in the middle ages. just goes to show you how the language changes!

Lynn said...

We've discussed the "euphemism" off-blog, so I'll agree to disagree about where it came from. :) What's more important than its derivation is that its proliferation is a mark of decaying civility, impoverished vocabulary, and the unwillingness of too many of us to hold the popular culture [and its purveyors] to a higher standard.