“You know you’re not poor when you can just go buy a coat.”
The words formed in my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Gratitude permeated my soul but mingled with memories of electricity being turned off, a furnace without oil in the middle of winter, a hole in the floor that looked right down to the crawl space (I think I was in high school before it was fixed), a bathroom floor always threatening to cave in. You could see the ground below through cracks in that one too.
This winter Hudson needed a new coat and we discussed whether it should be part of his Christmas (which would be a perfectly good Christmas present), but the big holiday was well over a month away and the weather had already turned cold. His coat from last year left inches of bare skin exposed when he bent down. So we decided I should just go buy him a coat.
What wealth! What luxury!
And the simple decision hit me down deep.
Growing up my family moved from financial crisis to financial crisis. Talk of loans and advances from employers sprinkled daily conversation. When my parents died, my Dad in 2016 and my mom in 2017, the tiny house they’d lived in for almost 50 years was still not paid for. They were still paying a mortgage, the house having been refinanced who knows how many times.
I remember when I realized that other kids in my class had their own beds, more than that their own rooms. I had slept in the bed with my mom, and my dad always slept on the couch (their marriage was horrible for as long as I can remember until late in their lives). Somewhere in elementary school I figured out this wasn’t a typical arrangement. Eventually I had a top bunk in my sister’s room, and it became my room when she moved out.
Imagine my surprise when I started paying my own bills, and I learned that utility companies don’t just turn off your water or electricity if you are a few days late or accidentally miss a payment.
I have memories of flipping on lights and seeing hundreds of cockroaches scatter. One time in high school a cockroach found its way into my back pack. As I saw it crawl across the floor of English class (boys were trying to feed it crackers), I had no doubt from where it came. Mortified isn’t a strong enough word. I buried my face in the text, shades of crimson spreading over my cheeks, and prayed no one would make the connection. I began checking my back pack before I left for school.
Not once did I have a friend come over to my house to play. Ever. My mother was too embarrassed, and later I was too embarrassed. Some of it was the house. Some of it was the state of my family. I learned to make all the excuses.
Once a possum got inside and delivered its babies in my mom’s closet. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. My dad thought it was funny, and I’m not sure what he did to dispose of them. And yet another time a lone possum found its way in and my mom killed it with a broom.
But somehow I had a Nintendo Game Boy. Somehow we went to restaurants. Somehow I did pageants for several years (yes, the kind with tiaras and big curly hair). My little girl will never do them. But I digress. Small plastic cards, easily swiped, payment deferred— those were plentiful.
There have been times in my adult life when money has been extremely tight. I know it happens, and there’s no shame. I have seen the miraculous provision of God on more than one occasion—stories for another time. But I think my parents were trapped on a hamster wheel of debt and and didn’t know how to get off.
Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the daily messes, endless loads of laundry, and piles of dishes to wash. Sometimes my home and heart feels chaotic. But from a certain corner on a certain couch, I can almost always remember how beautiful our home is. Handprints framed, family pictures, meaningful art. You might call our style eclectic. That’s a nice way of saying that we’ve chosen to embrace the mismatch so it looks purposeful. And from my cozy corner I admire shelves lined with books, and gifts of rocks and pinecones also proudly displayed.
I’m kind of amazed our little family is doing so well on one income since I choose to stay home with the kids. Yet we have a lovely, comfortable, enough room for us, house. Our needs our met, and we even have many of our wants.
I don’t know why buying a coat affected me so deeply; I don’t have memories of not having a coat. Perhaps it is that my children have never known a home without heat in the winter, holes covered by duct tape, appliances broken for months, sagging floors and the like. I pray they never know it. Profound gratitude flooded my heart.
Perhaps it’s also that it wasn’t just the house. A few months ago a friend and I had the blissful opportunity of a couple hour car ride without children. The conversation was deep and beautiful on both sides. After some childhood stories she remarked, “Ami, there are at least several reasons DCFS should have been called.”
I had never thought of it that way. But I think it’s true.
There are millions of people in the world who have far less than I had growing up, so many in far worse conditions. But maybe the deep emotions of providing a coat for my son are tied not only to physical circumstances but to the turmoil they represented, a family tossed about, more than just finances insecure.
Objects flew across the room, a fist went through a window, a piano crashed to the floor. Shouting, only ever shouting– there was never calm conversation during anger. I dialed a number seeking help from my grandmother, but hung up when she answered because I was afraid. Mercifully she called back.
I recall habitual, denied affection, “I don’t want to see you. Just walk away.” Still cuts deep.
I pray my children know they are secure, as secure as they can humanly be. They have a Mom and Dad, though sinners, who love each other. They have clothes to wear and food to eat. They have warm beds and a roof over their heads. They are drawn in instead of pushed away.
Isn’t that the heart of every loving parent, to provide for their children?
I know my parents wanted to provide. I know they tried with the resources they had. I have plenty of sweet memories also.
Sometimes I’m still astonished I’m a Christian. But I look and see the bold red ribbon of grace winding its way through the years, through the circumstances.
I have a Father who has provided so much more than a winter coat, one who lacks no resources, no ability, or follow through.
He is lavish. He is kind. He is gentle to his own. He always does what’s right. He always does what is good.
He restores. He redeems. All the hard memories and dysfunction become clay in the Master artisan’s hand to shape and remake into something lovely.
He secures. God does what even the best of human parent’s can’t do—makes the soul secure.
Every Christian parents longs to know their children believe. But it is God’s work. Oh that the bold red ribbon of grace would wind through their lives! That they would meet the one who is the real Provider!
Oh that their burdens would tumble off as they gaze at the cross.
This is my prayer for them
It was just a winter coat, not that extravagant really. But the grace it represents is abundant, lavish and overflowing like waves.
And my heart worshiped.