“How many more will wander past to find me here among the ashes,
Will You hold me? Will You stay?
So I can raise this broken praise to You, oh.”-Broken Praise, Todd Smith
We live a snow globe life, frozen in place with no way out. People come and look on, but really can’t do anything. Dead isn’t the right word, but neither is alive. It just feels like everything’s frozen in place, in this middle place–struggling usually, rich never, okay sometimes. It’s roller-coaster effect: one week you’re eating Moe’s and the next week you can’t afford toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, and your car’s being taken away.
But why eat Moe’s when your car is being taken away? Well, to be frank…the damn thing is going to be taken whether we like it or not so why not go eat nachos covered with queso? You know…$20 at Moe’s is much easier to come up with than $250 for a car payment.
This is our story and this is how we’ve felt, year after year. If something is going well, don’t expect it to last. Because it never does. The minute we finally have arrived in a place where we could start to tackle the load of debt we owed, someone would get fired or something would break.
You learn not to talk about it because you don’t want pity, you don’t want someone to give you money because then you’ll feel awful, and you don’t want someone feeding you answers because every pat answer has been explored. You clean up, show up, and shut up.
And I think I’m tired of it. Our story needs to come from us for a change, not anyone else. It’s no one else’s business, but after years of our name being drug through the mud I just want you to know…it’s not what you think.
Some have suggested that we’re cursed. Most that my dad did something to deserve this, that he’s lazy. But here’s the thing…my dad has had 55+ jobs in his life. And I sit here, looking over the extensive resume of a man who’s worked since 11 years old and…I don’t see a lazy man. I just don’t see it. Because I don’t think you can reasonably argue that anyone who’s had over 50 jobs is lazy unless you have a personal, strong dislike of that individual.
However… the older I get, the more I see God in the hard times. Beyond all the hurtful rumors, beyond all the hurtful struggles. I am always more than willing to express how bad it could feel to grow up in poverty–how much it could hurt. How much it could tear you down. But now I choose to see it as a strength. I like to think poverty was God’s way of bringing us to Himself. I see Him whispering, “Ah, not you, love. You won’t be like the others. I’m making something really beautiful.”
Different. But beautiful.
It was January of 1999 when we moved into a missionary’s home while he and his wife were abroad. My mom tried explaining to the man that we weren’t stable enough, but he assured her that it would be fine and that he wouldn’t charge us for 3 months until we got our feet on the ground. So we bit.
My dad quit selling for the cemetery in late 1998 and transitioned to a position as a parts man for a cabinetry shop. But for a family of 5, $1,200/month isn’t enough and my mom was struggling with anxiety over how the bills would get paid. A friend of my dad’s told him about a job selling cars where he would make $500/week for the first 8 weeks and then the company would transition him into full commission, which meant if he could sell 2 cars a week he could make $750-1,500/week.
And one thing you should know? My dad is a good salesman. He knows how to talk to people and he’s very down-to-earth. In his mind, this opportunity was the best bet at having a good life.
New job: check.
Place to stay: check.
Things were looking up, but then the snow globe was drop-kicked.
Six weeks into his new job, my dad was laid-off along with all the other new people because of a change within the company. And then my parents were late to pay April’s rent and were about to approach the missionary to tell him we couldn’t afford to stay there any longer. But he beat us to it and gave us a week to get out.
So we did. With that, another puzzle piece shifted into place: we were re-acquainted with the people whose church we would attend for 13 years. The pastor of that church knew our grandparents and allowed us to live in their camper. Mom and the three of us only stayed for 2 weeks, but my dad stayed there for the majority of that summer while working Home Depot and saving up. As for the rest of us, Mom placed a call and it was off to Michigan to stay with her dad for 2 months.
My grandfather lived in this small town in this large, Victorian-style blue house. He was this fascinatingly reserved person and it seemed that everything about him was gray, from his hair to his beard to his cat. I stayed in his spare bedroom while my brother and sister slept in the same bed as my mom.
That town, in my view, was magic. It was the sort of place where Fourth of July parades were held and a gas station also posed as an ice cream shop and the library was a block away. That summer was like something out of Huckleberry Finn in its ordinary beauty. We walked to the library often and after bath time, Mom read books to us. That was the summer I learned to ride a bike; that was the summer Anthony turned 5 and Dad sent him a Mickey Mouse watch; that was the summer we got a kitten and named her Snowflake; that was the summer I learned how to stand on my hands underwater. And to this day, there is a mirage of children’s paintings on an alleyed-brick wall that we made messy contributions to.
The only problem with that summer? I still missed my dad. #daddysgirl
By August we were back in South Carolina and everything was flipped upside-down. We were in a new church with new people. Anthony was in kindergarten and I was in 1st grade, so we attended the school attached to the family-operated church. Dad was still at Home Depot and worked a second job where he sold trailer parts. Then in late-August or the beginning of September, my dad was offered a job with a local heavy equipment organization. So he quit selling trailer parts and held onto his job at Home Depot.
Roughly ninety days later, my dad’s newest boss found out he was working two jobs and made my dad choose. He chose the more-steady income.
But a week later, that same boss who made him quit his other job fired him.
Mhm. The life we lead, people. The. Life. We. Lead.
By that point, 1999 was coming to an end and well…
Mama went back to work.