My goal for this blog is to provide encouragement by sharing the lessons I’ve learned from my personal experiences. There are many people out there who through blogs, news articles, and video lectures spread messages they know nothing about. I’m not one of those. I’m not spouting common rhetoric. I’m not preaching an idealistic fairy tale. What I write, I’ve lived and learned from.
The message I want to communicate may have been sparked by the minimum wage debate, but it doesn’t favor one side or the other; it is centered on truth that both sides can apply to their own lives.
There is a phrase that often comes up in this debate, which I can relate to more than I’d care to admit. The phrase is “comfortable living," something I used to strive for. Over the years, however, I've become quite uncomfortable with the concept of “comfortable.” Not only is the definition of such a word decidedly subjective, I've come to identify comfort as the thief of action.
When we are comfortable, we tend to want to stay in that state and seldom pursue other things, whether it is to better ourselves or to care for others. Comfort can be paralyzing. It concerns me to hear people talking about it as if it were our ultimate goal.
Eight years ago, Eric and I were surprised with an unexpected pregnancy. I was a teacher and he was an engineer. Between our student loans and bad decisions, we had more debt than assets at the time. We didn’t even have a savings account. My pay then was equal to the proposed minimum wage rate, and my husband’s salary wasn’t much higher. Even so, we decided to keep the baby and that I would stay home with him. We knew it would be difficult, challenging, and even uncomfortable, but we believed it would be worth it.
Although we could barely make ends meet, we didn’t qualify for any type of assistance, so we had to be creative. We both became secret shoppers for a few retail stores. Eric got a job tutoring after work. I did freelance writing work online. Eric sold anything of value he owned, including our cars. He also cashed in everything he could at work, even wiping out his retirement account. He was able to switch his schedule to four 10s so that I could work one day a week as a substitute teacher. I became a couponing and recycling queen. We used the cheapest store brand of everything, and listen, when you’re a huge pregnant lady, using cheap soap and lotion feels like a huge sacrifice. We had pancakes for dinner more often than I’d care to remember. The list goes on and on and on.
Those days were rough. We experienced discomfort, but we also experienced God’s grace. I could write a book of all the unbelievable miracles we experienced during that time. The most unforgettable for me was the night we were taking an evening stroll and a neighbor saw my big belly. She asked me what was I having. When I told her I was having a boy, she lit up and said she had just had a little girl. She didn’t find out the gender until birth, though, and at her shower a few people brought boy gifts she didn’t know what to do with. She proceeded to go inside her house and bring me
Two arm loads of diapers, onesies, and all kinds of baby goodies. We ended up buying nothing for that baby. NOTHING! His crib, changing table, nursing chair, stroller, bouncer, jumper, breast pump, all of it was given to us!! ALL of it! We were cared for by our family, church family and community in an amazing way.
Still, there were days when I compared myself to my friends who did things better, who entered marriage debt-free, whose cars were paid for in cash, who had thousands in savings, and I felt sorry for myself. I saw my friends who could afford nice clothes, expensive gifts, vacations and trips, and I felt jealous. I wanted what they had. I worked so hard and sacrificed so much and I still couldn’t have what they had. Those thoughts were toxic.
As a home-schooling mom of three now, I still have to battle thoughts of comparison. My husband has progressed to a lead position at his company. His salary now surpasses both of our combined salaries from 8 years ago, yet we’re still paying off debt. We still shop clearance and use coupons. We still can’t take a real vacation. I still can’t shop like some of my friends do. I can’t decorate my house like some of my friends do. I don’t get to pamper myself like some of my friends do. But it doesn’t bother me anymore.
You see, somewhere along the way I learned that I was comparing myself to the wrong people. For every friend I have who gets to go on vacation twice a year, I have about 15 who can’t. For every friend who gets to wear fancy clothes, I have a bunch who are still rocking White Stag and Faded Glory from three years ago. Best of all, none care. We all love each other regardless. I’m happy with my journey. I’m happy for them in their journey. When I consider all that I have, compared to the people around the world who are truly in need, I realize that I’m rich. I don’t need to have as much as my friends do in order to be satisfied. I just need to be content with what I have. Of course, my personal worth doesn’t lie in my material possessions, but for the sake of the topic at hand, that is what I am referring to.
If you’re reading this and you feel like you’re not living comfortably, I encourage you to compare yourself to someone new. Perhaps a courageous person with disabilities who has to struggle every day to complete simple tasks you take for granted. A mother caring for a terminally ill child. A family living on the street in a third world country. Now, take a deep breath and let gratitude sink in.
Of course, it’s hard. Life is hard. But I want to tell you, even if I’m the first person to say it to you: You are amazing!!!! You can do hard things. You can choose to listen to the voices saying it’s hard and unfair and that people who have more should give you some of theirs and then wait OR you could listen to the voice saying you’re lazy and uneducated and a free loader who will never amount to anything.
Wait! I’m here to tell you those aren’t your only two choices. You don’t have to listen to any voices. You can decide for yourself what kind of future you want, find out what it takes to get there, and then tell yourself “I am amazing! I can do this!” Surround yourself with other like-minded people, people who neither hold you down with their pity, nor keep you down with their hate. People who truly want to better themselves. I believe that just like me, you will see miracles take place in your life. Just like me, you will have to make sacrifices, work hard and be uncomfortable. But, just like me, you will find a life more satisfying and rewarding than a merely comfortable life.