By Reba Phelps
When you are an adolescent you will go to extraordinary lengths just to fit in and feel like you belong. To most children there is nothing worse than standing out from your peers. When I was growing up, I was no different. I wanted to blend in with my surroundings and appear as if I were the exact same as everyone else in my class.
But, I wasn’t the same. As much as I tried to deny it and hide it…. I was raised very poor. There is no way to sugarcoat it or put a spin on it. I was poe.
My siblings and I were always on free lunch and didn’t graduate to reduced lunch until we entered high school and my father surrendered to the ministry.
All of my friends, on the other hand, always seemed to pay extra for their lunch. Or least in my eyes they did. They always had extra recess money and did not mind sharing with me. Sometimes I would say I left my money at home, but they knew. Nonetheless, they always shared.
My friends also seemed to always be adorned in name brand clothes that did not come from a garage sale or the clearance rack. I was always comparing myself so I noticed when others had plenty and I had very little. I would recognize when someone had an extravagant Christmas or a large birthday party and I would constantly feel ashamed while talking about my meager presents.
I had even been known to lie on occasion about what type of clothes I had at home that my parents wouldn’t allow me wear out of the house. I didn’t say I was good liar. I just fibbed constantly trying to seem wealthier than I was.
The most peculiar thing was that I distinguished wealth by how much kids paid for their lunch. If someone paid full price for school lunch I just assumed they had stacks and stacks of gold bricks at home. If someone paid reduced lunch fees then I still knew they were richer than me. You can tell I obviously overthought things from a very young age.
I can remember going to the grocery store with my mother and being tickled (and somewhat embarrassed) at how she was so strategic with her coupons and her green stamps. Sometimes each child would have their own buggy and coupons if the sales were limited to a certain number of items per transaction. We would leave with free dishes and food for a month for as little as ten dollars. If there was one thing being poor taught me it was that you can get by with much less than you think.
They say that being poor builds character but you never feel like you are building anything when you are in the midst of poverty. It took me many years to realize that we were poor but still had a home and parental love and support. Poverty was just the balance in our checkbook but not the value of the love in our family.
I was also too foolish to even understand that my friends liked me regardless of the brand of my clothes or how much disposable allowance money I had in my pockets. I didn’t realize until I was much older that there is more to someone’s soul than the price they are willing to pay for their lunch or their clothes.
While God has blessed me tremendously, I can honestly say that I no longer compare my earthly treasures to those of others. I firmly believe I was raised poor for a reason and I do believe that God purposefully created in me a heart that will always to help provide for others, cheer for the underdog and celebrate other’s blessings, victories and successes.
God has the biggest sense of humor….I spent so many years being ashamed of free lunches and now in my professional years I will always attend meetings if there is a free lunch involved. If there is free food, my friends and I will be there. I will always, without fail, throw my business card in a fish bowl in hopes of winning that free lunch.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”