There but for the Grace of God...

December 16, 2009


My family was a receipient of a lot of charity during my childhood. We were poor. Powdered mild, peanut butter and cheese from WIC were staples for the first six years of my life. My parents had a plan, one that certainly didn't include five kids, but it fell apart. Dad had polio as a child and was told he was sterile as a result. Mom got pregnant during their honeymoon. Then mom went on birth control and proceeded to get pregnant three more times, while on the pill. True story. So, dad got a vasectomy, which they found out had corrected itself when mom turned up pregnant with baby number five. You can imagine the tension in the house as that situation evolved.

Dad was in the navy, but was medically discharged when it was discovered, 2 years into the gig, that he was color blind. Mom was in nursing school at the time. Dad got a job working a machine in a factory. Then he got a second job making and delivering pizzas at night. Then he got a third job doing handiman and painting projects on the weekends. Mom finished nursing school and started working at the local nursing home. Dad gave up the job at the pizza joint.

They were good, hard working people, doing everything possible to support their family.

When our pastor showed up at the door on Christmas Eve when I was seven, with hand me down bikes that had been donated and fixed up by memebers of the church, it surely wasn't expected. But it was appreciated. When the ladies aide got together and made a blanket for each of us children, it wasn't expected, but we loved those blankets, still have them, infact. When bags of clothes would appear on the front porch, filled with cast offs from the older girls and boys at church, we'd put on impromtu fashion shows and make our selections with excited anticipation. When boxes of groceries, containing foreign foods like Count Chocula cereal and Chef Boyardee, found their way into our kitchen, we thought we were having gourmet feasts.

We were poor, and we knew it. We knew it, but we didn't own it or really even comprehend it, because it wasn't a condition that had anything to do with us. We were kids. We accepted what we had, because it was all we knew. Did we have wants that weren't met? Sure. But we never had needs that weren't met. Mom and Dad worked their fingers to the bone to enusre that.

So, when these gifts, this charity, would show up on our doorstep, we were astounded. It was a surprise every time. It was exciting. It was like magic. Not an expected or anticipated part of our existance, but a little miracle every time it happened.

Here's something else it was for us. A learning experience. We learned first hand what the generosity of the human spirit can do for a child, a family. When we were finally old enough to understand that the giving was charity, we felt humbled. Our church family was not an affluent one. But they took care of their own. They nurtured us.

Consequently, all of us kids are givers in one way or another. Soup kitchens, adopt a family, battered women's shelters, Children's Hospital, Habitat for Humanity... the list goes on. We have first hand knowledge about the joy and sense of community a little charity can offer a child. It says, We see you. We care about you and your well being. You're worth our time and effort. You belong.

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