In Poverty and Wealth


tina osterhouse -in poverty and wealth.2

As a kid growing up, my family consistently lived in between the margins of financial frustration. We vacillated between not quite enough, and just enough to get by. Very rarely did we have anything that could be defined as overflow. My dad was a union carpenter who worked from dawn to dusk pounding nails in downtown Seattle. He’d come home most days and take a nap sprawled across his bed, boots still on, dust everywhere. After dinner, he’d train horses in the evening for extra money, because it was the one thing he loved to do.

My mom took care of us three girls and volunteered at the local church where she had recently discovered Jesus. She prayed and read her Bible like a pirate who’d finally found the lost treasure.

In the early years of her faith, she discovered a new way to approach financial stress. Before she became a Christian, the financial stress overwhelmed her. But with her newfound relationship with God, she discovered a secret that gave her a new kind of dignity. My mom learned how to pray. All of a sudden, she was no longer alone with my dad in their financial burdens. God was somehow in it with them, and offered to help them as they had need.

My mom learned how to claim the promises of God for herself and her family in such a way that she began to see everything we had, whether from hard work or from charity, as a gift from God, from whom all blessings flow. Someone would offer us hand-me down clothes and you’d think they were handing us a new wardrobe from Nordstrom. She would thank them with more enthusiasm than I know how to imitate, but mostly she’d thank God, whom she knew had heard her prayer and come through.

One year, we were more poor than usual, and someone sent us two gift cards for two-hundred dollars each to a nearby grocery store. A Bible verse about generosity and love was noted in the memo section of those gift certificates. My mother cried for a long time—and then received that gift with all the joy of a young child. It was the first time I’d ever grocery shopped with so much freedom. She said yes to everything I asked for and we filled our carts to overflowing.

Another year, one Christmas morning, when the presents underneath our tree were particularly barren, someone came to our door, and left us with laundry baskets filled with gifts.

Over and over, year after year, I watched God provide. I saw with my own eyes how much my mom grew in her faith as she leaned into that secret place of the Most High, the place of intimacy with God, the place we are all invited to discover.

Years went by, and as is true for so many of us, time and circumstances changed. The desperate financial situation ebbed and my mom has been in several seasons of financial stability. What I’ve noticed as I’ve watched her over the entirety of my life, is that what she learned early in her Christian faith took root. She sees everything as a gift from above. As a result, in her seasons of plenty she gives to others just as freely as she receives, and with heartfelt joy. She’d give you the coat off her back if you needed it. I’ve seen her do it.

My mother taught me well. At various times in my life, when poverty and hard times have come to my life, as they do for so many of us, I knew just what to do. I picked up odd jobs here and there to earn extra money, and I lived a life of daily prayer for provision. And God took care of me in overwhelmingly tender ways.

When I moved home from Chile, destitute and lower than I have ever been, God’s generosity toward me took on new levels. Some women from a church in Australia took an offering on my behalf and sent me a thousand dollars, which I used to buy a car. My dear friend invited me to live with her, and rearranged her entire house so that the kids and I would have a place.

That season of my life was one long lesson in learning how to be humbled and brought low, but not crushed—maintaining my dignity in the midst of painful poverty.

Now, I sit in a new season. I still have to wait for payday to buy Lucas a new pair of shoes, or to get a once-in-while manicure with Emma, but I don’t have to wait till payday to go grocery shopping. And that is amazing. Who knew that being able to go to the grocery store whenever one needs to, could be such a relief?

Don’t get me started on a college fund, but I figure we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, this new season of stability and rest gives me pause.

I thank God for all of the blessings that have flowed into my life, including the seasons of overwhelming need. Those seasons have done a deep work inside of me. I feel a strong assurance that God answers my prayers and will continue to answer them. I know how to pray for daily provision, and that is indeed a good thing to know how to do. But also, may I be like my mother, and realize that when a season of plenty comes, be it little or big, it is my turn to give out of that overflowing abundance, however long it lasts.

It’s my turn to be generous, and open-handed with love and kindness to whomever I see that has need, and give to them, as it has been given to me, pressed down, shaken together, full measure running over.