Updated: Sep 19
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Dalai Lama
My earliest memories are of sleeping in the car with my mom, dad and little sister. I was about 3-4 years old, and we would go between living in the car, and motels when we could. My basic needs were met, and I thank God for that, but I am also grateful we were never homeless again. It's still a fear of mine. Before I started Kindergarten, we'd moved into an apartment. We were poor, but not homeless. We are all shaped by our earliest memories, ones we can narrate, and ones we were too young to put words to--we carry those in our spirit, too. Poverty impacts people in lasting ways.
I remember: I hated feeling poor. I use the word feeling instead of being because I remember my younger sister going with the flow. She didn't mind that we shopped at Payless, whereas, I'd rather wait until Summer each year when I knew my mom would have a little more money to get us a nicer pair of shoes. Being poor didn't seem to be on her radar. I was embarrassed that we were on food stamps, that when we checked out at the store, everyone could see it. And this shame that I felt, I can't even pinpoint where it came from. How does a toddler feel such a deep sense of shame? Maybe it's because we were struggling and no one talked about it, no one tried to reframe it so I could make meaning of it. Maybe it's because I was blessed with opportunities to see a different way of life. My 5th and 6th grade teacher would reward us for excellent work. There was a time when she took me and one or two other students to the movies, another time when we went to Color Me Mine, etc. In hindsight, I'm thankful my mom even allowed me to go; she didn't have to, but maybe that was her way of giving me more.
So this laid the foundation for my relationship with money and this idea that having money creates happiness. Dave Ramsey teaches us that contentment is the most important money principal. Boy, is he right! It seems like everyone around me has more of it. Maybe they do. Maybe they're better stewards of their money. Maybe I think too much--highly likely! A couple of my closest friends have graciously helped me out when I've been in a serious jam. I have a couple girl friends who always pay before I even get a chance to pull my card or cash out. I've thought to myself: I can't be as good a friend to them because I can't do things for them that require money. I don't want to downplay the ways in which my friends bless my life; they are there for me far beyond the examples I've given for the purpose of this post.
I have a heart to give. I want to give. Then, the Holy Spirit reminds me that I can give, and I do give. I give compassion. One of my favorite scriptures reads: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God [2 Corinthians 1]. While those early experiences may have caused me to struggle in my relationship with money and a false sense of happiness, they also cultivated compassion within me, and that's invaluable. In case you're ever feeling like you have nothing to give because you don't have money, here's a fun way to remember what you can give. No matter your budget, you can make anyone feel like a STAR:
Smile: A smile is infectious--the good kind; better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn't smile back [Unknown]. Smiling releases happy chemicals into your brain. Think yourself happy, and even if the other person doesn't smile back, maybe they'll catch it by osmosis. Ha!
Time: The true currency of life is time, not money, and we've all got a limited stock of that [Robert Harris]. Stop saying you're busy. We're all busy. Sometimes better late than never actually never happens. Sometimes it is, in fact, too late. We should make the time we have meaningful through relationship. Take the opportunity to smile first, to call first, to forgive first, to rush less and slow down. We should make it a point to go volunteer somewhere, catch up with friends as often as we can, date our spouses, play with our kids, and to just plain be there.
Appreciation: Showing appreciation for who someone is and not merely what they do for us is powerful, especially in a time when so many people feel they are not enough, in a time when it's so easy to get caught up in the comparison game, so easy to feel down on ourselves. It's nice to let people know we notice them. We see them. We need to acknowledge them. One way I love to do this is by sending greeting cards in the mail--a simple Thank You, Thinking of You, etc. I love, love, love receiving greeting cards! There's something so warm and fuzzy about opening the mailbox and seeing an envelope, ripping it open to find a card someone took the time to read, assign to me, possibly add a personalized message to, sign, seal and have delivered to me. One time my mom gave me a bracelet with a cross on it, and she just had to tell me it was from the Dollar Store. I could care less. The gift itself let me know she knows me, she pays attention to who I am and what I like. Priceless.
Respect: A person's a person, no matter how small. Dr. Seuss was so wise! Don't trip; I'm not about to get religious or political. It breaks my heart to see people who are homeless, mentally ill, unkempt, etc. being treated harshly. My brother, who passed away toward the end of last year, suffered from a chronic mental illness. I will see my brother in the faces of many more people throughout my life, and they will get my respect. I hate to think that people probably mistreated my brother, people who didn't even have to grow up afraid of him, or have to deal with the feelings of loss around that relationship long before he passed away. Still, he deserved love and respect. And with those people in our lives we have healthy relationships with, let's not get lazy and take them for granted. Let's show them respect, too. Respect as in: Common courtesy. For example: RSVPing when requested; not showing up tardy for the party with no warning or explanation; picking up the phone to call and congratulate them instead of a text--something I can be guilty of. Respect as in: Giving space when they need it. Respect as in: Show up when they need us to.
Each and every person on this Earth is a star in their own right, so treat them like one with a Smile, [your] Time, Appreciation and Respect. Even the worst person you can think of is someone's daughter, someone's son. The way you rock your babies to sleep at night and think of how precious they are, all your hopes and dreams and prayers for them, someone probably rocked them the same way. And how much more should we regard the people we call friends and family with compassion.
When I was pregnant with Nasir, my oldest daughter told her grandmother I was craving her Nigerian soup. Her grandmother called me the next day, less than 24 hours later, to let me know my soup was ready for pick-up. When I stopped by to get the soup, I told her I didn't expect her to make it so soon. I know she works night shifts. She's always going, always giving of herself. Her response was, with a smile on her face and in her voice, "Why not?! I know what it's like to be pregnant!" I balled my eyes out in the car that day. She treated me like a star.
Jennifer J. Jones