“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
It’s been on my heart to share how I survived when I had literal CENTS (and often a negative balance) in my account and a baby to feed. I want to share how I navigated my “desert/wilderness” season- a time period that lasted for about two years and pretty much came to a head in the summer of 2014. I recognize that season for what it was- my time for pruning- and now I can affectionately reflect on that time period and call Summer 2014 my “Faith Summer.” My Faith Summer was filled with low balances in my bank accounts, car troubles that pushed me to ride the bus, no money for the bus half the time, decreased public assistance for some reason, and late bills. You may ask, “How in the world can you remember such a time “affectionately?“
I really did learn how to be content, that kind of content described above in Philippians 4:13- I was content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether we lived in plenty or in want. I did all this through Jesus who gave me strength. You see, I learned firsthand that God really had our backs. My daughter and I never missed a meal, we had fun, and I saw God perform miracles in my life. Literally, He provided for me through family members, bus drivers, teaching me lessons, and just plain providing when there was no other explanation!
I think it is so easy to talk about contentment today- we know why we should be content, but no one really mentions the how.
How can you be content when you don’t have any cash to speak of, you feel alone, you can’t take your kids to do cool things, you barely have food on the table, your kids barely have clothes, and you just wish you could spruce up your house?
First, be thankful for what you do have (Ephesians 5:20). Second, don’t worry about what you don’t have (Matthew 6:31). Third, learn to love where you are and what you have and get creative with what you’ve got! Below are my suggestions about each area I learned to be content in!
How Can I Be Content When I Don’t Have Food on the Table?
- Food Pantry– Whether at a church, a local organization such as the one I went to (Toco Hills Community Alliance), United Way, Salvation Army, you name it- you can find food! These organizations may also offer rent assistance, utility assistance, or even fare for public transportation!
- Public Assistance– Sis, you have to suck up that pride and go ask for help! This season will not last forever, but in the midst of it you need to get help. Visit your local welfare office. In Georgia, the offices are called Department of Family and Children Services. Be sure to bring the appropriate paperwork with you upfront so that way you will not be delayed in getting help. Don’t look down your nose or scoff at assistance- erase the stereotypes from your mind and go do the right thing.
How Can I Be Content When My Kids Don’t Have Clothes on Their Back?
1. Shop smart– You can get good quality clothing for dollar store prices (I’m talking $10 or less). I will say that again: You can get good quality clothing for dollar store prices. Let that truth sink in. You don’t have to be a coupon maven (although I’m sure that is helpful)- all you need is a little patience. I shop at J.Crew, Zara, Baby Gap, Old Navy, Carter’s, OshKosh B’Gosh, H&M and lots of other places for my daughter and pay dollar store prices by waiting for their sales! I’m talking the sales that happen when the seasons change, sales where they give you huge percentages off from already marked-down items, etc. So, you could have paid for a J.Crew top for $50 but you can get it for maybe $7 or so if you wait it out long enough! Not that labels matter, but I like the quality that comes with it because I know they will last a long time.
2. Dress smart– I want Raegan’s clothes to last a long time because I am going to use them for years. Yes, years, even at this age when they are growing fast. For example, I bought an over-sized cardigan for Rae when she was about 4 months old and she wore it until she was 2. When I see a good priced item (again, to me that’s $10 or less) I really brainstorm to see if I can use it in some way. I bought a shirt sized 3t for my daughter when she was about 7 months old and used it as a dress. When she grows out of her dresses, I slap some shorts or jeans under them and now the dress is a shirt! You see the red “shirt above” with black leggings on in the collage below? That was her first Christmas dress and I turned it into a shirt. When her pants become too short for her, BOOM they are now capris. If something is a little too large, I will roll the sleeves up and make it work! You can see the rolls in almost all her clothes in the collage above.
3. Have no shame- You guys, we have got to be set free from chasing labels, especially for children who will tear it up or stain it in a matter of minutes. With that being said, there is NO SHAME in my game when I waltz right up into Walmart, Target, or wherever else and find some really cute items! For example, I either make or buy Rae’s hairbows (see the white one above in her hair) from Walmart (they’re exactly $1 for the large ones I like). The little red flats in the picture collage above? I bought those for no more than $5 from a hair store. The cheetah print cardigan she’s wearing in the collage above was from Walmart. The little black “Chanel” purse she has in her hands in the top left photo of both collages above? On sale at Target for $5. She’s wearing a black-grey scarf in the first photo collage- I got that from the dollar rack at Target for $3.
You can also shop at consignment/resale shops like Once Upon a Child. You can sell your kids’ old clothes and you can buy gently used clothes as well. Sometimes they are a little bit overpriced to me for stuff that is used, but I do like how much I can sell her clothes for. I have paid BILLS with the money I got from Once Upon a Child. I once heard someone say that “it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it.” While I don’t agree with that statement in all contexts, it’s definitely helpful here.
4. DIY anything– Literally, you can DIY a bunch of stuff if you have the spare time. I am very particular about what kinds of clothes I like- this applies to both Raegan and myself. With that being said, if I want a certain look and I can’t find it, I will most likely make it. Thus, I will make her hairbows out of spare ribbon. If we receive a gift and it has ribbon wrapped on it, chances are you will see that ribbon again in her hair or in her clothes. Raegan was invited to a birthday party that was kind of Kentucky derby styled, so I made her a fascinator (the small little white hat on her head in the collage above) using fake flowers and a glue gun. I like to make her jewelry as well! If you like to be creative and like crafts, I encourage you to try to this out!
How Can I Be Content When I Live in a One-Bedroom Apartment with My Kid and I Haven’t Bought New Furniture in YEARS?
Ok, so you may not have any money to run out and just buy new stuff when you are tired of your furniture! You may have to keep sacrificing until you are in a different place. In the meantime, we can spruce up what we have! I encourage you to head over to Pinterest and see if there are any DIY kind of projects you can do at home! I rented my apartment throughout law school, so I couldn’t just throw some paint on the wall or do other kind of drastic changes. BUT, I did learn about electrical tape! I used it to make stripes and dots on the walls in our bedroom (Rae and I shared a room)! I also used electrical tape and gold duct tape on my washer and dryer to make them a little more attractive! Both kinds of tape didn’t leave any residue on the wall or the appliances, so I was pleased with that (but make sure your appliances and walls can handle it!).
I also developed a liking for painting! I bought some cheap paint, converted my daughter’s crib to a daybed, and make it a pretty pink and gold color for her. I painted her easel and play kitchen the same. Lastly, I really liked an idea where you made silhouettes of each state you have lived in- it came from one of my favorite blogs (can you tell she’s my soul sister- she’s a lawyer lol). I made Ohio, Virginia, and Georgia for the states Raegan and I have lived together (although I have lived in 10 states and traveled in nearly all states). See if any of these ideas resonate with you- they helped me to see that what I had was already good.
How Can I Be Content When I Can’t Take My Kid to Do Fun Things?
- Free Mommy and Me Classes– I started researching different activities and classes to do with Raegan when she was a little over a year old. I could not afford a lot of activities, but that just meant I would stalk out the “free” activities. So, for example, Atlanta Ballet offered an open house featuring a free class, so I took Raegan there to participate. Although we haven’t gone yet, I know that Gymboree offers their first class free. I also looked into classes at the local library!
- Free Outdoor Movie Nights-A lot of cities play free movies for the public during the summer! They will set up huge movie screens and play films, and oftentimes they will serve free snacks like popcorn and cotton candy! I used to go to the showings at Atlantic Station and over at Emory Point. Bring a blanket or a towel and have a fun movie night with your family!
- Splash pads/Parks– These really grew in popularity back when Rae was a wee one and I still see quite a bit of them. Guess what? They are all free. I took Raegan to the Fountain of Rings at Centennial Olympic Park and it was very fun for us both! She enjoyed the water and I enjoyed the water show they put on four times a day! We also went to the splash pad in historic Old Fourth Ward and they had a really nice park. Parks are getting cooler and cooler looking, and safer too, so head out and have free fun!
- Chalk– This seems so old school, but really it was fun with her since everything was so new and exciting to her one and a half year old mind at the time! She really liked the crown I drew her.
- Indoor camping/forts– The bottom right photo is of us camping out in our living room. I put up sheets and Christmas lights and we just watched DVDs and made s’mores on the stove. This can be done at any time of the year!
- Picnics– Pack up some sandwiches, waters, chips in a little plastic bag and grab an old town or blanket! We picnicked in Piedmont Park very often for dinner- it was a great time to just sit and talk with her. I really believe her little mind was soaking up everything and learning so much just be observing the nature and people around us anytime during the year.
- Christmastime fun– I never had enough money to do much during Christmastime- the end of the semester meant low morale and low account balances. BUT, that didn’t stop us from getting out and walking around shopping centers that were decorated so nicely for Christmas. A huge Christmas tree is hung up every year in Atlantic Station, so we head there and take photos in front of the tree. And, you know what? It saves me time and money spent taking photos elsewhere. We visited a Christmas tree farm in Buckhead and we also watched people ice skate at Atlantic Station.
- Board games & puzzles– Board games and puzzles were always a fun activity my parents did with me when I was young, so I continue that tradition with my daughter. I got the board games above when she was about 18 or 19 months old because she understood how to play them at the time. Try age-appropriate or development-appropriate games for your kids!
- No cable? No Netflix? No problem! – DVDs. They are about $5 at Walmart, so you can pick up one or two and have entertainment at home with no worries! This is also a good option because you can control what they see- sometimes the cartoons on major cable networks can be inappropriate.
- Trips to PetSmart in place of the zoo and aquarium– Don’t laugh! Listen, the zoo and the aquarium can be really expensive. So, I would take Raegan over to PetSmart and we would look at all of the pets there. It’s just like the zoo to an 18 month old and she still marveled at all of the animals there.
- Trips to the Library– You can’t go wrong here: official story-times done by library staff, learning how to find books, or just sitting quiet and reading tons of books to your little one are all good things!
- Museums– Many museums offer free admission on certain days or all the time! Do a little research and see where you can go!
- Farmers Market– This is more recent, but I really like to take Raegan to the DeKalb Farmers Market just to look around! They have so many amazing foods there from all over the world. Raegan really liked looking at all of the fishes and different fruits! What’s even better is that they accept SNAP/EBT cards!
- Going for a run– I invested in a jogging stroller and used it for a really long time. I did quite a bit of research before I found one that fit my budget and my fitness goal- I wanted to run several miles at a quick pace. Thankfully, Raegan loved when we would go on runs! She would even yell “Faster, mommy!” and it really pushed me to go faster! Oftentimes, she would fall asleep and nap while I would log a few miles. You are killing two birds with one stone- quality time with your munchkin while taking care of yourself!
I know it’s hard. I really do. But, trust me, you can and you WILL get through this time period. That’s not even a question. The real question is-
Will you look around you and say “Man, I don’t have this, or that, we can’t do this, or go there,” or will you say, “You know what, I’m going to buckle down and enjoy what I have. It’ll take some humility, creativity, and patience, but I will be content with my portion”?
God met my needs in many ways, and other times He showed me that I needed to be humbled- I wasn’t lacking in many areas and I should have been thankful for everything. It was in this time that my faith really grew and I pray that yours will grow too if you’re in the wilderness.
If I could learn to be content in my rough season, you can, too, by His grace.