Do you appreciate what you have?
My teenage son came home the other day. He told his Mom and me that he needed some precooked pasta, zip lock bags, bread and some butter. “Huh? What do you need that for? Are you going to cook dinner??” we asked snickering a little. He calmly replied, “Yes for the homeless shelter downtown on Wednesday night.” We stopped snickering.
He told us that he volunteered with some other students from his school to prepare dinner at our local homeless shelter. We weren’t surprised, he always has been one to help others and wants to make a positive difference in people’s lives. He’s a natural leader and it shows in everything he does. I thought I’d share his story and the 3 lessons that him, my wife and I learned through his volunteer effort.
Lesson 1: Food is more expensive than he thought – especially when you are paying for it
Tuesday evening, we stopped off at the grocery store on the way home and picked up the supplies he needed. He paid for them out of his own pocket. He made it very clear that he wanted to pay for the supplies, not us. In doing so, he learned the first lesson: Grocery’s are expensive. Even though what he bought was very inexpensive (less than $13.00), it was expensive to him. I could see him doing the math in his head. He was calculating how much food must cost each day for us. A few seconds later he looks at me and says “Wow Dad, you and mom must spend a lot of money on food each month huh?”.
Now, the interesting thing is that I’ve told him before how much our food budget is: $1,100/month. So this was no surprise. I think the difference was that he paid for it using his own money. The $13.00 for dinner wasn’t just some number that floated in the air and was gone a few seconds later, but it was a number that hit him dead square in the pocket. It was a nights babysitting money for him. He not only heard it, he not only understood it, but he felt it.
That was my lesson, feeling it. Every financial lesson I learned, I learned because I felt it. The feeling of joy when seeing my 401k money grow taught me to contribute more. The feeling of hopelessness as I watched my credit card balance grow even though I was making payments taught me to never ever carry a balance again. The feeling of anger when at the end of the month I couldn’t pay a bill because I had carelessly spent all of the money on things I didn’t need. Learning about money and how we handle it, like many things, is all about feelings. Good feelings and bad feelings drive us in what we do and the choices we make.
Lesson 2: He likes to cook!
I arrived home around 5:30 on Wednesday evening and smelled boiling pasta. Being a complete pasta addict, I can smell pasta cooking a mile away. I walked into the kitchen, the pot boiling and my son standing beside it stirring away with a big smile on his face. “Check this out Dad, I’m cooking!” He seemed to really be enjoying himself. He was really excited he was actually cooking something and began to tell my wife and I how he felt confident he could cook a really good meal now and that he was really enjoying it”. It was funny, as cooking a meal and boiling some pasta are two very different things, but hey it was a start.
My wife has tried to get him interested in cooking before. He always acted like we were completely inconveniencing him and he never got into. Not sure what was different about this time, but he’s suddenly developed an interest in helping my wife cook and learning how to cook a few basic dishes. I would have never guessed he’d be interested, but I’m not complaining.
Lesson 3: We were all reminded that not everyone lives like us
Wednesday evening is traditionally date night for my wife and I. We’ve considerably cut our expenses over the past two years, but through all the cuts we hung onto our weekly date night. It’s an evening we look forward to. We love our 6 children dearly, but having an hour or two together one night a week we’ve found is very important. More important than the money saved. We decided to grab some dinner at a restaurant not too far from the shelter while my son did his volunteer work.
We headed out to the shelter around 6:30 and having never been there before, had a little trouble finding it. We eventually found our way. My son was supposed to be there by 6:45 as the shelter opened for the evening at 7:00pm. We were right on time. We had never been to this part of town. The houses were neat, but fairly old. Some were very run down, while others fairly nice considering. Most of the vehicles we saw were older less expensive model and generally not in very good condition. The people walking the streets looked poor and some even unhealthy. It was clearly obvious to us that this was a side of town very different than our own. What my son would learn that evening is that they may be poor in money, but were rich in spirit.
The students would be making spaghetti and garlic bread for the homeless in our small suburban town. As we pulled in, a few of the inhabitants for the evening were already waiting outside. We walked him in and a few students were already inside. He was greeted by a few friends, and immediately went to the kitchen. We walked out and within just the few minutes we were inside, the line outside had doubled. We got into my Eddie Bauer edition Expedition and drove off. I felt uncomfortable. Even though my vehicle only cost $5,500, it was much nicer than most around us. I felt guilty and felt bad that not everyone could have what we had.
As we ate dinner at the Lone Star steakhouse (which wasn’t very good by the way – we won’t be back) we talked about how, as we sat there eating a steak dinner, our son was feeding the homeless in our area a spaghetti dinner. It humbled us greatly and made us appreciate each bite and the job that I had that provided it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much we have. We often think we live a fairly humble and simple life compared to many that we know. Visiting the shelter reminded us that we live a life of luxury compared to many. It’s nice to be reminded of that sometimes.
The last time we were reminded of this was during our trip to Guatemala to bring our adopted daughter home. My son (then 11) and his younger brother (then 9) gave their Nintendo Gameboys to one of the men we befriended at the hotel. His 2 boys had wanted them for Christmas, but he couldn’t afford them. Without much thought at all, our boys gave him theirs to give to his children along with all of their games. Doing this was their idea. The man cried, we cried, our boys cried…It was incredibly emotional but rewarding experience.
We picked our son up at 8:00 as scheduled, and many of the shelters visitors for the evening had finished dinner and migrated to the sleeping area. As we drove home, my son told us how they had prepared and served the meal to the various homeless. All together around 20 people came and received a meal that evening all of them staying for the night as well. Our son proudly told us how he had tried to be social and both meet and talk to the various people having dinner. He was surprised at how nice and interesting the people were. They enjoyed talking to him and sharing stories with him. Then his eyes glazed up some as he told us of mother and her two children that came in to stay that evening. He had played with the kids and told us “I tried to play with the kids for a while and make them smile, at least for a few minutes. Mom, Dad…they looked so sad.” His story was heartbreaking, but my heart filled with pride. I sometimes wonder if we are doing a very good job raising him. When he shared this story, I knew we were right on track. He is such a good kid.
A few days later he told me that he still couldn’t stop thinking about them and that as he lay in bed each night, wondering if they were at the shelter or sleeping in the street somewhere. He said that he prayed for them each night. I told him how proud I was of him and that the memories of those children will keep him humble, contain his pride and ego and serve as a constant reminder to him of how he should appreciate everything around him.
Appreciate what you have
Regardless of where you are financially, how small your home may be, how much debt you may have, or how behind on your payments you might be don’t ever forget one thing: Someone, somewhere has it worse than you. Chances are, someone, somewhere has it far far worse than you. Maybe you are 3 months behind on your mortgage. Someone lost theirs today. Maybe you owe $20,000 in credit card debt. Someone owes $50,000. Maybe you had to eat macaroni and cheese for dinner as it was all you could afford. Someone didn’t eat dinner at all tonight.
As we here in America potentially enter probably one of the most scary and trying financial times since the great depression, don’t forget to appreciate what you have. Thank God for what he has provided you each and every day. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own life and forget how good we really have it compared to others in this world. There are people in countries around the world that have been living in times far worse and for far longer.
Need a reminder? Head to your local homeless shelter, orphanage, hospital, or safe house and volunteer. I promise, it will due the trick.
Photo by: Franco Folini
Do you appreciate what you have? Ever take things for granted? Share your story and thoughts. Add a comment!