“If you want to know how rich you are, find out how many things you have that money can’t buy.”
I firmly believe that money is the root of all evil. However, it’s also what makes the world go ’round. We’re constantly at its mercy, and it’s up to us to decide who we want to be when it gives us the choice.
When I was in 17, my family and I lost everything. Our money, our home, our business, our belongings – all of it. I had grown up extremely comfortable until this point, and I didn’t know any other way. I always had nice things, new clothes to wear, went on fun vacations, and never went without anything. I was always taken care of. As a kid, I thought money grew on trees, and I was always waiting at the bottom with a rake.
I never saw myself as materialistic, but looking back, it was clear that I was headed down that path. I loved everything I had and was miserable when it was gone. It was all I had ever known. I wish I could say that I was graceful in the aftermath of our downfall, but I wasn’t. I tried to handle our current situation with as much maturity as I could muster, but it wasn’t easy. I felt like a fish ripped right out of water, and I was in shock. But when the shock wore off, I was able to feel other things. I was angry. I was scared. I was confused. I was heartbroken. The second that hard times came and knocked us down, it felt like the end of the world. It wasn’t…but it was the end of my world. The end of everything I had ever been accustomed to. I had no idea that everything was about to change – including the course of my life.
Once the first domino fell, they all came crashing down. Before, I had been a teenager trying to stay afloat and live my life as normally as I could. Go to school, hang out with friends, and be a regular kid (as regular as I was going to get, anyway.) I was in my senior year of high school and just wanted to fit in…but the universe was dead set on making me stand out. One minute I was living in a beautiful house with nice things and the family that I loved, and the next I was sleeping in other peoples homes and putting my belongings in boxes. I was uprooted from the life I knew, moved farther away from school, lost a lot of my friends due to my emotional downward spiral, became careless about my grades, grew distant from my family, and felt completely and utterly alone. How had things changed so quickly? What was going to happen to us? I had no idea what lied ahead, and that was terrifying.
For the next few years, we struggled. My mom worked her butt off for my brother and I, making sure we were well taken care of with a roof over our heads. We eventually got a place of our own, and although it was really hard, we were okay. We always had food on the table, and we were safer than we’d been in a long time. I had already had a job for a few years, so I started to use my paychecks on my own clothes and food so that I didn’t have to ask for much. I went from trying to get out of every work shift I was scheduled and blowing my paychecks (in one day) on gas station snacks, to picking up extra shifts and putting money away for later. In doing this, I became more independent and responsible…two traits that in another life, I might never have acquired.
I never could have imagined I would be saying this, but I am so thankful. I’m thankful for the struggle and the sacrifices; thankful for the heartache and the losses. Without them, I never would have found out that money really can’t buy happiness.
Going through that changed who I was, and I’m so grateful that it did. I’m now 26, and I can honestly say that what we experienced had a huge impact on my life today. I don’t need material things to make me happy. I appreciate everything I have, everything I’m given…and most importantly, everything I earn. I work hard for the things I want, I don’t expect to be handed anything in life, and I take nothing for granted. I not only understand the importance of a dollar, but I also know how to stretch one when necessary. I learned to stay humble, and remember that what you have can be taken away at any time. I learned to give back when I can, because you never know when someone is fighting a battle you can’t see – I’ve been there. I learned how to efficiently save money, and I’m now the master at it. I also learned that, to my grave disappointment, money trees do NOT exist. Although, money is made from paper. Paper is made from trees. So really…is the idea that far-fetched? I’m going to keep my rake, just in case.
Because of everything I’ve learned, I’m already teaching my son to appreciate what he has. I plan to teach him how to earn his way, and that he won’t get anything handed to him on a silver platter. I want him to not only say “thank you”, but to really mean it. He’s going to learn to work hard for everything he gets in life, and one day, he’ll appreciate those lessons…just as I do now.
I am not what I buy. I’m not the clothes I wear or the car I drive. I’m not a big house, lavish vacations or fancy dinners. I’m not stuff. I’m a woman, wife, and mother – one who works hard, who has been blessed in life (despite the hardships), and who always remembers to be thankful for everything that comes my way.
We lost so much during that time, but I think we also lost ourselves too. And I think it took rising from the ashes to find ourselves again, and come out being better than we were before.
John Green wrote “What’s the difference between who you are and what you have? Maybe nothing.”
…or maybe everything, John. Just something to think about.
That part of my life – OUR life – was the hardest I’ve ever been through. I never thought we would make it through to the other side…but we did. What we lost in material things, we gained in strength, independence, life experiences and cherished moments – and those things can’t be bought.
Lesson learned: We lost our money…we did not lose everything.