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My Take: Being poor on Christmas
December 17th, 2011
11:59 PM ET

My Take: Being poor on Christmas

Editor's Note: Tangela Ekhoff is an inspirational speaker, comedy performer and ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. She blogs about marriage, motherhood and life in Oklahoma at Homegirl on the Range.

By Tangela Ekhoff, Special to CNN

(CNN) - For my husband and me, the crown jewel of success as parents is the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning. It’s enough to breach the dams in my eyes. Every year, my husband (the better shopper) picks one big-ticket gift for our boys, the one we call “the Showstopper!”

The Showstopper is the present that is either No. 1 on their wish list or the one they didn’t even know they wanted, until they make confetti of the shiny paper that conceals the happiness wrapped inside. The Showstopper is THE gift. It’s so awe-inspiring that it causes an intermission to present-opening and signals the point when the boys forsake all other gifts to play with the Showstopper. Last year, it was Chuck the Talking Dump Truck.

This year, there will be no Showstopper.

I wish I could say we are avoiding the Showstopper out of solidarity for Americans who are too poor to afford Christmas. I wish we were that socially conscious. This year, the Showstopper will not be part of the Ekhoff family Christmas, because this year, we are the poor.

We moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to my husband’s childhood home of Owasso, Oklahoma, with high hopes and great expectations for opportunity. It is not going as well as we hoped. We have applied for several hundred jobs between us. I was rejected for a job at a chicken restaurant. I am from Alabama. I was born with a frying pan in one hand and a hunk of lard in the other. I’m still mad about not getting that job.

In a former life, my husband was a computer technician. In this life, he slings pizza, rakes leaves, shovels snow, cuts grass and bakes cakes, but it still is not enough money to pay for basics, let alone any utility bills. I use both of my worthless college degrees as microfiber cloths to fight grime as a house cleaner, and out here in Oklahoma, people are not as willing to pay for this service as they are in the South. I speak publicly and perform comedy, but gigs are harder to come by than we originally anticipated.

We thought the move to Oklahoma would turn it all around and send us sashaying back into our middle-class life. Instead, it has given us the final shove into the abyss of poverty. For us, 2011 has been the Worst. Year. Ever.

This is also the first year in the history of our family that we will not buy gifts for some unknown poor child as part of an Angel Tree project. Every year, we would buy hats, socks, mittens, jackets and/or toys for some poor child.

This year, at some church or business in our town, there are two construction paper Christmas stockings hanging on an Angel Tree with our sons’ wish list printed on them. This year, our sons are “those poor kids.” This year, if there is a Showstopper, it will not be purchased by us but by a generous, anonymous individual or family with the means to help us, the underprivileged family.

On the Christian calendar, the season leading up to Christmas is known as Advent. During Advent, Christians pray and light candles to remind us to wait expectantly and prepare for the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ. This year, Advent is more meaningful to me than ever. This year, our family has lost so much, and I continually pray for a miracle. As our family awaits the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we anticipate and long for a better world not just for us but for others who suffer in the “new” economic reality: poverty.

My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially. Yes, it’s selfish. I am grateful the Angel Tree project is available to provide my children and hundreds of children in my town with presents this Christmas. But, selfishly, I pray that next year there will be no Angel Tree. My husband and I are both intelligent and hard-working. We want nothing more than to provide for our children.

As we struggle with the new normal, we pray (yes, selfishly) that during this Advent, as we wait for Jesus’ light to shine upon the world, that a sliver of that miraculous light will shine on our little family. Like a child anticipating the rapturous joy of opening presents on Christmas morning, I hold on to my faith and anticipate a rebirth, a renewal, a restoration for our family.

I expect a miracle. And in this season of Advent, miracles happen every single day.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tangela Ekhoff.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Christmas • My Take

soundoff (1,294 Responses)
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  3. Melissa

    I am right there with you! I'm a single mom to a 15yo daughter and this is the slimmest picken's we've ever experienced. On top of no gifts, the check engine light came on in my car yesterday – and there's no money to go get it looked at and then fixed – it just had a $720 repair last month. I too am praying for a miracle – the car is what keeps me able to go to work and school. We have passed the end of our financial rope. I am a Christian, full-time employed, and back in college 40 yr old woman. I've got a lot going for me. Still money is hard to come by and their are many needs. In spite of the lack of funds, we are experiencing the joy of Christmas – but to say that joy isn't tinged with some serious worries and real concerns would be a lie.

    December 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Bob

      Break the chains. Be free of religion and other foolish supersti-tions for 2012 and beyond. God will never help you and never has, so leave religious belief behind.

      Break free from religion.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      December 31, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  4. deafsinger

    Love to read Tangela's Blog posts. She is constantly making others laugh during difficult times , bringing humor inside difficult situations. Today's post was not meant to entertain , but to illustrate what it's like to be a normal family with 2 children who have been able to provide for themselves & their children as well as contribute to charities until recently. It ,made Tangela & her family feel good to help others..picking a child from the Angel Tree gave them joy ... Joy to help another have a good Christmas with warm socks & a coat . that Joy has been removed from the family & now her children are the ones on the Angel tree. She's not asking for pity , she not asking for a handout ..she's writing to help illustrate to others that this can happen to anyone, she's prayerful that things will turn around so they may be able to once again be gainfully employed & provide for their family. By mentioning the Showstopper present ... she illustrates that 1 gift is bought to be shared by her 2 sons encourages sharing . No showstopper this year means things will be different , but Tangela is not encouraging nor did she have huge showy Christmases in the past .Normal like most of us . I seriously doubt that Chuck the Talking Truck was a high ticket item ... it was a spectacular play truck that talked. For those of you on here saying they should have saved their money , or they overspent ... get a grip . they were normal , now like many they are unemployed . the Miracle Tangela is waiting for is to be once again gainfully employed . they want jobs & as bad as it has been .. It will take a miracle for new jobs to be available.
    Y'all back off of Tangela , she's as good as they come !

    December 22, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  5. Admin

    Having not read the other comments on this article; I struggle with the author's "woe is us" mentality and then at the end stating that she is waiting on Jesus to come and provide a miracle. If your miracle is wishing/wanting for some "showstopper" gift or toy then that is no miracle. Be thankful that you have Angel Tree to turn to. My wife and I have no children so there is no where to turn. We desperately need a better car and no way to get one. This year alone I've faced a near death infection and major surgery not to mention financial crisis, stress and huge issues at the church I serve and the author is worried about having a showstopping gift for their children. Give me a break. This is part of what's wrong in America. Appreciate what you have. Be thankful you have children, some of us are unable. Teach them the value of family and love. Make Christmas cards together, sing together, teach them that Christmas is not about material things at all but it is all about Jesus who was born into the poorest of poor conditions. My King was born in a barn and you're worried about getting your kids the latest gizmo or gadget that will "stop the show."

    December 22, 2011 at 4:24 am |
  6. Barbara

    A person can say they are hurting financially and wishing things were different, without at the same time negating the needs of those who are worse off.

    December 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  7. just helping out

    Give him the benefit of the doubt, let's see where he's going with this.

    December 20, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Montgomery Son

      First of all, I grew up in The Gump and left that place as soon as I was on my own. I will not go as far as saying that it is a dump like most people, but will say that it is what it is. Life is what you make it rather you are rich, middle class, or poor. Second, I do not believe in or advocate the celebration of what is an obvious Pagan celebration. The origins have nothing what so ever to do with the birth of Jesus at all. So I propose a question that I answered for myself many years ago: Why make such a big deal about a lie that is used to make rich people richer anyway? What upsets me most is that people seek some validation from all of this. If you have money and gifts, then it is a good Christmas. If you’re poor, broke, and jobless, then it is a bad Christmas. I think the author of this blog really needs a check up from the neck up. This also goes to all of you that celebrate this “holiday.” Not trying to insight a theological debate but let us take time to think out of the box. I challenge any of you Christians to show me one verse in your book that Jesus says to celebrate his birthday. I also challenge the author to realize that there is always someone in this world that is worse off that her There are people that have no shoes on their feet but are grateful that they have their feet, no feet but happy they have hands......etc. Our society is so brain washed is this isn’t helping. If you are such a heart warming Christian, then why are you ( the author) even writing a "poor me" story? You are more than welcome to respond....I DARE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 21, 2011 at 5:56 am |
  8. Syn

    I can feel for this family. My wife and our three kids were there just last year. I have a B.S. in computer engineering and my wife was working as an account clerk for a local business. well we both lost our jobs due to the economy and moved from Sandiego to washington state for a fresh start. It took nearly a year before we were both employed again. Even with my degree I spent the better part of a year asking if you would like frys with that before I found suitable employment. So to say people are only poor because they choose to be is down right ignorant.

    December 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  9. KCRick

    Jesus said: "blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth." Nothing more needs to be said, but a lot of action is required.

    December 20, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Actually, it's blessed are the meek. Meaning, we are not our possessions, our jobs or how much money we have or don't have ... but how righteous we live our lives.

      Amen.

      December 20, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  10. RightTurnClyde

    Nobody is 'poor" in the U.S who does not choose to be. I know of several women who make more money on the dole than most people make working for it. They Get rent money, transportation money, food stamps, child support money, free medical (not the national health plan). The only thing they need to do is to go to the county offices once a month and say nothing has changed. This is not N. Korea .. you are FREE to go to college or trade school and there is grant money to do that. They have tuition programs for the unemployed to get training. They can afford to eat in restaurants, buy a tub of ice cream, donate to churches, buy musical instruments, shop at the mall, get hair-doos, have nails done ... and throw tons of stuff OUT. (why not, there is more where that came from). Meanwhile there ARE people who choose to be homeless and live on the street, use meth and smoke pot, dumpster dive, mooch (lots of good acts mooching - even borrowed babies). They know how to shoplift (and mostly get away with it .. a flash mob can do it). They know how to get money from commuter train passengers (intimidate them) and 7-11 stores. Most of them enjoy being "under the radar" and hard to track down. Nobody's poor who does not want to be.

    December 20, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • Janan

      Your comment "Nobody"s poor who does not want to be," is offensive, uninformed and downright racist. How dare you? Where do you get your information, Rush Limbaugh? No one wants to be poor. No one wants to struggle. You are a mean one, Mr. Grinch!

      December 20, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • jane

      You are an inconsiderate, thoughtless jerk. Not everyone is as fortunate and wonderful as you are. And no-one would want to be as self-centered and empty-headed as you. Go back to your $100K job and shut up.

      December 20, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • guest

      you are a moron.

      December 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • toxictown

      You need to turn off the right wing propaganda TV and go for a walk in the world. Dumb a$$.

      December 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Clod never ceases prove he's a worthless POS.

      December 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • lseejax

      You're in a ditch with your Big Wrong Turn, Clyde...millions, including well educated, well trained and hard-working people, are in poverty in the U.S., TODAY due to corporate greed. THEY DON'T CHOOSE TO BE POOR. Take off your sunglasses buster!

      December 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Andrew White

      You, my friend, are a complete right wing nut job who has no business judging anything. Are there abuses going on, absolutely.
      Are there heartless pieces of crap out there like you, absolutely. Give up the hate, my ignorant fellow American, and remember this country was founded on the downtrodden, not the super rich.

      December 31, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  11. THE GUMP

    lived in montgomery alabama for a few years as a requirement for my job. it's a hellhole. pretty much everyone from that place is worthless. let me tell you, the women there sleep with everyone. it's gross. all you gotta do is smoke a cigarette and blow the smoke in a girl's face and she thinks it's some kind of mating war-cry.

    people need to stop moving from state to state without doing research. enough information exists to tell people what cities are more likely to hire people of specific skill sets. the author of this article doesn't appear to have any worthwhile skill sets. proof that degrees don't mean anything.

    December 20, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Chandler

      To the Gump: Interesting that you use a name that we endearingly call Montgomery, AL. The people here are not all worthless, just like you are not. Your opinion comes from a certain mindset...and I feel sorry for that for you.
      The author is a friend of mine. She is an educated, hard-working person, and does not sit around thinking that others are going to take care of her. She and her husband, like many others, are having a tough time. It is my prayer that you will have a prosperous New Year, and that you will find a way to change your stinkin' thinkin'. God Bless You and yours.

      December 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Laney1025

      To Chandler: "stinkin thinkin"...I love it! Bully for you! Unfortunately this blog, as all others on CNN, draws all the kiddies, flies, slugs, and generally anti social grinches from every corner imaginable. I have never seen such a large conglomerate of worthless air reach so far down into the dung heap to inflict ill will and pain on their fellow humans...their neighbors. We are, indeed, in for a ride in the coming years with such a lack of caring in this country. I just wish if people didn't have something legitimate to say in their comments, they would just evaporate. At least I try to get a little entertainment by baiting them just to see what ridiculousness they can come up with. Merry Christmas to you and yours and I have said my prayers for your friend and her family. I wish all those suffering through another horrible Christmas that things improve soon.

      December 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.