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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

soundoff (1,294 Responses)
  1. Here's To You Christmas Nutters

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqfZUX5svCg

    December 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Santa Came To America This Season

      BRAVO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • TheScampiCat

      How awful is this? At least the writer was witty, observant and could string a paragraph together without relying on banal profanity. Yawwwnnnn....

      December 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Paul

    Your story is absolutely touching, and your writing is beautiful! I'm so very sorry for what you and many other families across America are struggling with. God Bless you and your family this holiday season. I will pray for your miracle!

    December 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  3. nc

    to have all, give all to all...

    December 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  4. dawn

    God bless All My wish is for peace and stop fighting...And Love

    December 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  5. Tara

    And this is what is wrong with America today. The fact that this woman judges her parental success on how much her kids enjoy their Christmas gifts is how we've come to lose the true meaning of Christmas. She and her husband have conditioned their children to expect something big and expensive every year. Rather than being thankful that they are healthy and have a roof over their heads, unlike a lot of folks nowadays, should be enough to make them all happy. Maybe if they had kept Christmas more in-tune to the real meaning of it, and saved up all that money they spend on "Showstoppers", things might not be so bad for them.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • JustMe

      You know how much last year's 'Showstopper' cost?? At full price, Chuck the Dump Truck costs $39. If they were able to hit a sale, $19.99 For crissakes, you make it sound like they went out and spent thousands.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • JustMe

      And by your reasoning, maybe they shouldn't have bought some impoverished child a coat, hat, mittens and toy.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  6. Georgie

    And the author puts a paypal link on her blog for donations for that "Showstopper." I feel sorry for all the people who don't have a national audience. I also feel sorry for people who will donate so this woman's kids can have a really awesome present, instead of donating their money to kids who won't have any presents at all this Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Rbudlm

      Clap, Clap, Clap, I could not agree more, it seems folks in this country don't really know what poor is any more. Being poor used to mean homeless, foodless, carless, now it means "no show stopper gift" really? Maybe just maybe, we should all give up, soda, potato chips, dinner out most nights, ciggaretes, beer, wine, liquor, pot, drugs we use to replace excersise, the 6 bedroom house, each person having their own car, each person having their own computor, each person having their own bathroom, the closet full of cloths with the tags still on them, the 4 to 6 different lessons we spoil our children with, the latest game system, a new cell phone for everyone, every two years,

      December 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • TheScampiCat

      Oh, I dunno. She wrote a good article that generated hundreds of responses. Why shouldn't she be paid for it? Isn't that what Capitalism is all about?

      December 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • JustMe

      Geez, rb, you give all that up. I don't have any of that.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  7. PaJC

    This is a great story about how Christmas is rigged for wanton materialism. I don't necessarily agree with the writer, but I do understand how happy kids on Christmas is a metaphor for successfully providing for them. We work hard to provide for our kids just like everyone else on this thread does. We celebrate Christmas, have a tree, and talk about the holiday, but we give little gifts over the course of the month with no showstoppers. I don't think that filling kids with explosive anticipation for material goods is healthy.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Jimmy Bond

      Why not? Every kid needs the latest iPhone.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  8. BonnieBog

    Shame on you, people! Are we so far gone that we have no compassion for others? Are we so arrogant that we believe that there is no one event, no one bad choice that we could make that could devastate our life, our family? What is wrong with everyone? Although I think Tangela was just trying to give perspective on her life, if she was asking for help, when did that become wrong? My children will have a "showstopper" this year, and I am looking forward to it. We have also bought presents for needy children because as a child that did not always have Christmas presents, if I can provide that to other children we will. I may be in better position financially than Tangela, but I am not so blind that I can't see myself in her. I have worked hard for my success, and maybe have made better choices, but I also realize that I am 5' 10", blond haired, blue eyed, and I had better options than her. Growing up in Alabama, like her, I received encouragement when I am sure Tangela did not. I received options when Tangela was given a closed door. And, judging from these comments, not much has changed.

    The Ekhoff's had a terrible year–she lost her mother suddenly to a terminal illness and could not even afford to travel to the funeral. Their son was diagnosed with a major illness and was very sick. She lost two, very dear, life long friends. And, then, she puts herself out there and is caught up in the diatribe of people who have either never felt their children's disappointment–be it materialistic or not–or else believe that poor people make a decision to be poor. This is a mother, reaching out to explain to people what it feels like to not be able to give her children the world–she can't even afford a $30 toy this Christmas. They can't even afford their utilities. You can call it selfish, materialistic, capitalistic. I call it heartbroken, desperate. My heart aches for this family whom I love dearly and even more so when I see these comments.

    God forbid I ever stand in Tangela's shoes and have to depend on the "kindness of strangers". Judging from these comments, there is none left.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Cheeseburger

      Who are you to judge? You are no better than the others you lament. True compassion is doing something and giving, not complaining about others. Lead by example, not by whining.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Jimmy Bond

      She and her kids are out of touch with reality.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Kevin

      I am sorry for the losses Tangela has experienced. I did not know about those losses (meaning of loved ones and friends, as well as her health situation) as none of those were mentioned in the article. The issue some people are having is that she is upset about not having a show stopper, and that in and of itself is not what makes all kids happy. Some kids, yes, but not all. There is of course nothing wrong in wanting a show stopper, but I think her message was lost in translation when she is not personally dying (and again, the information you gave about the losses of her friends and family, which I definitely empathize with, were not mentioned in this original article, so there was no way for anyone to know to empathize with that part of her life.) I definitely empathize also though will her struggles to make end's meet. Wishing you and her and many others in her position a better future.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Paul

      Thank you for writing this Bonnie. It breaks my heart to read all these terrible and hateful comments about the Ekhoffs as well. I'm glad someone has a brain and heart that works together!

      December 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • JustMe

      "Like"

      December 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • BonnieBog

      You are absolutely right. I should lead by example. My family is sponsoring 4 children who have no Christmas this year. We are providing not only basics but toys as well. I will be including the Ekhoffs to this list. We are by no means rich, but as Tangela points out, she is not an isolated event. I encourage you to follow my lead and help someone.

      As far as Tang and her children being "out of touch with reality", I would say judging from the most recent statistics on the US poverty rate, they are far more in touch with reality than me or you. Can't pay their utility bill-check. Can't pay for housing–check. Can't find work–check. Have to wonder every night how they will provide a future for their children–check.

      I would hesitate to be too judgey on the Ekhoff's. With the US economy being as unstable as it is, 2012 could be my kids' year to be on an angel tree–or yours.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • ElanieLanie

      Very compassionate response BB. I enjoyed reading what you shared.

      December 18, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  9. Pat Biallas

    Tangela –a superb article–very well written and insightful. I totaly disagree with the detractors above. Clearly, they still just don't get it and have yet to walk in your shoes. You had the courage to both face and admit to the world how you feel about the things have changed in your/our world in the last few years. I commend you for that and wish God's blessings–whatever they may be–on you and your family. Keep writing as you do and keep getting your message out there. Things WILL change for the better. Believe it.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Jimmy Bond

      She is taking donations through PayPal. Feel free to support her like I did. Her kids need a "showstopper" present and she needs some bling bling so she can go to church next week and look fabulous.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  10. MashaSobaka

    Some people have a very odd definition of "poor." The author of this article appears to be one of those people. Come to that, the author of this article has a very odd definition of "success," particularly regarding parenthood. On the one hand I feel bad for the many people who now consider themselves "impoverished" because they can't pay all of their bills or can't have a ridiculously expensive offering to consumerism under their tree...it must be very hard to adjust. Personally, I've never had to adjust, because my family had to pinch the pennies and say "No, we can't afford that" many, many times when I was a kid. I learned frugality at my mother's knee and every lesson has paid off. I guess some people are learning those lessons a little bit late.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  11. Red Pison

    Obama has just been four more years of Bush. He's a miserable failure, and the GOP candidates are no better. So either way, no matter who wins we lose.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      Obama hasn't been a miserable failure. He just wasn't the Messiah the media made him out to be. Yes, he should have stopped the wars earlier, and there are some things he's said that make me want to slap him, but a lot of people's lives have actually improved over the last few years. The state of civil and human rights in this country has also improved. So I'd hesitate to call him a "miserable failure" – just maybe not the astonishing, godly success a lot of people prayed for. But they should have realized that what they wanted wasn't possible.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • onelastchance

      all others exept one. RON PAUL 2012.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  12. NHP

    I totally "get" this situation. I'm due to lose my apartment next month, like I did in January of this year. No money for rent. As for Xmas gifts? Hey, I've been selling my plasma to pay bills. Who's got money for gifts? Welcome to the new America...thanks for nothing, Obama.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  13. Ash Ketchum

    ... her name is a pokémon.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  14. Jimmy Bond

    She isn't starving...

    December 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Melissa

      Really? Is that the only thing you can say? There truly is no humankind these days. Shame on you, Jimmy, for being a self-centered reminder of the evil in this country.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  15. Cheeseburger

    "Socially conscious?" Really? I work 70 to 80 hours a week and give to a variety of organizations of the "less fortunate" yearly. I'm not going to feel bad because we have a Christmas and others have less. We stopped doing "showstoppers" years ago and got back to the true meaning of Christmas: God and being grateful for what we have, whether that be a lot or a little. Those who judge whether or not others are being socially conscious are their own problem.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  16. toby

    Tangela's an ugly nigra.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Chad

      And you have no point

      December 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Mike

      Idiot

      December 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • BonnieBog

      Wow. What an ignorant, idiotic comment. You should be embarassed.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • toby

      My point is that she is ugly and a nigress. Or did you mean "you have no point" in the broader, existential sense?

      December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Mike

      Does the red in your neck cause your ignorance and hate or were you just born this way?

      December 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • toby

      @BonnieBog
      Obese she-apes should be embarassed for impersonating humans.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • bluey_qld

      you need a good knuckle sandwich...a few times!

      December 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • toby

      bluey, don't you love that scene from Roots when Toby is being whipped and he finally calls himself "Toby"? "What's your name, boy?" "Toby, damn, my name be 'Toby!'."

      December 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • TheScampiCat

      Do not feed this troll. If we are all lucky, it will go back under the moldy bridge from which it crawled.

      December 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  17. massa

    Tangela looks like a she-ape.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Post your photo, Miss America.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • captain america

      captain america never posts photographs.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Mike

      No matter what a person looks like if their heart is one of goodness and caring- which yours seems to have the qualities of a lump of coal.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Mike

      I bet she has more education and drive in her little finger than you have in your whole twelve years in the third grade.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  18. Jack Mirror

    For this Family it is a set-back which they don't seem to understand nor accept.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  19. Lakeisha Twanana Jackson

    Go to her website and donate money so she can buy her "showstopper" present

    December 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  20. Chad

    Funny how the majority of these people will vote for a republican president. Little do they know that the collective efforts of Bush, Reagan, etc have put them in this place!

    December 18, 2011 at 2:25 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.