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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. cmkc

    God bless you, but " the crown jewel of success as parents" is NOT to" hear the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning." That just teaches them, that the meaning of life is to be a consumer
    and trains them to believe in the almight materialism.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Joe from Indy

      Yeah, and I bet you don't absolutely love the computer you typed that on, right? You must not understand what it's like to see your kids happy. You also forget that you are a consumer living in a country where we flourish solely due to consumerism. Hypocrite.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • CJ

      EXACTLY!!! I'm surprised there are not more people pointing this out. (I did as well about 5 minutes ago). Happy and safe Holidays to you and yours.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • CJ

      Joe, it's not being hypocritical, you missed the point. You can't think of things as to black and white, yes or no, etc....It's not a problem to being a consumer or even a high consumer. The PROBLEM, is thinking you've succeeded as a parent when your children are so happy due to receiving material things. Yes, it's definitely a great feeling to make your children, or anyone you care about happy, but it doesn't prove you to be a good parent in any way at all. A great parent, in fact, provides for their children. The crowned jewel of success as a parent is raising a happy, healthy, kind, considerate, passionate, hard working, moral child. I don't like hypocrites either so we are in agreement, I just think you jumped the gun on your criticism. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • rwb

      @CJ. I understand what you say about raising kids who are quality human beings, respectful of others, sincere, kind, hard working. That is ultimately the goal of any parent. But just one day a year, let them have all the fun they can and reward them for being who they are and will someday become.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • CJ

      @rwb. I agree wholeheartedly with you, no doubt. Sorry if I came across as saying otherwise. I'm just not a fan of that one statement in the beginning of the article, the rest of the piece is very good, IMO. I'm also VERY sorry to hear about what you and your family are facing, based on what I've seen in another of your posts. I wish the best of luck for brighter days ahead for you and yours. Take care.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  2. rwb

    I can relate to the thoughts and feelings of the writer, with one exception: Our last 2 Christmas days, as well as the one coming, have been spent in poverty. From lavish gifts, bikes, computers, clothes, etc., we are now at the point this year that we will have to struggle just to buy a Christmas tree. My 6 figure job as a senior exec went away a long time ago, along with the company, in an industry that is dying. I work as a part time custodian at a church, do odd jobs for people, trade in scrap metal, whatever it takes to get a few dollars into our home.

    The look in the eyes of my 4 children on Christmas mornings breaks my heart, renews my strength in my efforts to find a job, and to continue to hope for a brighter future for my family. It is something I will never, cannot ever, forget.

    The idiots in Washington, regardless of the dems, reps, cons, libs, and tea partiers do not have the ability to fix this economy. They are too busy bickering partisan issues, acting like children fighting over a toy. And they don't really care as long as they secure re-election. They are so far removed from the real world that they may as well not exist. Our country is in a dangerous time and place right now. But, you know what, I don't care either. I have to watch out for my family. I wish every one a happy and blessed Christmas. Appreciate what you have....it could all disappear tomorrow.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • GOD

      Don't worry about tomorrow. I'm sending a really big asteroid but it will take a while. Just remember I love you and want to exterminate you so you can worship me as my slave forever. Toodles!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Jesus

      @GOD, but why Dad, why!?!?!? Not cool with my birthday coming up!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • GOD

      I have no son. Gods have no bodies. No bodies = no s.ex organs, no sperm, no eggs.
      Jesus, I think you'd better have a long talk with your real dad.
      I will exterminate all humans at some future point. That is how I roll.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Jesus

      @GOD, ah how easily you forget that night in Reno that resulted in me!

      December 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • CJ

      @RWB...my company Ernst & Young is hiring many people with accounting backgrounds etc....this is in the northeast, however so I'm not sure if this is helpful info. They could be hiring in your area as well. Check it out if you can. Good luck.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  3. opinion8it

    It is what the GOP wants for you: Poor, but rich in belief.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  4. CJ

    "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"...if this is true, it's quite sad. The crown jewel of success as parents is raising, Happy, Healthy, Passionate, Empathetic, Kind, Moral, Respectful, Hard working children. Of course it's wonderful to see your children happy and I agree, Christmas is a great time to do that. But to think you are a successful parent due to it? That's aiming far too low. Merry Christmas nonetheless. 🙂

    December 18, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • CJ

      But I am still very empathetic to your story, you sound like a kind family. I hope you are able to turn your fortunes around soon and wish you the best of luck.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  5. heather

    I thought this was a very touching.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  6. Joe from Indy

    I think the majority are missing the point. I am most certainly not religious. We celebrate a secular Christmas as a winter celebration and a time to focus on others a little more than we do through the year as we remain distracted trying to deal with our own personal struggles. This article was great. It points out the economic situation that many are facing. A degree, attempts to get a job, willingness to not be a mooch, etc. Not lazy people wanting handouts, but people wanting to contribute and provide an honest living for their kids. There is one time out of the year that kids should all be able to look forward to getting something they want even if they don't the rest of the year. It is so hard for so many to provide for their kids, let alone provide a little something extra on Christmas.

    I don't believe prayer will fix the situation, but if it gives you hope and peace, then it's still helping in a way. You have inspired me to remember that we need to help a family this holiday season as we may be in the same position someday. We've also struggled financially this past couple of years, but we are able to make ends meet. I need to sometimes be reminded of how fortunate we truly are. Thank you.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • rwb

      Well spoken Joe. It's a pleasure to see a posting from someone like you. Have a great Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  7. Hannah

    It is time for all of us to understand that this holiday is not what you can get but what you can give and not necessarily in material goods although there are many in our country living now under bridges, in cars with not enough to eat and not having the basics in life. When children expect expensive toys and other things for Christmas, the whole meaning of the holiday is lost. But that is what corporate advertising has trained us to believe. Enough. Let's stop this madness. I am not a christian, but I don't think the man they are celebrating the birth of would approve. Let us be mindful of close friends and family. Let us help someone who is without, not just for this holiday season but throughout the year. Then only then will the true meaning be clear to us.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  8. me

    Tangela, I read your words as someone that has not endured hardship in the past and is facing it for the first time...it can be scary and daunting, depressing and enraging. So damnably frustrating. Oh so much harder when you have worked hard, 'done the right thing' and you're looking at children who don't have a clue as to how hard it all can be.

    But I will say this...not as a guilt trip, not as a slap or a slam, you've had enough of that. Not to say to think of God and the reason for the season. ...

    You have each other. As someone who has done all of that and have not had the emotional support of my spouse during those times, I look at you and I don't see you 'poor'. I see you rich in all of the things that matter. Things that people who have them, sometimes take for granted. Yeah, I'm sure you're reading this going 'yeah yea but what about what's not under the tree" or "when are we going to get a break and some relief?"

    I can't answer that. I can say though that you are deeply deeply blessed. You have each other. For better or worse, richer or poorer...each other. A gift that no amount of money can buy. A gift that without it makes you feel as poor as a person can be.

    Each other. 'And your children. Your health and a lifetime ahead of you with all of it's possibilities that still exist and can still happen. Precious and priceless.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  9. Jorry

    Move to Alberta, if you can. Our entire provice is full of help wanted signs and in spring a new plant opens and we'll need another 7000 workers. We only have 3 million in our entire province and places are closing because they can't get staff. Sure it's a little cold in winter, but I love the 18 hours of daylight from May to September!

    December 18, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • SinkingFast

      That's hilarious from a purely cynical point of view. 🙂 We can't find jobs and you have companies closing because they can't find workers? If that's not the definition of irony.

      December 18, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  10. mike

    That’s what happens when U get a fine arts/liberal arts degree. Should have gotten an engineering or biz degree. But you’re too lazy for that.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • cmkc

      Back under your rock, Mikey.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Guin

      You're disgusting. No, seriously. First of all, if we all got engineering or business degrees, then the market would be flooded but ignoring that, why on earth should we go get a degree we don't want in something we're not interested in? Because you say so? And lazy? You know NOTHING about this woman except what as written int his article. And even based on that, she's willing to get a job frying chicken. I'd hardly call that lazy. You sir, are an ugly human being. But I'd be willing to bet $5 that you call yourself a fin Christian. Am I right?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Spike5

      And you, Mikey, are what happens when people who have theirs have no compassion for others who are struggling. Apparently your idea of Christmas spirit is a lot like Scrooge's. Bah humbug to you.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      mike, you're an arrogant jerk. You are full of hot air, thinking that somehow you had to work harder to become an engineer than someone who became an artist or a musician or a writer. Stick it up your fundament, bub. You don't have any idea what it takes to earn a degree in any other field than your own.

      Pride goeth before a fall. I know some engineers who are out of work now. If there's any justice, you'll join their ranks soon.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • rwb

      Mike, it is people like you who amaze me. I have a degree in Accounting, my wife is a CPA. We both have years of experience in our industries and cannot get jobs. I literally laughed at your comment.

      It appears however that you have a full time job as a troll.

      You have a Merry Christmas

      December 18, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No kidding. mike is a moron. My husband has an MBA and 20 years of business experience. He lost his job with a company he'd worked for for ten years and didn't find another job for over a year-and he was lucky to find one that soon!

      December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  11. Cooper

    There are some interesting and worthwhile comments here, many of which I agree with. However, those of you whose comments and feelings are harsh I encourage you to tone down the judgment and criticism and, instead, share your thoughts in more kind and helpful ways. Let's all focus on the what the season is about: Christ was born to teach us to love God and to love one another. End of story.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • DuBois

      I fart in your general direction! Now begone or I will insult you a second time!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  12. EmptyNester0000

    Thank you for your story...and we hope 2012 is a better year for you. You both sound like terrific parents and your children are fortunate to have you both. Nonetheless, I can imagine the pain of each day. Thank you for sharing your story. Why don't you contact Dawn at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Let her know another food banker referred you to her and see if she needs any staff help.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  13. Ridiculous

    How selfish do you sound in this article? Do you have a home to live in? You obviously have food to eat. Maybe you should be thankful for what you do have instead of complaining. At least you are healthy and don't have a child with a noncurable cancer. All those parents want this year is for more time with their child. Grow up and work hard and earn whatever you want for your child, but don't write an article essentially begging for someone to donate a toy to your child.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Joe from Indy

      Apt name. That's really what you are. The point isn't to beg for something, but to shed light on the economic situation so many face from a personal standpoint. Otherwise, she would have said, "send donations to. . . " What a moron.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • clv

      Ridiculous, You are ridiculous and an uncaring boob. I would wish someday that you find yourself in a similar position and have some idiot give you the same reply. You make me ashamed to be human.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • adam

      amen! I am so sick of people b****ing. everyone struggles, nothing is FAIR. get over it!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • rwb

      Ridiculous, let me fill you in on a few things your brought up in your rant. I have been unemployed for over 3 years. Yes my kids are healthy, but, unfortunately, my wife has been battling cancer for 5 years. Yes we have a house to live in now, after being evicted from two other rentals and losing my home to foreclosure. Yes we have food, but trying feeding a family of 6 including 4 teenagers on $900 a month.

      The writer is not begging for a toy for her kids. Do you know how hard it is to take charity from someone? I do, been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It's not a pleasant thing. I applaud her for bringing to light a situation that 10's of millions Americans face every day. We're not asking for charity, just a job where we can prove our worth.

      And finally, apparently unlike you, I did grow up and made excellent money for a lot of years to provide for my family. You just don't really understand what is going on, and I pity you for that.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  14. Many others like you

    This article hits the nail on the head. There are so many more people in this same situation. We are all the new POOR thanks to layoffs, downsizing, salary cuts and inflation. (just think about the price of butter these days)

    Those who still have jobs are feeling stress like never before...is the ax going to fall...someday? If so, when? The uncertainly is putting many middle class families under tremendous stress and anxiety.

    For those who say "what about savings?" Let me tell you, it is quite easy to go through 4-5 months savings IF you have had to endure a 30-50% PAYCUT for the past 12-18 months!!!

    December 18, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  15. Greg

    Tangela: I hope you take this Advent season to transform your family's outlook on the meaning of Christmas. It's not about "showstoppers" let alone gifts. For Christians, it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, for all it should be an opportunity to be slow down, intentionally act more kindly to one another, and to find ways to make the season special for the least among us, not just our own family.
    I think you know this. You mention avoiding gifts in solidarity with the poor (although not the reason why you won't have that big gift). I think deep down inside you recognize this fact. I urge you to take this difficult time to give a very important gift to your children...teaching them a lesson of poverty, solidarity and perseverance. And especially that the greatest gift you can give each other is your love, not some "showstopper." After all, the crown jewel of success as parents should not be that showstopper, it should be watching your children grow up to be human beings who care about their fellow human beings, with concern, tolerance and respect.
    Your piece made me think that as Christians, we don't celebrate or believe in a Gospel of prosperity. We celebrate and believe in a Gospel of justice for all, especially the poorest and most marginalized among us. Let's all reclaim this season to profess THAT Gospel. My prayers are with you and everyone who is struggling at these times. I wish you a blessed Christmas and new year.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • GetReal

      Greg – amen to that.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Joe from Indy

      Let's pretend that Jesus isn't a mythical character and the story isn't even original. . . Jesus was all about giving. Wanting to give something to your children and see them happy is exactly what your Jesus character would have wanted. You know, gifts were given to him, too.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • William Kauffman

      Greg, yeh, right. Try selling that to the Walmarts, Targets, Sears, etc, etc, etc, etc.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  16. Diana

    I am 66, and this will be our most difficult year ever too. My daughter, my only child, committed suicide 6 yrs ago, and I get through the Christmas season by looking outward, and buying fits for others. This year,we have no money to buy Christmas presents, no money for a tree. I, too, have a degree, but I am now disabled (I worked until I was 65), and am living on disability (not much). My husband is 60, so too young for social security. He is cutting lawns, and now running a scoreboard for a local playground. Our house in California is in foreclosure, and we have filed bankruptcy. I never thought we would be in this position in our "golden years", but we are joined in this position by a majority of our friends. The middle class no longer exists.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • mn

      So sorry to hear that Diana. Christmas I am sure is hard for that very reason. That is commendable that you help others have a good time. You are creating a wonderful example and legacy for others to follow.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  17. MS

    I can't say i feel too sorry for this family. They are the very typical example of why so many Americans are struggiling financially. And we all want to blame it on the government, or the President himself, and yet very few people are willing to accept some of the responsibility themselves. True, the government is largely responsibe for our current mess of an economy. But the "little people" who voted for those politicians share some of the blame. Way too many Americans tried to live outside their means when the economy was good. And now it's come back to bite them in the rear. My husband and I continue to live very comfortably solely on his income. How is this possible in this economy? How is it possible when we aren't the best at saving when we should? Because we do save. Not as much as we should, but we save money when we can. He also got a degree and took a job in a field that will always be hiring. But the main reason we continue to live comfortably is because we stayed within our means. We still live in the same small house we bought when we first married. We each have one car, and do not immediately upgrade when one is paid off. We upgrade when it becomes more expensive to repair a car than to buy a newer one. When my husband first got his current job, it was a huge salary increase. Everyone told us to run out and spend, spend, spend. Buy a bigger house they said. Buy nicer cars they said. Buy, buy, spend, spend. Now many of those same friends of ours who encouraged us to blow our money are struggiling financially. America needs to wake up and realize that we the little people are a big part of why our economy is so awful. And until we change, our economy isn't going to change.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • mary stover

      Another one who knows all the answers. Isn't life great to be able to tell others how to life there life? Get out in the real world and see what it's like.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • mn

      Americans do live outside of their means, and for that you are right. They buy first, pay later. It's a mentality that has to stop. If you don't have the money for it, then don't buy it. I heard a financial expert say that the best way to look at financial times esp. if you are with a job, is to save money as if you were not to get a job for the next TWO years. That's the reality faced by most. So saving isn't such a bad idea.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Gene

      These people plain and simple want a job to support their family. They thank a project they have known about in the past and it is helping them now ....MAYBE SOMEONE WILL WAKE UP IN THEIR AREA OF THE COUNTRY AND HIRE THESE FOLKS at decent jobs. Its a wish many long for .... and sadly our economy and the bumbleheads on both sides of the government - democrat and republican are just ignoring with their paralysis of leadership

      December 18, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • maragar

      you really have the gift of empathy! you may find out that life provides you with a life lesson that will allow you to understand what compassion is all about..

      December 18, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • SinkingFast

      I'm an individual who drives what he can find. I'm not in debt for my ride. it just happens to be in it's twenties now and is failing as a result. Be glad you have more than one ride. I wish I did. Upgrade your car? Haha. You obviously are better off than myself.

      December 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  18. Perry Diff

    Do you realize that if God made everyone rich, the value of money would go down because there will be inflation? Maybe you should have saved for the future instead of splurging on showstoppers every year.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • mary stover

      A talking dump truck is not a show stopper. Get with the program. Life isn't what it use to be.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  19. Dood

    Dang, get out of Oklahoma! Head south to TX where the jobs are plentiful and liberals are scarce.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • rubybegonia

      She needs to get out of Oklahoma because they don't hire blacks but going to Texas, the land of minimum wage jobs is not the answer. You need to find a way to get to North Dakota where they are drilling like crazy and looking for 500 truck drivers.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • s laclair

      Head to Texas where the majority of the people make minimum wage and there are no liberals to share in their relative affluence!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  20. nineliveslisa

    I hope you both find work that supports your family and eases your burden. I agree with many of the others who have posted that Christmas has become too materialistic and grotesque. I pretty much avoid most of it like the plague. I remember getting "Showstopper" gifts when I was a child and while exciting and lots of fun, it didn't teach my siblings or me what is really important. You sound like a nice family. You might want to take your children to an orphanage or group home. Many children have no Mommy & Daddy. It will put the "showstopper" gifts in perspective. Now, having a wonderful loving and caring Mommy & Daddy is better than all the "showstopper" gifts put together. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:14 am |
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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.