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. Nancy

    Kudos on a well written article. It is depressing that comments on an article filed under belief and Christianity could be so negative and filled with judgement. There but the grace of God go I.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • GAW

      Negative comments? Welcome to the world of trolls. Many people will post here with hate filled comments just to get a rise out of people. Most of them are geeks and nerds copped up i their parents basements with nothing better to do on a Sunday.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  2. curt

    These "righteous" ones who have been forgiven of their sins because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and have obeyed and served him, will rise from their graves to be rewarded, as we see in 1 Cor.15: 42, 52-55. But the "ruler of this world" and those who have followed his ways and leadership will face punishment.

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

      Another reason to smoke marijuana.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  3. lisafrommars

    I did not look at other comments on this piece- yet. Two things struck me very hard. One was my own lavish Christmasses as a child. I thought that Christmas morning would bring Joy To The World and I would finally have what I never had: happiness.
    And as the adults raged and drank and the siblings fought and screamed, I would retreat to my bedroom, devastated to the point of physical illness that none of those brightly wrapped gifts contained happiness. And that God had forgotten me. The second is that the writer of this piece might like to get on a plane and go just about anywhere in Africa or Central America, or any number of places where real poverty screams. I don't doubt it's hard and desperate – I work in HR and I get the phone calls. They're heartbreaking. But we somehow forget that having a home and comparative security are priceless.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Villi

      Didn't you see the sentence where she can't pay her utilities?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  4. Many others like you

    I already posted but am dismayed by the lack of compassion of some comments/posters. It proves my point that WE are all stressed to the point that we can't even wish someone a nice thought that their situation might improve. It really is the end for the USA if we have all become so uncaring, cynical and cranky.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Kent Snyder

      I agree with you completely. I read through these comments and was amazed at the seeming lack of compassion many had for the writer or that she somehow was getting was she deserved for teaching her kids to be materialistic. It's clear she is speaking about much more than the "showstopper". Be kind and prayer that her prayers are answered no matter how selfish you or she think they are. Pray that her's and the prayers of so many others like her are answered. All of our lives will be enriched when they are.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  5. Tara

    “We must know that we have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for diplomas and degrees, this work and that work. We have been created in order to love and to be loved.”
    ― Mother Teresa

    “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.”
    ― Mother Teresa

    December 18, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  6. justsimplykate

    I am an employed senior citizen making under 20k a year. Like most, I have a house payment....and retiring isn't even in my vocabulary. I am in the position of raising 5 grandchildren-the youngest 4 the oldest 13. I get no assistance from outside agency's. We made due with what we have and are a thankful lot. I am blessed. God is good. The other day walking through a local store's toy aisle, my 7 year old grandson turned to me and said my Christmas gift to me that will last a lifetime. His words were, "Gram, I know you can't get me all the expensive toys, but that's okay because I know how much you love me." Yes folks, there were tears in Wal-Mart from these old eyes. This precious child has shown me he has values, and knows the real reason for the Christmas Season. Love.

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

      The kid will grow up to be one of 10 in the entire country with the right values thanks to you!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Mary

      Your story brought tears to my eyes, the greatest gift your grandchildren have its you. Feliz Navidad!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  7. Justin

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

    Just like all the people in society who "expect" free health care, free education, free this and free that. It's the land of opportunity, not the land of I deserve X or Y.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • bee


      u r a selfish grinch...

      December 18, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • BEM

      Wow, can't you see how hard these people are working just to survive? How did you get from this that they expect anything other than a way to earn a decent living?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Villi

      She is not looking for a hand-out you moron. She has 2 college degrees..she is looking for work. You should have some compassion and hope you never find yourself in her position...jerk.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  8. randomguysteve

    So basically you're saying that you made a wrong turn and instead of backtracking or trying a new venture, you're relying on your faith to drop more money in your lap and bring you back to your comfort level. Be grateful for what you have and don't put your happiness in cheap plastic.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  9. Bumper

    I don't like this article because in the Bible, richness in Spirit actually means lack of devotion to Christ. In the Sermon on the mount, Christ said, "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for they shall see the Kingdom of God." Poor in Spirit means that you realize that you must have a devotion for God and Cling to Christ. Richness is Spirit is allowing the material world to become your God. For is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the gates of Heaven. Again, here the richness is in Spirit in not realizing the need for a devotion to Christ.

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

      It isn't the show stopping present. It is the happiness and excitement in the eyes of a child. This is so much like my own story that I could cry. This year, I saved the electricity from being shut off, if only for a few months. My children will have no gifts under the tree because bills come first. What is truly astonishing is that they seem to understand at the moment. They know how precarious the situation is as they walk to school with clothes that are a tad bit too small and coats they have worn for two years. They know this as they sit to eat dinner and I sit with them without a plate. My dinner is whatever may be left over after they are fed. This year, we will go to church on Christmas eve, where my daughter will acolyte for the service. They will hear tales of what the other kids hope to receive from Santa. They will smile politely and be thankful that we are not yet homeless. I won't see the light in their eyes when they open that cheap plastic toy. I will see my beautiful children try to pretend it is just another day so that I won't feel so sad. My situation is changeable and I strive daily to do just that.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Mike

      You sound like the spiritually rich type that you have quoted. They author recognized that God is the provider. She prayed for an opportunity so that she and her husband can provide for their children. She doesn't want hand-outs. As simple as that.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  10. Nate Mullikin

    How much more telling could it possibly be for American Christianity that prayers of angst presented to a god with limitless resources focus on a showstopping present?

    December 18, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  11. Elmo

    I was raised in poverty and know this scenario well. It's difficult to express the emotions faced by a child who knows the monetary reasons why they have not when playing with others who have much. It's Christmas. The ritual of financial embarrassment begins again a new each year in the neighborhood tribe of children. You have to experience the pitty rendered child to child as one holds the SHOW STOPPER toy in display to everyone then gives you the look of pity they learned from their mother while she viewed the starving at the local Food Bank.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  12. Gabriel

    Christmas is a time of Hope and Love and Miracles. As a parent I understand how it feels to want to provide a special gift. One day a year is not to much to ask to shower someone you love with presents, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We should do good for those we know and love while we have the chance to do so. Sharing with those who are struggling is always the right thing to do. Keep up the faith and don't give ear to the negative. God still hears and answers prayer!!!

    December 18, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  13. angelika bertrand

    We purchased on gift for us this year. That was a new Flat screen TV and it came with a free blue ray DVD player and we purchased the sound bar technology. That is all we got for our selves. Enjoying it every minute. And for the family memembers we made home made canned goods like jams, relishes and Jellies. And canned salsa. I also did this for neighbors and friends this Christmas. They love the idea of home made goods. It's that thought that counts the most. I cherrish every thought that my neighbors did for me this year and every day they do.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Scroodge-ums

      They will remember you as they suffer from food poisoning. Or maybe they just threw your gifts away. I wouldn't trust someone who has the money but cans her own food and gives it away. Keep that food for yourself so that you will enjoy your own food poisoning.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Mary

      angelika bertrand "We purchased on gift for us this year. That was a new Flat screen TV and it came with a free blue ray DVD player and we purchased the sound bar technology" It looks like you took good care of yourselves. Nothing like making sure you got what you wanted. Congrats!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  14. Voice of Reason

    Success is not giving a gift. Success as a parent is teaching your children how to speak, read and be good citizens. The author of this article would not be in this situation if her husband did not abandon a 100k job. This family would not be in this situation if they accepted jobs to support their family. Tangela does not want to drive "all the way" to Tulsa. She will come up with any excuse not to work. In her words, she is an inspirational speaker. What has she done that is so inspiring? She is doing this do "get discovered" in the exciting world of comedy. For all of the Americans who are trying to get by in this economic situation, good luck to all of you.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • angelika bertrand

      You are missing the word Empathy and Sympathy in your life. Remember you are or maybe could be next in a situation like this!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • ana

      cynicism: the spirit of American Christmas.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • BEM

      Geez, I find it astonishing and distressing at how many posting here haven't really read the article, they just pass judgment and move on. Who said her husband abandoned his job? It's possible, even likely, he was laid off. And she's cleaning houses to make ends meet and aspirations and hope of doing something better! Read before you spout your venom!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  15. CJ

    But I am still empathetic to your story and I'm sorry you guys are facing such tough times. Good luck.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  16. MiraclesDoHappen

    Years ago when my dad was unemployed and my mom was working like crazy to pay bills, I remember being that little kid that friends and neighbors bought gifts for... That Christmas has to be the one that I remember the most because miracles happened and my family was blown away by the generosity of friends and strangers (unexpected gifts and extra cash to help pay bills). I hope you have a similar experience! Merry Christmas!

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

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I believe that we are put in situations that makes us stronger and it is clear that your family's situation has given you strength and courage to express such beautiful words for every one to read. You have given me a beautiful gift, sharing your story has truly humbled me and reminds me that tomorrow my life can change and that I need to appreciate all I have and not take advantage. God bless you and your family this holiday season and always.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  18. MJ

    I applaud your courage to share your story. You're a talented writer who needs a better opportunity than a frying pan. Keep turning over every rock. Resilience is the true gift you're sharing with your family – and us – and you are the real "showstopper". God bless you and the least we can do in this country for those that are suffering is to let them know we'll hear their story and take a moment to support and encourage their efforts – remember who you are, you can do it, keep going.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  19. Scary times...

    Too many people in America have lost jobs, when will our leaders wake up and realize this? Maybe when we stand together, and demand that their pay is cut, drastically, maybe then they will understand. Acutally, they probably won't get it then, but, if we cut the pay given to our leaders, and take away some of the outrageous benefits, then possibly we would get people in office, who are actually there for the right reason, what do you think?

    December 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  20. Steve

    Ya know I just thought of something. While I too have to work overtime a lot to help with the bills. I take a amount out to sponsor a 13 year old girl in Honduras. They live in what amounts to a hut. That's not the point I have though.

    She wrote me just after Christmas last year and told me that they had a good Christmas. What did they do? They had saved up enough money to bake a few loaves of bread. That's it!

    There are plenty of people in the world that would love to be as "poor" as the author of this article.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • ray

      Exactly! The people in this country have become a bunch of fat, lazy spoiled cry baby brats!! True the DC blood sucking lawyers did much to destroy the country while they lined their own pockets and we haven't had a really decent president in 40 years or more, but the entire country is on psycho welfare!!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • GIUK

      Yes, all Americans, except the very rich of course, should just accept the blessings of being just a little better off than people living in the Third World. It’s all part of living in the greatest nation on Earth. After all, that’s what Americans have fought, suffered, and died for through the centuries. To be just a little better off than Hondurans.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Spike5

      Yep, we should all be grateful that our standard of living is still above those who live in hillside shacks in Honduras without fresh water or plumbing. But if many of the people who are posting here have their way, it won't stay that way long. Soon the third world countries will be able to point to our former middle class and tell themselves how lucky THEY are not to be Americans.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:46 am |
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About this blog

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.