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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. Kim

    Excelllent Tangela and all the best to you.

    Thanks for sharing.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  2. Michele

    As I write this, I struggle with Christmas and all that is going on around me as my husband and I try to figure out how to pay for gas to get him to his part time job. We are recipients of toys for tots this year at the thoughtfulness of my boss. This is our third Christmas since my husband got laid off and the worst one financially for us. I understand where this writer is. You worked hard for those degrees and you just want to give your children a little joy, innocence and all the things we want for them. Keep going, keep trying. I'm going to keep trying every day to make it too....

    December 18, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  3. tembo

    Gifts for children are a source of joy, true. The problem is that people have gone overboard focusing on the storebought gifts that are quickly forgotten. Go places, watch movies with special snacks, fix a great dinner, get a family gift like a Kareoke machine and sing together, bake cookies. Make the season special, not the "showstopper" gift the special focus. It's cheaper that way, and more long lasting and meaningful. It bonds as no gift can. It teaches multiple lessons. And it's still fun and joyeous and fulfilling for parents who want to "show" their love.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  4. Jane

    Wasn't Jesus poor on Christmas? Yeah. So stop b***ching.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • tembo

      This parent had gotten into the habit of showing her love through buying a big, expensive gift. Love was the motivation, that is clear. Many have fallen into that trap, and all advertising sells that scene of Christmas morning. Just rewrite the script now. Show love with smaller gifts and more moments of family time. Take them shopping for one "showstopper" for a child in a shelter.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  5. Raven

    You can turn this around. You and your husband can use this to show your children the true meaning of Christmas.Together – as a family – chose how to spend the day. You can volunteer at a homeless shelton handing out food is one suggest. Trust me – you and your familiy will feel better than if you had that wonderful tree and bountiful presents.In addition, the family will learn how to gracefully accept the negatives that life throws at us. It is how we respond that says what we are as a person.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  6. Sherron Teal

    They should have moved to Texas or North Dakota that is where the jobs are NOT Oklahoma! The kids will be fine without all the Christmas gifts. I hope they find better jobs soon, unfortunately this is becoming a all too common American story..

    December 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  7. gretchen

    I don't see any big problem at all except stupidity here– REALLY? She REALLY has two college degrees? I am sure she and her husband happily voted for Obama also.
    And I don't agree that this woman can write well. "Gift of prose?" Lord have mercy, by what standard I am not sure! "Showstopper" gifts? Man, lady- you don't even know what poor is. No one in my whole extended family has ever gone out and bought the kind of stuff you are referring to. I am talking about a 35year-plus stetch of time, that included children growing up, the oldest of whom is 34 now, with one who would have been over 35 but died in an accident long ago. I am talking about 4 households-and by the way, we are not minorities either. In case you want to attack me because I can't stand the hypocrite in chief and his wife that I mentioned already. Go for it, you spoiled, strange and silly lady!
    And wow, you went out and bought a few socks and hates each Christmas for some kid whole parent is in jail? You don't even know much about missions at all if you think that's some big deal. The ignorance of the world at large is astounding to me as evidenced by this woman's words. The college degrees didn't do much for personal awareness development, seems to me.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Sherron Teal

      I've got news for you, the problems of this country started LONG BEFORE OBAMA!!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • college

      judging by your response its no surprise why you havent bought any christmas gifts in 35 years

      December 18, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • MPathyNE1

      What an anger-filled comment on the struggles of a stranger.

      And the only gift she specifically mentioned was "Chuck the Talking Dump Truck." I have a one-year-old, and I can tell you that toy costs less than $35.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • BonnieBog

      She does have two college degrees which she worked very hard for and is very proud of. I am just amazed at your compassion–or more correctly, your lack there of. Referring to Tangela as "spoiled". The woman that you have just critiqued so harshly lost her mother this year, two of her oldest and dearest friends, and almost lost her youngest child. It is these setbacks that have brought her and her family so far down. Has your 35 years of no Christmas hardened your heart to the point that you cannot at least emphathize with this family even if you are incapable of sympathy? Do you think she chose poverty? And, way to judge her on the color of her skin. Maybe you are the one that needs some "personal awareness deveopment".....

      December 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  8. IranDestroyed

    I'm sorry I can't leave this article and my response to it – I think it's her use of the word 'showstopper.' First of all this word is the epitome of materialism. It's roots hail from the fashion industry and before 'project Runway' and ' the bold and the beautiful' it was an exclusive term to the fashion world and their runway shows. For this writer's information and for all of you who have been merchantiled by the real !% – the showstopper is Christ, period. Put your sights on what he stands for, live your life by that example of caring and love, and you won't need anything under a tree – or a tree for that matter. I wish this country would spiritually grow up.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  9. Robert

    Your husband should come work with me in the desert, as a computer tech, he will be making good money and showstoppers will be plentiful uinder the tree each year. Have him take a look at ITT Exelis in Afghanistan.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  10. Omgami

    Tangela: It will get better! I have been in your shoes and it does not feel very good at all. Your children will be ok, it's you that will carry the weight of the memory if you choose to. We have started over three times and it has worked out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! At least you are not sitting on the sidelines hoping to be rescued, you took action and it will pay off. I love the idea of you writing a book about your journey.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  11. hello

    wish you well

    December 18, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  12. Kathy

    There are too many people in America that have lost their jobs. I have not seen a raise in 3 years, I only make a 25k and I have to pay a mortgage and other bills, but I manage. I am thankful for what I have. This article was written in hopes someone will send them some money. What we need in this country is more jobs and lower taxes. We need to bring back the factory jobs. You can hire more people at one time, then just hiring one person for an office job. Let’s start making things in the USA again.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  13. Rudolph

    No Christmas this year.... 401k worhless, no hope for ever retiring, nothing for gifts, none will be received and none will be given. Pretty sad....

    December 18, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  14. NoTags

    I would consider getting out of Alabama a gift and a blessing.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  15. Sarah

    Thank you for sharing your story with the rest of us. I have also experienced a similar situation as have millions. No one should ever feel shame and you are also not alone in the "selfishly" wanting to restore your family financially, but you are not being selfish in that thought. It comes down to taking care of your family. Your children. Your basic needs with a little bit of surprise and fulfilling some of your children's wants. Nothing wrong with that.

    But the greatest gift I think you have given your children and the rest of us is your soul and sharing your heart. You just gave the world an opportunity to not feel alone, not be ashamed and to embrace the hardships in life with grace.

    You are a beautiful soul. Thank you. Keeping sharing and keep giving us hope and faith in the human spirit.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  16. SKyle

    You're all missing the most important aspect of this piece! This woman's name is Tangela. Google Tangela and select Images. Tangela is one of the original Pokemon. It would appear as though this author's name and likeness have been thoroughly ripped off by the company that produces Pokemon and they made absolutely no effort to conceal this fact! The author should sue and then she'd have money for Christmas gifts!

    December 18, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  17. Fabfour's Mom

    I'm trying not to judge this mom harshly. I understand how she feels. After working since being a teenager and having the expectation that things will always be better, three years of no Christmas gifts is pretty overwhelming. Still, we will be together on Christmas and I am grateful for that. As far as we know we're all relatively healthy. I will say, I had the privilege of traveling to Haiti, 90 minutes from Miami – we send our kids there for the time of their lives – and 90 minutes away, children are fighting for their lives – and it forever changed how I looked out on the world. Mothers on the side of the road selling neatly stacked "mudcakes" like the ones we made as children and never ate. Well, they eat them there. Children deathly ill with typhoid, TB, malaria, pneumonia, starving – literally skin stretched over bone with bright red hair. Many have lost hope and no longer cry – they just stare. They won't accept food. They are starved beyond recognition as human beings and they do not eat. You're forced to pin there little arms back and hold their heads steady as you force feed them. It's not pleasant, but it must be done to save their lives. And then you ask, for what? If they're lucky enough to make into an orphanage that really cares for children, what does their future hold? Try holding a starving, feverish, dying child in your arms and you will wonder how you could have ever been so self-absorbed. And I'd like to think, that I, like Tangela am a good person. I had a mirror held up to just how self absorbed I really am. I hope we remember that Christmas isn't about the gifts that we receive, but THE gift that was given and that we receive and compels us to go out and do as he did: to live our lives in service to others, to love with out conditions, to lift the abused and impoverished (the really impoverished not inconvenienced) out of their slavery and oppression. That is what Christmas is about. I had to go to Haiti to learn it – but we can learn it here. If we open our eyes and our hearts....

    December 18, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  18. susie33

    Tanglea thank you for sharing your story with us. I often stated to hubby who lost the good job in 2010 and now though he is contract worker ( no benefits) down to 1 paid for car and a life style vastly different then before.
    I was so grateful this happened when the children were adults. He reminded me there were lean and good times when they were young as well.
    I wish all of us better times a head more importantly jobs.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  19. Ginger315

    Thank you, Tangela, for showing humbleness, humility, and grace. Thank you for not being an occupier and demanding your rightful "showstoppers." You and your husband are truly people of character. I do not know you personally but was touched by your article. I think you are the voice of this new "class" of family, once middle class, now poor. I have added your family to my prayer list. I am so thankful that you truly do understand the "reason for the season."

    December 18, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Canyonkat

      Don't paint all occupiers with the same brush. As an occupier, I am protesting the greed that has undermined the middle class and Tangela is just one of millions of us.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  20. Victoria

    After reading some more about the author on her blog, I can see why she wrote this. I knew there had to be more to it, and I found it.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • monah

      So, what did you find?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Thomas

      Awww...While i appreciate the faith this woman exhibits, the fact is that God helps those who helps themselves. It seems to be a trend in the south when THE MAN has you down to give up and pray that God will do my work for me, get me a job, further my education or some other "please hand me something for nothing" aspect of life. Laziness, victimization and apathy is getting to be quite an illness down there.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Victoria

      Aww...Thomas. I suggest you read her blog. She's married to THE MAN. ROFL. This chick has been around you guys too long or she would know the first rule of struggling in a black family: keep your business in your house. Her husband, as she describes him, is white, blonde and blue-eyed. I knew it before I even went to her blog. I don't know one black family in our area that is struggling that is asking anybody for anything this holiday season. No one would dare do something like this. It's an obvious plea for help.

      What I did notice was everyone doing everything they could to get it together. Sorry, but this long diatribe she wrote is from the perspective of the world in which she lives–your world. I sympathize with her, but I can think of bigger issues than whether a child needs a "big ticket" item for Christmas. I suggest she reach back into her roots and do what so many sisters have done–stop telling your business, do what is necessary to get ahead and stop waiting on a Christmas miracle. Carry on...

      December 18, 2011 at 12:08 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.