Friday, May 5, 2017

When Suffering is a Good Thing

$57 worth of food (and our dog, Daisy)
It goes without saying that I’m not a doting mother. Many assume that, because I adopted many of my children, I must be a saint who wants nothing short of heavenly experiences for my brood.  In fact, the opposite is true.  I want them to suffer.

I want my kids to experience disappointment.  I want them to be the last of their friends to get the latest technology.  I want them to receive a very conservative amount of gifts for celebrations (or – in some cases – no gifts at all).  And, for one week each year, I want them to feel the pangs of hunger.

With limited enthusiasm, we registered to participate in the Mayan Families One Day 1.90 food challenge. You see, this wasn’t our first rodeo. We had participated in the Living Below The Line challenge on two previous occasions, so we knew all too well what our week would be like.  It’s not fun.  For anyone.
But, because of our absolute love and commitment to Guatemala AND because of this mama’s obsession with “Be the change you want to see in the world…”, I essentially guilted my four children into accepting the challenge yet again. (Thank you, sweet husband Jay, for standing in solidarity with me, as always.)

So, what exactly is this challenge?  Simply, it is to survive at the International Poverty Line of $1.90 (per person) each day for five consecutive days. For our family of six, this equates to a Monday thru Friday budget of a mere $57. As a reference, a dine out night at Chili’s typically runs us about $100, and our average weekly grocery bill is a very conservative $250. Because this week’s challenge budget is extra tight, it translates to… no bottled water, no fast food, no social eating, no restaurants, no fancy coffees, no baking, no purchases of school lunches, no beverages other than tap water, and no treats/desserts of any kind.  Lots and lots of no’s, nopes, and nuh-uhs.
I won’t lie. This week has been hard for all of us.  I think our boys, Luke (13) and Will (12), have been hit hardest, as their typical appetites are insatiable and our Lucas loves his protein. That said, they have been real troopers.  They have even refused food sharing offers from their friends at the school cafeteria lunch table. Now that’s commitment!  And how sweet of their friends to offer.

What have we learned this week? (Prepare yourself for our Top 10 List!)

(10) We have learned that, when you are poor, you shop the aisles rather than the perimeter of the store. (Those of us who have attempted healthy eating plans have often been told to avoid the aisles and shop the perimeter in order to achieve better nutrition.)(9) We have realized that there is no room in a poverty level budget for brand name items (bye-bye Skippy, hello store brand), and don’t even think about cage free eggs or organic produce.(8) Speaking of produce… Cross it off of your grocery list, because you can likely only afford bananas and onions.
7) And bulk… Buying in bulk saves you pennies, and every penny counts. Individual snack packs – though they are cute and fun and easy to grab - are not an option.(6) We have experienced lack of variety in our meal plan. Same breakfast each day (bulk cereal). Same lunch each day (sandwich on white bread with 20 pretzel sticks). Two alternating dinners (pasta and canned sauce or chicken/beans/rice/corn). Our palates are craving something new.(5) And I think we have all been dehydrated this week. Tap water tastes gross when you are accustomed to the options of juice or soda or iced tea or coffee OR spring water. We definitely have not been drinking enough, and I have had caffeine withdrawal headaches all week.(4) Oh… And our blood pressure may be a bit on the high side because we are salting EVERYTHING.(3) We have been sad to decline lots of social opportunities this week as well, because we don’t have funds to meet a friend for lunch or a cocktail or even an ice cream cone.(2) Interestingly, we have created far less trash this week. Not much extra packaging to toss when you buy in bulk. (You’re welcome, planet Earth.)And the #1 thing that we learned this week…
(1) When you are poor, you are better at sharing. I can’t fully explain it, but our kiddos – who normally help themselves to generous portions of food – instead took a modest serving of each meal to ensure that everyone had enough. It wasn’t until all of us felt this week’s version of “satisfaction” (never, ever a sense of proper fullness) that anyone inquired about second helpings. A beautiful sight to behold.

The Benefits of Suffering

So, why is suffering a good thing?  You know the answer, silly! 
“To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasins.” ~ Native American Proverb

It isn’t enough for my children to learn about hunger… to read the statistics that 750 million people live on less than $1.90 every single day of their entire lives… and that our beloved Guatemala, birthplace of our youngest child, has the fourth highest rate of childhood malnutrition in the world… We wanted our children to FEEL it… to SUFFER like they suffer… to indeed WALK in their shoes.

Don’t pity us.  We had but five days of this experience, and our $1.90 only covered food and not all of life’s other expenses.  The McFadyens had clothing and shelter and transportation and education and medical coverage and everything else that makes one feel secure.  We simply experienced hunger… not fear and desperation.

Suffering with hunger this week helped my children to understand how ridiculously blessed they are (even if they can’t have a cell phone until age 13). It made them better “carers and sharers.” It educated them with a physically and emotionally altering experience that cannot be found in a text book or even on a mission trip. This week, their personal suffering helped them to grow as Citizens of the World.

At least a dozen people this week offered praise and gave us credit for attempting something that they claim they could never do themselves. To those people and to all who read this, I offer you a modified food challenge… Maybe five days is too much for you. Perhaps counting pennies feels overwhelming. But could you guesstimate the amount of money you spend on dining out for a week, simply abstain from it and then donate that equivalent to the hungry?  Or skip Dunkin’s and Starbucks on days beginning with “T”?  Or pack your lunch for the week? Or buy store brands vs. name brands? Could you make one simple change for a short period of time and donate those savings to fight hunger?  Hey… And, if all that seems unrealistic, maybe you could make a straight out donation instead.  (Here’s the link.)

It’s dinnertime now. We’re on Day 5 of our challenge and the two 1 lb. boxes of 0.89 pasta are coming to a boil. We made it through the week with four slices of white bread and a can of tuna to spare. Some of us have lost some weight. Others of us have super confused bodies that are somehow holding on to all of those carb calories. We’re grouchy and have headaches and can hardly wait until our breakfast feast.
After dinner, I will trek to the market on this appropriately rainy night to buy food for the weekend. The kids have made all sorts of special requests, mostly for fresh fruit and desserts and General Tso’s chicken. I expect, as I have in years past, to get a bit teary as I peruse the aisles AND perimeter and am able to add anything of my choice to the basket. Today, I will be carrying those 750 million people who are not as fortunate in my heart.

I hope that reading this post inspires you to take some action of some sort. Be it a grand gesture or a simple modification, you too have the opportunity to…

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

God Bless Those Who Hunger…

If you would like to make a donation to the Mayan Families One Day 1.90 Challenge, please visit this link. 
Christmas Mission Trip 2014

1 comment:

  1. Beth, you are truly an amazing, inspiring,fabulous human being and I'm honored to call you my friend. You got me at the end...tears filled my eyes. I often walk around and think of Guatemala, our sponsored students and especially Niko's birth family and tears will come to my eyes. We have so much and it's easy to take it for granted. Bless you my friend. You have a beautiful heart.