I remember this photo. I thought I was closer to having it all - the house, husband, career, beautiful wedding ring, public image, etc. I really did!! And, it was not the first time I was being promised the world by a guy I was seeing. I also remember how fragile and insecure I was during this season of life. I was in a period of unhealthy, destructive relationships. I remember people thinking my life was near perfect. Whew!
I can still remember the pain I was silently in. I get teary-eyed thinking of the depths of the pain I allowed myself to be in and to stay in pain.
I was young, naive, and desperate for love. I was shrinking myself to be loved and told by I was too much and would not fit in their dream image of a submissive wife. I was silently and secretly hurting as I stayed and was cheated on again and again and then bought nice gifts and dinners to make up for it. I was achieving some of the greatest dreams of my life yet was to be loved me and treated like a Queen all the time and not just after they had cheated on me. In the beginning I did not know that was what the gifts were for… But even when I did, I accepted them. And, with each gift I lost more of who I was.
I remember being asked about my dreams and promised I would have it all - the dream car for a wedding gift and my student loans paid off with the stroke of check when they received their trust funds. Oh, the joy of 'seeing' a celebrity's child. I remember being promised safety and security only to be taken advantage of....
Looking back, I was fragile, insecure, and depressed. I wanted to be love so much that I opened myself up to being used, emotionally abused, and safety and health jeopardized. I said I would never be that girl - I would never be used or have my heart broken again. I thought I was in control and trust people and who they said they were.
Welp, I was wrong!
I know what it feels like to have marriage and what seems like the perfect wedding rings dangled in front of you and then taken back for something minute.
I know how it feels to continuously ask if something was wrong me due to their inability to commit.
I know how it feels to be told all the things I needed to change/fix - weight, acne, hair, personality, dreams, etc.
I KNOW. And, I know the depths of the pain and what it means to work through it.
So, when you see my smile, my joy, and me cherishing my marriage and husband, KNOW it is because I know what it feels like to be treated like a cheap trophy 🏆 that is brought out to cover someone else’s pain.
When you see my smile, know I want my sis out there who understands how I felt to know that it is not healthy and they are better single than to settle in pain. When you see my smile, it is not to brag of a perfect marriage because that does NOT exist - I definitely do not have it!! I do have a partner who loves me and supports me and spoils me. Yet even those three descriptions have evolved in our three years together. We are on a journey together, a healthy journey of loving, disagreeing, wondering what our partner is thinking about, surprising each other, and sometimes just being intentional about not being irritated with each other. When you see my smile, it is because I have seen unhealthy, destructive marriages and for so long feared I would be in that type of marriage… Maybe that is why I stayed in destructive relationships! ... Whew - I did not know I was worth more! My pain caused me to always anticipate pain and thinking of a way to get through it. And, more often than I should have accepted.
Today, I am writing to my sister who may not even know her pain is hurting her. You may be like me and have grown up as a survivor and somewhere along the way become accustomed to pain.
Sis, do not settle! I cannot tell you if the guy who has hurt you and broken his promises to more times than you can count is going to be the guy you marry. I just cannot. What I can tell you is that you deserve someone who wants to treat you like the Queen you are. That will be different for each of us - so do not dare compare the glory of one person’s relationship to the real story of your relationship. The guy you are dating may not be the guy you will marry or maybe this just is not the time for a relationship (timing is everything - my marriage is that example as Jon and I met 7 years before we started dating).
Sis, make loving yourself the greatest priority of your life. You deserve to be loved in a healthy and loving manner. This is not a blog on the perfect relationship or partner, yet this is to remind you that you have value! and worth despite who you decide to date/marry.
Your identity and worth is not based on who you date or marry. Yet, your identity and worth can be tainted by your partner.
Let your healthy relationship be yours and an inspiration for others. If you haven't found your life partner yet, it is okay. There is soooo much life to live as a single person - travel, take up a new hobby, get another degree, volunteer in 100 different organizations - DO YOU! And, do not hate on those who happen to have a healthy, relationship.
You are worthy. You are valuable. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship.
Your sister friend,
The past three weeks have been TOUGGGHHH.
I have been at home recovering from an electric bicycle accident that sent me to the ICU. The experience has been traumatic yet immensely purposeful.
Three weeks ago, my husband and I were on the capital trail in Richmond and I was probably going about 10-15mph when I fell off the electric bicycle.
There were a few moments after the fall where I wondered if I was going to be able to continue breathe - to take small breaths was beyond painful. It was the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life. I looked to my right and I saw blood coming from my face. I was scared, extremely scared and flooded with fear for what was done (my injuries).
While I do not believe God caused my accident, I do believe He used it for His glory and my good!
The first few days in the hospital were just as scary. This was my first time EVER being in an ambulance and admitted to the hospital (and I was one month shy of 30). I had visited many, many people in hospital, but it is totally different being the patient. It is totally different having doctors and nurses checking on you every few hours to examine you, provide medicine, and assess your recovery and if more tests are needed. It is totally different being the person people are visiting.
I still remember the first few hours in the ICU. The nurse had drawn blood and my hemoglobin level had dropped. I remembered my heart skipping a beat. If it continued to drop, it would mean that my Grade 4 lacerated liver was bleeding internally. The next test came back and it had dropped again.
I was afraid.
Jon was calm and repeatedly told me I was fine. Oh, his faith!!
After the second drop in my hemoglobin level, it remained constant. Then, the second CT scan showed my liver was healing and there was no internal bleeding! Praise God!
My four day hospital stay came to an end and I released to go home to continue recovering.
I believe in the POWER of prayer and am convinced the prayers of families and friends were with me during my fall and hospital stay. I could go on and on about all the little sightings of God yet one phrase that helped me realize God was with me during my fall was this remark made by several doctors and nurses, “It could have been worst.”
These moments and ALL those in between including learning of my bruises, sutured lip, concussion, and liver injury allowed me to see the condition of my faith and my heart.
Why was I so afraid? Did I not trust God to be with me? Did I not trust God to care for me?
You see, while resting and recovering over the last two and a half weeks I have been faced with long and sometimes seemingly unending moments of quietness. These were not my normal quiet time moments. These were moments where it felt like my life and heart were being cut open by the greatest surgeon of all time, Jesus. What was exposed was monumental. I was able to grasp some of my brokenness like never before.
Let me be very clear, I knew there were parts of Chelsi that were not pretty and that I did not like. Some of those parts I knew I was responsible for and others I blamed on others.
Sound familiar to you? Are you holding on to hurts and disappointments from last week, last month, years ago, or maybe yesterday? Even yesterday is too long - at least that is my new mindset. Freedom is my right!
The moments of peace in the midst of pain and uncertainty were super sweet. You read right! Those moments where I was confined to my bed and only able to sleep on one side of my body were painful yet the peace of God was so overwhelming that it was sweet. Talk about experiencing Jesus and having to get OVER your mind wanting to understand it all.
Struggle with Faith
My recovery season has shone light on my struggling faith for myself and what God wants to do in me and through me. I have always been quick to pray for others AND believe God to handle their situations (hence, why I launched AlwaysPraying.com and LifewithChelsi.com). I have seen God do miraculous things for those I have prayed for. Yet, I have often wondered where the miracles were in my life.
I have not seen God do all the things I have desired because I did not use my power - my hope and faith. I had desires. I had dreams and goals. And, they have not always been fueled by FAITH.
I have been working through my inconsistency of using my faith for others and not myself. God gave me a measure of faith when I entered into this world on May 22, 1988 and I have not been using it. I have not been exercising it like I should.
The bottom line is that my faith needs to be utilized- not just for others but also for what God wants to do in my life.
What is the condition of your faith? Are you using it? Has it been tainted by disappointment and hurts of life? Is it almost non-existent?
The Condition of My Heart
Truth be told… I have been my own BIGGEST enemy. I have not wanted to acknowledge it nor accept it.
I, Chelsi, have oftentimes been my own joy stealer, faith killer, doubter on steroids, insecurity magnifier, condemnation queen…..
My heart has been troubled. My thinking has been tainted. And, at 29 years 11 months old - the mirror was on my heart and the surgical lights were shining bright for me to see all the damage.
Years of damage from life - relationships, failed dreams, false narratives, clouded judgement, health reports, unrealistic expectations, etc.
How is your heart? Is it bitter? Is it filled with forgiveness? Can you serve those you do not like?
My Hope for You
I turn 30 on Tuesday (May 22) and I am forever grateful for this season. Though painful, frustrating, and confusing, it has opened my spiritual, mental, and emotional eyes in ways that one can only consciously ignore going forward. I know God is not done with the “surgery” He is doing in my life (heart, mind, and soul). I know there is more that needs to be removed and replaced with His Word, truth, peace, comfort, and love. I pray that I do not get weary in surrendering to His work and continuing in this process of healing and restoration.
To each of you reading this, I pray you would acknowledge YOU. Spend time with yourself to evaluate you and allow God to speak to the depths of your brokenness. It ain’t easy. It is work. I do not know your story and what you have been through. I do know Jesus is for you and wants to help you heal, forgive, and live free despite your circumstances. I hope you do not find yourself forced to spend time with yourself to allow God in to acknowledge your need for His help like I was.
The world needs a version of you and me that is healthy and always on a road of dealing with our issues with Jesus.
The lessons have been plentiful and as I continue to allow God to work in and through me, I will share some of these lessons with you. I will share when I feel led to and know if God is leading me to share then there is at least one person out there that can be set free from my story.
If there is any way I can be praying for you, let me know - comment/email me (email@example.com).
Tomorrow I head back to work for the first time in three weeks. Keep me in your prayers - healing and faith and strength to continue on this journey - physically and mentally! God has been faithful with my healing thus far and I am believing for complete healing!
As always, I am praying for each of you reading this!
P.S.S. Thank you for all the love shown - prayers, cards, calls, texts, flowers, fruit baskets, visits, etc.!!!
Three decades ago, my sixteen-year-old mom was pregnant with me. She was in high school and about two years away from graduation. She was presented with an option – choosing me and the uncertain road ahead or not. She chose me.
This decision forever changed her life. She was young, learning to be a mom, and what it meant to live on her own. She was also taking this journey as a single mom as my father was incarcerated during my primary years.
I do know that along the journey my mom had help and needed it. She welcomed it for my sake and hers. Sometimes help came from family and other times from complete strangers, but we were not alone.
To this day, I can vividly remember growing up on W 23rd Street in Jacksonville, Florida in a duplex in the urban core of the City. It was not the safest neighborhood nor the prettiest, yet it was my home for several years. I remember the good times and the not so good times, yet as I look back over my life and I am grateful for each person that helped my mom provide, nurture, and care for me.
The Mother-to-be Celebration idea was birthed over six year ago while I was living in Florida. I knew I wanted to help other moms who found themselves in similar situations to my mom – they needed help to raise and care for their baby. I realized that some expecting moms may not have as much family support as she did and may need more. Or, they may need some encouragement and wisdom to help them break generational curses of poverty, worry, low self-esteem, etc. Or, they may need an afternoon of being showered with love from family and friends to be reminded that they do have support on this journey, despite the uncertain road ahead.
At this point in my current journey, I do not know what it means to be pregnant or to be faced with a decision of life or to be faced with fears and worries because I am unsure of how I will care for my child, BUT I do what it means to be the little blessing that changes a young mom’s life forever. I do know what it means to have a litany of statistics tagged to you because of your zip code, mom’s martial status, father’s criminal history, and the color of your skin. I also know what it means to crush each of those statistics. And, because of my journey I want to help other women like my mom raise barrier-breaking children like my mom did.
This summer, Life with Chelsi, my newly formed women-focused organization, is hosting its inaugural event, the Mother-to-be Celebration. The Celebration will be hosted in Richmond, Virginia. It will be a baby shower filled with love, games, food, and gifts.
As you may now understand, this event is dear to my heart because I know my journey would have been different without the help of a community of people to be resources from my beginning to where I am now. This event is just the first of many that will serve women and their families who may need a little extra help, whether resources, wisdom, or just community.
Life is not meant to be lived alone or focused solely on ourselves!
Will you join us in making this event impactful for the women we will bless?
Here are 5 ways you can support us:
- Nominate! If you know an expecting mom in the Richmond area who is in need, please nominate her today! Nominations close April 30th.
- Donate! We currently have an Amazon registry with needed items yet we are open to receiving any new and unused items you have! We are also in need of food items and a location for the celebration. FYI- we are in the process of becoming a 501c3.
- Volunteer! As we approach the celebration, we will need event prep help! Loading gifts from my house to the event location, day-of set-up, creating gift baskets, etc. Email us if you would like to help.
- Spread the Word! Share our posts, email a friend, send a message in your group chats, or bring it up at brunch. Help us share this event and the ways the community can participate and support. The moms we touch will be forever grateful.
- Pray! Here at Life with Chelsi, Inc., we do what we do for Jesus. We believe we are called to serve, give, and equip and empower women to be their very best no matter where they are at this exact moment. Join us in praying for the event and the moms and families we will reach.
Thank you in advance for being a part of our inaugural event!
With lots of love,
Also, the Life with Chelsi Book Club is launching this year. Email me if you are interested in joining the Richmond chapter or starting one in your area.
Be sure you are following us on social media, too!!
Whew… It has been an impactful 5 days of wearing the same little black dress. People noticed, people wanted to know more, people shared their personal story of living in poverty, people wondered if it was really the same black dress, people sent my data and articles, people were inspired, and people gave.
This morning I looked in my closet and realized this won't be my reality tomorrow. YET those I am advocating for do not and will not have this choice and many others that I will have.
At this moment, I have raised $887 – more than tripling my original goal of $250. I am so grateful to each person who donated to this cause. I am touched by your generosity and support. If you want to help, please donate here.
One of my donors shared that she used to live in poverty. And, I asked her how she got out of poverty. She said, “It started with a mindset change. I had to renew my mind about money.” She went on to explain that she was raised by a single, teenage mom and it was hard for them. Fast forward a few years and her and her husband bought their first house at the age of 25 (wow). It was not an easy journey for her. It was work. It was deciding she wanted more. It was stepping outside of her comfort zone and giving new ideas a try. It meant learning a new way of life.
Learning a new way of life can be EXTREMELY tough. I am living proof. I am so grateful to so many people who were patience with me and helped me break the mental cycle of poverty that existed well beyond my physical place. My little black dress meant more than a blog could explain. Growing up I was blessed with clothes. Yet because of my mindset, and fear of not having enough, I would keep clothes for years. Some I never wore or had only worn once. I kept them because I told myself, ‘what if’ I need it. I had kept my prom dress from 2005 until last year when I husband told me it was time to give it away. I had kept it so long because I told myself there could be an event I needed for it. Crazy thing was I always found a new dress for formal events. I kept the dress for 11 years because I was afraid of not having what I need. One of my dear friends challenged my poverty mindset with this thought, “What young girl could you have already blessed by giving it away?” The thought made me think, and continues to.
I also struggled with understanding the value of money. I had to learn there was a difference between thinking with a poverty mindset and being frugal. A fine line yet one worth learning because it can affect the career you chose, the person you marry, and life decisions you make.
This is just my story.
A poverty mindset can mean something different for each person you encounter. This is one of reasons why we must create sustainable solutions for those in poverty. Living in a constant survival mode can wear on you mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. I also encourage community leaders to have patience and grace when ‘teaching a man to fish.’ Yes, there has to be a want-to on their part, yet there also has to be willingness to walk through the process of a new lifestyle with the person desiring to leave poverty. It is not an overnight process.
I sat tonight sharing with my husband how this week has impacted and inspired me, and how I want to use my knowledge and motivation to help others. I told him that we must find additional ways for our young adult ministry to partner with those in need.
As a person of faith, I believe the timing of this initiative was perfect. I needed to be reminded that my childhood experiences have a place in where God has me now and what He has for me in the future. Do I know exactly what that is? No! But I tell you that I open and ready to go.
Why? I believe advocating for those who grew up like me is apart of my calling. I have run and won elected office, I have graduated law school and passed the bar, I have studied overseas … I have accomplished a few things I am proud of. And, they have been some of the best moments of my life. But, accomplishments have come to mean very little to me if they are not aligned with my purpose. Fulfillment comes with purpose.
As I end this week’s journey with you, I encourage you to dig deep about what participating, donating, or observing this initiative means to you. Poverty may not be the issue you are passionate about. You may not have been able to donate. You may not have been able to wear the same black dress for one week. BUT you do have a purpose that is tied to helping those around you. Find it! Pursue it! Keep learning! Stay strong! And, never give up!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for allowing me to share parts of my story, be transparent, and hopefully, inspire you to do your part in your community.
You can still donate here.
Imagine being at a business breakfast and feeling out of place. There I sat this morning watching other women come in their best suits, full face of makeup, designer jewelry, and confidence on high. I sat there with no makeup and the same dress and shoes I have worn all week. Poverty can not only affect what you can purchase, it can also affect your confidence and self-esteem. It can affect you putting your best foot forward. I felt it today as I sat in the Grand Ballroom of The Jefferson Hotel surrounded by six businessmen who wanted to talk and learn more about my work. Not to mention, in a room with some of Richmond’s top movers and shakers.
It was challenging. Ironically, while not wearing makeup this week, I received some of the nicest compliments. (I wonder if they had been reading my blog.) Yet it made me feel like a billion bucks because I was not confident in myself. The crazy thing is that the compliment only lasted a few minutes. Then, I went back to remembering that I do not want to get to close to anyone while not being rude. Then, I remembered that I still have another day of wearing this dress before it hits the washer. Then, I remembered that in two days I will go back to having full access to all of my favorite things.
Outside of being questioned whether I would wash my dress during the week, I was also told, “Women in the hood don’t wear the same thing.” I remember pausing for a second when this comment was made to me. This initiative is about a person living in poverty having a lack of access to resources that others may not have considered in their daily lives. This initiative is to bring attention to the fact that not knowing that others live in poverty does not change the daily lives of those in poverty. This initiative is to show advocates how what may seem as a small contribution or inconvenience could be life-changing for someone needing resources. This initiative is to raise funds to have a substantial and long-lasting impact on the lives of Richmond Public School students.
The Little Black Dress Initiative is about MORE THAN A DRESS.
You see we decided to do ONE week because we knew it did not take an entire month to show those around us of the effects of poverty. Yet, you watch a family in poverty and you may see them wear their same black dress or black pants several times in the same month.
I remember learning a few years ago that someone I knew had just gotten a new job and only had one pair of black pants and black shoes to wear. I did not believe it. I guess I had not really paid attention to it. I enjoyed their presence and food so that much that I had not given much thought to what they were wearing. But I tell you that even though I may not have recognized it, they knew it. They knew that after amazing events they would head back to their apartment in the hood.
So, how do we affect the self-esteem and confidence of those living in poverty?
First, we must remember that poverty can happen to anyone. No one is exempt because of their pedigree, connections, or profession.
Second, we must go into serving opportunities with a heart AND mind to learn. This is not a call for pity but a call to seek understanding. Learning is continual. Anyone helping those in need of resources and knowledge can attest to the personal growth they have from just serving others.
Third, we must do more than make a one-time appearance. Why? Because when that meal is eaten or that event is over, there daily lifestyle remains the same.
Lastly, we must decide on our part and do it. Not everyone is called to spend 3 days a week in low income areas. Not everyone is called to give $100,000 for programs or housing. Not everyone is called to speak on the issue of poverty. Not everyone is called to teach in low-income areas.
However, for those who know their calling is to impact poverty, please DO IT!
There are people who need you! They need your voice. They need your creativeness to help revamp programs. They need you advocacy skills to reform poverty policies.
There is one more day left in this initiative and I am looking forward to finishing this week in the same LDB. Not because it has been comfortable or easy, but because it has impacted my life and how I presently view those who are where I started in life.
I pondered several comments made to me over the past 3 days and my own childhood before coming to this to final thought…
“In our heart's desire to help those in need, no matter what that need is, we should be mindful that our compassion does not come off as ignorance or arrogance when uninformed.”
You see the helping hand must be gentle, authentic, and informed.
Let's do a little exercise! Write down the first three thoughts you have about people in poverty…
My first three thoughts are:
- Living without necessities
- Needing more support to make it
- Must be driven to beat the statistics
Yours could be similar or vastly different. However, as advocates and community partners, we MUST turn our thoughts into solutions. As someone who lived in poverty, I can attest to the fact that a hand up is needed much more than a hand out. You and I will not be the first who advocate for poverty and families in need, yet we can be one of the few who do more than make a one-time appearance. And, that call-to-action is a reason why I joined the Junior League of Richmond. We have programs that address lack in the community on a continuous basis. This call-to-action is also why I am so active in the young adult ministry, The Return RVA, that my husband and I founded. We have the ability to combine spiritual growth with community partnerships to ‘teach men to fish.’ I have already messaged our young adult leadership team to be ready for my many ideas to ensure that we are creating sustainability for the people we assist.
Today was very emotional for me. I spent my lunch break volunteering at The Clothes Rack. The Clothes Rack is run by the Junior League of Richmond and provides affordable clothing for women, children, and men. While volunteering I was constantly thinking about the budget I would have to finish today and how clothing did not seem to be a line item in it. Yet, if I did want to shop for a family of three - I would be at a thrift shop like The Clothes Rack.
The more I began to think about the budget I needed to create, the more I thought about all ways I am blessed. You see I still remember last year when I found myself unemployed in a new state with little to no connections. When they say you could be a hop or skip away from not having a car or place to stay or food to eat, I get it. There was a point where we could not afford to eat out or not eat our leftovers. I still remember my husband bringing home ramen noodles one day -- the sight of them scared me because I remember as child eating them almost everyday, and I vowed to not eat them again. There was a point where every necessity had to be accounted for. There was no 'I saw this in the store and wanted it.' It was tough and critical decisions had to be made about how life would look different since our household income had been cut in half. So, as I take another try at this budget, I remind each of you that lack looks differently for each person.
Let's talk about the budget:
I found out that public housing in Virginia is typically 30% of your income. It was also suggested that this budget reflect a single mom with two children ( a boy and girl) – a more accurate reflection of those in poverty. The federal poverty line for three people is $20, 420. That equals to $635 bi-weekly and $1,270 a month.
BUT there is a problem, RRHA housing has NO VACANCY right now.
That leaves me with the Better Housing Coalition’s apartment for $535. It is important to note that BHC is different that RHA – BHC provides affordable housing and RRHA provides public housing. Also, note that this apartment is still more than 30% of my income.
That leaves me with $735 to feed, clothe, transport, groom, and entertain THREE people.
Utilities would increase with three people, and therefore I am allocating $120.
Now, that I am providing for three people, riding the bus may not be the best option. A 30-day bus pass for an adult is $60, the first child under 5 years old is free, and the second child under 18 is $35 for a reduced fare 30-day pass. That would be $95. Or I could take a leap of faith and use a lump sum of money, say my income tax return, and buy a cash car and limit myself to $20 a week in gas, which is $80 a month. BUT I also have to hope that my cash car NEVER breaks down. I am going with the bus for now.
Household supplies would be needed. From toothpaste to cleaning supplies to deodorant to laundry detergent, I am budgeting $60. That also means that we will need to need to either rent a washer or dryer or use the laundry in the building. Either way, it will have a monthly cost. For now, we would use the laundry in the building. I am estimating 6 loads of laundry a week; it would be about $20. The premium plan for the cell phone is out the window. When considering two other people to care for, $6.67 means a lot.
Here’s my draft budget:
Rent - $593
Utilities - $120
Transportation - $95
Household supplies – $60
Laundry - $80
Telephone - $0
Internet - $20
Food – $202
Let’s take note that I have $100 remaining in this budget, however, it does NOT include any additional school supplies for the children nor any monies for extracurricular activities that cost. Oh, there is no savings account. No monies for furniture, hair, nails, medical insurance, medical visits, or prescriptions.Or birthday gifts or Christmas gifts.
This was by far one of the most challenging exercises I have done. I encourage you to do a budget. Do you research and see how easy (or hard) it is to find information and resources. Not to mention, this does not include the on-the-ground logistics to access these resources which in many causes are in areas that lack conveniences many of us are accustomed to and account for in our routines.
One of my hopes is that as we learn more about the lifestyle of those in poverty, that we also know that many do an AMAZING job with what they have. Yes, they could use more resources and information, yet they do an AMAZING job with what is before them.
AND, that is why I need your help. I’ve reached my initial goal. Thank you to those of you who have already contributed. I have set another goal for this campaign and I have only 2 more days to go. Won’t you contribute $5, ,$10, $20, or $50 today to make a difference? These funds will go directly to Richmond Public Schools students to fund playground maps, snack kits, and hygiene kits.
Thanks in advance,
Early this morning, I began to think about how poverty looks different and is spread throughout our city. Who knows how many people we pass by everyday who live in poverty. Not necessarily because they live under the poverty line yet because they have a lack of resources and/or access to housing, clothes, food, transportation, medical care, etc.
The World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way: “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.
Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action -- for the poor and the wealthy alike -- a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.”
Today was tough. I had not washed my little black dress and I was uncomfortable and self-conscious. I literally pulled into my office garage and wondered if my perfume had vanished because I got one sniff and I knew today was going to be interesting. My job requires me to be around people, to talk with people, to interact with them, shake hands, and sometimes hug people. Umm... I did not want to be extremely close to anyone. Throughout the day, my mind would bounce between what I was discussing with a colleague and if they could smell my dress. Tonight, I hand washed my dress. You may be thinking, “Doesn’t she have a washer and dryer?” Yes, I have a washer and dryer yet when I think about how I grew up the first decade or so of my life, we went to the Laundromat every week or every other week. As I write this blog, my dress is hanging in my bathroom. I hope it dries by the time I need to leave for work in the morning. We’ll find out tomorrow!
Let’s take about a budget…
For a person making $11,880 per year, their bi-weekly pay is $457 BEFORE taxes. After Uncle Sam takes his piece, the individual is left with $390. You read right — less than $400 dollars bi-weekly. On a monthly basis that would equal $780.
The median rent in Richmond is $893.00. 53% of Richmond residents are paying more than 30% of their income to rent. Let’s take a step back - on the $11,880 salary, a person would not be able to afford most apartments on the regular market. However, there is public housing. I found the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority website. It listed several public housing complexes and a number to call for information. I started working on the budget after 5PM and realized that I needed to call during normal hours to get a quote on housing. I did find a document on Section 8 housing, but it was almost 50 pages. I did not finish reading it. I was just looking for a formula that I could use to estimate public housing rent. I went to the Better Housing Coalition’s website and found their least expensive apartments were $583. If one of these apartments were selected, only $197 would be left for the rest of the month. Tomorrow, I am going to call one of the complexes to get a ball park figure of what the monthly rent would be for a single person.
As I digested this information, I called one of my closest friends and shared my thoughts. She then proceeded to tell me that she knew exactly how it felt to be in the position of making $11,880 or less. Her story tugged my heart because she was in high school, was a cheerleader, and worked two jobs to support her entire family – herself and 4 other people. And you want to know why? One parent was very sick (an eventually passed away) and the other parent was at home taking care of the sick parent. She began helping me with my budget. I originally had only allocated $40 for utilities, I quickly learned that I would need more. So, I am allocating $75 for lights and water. Fingers crossed there are not any long, hot showers or lights being left on.
Next, I looked into transportation. I found a 30-day bus pass for $60. Thankfully, here in Richmond, the bus system is being revamped. A bus pass turned out to be more cost efficient than gas, insurance, and maintenance of a car.
It is 2017 and a cell phone seemed necessary in my eyes. I googled "cheap phone bills" and found Freedompop. I had never heard of them, however, they have a FREE plan that includes 500 texts, 200 minutes, and 500 MB each month. Umm… 500 texts a month? That would be extremely tough. So for unlimited talk and text and 500 MB, the cost would be $6.67. I have no idea how their service is but it fits in the budget and lifestyle of being a millennial.
So, for transportation, utilities, and a cell phone that would be $141.67 per month. That leaves $638.33 for housing, internet, cable, food, household items, doctor’s visits, and hair and nails. Whew...
As I was talking through my thoughts and frustrations of creating a budget on this salary with my husband, he reminded me that my perspective is different now. I am on the side of paying bills. This is huge. When community leaders and partners go into low-income community and schools, we should be reminded that poverty affects each person differently. We will encounter those who know the depth of their lack and we will encounter others who have no idea that they have lack.
Join me back tomorrow as I continue on this journey of creating a budget with $780 per month.
THANK YOU to everyone who has donated thus far. I am at 65% of my fundraising goal.
If you’re able, please DONATE to our campaign and share this blog.
There is an order to how I select my outfit. I look for an outfit, I look for shoes, and then I actually try on my outfit. Today, that routine was broken. I did not have the “pleasure” of spending 20 minutes finding an outfit in my closet full of clothes, nor did I have the “pleasure” of trying on a few pieces before deciding on an outfit. Instead, I slipped into my little black dress and black sandals. This is the same outfit I will wear for the rest of the week.
Poverty in Richmond is at 25%. Yes, one in four City residents are living at OR below the poverty line. Let me break that down to you. There are individuals AND families living off of $11, 880 OR less — and that is before taxes. The purpose of wearing the same little black dress for five days is to illustrate the effects of a lack of access to resources, educate the public, and raise funds for our signature project education project.
This morning I skipped my full face of makeup, my designer jewelry, and my favorite shoes. This morning was humbling. I began to think of my humble beginnings. I did not always have the finer things that I have now. In my early years, it was just me and my mom. And, there were periods where she needed help from the community, family, and the government.
A lack of resources looks differently for those in poverty. Some see the effects in the car they drive, the food they eat, the clothes and shoes they wear, the condition of their skin and teeth, the extent their parents are able to be involved in their school activities. For me, I saw it in the car we drove and sometimes the food we ate. For many, poverty will affect several areas of their lives. More importantly, it can affect the alertness, emotional stability, self-esteem, and mental capacity of the children which CAN directly impact their educational future.
The funds we (The Junior League of Richmond) raise from this campaign will go to install United States playground maps at six local elementary schools. It is our hope that these maps will serve to teach students the 50 states and their primary colors. We will also improve school landscaping and create hygiene kits.
Earlier tonight, I was able to sit down, talk about this initiative, and gain insight from two Richmond City Council Members.
My first interviewee, unbeknownst to me and her at the time, was City Council Vice President Cynthia Newbille. Often times you will hear other Council Members refer to her as Dr. Newbille. Raised in Whitcomb Court, she attended Whitcomb Elementary, the then-Mosby Middle School, and Armstrong High School. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. Newbille shared that as a community we must stop saying “at-risk.” As community leaders and partners who want to positively effect the lives of students in poverty, we must set expectations for students. While she may have grown up in poverty, her teachers and guidance counselors always asked, “What college do you want to attend?” There was never a label she wore because of her economic status as “it does not determine your worth.”
One of my hopes from this initiative is we will continue to find creative ways to advocate for poverty while helping those in poverty to reach their maximum potential.
Next, I chatted with Councilwoman Ellen Robertson. She too grew up in poverty. She still vividly recalls walking over two miles everyday to the school bus – rain, snow, or sunshine, with tape keeping her shoes together. “And, this just wasn’t until the weekend, this was for periods of time.” Robertson gave me insight on how those seeking to advocate for poverty can join forces with the Office of Community Wealth Building and several community organizations. She reminded me that “there is an abundance of talent” in those living in poverty. And, that line reminded me of myself. My journey has been one nothing short of a miracle. From the people God placed in my path to the organizations that played a role in me seeing more and experiencing more than my community may have otherwise afforded me.
Councilwoman Robertson challenged me to think about ways to create sustainability and experiences that impact the lives of those in poverty long-term. She challenged me to be sure that as I share this initiative, I make the children in poverty the greatest beneficiaries of me wearing the same black dress all week.
Her final challenge was to create a budget on the income of $11,880.
I have accepted her challenge. I hope many of my fellow JLR members will do the same.
The question I was asked the most today was, “Are you going to wash your dress?”
Come back tomorrow to see my budget and what I do about my dress.
One month ago today, I walked down the aisle and said "I Do" to the most incredible man I have ever met. Jonathan is truly an answer to my prayers. Here are 4 things I have learned from him:
1) Don't stop loving on each other when you disagree.
Have you ever experienced that moment when someone disagrees with you and you want some distant? Well, I have!! My dear husband and I have seen some situations totally different, and I have wanted some space after the discussion. BUT he has taught me that pulling away at every instance of us not being on the same page is not healthy for me or our marriage. He has taught me and showed me that we have to be able to literally love each other at all times and in all situations, including when we disagree. In the end, it has been such a blessing to me to put this principle into practice because his warm embrace after disagreements is more comforting than anything. And, I could not imagine how I would feel if he pulled away from me.
2) No driving on E!
I have this bad habit of waiting until I am almost out of gas to refill. Not the best, I know! Jon took responsibility for filling up my car. :D His one request was for me to let him know when I am at half tank. He told me that I never know when I am going to be stuck in traffic or have to jump in the car to go somewhere. I thought, "That sounds great!" As you can imagine this has been a tough one for me. Instead, I am normally almost on empty when I tell him and then have been left to get my own gas. Ehh! So I am quickly learning that I need to tell him at half tank so I don't have to pump gas.
3) My worth as a wife isn't solely tied up in my work.
I am by nature type-A and I like things to be perfect. Well, moving to a new state, starting a brand new job, and joining a new church has been different, or you can say my life seems brand spanking new! I have never experience so much newness at once like this before. I mean I studied abroad, but I knew I was coming back home. With all that being said, we are still unwrapping gifts, have yet to start on Thank You notes :(, finding a place for everything in our new place, learning each other's patterns and habits, launching our young adult ministry next week... all on top of the everyday cleaning and cooking. Last week, I came home from a long day at work and I was cleaning, organizing, etc., and it was well past 9:30PM. Jon said, "Come over here and relax." And I quickly responded, "I am trying to get the house in order. I want to be a good wife." I went over and sat with him on the sofa and he reminded me that my worth is not solely tied up in the house being spotless every night. I could only take a deep breath and thank God for the reminder that my value as his wife and how he sees me is greater than a spotless house every night.
4) Being first was more than a statement.
I knew when I married Jon that I would be "sharing" him with the ministry. And, I knew it would be different and that the calling on his life would require sacrifices from both of us. However, what I did not know was that when Jon said he would keep me and our future family first, he meant it with everything he had. For example, I was sick and he had to go to church to preach. He could have easily asked me to push it in my sickness and I would have said, "Yes!" Instead, he encouraged me to stay home to rest and reminded me that my role as a pastor's wife was not diminished because I stayed home to rest and get well. On a daily basis he does everything he can to protect our time. While his phone rings often and lights up even more with text messages, he has shown me that unless there is an emergency our time is our time. Of course, there have been those moments where our time was interrupted or we had plans and had to make a detour stop at a hospital or arrive to church earlier for counseling, yet when possible he protects our time.
Jon, thank you for making me better! We are just starting and you are impacting my life and pushing me closer to Christ. Thank you!
To those who are married, I am praying for you. I understand the process of dying to self daily to allow Christ to be the center of your home.
To those engaged, I am praying for you. I pray you seek God for confirmation on your engagement and that you would trust Him to prepare you for your marriage -- it is amazing yet also hard work and you want to be in it for life with the person God has sent your way.
To those believing God to be married, I am praying for you. I pray you would allow God to mold and prepare you for the journey ahead -- in singleness and marriage. I pray you would enjoy this time of it just being you and God.
If you ever need prayer, share your request at AlwaysPraying.com. My prayer team and I would love to pray for you.
If you you're in the Richmond area, join Jon and I next Sunday, June 5th at 8:45AM for the launch our young adult ministry, The Return RVA. Stop me in the hallway and say, "Hi!"