My husband calls to tell me the car broke down on his way to work today, and my breath catches in my throat. I try to make my lungs open again, but they won’t obey. My friend posts something about her latest favorite restaurant, and I’m stirring sauce for tuna casserole for the millionth time. I bang my wooden spoon into the pot a little harder than necessary.

My daughters ask if they can redecorate their room, and my mind goes into overdrive. Where could I find some cute secondhand décor for them? Goodwill? Marketplace? I shut out the mental image of my friend’s daughter’s recently redone room. It’s beautiful, and I don’t see how I can do that for my girls.

We’re running low on diapers, and I count the days till payday, then eyeball the dwindling stack. If the baby needs six to seven diapers a day, can we make it three more days? Would an old towel work as a backup?

Though my husband is a veteran and works very hard, we’ve lived under the federal poverty line for most of our marriage. Most of the time I think it’s my fault, as my university diploma is in a box somewhere, getting dusty. I’m a failure because the career I worked for, trained for, took out thousands of dollars in student loans for, just didn’t end up meshing well with motherhood.

I ask God to help me find a small job, something I could do from home, and He tells me, “You already have a job.”  

I hold the baby all night through his bout with croup, help my son learn to read, pray with the girls through their friendship hurts, plan out a spring garden for us to plant together, and I exhale. Yes, Lord, I see what You mean.

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But still, it ain’t easy. I have literally cried over spilled milk. I have counted apples at the store to make sure we can afford enough. I’ve worried about the price of potatoes going up. My children have never missed a meal, but I have.  

Almost all our clothes are hand-me-downs. I pull on the leggings my friend gave me, which are starting to tear, and I wonder what it would be like to go to the store and try on something new.  

I trim my girls’ hair myself, and though I’m very careful, it doesn’t look quite right. My friend tells me how her stylist fixed her daughter’s curls, and I try to smile and nod.  

Another friend complains about cleaning three bathrooms. I cringe a little inside because there’s often a line to the one bathroom at my house. One toilet for six people can get a little interesting.

When I look around me and compare, it’s hard. I feel lacking, oh so lacking.

But then I remember the phrase “first-world problems.” I close my eyes and my mind takes me back, almost 20 years back, to the time I walked and rode through a third-world country. Have you ever seen children living in piles of trash? I have. And I see them clearly still, like it was yesterday, because images like that have a way of burning themselves into your brain.

The organization through which we sponsor children sends us a flier in the mail. It reads, “So-and-so gets one meal each day at the Center, because of your sponsorship.” And I wonder, is it her only meal each day? Today my tuna casserole doesn’t taste so bad.

My daughter, who is an avid reader, told me at the table today, “Did you know that every 15 seconds, a child dies from drinking contaminated water?”  

Speaking of reading, we all read and write in this house (well, except the baby.) I remember learning that that fact alone means we’re richer than at least 75 percent of the world’s population. What’s it like to be a mother and to be unable to read a story to your child? To be unable to write him or her a note? I say a quick prayer for a mom I’ll never meet, living on the other side of the world. I wonder what she uses for diapers.

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We have a warm home, clothing in the closet, indoor plumbing, food in the fridge, and relative safety. Oh, and those cars that may not last? We have two of them. How do women in those countries get where they need to go?

The kids and I pile up in my car to go pick up Daddy after work since his car is now in the shop. We call our ride “The Daddy Van,” and we listen to an audiobook on the way there. For a moment, I’m thankful we can’t afford an Uber, and we’ve chosen to do life together. There are some good side effects to living the kind of life that keeps you home, keeps you together, keeps you needing each other. The kind of life where you share cars and a bathroom and sometimes, the food on your plate. We pass by solitary drivers on the road and I wonder–do they know their family? Really know them?

When I look around me and compare, it’s hard. I feel rich, oh so rich.

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