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The Treasure Box is the Tool Box

Text by: Sue E. Peterson, author of The Mourning Run

When I was nine, my dad had an accident, which left him handicapped. He had to leave his well-paying job for one that yielded half the wages. To make up the difference, Mom went to work in food service at the local high school, and we had to sell the ranch we lived on and move to a smaller house.

I never really understood how difficult this might have been for my parents until I became one. As a kid, I just remember visiting my dad in the hospital, looking for new houses, and seeing my swing set strapped to the back of the moving van when we left one house for another.

I still had a field to play in, though it was down from 40 acres to five, but I came home to an empty house after school for the first time in my short life.

When things had settled down and Dad was steadily working his job at the dairy, I recall Mom taking me shopping for clothes one Saturday. For some reason that shopping trip stands out in my mind. I assume that's because I hadn't been shopping for quite some time.

I have no memory of a conversation with my parents about "tightening our belt" during that period. Things just seemed to go on as normal in my tiny little life.

But when I grew up, and the responsibilities of family became my reality, I began to put my parents' trial in perspective: suddenly my husband is injured for life, and his salary is cut in half. After being a homemaker for all my married life, I take a job in a school cafeteria, at age 49, for minimum wage. Add to it the fact that I have to sell my dream home, pack it up, and move to a smaller home that needs a fair amount of work. (The first winter we lived there, I came home from school one rainy afternoon to find the entire kitchen ceiling had caved in because of an unknown leak. Talk about lovely.)

© Felicity Maria Photography

As a nine-year-old, I thought starting over in a new school in fourth grade was tough. Ha!

Fast-forward twenty years. I have five little girls, the oldest is six (don't ask me how we survived all those kids so close together, I have no clue, but that's a whole other story), and my husband comes home from work one afternoon and tells me he's lost his job.

The next few years were a blur of cooking cheap foods from scratch, sewing little girl clothes from hand-me-down fabric and patterns, and making do with one old, used, station wagon we affectionately called La Bamba.

But ask my daughters what they remember from that time, and I doubt they will recount belt tightening speeches and lessons on budgeting. The husband and I just rolled up our sleeves, hunkered down, worked hard, and tried to move ahead as best we could. I became pretty resourceful, and the husband wasn't too proud to take any job he could find.

My parents left this life on stable financial footing. This was because of their continued hard work and sacrifice. My days of sewing the basics have passed for us, but the character traits gained during those times live on.

Money — the lack of it, or the abundance of it — is a great sifter of human character. A friend once said, "Money doesn't change you, it just makes you more of what you already are." If you're a generous soul, you'll share what possessions you have, whether they be great or small.

Biblically we are taught, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Perhaps this is because your treasure defines your heart. My parents lost many of their treasures when I was nine, but through their trials they cultivated qualities that endure long after dollar bills have turned to dust.

Perhaps, then, our treasures are our teaching tools? They are used to refine us, like gold. If we live in poverty during our lives, does it blemish or burnish us? If affluence is our test, do we use what we have to bless the world around us? Or do we hold it close to our chest, like a shield around our heart?

Treasure comes and goes. In this economic climate it can be here one day and gone the next. What doesn't disappear is who we are innately. We decide if we're rich or poor in spirit, no matter what the checkbook says. If we look at our monetary treasures for what they really are — things of this world only — perhaps they won't control us, but be implements that fashion what we can become. And what we are now, and can become, are much more valuable than any treasures on earth.