I grew up in a very small rural, farm, and coal mining town called, "LaCygne, KS." It is about an hour straight south of Kansas City, and had a population of about 1,000 when I lived there from ages four to eighteen (I don't think the population has increased much in the past 25 years). "LaCygne," is French for "the swan," and the town is proud of that French heritage (as proud as a town the size of a postage stamp can possibly be).
Being raised in a single-parent home for most of my young years, my life in LaCygne wasn't an easy one. My mother and I were very poor. Looking back, I don't think I realized how poor we really were at the time, even though I was very aware of it. My mother had a decent job considering she had no education beyond high school. She worked as an administrative secretary and then as an accountant for a fishing lure company in a nearby town--a town even smaller than LaCygne called, Amsterdam, MO. She worked there the 14 years that we lived in LaCygne, and retired from that company about 16 years ago. The job paid the bills and put food on the table (more or less), but that's about it.
Money was extremely tight growing up. So tight that at times I had to pay for life's essentials out of my own babysitting or life-guarding money. "Extravagant" things like, my senior pictures and the clothes I wore for those pictures, also came from my own hard-earned dough. It was tough at times, especially when many of my friends had cars at age 16, and never had to work to pay for anything (let alone pay for their own toothpaste, borrow their prom dresses, mooch rides off of people, and cut their own hair). I recall in elementary school, that my mother would buy me 4 pairs of shoes per year--a pair of tennis shoes, a pair of dress shoes, a pair of casual shoes, and a pair of sandals. Those were the only shoes I had and they had to work with everything I wore (even though they really didn't a lot of the time). Getting made fun of by cruel kids who had more than I did was always a real delight.
On the bright side, when you grow up poor, you learn the value of a dollar. You also learn to be extremely appreciative of material possessions and of NOT being poor (and you're not that concerned if you aren't ridiculously wealthy, because again, you're just thrilled not to be poor)! Though my husband and I are not independently "wealthy" by any means, we have a very good life. If we need something, we can go buy it without any fear or trepidation about it. If we want something, we can usually do the same, within reason, of course. We have a good savings--God has blessed us with both emergency savings and retirement savings, and though we don't derive our faith and personal peace from our savings accounts and various funds, we try to be good stewards of what God has given us by putting money back for "rainy days" and retirement. We live within our means, but we live well. We also strive not to hoard our money--we are generous with our child, family, and friends, and we give to the church and other ministries (I am always a sucker for any charity that involves poor children, for obvious reasons). God-willing, we will continue to strive to be wise with our money and have the right balance of saving and generosity--sometimes that is a tricky balance, and we can always do better. After the money we lost (that everyone lost) in 2008, we realize wholeheartedly that God is the only One in control of our finances, our security, and our provisions in this life.
I was sharing my story of poverty, as well as, some of my personal testimony of how I came to trust Christ, with a music partner of mine a few months ago. Somehow we got on the topic of my hometown's name and what it meant. I laughingly said, "It is oddly kind of a sad name for my town--there are no swans there and there is nothing 'French' about it!" He made an interesting connection and statement about my hometown and my life story. He said, "Well, that is funny that your hometown's name means, 'the swan,' because you might have felt like an 'ugly duckling' growing up there, but God has turned you into a beautiful swan." What a precious statement and gift that was for me. I had never thought about that and would have never made that correlation. I don't think of myself as a graceful, beautiful swan (we need to get my friend some new glasses). But I do possess a grace that has covered and clothed me richly. It is the gift of grace and salvation offered to us all by Christ from His payment on the cross for our sins. All we have to do is accept the free gift, and salvation by grace is ours. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." I can't boast that I am a beautiful swan, as my sweet, [blind] friend declared. But I can and will forever boast in my Savior, who not only brought me out of poverty and has blessed me abundantly in my life, but who has given me the richest blessing of all--Himself. Though my poverty-stricken past and my personal sinfulness made me an ugly duckling, Christ's love for me and the gift of grace He gave to me out of that love, have made me feel like a swan. And He can transform you, too.