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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Society’s view of success often only scratches the surface

Paul Graves

Every Tuesday evening, I’m privileged to meet with a group of people whose lives deny the traditional definition of success. But they represent a deeper definition of success that goes well beyond appearances.

These men and women live their daily lives in poverty. They are part of the Bonner County Circles Campaign, an effort to end poverty through relationships that connect them to resources that can reduce, and then eliminate, poverty in their lives.

As we sit in (what else) a circle on any given Tuesday evening, spontaneous applause breaks out when we hear “I got a job yesterday!” or “My daughter got A’s and B’s for the quarter.”

Small victories in the daily struggle to persevere and to succeed are worthy of our gratitude, whether those victories belong to us or to someone we care about.

Circles is often about small successes, because they are the ones that keep our attitudes more positive. They remind us that we don’t have to live in the tyranny of the moment, that we do have a tomorrow to anticipate. We know when tomorrow becomes today, our dreams are still worth dreaming.

There are thirteen days until Christmas. That means we are still in the Christian season of Advent, a time of preparation for the birth of God.

Too often, it also means panic mode, because we have presents to buy, parties to attend, holiday cheeriness to pass around.

Advent and Christmas are my favorite Christian Church seasons, but I have to overlook a lot of American cultural foolishness to get to those wonderful times. Advent success goes beyond Christmas. In fact, Christmas success goes light years beyond Dec. 25.

“Success” comes from a Latin word that means “to follow after.” It is a reward after you follow a prescribed path.

For example: Financial success follows hard work, ethical behavior, right choices. Right?

Obviously, the real answer is “not always.” You might immediately think of Wall Street bailouts or other financial excesses that have rewarded people for behavior you believe is anything but ethical.

I think of those examples, too. But I also think of thousands of people in the Inland Northwest whose lives are topsy-turvy because of others’ financial excess. I think of our society’s general prejudice and ignorance about poverty’s causes.

It’s so easy to blame individuals for not working hard enough. It’s more difficult to see that economic and social systems keep poverty “alive but not well.”

I know people in Circles, and elsewhere, who live in the turmoil of poverty but succeed every day because they have learned the skills of economic and emotional survival.

They may have 2.7 jobs (the average number of jobs people in poverty have in North Idaho) and still struggle to provide food, shelter, clothing and education for their families. But they succeed. In so many ways, I see their success as more meaningful than my own.

The family Jesus was born into was far from a middle-class Jewish family. They became immigrants to Egypt just after Jesus was born, running from King Herod.

Jesus’ growing years in Nazareth were economically meager. His itinerant ministry with the disciples was dependent upon others for economic sustenance.

Jesus’ “success” obviously didn’t depend upon what religious leaders were used to in that time. His success went well beyond the day of his birth (whatever that exact date was). It was dependent on God’s grace and his own tenacious effort to love others.

Now that I think of it, so does ours.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is founder of Elder Advocates, an elder care consulting ministry. He can be contacted via e-mail at welhouse@nctv.com.
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