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the truth about welfare

Uncomfortable revelations seem to be my lot in life.

You know, the kind you get when you’ve been super judgmental of something or someone and then you suddenly find yourself in their shoes . . .

For example, my older brother had three kids before I had one. I remember riding in their van and being astonished by the crayons and toys and sippy cups littering the floor.

How hard is it? I actually uttered those words in my head. Keeping your car clean can’t be that time-consuming.

Oh, yes. I did.

Twenty years and four kids later, my van is still a mess. I feel like a permanently-dirty-van curse was direct and swift punishment for my judgmentalism.

. . . I could give you countless other examples of this. The things I would never and suddenly am . . .

But the one that is pricking my heart right now — well, I still have a hard time putting it into words.

I’m not sure I can adequately express to you how humbling it was to go through the interview  process for TANF: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, formerly known as “welfare.”

I think I cried more varieties of tears in November and December of 2007 than I’ve cried in my whole life combined. The joblessness, homelessness, Dave’s relapse . . . painful sledgehammer blows to my pride.

And the lady in the DSHS office had zero compassion.

She shared with me in the most condescending tone that I would be better off and get more assistance if I left my husband. As it stood, we could get no rental assistance, no cash benefit, and no food stamps for at least a month (due to a technicality with Dave’s final paycheck) even though we had absolutely nothing. We were welcome to come back the next month and apply, but, she warned me, everyone in the household over 16 years old has to be pursuing full-time work in order to get anything more than food benefits.  I had no idea what all that meant, other than that if  I got a full time job, our youngest would go to daycare. And though I argued with her that I could make more money working part-time as a teacher and not have to pay for daycare than working full-time doing anything else and having to pay for daycare, she said those are the rules.

Once Dave had a low-income job, however, we were eligible for food assistance, for which we were extremely grateful. But every pay increase, no matter how small, reduced our assistance — even though we were below Federal Poverty Level for more than a year.

And one day, it stopped all together. Which was good, because it meant we were getting back on our feet, but I could not help wondering, as we subsequently lost free lunch for our kids and then reduced medical while still struggling to pay off debts and live, What is the point? What incentive is there to work hard and get out of poverty?

The  distance between poverty and “self-sufficiency” is a no-man’s land. It’s two steps forward, three back. And there are more enticing reasons to hang on to the help when you can get it than to kill yourself to stand on your own two feet.

I remember the day I got the letter  about free college tuition. My child could have free tuition if I signed up during 8th grade and was still financially eligible when she graduated from high school. I looked at the income limits and had a Scarlett O’Hara moment: As God is my witness, we will not still be that poor in four years. And we weren’t.

I have so many bottled up thoughts and feelings from being poor . . . I remember skipping recovery group because we could afford neither gas or nor child care. One of those Friday nights, I sat on the landing between the flights of stairs of our tiny two-story townhouse, planning cheap meals to maximize food benefits (which weren’t half of what I spend on food now) and make them last the full month, praying for raises and hand-me-downs, and feeling ashamed of my ignorance and judgment of people in this affluent country who ask for help. I sat on the stairs, the oddest and only place to be alone, and talked to God about how I would not forget my American poverty and would speak up and do something about it.

But I’ll be honest with you, it’s pretty daunting.

I wish we could all just see caring for the poor and wandering among us as our God-given responsibility, but we don’t. Instead we draw lines in the sand and redefine “neighbor” to suit. We pull out the worst stories of abusing the system and sling the word “welfare” like mud. Because there are plenty of entitled people out there whose behavior makes you cynical in a heartbeat.

But the truth is, there are more than we can possibly know who slip through the cracks of a system we think just hands out money to poor people and foreigners.

And then there are those for whom the system sort of works — like us.

* * * * *

The president of a rescue mission spoke these words from Isaiah to me in a phone interview early in those years of poverty and writing. I know he had no idea what they meant to me, or how they would seep into my soul.

This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ He will quickly reply.
Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.

 Isaiah 58

* * * * * *

Soon, I’m going to paint those words on the wall of our own home, over the landing between the flights of stairs.

I want to remember always to have compassion.

To not forget the help given to us by God, by our church, by family and friends and by our government.

* * * * *

Photograph: Poor whites, Georgetown, D.C. photographed by Carl Mydans, 1935 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [reproduction number LC-DIG-fsa-8a00144]

when it’s time to burn the past

There is a bittersweet beauty in burning the past.

Medical bills, credit card statements, unemployment reports, brochures from recovery centers, duplicate checks, collections files . . . stuff we’ve carried for seven years and more and can finally let go.

Neither of us has wanted to do this.

We stuffed non-essentials-that-could-be-important into a few boxes and a four drawer fling cabinet seven years ago and shut it away in storage, in a garage, and in a closet under the stairs.

Now we sift. Through lesson plans — his and mine. Through game plans — his from coaching days. I am surprised to feel no grief over reminders of the good things we once had and lost. We toss papers ruthlessly into the fire.

Files of pay stubs, of copies of forms filled out every three months to keep public assistance, pay stubs from work, handwritten budgets.

We keep a few things . . . Notes and bills helpful to see again as I write. Behavior contracts — evidence of my desperation to get a grip on a life spinning wildly out of control. Our food benefits card — witness to the year we stayed home because we didn’t have gas but at least we had food to eat.

Seven years of getting back up slowly after losing job, home, ministry all on one dreary November afternoon.

* * * * *

The long, steady ascent from the abyss began with decisions to stay.

To stayed married. To stay together. To stay in a small town where everyone connects to everyone eventually . . .

I admire his tenacity. Day after day, earning trust, respect and confidence. I hate having to prove myself again and again; I would have given up a long time ago. But he’s been at it for seven years.

Years of clocking in and marking down every hour, every minute, every place.

Years of increasing responsibility.

Years of keeping every. single. receipt.

Years of weekly meetings with men to encourage each other to keep going.

Years of speaking truth over and over.

Years of paying debts.

Years of taking one day at a time.

Seven years.

* * * * *

Every seven years, a nation celebrated in make-shift dwellings, to remember deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

Remember how I led you when you could not see?

Remember how I fed you when you could not feed yourself?

Remember how I sheltered you when you did not have a home?

At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts . . . because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)

Every seven years, a new start: the Season of Our Joy. 

* * * * *

I don’t readily remember the exact date. I have to look through a journal to find it.

I checked this week, when the weather suddenly turned cold and I felt the time coming.

And I feel the beauty of providence.

This week, we are purging the past, preparing to move from our 18th temporary home into a home of our own.

This week, our church provides meals for a local ministry that gives people a new start. And it turns out we are making dinner together tonight for homeless men exactly seven years from the day we became homeless ourselves.

On this day, we were set free from fifteen years of slavery to addiction and fear. Set free into uncertainty, and wandering and complete dependence on God.

* * * * *

Dear friend, sometimes you are just ready to sort and burn the burdens of the past.

To let go of the piles of guilt you’ve been carrying with you in boxes because you couldn’t bear to look too closely at the done and the undone.

To sift through it all and pull out the things that remind you of how bad it was then and keep a few to remind you how grateful you are for now.

People like to say you need to forget the past to move forward. But I don’t think that’s true.

It’s good to remember what you were rescued from so that you never return to slavery. It’s good to remember who cared for you when you couldn’t take care of yourself. And it’s good to remember the day you lost it all and commemorate it as a new beginning.

Here’s to the Season of Our Joy,

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dear mom who is trying to do everything right

I remember reading the list in the What to Expect Book carefully and following every detail. Like I was making a lemon meringue pie. Or replacing the water pump in a car. I had never washed a newborn before! I needed detailed instructions.

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dear mom who feels the darkness

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

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dear mom who wishes she could home school

Still, the beautiful ideal to me is a hard but simple farm life and a dining room table school. But that's not my life at all . . .

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dear mama who worries

I think every mama on this Monday morning will say a prayer. Whether she believes in God or not. Because someone has to watch them. Someone, please.

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a season of sharing the work

What is it about sitting in the presence of someone cooking a fresh meal that soothes?

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on the occasion of my 100th post

There's a lot to read on the world wide web and so little time to read it. So thanks!

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17 things I say to my kids that I really should say to myself

If anyone anywhere very desperately needed to take her own advice, it would be me.

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when you fall asleep writing a title and hit publish on accident

So, I started recording myself.

Yep.

Because I have thoughts. Many of them. And I can’t write them down legibly fast enough.

I have an app on my phone called “Tape a Talk” which is far better for everyone than the old write and drive. Oh yes, with my eyes on the road . . . and yes, sometimes I couldn’t read it. Thoughts always come to me when I am driving.

Maybe because I used to do so much of it — driving. Hours and hours. For years. But for some beautiful, unselfish reason, my husband does most of the driving now.  He manages to get one to practice on one end of town, take the other two to work out with him on the other end of town, and go back to pick the other one up. Drives them to the bus. Picks them up from football games . . .

I know. I am utterly spoiled.

Anyway, I’m listening to one of my recordings, (which is a whole lot like listening to my sister’s voice messages — our voices are practically twins) and — now remember, I am only talking to myself. There is NO one to interrupt my thoughts — I’m chatting away on the recording and suddenly, for no conceivable reason:

loooooooonggg pause

“There was something I was just now thinking of . . .”

“ummm . . .”

“I can’t remember what it is.”

<<end recording>>

This is a conversation with myself. Out loud. Recorded. 

And there you have it: I get distracted even when I am talking to myself.

But the conversation I had with myself was a good one. I was talking about our kids, and I got a little wistful thinking about how much I loved them from the day they were born, and how love grew as they did, and how now I love them more than I could imagine.

Really.

And when I got home, I browsed the photos on my computer and realized our youngest grew up overnight in spite of my watchful eye.

And tonight, on his tip-toes he was taller than me, and my husband said “no” when I wanted him to look, and I suddenly realized why he drives them everywhere . . .

* * * * *

One day, my memory will be even worse. And I will be the lady with the cats and the books and the unruly garden, living on spinach dip and tortilla chips and feeding Dave TV dinners. And our kids will drive me around when they come home, and I will talk to myself . . .

(I’m guessing that will happen in about six years. Or around Christmas.)

And I was reminded of this verse — children are a gift — and I found it attached to the other one that has been nagging at my mind and I realize maybe my memory is not so very bad after all.

Maybe it just needs a little sleep.

 

* * * * *

It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.
Children are a gift from the LORD;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!

Psalm 127:2-5

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beginning again and again

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shoes for the season

I have lived in the Pacific Northwest for a dozen years, and I just bought my first pair of actual rain boots.

The first year we lived here, I didn’t really own socks. I had worn flip flops nearly year round in Southern California. I remember one day my neighbor said, “You need to get yourself appropriate footwear.” I smiled and laughed. We were kind of poor. We needed things like food and gas.

Eventually, I accepted the cold — got socks, and all purpose rain/snow/low top boots, but I never had the real deal: tall rubber boots. Brand new! For less than what it costs to feed my boys at Taco Bell — which has become a standard of measure.

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MY SISTER and ME!

It’s kind of amazing what the right footwear can do. They actually made me want it to rain . . .

. . . and go on an adventure.

So my sister and I hit Seattle to celebrate her birthday. She has lived here for a little over a year and is very much delighted by the rain and tromping around the city in the rain sounded like the perfect way to spend her day.

Of course, I managed to hit every light on the way to the ferry, took too long to find a parking spot and feed the meter, and I had to run to catch the boat. I am always running to catch a boat. (The last time I rode the ferry, I was the lucky last car. This time, I was the sad loser watching through the terminal window as the gangplank raised and the boat left. Win some/lose some. Even Steven.)

Half a minute faster would have done it. But either rain boots are not good running shoes  . . . or I am not a good runner . . .

Anyway, we had a lovely time in the city.

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SEATTLE SKYLINE & FANCY BOOTS

We walked all over, ate someplace we’d never been, drank coffee and talked about all the things we could fit into four hours of conversation. She is a writer, an editor, a cancer survivor, a wife of a man in ministry, a mom of teens, a cat lover and owner, an avid reader, a smarty, a voice for justice, an artist. I love her, and she lives here now and we get to be in our forties together.

It was a good day. But it never rained.

That is, it never rained on us. Rain boots, rain coats  – we were so prepared!

The rain started the second I got off the ferry and into my car to go home.

On the way home, I thought about some things. You know, like you do when you are gliding over the water, breathing the soothing sea air.

1. Teaching your kids to love each other and enjoy each other’s company is so worth the massive amount of effort it takes when they are growing up.

I’m so thankful that my mom spent so much of her days refereeing children. I know from my own experience that it had to have been exhausting. But I have always believed one of my primary jobs as a mom is to nurture the friendships inside my house. I want my kids to always love each other. How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1

2. I don’t dread the passage into fall and rain so much this year ‘cuz look at those fancy boots!

Live the season,

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for the blog collage of feet

 

a season of uncertainty and certainty

I wrote so many thoughts over the weekend and not one of them is ready for print. Not even on the internet.

I did, however, have a breakthrough last night when I realized the post I had written was the very thing I needed for something else but was definitely not the right thing to post here.

Sometimes, I wish I had written things for people to read when I was so sure, so certain of equations and sums.

If I am this sort of wife then, if I am this sort of mom then, if I am this sort of worker then . . .

But I’m very glad I didn’t. Because now, as much as I may like to think a thing should be this way, or this effort should produce this result, I know outcomes are not always up to me.

Perhaps that is the real crisis of mid-life.

Suddenly, the things you thought were real and true and guaranteed do not turn out as you expected.

The marriage you thought was unbreakable is broken. The effort you put in seems wasted. Children grow up and make their own choices in spite of (and sometimes to spite) you.

I am more reluctant now to open my mouth with certainty. Because what will come of it all is not yet known.

Because the important of yesterday fades as the walk becomes more by faith less by sight. Where I once thought I had a measure of control, I have discovered I have none at all. And the great mystery to me is that the less I am sure of myself, the more I am sure of God.

Because if you ask me if I believe people can change, I will say yes without a shade of doubt.

Ask me if there is hope in the worst of circumstances, and I will say always and never give up.

Ask me if the broken can be restored, and I will say nothing is so broken it cannot be mended.

Ask me how to parent a child, and I will say pray always without ceasing.

Ask me how to keep a marriage together, and I will say forgive.

Most things I write need to sit a while . . . and then filter through life and be worked out . . .

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try to be there, a Sunday picture

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Your quiet is good.

Your reflective is necessary.

Your words encourage someone.

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how do I envy? let me count the ways . . .

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Maybe it’s the every day . . .

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That little piece is a drug called Suboxone.

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And why.

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