Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I am that person

i understand that there are many opinions about people who live on public assistance. I'm not one to ignite debate, so I've closed comments. Our decision was one of necessity and not taken lightly, and we believe that this is for a season and this is my thoughts on that season.

When Dave found out that he no longer had a job, he had one more day left and I was due to have Sam in 10 days. I was standing in a friend's pool when I heard the news and I felt like the world had just fallen. What were we going to do?

We had been smart with our money. No consumer debt and a small amount of savings for a rainy day. But this small amount wouldn't get us very far. We had a choice to make about government assistance and we had to make it quickly.

We needed medical assistance for our children, but would we take the food assistance? A battle raged in my mind. What would that look like to others? Were we not trusting God to use our community to take care of our needs? How would it look to our friends that we were on food stamps? All stereotypes of food stamp people ran through my mind. They were the ones milking the system, they wanted to be on this for life, and they wanted a hand-out, not help out of their situation. I did not want to be that lady in the store.

I am that lady now. I am the one on food stamps in front of you. I look like any other normal, thiry-something mom. And here's what happens to me when I swipe that card.

I hold the card hidden as to not let any other people in line know that it's not a debit card. I quietly mention to the cashier the card that I'm using and hope she doesn't say it louder. The moment I swipe that card, the cashier, so friendly before and making conversation, suddenly turns cold. I am now all those assumptions she has in her head. I am the one milking the system and not looking to be free of this system. I try to smile and reply back kindly, but it often times doesn't garner a response. And all this usually happens at the cheap grocery store, where I feel like I fit in more. When I go to the fancy organic stores for deals on good flour and other foods, the response is much colder.

I want to wear a sign that says, "My husband lost his job suddenly before I had my third child. He looks daily and we are trying to make ends meet. We don't have debt and we're doing all we can to keep from losing our home. I don't want to be on this". I even use reusable bags, do coupon deals and buy healthy food.

It's sad that I feel like I have to do this with so many people in our economy in our situation. I know I'm not alone. The food stamp line is no longer 'those' people. It's me. A stay-at-home mom who loves to go to Target, drink Starbuck's Americano's, and wear really comfy shoes that I find at Nordstrom. People like me are losing their homes and we desperately DO NOT want to be here, and we question what we could have done differently.

Despite all this, the lessons I'm learning are ones I can only learn in this place. I appreciate a full shampoo bottle or package of toilet paper. I now make the entire peanut butter jar stretch rather than just the last couple tablespoons. And with all this creativity in stretching material things, I find greater joy in things we have that are not tangible, like family time, dinner with friends, and coffee at friend's homes.

I am going to make the best of this time. I'm going to reap all the lessons I am learning and help pass them onto others. And my first lesson, is not to judge those whose situations I do not know or understand. I am going to be as kind as I can to those cashier's who make assumptions about me and teach others how to live in this place with joy instead of shame. I believe that my decision to choose joy will make a lasting impact on my children and we can look back and say that the Lord taught us great things during a time of great need.