Reflections from a “free lunch” kid

When I was in elementary school, my aunt’s selection of color crayons was always a pain point for me. Each year, we would get the smallest pack, which I believe was an eight pack. To add insult to my injury, it would mostly be the generic brand. I remember staring longingly at the 64 pack Crayola that my BFF at the time always got. I would look down at my crayons and declare with a shaky internal child voice that, “When I had kids, they would always get the 64 pack.”

I was a free lunch kid from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The program eventually expanded to cover breakfast. I can remember that some years the teacher would discreetly give us “free lunch” kids our meal tickets. Other teachers made the production of calling us out to get them. Were those tickets a different color than people whose parents paid for their lunch? I would stare at the lunches Jody brought from home. They always looked so much better. Don’t get me wrong, I had some really good lunches. In elementary school, a favorite was turkey gravy over mashed potatoes with a roll and trail mix. But again that internal child voice would surface about what I would do when I had kids.

Other things stand out. If something like toilet paper was on sale with a coupon, we would all be queued up in line with our coupon, money and toilet paper, sugar or whatever the important item was. I remember government choose, beans, peanut butter, applesauce, etc. I can remember going away for sporting games in junior and high school and my aunt giving me a few dollars to buy dinner after the game. I barely had enough for a burger, and again that voice, which at that point in time had gotten resentful, would surface. I was so sure what I would do when I had kids. Even things like McDonald’s. We only got McDonald’s a handful of times when I was growing up. It was a meal that we ate so slowly and savored.

We always had new clothes for the first day of school. I think most times we got enough to last a few days with a “You’ll get more later,” fib attached. As the youngest girl, I was lucky since I had hand me downs. When I got my first job, my aunt made it very clear that I was on my own for new school clothes since I had a job. It was at this point, that I began to get it. Money didn’t grow on trees. We also had to buy stuff for the house, and like my aunt, I was looking at the sale ads for coupons. I should probably mention that my aunt raised me and my sisters and her four kids. At one point, there were seven of us kids.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized we were poor. It was when I saw my aunt making macaroni and cheese with government cheese and Top Roman noodles that I got it. My aunt had done all she could do to stretch her money. I have mentioned before that it is very weird to transition to a different socio-economic position than you grow up in. Yet and still, I still know how to stretch a dollar. Nothing gets wasted. A former roommate used to tease me how I would use the bar soap down until it was nothing, but that is what we did.

I say all of that to say this, as a child who grew up in the welfare system from free meals, food stamps, medical coupons, government food, etc., I can see the difference those services made in my life. As an adult, I realize that those services weren’t “free.” But, as an adult, I can also say that the tax dollars I pay in my adult life are a testimony to how important those services are. You can’t tell me that a child who is hungry is going to be able to do well in school. You can’t tell me that a child who is sick and without the means to go a doctor is going to get better.

Based on what I can see, the proposed healthcare and budget set forth by the current administration will do more harm than good to the poor, sick and elderly. Let’s look at the Christian Bible. The tenet of the Christian faith is pretty basic. It can be summed up in one word: Love. If you are foaming out of your mouth spreading hate and discord, you simply have not met the person who said to love your neighbor as yourself. You have not opened a Bible that is filled with scriptures about caring for those marginalized, poor and oppressed. I invite you to read the following scriptures: Proverbs 31:9, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 146:9, Psalm 82:3, Deuteronomy 14:29, James 1:27, Isaiah 1:23 and Jeremiah 22:3.

What bothers me the most is that we have people who profess to be Christians signing off on the travesty that is the Trump administration. His conduct pre- and post-election was and is abhorrent. I believe that everyone’s path to God is their own, but I do wonder who on earth some of these people met because it is not the God of love who I know.

Are there people who abuse the system? Of course, but I can tell you having grown up in the system that it isn’t glamorous with people eating steak and lobster every meal. I never went hungry, but you can bet we weren’t living high on the hog either.

“Say Hello to Heaven”

“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

I love this saying. It may be a mesh of two quotes. One is attributed to author James M. Barrie that says, “Be kinder than necessary.” The other is a quote attributed to Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

When I heard Chris Cornell had died, I was shocked. Growing up in Eastern Washington, my taste in music leaned toward heavy metal and hard rock. I can remember staying up on the weekends to watch the Headbangers Ball. One night, Eddie Vedder and another member of Pearl Jam were on the show, but I had not heard any of their music. I remember hearing the opening chords of “Alive” and thinking, ‘Oh yeah.’ I fell in love with Grunge. Pearl Jam. Sound Garden. Nirvana. Later I discovered Mother Love Bone and with the them a wonderment of what could have been, if.

The shock of Chris Cornell’s death increased when I learned the death had been labeled a suicide. It made me think of the internal battle that each of us face daily, often silently. And as I listened to the Temple of the Dog album, an album dedicated to the memory of Andrew Wood, I heard the songs in a different light.

As a writer, I put a little bit of myself in all my writing, and I began to wonder how much of the album was a personal cry, specifically the songs “Times of Trouble,” “Say Hello to Heaven” and “Four Walled World.” The lyrics meaning are somehow different, but I can’t find the words to adequately express why. Or I am self-censoring, not putting it into words because they sound wrong to my ears.

There was a family who attended my church. The family moved on, but what felt like a few years later, we got the news that the daughter had committed suicide. She was probably 12 or 13 at the time. I remember someone saying that we should never make a “permanent decision based on temporary circumstances.” I wondered at her age if she knew that life has ebbs and flows, ups and downs. Nothing is permanent. I began to wonder at what age do we comprehend the constant changes of season of life.

I realize that in the middle of some seasons, the end seems so far away. You silently cry out, ‘How long?’ Before any judgment, there should be compassion as to what level of despair a person must be in to take their own life. I would not call it selfishness or cowardliness. That is not my judgement to make. I have no idea of what their battle is. The level of despair would have to be high if things like family, friends and community are not enough to hold a person to this life.

Having dealt with depression, my reaction isn’t that the person should just snap out of it. I don’t know what the answer is, but for me it was learning to challenge the sometimes overwhelming thoughts that were crowded in my head. This constant challenge can be mentally exhausting, which is when I just go to sleep.

Learning to challenge my internal world changed my writing. I spent years writing out of my pain and despair. In some ways, it seemed like it was supposed to be that way. Dickinson. Poe. It just seemed that the price to write was to go through the valley to create. That has changed for me over the years in terms of writing. I was talking to my sister about drug and alcohol use in the creative process. Writing (or creating) sober, we self-censor and we hold back, as I am doing now. We also talked about the impact depression and trauma bring to the creative process. Perhaps the beauty in the rawness from writing from deep pain is that a filter is somehow removed there as well. As an artist, we become more open and more honest. For me, the urge of melancholy still exists like a shadow that follows me everywhere I go. It wants to consume me and overtake me. I find that human touch helps. The touch connects me to something/someone here.

I was thinking about Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Amy Winehouse, Scott Weiland and now Chris Cornell. All super talented and gifted. All gone way too fast. It is way too easy to dismiss their deaths and blame alcohol and drugs. We are all coping. Some cope with drugs and alcohol as addicts. Some cope as functioning alcoholics and addicts in nine-to-five jobs. Some cope with sex. Some cope with food. Some cope with God. We all just find ways to cope and cling to some hope. We find ways to numb ourselves and numb our pain.

In this current season, I find myself longing for something. Have you ever felt a yearning deep in your soul? Whatever it is sometimes feels close, but then it feels far away. The right song can bring that longing. The question becomes is that longing for something behind me or something in front of me. The yearning is enough to make me want to cry out in frustration as to what it is I am longing for. What it is that will fill the emptiness and void of whatever is missing.

In the end, what I am trying to say is be kind. It doesn’t matter how successful a person may seem on the outside, or how happy a person may seem on the outside. You never know what a person is dealing with or going through. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself.

PCC Scroll: Word of the Quarter

Here is an article I wrote for the latest issue of my church newsletter. Crazy that we are in the 16th year!

Word of the Quarter, PCC Scroll, Volume XVI Issue II

Get in the Fight

In this issue of the Scroll, we are continuing the overarching theme of “How Do We Arm Ourselves without Giving into and Operating Out of Fear.” The overarching theme began in the fall issue with the theme of “Changing Our Viewpoint.” In the winter issue, we continued with the theme of “Where is the Real Battle?” In this spring issue, the theme is “Get in the Fight.”

 

When the editing team met to write the “Word of Quarter,” we talked about how there were different ways to get in the fight. Getting in the battle didn’t always mean engaging in hand-to-hand combat on the frontline.

 

Look at the military. Before engaging, they understand the territory they are entering. They understand the language, culture, and customs. During war (and peace), there are different roles that people perform. There are those on the frontline. There are those who are strategist. There are those who work from home. All have roles. Some are soldiers. Some are generals. Some are in medical units. Some are suppliers. Some are far from the warzone, working at home in industry.

 

The Bible tells us that we are in a spiritual battle. What is the church’s response or role? A call to action or battle may be intimidating to some. But the call to battle looks different for everyone. Your call to battle could be an internal ministry of the church or an external ministry. Your call to battle could be facilitating a conversation at your church. Your call to battle could be encouraging others. Your call to battle could be equipping others through teaching or preaching. You can’t, however, sit on the sideline and complain. You are called to act. We all have a part to play.

 

There are things that prevent us from getting in the fight. It could be fear/intimidation, lack of education, or not knowing what language/lingo to use. It could also be a fear of change because we are uncomfortable with change. It could be that we are so focused on internal comfort that we ignore external circumstances. Being a bystander is not our call.

 

In our spiritual battle, it is important to hear from God. In the Bible, there are times when God’s people were told to be still and know He was God. Though it is important to know that one can be proactively still. Then there are times when God’s people were told to pursue and recover all.

 

There are certain areas that God is clear that we need to focus on. There are countless scriptures that deal with caring for the widows and the orphans. We are to fight for the people and fight against injustice. We are to advocate for people. This means we need to build relationships and hear people. We are not to damage people and create refugees in our wake.

 

We encourage you to know your position and get in the fight.

 

PCC Scroll, Editor’s Corner

Here is an article I wrote for the latest issue of my church newsletter. Crazy that we are in the 16th year!

Editor’s Corner, PCC Scroll, Volume XVI Issue II

It’s not about Me

There are times when it is very tempting to disengage from what is going on around me. There is this constant bombardment of information, be it from social media or the news. It is tempting to completely unplug, but I don’t have that luxury. In the end, my call is to help and minister to those who are marginalized and oppressed.

 

I invite you to read the following scriptures: James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 146:9, Deuteronomy 14:29, Isaiah 1:23, Psalm 82:3, Proverbs 31:9, and Jeremiah 22:3. This fight for social justice is not new, nor is it for ourselves. It is for those who society tends to forget about and those who society targets as scapegoats.

 

What strikes me is the strong level of selfishness and denial in our society. In fairness, this is not new either. People don’t want to hear truths that make them uncomfortable, but as a woman of color, I can tell you sexism and racism do exist. And if it makes you uncomfortable to hear about my experience, imagine how it feels to experience it.

 

People are willing to go along with social injustice when it doesn’t impact them. To some, because they don’t experience sexism and racism firsthand, they couldn’t possibly exist. This period reminds me of Protestant pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came for the Socialists.”

 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

 

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

 

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

What strikes me about the poem is that we continually go down the same path. We say, “Never again,” yet we find ourselves at the same crossroad over and over again. And many people, including people in the church, are willing to sit back in complacency because they are not impacted. I am a Christian not a Muslim, but I will fight against a Muslim registry. I will fight against any and all targeted racial and religious laws and bans.

 

And to be quite frank, as a person of color, I look at some people who I have considered friends and realize they won’t fight for me when “they” come for me. People are fine with not speaking out because they are enjoying their privilege and will continue to do so as long as events don’t impact them.

 

My mind moves to the parable of the Good Samaritan. It asked the question of who is your neighbor (I would add friend). The person who looks like you or is from the same place as you but can’t be bothered to help when you are in need, or the stranger/foreigner who comes to your aid.

 

It is time to get in the fight and speak against social injustice. Although there are many political “leaders” who I am not fans of, I have to remind myself that I am not fighting against them. I am fighting against a system created that thrives on injustice. I am fighting against this seemingly need to create “other” and “hierarchy.” I am fighting.

 

PCC Scroll: Men of the Bible

Here is an article I wrote for the latest issue of my church newsletter. Crazy that we are in the 16th year!

Men of the Bible, PCC Scroll, Volume XVI Issue II

Gideon

Name: Gideon

Meaning: Cutter or hewer

His Character: Gideon was a hard worker, who worked passionately when aligned with his task.

His Sorrow: Gideon’s faith was tested.

His Triumph: Gideon overcame his doubts and fears and led the Israelites to victory over the Midianites.

Key Scriptures: Judges 6 – 8

Gideon was the fifth of 12 judges to rule Israel. He started as a farmer from the tribe of Manasseh (Manasseh was the eldest son of Joseph and Aseneth, who was an Egyptian.) to become a warrior for God. Gideon was a judge of Israel for 40 peaceful years.

 

Gideon’s story is told in Judges. In chapter six, we learn that Israel had done evil in the sight of God, so God delivered them into the hands of the Midianites, who were a nomadic tribe who would raid in the Canaan area. The children of Israel lived in fear and were emotionally defeated. A greatly impoverished Israel cried out to God for help.

 

Gideon’s life was constantly challenged by the Midianites invaders. He was working on his father’s farm when an angel spoke to him. Gideon questioned the messenger. If God was with them, why were horrible things happening? Where were the wonders their forefathers experienced? Why had God abandoned them?

 

Gideon had been selected to show the people that their struggles were due to their having turned their back from God to worship idols. Gideon was hesitant. He was fearful and wondered why God was allowing Israel to suffer. He worried about his family. He doubted his call, and he doubted his ability and adequacy to complete the task. Once he was convinced, he wholeheartedly went for it.

 

Gideon was instructed to destroy a temple that had been built by his father for the pagan god Baal in the city of Ophrah. Because he feared the people, Gideon secretly destroyed the temple at night. The people, upon realizing it was Gideon, threatened him with death, but his father intervened.

 

After that, Gideon led the campaign against the Midianites. Because of doubt, he asked God for a sign of victory. Upon receiving the sign, he still did not believe, so he asked for another one, which was given. To test his faith, God had Gideon reduce the size of the army to 300 men (the army they faced was thousands) so that all would know the victory came from God, not the strength of men. Gideon and the men surrounded the Midianite camp at night and used trumpets and the breaking of pottery jars to cause confusion and the enemy fled.

 

The people wanted Gideon to be king, but he instead took gold, which he fashioned after an ephod, which is a pagan image. The people began worshipping this image, which is exactly what Gideon was supposed to turn the people from.

 

In Gideon’s example, we see the importance of relying on God despite seemingly unwinnable circumstances. Even though he showed a lack of faith, he is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. Gideon, like many of us, focused on his own limitations and was concerned God could not work through him. But God uses our gifts and abilities despite our failures and fears.

 

God is constantly preparing us today for our tomorrow. We just need to have faith that God will equip and prepare us for our assignment. Like Gideon, we must look beyond the status quo of our lives. We need to set aside our vision for our lives and embrace God’s. When the angel of God spoke to Gideon, the angel called Gideon “mighty warrior.” At that time, Gideon didn’t even know he would be a warrior. God’s vision for us is greater than our vision for ourselves.

 

PCC Scroll: Your Money Matters

Here is an article I wrote for the latest issue of my church newsletter. Crazy that we are in the 16th year!

Your Money Matters, PCC Scroll, Volume XVI Issue II.

Baby Steps

Getting your personal finances in order can be a long journey, so the journey needs to be taken step by step. This can be done with baby steps. The most important thing is to just start.

 

I have mentioned in the past that I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey. Many of his philosophies about money management resonated with me, so I started his 7 Baby Steps to financial freedom years back. Each time I have completed a step, it has felt great.

 

I would encourage you to visit his website, daveramsey.com, and read some of his articles. Here are his 7 Baby Steps to financial freedom:

  1. Baby Step 1 – $1,000 to Start an Emergency Fund
  2. Baby Step 2 – Pay Off All Debt but the House
  3. Baby Step 3 – 3 to 6 Months of Expenses in Savings
  4. Baby Step 4 – Invest 15% of Household Income Into Retirement
  5. Baby Step 5 – College Funding for Children
  6. Baby Step 6 – Pay Off Home Early
  7. Baby Step 7 – Build Wealth and Give

 

Baby Step 1 – Emergency Fund

Step 1 is building an emergency fund. This small stash is meant to give you a small buffer as you pay off debt. That way if a plumbing issue happens, you have the money in the bank to pay for it instead of using a credit card. If you wanted to save $1,000 but could only afford to put away $100 a month, it would take 10 months to reach the goal. If you could only afford $50 a month, it would take a little under two years. And that does sound like a long time, but I would encourage you to start.

 

Baby Step 2 – Pay Off All Debt (not including mortgage)

Step two is paying off all debt (not including your mortgage). According to a recent Bloomberg article, the average American credit card balance per consumer is around $5,437. The process to pay the money back could occur over a couple of years, all along adding interest dollars to the debt.

 

Ramsey recommends starting with the smallest balance (credit card, student loan, car loan, etc.). You continue paying all debt, but you add extra to the smallest balance. This gives you a win sooner, and you begin the snowball effect. You take the money you were using to pay the now paid off debt and apply it to the next balance.

 

Etc.

Finishing Baby Step 2 is very liberating, and it opens you up to really start saving, beginning with your three to six months savings and then to retirement savings. In Baby Step 3, you build up your emergency fund to hopefully keep you out of debt. When emergencies happen, you have a safety net. If you need to use the money, replenish it. In Step 4, you invest 15% of your income toward retirement. We have no way of knowing where Social Security will be when we retire, so we have to plan. And so on in the steps.

 

In the end, the financial journey is about taking baby steps. Little by little the nest egg grows, and you are able to reach your goal. The process requires sacrifice in the here and now, but in the end, the sacrifice will be worth it. Set goals and continue using your budget.

 

If you need help setting up a budget, let me know. I would be happy to help. I use a very simple Excel spreadsheet for categories and manually track my balance in each category each month. If you would be interested in speaking with a financial advisor, please let me know. I have one who I work with and wholeheartedly recommend.

 

The Importance of International Trade

I have spent the last twenty plus years of my life working in international trade. The majority of the years have been spent as a data analyst. This does not make me an “expert,” but I would like to think I have gained some insight over time.

In my role, I hear a lot of sound bites about “family wage” jobs. I hear a lot about how Washington is the most trade dependent state in the U.S. I hear how four in ten jobs in Washington are tied to international trade. I hear about how jobs in trade pay higher on average wages than other sectors in the state.

I’ve attended a few conferences over the last few months, and I have wanted to share my own thoughts on the importance of trade, specifically because of the anti-trade rhetoric I have been hearing more and more. The last election cycle was extremely puzzling to me for many reasons. Trade, which for the most part seems to be at the bottom of the barrel in conversations, took center stage. While I was happy to see politicians and citizens talking about trade, I was taken aback by how some of the candidates villainized the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP). To paraphrase Stuart Elway of Elway Research, trade was somehow made an issue of patriotism. By being against TPP, you were putting “America First.” Elway said that the word trade was used as a surrogate for the word economy.

But here is what trade does do. It increases jobs, increases income, and reduces prices. Unfortunately, there are people in the U.S. who don’t see or feel this in their daily lives. So what gets told, according to Elway, is an emotional story. This story is held true regardless of any data/facts that tell why international trade is good for the economy. Bruce Stokes of Pew Research Center spoke of “emotional issues” when dealing with trade and trade pacts.

As Elway put it, there seems to be “winners” in globalization and “losers” in globalization. The “losers” seem to be getting left behind. People’s income level, education level, and location (rural vs. urban) influence how they feel. The states of WA, OR, CA, with international trade ports, are very pro-trade. OH, PA, and rust belt states are anti-trade. In truth, jobs are being lost to automation, but somehow globalization got blamed. At one conference, a leading industry economist, Dr. Nariman Behravesh, shared the following fact: Since the 1970s, the U.S. has lost 7M jobs. 75% to 85% of the jobs lost were due to automation, not globalization. Those jobs are not coming back.

I have heard many arguments that trade keeps the U.S. safer. I think the logic is that jobs created overseas grow the middle class in other places in the world. A figure I hear quite a bit is that 95% of the world’s consumers live outside of the U.S. If you are an exporter in the U.S., I would assume you would want to tap into those markets.

The U.S. has prided itself on being a “world leader.” By stepping out of trade, closing borders, and becoming protectionist, or worse isolationist, then someone else will rise up to take that place. The rest of the world would and should go on without us. In regards to TPP, there was language in TPP that would have set environmental and job condition standards amongst signing partners. And there was language in it that would have “updated” NAFTA. We need to move forward and engage globally.

We are constantly being bombarded with misinformation. How do we battle it? The anti-trade, anti-immigration rhetoric of the current administration has impact outside of trade. It also impacts tourism, which is part of the economy and the livelihood of many. It impacts small and medium-sized businesses who want to export who could be impacted by tit-for-tat tariffs and restrictions. It impacts farmers who can be priced out of the market.

Trump’s policies would lead to a trade war with China and other countries. Trump has mentioned a 45% tariff on Chinese imports, which would get passed to the consumer, and China would retaliate and place tariffs on U.S. goods, which would price out American exporters, specifically farmers. Trump has also mentioned a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico. Same scenario as above.

Yes. We could get into a trade war, but it is not a war we will win. The consumer loses. All tariffs do is decrease trade, decrease revenues, and decrease salaries. All of this impacts workers and consumers, which impacts local education, housing prices, etc. And lest we forget, a huge part of our economy is based on consumer spending.

I wish I had answers on how to end the practice of trade being used as a scapegoat for a weak economy and being turned into the boogey man. Automation will continue to lead to more job losses even if we isolate. The question is how do we reeducate and retrain our workforce to keep up in the rapidly changing world. People want the world to slow down, but it will not.

Personally, I think a multi-lateral agreement makes sense. You have multiple partners on the same page with the same rules. Regulations being consistent helps small businesses navigate international markets. If we are going to go bi-lateral, we must ensure the same language is in place.

For more reading on the topic:

Future of trade discussed at gathering in Seattle,” HeraldNet, Dan Catchpole, March 14, 2017

World prepares to move on without U.S. on trade,” Politico, Adam Behsudi, March 14, 2017

Washington’s Global Trade Future Without The Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Lens, Mike Richards, February 8, 2017

Passage of TPP trade pact benefits our state,” The Olympian, Eric Schinfeld and Kris Johnson, September 2, 2016

6 Ways TPP Benefits Washington State,” Washington Council on International Trade blog post, Ashley Dutta, July 18, 2016