I’m the iPhone Mom in the Food Stamps Line

If you follow us on social media you may be aware that in January my husband was officially laid off from his job as a mobile app developer for a start up. It was a pretty crummy situation, since only this last September the same company had given us permission to relocate from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area and begin a whole new life in Salem, Oregon. Because of the nature of my husbands work, he is able to do his job entirely online, so it was no big deal for his company to allow him to work from another state. In fact, a majority of the coworkers on my husbands project lived too far away to commute to the office, being that they all live in India. Such is the nature of the new global economy, so we were thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity to leave the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley life and live in a quieter, slower, more intentional way here in Salem. What we didn’t expect however was that only months later the company would admit to hitting financial difficulties; difficulties they chose to solve by eliminating an employee salary – OUR salary. Yikes. So now that we relocated from the very place where a majority of these tech jobs exist, now we would be looking for work. Double yikes.

Layoffs-Unemployment-Job-Cuts-Losses-Pink-Slip-FiredWe ever so briefly asked ourselves if we had made a horrible mistake and needed to consider taking interviews back in CA, but we quickly remembered all it took for God to bring us to Oregon, and how he had confirmed to us over and over again that we wanted this life for our kids. Besides: even if we got a decent salary back in the bay, the cost of living had skyrocketed so high that we would never be back on our feet again, and certainly never have a home or a life like we’ve found here in the far more affordable state of Oregon. We recognized that it was more logical to deal with short term struggle here in Oregon, where we at least have a shot at a future, then go back to CA where we may never get out of the cycle of paycheck to paycheck life, if we could even support ourselves at all.

So Bobby went about the business of applying for new work. He even went through multiple interviews with the same company, who eventually brought him onsite to meet the team and even talk to HR… only to send him a form email the next day saying they “couldn’t offer employment at this time.” Resume after resume was going out, and most of the time he only heard crickets in response. The very last paycheck had come at the end of January, and we would do everything in our power to stretch that as long as could. Besides, Bobby had paid into unemployment insurance with every check, so we’d at least have that right?

The letter from unemployment was jarring: your claim has been denied. What? That couldn’t possibly be right. Countless phone calls and entire CD’s worth of hold music later, the mysterious problem was finally uncovered. Turns out the HR representative at Bobby’s last job had made an eentsy weentsy miniscule typo – in his social security number. *head-desk* So all those payments diligently made to unemployment insurance month after month, paycheck after paycheck, ensuring we were properly prepared for an occasion just such as this? Not a one of them was credited to Bobby, but to a magical second social security number that wasn’t even his. More phone calls and even more hold music later, the final word was something along the lines of “yes, you most definitely qualify, but no, we have no idea whatsoever how long it will take for the two states to sort this mess out. We’ll get back to you… eventually.”

So here we are – 2 kids, 1 mortgage, 0 immediate sources of income.

So now it seems the calendar says MARCH along the top, resumes are still going out each and every day, and that paycheck from January is shrinking so that it’s all but vanished at this point. I wont lie – the scariest part is when you realize you cant pay your mortgage anymore. We moved to a whole new state to seek more affordable housing, something well within responsible budgeting guideline suggestions, and yet now that we’re here we feel it slowly slipping away. February is still due, March is now upon us, and who knows when either UI benefits or a new job will finally bring the next check into our mailbox. So I finally put my pride aside and applied for food stamps, because my children need food on the table more than they need my stubborn self reliance.

A Popular Internet Meme

A Popular Internet Meme

Now I suddenly find myself stepping into the role of an unpopular stereotype: the iPhone mom in the food stamps line. I admit it, Im terrified to answer calls on my shiny gold iPhone when I’m in the social services building or even in the grocery store line. I’ve even gone so far as to turn my wedding ring upside down so only the band is visible, the stone hidden away from view. I know what people may think: “how can you have an iPhone and claim to need food stamps?” “How can you have ANY nice things but then expect the hardworking taxpayers to pay your bills? ” And I get it: it’s hard to think that while you’re working so hard, trying desperately to create a future for your own family, that somebody else expects you to pay for theirs. And yet, here I am – forced to abandon my pride and accept the help that is often less than willingly given, knowing full well how many people may think we don’t deserve it.

The truth? Even people with good jobs who keep to the budget and make the “right” choices with their money can end up in situations they never expected, and sometimes by no fault of their own. In this new economy our story is FAR from unique. Thousands of people who have worked hard, spent money responsibly, and haven’t taken a vacation in years are finding themselves very suddenly and unexpectedly struggling to put food on their table. Gone are the days when we can assume that anyone that’s willing to work hard can make a good life for themselves. It’s no longer as simple as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps or simply altering your budget. My husband had a great job, made smart choices, always put into his retirement responsibly, and we aren’t exactly buying luxury cars or designer bags around here. Most notably my husband and I haven’t actually taken a vacation since our honeymoon – and that was over 6 years ago.

Why am I sharing all this? Why even feel the need to justify our situation? My hope is that by sharing the reality of our own situation, and how difficult it has been to even admit we need government assistance at all, that people would see that these unflattering archetypes we so easily mock represent real people with real stories. From everyone I’ve seen and spoken to in a situation like mine, one thing has been consistent: nobody PLANS to live on government assistance. Trust me when I say you aren’t getting enough to live comfortably, just enough to keep your pantry from running empty. So when you see that mom with a nice purse using her WIC coupons, or you see that man talking on his iPhone at the social services office, try not to judge. For many, needing help is a temporary situation they never expected. Even if they sold their phone or pawned their nice purse, it wouldn’t be enough to fix things anyways. Sometimes, when you’re living on so little and going without so much, it’s those little things you hold on to that help you believe you can get back there someday. They may be remnants of an old life, where the budget more than provided for them. They may be a gift from someone better off, someone who can easily afford to spoil a good friend.  And for some, the harsh reality is that they may always be struggling, no matter how hard they work or how much they try. For those people in particular I would pray our hearts would have compassion over judgment, and would recognize than when your whole life is spent in a position of sacrifice, you need to have some small comforts, some little joys to make life worth living.

fear and faithAs far as the Tait family is concerned, I trust that God has a plan for this desert season we find ourselves in. One thing for certain is that when we receive food stamps, or a donation from a friend to help pay the bills, it’s so much easier to directly recognize God’s provision. When we have a good job and collect those paychecks? Then it’s so easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we earned it ourself, the pride that a sense of ownership and well earned entitlement can bring, and its too easy to forget who our provider really is. When you have no choice to remove yourself and your hard work from the equation, the first thing to go is that pride: the illusion is shattered, and you see each and every cent for what it really is – mana from heaven. We are immensely blessed, and we trust that God will keep providing for our needs in ways we never expect or imagine. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s scary right now – its downright terrifying. But real faith exists only in the presence of real fear. When we’re sure of our next step, its not faith that guides us, but common sense. Faith and fear aren’t mutually exclusive. No, faith and fear live in a beautiful intimacy, totally intertwined until you cant tell where one begins and the other ends.

So for now we focus on living authentically, and being open about wherever God takes us in this story. Perhaps an incredible new job is just on the horizon. Perhaps the lean times will continue and Gods miraculous provision will keep being displayed in unexpected places. I wont pretend I know the plan, in fact I will openly admit I dont have the foggiest idea what it is at this point, but I don’t have to know it to trust it. I know HIM, and I know His promises, and thats enough for now. Every time I look at the tattoo on my wrist I’m reminded of this verse which keeps us moving forward each day in that trust:

“And to Him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE than all we ask or imagine according to His power than is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)