An Open Letter to My College Friends

Y’all,

I recently learned that a dear friend of mine has cancer.  After talking about getting together with her and another mutual friend, Jamie, for months, once we heard the news, it lit a fire under us to actually make it happen.  This friend, Amber, turned 33 on October 20th, so Jamie and I decided to head to Tulsa and celebrate Amber’s birthday weekend with her.  Hence, the reason why I was not at Homecoming.  Well, one of the reasons.  The main reason.  I actually was leaning toward coming this year, believe it or not.  Had I not gone to Tulsa to visit my friend, odds are that I would have been with all of you at Tech that day, at least for a short while.  Unless, of course, I suddenly decided to change my mind and stay home.  We all know this would have been possible.  It wouldn’t have been the first time.  I really was leaning toward coming, though.  But I needed to go see my friend and I’m thankful to have gone to Tulsa instead of Ruston that weekend. 

Amber had a birthday party at a local park on Sunday afternoon.  Jamie and I sat side by side in chairs and visited with each other while Amber made the rounds hugging and talking with all her friends.  Amber has always been a great teacher in my life, although she may not realize it.  She’s one of those people who makes me want to do better, because she is the most genuine and Christ-like person I know.  I always find myself observing and learning when I’m around her.  She challenges me, albeit probably unintentionally.  She doesn’t give lectures or try to teach anyone a lesson.  She’s just being Amber, and I think this world needs more people like her.  So, as I sat there visiting with Jamie, laughing at Jamie’s little boy’s antics, and soaking in all the joy that Amber’s friends were exhibiting, something struck me.  I was filled with admiration & respect for Amber and shame for myself. 

Amber, like me, is 33 and single.  Amber, like me, is in a minority when it comes to her group of friends, because the vast majority of them are married with children.  But Amber, unlike me, has actually kept those friendships strong throughout the years, whereas I have isolated myself.  The easy thing is to blame it on the fact that I was experiencing a pretty severe broken heart right around the time most of you were getting married and starting your families.  But I realize that’s a cop-out.  Fortunately, a broken heart can only last so long.  Y’all made an effort to include me in your activities for quite a while and I pushed you away.  I didn’t want to be the black sheep.  I didn’t want to be looked at differently or felt sorry for.  (Pity party is a party of one; y’all weren’t invited!)  So, I just avoided you entirely.  I’d see you once or twice a year, if at all, and I’d assume we really didn’t have anything in common anymore because my life didn’t look like yours.  It still doesn’t.  Not by a long shot.  

But Amber is single.  Amber doesn’t have kids.  And Amber was surrounded by a large group of awesome people and happy, energetic little kids who love her.  And the weirdest part – it felt completely natural.  From the outside looking in, there was nothing weird about it.  Everyone seemed like they belonged just fine.  It was comfortable.  And everyone was happy.  

It was obvious to me that Amber had made the wise choice and I had made the foolish one.

I know myself well enough to know that in pretty much any other group of people, I would have thrown up my defenses, my sarcasm, my cynicism and refused to see something that might step on my toes or make me squirm a little bit.  In fact, some of you have tried to tell me from time to time that you still wanted me to hang out with y’all and I just blew you off.  Even though you were being kind, I guess I just didn’t want to hear it.  But Amber is a great teacher, so I watched and learned.  I’ve been missing out and in large part, I’ve done it to myself.  

So this is my apology for being a sorry excuse for a friend the past six or eight years.  It’s shameful how I’ve behaved.  And it’s rude.  There’s a reason we all became friends in the first place and just because y’all have said “I do” and have become parents, you’re all still the same people I became friends with in college.  So, I’m sorry.  If you want to invite me to something at some point again, I’ll try to swallow my pride, hesitation, and slight discomfort and come.  Because the truth is, I always have fun when I’m with y’all.  And your kids and I might look at each other with distrust at first because we might make each other nervous, but we’ll probably warm up to each other.  In fact, we kind of already have.  Just last month, Elena showed me her My Little Pony collection and Caedmon almost took off my head with a toy sword.  Mae smiled at me and Eli talked to me so closely and with such enthusiasm, I could smell the peanut butter on his breath.  So who knows, maybe we can all be friends again.  Real friends.  I repent.

Love,
Me

P.S.  Please pray for Amber.  She’s got a tough road ahead.

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Oh SNAP.

I love America.  God has given me countless blessings in life, but two of those blessings were already mine when I took my first breath.

#1 – I was born the daughter of my wonderful parents.

#2 – I was born an American.

I feel genuinely blessed to live in this great country.  I’m free to practice my Christian faith.  I’m free to further my education if I choose.  I’m free to travel the country, free to vote, free to express an opinion.  I see such a sad, shameful problem that our government has enabled.  It started as a display of compassion, a help to those who needed it.  It has, in far too many cases, turned into a crutch and has put the brakes on motivation.

Food stamps.  SNAP.  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The number of SNAP recipients over the last few years has skyrocketed.  I know there are people who need assistance and I am all for helping them.  I truly am.  The problem is that for so many, there is no motivation.  They don’t want to even try to earn a higher income (or an income at all, in some cases), because they don’t want to be disqualified from receiving SNAP.  (I have found this to be true; I have conversations with folks on a weekly basis who have proven this.)  When a single mom would rather receive food stamps than have her child’s father pay child support to help pay for things like food, there’s a problem.  (Yes, this happens.  Often.  I’ve seen it first hand.  Often.  And unfortunately, because of current law, this is common.)  When a single mom doesn’t want the father of her child to pay child support, but is very worried about her WIC & Food Stamps, and says all she has to feed her child are a few junk food items while she herself reeks of cigarette smoke, there’s a problem.  (True story.)  There is no motivation.  Far too many people want their government entitlement programs to keep funding their lifestyles and putting food in their bellies, but have no desire to try to better themselves.  This is a problem.  This is where we are, America.  Something needs to change.  These people with no motivation could actually do more than they give themselves credit for.  They’re limiting themselves.  The EBT food stamp card is illusive.  It’s not the golden ticket.  Self sufficiency is worth so much more.  It feels better.  It tastes better – even when you’re buying the generic store brand products and grocery shopping on a tight budget.

Fraud and abuse are so out of control that I do not know how this problem could be fixed.  Government is way too big and out of control.  The government program looks much like the government itself.  It’s messy and chaotic and completely out of hand.  But something needs to be done.  One obvious step, to me, is to make child support mandatory when a single parent receives SNAP.  Feeding a child is a basic need that both parents should be responsible for.  This responsibility should not fall on the taxpayer.  It should not even be an option.  It’s a simple equation, really.

Single Parent + SNAP = Mandatory Child Support Case

Simple.

Would some single parents still need SNAP even with the absent parent paying child support?  Sure.  And if so, then by all means, they should receive it.  But to have the ability to say, “No, I’d rather just get my food stamps” is nonsense.  It shouldn’t be an option.  Mom and dad need to feed their children.

Part of the problem is that we are such a consumer driven society.  We want what we want when we want it.  Priorities are way out of line.  An iPhone is not more important than feeding your family.  Cigarettes are not more important than feeding your family.  A Coach purse is not more important than feeding your family.  These items are luxuries, not necessities.  But here in America, according to commercials, you “deserve” a new television, a new car, a new smartphone.

Food, shelter, clothing.  These are necessities.

For those who sincerely need the help, I believe we should help.  Absolutely.  But I also think part of helping is motivating people and guiding people into a more prosperous future for themselves, where they are productive citizens.  I believe a lot of the leadership on this could come from the church.  Christians are called to care for the poor; part of caring is helping show the way to a better life.  It’s like the old phrase – “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish; feed him for lifetime.”  We need to teach people to fish.

Ideas?  Thoughts?