Monday, July 8, 2013

"Rest Well"

So the Shakespeare Tavern has just completed a "trilogy" of Hamlet that has been intense...and fun. While it has nothing to do with the post, I can't help but gush since the director, text, and actors finally had me understanding why Hamlet is supposed to be the best thing Shakespeare wrote. Anyway, the trilogy consisted of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and one I'd never heard of, Fortinbras.

Fortinbras turned out to be a delightful surprise, full of wit and word play. Pretty sure the Bard would approve.

One bit that is still being repeated around the Battles household:
"Thanks for those warnings about my imminent death."
"We gave you hints!"
"Rest well? Rest well?! It was BED TIME!"

It was snort soda through your nose funny.
But it's also a great example of ineffective communication.

The deal with communication is-contrary to what some people seem to believe-it' s more than just you talking and someone listening. Communication means you are clearly expressing ideas and your audience clearly understands what you mean.

A number of years ago, Trey and I were driving back from his baseball game. He'd been having trouble with school and I'd come up with this great little sports analogy (using the game they'd just played) to help him understand the importance of "staying in the game." I was quite pleased with myself, thinking how clever I was to use language he'd understand to communicate the importance of school work. I was in the midst of an imaginary conversation with his teacher congratulating me on my awesome parenting skills and Trey's straight A report card when Embree walked into the kitchen. Her facial expression clearly communicated two things:

Something was wrong.
It was my fault.

"What's wrong?" I asked.
To which she replied, "Why did you tell Trey it's his fault they lost the game?"

My visions of Mom of the Year Awards were replaced with visions of astronomical therapy bills. Luckily, Bree was there to mediate for me. I cleared the air with Trey. And learned a valuable lesson about using analogies during lectures.

It's important to know your audience. To know what you want to say and think through the best way to say it. Also, watch your tone. For Bree, how you say something is more important than what you say and I daresay she isn't the only one. Also, don't assume your audience will ask questions to clarify your meaning. They may be just as sure they understand you as you are you communicated what you wanted to. Be sure and clarify important points and ask questions if possible.

It could mean the difference between "sweet dreams" and "watch out for that sword"

Falling Through The Cracks

So let's give a shout out to the bureaucracy of government assistance!


Sorry...that's about all I can muster. I'm beyond frustrated. I have a feeling the woman on the other end of the phone is as frustrated if not more so...but she isn't exactly helpful either.

I seriously thought there wasn't another crack I could fall through.
Ding, Ding, Ding...
I don't have a reality check...I have a bell. It's similar to the one they ring during boxing matches when the losing contestent is laying knocked out and bleeding on the mat.

Can we just be real for a minute?
I am not the face of poverty you have in mind when you think "food stamps"
I am an educated mother of two children. I was married to one man who fathered both those children. Okay...well, when it comes to him, I'm probably the stereotype. If you met him, you'd probably wonder at my intelligence but let's just say I wasn't as smart then as I am now...and he's had a tough road too. Does that excuse him for being a "dead beat dad"? No. But there isn't anything I can do about it.

Oh...child support recovery. Sure, let's talk about this.

Apparently the number of dead beat parents in the state of Georgia overwhelms the underpaid, understaffed employees of the department dedicated to finding these parents and "forcing" them to pay child support. So, they honest to goodness don't have time to find out where your particular dead beat parent is working. Therefore, beliving you need to do every thing you can to provide for your children, you become some sort of sleuth detective and you learn the whereabouts of his/her workplace. Child Support Recovery sends them a letter telling them they are going to garnish wages if they do not pay what they owe. So they quit their job. Child Support Recovery sends them a letter telling them their license will be suspended. Since they obviously care about being lawful citizens, they drive anyway. Child Support Recovery sends them and you a letter demanding your presence in court. You go to your boss who rolls his eyes when you ask for a day off work to sit in court listenting to why the other parent can't or won't pay child support. The judge orders the parent to go to jail or pay...they go to jail. A few weeks later, they still haven't paid but the jail is incredibly overcrowded with "real" criminals so they order you and the parent back to court. You ask for another day off work, your boss's eyes roll further back in his head and you sit in court for another day. At the end, you agree to the other parent's release because what is the good of them being in jail anyway...and if you have to ask for yet another day off work to come back to court, you are afraid you may never see your boss's eyes again.

So you give up.

And you do the best you can. And you have a decent job and you have awesome kids so life is good. It can be hard sometimes but you are making it.

And then you lose your job.

I lose my job. It's important that you hear that. I realized I'm writing in second person...but I need you to see me. I need you to see me as a person. An individual with value and dignity who has done her best to raise her children to work hard, be good to others, love Jesus, make an impact in their community.

For a couple of days after losing my job, I'm paralyzed with the loss, my passion, my value...and then I shake it off. I've got kids to feed, bills to pay.

So I go to the Department of Labor first. The process to sign up is actually easier than I expect. The staff much nicer than you'd think given the fact that it's incredibly busy in the office and the poor woman has to say the same thing over and over. She explains to me that I have to "claim" my unemployment on this day, that this day is the day I'll start getting benefits but it can actually take 15 days to get approved, etc.

Then I go to DFACS. The process is easy. The staff not quite as nice but not rude...just tired. They tell me since I have no job, my case is expedited so I can get an answer within seven days.

I go home, relieved. While I hate being on assistance, I'm grateful that it's there.

One week later, I've gotten a letter from DFACS approving me for food stamps and a letter from the DOL explaining I've been approved for unemployment and how much I'll get. I even have a prepaid debit card with a big peach on it that the governement will load my funds on so they don't have to mail me a check. Technology is a wonderful thing.

Two weeks later, I'm despereate. We are actually so broke that I have nothing to feed my kids for dinner ("nothing" is not an exaggeration) and when a friend tells me to come over and she'll give me some food, I break down crying because I don't have enough gas to get there. She and her husband have pizzas delivered to our house. Another friend gives me gas money.

I call the unemployment office to find out exactly when my first payment will be loaded onto my card. She tells me I haven't been approved yet. I'm confused. I explain to her that I got a letter, a letter telling me that I've been approved and how much I will recieve. She speaks slowly, either hearing the hysteria in my voice or thinking I'm un-intelligent. She explains that the letter only told me how much I'd been approved for if I was actually approved for unemployment. I tell her I have a card...I don't understand why they would send me a card if I wasn't approved. She says that the caseworker has 15 days to make a decision on my case. That's 15 business days so we have another week to go.

I call DFACS to find out why I haven't recieved a food stamp card. I'm told they have 10-15 days to send out the card. I'm confused (I'm getting used to this state of being). So there is a way to expedite the decision, but not the card? I ask her if there is a way to see what day the card was mailed. She too hears the hysteria in my voice but is a little more emphathetic (how many times in a day does she hear this?) She looks at my case and then tells me my case was denied. I have a letter saying that we were approved. She tells me I failed to send in requested information by the deadline. I disagree stating the letter I had told me to send the information in by the 30th. She tells me I had until the 17th...I start to argue and she tells me that I have to call Carroll County DFACS to speak to my caseworker. I ask why my case worker is in Carroll County when I live in Coweta County. Because of the work load...too few case workers, too many cases. So I call Carroll County. I explain about the letters, etc. The lady and I are talking when suddenly I realize that today is the 17th! So I  haven't actually missed the deadline! Hoorah! I pay $4 at Staples to fax the requested documents.

And I wait. And wait. I call three more times to find out about the card. Finally someone I talk to gives me a number to call. And I find the card has never been mailed because it was never requested. And we will have to wait 10-15 more days.

On the 14th day of the 15 days allowed, the Department of Labor calls me for my interview.  I don't understand...Wellspring Living wasn't even contesting the claim...why did I have to feel this bad. At one point, she said something and I immediately began defending myself, unable to believe that anyone at Wellspring Living would claim such a thing and she barks at me. And a few minutes later has to admit that she was looking at the wrong form. I want to be able to sympathize with what her day must be like, the amount of files on her desk...but I feel so hurt and broken. At the end of the interview, I go into the bathroom and take a long hard look at myself. I say, out loud "You are a good person. You have done nothing wrong." I have to say it three times before I believe it.

Every day for four weeks I wake up and wonder how or what we are going to this bill is going to be this is going to happen. And God and friends take care of us but to wake up every day unsure starts to take it's toll on me. I'm struggling with depression. And anxiety causes my chest to feel tight so that it's hard to breath.

And then, the unemployment comes in and the food stamps come in and my kids and I are literally doing the happy dance in the living room. And there's a part of me that feels ashamed. I've read posts about people on food stamps that debate whether or not they should be allowed to buy sodas and the comments are hateful and I realize that those people would tear me and my kids apart if they saw us this happy about being on welfare. But I decide not to care because I'd rather be on welfare than watch my kids go hungry.

Today I checked the mail. There is a letter, dated the 25th of June, suppossedly mailed the same day. It asks for more information and says if I don't get the information to them by July 5th, our case will be denied. It's the 8th. I call the office, explain. She tells me to fax it today. I ask what will happen with our food stamps, she tells me she's not sure. I ask her if she can let the caseworker know what happened, she tells me no. I feel the impact as we fall through another crack and hear the "ding, ding, ding" of reality reminding me we are not as safe as I thought we were.

I'm disheartened. If I'm going through many others in the state of Georgia are bruised and hurting from being a part of a system that repeatedly refuses them dignity as they are dropped in one crack after another. Despite claims by those who love to live in ignorance that the majority of food stamps recipeients are eating steaks and driving luxury vehicles, studies show that the vast majority of those on welfare desperately need it and would not make it without it. It's not like they can just get tired of being treated this way and go find another solution. Their only other solution is hunger. Our only other solution at this point is hunger. I know I'll find another job and hopefully soon...but I've got to be honest, this is an incredibly hard season. I can't imagine what it's like when this is the only long term solution people have. No wonder they begin to feel like the system is the enemy. (But a gentle reminder...because I've overheard conversations...the person on the other side of the counter or the phone is not)

And, before it sounds like I've forgotten, the staff on the other end...who hear the hysteria on the phone but can only feel weary because they hear it so much and they can only do so much and their hands are enmeshed in the bureaucracy and paperwork. For those who have done it so much their moods and character have been permanately impacted by it. For those who are doing their best just to help. And for those who just have to have a job...I recognize it has to be hard. But please, please...remember I'm not just a case number.

And to the general public, remember the humanity of both.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Coming Out"

I have been on a journey.

The journey began when I was around 18 years old. I'd been a Christian for almost two years. I read the Bible voraciously. Went to church every Sunday. Was firm in my faith and beliefs.

And when a friend of the family who'd come out as a lesbian came to our house and asked me if it was true the Bible said she was going to hell, I not only told her yes but took her in the kitchen and showed her the verses.

I never questioned what I'd been taught. Never considered what it was like for homosexuals to be cheated of civil rights based on the principles of a faith many of them didn't believe in or adhere to.

Now, a little over 20 years later, I have been a Christian for over two decades. I still read my Bible voraciously. I go to church almost every Sunday. And I'm still firm in my faith and beliefs.

But I question...a lot. And because of that, my views have changed. And I know that some of you will decide it was a tolerance of culture and some of you will denounce me as a true Christian and some of you will call me a bad parent but I don't care.

I don't believe this comes from a culture of tolerance. I believe it comes from the journey of understanding the gospel as the gospel of judgement, to the understanding of the gospel of redemption and ultimately, to the gospel of grace.

I believe that as I stopped judging myself, sure that God shook his head at my every failure and character flaw, that I found myself not judging others. As I understood all that He had redeemed me from and forgiven me for, I found it so much easier to forgive others and not only receive grace but give it. And as I began to understand and accept unconditional love for myself, I saw how Jesus offers it to others and how he wants us to do the same.

And I saw that both I and the church were getting it wrong. Our stance of judgemental posturing and political show boating have alienated people through the ages. We have been on the wrong side of history so many times! And refused to apologize for it! Which is why, by the way, the church remains one of the most segregated institutions in the United States.

Here is a statistic for you, 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. The majority of those kids were kicked out of their homes because their parents believed that was the best course of action based on their religious beliefs. We love the story of the prodigal son but we don't want to be the parent who welcomes him home. And I know the son declared himself a sinner but the father was running to meet him way before that. And he didn't ask what the sins were.

Recently the Boy Scouts changed it's policy toward LGBT youth...and churches changed their policy toward the Boy Scouts. Effectively telling young boys, we don't want you in our building unless you live up to our standards. And here is the deal, you are allowed to be a sinner and come into our church. Jesus said there was none good, we are all sinners. But some sins we are more comfortable with than others. So, if you are a liar, a glutton, a gossip, lose your temper regularly, even if you've committed adultery...WELCOME! But not if you are a homosexual. That's the sin where we draw the line.

And not only will we force our religious beliefs on you but our political beliefs as well. We'll tell you that it's okay that you can lose your job just because of who you date, that you could never be as good a parent as us, and that you shouldn't be allowed to marry who you love therefore further denying you rights when it came to taxes, ownership of property and even the right to make medical decisions or be informed when your loved one is sick or injured.

I can't do this anymore. I'm so sorry I ever did.

My journey has taken me to places where I researched laws and policies to make sure we wouldn't get in trouble for not letting homosexuals in, to knowing and loving the very people those policies would hurt.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a homosexual man who had blazed into Atlanta like Sherman, ready to set the Atlanta theatre scene on fire. He's got more theatre knowledge and know how in his pinky than I've got in my brain or book shelf. And he was pretty defensive around me, knowing not only was I a Christian but worked in a Christian organization. And then one day, I can't even remember what we were talking about or why but I got the chance to say "It's not my job to judge you. I'm not allowed to judge you." The look on his face was priceless. The look on mine probably was as well. It was the first time I'd ever said it out loud. It was the first time  really clicked for me. My job, my mission, is to show others the love of Christ. My job is not to judge or fact he tells me not to (Luke 6:37)! And I'm proud to say, if ever we dislike each other it has nothing to do with that...and everything to do with stubbornness (on both sides).

So I love my friends who are homosexual and I learn they are not my homosexual friends. Because that is not their only or even main characteristic. There is the one who loves to read, the one with the quick wit, the amazing singer, the actor, the one that loves animals, that loves kids and is going to be a great teacher some day. We go on vacation together, we watch Avengers and drool over Thor together. We live life together.

But the journey isn't over because we do Laramie Project at NTC and I learn about Matthew Shepard and I read everything I can get my hands on and I get to talk with the kids in the cast about what they are processing...their attitudes toward gay people, their attitudes toward their parents because of THEIR attitudes toward gay people, their own sexuality...and I realize the poor job we've done in helping our kids understand and process and take a stand so I start talking to my kids...

And I get it wrong again. Because I understand that people are being hurt and  rights taken away but I have to be careful. Because I have a mission, a purpose and if I speak too loudly I could lose influence or my job. I'm teaching my kids to lie, to value what others think above what is true and I justify it by thinking I have to have "priorities".

And ultimately, I lose my job anyway (for something completely unrelated). And I've realized that, as I look for another job, I cannot and will not comprise my integrity anymore. That I will not devalue my friends and loved ones anymore. I'm so, so sorry from the bottom of my heart.

I'm sorry too for the friends and co-laborers who will feel betrayed. I'm ready for the backlash (but will still delete your nasty comments). And I accept the loss of any friendships with regret.

But here it is, I'm "coming out" as it were.
1) I do not believe that the LGBT lifestyle is something anyone chooses or can be cured of...nor do I think you need to be.

2) I struggle with the laws of the old testament versus the grace and redemption in the new and what exactly it means-specifically for homosexuals, but ultimately I know you can have a relationship with Jesus and I don't think you have to be lonely and miserable to do so. I also believe there's grace for the both of us if I'm wrong. I use grace to cover an abundance of sins so one more won't matter.

3) I am against any law that takes away rights from someone based on who they love. And I not only support marriage equality in all 50 states but would do my part to bring it about in Georgia.

4) I am perfectly fine with whomever my children (both the biological and the "adopted" ones) choose to date-except "stupid". Please don't date "stupid". "Stupid" rarely if ever has the ability to care for themselves and will therefore never be able to care for you the way you deserve.

5) I'm sorry to anyone I've ever hurt in my ignorance. The journey has been long and it took far too much time for me to get here. For my conservative friends, you may be right. But I've said it before and I emphatically repeat it, God help me...I'd rather get it wrong on the side of love than condemnation. And if I could go back in time, to that conversation in the kitchen...I'd do it so differently.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Six Things Not To Say To An Unemployed Single Mom

Can we just please cut through the BS and say it?


Sorry, I was going to put something else "stinks" but it just didn't have enough oomph.

I'm really scared. It took forever to get unemployment started. And it's only $317 a week. My rent is power bill is due...Bree needs contacts...Trey needs a haircut before we start confusing him with the mop (Just kidding, Trey would be confused with a hairy power pole way before a mop!).

And...perhaps...the worst thing of all. I've lost my groove. I've lost the certainty that I was on the right track, my sense of mission or purpose, my sense of rightness. I feel adrift.

The good news is, I'm holding on to God like a life raft in the middle of the ocean. I am consciously looking at Him each and every day because goodness knows if I start looking around, I'm going to seriously lose it. (Sort of like Peter, walking on water with Jesus, get distracted...the Bible says he 'saw' the wind...and next thing you know, you're drowning in the choppy waves)

The bad news is, it's hard to get out of bed in the morning...or afternoon. Not that I'm saying I've slept past noon...but I'm not actually saying I haven't.

In the midst of it all, there are friends who love me. And I know they love me. I have no doubt. And some of them love me so much that they want to make me feel better. And so they give me comfort...and advice. And trust me, I know my reaction is not fair and I know they are being helpful. But like another friend said, we cannot give comfort and advice from our reality. We have to-as the old cliche goes-walk a mile in their shoes.

1) You'll find something.
Similar to the "you'll find someone" or "plenty of fish in the sea" you hear after a break up. I get that I'll find "something" but WHAT? And what the heck happened to what I had? And please understand and give me time to mourn that because I miss it. And I'm scared that I'm not cut out for private sector and I'm scared I won't be able to find another non-profit job...and I'm wondering am I even supposed to be there. And then throw in the question "What if I could go work for a theatre?" and what happened to being on mission and what if I'm not as good as I thought I was...and, and, and...PS I need to find something NOW!

2) You deserve the rest.
Okay...that is actually truth. And I appreciate someone noticing. And now, I've rested. No more time to rest. I need a job. One that pays money. Enough money. Now.

3) Use the time to volunteer.
This assumes two that I'm not volunteering (I've actually continued to volunteer for the theatre and have consulted for two different non-profits on a volunteer basis) and the other, that I have the gas to go volunteer somewhere.

4) When I was unemployed...
I went to school, redecorated my house...etc. This one is actually conditional. If the situation is similar and the stories helpful, encouraging...this one is usually allowed (unless it's four in the afternoon and I haven't changed out of my pajamas yet...then we have another problem). If however, during your time of employment you had savings, severance or a spouse bringing home a healthy pay check...please understand it is not the same. Not even a little bit. And I just cannot deal right now.

5) So and so took one year, two years, three years to find a job.
This one makes me think of the scary pregnant stories people told me when I was pregnant with my first child. The ones designed to make me have a panic attack. I don't have 1/2/3 months...let alone YEARS! We're back to the "now" part of my dilemma.

6) You just need to cut back on your budget...
Again, there is an assumption...and just in case you aren't aware, there's little to nothing a single mom with two teenagers who has worked for non-profits for the last decade can cut back on when looking at her budget. I've taken Dave Ramsey, loved it, use it.

For all the things not to say, there are so many to say! For the friends who have asked me how I am and been okay with the fact I'm not okay. For the friends who have given me hugs (and, just so you guys know, I know some awesome huggers). For the friends who have helped with gas or grocery money. For the friends who had pizza delivered because not only did I not have food, I had no gas to go get food! For the friends who have prayed. For the friends who have seen job postings and sent them to me. For the friends who won't listen to me whine and give me a swift kick toward the shower. We are so ridiculously blessed to have all of you in our lives and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

This is not a condemnation of people who want to be helpful...this is just a reminder to think before you speak. My fervent desire is that no one's feelings are hurt. I know why you say it and where it comes from and I appreciate it. I just want you to know, you don't have to have the solution or the right answer. Just be there. It means more than you know.

The Cliff

Financially speaking, being a single Mom is like constantly standing near the edge of a cliff. You can always see the edge but not necessarily the bottom. You're scared to get any closer because you'll fall in (or someone will push you!)

Being an unemployed single mom is falling over the precipice and desperately clinging to the rock, certain you are about to fall. You can see the bottom...and you are sure you are about to hit it.

I came up with this eloquent illustration yesterday as I was waiting for Embree to get out of class. I was an hour early but didn't go anywhere else to save gas. It was HOT and I was tired of waiting. In between reading "Eat, Pray, Love" (again)...I might have been feeling sorry for myself (again).

At about the same time, I caught a glimpse of one of the homeless guys hanging around. There's a bunch of homeless people there on a regular basis. It hit me that if I felt like I was about to fall, this guy already had. He'd hit the bottom. He had no way to scale back up the cliff. Not without help.

I don't know why he's homeless. It could very well be his fault. He could be a drug addict. I'd judge but...I once read a quote that it's hard to be homeless sober and I stopped judging. Stopped wondering if they were going to buy food or alcohol with the $5 I just gave him. I don't have to know "why" because I know he's homeless. One hour of sitting in the heat suddenly gives me insight to his every day.

I know that at four Bree will come out and we will leave. I see the end in sight. There is no end for him. Every day is the same. Just the weather is different. And in Georgia, that's often just too hot or too cold.

I know that I'm never going to hit bottom. That isn't pride. It's fact. There are too many people in this world who love me and my children and are willing to lend a helping hand. Someone will throw me a line and pull me up before I ever land. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that. These days, that knowledge helps me out of bed every morning. But this guy in the rear view mirror didn't have anyone or he cut the rope.And he isn't a climber. Even if he is, he can't do it alone. He doesn't have the skills or the tools. He needs help. People to teach him to climb, give him the tools and maybe even climb with him. Often, he might need someone to convince him he needs to climb...that there is something for him at the top. When you spend that much time at the bottom, you get used to it.

Everyone can do something. What will you do?