Monday, November 10, 2014

Why I'm Not Ashamed To Use Food Stamps

I have heard that many people are ashamed to use food stamps when purchasing food from the store. For those who don't know, the Oregon Trail card is Oregon's debit card version of food stamps. More formally referred to as an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, one applies for these benefits through a program the Department of Human Services (DHS) offers, which is called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

I am proud to say that I am very thankful to be on food stamps and the new owner of an Oregon Trail card.

It seems to me that it's a touchy subject to talk about SNAP benefits. I don't personally know very many people who are getting these kinds of benefits. I'm not sure if it is because I don't actually know anyone on food stamps or if it is because nobody wants to talk about it. Why are people ashamed of this kind of assistance? We received government assistance to go to college and often joke about how much we are in debt from student loans, so why is assistance for food a big deal? It's a small drop in the bucket compared to the gallons and gallons of student loans.

From what I have heard in my limited experience living in this silly world of ours, many people will judge those who use food stamps when they buy food, like the cashier checking them out at the store or other customers standing in line with them. As they put items on the conveyor belt in the checkout line, onlookers might inspect the items purchased to make sure they are using their free money wisely. After all, the wealthy people out there who earn money and pay taxes toward assistance like this, their money is paying for these food stamps. So, they think it might be justified to make sure the benefits aren't wasted on junk food or other irresponsible purchases. That's how I think many people rationalize it, anyway.

When I made my first purchase with my Oregon Trail card, it crossed my mind that people might be judging me. I was in a Papa Murphy's buying pizza with Nolan. As I paid the cashier, I thought the people behind me in line might be judging me by looking at my clothes, trying to figure me out, deciding whether or not I looked poor enough to deserve the benefits. What made matters worse in my mind was that Nolan was playing with the containers of cookie dough on display. He exclaimed, "Daddy! Cookies! I want cookies!" As if I am an irresponsible parent who only feeds his kid cookies and pizza, maybe the people in line behind me thought I should have worked harder to get a better job and earn more money for myself before having kids. Then I wouldn't be depending on their tax money to pay for my food.

This all went through my head in the few split seconds as I bought my pizza. In reality, the people in line behind me were probably not judging me. They were probably only thinking, I think I'll get a large pepperoni pizza tonight. Heh, cute kid with the cookie dough. I'm glad I didn't bring my kids, they'd be saying the same thing.

I have to block out these thoughts in my mind. I should not care what other people think. It's not like I'm ever going to get into a conversation with them and explain to them that I am actually a full-time 5th grade teacher who doesn't make enough to live comfortably (according to DHS's standards, anyway) each month. What's even more humorous is that I teach at a private school, and many of my students' wealthy parents would probably be shocked to find out that their child's teacher is on food stamps.

In my previous post, I wrote about helping others in need. More often than not, people appreciate it when others help them out. That's how I feel about food stamps. I appreciate the fact that we live in a place where we can depend on each other in times of need. Personally, I'd rather depend on places like Neighborhood House and churches rather than the government, since it is more relational and less political. But I didn't write this to discuss politics... so, moving on...

Overall, in my heart, I know that I am doing my best for my family. As a husband who cares about his wife and a father who cares about his children, I know that taking a gift from others in the form of food stamps is something that I don't have to be ashamed of. If I think that I must earn all of the money for our family myself, well, that's just plain selfish. I work hard at my job and I earn a relatively small paycheck. Other people in this world work hard at their job and earn a relatively large paycheck. That's just life. Life isn't fair, but how you deal with situations that are unfair shows you where your priorities are in life. We probably should have applied for these benefits a long time ago. It really helps keep our heads above water. Even though I struggle with thoughts about what others think about me, I know that it's more important to be able to ask for help when I need it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thinking Differently: Faith in Action

My family volunteering at Neighborhood House
When I was younger, I thought that being a "good example" was enough of a witness to the message of Jesus. My plan was that the people around me would see that I lived a good life and ask me what motivates me. It would be then that I would be able to share my faith with them because they were open to hearing it. It seemed like such a great plan to me because I wouldn't have to bug them about my beliefs, and it would be perfect timing for them when they were ready to hear it.

That way of thinking was ridiculous. I didn't really understand that I sinned just as much as any other person in the world, so my idea of being a "good example" was flawed. This was just selfish because I didn't want to actually do anything with my faith.

Now, as a married man with kids, I am reading more of the Bible and learning more about this faith that I believe in. I am realizing that being a Christian is not just about what I believe, but how I live out my faith.

James says, "What good is it if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?" He goes on to say that someone who wishes someone well without caring for their physical needs is pointless. Jesus consistently cared for those who were hurting and in pain.

What have I been doing with my faith? It's not about just believing and working on my own life. God has called us to not only love Him, but also love others.

If I want to be more like Jesus, I should be caring for those who are hurting. What could I do? It seems overwhelming to know where to start since there is so much crap in this world. Getting out of my comfort zone is the first step. God gives me the confidence to think about others more than myself, get off my ass, and go help people in need. It's a witness of Christ's love when He is working in me to do something my flesh doesn't naturally want to do.

Jen and I recently took Nolan and Delaney to Neighborhood House to help volunteer. It is a non-profit organization that helps low-income people in the community. Their goal is to help vulnerable people overcome challenges to achieve success, stability, and independence. About once per month they have a family volunteer night that is ideal to bring kids to help. Nolan and Delaney had a blast!

My students volunteering at Neighborhood House
At school, I took my students to Neighborhood House in two groups. We plan to go back twice every trimester, developing a partnership that lasts. Not just a one-time food drive, but regularly helping with our time. I made a video with my students and we presented it to the other K-5 students at school. My students also had a blast!

If it is such a blast to help others (I think it is too), then why don't Christians do it more often? Why do we always make excuses NOT to help others?

I need to think differently. My faith must lead to action. These actions of ours are done as a response to the message of Jesus. He is the source of love. He saved us and we ought to respond with loving others as well.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Real Reason I Became A Teacher

I did not become a teacher to only teach math.
I did not become a teacher to only teach science.
I did not become a teacher to only teach reading.
I did not become a teacher to only teach grammar.
I did not become a teacher to only teach spelling, writing, social studies, or anything academic.

I did not become a teacher to only teach things that really don't matter.
I realized the real reason I became a teacher this week...

For two weeks my students worked on skits to show how certain types of people need help from non-profit organizations like Neighborhood House. I also brought my students to serve at Neighborhood House, and I plan to take them back each of the other trimesters this school year. I put a fun video together, showing how the kids served and their excitement for helping others.

It hit me when my students presented the video of them serving in chapel to the K-5 students in our school. I started crying in the middle of the video (thankfully it was pitch dark in our auditorium, so it was a special moment without my students catching me crying!). Being in chapel wasn't why I became a teacher. I never thought I would be teaching mostly white, upper-class, Christian kids in private school. But God called me to something better than I had planned. He humbled me by whipping me into shape in Ontario, then put me in this place, which is perfect for my gifts and how me made me. Knowing how crappy teaching can be if one is not well prepared, God prepared me so I wouldn't get a big head and think I was the best thing since sliced bread.

I became a teacher to be an example to kids.
I became a teacher to show them what it looks like for a man to love Jesus.
I became a teacher to spread excitement about loving others.
I became a teacher to serve.

Memories (part 2)

As I was reflecting on the memories of this blog, Jen and I went through photos of our family since we've had kids. We decided to list the most prominent memories from our photo albums that made us giggle or sigh. The list below is ordered with the most recent on top. Hopefully I'll start writing more memories throughout the year rather than posting a million every once in a blue moon! (by the way, many of you might not understand many of these, but we do, and that's all that matters!)

  • Delaney acts more independent, wanting to be the center of attention, loves dancing, sassy, daredevil, likes being held up high by her thighs, prefers Aaron. Nolan acts more safe, doesn't like heights, sweet, kind-hearted, loves trains, prefers Jen. Both of them have a hard time wanting to eat!
  • Great-grandma visiting for her 90th birthday
  • Summer sadness with miscarriage (Asher) in Arizona
  • Delaney's cute pig tail on top
  • Nolan loves drawing on Aaron's whiteboard at school
  • Nolan being a good big brother and getting Delaney's blanket for her
  • Delaney not eating yogurt from Jen, but gladly willing to eat it from Aaron
  • Delaney sucking on her middle and ring fingers
  • Summer Friday pool time at Nini & Papa's
  • Putting red Christmas lights inside of the fireplace, with plexiglas to protect it and prevent draftiness
  • New traditions: Advent activities every day leading up to Christmas! Going to Chorale performance at Washington Square and eating with Ed and Sylvia afterwards.
  • Gleneden Beach Trip with just the 4 of us
  • Nolan dressing up as "Super Nolan" on Halloween
  • First zoo membership!
  • Hilarious tent-over-the-car during camping trip with Franks and Spricks.
  • Horrible failure: attempting to start Nolan potty training before he was ready.
  • Jen struggling to keep Nolan and Delaney in order during TJ and Brittany's wedding.
  • Delaney and Ainsley born within 24 hours of each other
  • Delaney born, so tiny compared to 2-year-old Nolan
  • Horrible failure: attempting to graduate Nolan to a toddler bed on his 2nd birthday.
  • New traditions: The Pumpkin Patch, Portland Apple Festival
  • Starting job at West Hills.
  • Moving back to Portland, living with my parents.
  • Lowlights from our time in Ontario: Horrible teaching job, rock through window, tire slashed, a miscarriage (sesame seed baby), and the lack of rain (resulting in the worst static electricity when sitting on our couch in the living room).
  • Highlights from our time in Ontario: Friends from Origins, walking the streets with the stroller, swimming lessons with Avi, Natalie's wedding in California, traveling back to Portland for Christmas, Spring Break trip to Arizona, Jen's couponing hobby, the Meridian splash pad with friends, time at home with Nolan (like when he started snacking on the block of cheese), and SNOW!
  • Google Hangouts between me, Jen, and Nolan while I was alone starting school in Ontario.
  • Nolan always stuck out his tongue when he was a baby.
  • Nolan's onesie with a necktie on it, Aaron with his tie, posing together.
  • Uncle Tom drinking a beer and lounging with baby Nolan in his arms.


This blog has evolved quite a bit since I started it in 2006. I began writing as a single guy right out of college, forming my opinions about life, and growing in maturity (as if I ever really completely reach maturity!). My hope for the future is that it becomes something more.

My first posts here were about movies, politics, tv shows, and other silly things I don't care to post about as much anymore. As I deepened my theological beliefs, I connected it with the world around me as best as I could. I look back on those musings now and realize they were essential for growth and understanding the culture I was in.

The next phase of this blog transitioned into my engagement with Jen, getting married, and realizing the depth of my pride. This was definitely a time of adjustment as my selfishness was being displayed to my spouse every day. We didn't know where our future was headed as we moved from Seattle to Portland, didn't have solid jobs, and were at an all-time low on cash.

It was then that God put teaching on my heart. I worked at the YMCA doing after school care, and my desire to work in the classroom was overwhelming. I filled this blog with posts about funny kid quotes, educating others (including my most popular post about educating others about my birth defect, Poland Syndrome), my opinions (and Jen's) about all the crappy parenting we see, and how I planned to make a difference.

As I began working on my Masters degree, I started, blogged about children's books, shared what I was learning, and began teaching at a variety of public schools. I was confident in my God-given abilities to connect with my students, but was still just getting my feet wet. ...Fewer blog posts.

At home, Jen and I welcomed Nolan into the world. Balancing my first few of years teaching, being a husband, and being a father taught me to prioritize and learn. A lot. I realized that at that time of my life, blogging was just not going to happen. ...Even fewer posts.

Our rough experience in Ontario, Oregon, really put the last nail in the coffin for this blog. This post was sitting on the front page for a long time. God really has put our family through a lot these past few years. I'm glad, too. We trust in Him more because life isn't supposed to be easy.

Now, I'm realizing that in this next phase of life, I don't want to forget the good and bad memories my family is working through every day. I want to resurrect this blog and start sharing again. As the years fly by with a steady job and kids growing like weeds, it can easily slip away. I hope to use this blog as a way to record memories, share experiences, and look back on what is most important.

Remembering Ontario...

In May of 2012, I doubted my future as a teacher. Asking for help to survive the last month teaching a horribly disrespectful group of students, I wrote an email to all of the other teachers at Ontario Middle School. In the email, I told them about how my Teacher Appreciation Week went and how it pretty much summed up my entire year teaching there. I had already talked to certain teachers in person, but I also wanted to get advice from as many other teachers as possible, since I was considering leaving the teaching profession because of how crappy that year of teaching was. Being verbally abused by my students was not something I wanted to continue. A teacher can only handle so much cussing from students, throwing objects, suspensions, selfish attitudes, and disrespect before I realize that I might be better suited for another job elsewhere.

This is a snippet of what I wrote in that email:
"We all received an email from [our assistant principal], in which he stated, 'I hope at some point this week you felt appreciated.' Well, that very day I was called 'racist' by one student, 'idiot' by another, 'you're fucking stupid' from another, 'gay' from another, hit by a pencil, almost hit by a calculator, and not to mention all the usual ways I get disrespected by adolescents. At one point in the week, I did feel appreciated: I received a goody bag with my name on it that had candies in it, in addition to a granola bar I got in my mailbox. I put both of them on my chair behind my desk ...and guess what... THEY WERE STOLEN BY MY STUDENTS!"

My co-workers provided me with very helpful feedback. Most of them told me exactly what I needed to hear, supported me when I was struggling, and encouraged me to continue teaching in the future.

I realized that I learned a TON that year. Looking back, I knew that time of my life was God opening my eyes and humbling me to all the crap that goes on in this world. I needed to see how such a shitty job was actually a realistic representation of the every day lives that some of those students I taught go through day after day. I know now that because I took teaching so personally and wanted to improve, God had been preparing me for something better in the future.

Giving up when the times are tough is not the attitude that Jesus portrays for us in His exemplary life. He showed us that when the going gets tough, that's when we are in the best position to cry out to God and ask Him to help us see the bigger picture.

When I look back on Ontario now, 2.5 years later, I now see more positives than I see negatives. Even though that job was one of the most painful experiences of my life, I think about Ontario now as a time of growth. We had a great time spending time with friends from church, serving others in the community, walking Nolan in the stroller around the town, spending time together as a family at home, and learning about how God prunes us when we don't expect to be pruned.