My sophomore year of college I participated in an activity for my school’s annual “Tunnel of Oppression”. This event consists of several different organizations and student groups who set up exhibits over the course of two or three days. Each of the exhibits is meant to highlight the experiences of different people groups who experience oppression in our society. This covers everything from women and children in Human Trafficking to the LGBTQ communities to the disabled to the homeless, etc.
Today, as I spent most of the day making phone calls, filling out applications, and running from office to office in order to gain some assistance with my present circumstances, I was reminded of this experience.
Let me back up. This past year has been filled with non-stop challenges. I was forced to quit one of the best-paid jobs in my city as a technical support rep because they would no longer accommodate my school schedule. With only one year remaining, I wasn’t going to sacrifice my degree to be stuck in a career I didn’t want. Since then I have worked two different jobs, neither with guaranteed hours or income sufficient to live on. On top of job challenges, the financial aid department at my university has been a nightmare. In a nutshell, school availability has made it extremely difficult to find work that allows me to attend classes, and still acquire twenty hours a week. My most recent job has been giving me five to ten hours a week at best.
Needless to say, unless this job is paying extremely well, it is not enough to pay rent and utilities, afford gas and insurance for my car, have a working phone, and food in the house. I have applied to nearly a hundred jobs in the past month, with very little to show for it. Today, my errands consisted of visiting the office of public assistance for food stamps, and the local job services agency. I was told my our state unemployment agency that I did not qualify due to my lack of availability, because of school. Today I was informed that I did not qualify for food stamps since it is a federal law that I work at least twenty hours a week.
I sat in front of the desk of a women with dark hair and glasses as the tears forced their way through my eyes.
“What am I supposed to do? I’ve been applying for every part-time job possible with no luck?”
Her lips pursed. She nodded a short, curt nod. “I understand, I can give you paperwork for your current job and maybe they can give you twenty hours so you can qualify,”
“I will see if they can sign it, but I have already talked to them about my hours. They said they can’t do anything about it.”
“Well, there’s still the food bank. You know about that right?” She replied softly.
“Yes.” I nodded, as I rose my hand to wipe my cheek. “That’s what I’ve been doing for the past month.”
“Well, that’s good.” She turned back to her computer and closed my case, advising me to re-apply if anything within my circumstances changed.
I got to my car and the tears flooded. I was quickly reminded of the activity during “Tunnel of Oppression” that dealt with low-income and homeless oppression. They had set up a game where we each drew cards that revealed different circumstances and events that could occur in a person’s life that would affect them financially. More often than not, within three cards, each person participating in the game ended up in a metaphorical homeless shelter.
I understand that there are checks and balances in place within our government and it’s assistance to keep people from abusing the system, but there are always exceptions. Not every circumstance is covered within these laws. I was feeling hopeless.
As I arrived on campus, I was texting my best friend all of my frustrations, and she empathized. I will say my best friend has been my hero in so many ways. She is a very intelligent, motivated young woman who has faced her fair share of challenges and always seems to come out stronger and more empathic in the end. She has been a rock in my life in so many ways, and an inspiration in the fact that she never stops giving of herself.
She offered me a place to stay if things got much worse. “At least you can finish school and not worry about bills so much…” she wrote. She proceeded to help me put things in perspective, asking me practical questions like: “What’s your school schedule?” and “How much money do have to put towards next month’s rent?” For which I was thankful. It allowed me to get out of my head a bit and look past my emotions. She proceeded to tell me that one of her coworkers heard about my situation and wanted to help me cover rent. I sat at the computer desk of my internship and cried. A woman I had met only once was offering more than most Christians would. It was humbling, to say the least.
I came home to find that I had finally received the W2 form I had been waiting on from a previous job. I could finally file my taxes which would likely cover me for another month or so. The weight lifted a little. I checked my email to see that I had two potential offers for jobs. They weren’t much, but they were potential. It meant hope. The haze was beginning to clear a little from my emotional cloud.
I told my friend I was going to hold off on her coworker’s offer until I knew that I had no other options, but so appreciate the compassion she showed. The truth is, this season has been teaching me empathy for those less fortunate or in similar positions that I have been in this past year. I am grateful for those who have given love so undeserving as I have struggled with my independence and pride, among numerous other challenges. Perhaps what I am learning most is that this life is not my own and as a Christian, I am required to live every day in surrender and trust. Knowing that God does love me and will take care of me. But sometimes, often times, he uses people to reveal that love. My role is to pay it forward and be love to others who need it too.
There will be days when you see no way out. There will be days when you are ready to give up. In those moments, look at what you CAN control. Often times you will find that you are closer to break through than you realize. Take a step back. Look at the big picture. Find where there is truth, and keep pressing on!
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again, and you will be rebuilt.” -Jeremiah 31:3-4a
“Young I have been, I have also become old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his children begging for bread.” -Psalm 37:25