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Thursday, July 10, 2014

This is not my story

The Washington Post piece on my experiences on the threshold is garnering a lot of could say.

And I'm being asked for all kinds of follow ups from news organizations, but also from people.

I've been working on a book about it, one that tells not only the rest of my story, but the story of so many others, one that talks to people high and low and in between, officials and experts and anecdotal experiencers. It will give perspective not only on this recession's version of poor on every level, but give meaningful ways to get out of it.

It's clearly a necessary work.

I know that now because this is not my story.

It's your story, and his story, and your aunt's story, and your daughter in law's story. It is everybody's story.

Since the piece went wide, I have been inundated with emails, messages, tweets, phone calls. And I braced myself for the very worst.

And I was wrong.

The support, the overwhelming kindness and empathy, and most importantly the now hundreds of matching stories that people have been brave enough to come forward with into my inbox has been a phenomenon of breathtaking beauty.

So many of us were here, are here, or are on the brink of here. My experience, it would seem, is more universal than I even thought.

We are struggling, as a nation, as a people, and as individuals, and we're looking for any glimmer of hope to get us through the next few days, months, years, until the economic fallout straightens itself.

I have not asked permission to share the personal tales of hardship, hope and human resilience, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of the kind of messages I am receiving by the hundreds, even thousands.


"Had to write and say your story touched me. Thanks for being honest and putting you heart out there. So many people are fighting all types of "poverty" in their lives. You never know until you walk in their shoes."

"I am sitting at my desk crying . . . I’m so glad you and your family were able to overcome that situation. Bad things should not happen to good people. My family is going through a similar experience – down the the driving of a paid for, extremely reliable 2007 Mercedes, which is why your story caught my eye. . .we are in the worst financial situation we have ever been in as we approach our 50s. It’s unbelievable and truly depressing. Reading your story gives me some hope to keep trying."

"I went through same experienced. Took me so long to recover. Read yours and made me cry. Anyhow. It was pretty inspiring and took me back to that harsh experience. This shouldn't happen to people that are just trying to get out of a hole. Very sad. "

"I just read your article & I wanted to thank you. Thank you, for reminding people that hard times can happen to anyone & being judgmental doesn't help. Bravo!"

"Really am embarrassed by the vitriol being spewed about you. I respect and admire you despite not agreeing with your political or religious philosophy. Not even gonna argue with some of the apes complaining about you taking help. Jeez, what a divided country we live in."

"Your article...thank you for the aritcle you wrote about "food stamps" that showed up on Yahoo. I did not want to post on that site because of all of the negativity posted about the article. It seems you got a small/brief taste of the feeling of "not having" that so many are experiencing on even bigger and longer continuums..and the emotions, judgments, blow to self esteem that go along with the circumstances. Glad you and your family are doing much better."


And these are just a few of the heartfelt messages.

The story of how I drove my husband's Mercedes to the WIC Office is mine, yes. But obviously it struck a tender nerve because, stripped down, it is the story of so many more.



  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am a pastor in north central Iowa. As I read your account, all that could come to my mind was how the looks, judgments, and presumptions is how the world does things in its system and how, unfortunately, far too often, the church has adopted the same way of doing things, instead of doing things how God has done them and continues to do them. I think of the compassion that Jesus had for those around them, not using circumstances, even those that didn't seem to fit with the person's current reality, to make a judgment about their character. That is how God operates, not what, sadly, is often demonstrated by those who claim His name. I am thankful to Him that your circumstances are now different, but I am also thankful to Him that He did allow you to experience this difficult time. It would appear to me that it had a deep impact upon you and your family as you consider those around you with new and different eyes. And for that I am grateful. Be blessed today, not because you now have more material resources than previously, but because you have grown. God bless. Pastor Jim Laupp

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I agree with you (I think) about Jesus.

  2. Hey Lady! I get to claim that I've been following your blog for years (though I admit I haven't commented much). I'm so glad the public interest in your story has led you to write a book! It's a book that needs to be written. Thanks for taking a stand and sharing your story so publicly. You are a fantastic writer and I hope you can turn this into a big success story for you and your family! :)

  3. I too am college educated, had just had complicated pregnancy, then baby, husband laid off, mortgage struggle, and a paid for Mercedes, that it made no sense to sell. I applied for WIC, but instinctively, because I also know the judgement of being black, I parked the Mercedes blocks away and walked the rest of the way to avoid some of the sting. I had the grocery store incidents too. Frankly the whole experience sucked, because even though we had worked for years as tax paying citizens, and knew it was temporary, I still felt guilt and shame. Unlike you, we told NO ONE our situation. I applaud your courage in sharing your story. Thank you.

  4. This happened to us also in late 2005-2006. With our first big house purchased in 2004, (with 80k down from borrowed money on parents home) two new cars, we were bringing in over 70k a year and paying a low mortgage of $1300. We had 4 kids between infant and 6 yrs old. My husband worked in the housing industry with engineers. I was working in corporate travel, and I was receiving child support for my oldest from his dad who was making over 120k a year in the home loan industry. This was a perfect storm when the housing market crashed, my husband was laid off as he was the newest employee. My older sons father lost his job about 2 months after and the child support stopped entirely. I was laid off about 6 months later. TO make matters worse our 2 year fixed then adjustable after that loan went up $1000 a month! Even though our loan agent told us it wouldnt go up more than $200 bucks! Predatory lender! We had a 2nd loan on our home which could not be forgiven in the foreclosure so we were forced to claim bankruptcy. Not only that but we lost the 80k borrowed from my parent that we used for the down payment. Which we were going to take out of our equity to pay back down the road. We were forced to sell both new cars and bought 2 old cars. Some people stayed in the foreclosed homes for a year, but we moved out as soon as we were no longer able to make payments. We didn't want to live in what was no longer ours. We rented for the next 6 years and moved our family of 6 into 5 homes in the span 7 years. It was a nightmare. I had to apply for food stamps for the first time in our lives, I had to wait in line at food pantries to get free boxes of food, I had to apply for medi-cal for my kids and my husband and I went without health insurance from 2006 to 2014. We still dont have dental for us. One Year I had to go to the Salvation Army and wait in line for Christmas Presents and I would return with nothing my kids would likely play with while some parents loaded new bikes into their trunks that they had been given, it was odd? I had to go through the embarrassing WIC checks which I would cry about sometimes after leaving the store. Going into these places I would be stared at because I was usually one of the only "white girls" and I looked out of place. We had no privacy and had to turn over our bank statements, tax returns, everything and trying to gather this paperwork and whatever they needed this month to get help was a part time job for me. We never received welfare (Cash Aid) though because my husband did receive unemployment benefits for a few months that just covered our rent and a few hundred for bills and food.luckily my husband found himself a new job within months, it was the first time he had ever been out of a job. We finally were able to recover in 2011 and bought another house after suffering through horrible landlord situations. We are now back to a decent place, got a new reliable car again and we hope that we will never do any of that again! I think it was a valuable lesson we learned and It makes me feel like a stronger person knowing that we went through all that, stayed together as a family and as a couple and came out ok. It taught us to be more thankful, empathetic and compassionate, but we know that we never would have made it back if it wasn't for my husbands hard work and his dedication to be self sufficient, EVEN when it was more advantageous to continue to get help, he refused it and we did without help as soon as we were possibly able to. I really enjoyed your story and I think we are the types of people that I fully support social services for instead of many of those that I met along the way that exploited the system and lied and deceived their way into as much as they could get from the government.

    1. The lending practices were absolutely predatory and out of control. I'm so glad you're back to a decent place. These things, if they can be short-term, can help make people stronger.

  5. Sorry to hear what you went through and I am sure it was very humbling. I am glad that things eventually worked out for you and your family.

    One thing I would comment on when someone finds themselves going from being solid middle class to financial trouble as your describe is to not call themselves poor but broke.

    The difference between these two words is something that Dave Ramsey teaches (don't agree with all that he teaches but a lot). Ramsey talks about how he was broke at least one time (maybe twice???) but he never was poor.

    Poor is a permanent state but being broke can be a temporary state. Knowing the difference between these two terms and only thinking of yourself as poor will help sustain you through all you went through. Some people will remain broke all their lives due to a number of factors. Some of the factors they can control and others may be beyond their control.)

    You were never poor but broke. You had the humility and sense despite the almost pillory you felt to get govt. assistance when you needed it due to being broke. Some would have been too proud to have asked for help like that. If I (god forbid) get in a situation like yours would not have issues taking govt. help since I have paid into the system all these years just like you and your husband did.

    Most of the others that you mention when you drove your Mercedes to get food stamps were actually poor for whatever reason. You were just broke.

    Realizing the difference can sustain someone when they are on hard times.

  6. Read Darlena Cunha's essay on 'sudden poverty' in the Sunday Washington Post Outlook section. Fine, all well and good. Yes, people hit hard times (and come back from them.) Then her closing. Clearly, a Democrat/liberal/progressive, she takes a dig at "conservative politicians" and also says "President Obama's programs ... that allowed us to crawl our way out." Let's see, where did any of that money come from? Oh, yes, the taxpayer. It should be some sort of violation of a statute that a government official gets to say its paid for by government funds. That "government" money comes from either the taxpayer, borrowing (that the taxpayer must also pay back) and in the case of the federal government, printing money (which leads to inflation and more debt). So, she can instead thank the American taxpayer instead of Mr Obama. Additionally, if I am a homeowner (and taxpayer) and do everything right--scrimp, save, don't buy beyond my means, pay all the bills, etc.--why should the taxpayer pay to finance her short sale of a house that she admits was basically beyond their means ([quote] "a home we couldn't afford)?" And, where is their immediate family (parents, grandparents, etc.) to help them? Their faith--and church? Ms Cunha's piece doesn't have the time or space to cover a lot of other factors that could have influenced/affected their situation. With all the deserved empathy expressed in the other comments, there is also some room for a little tough love as well.

    1. Good point Falcon. If they bought a house that was above their means then part of their plight is due to some poor choices. This is especially when both her and her husband are college educated and thus should be able to educate themselves enough to analyze the numbers. I would have more sympathy for borrowers have given loans to uneducated people that might not be able to understand what they were getting into.

      Also good point about it not being the government's money but taxpayers



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