What is My Fair Share?

I was recently told that my family is not "paying our fair share" in taxes. Sadly, this was said by someone who is really in our life and I had wrongfully assumed, understood that our circumstances of underemployment are hopefully temporary. That being said, after the shame voices faded (more than a week later), I'm ready to process the idea of what we all owe each other as a society and how we choose to "pay" it. And if we have a choice in how we give or if our contribution must be mandated.
I remember when I was in college and my ministry partner had to give the "Communion Talk" at church one Sunday. In the church of Christ tradition, we always pass the collection plate (which is viewable for all to see...never sat right with me) after we pass the crackers and juice. It was the first time I heard someone encourage people to give what they had to the community (and in this case, to God) no matter what that was. He encouraged all these college students who weren't particularly flush with cash to find other ways to give. Give your time. Give your talents. Give a listening ear. And I remember thinking, "the money guys are going to be annoyed" and "huh, that's kind of cool." Little did I know what a progressive I would become!
I was always taught that giving was financial. And obviously, that's the first way to give that comes to mind and should not be underestimated (I know you can't pay the light bill with warm fuzzies). And yet, how reductionistic is it to assume that finances are the ONLY way a family can contribute to their community (and by extension, their local and national government). Once again, my true response to what was said to me only came after I calmed down the shame voices.
This is what my true response told me. 
1. My husband and I both work and both pay taxes. 
2. We have our taxes returned to us and we receive a refund because I have a small business that allows me to write off expenses and because after that, we don't make a lot of money and have two dependents. 
3. We don't make a lot of money on purpose. Not to leech off the government (again, hopefully we will outgrow the programs we're gratefully using) but for exactly the opposite reason. We value our community SO much that we willingly take non-profit work for poor pay in order to benefit our community. We just haven't found that "home" yet in this transition. 
4. I have sold over half a million dollars worth of wellness products since I moved to this community. I've contributed to the local economy as an individual in a fairly big way and have helped an important industry grow. In turn, the building of the wellness industry has SAVED a ton of money in medical expenses. My source says for every $1 spent on wellness products, $28 are saved in medical expenses. Theoretically, I've single-handedly saved $14 million in health expenses in the last 11 years and I've done it at home with my children part-time. 
5. I've chosen to be a stay-at-home parent. I believe that brings value to my children and to my community. I've been able to teach my children our values of tolerance and love at home in hopes that when I launch them into the community, they will make it better. * 
I'm sure there's more. But the point is, we contribute. We matter. We've made a difference. We need to be careful how we judge someone's contribution to the community. We need to check our privilege if we've never been in their position. If we're reducing everyone's contribution to taxes paid, we've got a lot of corrupt corporations to thank for being good citizens. Let's start passing out gold stars to big pharma, big oil, Wall Street and Monsanto. Sure, these are the people poisoning our food with chemicals, sending jobs overseas, and not giving their employees livable wages but hey, the economy benefits! Thank you for your contribution. 
What would happen if we expanded our view of what social contribution looks like? Yes, putting the money you can into the communal pot but also living with our hands outstretched to each other? Being willing to give our time, our energy, our resources to our neighbors on either side of us? What would it look like if the government didn't have to pry money out of our cold dead hands to help single mothers go to college and  keep our roads paved and our fire stations functioning? I understand we don't trust our politicians. That is a huge and legitimate issue and I don't toss that aside easily. But, do we trust each other? Can we have enough integrity to take from the pot what is truly needed and know that there will be more if we need to come back rather than grabbing everything we can just in case? Scarcity is a real thing when you're poor so I don't mean that as a judgment. I actually mean that for those who lack compassion for the poor. By reducing our contribution to taxes, you're diminishing our value, silencing our voices and ultimately, missing out on the fullness of true community. In our obsession with money, we're actually short changing ourselves.

* I wanted to be careful with this one. While I find stay-at-home parenting worthwhile and the right choice for us, I know many women who contribute to their community and their families by doing important professional work as well as good parenting at home. This is by no means a judgement on them. I admire you.

When Facebook Makes Me Cry

It all started when I made the mistake of posting something political on my Facebook page. I've been known to talk about human rights quite a bit but my political posts have been veiled until now. Politics don't bring out the best in humanity and I have a hard time not getting sucked into it. My emotions get strong. My feelings get hurt. Let's face it: I get mean. I become flabbergasted by both the ignorance and the total lack of compassion that this brings out in people. People whom I know I disagree with fundamentally, but to whom I hope to extend an olive branch and listen to with an open mind.
I was already having a bad day. Penny was having one of those almost 3 year old mornings where she thought it was hilarious to do everything the opposite way from which I was asking her. It was exacerbated by the fact that we were in public the whole morning. I have a particularly hard time not feeling flustered when I feel like people are watching how I react to my child when she's being "persnickety." I felt emotionally exhausted. I felt overwhelmed by my child's inability to go with the flow. I felt isolated because every parent around us was interacting with their child in a way that looked a lot more simple and easy than what I was dealing with all morning. 
Then I logged onto my page and saw the "conversation" that unfolded, and continued to unfold throughout the day. Articles being thrown at me (to which I threw articles back...like I said, I was having a bad day). My work ethic called into question. Then my privilege. Then my greed. I start to get sucked in. The words are rising in my throat. I'm tempted to talk about the 18 year old car I've been driving for 15 years or how my husband I have can live on less than $40,000 a year as a family of 4 because we're so careful with money. I want to talk about our 2 bachelor's degrees that aren't putting us to work. I want to explain how we choose to live small because that's one of our essential values. I almost blurt out about how low our mortgage payment is because we played it very conservative when we got into the market 11 years ago and have never been tempted to "upgrade" from our "starter house." I start to get angry as I think about my husband getting up at 5:30 every morning working 2 jobs and how we still can't provide for ourselves without the government programs we're gratefully using because he's been looking for full-time work for 7 months and counting with no success. I want to talk about my small business that keeps my child out of daycare (fewer expenses!) giving us a 3rd income while doing what we believe is best for our child (this is not a judgment, this is actually what we believe about our specific child). I understand what it means to create something from nothing, to generate income from thin air. I understand the amount of motivation and drive it takes to work alone with a 2 year old in tow. I really, really do. 
I want to scream out that this is about us, yes, but the video I posted was about justice for all, access to quality education for all families, races, and socio-economic levels. How could this message of hope get twisted into laziness, self-interest and greed? I want to weep. In fact, I have. 
I've written about taming this beast, this rising voice of self-defense. This is not a new process for me. I have a strong sense of justice and it can make me a bit of a beast. I choose to call it advocacy :) But maybe I haven't given a full voice to the demons, the moment the words of shame come pouring in, the pain and horror that unkind words do when they come into your home on a bad day. I get it; politics are tough. And maybe this is my cue to bow out. Shit's gettin' ugly, people. 
I know I will require an extra dose of self-care after today's events. And my skin isn't very thick.
But I don't want to silence my voice (though I may need to do some unfriending). I know there's a benefit in putting a face to an ideology (granted, I thought my face would receive more respect than it was given today, but the world isn't as kind as I believe. I already knew that) and I'm not ashamed of my beliefs. I believe people need access to health care. I believe that all the poor kids should be fed and educated and have secure housing. I believe books should be in every home. I believe people should be able to fulfill their potential whether they were born in the country club or the ghetto. I believe people want to work and to find something worthwhile and fulfilling to do with their lives. I believe people who do good work, like teach our children, should also be able to have a comfortable retirement. And God help us, I believe people of all races and religions should be free and embraced in this country, not rounded up like a bunch of fucking terrorists. 
I believe in kindness. I do. If I'm not the best economist, ok. I'm cool with that. Let's let the economists put their beautiful brains to work. But what I do know is I will not be silenced. I will not bow down in worship to the almighty hate. I won't do it. So hate my government program-loving heart if you must. But know that I love my beliefs and those who hold them with integrity and with my own integrity fully intact. You don't have to agree with it. But you damn well better respect it. And I will do my best to respect our differences and above all, to temper my passion with kindness. And now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go log off Facebook for some much needed R & R.