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Yesterday I was feeling anything but thankful.

Lonely. Stressed. Overwhelmed. Ungrateful. Bitter.

Yeah, that’s more what my day before Thanksgiving was like. The list-making, the shopping, my daughter home from school giving us an extra six hours of potential fighting with her brother. I wanted to be thankful. But wanting it wasn’t making it happen.

Earlier in the week I’d realized this is our sixth Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania. The sixth year we’ve been absent from our family celebration in Illinois. It was coupled with the realization that Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. Phil and I love the food and family, the togetherness in playing board games, laughing, sharing stories of years gone by. On Thanksgiving there’s no pressure to bring anything except yourself (and maybe your signature dish). No gifts. No pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas. In theory. Maybe those are thoughts for another day.

So, there I was missing my family, not looking forward to the food prep ahead of me, feeling bad for feeling unthankful.

My hands were covered in flour, sticky and dough-covered as I formed and shaped the rolls. Our daughter stood next to me, her hands matching mine, doing her best to make round balls of dough that would later become dinner rolls. Our son was crumbling cornbread into a bowl, readying it for the cornbread dressing to be baked the next day.

And I realized something else.

In the six years we’ve been in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, I’ve learned a lot of things I might not have learned.

Making homemade rolls, for one. It’s taken me years to decipher the traditional recipe from my husband’s side of the family, and I still don’t get it right all the time. But I can make rolls from scratch using flour and yeast and everything, and they taste like dinner rolls, even if they look like blobs instead of clovers.

For this, I am thankful.

And cooking a turkey. I was terrified the first year, sure I would screw it up. But for five consecutive years I’ve brined and cleaned and oiled and roasted a turkey. (This year, we opted for a pork chop Thanksgiving.) And I learned that I actually like turkey.

For this, I am thankful.

I make pie crusts from scratch. We have our own food traditions now.

For this, I am thankful.

Over these years we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with select members of our family, with other people’s families, with just the four of us. One year, we celebrated in anticipation of the arrival of the fourth member of our family.

And I’ve learned that sometimes family is geographic, rather than genetic. As much as we love our blood relatives, we’ve found friends who are as much like family here in Pennsylvania.

For this, I am thankful.

And I’ve learned to be thankful even when my husband had to work on Thanksgiving because at least he had a job.

This year, we’re glad to have him home for the day.

As we cooked up kukelas (pronounced like koo-kah-luhs), the German fried and sugared dough of my husband’s family’s heritage, and ate our fill of sugary goodness, the thankfulness hit me again. I’m thankful for this family, this house, this season of life, not because I think we deserve it or even because we have so much, but because we know what it is to not have, to nearly lose what’s most important, to take for granted.

For this, I am thankful. 

Not only for the blessings of God but for His mercy. For the grace of others. For love that covers a multitude of sins.

In everything, give thanks.

 

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I was slow to get moving yesterday, drinking coffee, waiting for laundry to dry, reading blogs and Facebook posts after taking our daughter to the bus. There was upsetting news about the government shutdown. About people not getting paid for their work. And about programs like WIC running out of funding until the shutdown is over. I thought of all the days we’ve relied on WIC to provide healthy, nourishing food for our family. I thought of how those who are food insecure would get a little more insecure with the news. How going to the grocery store is drudgery for me, especially when I’m using WIC checks because they take more time and there’s almost always a delay or a problem.

I left for the grocery store bearing burdens too heavy for my shoulders.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Genesis 1:1-5

light from darkness

Photo source: Carlos Koblischek via Stock Exchange

I pulled my van into the Aldi parking lot and dug out my quarter for the cart. I was mercifully alone on my grocery errand, the boy at home with his dad so I could be quick about restocking our shelves. I opened the hatch to find our reusable bags when the man with the broken English approached.

“You are going into the Aldi?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Come, follow me. I give you my cart free.”

I closed the back of the van and followed him to his car. I briefly wondered if this was wise but the parking lot was full and it was daylight. I watched him unpack a few things into his car. He gestured for me to take the cart. I held out my quarter and he shook his head.

“Thank you,” I said. “Have a great day.”

I walked into the store a little lighter for the kindness.

The days may be dark, but here was a glimmer of light.

I filled the cart, checking it against my list, grateful for the chance to take my time and make decisions slowly. I was halfway through the store when I noticed her. She was agitated and looking for her friend to borrow a phone. With her Access (food stamp) card in one hand, she furiously dialed and punched in numbers to check her balance. I’d made the same call a day earlier, checking to see if our monthly allotment had been distributed in the chaos of government bureaucracy. I’m forever fearful that I’ll get to the checkout with a cart full of groceries and not be able to pay because of a technological glitch.

I watched out of the corner of my eye as she was visibly upset with the result of her call. I don’t know the circumstances or lifestyle of the woman but I know what it is, at least in part, to stare at empty pantry shelves and wonder when and how you’re going to put a meal together.

My mind immediately leaps to the worst-case scenario, and as I looked at my cart, I wondered if maybe there was a problem after all and maybe I wouldn’t be able to pay for my groceries.

I walked on in faith, paid for my groceries and bagged them, grateful that another trip to the grocery store was done.

When I got to the car, I checked my phone. Even though it’s October and I’ve had less than a handful of calls from our daughter’s school, I’m still paranoid that she’ll need something during the day and I’ll miss the call.

I saw an e-mail instead. An urgent prayer request. A tragic loss.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

I said the words out loud.

In the beginning there was darkness. And there was light. And I wondered if God could have made a world without darkness.

I tire quickly of the darkness. I avoid the news. I keep to the safety of the neighborhoods I know. I shut my eyes to the horrors of the world because it is too much to bear. Too much darkness. Not enough light. Never enough light.

light candle

Photo source: Andrey Gorshkov via Stock Exchange

I tire quickly of my darkness, the black parts of my heart that seep out through my words and actions. I forget that the story doesn’t end with darkness.

You are the light of the world.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

The city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

In the beginning there was darkness. But the Spirit of God was moving. Light was being born.

There is darkness, yes, but there is light and it is us, and we are pushing back the darkness one kindness, one act of love at a time.

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So, cooking. I have a love-hate relationship. I love cooking. I hate trying to cook and do a zillion other things at the same time. I also have very little patience for the kids wanting to help. I try; I do.

I’m best at dinner when I have a plan, but with school starting and moving and budgets being a little out of sorts, I haven’t really meal planned in a while.

pantry raidWhen that happens, I search the pantry shelves for ingredients to make something. It’s a skill I learned from my husband. He’s the master at it, but since his work schedule doesn’t allow him as much time in the kitchen as I’d like, I’ve had to get creative myself. Okay, so maybe these recipes aren’t going to win me a cooking show, but they’re relatively inexpensive and I generally have everything on hand. (I also have a love-hate relationship with the grocery store.)

So, here are five recipes I return to again and again when I’m in a time crunch or ingredient pinch.

1. Pie. Last night we had a turkey pie. (You thought I was going the dessert for dinner route, right? It’s an option.) I make my own crusts out of butter-flavored shortening, flour, salt and water (I could eat just the crusts!) and then I just mix a bunch of stuff together and put it in the pie. Cooked turkey or chicken, a frozen vegetable mix, a couple of cream soups, some mushrooms. Other times we’ve thrown in potatoes or gravy, especially after Thanksgiving. Turkey pie is great for Thanksgiving leftovers because you can use just about anything.

Similarly, shepherd’s pie. Usually with ground turkey or beef, some vegetables and a biscuit mix topping.

2. Black beans and rice. If I make the rice ahead of time, this comes together quickly. Some peppers and onions sautéed in oil, a can of tomatoes (with or without chiles), a can of black beans, thyme, hot sauce, apple cider vinegar. Heat it all up in a skillet and serve over rice.

3. Creamed tuna on toast. It sounds kind of gross, but really, it’s yum. Make a creamy white sauce with butter, flour, pepper and milk. Stir in the tuna. Toast some bread slices. Serve the warm tuna sauce over the toast. (This is one of those I love to make in winter because it’s warm and comforting.)

Similarly, goldenrod eggs on toast, a dish I’d never had before I met my husband. Hard-boiled eggs, separated after they’re cooked. Yolks crumbled. Whites stirred into a white sauce. Layer toast, white sauce, crumbled yolks. It’s surprisingly tasty.

4. Cheesy salmon rotini. I have my friend Nikki to thank for this one. It’s another winter-comfort food. A similar cream sauce to the previous recipe, only with canned salmon and cheddar cheese stirred in, over cooked rotini (or sometimes bow tie noodles). I almost can’t wait for winter.

5. Soup. When I lived on my own and didn’t regularly stock chicken noodle soup and didn’t have my mom in the same house to take care of me when I was sick, I experimented with homemade chicken noodle soup. In the fall and winter, we try to have soup once a week, at least. It’s another one of those dishes you can clean out the cupboards to make, especially if you keep a soup base on hand (or make your own stock from bones, which I have done several times–a surprise for even me!). My chicken soup starts with sautéing some sliced carrots, celery and onion, then evolves from there with chicken, broth, noodles and seasonings. Rice, potatoes, frozen veggies, canned meat, beans … the possibilities are endless. (And if my husband was cooking, they’d be amazing. A couple of years ago, he created two soups in one day just on a whim. Man, I miss his cooking. Hint, hint.)

What recipes do you find yourself reaching for when you’re low on groceries or time?

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Shauna Niequist has written about two things I love: cooking and community. Her newest book, Bread & Wine, is part memoir, part cookbook, part travel journal, and it is a book you’ll want to savor, and read multiple times. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Bread & Wine from Zondervan through the Booksneeze program.)

bread and wine coverFrom dinner parties, to family get togethers, to cooking clubs, to crisis and disappointment, Niequist writes about the role of food and life around the table in all of life. She loves food and people and the memories that surface of good times and sad and how food and community minister and comfort and heal. If I could eat the pages of this book, I would, but then I wouldn’t be able to try the recipes.

Bread & Wine left me hungry–for community and delicious food–and full–of my own memories of life around the table and hope that offering community around a table doesn’t have to be perfect or difficult. I dog-eared dozens of pages and found myself nodding in agreement with Niequist’s observations about life.

Here are some of my favorites.

On the role of food:

It’s no accident when a loved o ne dies, the family is deluged with food. The impulse to feed is innate. Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don’t know what to say, when there are no words to say. … It’s the thing that connects us, that bears our traditions, our sense of home and family, our deepest memories, and, on a practical level, our ability to live and breathe each day. Food matters. (14)

On hospitality:

But it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance. You’ll miss the richest moments in life–the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence through the actual faces and hands of the people we love–if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door. (109)

And,

The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment. (114)

Niequist’s stories of travel and cooking and experiences make her the kind of person I’d secretly love to hate, but she is brutally honest about her shortcomings (there’s a swimsuit chapter I will be referring to often this summer) and disappointments (infertility between her first son and her second) and in the end, she’s the sort of person I’d love to hang out with for a day. The writing is personal, like she’s telling you her stories around the table, and the recipes are accessible, like she’s standing with you in the kitchen walking you through each step.

If you’re a fan of food and community, this is a book you MUST have on your shelf. Inspiring and encouraging.

Niequist has written two other books, both of which I’m eager to read now.

For more about the author, visit her website: http://www.shaunaniequist.com/

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A couple of months ago, we had a friend over for a play date. She and her mom had driven up from their house and were staying for lunch. We hadn’t seen them in a while, but the kids got along well.

I hadn’t been to the store and was a little low on groceries, but I had enough to make mac and cheese, a homemade way, with boxed pasta covered in a flour-butter-milk sauce with melted cheese. I told the little girl who was visiting that we were having mac and cheese for lunch, and she was super excited all morning because let’s face it, mac and cheese is a pretty great promise.

macaroni

Shannah Pace | Stock Exchange | http://www.sxc.hu

But when lunchtime came, she expressed disappointment about what was in her bowl.

“Mommy, I don’t like it!”

I can’t remember if she tried it, and really, it wasn’t my best effort at homemade mac and cheese. Fortunately, her mom came prepared with a microwavable bowl of the Kraft kind, and she ate that like a champ.

Nothing against boxed mac and cheese. I’ve eaten my fair share of that in my lifetime, and my kids like it when we have it.

Still, it’s not “real.”

We’ve been starting to make some changes in the food we eat and buy, opting for more “real” and “natural” ingredients. The coffee creamer I use is made with milk, cream and sugar. This revelation came when I bought some non-dairy stuff off the shelf at Dollar General, and I thought, “What exactly is this stuff?” The answer: a bunch of things mixed together to taste like creamer.

Our favorite ice cream maker has a new line of all-natural ice creams. One night last week I tried a salted caramel variety and I kid you not, it was like tasting ice cream for the first time.

I’ve been eating fake food for so long I’ve forgotten what real food tastes like. 

It might take some time for my palate to readjust. Or maybe not. Every summer I swear I’ll never eat another store-bought tomato when I’ve tasted the sweet juiciness of a homegrown one from the farmer’s market. Until winter comes and I want tomatoes and all I have available is the reddish, tasteless tomato-shaped fruit in the store.

Then I settle for something less than real.

And I fear the Church, and my faith, may suffer the same taste preference as our 3-year-old friend: We prefer the fake to the real because we don’t know what real is.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Words from a Psalm, and yet do I believe it? That God is good.

A member of the local Jehovah’s Witness congregation periodically stops by our house, mostly to talk to my husband, but since he’s not around as much because of his work schedule, I’m the one who ends up talking to him. This week, he handed me the weekly literature, which posed the question, “Is God cruel?”

“What do you think of that question, Lisa?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t think God is cruel,” I said. And in my heart I added, He is far better to us than we deserve.

Words my head affirms but the truth is I have shaken my fist at God, doubted His goodness and demanded He do things my way. As recent as last week, I threw my hands up in the air and said, “Don’t You see what we’ve given up for You?”

As if God owes me anything.

Boxed mac and cheese is quick, easy and it tastes good enough to eat, even if it doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrition.

And sometimes I want a quick, easy faith that makes me feel all warm and cozy.

Not the kind that requires patience and preparation and that might be bland if I rush it and skip a step.

And sometimes God gives me what I want, but it leaves me feeling empty. Hungry for something more.

I think of the song we’ve sung for fun at camp:

I wish I had a little white box

to put my Jesus in

I’d take him out and kiss, kiss, kiss

and put him back again

Maybe it’s all fun and nobody takes it seriously, but I wonder how many of us have Jesus in a box and we only take Him out of it when it suits us? How many of us are living a faith that is only a shadow of the real thing?

And I’m not talking about not being saved or a member of the church or a faithful disciple. Even those who followed Jesus while He was on earth got it wrong, creating in their minds a Savior of a different kind.

I’m talking about opening the box and letting Jesus out, even if we’re not sure we’re going to like what He has to say or wants us to do.

Taste and see.

Yesterday was the Day of Pentecost, the day the church marks as the birth of a movement that would spread worldwide for thousands of years. The Holy Spirit arrived and Jesus was no longer limited to his earthly body.

The Spirit moves today.

But sometimes we put Him back in the box, choosing to believe only what is safe, comfortable and palatable.

What if we’re missing something?

Something real. Wholesome. And good.

What if I’m not really following Jesus at all but just a cheap substitute?

Taste and see.

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Everyone’s looking at me.

The thought weighed heavy on my mind as my face flushed red with embarrassment. I slid the card through the electronic reader, entered my PIN and anxiously waited for the transaction to finish.

I’d bought groceries plenty of times before, but this was the first time I’d used government money to pay for them.

A year and a half into our marriage, we moved 800 miles across country so my husband could start graduate school. We had a 5-month-old daughter, and for the first time in my adult life I would not have a paying job.

It was an act of faith, to say the least, to go where we felt God leading. We just didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was.

Read the rest of my guest post for Live58 here.

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After my initial blogs I read regularly post, I discovered five more blogs I frequent. Here they are: blog note

  1. Dr. Kelly Flanagan, a licensed clinical therapist who writes about redeeming all areas of life for wholeness.
  2. Joel Kime, who offers thought-provoking questions related to sermons at Faith Church in Lancaster, Pa.
  3. The Green Grandma, who has opened my eyes to a new way of living that is healthy and environmentally friendly. Lots of giveaways and tips for moms and babies, too.
  4. Mandy Masala, where my friend and college roommate Amanda writes about learning to cook Indian food the way her husband likes it. She inspires me to try new food!
  5. Scenes of Life, where Dave Schroeder, a college friend, writes about movies, writing, books, among other inspiring topics. I appreciate his take on these topics.

Who are you reading online these days? Share your recommendations!

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Years ago I watched a movie starring Barbara Streisand called The Mirror Has Two Faces. I can’t remember much about the movie except that Bryan Adams sang on the soundtrack (and I was practically in love with Bryan Adams) and the female lead was not confident about her appearance or her attractiveness to men.

I could relate.

When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like what I saw, and I didn’t believe anyone else who said they saw something different.

invisible coverAlmost 20 years later, the struggle isn’t as intense, but it’s still a battle. And it’s this image battle that novelist Ginny Yttrup writes about in her new book Invisible.

Ellyn is the owner and head chef of a restaurant in Mendocino, California. She’s also overweight, has never had a relationship with a man and she’s skeptical when a widowed doctor, Miles, shows interest in her. She hears a voice in her head (she calls him “Earl”) that constantly puts her down. She loves butter. (Who doesn’t?)

Twila works at a shop owned by her mom. They specialize in herbal medicines, organic foods, and natural products. Twila bears a tattoo of thorns on her face, a mark of solidarity with those who suffer. She is thin and recovering from an eating disorder (she calls it “Ed”) and re-establishing a healthy relationship with food.

Sabina has come to Mendocino to escape. She’s a therapist carrying a suitcase stuffed with guilt and battling depression. She’s on a break from her practice, her family and God. Each day is a struggle to get out of bed.

Ellyn befriends Twila and Sabina and as the three of them get to know each other and their “issues,” they realize they aren’t as different as they might seem on the outside. Each of them, with the help of the others, is on a journey to discover who they are and why they’ve hidden behind food, an eating disorder and professional success.

I don’t know how she does it, but Yttrup creates characters that could walk off the page and into your living room. Invisible is an honest look at what happens in the female mind, and how distorted our view of ourselves can be. I found myself able to identify with each woman for a different reason.

This quote is one of my favorites from the book:

invisible quote

And if you like the writings of Christian saints, you’ll appreciate Yttrup’s inclusion of quotes from St. Augustine at the start of each chapter. A quote from his writings plays a major role in the theme of the book. (Yttrup did this with Madame Guyon in her last book, Lost and Found. I appreciate the ancient-modern connection.)

Yttrup has a unique style. Each chapter is written from the first-person perspective of one of the characters. Sometimes I had to go back and remind myself who was talking, but the chapters are short and the movement of the characters toward wholeness is fluid and hard to step away from.

I enjoyed reading this book on my own but think it would be even more meaningful in a discussion group with other women. So, if you’re looking for a book club read or you have a group of girlfriends who like to read and talk, I’d put this one on the list.

Read more about the author’s personal experience with the issues she writes about here.

—————-

In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of Invisible from Handlebar Marketing.

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So did I.

But not for the same reason.

In a world where 1 in 7 people battles hunger daily, I’m one of the “lucky” ones.

Yesterday was Compassion International’s One Meal One Day campaign, an annual event that encourages people to skip a meal and donate what they would have spent to their work in a country whose people experience extreme hunger. This year’s focus: Ethiopia.OMOD_2013_children

First let me say this: I don’t usually fast. It’s a discipline I’ve not practiced much since college and I almost never look forward to it. Especially as a stay-at-home mom where the food is readily available all day long and the kids need regular nourishment. Plus, I’m cranky when I’m hungry. All good reasons to not do it, I know.

But this seemed like a challenge I could handle. And I wanted to do it. When it came time to decide which meal to skip, I chose dinner specifically so I could go to bed hungry. When’s the last time I did that on purpose?

Some thoughts:

  • I made pork chops and sauerkraut for the rest of the family. I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut. Maybe I did that on purpose. And maybe I’m ashamed that I can choose to skip a meal because I don’t like the food being offered. Who, if they were truly hungry, would turn down food of any kind? 2012 UGANDA IT WORKS+
  • My stomach started growling almost as soon as I started cooking dinner, as if it instinctively knew I would be denying it.
  • Hunger does strange things to your senses. I had to run to the store after “dinner” and when I came back, I was sure the air in town smelled like root beer. Root beer? Weird.
  • When I told my husband my plan to not eat after I started making dinner, he said, “So you’ll drink water. I could put some dirt in it for you.” We chuckled and maybe that makes us insensitive. Truth is, unclean water is a reality for 880 million people around the world. No laughing matter.
  • My husband also ate ice cream and a cupcake in front of me while we watched TV. I think I handled it okay. No one lost an arm.
  • When I woke up this morning, I barely remembered that I hadn’t eaten for 15 or 16 hours. Does a person eventually become accustomed to hunger?
  • I wish I’d known about this event earlier so I could have enlisted more of you to participate. Be forewarned, next year, I’ll be recruiting a team.

Even if you didn’t skip a meal, you can donate to the cause here.

And if you’re interested in sponsoring a child through Compassion, you can click on the banner on the side of the blog and start searching for a child to support.

Skipping a meal and donating a little bit of money doesn’t seem like a big deal with a big impact.

But it’s something.

And when a whole bunch of somethings come together, they can have a greater effect.

My parting words?

Do something.

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Hey, Mom sitting in the WIC office waiting for your quarterly allotment of food checks,

waiting room

Photo from Stock Exchange (www.sxc.hut)

You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but I want you to know, you’re a good mom.

Your baby, your toddler–they’re proof of that.

I know some people would say differently.

I’m sure you’ve received your share of judgmental looks and stares, and heard people in the grocery line behind you express their impatience.

I feel it, see it and hear it, too.

And it’s possible I’ve been one of those people.

Okay, it’s more than possible.

When I was first eligible for WIC, I wanted to set myself apart as a mom. I sat in the waiting area, dressed in clothes that I hoped would communicate that I wasn’t poor like you. I bribed my kids to behave well. I hoped beyond hope that they would answer the questions the “right” way so the nutritionists wouldn’t think I let my kids eat junk food. (Confession: Sometimes I do let them.)

I wanted to convince myself I didn’t belong there, but since we qualified for it, we would accept the help.

And then one day, I realized that we did belong there. We were and are poor. We need help. And like you, I’d do what it takes to help my kids.

So, when you call the office because you missed your appointment, I understand. Transportation isn’t always a given. The weather and illness can change your plans. Work schedules can be unpredictable.

When you let your kid climb all over the chairs as you text, it’s okay. Motherhood is hard when you have a support system. And if you don’t have one, I don’t know how you do it.

Illustration from Stock Exchange (www.sxc.hu)

Illustration from Stock Exchange (www.sxc.hu)

Choosing to have a baby takes courage. Married, in a relationship or single, however you became pregnant, it takes guts to bring a child into the world and raise him or her.

So I applaud you.It doesn’t matter to me how it happened or whether you planned it. Life has a way of altering the best-laid plans.

Our time with WIC is coming to an end soon, and you have helped me understand so much.

That moms of all kinds are doing the best they can with what they have to do what they can for their kids.

I won’t forget the lessons.

And I will stand up for you when I hear criticism against you.

I will wait patiently in line behind you while you spend your checks.

And someday I hope I can slip an extra bag of apples or vegetables into your cart because I know how quickly the money is spent.

Keep going. Keep doing the next right thing. For you. And your kids.

You have opened my eyes.

And I pray they’ll never again close to your needs.

Sincerely,

another mom waiting in the WIC office

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