blessings

Day 25 – Better 37 and Unemployed Than 21 and a Schmuck

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – September 22, 2014

I'm roughly 21 here. I'm being much more mysterious than is warranted.

I’m roughly 21 here. I’m being much more mysterious than is warranted.

Erin had an absolutely fantastic interview this morning with a local company. The position she applied for was entry level, but they took one look at her and her snazzy business-appropriate outfit and decided she might be a much better fit for the level above entry. Because these people are sane. We’ll see where it goes.

While Erin was having this success, I was with Violet at home when I got a call from my Sister-in-Law, Karen, about a friend of her’s looking for an Art Director for a company up in Northern California. I jumped on this one fast with an email and a sent Resume. An hour later I had a phone interview for tomorrow scheduled. Obviously, this is a perfect match and I’ll have the job by this time next week.

It feels like things are ramping up. Erin and I have both got so many different leads and they’re all rising at the same time. At some point, they’re either gonna crash into each other and we’ll have some hard decisions to make, or one of them is gonna break the surface of the water first and come out on top. The question isn’t: Will we find something? It’s: Which one of us gets a job first?

Oh, and there’s one other question: Where will we go?

Central California and everywhere else. These are the twin poles of our job hunt. I’ve known for the past 16 years of my professional career exactly what I was going to do and where I wanted to be. Now, everything is up in the air and there are moments when that’s more than a little disconcerting.

The last time I was this uncertain about the future and this unsettled in my life, I was a fresh-faced 21-year-old just home from his mission, trying to make a go of it with a Sister Missionary from that same mission, not looking for a job, and with absolutely no desire to attend college (while absolutely needing to).*

*There, now you don’t have to read the first five chapters of WORLDS APART.

Okay, when I write it all out like that I realize that I’m actually much better off today than I was back then. That guy–that young guy?–he was kind of a schmuck. He got stuck a lot. He was too hyper focused on what he couldn’t do. He had a self-punishing belief that he would never be good enough for anyone and always be alone. He was terrible at love, barely entering relationships before he either offended his way out of them or they ended with literal disasters. Like that one time with the car wreck.*

*Like I said, first five chapters.

This was taken earlier this year. Look at that confidence! That unshaven face!

This was taken earlier this year. Look at that confidence! That unshaven face!

I’m so very much not alone now. I’ve got a wife, and a fantastic one at that who has not left me after any of the times I wrecked or otherwise damaged the car. I’ve got three beautiful daughters. I’ve got amazing friends and a college degree. I’ve got a tried and tested Faith. I’ve got three pets, and only one of them pees on me with regularity. And, really, he’s doing a lot better. I’ve got brownies in the kitchen right now.

Basically–and I realize this is a recurring theme at this point (and it darn well better be)–I’ve got blessings. I may possibly be more blessed now than at any other time of my life. And I’m unemployed.

Go figure.

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Day 20 – This is How We Know God is Mindful of Us

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Wednesday – September 17, 2014

044-044-TheGoodSamaritan-full

The Good Samaritan. One of my very favorite parables.

Erin’s body does not deal with stress well. When she was a kid, she was ill a lot, earning her the nickname Illy McIllerson (as of this very moment). Now that she’s an adult it’s not as bad, but her body is prone to waving the white flag now and again, and forcing her into bed. This is what happened this morning. So, once again, I had to take the single dad role. And, this time, the nurse role.

I’m not completely terrible at this. If there was money in being a substitute mom, I wouldn’t feel bad taking it. I managed to get the kids to all the places they needed to go, do some job applying, write, and even pick up a friend’s kid from school and set him up with some video games at our place (after he’d completed his homework, of course). That was the easy stuff. The hard stuff was helping Erin get better.

We’ve decided to elect COBRA to extend our health insurance coverage, but we haven’t actually paid the premiums yet (my foreign friends, you are so very lucky). Neither Erin nor I wanted to deal with doctors and try to explain our situation, but something had to be done because Erin only got worse as the day went on. Thankfully, the doctor was just fine with calling in a prescription without actually seeing Erin (this is how often she gets sinus infections–the drill is known).

I went to Target to pick up the medicine while Erin slept. Without COBRA, we’d have to pay full price for the prescription. Okay, whatever. Erin was tired of feeling crummy and I didn’t care how much it cost. I hate seeing her suffer. I looked it up and the most we’d pay would be $50 for her particular antibiotic. Not great, but doable.

The incredibly nice young woman at the pharmacy counter (I’ll call her Shirley because I know no one by that name–I’m not even sure it’s a real name, quite frankly) looked up our name and found another prescription for me to pick up–Cami’s anti-seizure meds. She helpfully rang it all up for me.

I didn’t say a word. Secretly, I was hoping our insurance had screwed up and we were still on the plan. It was a remote, illogical possibility, but it only took Shirley a moment to explore so I let it happen.

Shirley scanned Cami’s meds. $216. “Oh no,” she said. “That’s not right!”

“No, no,” I said. “That’s right. That’s what I expected.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, we lost our jobs a couple of weeks ago and COBRA hasn’t kicked in, so–”

“I HAVE A COUPON!”

Shirley ran away from me, over to some drawer I couldn’t see, and rifled through it. When she came back, she punched some numbers into the computer and announced that she’d gotten Cami’s meds down to $30 and Erin’s antibiotic down to $16. I barely knew how to react. The guy behind me in line said “That was awesome.” I nodded towards him as if to say “Yes, guy in line, that was awesome.”

“Thank you,” I said to Shirley. Over and over again.

“It’s my pleasure,” she said. “We get these coupons from the pharmaceutical companies to use when there’s a need. You’re one of our regulars, we gotta take care of you.”

This is going to sound weird, but if you’ve read this far I think you’re with me on this: I’m really grateful Erin is sick a lot.

* * *

We keep getting little (and big) blessings like this. A friend and former co-worker stopped by today with a gift card. He didn’t have to do that, but he did and it’s just more evidence to us that God is mindful of us. This is usually how God is mindful of all of us: through other people. I have to think, because of that, we’re not being set up for a fall here. He’s propping us up right now as signs that He is there and is guiding us towards what we need to overcome this particular trial.

Now, the reverse could be true. He could be showing up because He knows it’s only going to get worse from here on out and He doesn’t want us to be alone, but that’s a super depressing thought so I’m going with the other thing.

Day 3 – Weeping in Church

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

August 31, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 1.10.07 PMGot the feeling not everyone knew quite what to do with us at Church today. That’s okay, I didn’t really know what to say either. There were some warm hugs, so that was nice. One woman came up to Erin, stuck her finger in her face, and proclaimed, “We are praying for you and you WILL have a new job by the end of the week.” Then she walked off.

The theme of Sacrament Meeting was dealing with adversity, which was appropriate and just mean. Erin and I held it together pretty well until the rest hymn “Count Your Many Blessings.” This is one of those hymns I’ve always found a little trite, but today it could not have been more profound. Each word hit like a mack truck carrying a heavy payload of truth. We wept our way through the first verse and a half before stopping for want of being able to form coherent sounds. We read the words and listened to the congregation sing after that, and that was enough. Their voices never before filled that chapel so completely and beautifully.

Here’s the second verse, but they’re all good:

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

During the second and third hour of church a friend and employment lawyer sat with Erin and me to help us figure this thing out. He told us he doesn’t have many talents in life, but this–THIS is what he’s good at. This is how he serves people. We found ourselves not just talking about severance agreements and contracts, but also the burden and frustration of the past few days. He listened to all of it. When I apologized, he said it was all part of the job. It’s really not, I think.

That afternoon, Erin and I took the kids to go visit a friend who wasn’t able to make it to church because of a recent surgery. Neither she nor her husband had any idea we were suddenly unemployed, so the conversation stayed mercifully away from us and we got to focus on their needs and be just another happy couple again. I don’t know that we’ll have another moment like that before this thing is through, so even in the moment I treasured it.

When we finally got home, we played some family Mario Kart 8 and dug through past letters from the Company. I’d been given a few raises over the years and as I reviewed the praises from my boss justifying them, I experienced a conflicting set of emotions that I’m not entirely sure I’m completely in touch with. Not-so-deep within me is anger at being laid off, but I’m also so grateful for the experiences I had at the Company and my accomplishments and the relationships and friendships I’d never have otherwise. I think it’s going to be a while before I know how to properly frame all of this all within my own mind.

* * *

I broke out in hives today. All up and down my forearms and a little on my neck. I haven’t rubbed up against any plants in the recent past, nor eaten anything unusual. I don’t think it’s physical what I’m experiencing. I can’t remember the last time I felt this stressed out.

What are we going to do?

Day 2 – 20 Blessings from the First 24 Hours of Unemployment

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

August 30, 2014

settlersThe Facebook messages didn’t stop during the overnight. A lot of people seemed to think that playing Settlers of Catan would somehow alleviate the stress and tragedy of this week’s double job loss, as though a simple game among friends could have the power to stave off emotional darkness and too easy cynicism.

Smart, smart people. I love tabletop gaming and so does my wife, so we were all in on that.

I decided to do an accounting today. I think the secret to happiness is gratitude–the mere act of being grateful requires positive reflection so being grateful for everything is the one guaranteed way to be happy–so I wanted to be sure and think back over the previous 24 hours and consider the ways in which we’d been blessed. Here’s the list I came up with:

1. Warm cookies.

2. Many lovely private messages of support.

3. Erin’s father, Dale, a world class runner, ditched his race in SoCal to come up to be with us.

4. Offer of free massages.

5. Offer of legal help.

6. Sound unemployment advice from people who definitely KNOW what they’re talking about. I’m excited to take advantage of the mortgage insurance on our FHA loan. Apparently, we can get the next six months paid for.

7. Free babysitting so we could go out with my brother and his wife while they’re in town (they’re kind about the negative impact our troubles are having on their vacation, but I feel terrible they have to put up with our feelings when they should be relaxing).

8. Free ice cream, courtesy of my brother and his wife.

9. Offer of cold, hard cash.

10. Leads on potential freelance jobs.

11. Warm hugs. (My girls watch ‘Frozen’ nonstop. All hugs are warm.)

12. Praises we don’t deserve. Seriously, you’d think my wife and I were Gods who could call down fire from the mountain for all the confidence and faith people have in us to pull out of this.

13. Prayers on our behalf.

14. Service in the Church Vineyard. Erin and Elora, our oldest, went to pick grapes in the early AM. The grapes are turned into raisins and then used for relief efforts. For Erin, rendering that service was exactly what she needed. It felt good and took the focus off our troubles for a while.

15. Free horseback riding for our daughter with special needs, Cami. We go out to the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch every Saturday morning and it’s always free. Never been more grateful for than than today.

16. Offer to pay for Violet’s preschool. Violet is our youngest. She started preschool for the first time this week. If there was anything Erin was most stressed about, it was having to tell Violet she wouldn’t be able to go back as we cut back on expenses. A kind relative stepped forward and didn’t give us a choice–Violet’s preschool WILL be paid for.

17. A meal we didn’t have to cook or buy.

18. Peace.

19. Love.

20. Hope.

* * *

I’ve been struggling all day between peace and panicking. There are moments when it hits me that soon I won’t know how to pay for things and I just want to run away. We went over  to my Mom’s today and she asked me how I was doing and I snapped at her that I felt “terrible because I lost my job,” as if she didn’t know. I had to apologize to her later. Thankfully, that’s not my disposition most of the time.

Most of the time, I feel good. I feel relieved to be separated from a job that was increasingly an ill fit and I feel grateful to be moving on to something new. Hopefully, that ‘new’ is not homelessness.

We got one last blessing today, very late at night. I got a text from a friend to check the porch, and this is what I found:

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An unemployment survival kit from friends who know how much soft foam violence we’d like to exact on our situation.

Day 1 – Double Unemployment

This oft-neglected blog now has something it’s never had before–my undivided attention. Congratulations, blog, I’m unemployed. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful. 

Friday – August 29, 2014

CharlieBrownFootballI got laid off today and it was awesome. I don’t mean “awesome” in the overused, exulting sense, but in the “Aw, #$%@!” sense. I guess I sort of saw it coming because I woke up sick to my stomach every morning this week for no discernible reason. I wasn’t ill, I hadn’t eaten anything problematic the nights before. I just felt vomity anxiety. Didn’t think it was leading to getting laid off, but there you go. Basically, I was Charlie Brown. I should have maybe guessed Lucy would take the football away, but I sure didn’t expect her to up and run off with it.

I walked out of the boss’ office feeling numb and panicky and kind of dead. I was the undead, really. I was still animated, but I’d died and passed on to this next life called “unemployment;” a purgatory where I’d now get to sit and stew until moving on to the next next life: either the pit of hell call homelessness or the heavenly gift that would be new employment in a dream job I could not yet imagine. (There was no middle ground in that moment.) My morning nausea returned immediately, and I now cursed the coworker who’d unexpectedly bought me lunch at the cafeteria just a couple hours earlier.

Oh man, he didn’t know did he? Was that my last meal before execution? I’d have asked for lobster.

After gathering my things, I headed downstairs to fill out a bit of paperwork. The HR rep was a jewel and about as distraught as I was. I thanked her for being kind to me, and to Erin the day before.

Oh, yeah.

My wife got fired too, just 24 hours before I did. We worked at the same place and, at the time of her firing, I was of course comforted by the fact that at least I still had my job. She was too.

This is probably why she thought I was joking when she came home from our oldest daughter’s cross country race to find me pacing frantically in the hallway and claiming like a jerk that I’d joined her terrible, terrible club. Sorry, sweetheart, my jokes can trend towards the morbid (“Your dad is cooler than my dad? Oh yeah? Well, my dad is deader than your dad.”), but not this time.

The unemployment rate in the US currently sits at 6.2%. We are the 6.2%.

Facebook was equally shocked. Granted, Facebook is shocked a lot, particularly when the date matches up with the exact day Marty McFly arrived in the future for the hundredth time, but in this case their shock was justified. I wrote in a status update:

“Apparently, I’ve got the wrong last name. Yesterday, Erin got laid off. Today, it was my turn. (Yes, we did work for the same place.)

Feeling oddly peaceful. Little angry, sure, but peaceful. Have NO clue what’s next.

I think I’ll focus on feeling up to eating again for now.”

So I did, and Erin and I took our girls out to dinner to spend money we might need later to keep our lights on. But, crab cakes. And clam chowder. Erin and I split a meal. They say God helps those who help themselves, so I figure splitting a restaurant meal between us instead of buying two whole ones is kind of like meeting God halfway. Right? Probably not, but there are far greater sacrifices ahead, I’m sure. Greater blessings as well.

I find nothing useful about cynicism. It is the disease that kills sincerity by disguising pessimism as truth. I also hate cliches because they siphon intelligence out of expression. And yet, for maybe the first time in my life, as the cliches about closing doors and opening doors came in from Facebook with some heaping side helpings of love and well wishes, I believed every single one of those stupid cliches. They comforted me. They seemed dipped in truth. They reeked of it. Something better has to be coming our way after a hit like this.

Right?

After contemplating those soon-to-be-open doors for a little while, it occurred to me that I could lose my house and be happy. I know that’s an odd leap, but when people tell you about how they know things will be better off in the long run and you believe it, you’re pretty much okay with whatever has to happen to get there. Great blessings require great sacrifice. I have to be okay with that. I have to be okay with whatever needs to be inflicted so the blessings can come. And I say that in recognition of the fact that the affliction and the blessing are often one and the same.

So, take my house. If that’s what’s needed, then take it. I’ve got my wife and my girls and my cat. (I’d like to keep the cat. The dogs are negotiable.) And cookies. Friends brought us warm cookies this first night.

No one ever brought me warm cookies when I had a job.

* * *

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At the Crossroads and Frustrated

You may have noticed I haven’t been exactly present on this site for the past week. Some great comments were left on my post Should Adults Wear Shorts? and I didn’t respond to any of them. (Just so you know, message received: wear shorts, stop being a jerk about it.) I’m not totally sure why I didn’t respond, but I think a lot of it has to do with the incredible amount of frustration I’ve been feeling lately.

This is gonna be tricky because I don’t think the time to get into specifics is right now. Basically, I’m at a crossroads.

In all of the most important ways my life is better than it’s ever been. My wife and I have always been strong partners and very much in love, but now, even after 12 years of marriage, we’ve managed to discover a new peak. Our kids are fantastic and healthy. The emotional stress and confusion and doubts that have been with us ever since our daughter with special needs was born have largely subsided. Honestly never thought that would happen. New responsibilities at work have given me a new sense of purpose there. I love my calling at church. They actually made an Avengers movie. And it’s good.

So what’s the problem? Sorry, that’s just for me. Suffice it to say, the dissatisfaction and lack of direction in another, critical area of my life is leaving me frustrated and, at times, angry. Great change is coming, for good or ill, and I’m at the very tipping point. Plans I made have not worked out like I thought they would and I’m facing an undesirable alternative I’ve been avoiding for a long time. I thought I was on the path I was supposed to be on. It is hard, now, to see how things could possibly work out in my favor.

I’m being vague, but it doesn’t really matter what I’m talking about.

I seek God’s counsel continually. I thought He was backing me up on this one. Crud, I thought it was all His idea in the first place. Am I mad at Him? Of course not.

This is where my true frustration is coming from: underneath the disappointment I feel for my situation, I’m more disappointed with myself. How many times in my life have the dark and grim things later revealed themselves as just steps on the path to something great? Many times. Many, many times. God tests our faith continually, but it’s pretty much always the same test.

So, I have to wait this out. But waiting at a crossroads is pretty much the most stultifying thing a person can do. Instead of moving forward or backward or left or right, I’m left at the fork in the road to ponder and pray and scold myself for being so dissatisfied when I have so much that is so great. In the moments of my deepest frustration, I feel unworthy of the blessings given to me. There’s nothing I hate more than ingratitude, both in myself and in others.

I know this is only a moment in my life. I guess I just wish it was over by now.

More than that, I wish I didn’t wish that.