Friday, July 22, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

“Is anyone at work in a whirl?” I tried not to stutter.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It was either a Monday or Tuesday. I really can't remember now. I just remember that I had flipped the news on and noted that the stock market had taken an odd tumble. It rallied a bit. Didn't matter. I'd seen the handwriting on the wall...or rather on the brand spanking new, no down payment mortgage. I figured Jeff would be laid off before the 1st payment was due. I also figured he didn't know it yet. He's that kind of worker bee. He has intense focus. He ignores office gossip. That has gotten easier now that his repeated respiratory infections have robbed him of a lot of his hearing. Even when he could hear normally, he was all about the work and never much about the small talk especially the water cooler gossip. After 19 years as his pipeline to news, I knew he would have heard nary a word re what was happening on Wall Street that morning.

“Yea, I've heard a few folks bemoaning something about 401K's. Is the stock market doing something weird? Is something up?” Chuckle. We hadn't had a 401K since 2002, so ignorance was bliss till my call.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
By lunch the next day, it was apparent that the tumble was not a glitch. It was post 9/11 all over again and maybe even with a vengeance. My hand hovered over the phone. I didn't want to know, but I did. I finally gave in and called his desk. He had just been given an important assignment on a huge project. It could be a real feather in his cap. He had been faithful in small things for years. This might be that 'big' thing God would bless him with for his faithfulness on behalf of his employer.

“Hey, how are things up there. Have they canceled your project yet?” I figured it wasn't if...just when. I'd been through this slaughter before.

“NO!” Jeff sounded stunned. “They told us to go ahead full steam.” I knew it was too good to be true. The next day he called back about lunch time. “Guess what....?

“They canceled the project.” Note the absence of a question mark. I didn't have to ask. “Who have they laid off?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He noted that he had seen a brand new hire, only on staff a week, carrying boxes out to his car. Last in first out. Others would follow in droves. I squeezed my eyes shut to block out what I saw coming for us and for all the other families out there. I did the math. I knew that this new house with my name on the deed would belong to the bank again before I had lived in it a year.

I put my game face on. I pumped my heart as God's chiefest cheerleader into high gear. I told myself that my loving, good God would NOT leave me flapping in the wind again. He most surely would not do it just as we had gotten back on our own 2 feet. As much as I wanted him to use me to encourage others, this time would finally be mine. I would seize my dream on his behalf. I had done my time in the valley of shadows. Now as other people experienced unemployment with all its fears and adjustments, I could step in the gap and say, “You will live through this time. You will start over. There will be life again. You may lose much, but in the end it will all have been worth it.” I could be the poster girl and tour guide for anyone's trip through unemployment now. Ha! Boy, was I fooled.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I knew I was going to need to be steadied. I began to study on how to bolster myself for what was coming. Looking back, I don't know what I could have done differently. I was constantly turning my battle plan over in my mind. Walking into the grocery store, I passed the spinner of inspirational books. My 2 fav's at the time were Elizabeth George and Donna Partow. Out jumped George's book, Following God's Path Through Your Trials. I thought, “A-ha! This will be my suit of kryptonite! With this resource, my cheerleader's heart for God, and my life experience, I'll be unstoppable.” I could just see myself riding the tsunami wave of unemployment about to sweep over our country. Surely God would not sweep us away with the wave. After all, we'd done our 3 years after 9/11. Ha!

I came home and gathered my safety net. I had my 3 Bibles, each in a different translation. I had my 3 books: Becoming a Vessel God Can Use (Partow), A Place of Grace (Hunt), and my latest acquisition from the grocery store. I was all set. Come and get me now, life!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Hey! How good Presbyterian Providential! We'd just bought a house with good bones. My living room would seat about 17...more if we got real friendly. I had a screened porch and deck to take advantage of the pleasant fall days for mentoring and ministering as the recession deepened and affected more families. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. All those years, all those tears would finally have a purpose as I gathered other hurting women under my wing to assure them that there would be life again. I could look at them in all sanctimonious sincerity and say, “God is Good. All the time.”

Let me tell you something, sometimes ignorance is not bliss. I just didn't know how ignorant I was. I had a nagging sense of deja vu all over again. I didn't have the heart to crack the lid on that new, jointly purchased, bucket of paint. I didn't open the boxes of pictures to hang them on the wall. I told myself I'd hang pics as I painted rooms. Myself knew better. I wasn't hanging pics to turn around and take them down again. No sir. Been there done that and was too poor from it to have a t-shirt to brag about it. Still, it sounded better to lie to myself about painting first. You know, having a cheerleader for God heart and all.

Poland 2009
You can know what Chinese water torture is without a drop of water ever hitting your head. That is what life is like when you sit and wait for the other shoe to drop as you watch co-workers sadly, angrily box up their life and go home not knowing what they will do next. At first, the news was good. Men would leave but end up with other work right here at home within a week or so. Next thing you know, word was they had been laid off there too. A few headed to other parts of the country. Maybe they were one of the lucky ones that made it out unscathed. I'm not sure.

Jeff's office had been a place full of life where the men seemed to respect and care for each other and show it via the good -natured ribbing that punctuated their work days. Rapidly, it became like the visiting rooms of a mortuary as friends said goodbye to friends. Those left behind endured survivor's guilt and didn't know what to say to the other doomed survivors. Those pushed out the door earlier felt anger. “Why me and not one of them?”

I can hardly breathe even now, 3 years later, when I remember. We had not met a lot of those men, the boys and I, but they were like family to us. They had laughed together, and we had laughed at their laughter almost every night at the dinner table. I had hoped despite the stupidity of it, that Jeff would retire with that company. Consulting engineering companies don't retire folks anymore. I'm sure they'd love to, but the economy will never allow that again, I guess.

Summer became fall, and the holidays approached. There would be no joy in our new house on that first Christmas. We kept up our attitudes but the look in all 4 pairs of eyes told the story. We could see the buzzards circling, and their orbits got lower with each revolution. The holidays became January, and Jeff got the call. February. That was all the time we had to prepare, but it was so much more than so many folks got. Yea, GOD!

Then, he got another call. He had scored an interview. They had an offer. We didn't have to think twice. It was here at home. We could keep our new house with good bones. I could be the poster girl! YEA, GOD! The phone rang again. We thought it was Jeff's new company with a start date. It was the company. There would be no start date. They had just lost 2 large contracts. Not only would they not be able to hire Jeff, they were laying off now too. Before it was over, you couldn't sling a dead cat in my town without hitting an engineer looking for work.

Jeff called the mortgage company. We knew the drill. By heart. There would be no bankruptcy this time as we still had the scarlet 13 on our heads till 2011. We had just gotten back on our feet. Rather than being able to last years as we had done after 9/11, it would be months. He gave them the date that we'd make our last payment. He told them we'd surrender the deed in lieu of foreclosure if they were willing. They asked us to attempt a short sale. We agreed.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I was so numb that I was cold all the time. Or maybe I was so cold that I was numb all the time. This time, there was no voice while I vacuumed. There was just silence and emptiness. I went to work trying to find work and found out that most of those 'now hiring' signs around town really meant 'we will take your app, but we aren't hiring now and won't be for a while'. It was 2001-2005 all over again. Even tho' this go round God had not said, “Be still. Nothing you can do will fix anything, “ nothing I could do fixed anything. Even when friends referred me on to their own employers, I couldn't get the time of day from anyone.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My aging parents lived only a mile from us and would need us more and more care and help. Still, we faced the facts that we would again be rolling stones. We prepared to hit the road. Jeff scored interviews in just about every state in the southeast. A lot of them ended up in face to face interviews. I traveled to some that seemed more hopeful. We'd land on our feet. Yea, God. Maybe I wasn't able to find work because he'd have work that would require a move. Yea, God. Recruiters would tell him his post-interview feedback was great. Somehow, they always picked a 'local candidate'. Sure sign that Jeff had been a hoop HR had jumped through to prove they had been fair in their pick of a local. He never had a chance. They had wasted our time and wearied our hearts.

We rolled into Chattanooga, TN tired, frustrated, and jaded. We figured it was just another dead end. I'd think it is fair to say that Chattanooga is a hard-scrabble mountain town whose city center is morphing into an undiscovered gem. I was smitten. Jeff loved all he heard about the company and everything about the interview. The commute was kinda complicated, but I could get to my parents on a hard half day's drive. The freedom of homeschooling would allow us to pack our books and stay for a week at a time if need be. It sure beat all the other places that had been a day's drive or more. Yea, God.

We had made the last house payment we could make in May. I had reconnected with friends from the 90's whom we had lost contact with during tthe year prior to the layoff. Horrified at hearing all we had navigated in the years we had lost touch, they sent word, “You won't lose a 2nd house if we can help it.” They made good on that lofty promise. They made our June house payment. Jeff would start work again just in time to make the July payment. YEA, GOD!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
“On the road again. On the road again. The life I love is making new, old friends, and I can't wait to get on the road again.” I took liberty with the Willie Nelson ballad and posted my facebook status declaring our survival and impending move. I really was going to get to be the girl that wrote the book on how to survive starting all over again. Really, I was. If you had asked me then if what I would really write was a blog about how I am having to write my way back to know the drill. I'd have asked you what medicinal herb you had been smoking.

I'm still trying to figure out why God has done what he has done. Just as much why he left some things undone. Suffering is relative. Deprivation is relative. Fear is relative. We've added a new saying to our litany that began with, “This situation is not permanent. No one is dying. Death is permanent. This is not. We will be ok.” After my son went to China in 2008, he came home with a whole new bird's eye view. Some days as my world continued to crumble, he'd say, “Mom, what we have is relative. We are not lepers in China.” And, I knew in my rational head that he was 100% right. But for the grace of God, I was not a leper in China. But, in my heart, I felt like a leper. I just wasn't in China.

Courtesy B. Creasy
Oh, fraidy cats, thank you for dropping by today. If you know someone who is struggling because of unemployment, health issues, learning disabilities, broken dreams, lost purposes, or faintness of heart for any reason, would you tell them you've found a place to call home? Bring 'em back with you tomorrow? I'm not sure where we are going, but I think it will be a lot less lonely and a lot more fun if we go together. I'm looking for my good God. The one that I thought I knew. I fell. When I did, my gyroscope went all wonky. I haven't been able to find my way ever since. Thanks for cheering me on. Every time I see your click, I know you are saying, “Go, friady cat, GO!” Love ya long. Love ya strong. See you soon?

Psalm 9:10
“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” (NLT)

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