A Last Morning of Quiet

Following the advice of a friend whom I lost to Cancer about a dozen years ago, I came out to enjoy the quiet of the morning.

I had just ‘been around to be a friend’, and had been talking with him about the need to get outdoors and participate in Creation, by watching the sun set.

He agreed, and then took the lesson for both of us a bit further: “Do get out and watch the sun rise! Light, Glory, and Hope return to the world in a sunrise! It is a reminder that things are never totally lost.”

I missed the sunrise this morning, but the sun hadn’t risen but a little from behind the mountain. My chair was dripping with dew, my coffee was hot and black, and bees were humming industriously nearby, working the blackberry blossoms.

Dara, our rescued dog, came by to offer love and to be my “a-boy-and-his” dog, and I had but a moment of perfect staging to grab a shot:

I go back to full-timing soon, so these last few mornings become precious. It’s a great gig, for a great outfit. And there will be new relationships to build; another reason to briefly look back…

Charles and I had an interesting relationship: as Head Design Engineer, his word was pretty much law; and as a Technical Writer, I interpreted what he did so it could be used by Designers and System Integrators. I learned humility pretty quickly, and through him, I learned how to ask the right questions in a way that wouldn’t waste his time. We built a mutual respect for each other, and importantly, for each other’s craft.

I thought of you this morning, Charles.

I can only begin to imagine the conversations which you and He, who invented and created all forces and effects of Physics, may be having.

Ready… Set… Oh, wait.

I was all ready and set up to go to work this week, but that’s not happening, so far.

I’m working through a great Staffing Agency which handles a lot of temp and contract professionals. These folks are phenomenal in their client and labor interactions. Their agents have exactly the right touch, and it’s obvious that they value you and support you as an individual. I can’t say enough about how well they handle things for their clientele.

But they’ve just moved to a new Payment Agency. And it looks like I’m one of the first to be run through the new system. So many times in jobs past, I was the first to do, or try to do, something. Nowadays, we call it the ‘bleeding edge’, and looking about, I find the situation to be familiar.

And… Payment Agencies… Oh yes, this is definitely familiar ground, from my days when I was in television. I’ve seen it from the client side. We’d cast someone, make the call, shoot the video or record the audio. Then we’d agree on a set number of hours for this call, the person would submit that to their Payment Agency, and the Agency would invoice us. Accounts Payable would handle the distribution, and meanwhile we in Video Services would be post-producing the program.

At that time, the Payment Agency was to us like Alice’s rabbit-hole. Things go in, and we’d have to trust that they’d come out somewhere. In general terms, ‘the entertainment industry’ uses payment agencies to make sure a very long list of people get paid, for when Union talent is used in production. It gets even more convoluted when the talent signs a contract that includes residuals or a piece of the distribution. From talking with various talent folks, this was never pretty from their side of things, and it was seldom prompt for them, then. This was because that payment to them went through a number of ‘splits’. I’m going to list a typical set of the splits (as I recall them), in order, here:

  • The talent agency
  • The talent’s agent
  • The Union
  • The talent’s Union rep
  • And finally, the talent themselves get paid.

Each took a percentage, and each took time to process things, as that payment went from hand to hand. Often, a lot of both.

The saddest thing for us as a talent employer was that if we called Union talent for a program, it could take up to three months for that person to get paid. Meanwhile, the poor guy is starving, waiting for the check to come.

That was then, this is now. Now we have things like internet-based processing, which is of course much, much faster.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have all those splits and percentages to worry about. Just the setup time. Which has taken all of this week, so far. The analogy of Alice’s rabbit-hole is holding amazingly true. And here I was, hoping to start the new job this week.

But even after all the initial setup, there will still be paperwork. I have to have a set of documents witnessed and Notarized, then send them in. “In the tunnel there are many objects and things, and the walls are filled with books and jars…”

I pray that my work here as one of the first will make it smoother for those who follow.

So meanwhile, somebody has to go first, right? I guess God has selected me for that role. Maybe I’m helping others even before I get to go do this job.

About which I still remain energised and excited.

And can’t wait to start, so that I can again be making a positive difference.

The Next Chapter

All through this period of unemployment, I have been asking God, “what would you like me to do next?”

I will admit, I had been wearied a bit by the many years of ‘giving it all I’ve got’, every day. But I took away a quiet satisfaction in bring able to look back on that effort and to know that God honoured it with gainful employment and the satisfaction of a job well done, at the end of every day, every week, every month, every year. And I took away a great recommendation from my former boss, a guy who had some serious moxie as VP of HR. (It’s not worth asking how MarComm got put under HR. Really.)

But I still have that spark within me to go out and do good. Last night I read a quote in Max Lucado’s Cure for the Common Life which really sums it all up nicely, and I’ll paraphrase here:

God gave me the gift of certain talents.  My giving back to him is to offer those talents as a gift to his glory.

And it looks like I’ll be starting work on Monday. My hand’s in yours, Lord. Let’s go do good things together.

 

A brief update: I’ll be starting mid-week; it takes a while for the Agency to get my account set up and ready to use by all three of us: my Client, the Agency, and me.

Awesomeness in the midst of conflicting emotions

In the last few months, we have had several burdens upon us.

We haven’t been able to go camping; and this is when we’d be quite frequently camping. My wife’s Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is giving her trouble with being able to catch her breath after doing the most simple of things. She’s able to get around, but has to stop about every 20 feet to catch her breath, and has no stamina, due to the lack of ability to get into condition. My old knees haven’t been right, restricting my own mobility; and although I’m working on getting into better shape, even that’s gone in the wrong direction lately.

Thanks to my former boss (VP of HR) and his prescience, he got me into a category such that if there were cuts, it was going to make cutting my job hurt my employer rather badly. Consequently I have a year of full severance and fully paid COBRA insurance coverage for both of us, as we were covered in that manner previously.

There’s a ‘but’ with that.

Meanwhile, to keep my wife’s health up, we’d of course been on several doctor’s visits. But there were ongoing problems with getting the insurance to cover her visits. After many phone calls, and probably a day’s worth of waiting on hold, we discovered in April that my wife was supposed to have immediately applied (back in January when my job was terminated) for Medicare in order for the COBRA insurance to partner in covering her – so all coverage since January has been denied!

CHF isn’t a cheap disease to have. And you have to stay ahead of it. But with expensive visits (let’s call it the equivalent of a couple car payments) she’s had to skip the visits until Medicare begins coverage.

There is good news: We finally have things straightened out, and she will be fully covered again after June 1. We have doctor’s visits scheduled ASAP after that date, as her CHF symptoms are really bothering her.

The bad news is that even after appeals, we find ourselves liable for well over a thousand dollars in medical bills.

Meanwhile, God continues to remind me that he is on my side. And we respond by looking up in faith, instead of looking around; we both remain positive that things will turn out okay.

And now, in a God-moment of “look at this, child”: I came to this devotion in Tony Dungy’s book, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge. I’m giving proper credit and quoting ver batim with editing for flow. I’m also highlighting the passages which struck me:

For Us

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Romans 8:31

How many times have we prayed for a certain outcome, imagined that a problem has only one solution, and lost heart when that outcome or solution didn’t occur? How many times have we seen that happen in our lives at home, at work, in sports, or with financial investments?

And then we learn, of course, that God has something much better in store. That’s what the apostle Paul proclaims in today’s verse.

For me, 2001 was a monster of a difficult year in Tampa Bay. First, as a team, we had all gone through the uncertainty of 9/11 and the aftermath together with the rest of the country. But we rallied from a slow start to make the playoffs again, only to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles in Philly—again. Off the field, the media was having a field day speculating whether I would be fired and if Bill Parcells would be the guy to replace me.

My staff and I just kept coaching, believing that the Lord requires us to do our jobs and He will take care of the rest. And then, despite much prayer, we were fired. That was not the answer or outcome we were looking for, but it was the answer we got.

And so in the midst of much disappointment and uncertainty for the future, we packed up, not knowing what doors the Lord would open tomorrow, but still believing He would provide. And He did. The Indianapolis Colts called with a mission statement they wanted me to fulfill.

If God is for us. (How could I have forgotten that promise?) Then who can ever be against us? Once again I was reminded that in every outcome—whether it was the one I had been praying and hoping for or not—God had a good plan in place, something whereby He would be glorified. And the amazing thing about that plan? It was just one of many in my life.

Ever since the appeals were denied, as I continue the prayerful hunt for a new job, I’d been looking to God to find me the right one, and with immediate medical coverage. It didn’t take much calculation to see that it would take just two of the COBRA payments from my former employer to fully pay off our medical bills.

But God is at work here. His timing is perfect, as always. In the mail on Saturday came the notice for my first payout of my pension, which was activated upon, and retroactive to, my job’s termination.

The check is exactly enough to cover all our medical expenses.

Thank you Lord. 

Retirement vs. Recharging Batteries

It’s now been four months since my old job was terminated, and there have been many things happening in the interim. And some very complicated emotions.

So have I been idle? Oh-no-no-no-no… Things around the house which have been neglected are now fixed, and others are on the way to being fixed.

Am I in better shape, physically​? Unfortunately, no… My knees have restricted me from doing many things, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t ask others to help me get things done. And every one and all of you guys have my great gratitude.

And what about the Big R: Retirement? I don’t think so. At this stage of my life, it’d be like giving up. I still have this energy left in me to, as Max Lucado says, “…to make a big deal out of God”.

I think of the difference I’ve made in the places where I’ve worked, and the spark of Life is still alive and dancing within me.

On the other side of the spectrum, I was recently thinking about someone I know who had a “retirement party”, and used the opportunity to tell many stories about how he had inflicted his point of view on others, instead of listening to their life stories and putting an arm around them and accepting them for who they are.

I was saddened by the loss of opportunity: I heard someone who makes great claims about his faith, but had thrown away several chances to reflect Christ in his life by understanding people on a one-to-one basis. Yep, you go getting full of pride, watch out for what it does to you. So yeah, I lost a bunch of respect for the guy that day.

If I should ever have a ‘retirement party’, may some things be true:

  • It’s going to be some time in the future.
  • May I have made a difference in people’s lives.
  • May others be able to speak of me as a strong, quiet, and steadfast friend.
  • And may I have many more friends than I ever realized.

Let’s get back to the present: Here I am, nearing “retirement age”, and yet I still have an energy and drive to give to those things which God would wish me to do: enriching the lives of those with whom I work, making a difference every day with my work, being a friend and a deep resource for my employer, and being able to come home every day, knowing that I have made a difference in God’s world.

Meanwhile, the job hunt goes on: I have a couple opportunities: one, to East of me, and another to the North. The potential of both of these is literally exciting. Even at my age…

I know that God’s hand still rests upon me, and maybe he thinks I’m still useful.

I’m still energized. I’m still able. But most of all, I’m still God’s servant.

Let’s see where this goes.

I’m in for the ride, Lord; let’s go.

What I’m Giving up for Lent

I’m giving up ‘wrestling the 800-pound gorilla’.

Now before you start laughing at me, that “gorilla” represents my ties to my old job, my worries about getting another one, and my worries about letting-go of full-time employment and entering the tenous world of contracting work.

I feel that God is pulling on me to let go of the security afforded by a salaried job, and to REALLY start trusting him for just enough work to keep the bills paid. I am totally on-board with God that this is another time for major change in my life; just like it was to lose my job seventeen years ago. It was tough then, but maybe I’ve learned something in the intervening years.

Like trust.

When I can open my hands long enough to let go of this ‘gorilla’, I can feel a sense of liberation.

The thing is, I just have to let go long enough. But can I do it for forty days?

Socked-in Days

Our temperatures here on the side of the mountain have finally moderated to something like a year’s normal for this date. Our local weather expert notes that we’ve had roughly FIVE INCHES more precipitation / rain so for this year than normal, also.

There’s still stubborn, isolated patches of snow here and there, but I can now be outside without having to wear my heaviest coat.

Back in November, I posted a pic of our favourite local weather predictor, a wooly-bear caterpillar; his amber stripe covering most of his body. And he was right: we’ve had an unusually cold, snowy, Winter.

It’s not over yet: we have snow in the forecast for the middle of next week.

And today, we’ve been socked-in with clouds so thick you could barely see the trees across the back meadow. Rain, coming hard at times, only added to the depressing bleakness. Its cold distraction wasn’t welcome early this morning when I took a big plate of rolled-up sandwiches down to the church for a funeral in the afternoon.

The damp this afternoon drove me to our little sunroom this evening so I could sit and read, practice the presense of God, and try to listen just a bit. And look what was waiting for me…

Again in the Psalms, from Psalm 37:7…

Be still in the presence on the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.

So I spent some time in sharing what was in my heart: worries about being out of work so close to retirement, health for my wife, (whom you may recall has Congestive Heart Failure), wondering if I have reached the end of my race, or if there is other service for me to gladly perform.

I laid all these concerns at the base of his throne, but I am the first to admit that my hands won’t easily let go of them.

In trying to do so, I turned to other reading, trying to ignore the inability to see anything outside.

But patience with the weather paid off! For bare moments, we got a break, and the River of Clouds was there-if just for a moment-shouting, “God IS!!”

I grabbed the closest thing that would make a picture, for this lasted only moments. (You should be able to click to enlarge.)


And it was a tremendous lift to my spirits.

May it be so for yours.