Tools of the Trade

I wrote last week that I’d started a new job. The intervening free-time between then and now has been something of a whirlwind.

And that this is a new venture for me, to be a Contractor. Having worked with and supervised Contractors before, often on some job-sites, they’d be “that guy”: belonging, but not really belonging.

Not so for me, with this new outfit. They value each employee, and are small enough to recognise the contributions that each of us makes. There is a warmth and a camaraderie to the workplace that is refreshing. We enjoy a firm competitive advantage with our products, and we all are working to keep it that way.

I have also seen the care, ownership, and personal responsibility that everyone takes with everything that goes out the door: I was looking over a gimbal in a calibration mount, and chatting briefly with the engineer.

“This one’s going flying tomorrow”, the engineer told me with great pride in his voice. He then released the gimbal from the mount and packed it into a case with all the care with which a father handles a newborn.

I recognized it: He was working in his gifts, with the God-given Tools of his Trade. And it was a marvelous thing to see.

I went back to my desk, back to the mild frustration I’ve been having. I’m working on a User’s Guide, and I’m having to do it in a workaround manner. I can see the time I’m wasting, and being a high-performance person, it bothers me. I like to deliver value for my salary dollar, and I can see the gap between where I am and where I could be. It’s because I don’t yet have the particular Tools of my Trade. I’m being held up by new Information Services systems; one day, my write access to my working folder quit. It. Just. Quit. Working. I have the very great fortune to be The Very First Guy through a large number of simultaneously-newly-online, brand-new systems; and from the amazingly intricate contortions of the the results, I accept that it’s now my duty to find all the hangups. All at once.

As I sat and wrote a first draft of this post last night, I could feel God’s hand upon my shoulder, saying, “You are exactly where I need you to be.”

I will comment in a rather more direct manner that I am Case Number One, in front of more than fifty others, all in the same situation.

So in the meantime…. It’s been two weeks, working with the equivalent of a hammer and a dull screwdriver, but I am getting work done. I’m ready to rock and roll, doing typesetting and document layout; but I do feel God’s hand on my shoulder, with a gentle reminder that his timing is always perfect.

And I want to acknowledge the great efforts of the IS folks to get all of this resolved. Once they get it ‘fixed’ for me, others will be zipped right through all these difficulties. It’ll be kind of like when you’re pulling a stubborn nail from a board: it resists you greatly in the beginning, then all of a sudden, it gets easier, then next thing you know, it’s out.

But it’s been trying in the interim. I’m just admitting it.

I pray the same prayer when I’m impatient: “Lord, you obviously have a lesson for me to learn here. Let me learn this lesson quickly and deeply. Let me bring your wisdom into the core of me. Let me go forward with the change that this wisdom brings. And Lord, please… can it happen soon?

Amen.

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.

The birds have returned!

The last couple of nights, I’ve heard a Ring-Necked Pheasant in the upper meadow. Today, I saw him in the back meadow, looking along the fence, picking up seeds from the dead blackberries.

He reminds me of the ‘lot bell’ that we had where I was an Apprentice Mechanic: we had hoses strung across the lot, and the bell would ‘ding’ when a potential Customer drove in…

This particular pheasant shrieks whenever someone drives by on our dirt road. He kind of reminds me of a temperamental character who always yells, “Get off my lawn!”

Meanwhile, a couple nights ago, I saw a murder of crows, chasing an eagle. But the eagle, zooming along the edge of the Ravine, executed a powerful, graceful, and gorgeous wing-over maneuver that just took my breath away. And the murder of crows could not have a prayer of following the eagle.

Although they all objected loudly, they lost the eagle.

And tonight, the eagle came back to perch on one of our oak trees. The crows were still loudly in pursuit, trying to drive him off. You can always tell when there’s an eagle on the vicinity, from the caphocophany of the crows. Even so, I managed to grab a shot of him, waiting patiently for the crows to give him space.

He’s in the top of that spindly oak, and you can see the crows, giving him a hard time.

A few moments later, he flew off; the crows giving a half-hearted chase, as they knew they’d won. For the moment.

The cold and the rains may have finally let up, for a while. And the raptors have returned, hunting mice and voles; bringing a balance to life on the side of the mountain.

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.