“Now wait,” I hear you saying, “I thought she was going to tell us about the good stuff that has come from two and a half years of unemployment.” Well, yes, I am going to talk about the good stuff. In fact, in this post, I’m going to tell you the very best thing that I have learned (besides the financial stuff I talked about in my last post). But first I need to set the stage.
Gossip–now who doesn’t do it? As Christians, we know we aren’t supposed to gossip and we disguise it in lots of ways. One of the most popular ways is to disguise it in the pretext of giving out the information so that we can “pray for that person” when that is not the intention at all (if we will admit it). Ouch. As I was reading a devotion this morning from RBC Ministries, my eyes slipped over to the next page to the devotion for tomorrow titled “Zero Tolerance.” And it’s about… you guessed it… gossip. If you are familiar with “Our Daily Bread” (the monthly devotional booklet I am referencing), you’ll know that these devotions have an amazing capacity to get to the point of the message in very few words. I like to call them “zingers.” Zingers get to the heart of the matter very quickly. Here are a few “zingers” taken directly from this devotion:
Zinger #1: God has a zero tolerance policy for gossip and slander among His people (Lev. 19:16)–“You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.” Idle talk that foolishly or maliciously spreads rumors or facts about another person was forbidden.
Zinger #2: Solomon said that speaking badly of others could have disastrous effects. It betrays confidence (Prov. 11:13)–“A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but the trustworthy keeps a confidence”; and there’s more–
Zinger #3: It separates close friends (Prov. 16:28)–“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” and (Prov. 17:9)–“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends”; and still more–
Zinger #4: It shames and saddles you with a bad reputation (Prov. 25:9-10)–“Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end”; and yet even more–
Zinger #5: It perpetually fuels the embers of a quarrel (Prov. 26:20-22)–“Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down. As charcoal for embers and wood for fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. A gossip’s words are like choice food that goes down to one’s innermost being.” People rarely can undo the damage their untrue words have done to a neighbor.
Now, I’m not pointing a finger at anybody because, as I’ve said in a previous post on another topic, I’d have to point one right back at myself. Gossip is so pervasive that we can find ourselves doing it without even realizing it, or if we do realize it we might be too embarrassed to stop. Or, if the truth was known, we love hearing all the “latest” information from the “grapevine.” I remember a work colleague of mine asking me (after I mentioned to her that I hated listening to gossip spread about other people who weren’t there to defend themselves) how did I expect to be kept informed on what was going on around campus if I didn’t listen to the gossip–and this was on a Christian college campus. Gossip is everywhere and it’s very hard to ignore and even harder to avoid. We all have most likely been the unwitting victim of someone else’s malicious gossip, and the sting goes deep, and it destroys reputations, careers, relationships, and worst of all, it destroys the one doing the gossiping as it destroys their own relationship with God. God hates gossip.
At this point is where my own true confession comes in. It’s true that I’ve always hated gossip especially in the workplace. I’ve watched it destroy and alienate other people and end careers. There’s a meanness to gossip that knows no end. It’s vicious and comes from the pit of hell. And it’s pervasive in the church at large as well as the work setting and the myriad of other places where gossip takes place. But for years I practiced a form of gossip that I was unaware of as being gossip.
I love technology. (Say what??? Now stick with me.) I cut my teeth learning technology from it’s very early stages during my twenty years in higher education. I got my first email address in 1992 when I was a doctoral fellow at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. It was DOS-based and very unforgiving if you made a spelling error and didn’t discover it until after you hit the “enter” key to progress to the next line (some of you can relate). Over the years I loved everything about it, from simple DOS commands to the very complex systems we have today. Technology is one of the great wonders of this current age. But like everything in life, even the very best things can have a very bad side if used for the wrong purposes.
Back in the mid 90’s I lived and worked in Miami for about three years. During that time I developed a friendship with a man I called my male mentor friend. This was not a romantic relationship but over time he became a very dear friend to me–sort of like a father figure. We did not live in the same city but we developed a relationship by correspondence starting with letters sent via the Post Office.
Well, by the mid-to-late 90’s email became more widespread and I convinced my male mentor friend who was almost twelve years older than me to move our correspondence from letters via the Post Office to email. He balked as he was not a fan of technology and often said, humorously, that computers were “of the devil” (mostly because he hated them). Well, I convinced him to try email and from that point on that is how we communicated.
Our friendship spanned fourteen years, and I wrote hundreds of emails to him regarding all kinds of topics and he always responded. He was a former pastor and counselor in his role as pastor and had a great sense of humor. I considered him one of my closest friends, even though I can probably count on one hand the number of times we ever actually saw each other over all of those years. He became the confidant that I confessed my deepest fears and my greatest frustrations to especially in the workplace. He became my sounding board. I would write to him about stuff going on at the workplace or when I was frustrated with my family or others and when I was really upset about something I wrote using, well, let’s just say “colorful” language that expressed my deepest frustrations. Over the years he became sort of like an “email spouse” to me. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that email is not a confidential way to communicate to anyone especially about deep hurts, frustrations and personal issues.
I ended the friendship and my email correspondence with my male mentor friend in April 2009, just nine days before I was fired from that job in Houston. The reality of what I had done, unwittingly, all of those years really hit home in the most horrible of ways. But even the loss of a job wasn’t the most devastating reality to me–it was the loss of my relationship with God, who never during all of those years deserted me. While I never recognized that I had lost that closeness with God, I had literally replaced Him with a god of my own making–my male mentor friend. And the stuff that I wrote to my male mentor friend was stuff I should have been taking to God all of those years. The price I paid for my own brand of “gossip” has been enormous, but as soon as I recognized it for what it was, I repented. It took me months to get over the horror of what I had done, but God is ever so gracious. I John 1:9 states “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And that verse is written to believers, folks, not unbelievers.
The most important lesson I’ve learned during this time of unemployment is that engaging in harmful talk about others no matter how we do it or what medium (such as technology) we use to gossip about others, it is deadly. Gossip is not to be trifled with and is a most serious matter to God. We do reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). God is a God of justice, but He is also a God of mercy and love. Indeed, if we do confess our sins in heartfelt repentance, He is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It’s been an enormously hard lesson for me to learn, with some staggering consequences. But in looking back on it all, I wouldn’t trade the hard stuff I’ve gone through these past two and a half years for how it lead to the restoration of my relationship with the Lord in a way like I’ve never known before, which has also, in turn, restored my relationships with others, including my family. And that is worth more to me then anything this world has to offer. Money comes and goes (as noted in my previous post) as do possessions (I lost most of mine in Houston), but the amazing, incredible love of God for His children outshines even the sun.
I’ll end this with the last paragraph in the devotion I’ve referred to earlier. “Let’s ask the Lord to help us not to engage in harmful talk about others. He wants us to set a guard over our mouths so that we’ll instead speak all the good we know about everybody.” I couldn’t agree more… and don’t forget, that includes our enemies, too.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Photo credit here
Can unemployment have an upside? One of the first things I’ve noticed after two and a half years of being unemployed is that my world has expanded considerably outside the confines of a 9-5 job. Granted, the downside is obvious–lack of money being the primary one, but there’s definitely an upside, too (and no, I’m not talking about watching soaps on TV and eating bonbons in the middle of the afternoon). How boring is that? Granted, when I first lost my job on April 21, 2009, the panic that hit me rose to the top of my throat but the very next day after I lost my job, I woke up, cleaned up, dressed up, and went to the nearest Starbucks to use their WiFi to start applying for jobs. I even waited until Day 2 to apply for unemployment benefits. My primary focus and objective was to find another job–PRONTO!!! I wasn’t going to let any grass grow under my feet, or any mold, either.
Fast forward two and a half years later. I’m happy to report there’s still no mold, and this whole journey has been, well, something totally unexpected. At the beginning of this journey I was sure God was going to help me find another job soon in Houston as He knew I had no substantial financial resources to keep me afloat and the rent on my apartment (that darn lease agreement didn’t go away just because I lost my job and income) ate up most of the small unemployment check that I received from Florida (I had not been employed long enough in Texas to collect unemployment benefits from Texas) and I still had a car payment at the time, too. It was at this time that I was about to find out how really small my thinking was about God and how really big He is in reality. He was, in fact, about to change my whole view on walking by faith. Could He have provided a job for me right away, even in a horrible economy, if that was His will for me at that time? Absolutely! I had faith to believe for that… but He was about to show me that life is not just about finding another job with an income to pay the bills. In other words, He wanted to lead me in the path of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So far I had been operating mostly on “faith by sight” which is really no faith at all.
There is no way in one short post I can even begin to tell you all of the things I have learned, so I’m going to highlight the first major change where God turned my fear to faith and save the rest for another post. When I lost my job I sat down with paper and pen and calculated how long I could survive financially assuming I received unemployment benefits (at that time I had been awarded the normal amount of six months) with my expenses living in Houston. If I didn’t find a job before my unemployment benefits ended at the end of six months, I had enough money left to maybe keep me going another six months, tops, if I was lucky (in other words, until April 2010). Notice that I was operating on “sight” (what I had in the bank) and not by faith (God’s bank is much, much bigger). I was trying to “forecast” my financial future (or financial doom, once I ran out of my own money) if I didn’t find a job. Let me tell you something–that only created more fear… panic and fear. My faith was pretty small as I was still operating primarily on sight (what I had in the bank).
Looking back on these past two and a half years, God took my very little amount of “loaves and fishes” (my own money in the bank) and amazingly expanded it to keep me afloat for all of that time. It’s not that my actual money “expanded,” but through the extension of unemployment benefits–due to the horrible economy–which was awarded on a tier by tier level and never awarded all at once, I was able to receive the full 99 weeks of unemployment benefits which ended this past May. Mind you, I had no idea all during this time that there was a possibility of collecting a total of 99 weeks, and I know people who were unemployed who were “cut off” before that point and there are some pretty strict rules to receiving that many weeks. I just know that as each “tier” (a certain number of weeks which varied according to tier level) ended I didn’t know if I would receive the next tier. And, if I had not returned to Florida at the end of my apartment lease in Houston, I would not have received the extensions at all beyond the first six months of benefits as the unemployment rate in Texas was lower than Florida. Also, by moving back to Florida (which was not in my plan at all, but that’s another story), my cost of living went down significantly so I was able to live on the unemployment benefits I received (max in Florida is $275/wk before taxes) though living was tight and I’ve been incredibly frugal with the exception of my passion for books, which I only buy at greatly reduced prices and not very frequently.
I have to admit that once my unemployment benefits ended for good in May 2011, I found myself briefly going back to the same state of mind I found myself in when I first became unemployed. In other words, I panicked. I was sure God would provide “that job” out there somewhere for me before my unemployment benefits finally ran out, but He didn’t. (See, there’s that small thinking again–by sight and not by faith.) However, after almost five months of living on my very small amount of money in the bank, my needs have still been met and my bills have always been paid. And even as I watch that money dwindle month by month, I know that God has something up His sleeve that I’m totally unaware of… because He’s a Great God and isn’t limited by my puny thinking. And, He has expanded my faith in a way it would never have been expanded before this whole ordeal of unemployment began.
I get a daily devotional in my email every morning from Leading the Way (Dr. Michael Youssef), and the devotion for today (October 19, 2011) has a statement in it that I want to end this post with: “Faith that conquers fear depends on absolute trust in God. It is the kind of faith that has an open heart to whatever God provides for us. It is a faith that is manifested as an utter dependence on the sovereignty of God. When we live by faith, we know that even when the storm is at its worst, we can trust that God is working out His purposes for us” (Leading the Way Daily Devotional, Oct. 19, 2011).
Are you living by faith or by sight? I know I waffle back and forth sometimes. But as I look back over my life and especially over this most pressing trial of my life right now, He has proven to be a Faithful God and I have learned about Him at a level I would have never known had I not been “forced” to go through this trial. There is more to tell of the goodness of God and the blessings that have come from this trial, but I’ll leave it for another post and another day.
Photo credit here
“Once bitten, twice shy” is an idiom that means “when something or someone has hurt you once, you tend to avoid that thing or person.” I’ve been there several times, and most likely so have you. It can be as innocent as when I attended a barbecue in Dallas, TX, many years ago and discovered for the first time that a jalapeño pepper is not just another mild green pepper and drinking three gallons of ice cold beer (okay, a slight exaggeration) won’t put out the fire. Did I mention I hate beer? It was the only beverage close to me at the time. And, I’ve never intentionally eaten another jalapeño pepper since then, and that was 38 years ago.
There are, of course, more serious examples of being “once bitten, twice shy.” Many romances sour, marriages go bad, and friendships come and go. When things go awry within the family unit (not just in a marriage, but also with siblings, elders, children, and let’s not forget all the other relatives), it’s a little harder to give up and just walk away, but some do. Most of our lives are scattered with both major and minor “once bitten, twice shy” experiences.
I must confess that the worst case of “once bitten, twice shy” came much later in life disguised in a horrible job situation that lead to the past two and a half years of unemployment in the worst economy of our lifetime. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know the story. But I have to tell you that after a lifetime of working (even during my college years as an adult student), this last experience has left me loathing the thought of ever working again which is not an option as I have no substantial money to keep me afloat until I die. Don’t you just hate details like that? They so get in the way.
I wish I could just say it was only the job that has left me feeling this way. Unfortunately, it was also something else that happened while I was there mostly unrelated to the unfortunate experience with my former boss and the HR Department. That, too, has caused a fair amount of pain making the “twice shy” part of the idiom take on a double meaning beyond the job loss. I actually lost twice at one time. Of course, the stagnant economy (an understatement, to be sure) has left me unemployed and hanging in mid-air unable to move forward and nothing I’ve tried to do in my own power has been able to put a dent in it. I’m frustrated beyond belief, bored beyond words, and going broke fast. I pray a lot, too, but so far Heaven has been brass.
I feel stuck on hold with no options. I want to pack up my bags and go home, but there is no home to go home to anymore. After applying for over 455 jobs in the past two and a half years nothing seems to be working and my last two interviews netted zero. I feel like I’m standing at a cliff’s edge waiting for someone to shove me off. Well, at least I wouldn’t have to keep looking for that nonexistent job out there anymore. That in itself would be a relief.
Bleak? Sorry, but that’s real life for the long-term unemployed in this country. Remember that very old TV show called “The Naked City” in the early 60’s? “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them” as the announcer stated at the end of each show. That number has quantified substantially since the 60’s. We have now entered “The Twilight Zone.” And have we ever entered the twilight zone (at least when it comes to the job search).
So where does one go after yet another “once bitten, twice shy” episode with major consequences in a horrible economy? I only know one place (and no, it’s not a church): I go to the Book of Psalms. The longest Psalm, Psalm 119, is considered the “Mt. Everest” of the Psalms, and is a treasure-trove of wisdom contained in 176 verses where I have gone for solace many times over the past three plus years. The particular section I’m thinking of right now are verses 25-40 in The Message Bible:
25-32 I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse!
Get me on my feet again. You promised, remember?
When I told my story, you responded;
train me well in your deep wisdom.
Help me understand these things inside and out
so I can ponder your miracle-wonders.
My sad life’s dilapidated, a falling-down barn;
build me up again by your Word.
Barricade the road that goes Nowhere;
grace me with your clear revelation.
I choose the true road to Somewhere,
I post your road signs at every curve and corner.
I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me;
God, don’t let me down!
I’ll run the course you lay out for me
if you’ll just show me how.
33-40 God, teach me lessons for living
so I can stay the course.
Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—
my whole life one long, obedient response.
Guide me down the road of your commandments;
I love traveling this freeway!
Give me a bent for your words of wisdom,
and not for piling up loot.
Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets,
invigorate me on the pilgrim way.
Affirm your promises to me—
promises made to all who fear you.
Deflect the harsh words of my critics—
but what you say is always so good.
See how hungry I am for your counsel;
preserve my life through your righteous ways!
These are but a few of the words I’ve found myself praying from Psalm 119. They lift me back up to the only place where I find solace and guidance: God’s presence. He alone knows what the future holds for me, and for you. So, once again as I find myself “once bitten, twice shy” I come to the only place that is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (119:105).
169-176 Let my cry come right into your presence, God;
provide me with the insight that comes only from your Word.
Give my request your personal attention,
rescue me on the terms of your promise.
Let praise cascade off my lips;
after all, you’ve taught me the truth about life!
And let your promises ring from my tongue;
every order you’ve given is right.
Put your hand out and steady me
since I’ve chosen to live by your counsel.
I’m homesick, God, for your salvation;
I love it when you show yourself!
Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well,
use your decrees to put iron in my soul.
And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me!
I’ll recognize the sound of your voice.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little better, and maybe a tad more hopeful. We cannot force God’s hand in our circumstances, but we can curl up in His arms when life is hard and frustrating. I need to remember to spend more time there, and I hope you remember to spend time there, too. He’s available 24/7.
Here’s the instrumental version of the theme from “The Twilight Zone” on Youtube (perfect music for the job search especially the sound of a closing door at the end of it):
Photo credit here
This post might seem a bit brutal, but then so is the unemployment situation in this country. If you’re the least bit squeamish about the topic of unemployment, you may want to pass. Otherwise, read on….
As most of you know if you’ve read my previous posts, I am now at the two and a half year mark from when I lost my job that lead into this very long time of unemployment. There are millions and millions and MILLIONS of us who are now considered “long term” unemployed and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. And the politicians in Washington D.C. don’t have a clue how to fix it. Does anybody?
I’m a little tired of being unemployed, not to mention broke, too. While I normally have a great (albeit sometimes sardonic) sense of humor, I find no humor in this situation anymore. And yes, I am a Christian and I know that God is still in control, but I am also human and He does understand my frustration level (and if you don’t believe that, just read a few of the Psalms David wrote in the Bible).
Last week one of my favorite humor columnists who writes a weekly syndicated column titled “Work Daze” wrote an article on Human Resources titled “Human Resources, You Serious?” Now, mind you, just the day before this column came out I had been on an interview (my last interview was ten months previous) and while the interview was great, I knew I would not be hearing back from them because I just didn’t quite fit the niche they were looking for in a candidate. This lead to a tiny bout of frustration and anger that evening regarding the whole reason I was unemployed in the first place (having to do with my former boss and the HR Department at the only place in the past one hundred years that I’ve ever been fired from). I woke up at 5:00 a.m. the next day crying from unbelievable frustration when I decided to check my email and found the latest offering from “Work Daze” which was on the topic of why you should never (repeat, NEVER) go to HR for help if you have a problem at work. You can read the article for yourself at the link highlighted above or by clicking here.
Since this author extended a “virtual shoulder to cry on,” I decided to take him up on it as I needed an outlet for my very acute frustration at being unemployed for two and a half years and going nowhere fast in a horrible economy. I have corrected a few typos in the original email (well, it was 6:00 a.m. when I began writing it) and I’ve since edited it and here is the essence of what I wrote:
“You are so right on with your current article about the HR Department. Bottom line is this… if you’ve got a problem that’s serious enough that you think you need to talk to HR, you’re (probably) already screwed, so you might as well join the ever growing unemployment line or if you’re really, really lucky, find another job.
“Mind if I cry on your shoulder? Five minutes, tops… I promise. I had an interview yesterday (gee, the last interview I had was ten months ago if that tells you anything)–oh, and I’ve now been unemployed for almost two and a half years due to an unfortunate experience between my boss and the HR department at the only place I’ve ever been fired in, let’s say, about a hundred years. However, they are both still employed, but I’m digressing….
“Back to the interview… the actual interview was delightful. I actually got to talk with a guy who knows the business I’ve been in for the past 20 years. It’s rare anymore that I ever get to talk with anybody who knows the business I’ve been in (higher education). In fact, I get so lonely wanting to talk with people who know the same things I know about the work that I’ve done that after the interview was over, I wanted to ask him if I could take him out to lunch (Wendy’s, of course, as I’m running out of money) so we could continue talking. I don’t know, maybe I’m just too lonely in the job search after two and a half years. Of course, I don’t fit the particular niche they are looking for in a candidate (e.g. able to leap tall buildings while downloading the latest app into their cell phone so they can play on it during work time–HR doesn’t mind if you do those kinds of things because you’re not “complaining” about a particular problem like ethics in the workplace or something as mundane as that). But, back to the interview (again), he was smart, funny, in my age range, easy on the eyes (well, I may be 59 but I’m not dead yet), and didn’t treat me like a moron. I really liked the guy. He knows a side to higher education I’ve never been able to access (you know, the top level). When I’ve tried to advance I not only hit the proverbial glass ceiling I bounced back down and got stomped on by those more, well, let’s say “in tune” with HR or whoever calls the shots. Actually, I hate to come down too hard on HR Departments as most of my life other then initially getting employed and sometimes attending training sessions that they require, I haven’t needed them… until the last job that has left me unemployed for the past two and a half years. And that fact alone should scare the crap about of anybody who thinks the HR Department is going to help them if they have a problem.
“All right, it’s true, my brutal side is coming out (I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning crying in my soup and we all know 5:00 a.m. is way too early for soup). And, it will probably be another ten months before someone calls me for another interview (by that time I’ll be living under a palm tree without a palm pilot) who will only tell me I just don’t know how to download apps fast enough into my cell phone while leaping from their tall building to the empty lot next door. But let them be unemployed for two and a half years in the worst economy of our lifetime and see how they adjust.
“And if I hear one more employed person say to me, ‘So, what have you been doing all this time since you lost your last job?’ I’m going to email them the 32-page document I’ve kept on all 452 jobs I’ve applied for in higher education along with a virus so it will blow up their laptop, iPad, or anything else they use to access it. Yeah, I like that idea. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make me any closer to finding employment or bringing home any money.
“Anyway, your article on the HR Department was very well timed and provided the humor I needed after another depressing interview that is going nowhere. Maybe I should move to a different planet… one that doesn’t require money to survive or HR Departments or (mean) managers.
“And the beat goes on for yet another day (it’s now 7:00 a.m. and that soup is very, very cold–but at least the tears have stopped). Thanks again.”
It never ceases to amaze me at how employed people who haven’t struggled with being unemployed in the past three plus years don’t have a clue at how really, really awful this economy is and how absolutely horrible the unemployment crisis is in this country unless they personally know someone who has been unemployed or if they work with the unemployed.
To all of the employers out there… a little compassion and understanding towards the unemployed would go a long, long way (my “Golden Rule” post goes into that topic) when interviewing anyone who has been unemployed in this current economy. And for those employers who refuse to consider unemployed applicants (which I think is illegal and if it isn’t it should be) just remember it could eventually be you standing in the unemployment line if someone can’t get this economy turned around. And please remember that for those of us who have been diligently seeking work the entire time we’ve been unemployed, it’s an insult to be asked “So what have you been doing all this time since your last job” (and remember that your nonverbal communication shouts at us how you really feel) and treated as if we are lazy and living off our unemployment benefits until they run out (as if we’re waiting for that money–gee, all of $275/wk in Florida before taxes–to run out before seeking employment). Here’s a notice for you–my unemployment benefits ran out FIVE MONTHS AGO and I’m still no closer to a job then I was when this horrible time of unemployment began.
While I didn’t get the job I interviewed for last week, I’m not going to stop looking. In fact, this past Saturday I applied online for my 453rd job. Who knows, maybe this one will finally be the one, but if it’s not, God is still in control, and He understands my frustration along with the frustration of the other 14-21 million unemployed Americans out there.
“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in Your ledger, each ache written in Your book” (Psalm 56:8 MSG).
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).