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 (the percentage of people who were unemployed) in Texas was lower than Florida, and the higher unemployment rate in Florida qualified those who were unemployed to be eligible to receive the extensions). 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/week 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.
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