Counting and Dancing

I am on the 10th straight day away from my family (2 more days to go!) in one of the longest stretches yet that I have been on the road.  I have been counting the days because I miss Justin and the girls.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced something like our past year, but I have learned something I find interesting, and it involves counting.  When you are living with some degree of uncertainty and you are mourning a change in your life you weren’t expecting, there are these strange milestones you live with in your head.  You keep count (or at least, I do).  I realized I would start to grow anxious and stressed as the first of each month neared because it was another month in our struggle.  I could always tell you exactly how many months it had been since Justin was laid off and then later, since I was, because these monthly deadlines defined our journey to some extent.

Yesterday I realized that during this stretch I’ve been out of town, we passed the one-year mark for my layoff.

And I had missed it.  How very unlike me.  🙂

I was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude.  This internal clock seems to have finally switched off.  Thank you, Father.  I think that means I’ve healed.  That quietly, under the surface, the Lord has been working to release me from any pain attached to that event so that it isn’t a defining reality in our world anymore.

We have moved on.  We are in a new place.  Justin is working for a wonderful church.  The Lord is providing for us through that and through my travel.  He has given me a new vision for my future.

And He has provided.  Over a year without fulltime employment in our family.  We never thought we could have survived that – and yet He is faithful.  In our weakness He is strong.

So I think that this anniversary is worth celebrating.

You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11

For all of you who have prayed for us and loved us, THANK YOU.  You will never know the blessing you have been.  I’m highly tempted to throw a little dance party to celebrate all the Lord has done, and you are ALL invited.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:5

Blessings for the Unemployed

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Empathy for the Unemployed and got some great response.  Today, I wanted to write about the blessings we have found in unemployment.  Each of these things has been unexpected and I’m sure I’m going to forget some as I write, but I do want to try to record them to encourage people who are in our shoes (as are almost 26% of the American workforce).  For those of you walking with us (Janna, Aaron, Danna, Bryan, Kelli, Marnie and many others), we are praying you find these same blessings on your journey.

The deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine

First – we have learned that God is faithful. He has been our Provider, our Defender, our Peace, our Saviour, our Healer, our Comforter, our Strength, our Defense, our Guide, our Rock, our Father.  He has been patient with me beyond my imagination.  I have learned that I can be weak, pathetic, angry, pitiful, petty, doubting, crazy, and divisive and through it all He has been forgiving, patient, loving, near, faithful, peaceful, present, consistent, calm, determined.  I cannot wear Him out.  I cannot run from His love.  I cannot cancel out His goodness.  I have written before that I try to press into Him, but the reality of this season is that I have learned He presses into me.

Second – we have learned what we are capable of enduring.  We are strong.  Stronger than we ever imagined.  With God’s help and His amazing grace, there are times where the yoke has been easy and the burden has been light, even when circumstances and situations seemed impossible.  It is amazing.  There are times where some of our friends or family have been more deeply burdened for us than we ourselves have felt.  We know this “burden bearing” is a gift from the Lord and many of you have helped us carry our burden and we are grateful for you.

Third – we have learned to let go. Money is less important.  Our plan is less important.  Possessions are less important.  We have learned the value of the tithe and the offering.  I tell you this not so you can think we are great, but so you can be encouraged.  We now make about 40- 50% of what we made a year ago.  And yet because of God’s provision, we have not missed a payment and have been able to give every month.  We have learned how to put the first thing first.  Last year we had a “giving goal” we wanted to hit as a family.   When Justin was laid off – I wondered if we would miss our goal.  We continued to give and when tax season rolled around, I was thrilled and grateful to see we had surpassed our goal, despite our circumstance.  It excited me to know that even in our need, God could use us to give. We still had a purpose greater than ourselves.  Justin and I have learned that we are merely a channel through which blessings flow.

Fourth – we have learned to see this as a season of opportunity. Although the employment doors haven’t opened for us, the doors of ministry have opened.  When you are struggling to find work or make ends meet, people share.  They share their struggles.  They share scripture.  They share that they are praying for you and you pray for them.  I have worked in the corporate world for years, and have found “spiritual discussions” hard to come by. Not so during this season.  I have had more spiritual conversations out of this than I ever imagined.  People relate to vulnerability, in our case more than they related to us when we were “full-time ministers.”  It is crazy that in this time when I am not a “professional minister,” I have found personal ministry to be abundant.  We have LOVED that part of this road.  We pray that connection continues even after this journey is over.  We pray we will always be empathetic to the needs and vulnerabilities of others, and that our ministry is more personal than professional from this point forward.

Fifth – we have learned about friendship. There are some people who, much like the Lord has done, have pressed into us during this season.  They have overlooked my stress, my exhaustion, my self-absorption, my confusion, and have offered me friendship.  There may be times where I can’t give back, even on an emotional level, and yet they are consistent.  You learn, walking through something like this, that you have some amazing friends.  I sat on the couch of a dear friend this week and for a few minutes I didn’t even speak – I just laid my head down and stared off – lost in my own mind.  And she understood.  Along with this, we have learned about the Church.  The REAL Church, not the church.  It is so ironic, as a Communications Director, my job has always been defining and advertising the church to the outside world.  And yet, my entire definition of Church has been altered in this time when we have not been “officially” connected to any one church.  I always have known on an intellectual level that the Church is the people and not the building.  But I now know it on every level.  When the Lord again opens the door for us to fully connect with a church, I think we will be more equipped and ready to be the Church than ever before.

Sixth – we have learned about the most important thing. This journey has taught us even more about the glory of God.  The goal of our life isn’t earning the most, or feeling content, or buying stuff, or working hard, or raising a great family, or even being great ministers.  The goal of our life is the glory of God.  So up becomes down when heaven becomes more important than earth.  A sweet friend shared with me this prayer which perfectly illustrates what we’ve learned:

Lord high and holy, meek and lowly

Thou has brought me to the valley of vision

Where I live in the depths but I see Thee in the heights

Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory

Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up

To be low is to be high

That the broken heart is the healed heart

That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit

That the repenting soul is the victorious soul

That to have nothing is to possess it all

That to bear the cross is to wear the crown

That to give is to receive

That the valley is the place of vision

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells

And the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine

Let me find Thy light in my darkness

Thy life in my death

Thy joy in my sorrow

Thy grace in my sin

Thy riches in my poverty

Thy glory in my valley.

Seventh – we have learned about prayer. People ask all of the time what they can do for us in this time.  My answer in the past would have been to ask for prayer, but I think that would have just been a blow-off answer.  I don’t know that I knew the value of people praying for us before this time, or the value of my prayers for others.  Now I know it.  In the movie Shadowlands there was a quote about prayer that has always stuck with me.  Someone asked the CS Lewis character if he was praying to get answers.  His response was, “That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”  Yes we have prayed for something and not gotten the answer we wanted for almost eleven months.  And if the acquisition of this thing was the only reason to pray, I can see that some people would find prayer useless.  But I don’t pray to get this thing anymore.  I pray to be able to breathe.  I pray because I am helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all of the time, waking and sleeping.  And so now, that is why I pray for others.  So they can breathe.  Because they are helpless.  Because their need flows out of them all of the time, waking and sleeping.  And I pray that they, like me, would be changed and that this trial would serve to show them the faithfulness of our good God.

I know there are more – but this is a good start.  For those of you on this road with us – we love you and understand.  We relate.  And we are praying.

Empathy for the “Unemployed”

Image courtesy of

I kind of wanted to write a blog about our crazy experience of being “unemployed” – what it feels like, but I am feeling conflicted.  On one hand, I know I was terrible, in the past, about either saying awkward things, or judging people harshly who went through long periods of unemployment, and I know I would have loved to have read something like this.  On the other hand, it seems narcissistic and whiny to be truthful about our feelings. So if I write this, will you give me some grace as you read it and realize this is just our perspective and I am sharing it to help shine light?  I am really trying not to complain or make this “about us.”  This past year, I have learned many lessons that may help people who have not gone through this understand the feelings of those who are going through it.  So, if you are interested in seeing a glimpse of perspective from the other side, read on.

Lesson One – To be careful how we define a person. I think, before I went through this, that I lumped all unemployed people in one group.  But the reality is more complex.  Justin and I don’t even know what to call ourselves in this time, so we do fully understand other people’s confusion.  We are not technically “unemployed” because the reality is we have been piecing together as many part-time and freelance positions as our bodies and our family can withstand in this time of “unemployment.”  And yet we are somehow also under the umbrella of “unemployment” because we are constantly searching for and applying for fulltime jobs for Justin.  We do not receive “unemployment” from the government because we worked for a church before and churches are exempt from paying into unemployment, therefore church employees are ineligible to receive unemployment (which really is a difficult reality for the thousands of church employees who have been or will be laid off in this recession).  I jokingly call us “underemployed,” but it is rather murky water.

Lesson Two – To be careful about assumptions about someone’s situation. There is so much inflammatory political rhetoric surrounding the unemployed, and it is easy to assume the worst.  Last week I read a quote from a congressional candidate saying that if the government extended unemployment benefits, people would just “sit around.”  I know I once thought that about long-term unemployed people.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am positive there are abusers of the system and there are certainly lazy people.  So there is that reality.  But I don’t know that I will ever assume again that someone’s unemployment benefits are the reason they are not finding another job.  Here’s the truth, Justin does have a fulltime job – with no pay and no benefits.  His job is to look for work.  He sends at least 3 -4 resumes with personalized cover letters out a week.  He is on job search websites for hours almost every evening.  He has had countless interviews and lunch meetings, and flown to two different cities for extended interviews.  He always sends a thank you note after an interview, and at any given time is following up on 3 different possibilities.  Many potential employers have had him arrange music or record demos from here as a part of the interview process.  And he does all of this while working part-time in two different jobs and freelancing as much as possible – often late into the night.  Oh yeah – and he is a dad and husband and helps me care for our home.  Since we were not eligible for unemployment, I don’t really know how much you can receive, but even if it is a decent wage, I just cannot imagine a scenario where someone would choose this.  Looking for work is HARD and compared to this, a fulltime job is CAKE, plus the obvious perks like a paycheck and benefits. 🙂

We have also been the recipients of some other pretty nasty assumptions.  Someone told us we “couldn’t take care of our kids” and that was pretty hurtful.  I know the person didn’t mean to say that – but it exposed what they thought about us and their false assumption about our situation.  Our kids have not lacked anything in this time.  We are not in foreclosure or in debt trouble – our lifestyle is mostly unaffected.  Justin is taking excellent care of our family and I am more proud to be married to him today than I was the day I married him.  We give great credit to the Lord, and we would have never thought things would be so good after 10 months of extended financial challenge, but we are grateful that our kids are not in jeopardy.

And finally, most everyone assumes, like I once did, that there are jobs with benefits easily available “in the meantime.”  We know this because everyone suggests it to us, just as I think I likely suggested it to every unemployed person for the past 5 years.  Here’s the truth – Justin has applied at every Starbucks, Guitar Center, Nordstrom, and Apple Store within an hour of our home.  Most of the time he does not even receive a call back.  He is just far too overqualified.  They look at his resume and know what he is trying to do – make ends meet until he gets a fulltime job.  They don’t want to train an employee they are going to lose in six months.  That leads to the next lesson I’ve learned:

Lesson Three – Unemployment truly is a cycle and a trap. It really is true that if you are unemployed and looking for a job, you are placed at a lower value than someone who is simply looking to transition.  And actually, the opposite is also true when you are doing so many things to stay afloat.  Justin is actually overemployed as well as unemployed.  Here is the line we have heard twice when churches see all of the work Justin is currently doing on his resume:   “You seem to be doing many varied things right now, are you sure you really want to zero in and focus on one fulltime job?”  You wouldn’t think it, but the incredibly hard work Justin is putting in to care for our family is kind of hurting him.  It makes him appear scattered to someone who doesn’t understand this situation.    Justin has had to give the answer, “I want to serve one local church with all of my heart, but for now I must provide for my family” multiple times, and each time it makes me proud and brings tears to my eyes.  I never thought he’d have to defend himself for working so hard.  The system is truly stacked against the unemployed.

Lesson four:  There is a delicate balance between caring and prying. There are many many people praying for us.  We have chosen to be rather transparent about our situation and our job search because we value those prayers and we want to minister out of every situation of our life – even this.  The benefit to our transparency is that we are blown away by the family the Lord has given us this year.  The downside is, our situation is public.  Most people, when they see us, briefly say “How’s the job hunt going?”  We do not mind answering, because we cannot overstate the value to us of people’s care, and people’s prayers.  But there are some days where even explaining that much is exhausting.  When you have seen another week pass, or have fought worry all week, or just watched an amazing door shut and you are hurting, to tell people “Nothing yet, but thank you for praying” is humbling and difficult.  And there are a few people who really pry well beyond where we are comfortable.  Those people also care for us, but we tend to avoid them because we feel like we are having to explain ourselves and justify why we don’t have a fulltime job lined up.  We know they care, but we don’t necessarily want to (or feel we need to) give them a play-by-play of every job and possibility we are seeking.  The truth is that we live this reality all day everyday.  We really have thought about and tried for almost everything out there.  Corporate jobs, school jobs, non-profit jobs, church jobs, retail jobs, silly jobs.  All while not being able to ignore the reality that there is a calling the Lord has placed on my husband’s life to be in ministry.  So no job, even if it pays more, can add up to the possibility of a ministry job along the lines of his calling.  So we are constantly working through that and praying through that and trying to walk this path with wisdom.  There are factors in our situation that a casual observer cannot possibly understand in a 5 minute conversation about our situation.  Yet some people seem to expect that explanation.  Some days we are strong enough to handle that, but other days we could not get through that conversation if we tried without breaking down.  So we kind of go “undercover” in avoidance of having to answer.

Lesson Five:  This road is far more difficult than I ever expected. I think this experience will help me hurt with, pray for, and bear the burdens of friends who go after us.  Prayerfully, the lessons I am learning will help me be a “safe person” for my friends who go through this situation in the future.

  • First of all, I have learned the value of prayer. The people who hug me and simply say “We love you and are praying” are the people who bring tears to my eyes.  I want to be that person for someone in the future.  Those people get it.
  • Second, I have learned the healing quality of laughter. The other people who get it are the ones who treat us like we are normal.  So many people approach us with the “unemployment face” and the “are you ok?” head tilt, you know?  Haha I’m sure there is a Seinfeld or Friends reference in there somewhere.  I want, in the future, to treat our friends like they are normal, even when things are difficult for them.  I want them to know that I am here to talk about it and pray if they need me, but otherwise they know I will laugh with them and let them forget their situation if that is what they need.  My friends have struck that balance SO WELL in this time.  Girls (you know who you are) you have been so good at this and I am so thankful for you.  You are the gift from God to my heart in this time.  I have laughed and enjoyed walking through this year with you – the friendships we have formed this year are the fruits of our difficulty and I really do thank my God for you.
  • And finally, I have learned the immeasurable value of sharing the Word of God with a friend in need. So many women and men have reached out to me through Facebook, my blog, a text, a phone call, or a lunch to share Scripture, or a song, or a prayer to encourage me on my way.  These precious people have spoken peace to my heart.  I have fallen deeply in love with so many people, people who I barely knew before but who are now heart friends, who have fought through the awkwardness of approaching someone who is hurting to impart encouragement to my family.  I once had a precious friend fight a terrible disease at a young age.  I felt the Lord lead me to reach out to her, and when I got close to her I discovered that she was rather lonely –  her disease had scared off many people just when she needed them most.  The truth is, we are all nervous when it comes to the hurts of another person.  And we can easily push away to avoid the anxiety of the situation.  But ministry happens when we press in with gentleness.  That balance will be my goal in the future.

Lesson Six – God is in control. There is a reason we are still looking, and it has nothing to do with the recession, with Justin’s qualifications, or with the churches looking at him.  The reason is simply that God, for His own reasons, has not opened the door.  There are days we do not understand that.  There are days our family does not understand that.  There are days our friends do not understand that.  But none of our “understanding” makes that any less true.  None of this wait makes our God any less good.  He is good.  He loves us.  He is sovereign.  So we have moments of worry, yes.  But we do not live in worry.  The lesson of this year is not about worry, it is about sovereignty.  It is about resting in the arms of our Father.  So my hope is that as I walk through this with friends in the future, that I will acknowledge, as my friends have to me on days when I struggle, that God is in control and that He loves me.  Because that is the truth that overcomes all of this confusion.  At the end of the day, that truth gives peace.

Anyway – there it is – my perspective “from the other side.”  If any part of this sounded bitter or like a passive-aggressive message to anyone, please know it was not.  We hold no bitterness towards any person for their very human reaction to a seemingly frustrating situation.  We fully understand how difficult this is for friends and family to navigate and all of the people close to us have done remarkably well.  I just wanted to put this out there for someone walking with someone facing this, or for others facing it with us.  If the statistics are true, and 26% of Americans who were fulltime employees 3 years-ago no longer have that security, there are many like us out there and the church needs to work hard to be the “safe place” for people like us to land.

A Toolkit for Waiting.

I am not a person who handles silence well (if you listen quietly you can hear my family chuckle).  I am a person of action.  I like to control things.  And these days – I have to remain silent and inactive quite often.  The Lord has given me some friends who have pastored me through the past few months and helped me make wise choices when I wanted, in my flesh, to be very very unwise.  They have been the church.  They have shared with me verses and songs that have helped me along the way.  So for anyone else like me – in the waiting room trying to rest before the Lord – here are some verses and songs and resources that have given me comfort.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;  my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;  he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;  he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, O people;  pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.  Selah

Psalm 62:5-8

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.
The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.

Psalm 125

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,
casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7

The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident.
Psalm 27:1-3

You speak and all creation falls to its knees
You raise your Hand and calm the waves of the raging sea
You have a way of turning winter to spring
Make something beautiful out of all this suffering
Here I am once again I’m in need of resurrection
Only you can take this empty shell and raise it from the dead
When I’ve lost to the world, what seems far beyond redemption
You can take the pieces in Your Hand and make me whole again

You have a way of turning winter to spring
Make something beautiful out of all this suffering

Resurrection, Nicol Sponberg

No mountain, no valley, no gain or loss we know could keep us from Your love
No sickness, no secret, no chain is strong enough to keep us from Your love
How high, how wide, No matter where I am healing is in Your hands
How deep, how strong, Now by Your grace I stand, healing is in Your hands.

Our present, our future, our past is in Your hands, We’re covered by Your blood
In all things we know that we are more than conquerors.  You keep us by your love.

Healing is in Your Hands, Christy Nockels

This is my prayer in the desert, when all that’s within me is dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need, My God is the God who provides
And this is my prayer in the fire, in weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold, so refine me Lord through the flame
I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here.
This is my prayer in the battle, When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ, So firm on His promise I stand
All of my life, in every season, You are still God
I have reason to sing, I have reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest, When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again, The seed I’ve received I will sow.

The Desert Song, Hillsong

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34.18

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:21-26

My sweet friend Heather wrote a blog on Passionately Waiting that I have gone back to again and again.  Heather deeply dwells with our King and this blog shows just a glimpse of her truly precious heart.

I know there are many of us waiting on the Lord, sending out doves, trying to live past the one thing we desire the most and not get stuck.  So if I can pray for/with you, please comment or email and let me know.  I firmly believe that, along with battling my mind with these verses and songs, the prayers of the church on my behalf have held me up on days when I felt like I couldn’t stand another moment, and I’d be honored to stand on your behalf in prayer.

And to you wonderful people, you know who you are, who have pastored/mentored/supported/prayed for me through this season. I love you and thank the Lord for you constantly.  Don’t doubt your influence in the lives of people around you – because you have changed my life for good.

The Storm

I think I am in the eye of the storm.  Between the job losses and the financials and now the health struggles – the wind has been whipping at our family pretty consistently.  There is much swirling around us.  And I’ll be honest – I have moments of shakiness.  Moments where our circumstances seem, well, insane.  But underlying it all there is this calmness – this foundation that is not shaking.  This realization that God is no less God today than He was before all this craziness began.  And the realization that I really do trust him.

This trial is good for my soul.  I do know that.  I have been confronted with my own powerlessness.  There is NOTHING I can do to help this situation.  (Believe me – we have tried it all.)  Jesus is all and He has us here for a reason.  I have learned that I don’t need rosy circumstances to love my Lord.  It reminds me of Job – when his friends told him to curse God and die.  I don’t think it ever occurred to Job to do that – God had already given Job the faith to withstand the trials.  I love my God.  He is good.  He cares for me – for my family.  He is near.  I know He loves me.  And I love that He has grown me to a place where I can say that with all honesty.  I was ready for this storm – He had prepared my heart already.  What a blessing.  Not only that – but I have seen, in this time, the church shine.  And by church, I don’t mean buildings or systems.  I mean the people in whom Christ dwells.  We cannot measure the blessings of the friends and family the Lord has given us in this time.  Chances are good if you are reading this you are a part of that body.  THANK YOU.  We love you.

I am thankful for this storm.  I decided when I started this blog that I was going to live my life on the pages of it openly and honestly.  Even to a fault.  And I know that I am having a chance to demonstrate to myself and to the world that I trust the God who provides.  That is an honor.

I am a visionary girl.  I like to go on walks and imagine the future.  I can see that the Lord is going to, soon, open a door for my husband.  I know the talent my husband has – and it is amazing.  I have watched even this time of great trial grow him – this trial has been good for his soul too.  There is no one in this world I respect more than my husband.  He walks with integrity and righteousness, fearful of no man, following Christ.   He gives himself and the gifts the Lord has given him freely to the Lord and the church.  He loves people and wants to see them worship.   I know that the day will come when he gets to do that fulltime in a church he loves.  And in the meantime, we will do whatever it takes to survive and make income during the week so that he can do what he’s called to do on weekends and in his spare time for wonderful churches like Keystone and Fellowship.  He is called – what else can we do?  He was made to do this.  To not do it doesn’t occur to him.  And I love that.

I also can see the future for us adopting.  I can see our Gotcha Day.  I can see the hands and feet of our children.  I can see the family photographs that look like my precious friends who have gone before us (the Weimers, the Teabos, the Footes) – these beautiful rainbow families of children from all over the world.  None of these financial trials have any bearing on that vision.  I can see it.  My God is bigger.  I cannot WAIT for the day.

This storm, this time, it is good for my soul.  And this storm does not change the future the Lord has for us.  So I hold my breath and hope because I know that when this storm passes, it’s going to be a beautiful day.