The Story Goes On Somehow

I knew I hadn’t posted a blog for awhile. But I didn’t realize it had been nearly two months … when I took a look this morning, I realized with a shock that the last ShortChanged blog I posted here was dated October 2.

I’ve been burning a lot of ink in this blog, so far, talking about the past and events that have colluded to change me into the person I am today. But that begs a question: What is happening right now that will ultimately change me, and what might that change look like?

So, I thought I might depart from the usual format for a bit, and talk about the present. Which requires a lot of processing. So buckle your seatbelt.

Nothing boring about “semi-retirement”

I joke with people that I’m “semi-retired.” It’s only half-joke, because I’m not actually sure if I am, or not! First of all, in one sense I’ve been busier than I ever have been before. During the past two months, I’ve been investing a lot of time creating content for my (potential) online mushroom business. I’ve been hunting at least once or twice a week, working on cleaning and preserving wild mushrooms, testing recipes, etc., and creating a lot of web content associated with these activities. (Of course, now that the season has ended, my hunting activities are in hiatus. But there are other aspects of building that business I am now focusing on.)

And, of course, I’ve been spending a lot of time job-searching. I’m down to applying to one or two new jobs per week, but for awhile I was averaging at least three or four. That means that so far, about 16 weeks into semi-retirement, I’ve probably applied for nearly 50 jobs.

In response, I’ve gotten four interviews. The first one turned out to be a scam, as I detail here. The second was with the local school district, which hired me (very part-time) to do AVID tutoring. (I have one senior high class and one junior high class, each of them two mornings a week, and some subbing as well. I’m mostly enjoying that so far. The teachers and kids are awesome to work with.)

Interviews number three and four were with the same company, and the second was most promising, but no job there yet, and they’ve told me they’re re-thinking the position.

I’m also certified to drive for Uber, and anytime I feel like working there I can jump in with both feet, but already know that doing so barely pays minimum wage and bears certain other hazards and frustrations.

I’m focusing very hard on being a help to my hard-working wife. There are lots of projects long needing attention (like cleaning my office and filing!), lots of yard work, and the daily tasks in the kitchen and around the home. I can do all these things and even enjoy it.

And of course I’ve spent a lot of time writing … on my blogs, on social media, and even on a new novel.

So, at this moment, other than lots of low-paying, part-time opportunities (with no benefits) and a business idea which hasn’t really launched yet; a published novel which has potential but isn’t generating much cash, and a new one which could be years away from publication; my prospects for creating a stable income in 2017 are looking fairly slim. As a result, one of my goals in December is to create and implement (starting in January) an austerity budget that can adjust our life to the current realities of unemployment.

All this despite the fact that I am busier than I’ve ever been before. I’m not bored, and I’m mostly enjoying my day-to-day. The time is going very fast. Too fast.

A growing sense of isolation?

This is obviously something very new for me. For 23 years I was gainfully employed by a major nonprofit organization, and experienced mostly great success there. I don’t know about women, but for guys I think it’s a unique challenge to divorce your sense of identity from your professional role. And this was reinforced when I left the organization. My colleagues threw me a wonderful reception, which was even attended by the president of the organization. Many people made emotional speeches. It was very affirming.

But then, I packed up my professional life into a box and walked out the door, possibly never to return.

I don’t think I was prepared for the sense of separation and even isolation that created. Somehow, apparently, the organization went on without me! My colleagues all continued their hard work, and I haven’t heard much from hardly any of them. Many of them I knew for more than two decades. I didn’t really expect anything different, but that sudden shift set me up for an initial sense of isolation.

My younger brother still works at the same company I did. Whenever we get together, I ask him, “What’s the news?” “I dunno,” he replies. “Nothing new, really.” Ha!

I’ve realized recently that spending hours each day sitting in front of a computer, looking for jobs and writing, also has a tendency to create a sense of isolation. When I started driving Uber, it was a real opportunity to reconnect with human beings, which is really one of the small handful of things I enjoy about that assignment. AVID tutoring does the same thing. And leading groups mushroom hunting also helped increase the sense of human connection, as does involving myself in various things going on around the church.

Something else I wasn’t prepared for, I think, was just the fundamental sense of irrelevance that the job-hunting process creates. I somehow assumed that because of how awesome I was, I would be “snatched up.” But in reality I spend a lot of time creating resumes and cover letters and going through application processes for the sake of companies who never (apparently) invest in even the most polite return communication. A simple email saying, “We’ve received your application and will consider it” is now shocking to me. Most don’t respond at all. Have they even looked at my resume and read about my amazing accomplishments? I have no idea. I’ve invested literally five or six hours preparing an application for a company that can’t even spend one minute acknowledging the effort.

And these aren’t just small companies with limited staffs, they are big companies like Amazon, Microsoft, REI. They are companies who supposedly care about their public image. I guess I understand logically why they can’t respond to thousands of applicants, but now, every time I have dealings with them, in the back of my mind I think, “Jeez … these guys really don’t even have the time or courtesy to say thank you. Beyond trying to sell me stuff, they don’t really give a rip, do they?”

Pretty much 90% of my emails now are from employment agencies which are hoping to hook me (through desperation) into wasting my money by buying some sort of membership. Or insurance companies looking for fresh fodder, gullible job-seekers who might be desperate enough to try selling insurance for a living. (I’m sure some people are cut out for this, but I’m smart enough to know I’m not one of them!) And then there are the “work-at-home” scammers. The list goes on and on. I now get dozens of such emails each day.

One other thing which has increased a sense of frustration is that the ministry which my wife and I have put nearly 15 years into, at our church, experienced (about the same time I lost my job) a sudden and dramatic decrease in attendance, mostly due to good things like couples getting married and/or moving out of the area. But the loss of momentum was magnified by others who felt the loss keenly and decided to move on just because it was too sad to stay, apparently. So we’ve had to scramble to try and figure out how to stop the bleeding, and to adjust accordingly to the loss of momentum. Had it occurred at any other time, I don’t think it would have been a big deal, but now, with everything else going on, it just feels a little hurtful.

I think I was prepared for the excitement and hopefulness that a change of pace would bring. For the opportunity to do something new. Even for the challenge of having to batten down the hatches a bit and to try and figure out creative ways to balance the budget. But I don’t think I was fully prepared for the feelings of abandonment, isolation, and even (at times) exploitation by others.

God’s message: Wait patiently

I recognize that I am a very impatient person, and all of these feelings mostly flow from my sense of impatience. I want closure. I want to move on. I believe and trust (logically speaking) that God has a plan and an assignment for me. And I want to get going on it! But it’s unclear from where I sit what that is, so I can’t. So, as a result, I feel a bit like I’m wasting time, casting around looking for something when I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for yet.

This is going to sound like a rabbit trail, but it’s not: Recently I had a very interesting experience while mushroom hunting. A few months earlier, since I had to turn in my business mobile phone, I’d purchased a new phone from Google’s Project Fi, a nice Nexus 5X. A month or so later the phone stopped working, so I shipped it back, and they sent me a reconditioned model.

chanterelles-on-moss-with-knife
The last photo I took with my Nexus5X before losing it in the forest.

Two weeks later I was out in the forest (by myself) in what I intended to be a final fall mushroom hunt. I was in heavy undergrowth, on a steep slope. I took a photo of some nice mushrooms, then put my phone back in my pocket, and worked my way about 100 yards downhill and to the north. It was near the end of the hunt and I was within sight of the road the entire time.

I then saw some more mushrooms I wanted to photograph. I reached into my pocket for my Nexus … but it was gone!

I had about two hours of daylight and I spent both of them trying to retrace my steps and search for my missing phone, which I had a 2-year contract on after paying nearly $400 for. But finding an object like that in such undergrowth is a very difficult task and I finally had to give up.

The entire two hours I prayed: “Dear God … I need this phone! I can’t afford a new one! You obviously know where it is. Please reveal it to me.” And I hunted and hunted, to no avail.

I left dejected, and spent 24 hours in a funk. God had always answered such prayers before, helping me find lost items of much less value. Why not now? When I really needed him to come through? To compound matters, that night it began to rain, grew colder (and the snow level dropped to just a few hundred feet above where I had been hunting). It rained for two days straight.

On the second day, after much prayer and reflection I experienced something of an attitude adjustment. Yes, God was still on the throne. No, He didn’t have to help cover for my stupid mistakes and help me find my phone. Yes, He had a better plan. Good would come out of it. I just needed to “give up,” in a sense, to wait and be patient. I apologized for my frustration.

The following day was a Wednesday, the day between tutoring assignments. I had a brief (two-hour) break in the weather. For some reason I felt like driving down (an hour and a quarter each direction) and taking one last look. If I didn’t find anything, I’d probably at least find a few more mushrooms. I just felt like getting out there one last time. I couldn’t explain it.

“Even if you did find your phone,” Darlene said … “HIGHLY unlikely,” I interrupted … “yes, and it would probably not have survived two days of rain, would it?” she finished.

“Highly unlikely,” I repeated. But somehow I still felt I should go. She left for work, and later told me she prayed for me that I would receive some sort of encouraging news. I think she was thinking of job news, but apparently she wasn’t that specific.

I arrived at the approximate place I had searched before, and decided to start as best I could with the spot I had last seen the phone. All I knew is that it was perhaps a few dozen yards below the crest of this one hill. I didn’t know exactly where, but I designed a grid search of that face of the hill, starting at the top and working my way across, dropping five feet down and crossing again, and scanning carefully to the left and right for the missing phone.

I was on about my seventh pass when I saw it, lying face down in the moss. It was barely visible … I had black velcro on the back of the phone and it blended in. But there it was!

It was of course dripping wet. I picked it up, not expecting anything after two days of exposure to rain and cold. But as I picked it up and turned it upright, the screen came to life and gave me its usual greeting. It even still had about 50% of its battery life left!

I had brought a bag of rice just in case, so I wiped off as much moisture as I could, powered the phone down and inserted it in the bag of rice, overjoyed at the seemingly impossible answer to prayer and contemplating what it meant. As if on cue, it then started raining again, and I spent perhaps another hour hunting (mushrooms this time) with good results, then headed home. When I was within cellphone range, I took it out of the bag, powered it back up, and called my wife, who was very surprised to hear from me.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest, off the southwestern flanks of Mt. Rainier, shrouded in cloud.
The first photo I took after finding my lost phone. I was hunting on this beautiful range in the Gifford Pinchot Nat’l Forest, shrouded in clouds and fresh snow at the top. My lost phone was found about halfway up the slope on the left side of the photo.

Obviously I was overjoyed to find my missing phone, apparently none the worse for wear. I had already ordered a replacement from Google, but was able to return it when it came. Google later erased my cellphone number when they ported over my wife’s to my group account, but that’s another story and they’re working on getting it back.

In the meantime, the message I heard from the Lord was, “I will do what’s best for you in My good time. Your job is to wait patiently.” I knew that applied not just to small things like my phone, but also to larger things, like my employment situation.

Our pastor encouraged me to share this story with our church congregation. I felt a little silly about it, but I did. Hopefully it was encouraging to someone. I know there are many people out there going through far more serious trials than I’ve ever had to face.

So, what now?

One of the things I have been struggling with internally is the open-ended question: What should I be doing while I’m waiting for clarity from the Lord? I have been starting work on various part-time assignments, have been putting in a lot of applications, have been working on my writing (which I remain convinced may somehow be part of the long-term picture).

I also realize I need to get more strategic. What I need right now (for the remainder of 2016) is not income (in fact, thanks to the severance package we have a real tax problem right now, which earning more money only compounds), but it’s to spend real time preparing for 2017 and possibly beyond when I will probably have the opposite of a tax problem! In a way I feel a little like Joseph in Egypt, during the time of plenty, but knowing that a famine may be coming.

But of course I don’t really know that a famine is coming, I haven’t heard that message. Who knows? Next month I could be doing something completely new. Or perhaps the combination of short-term work and writing and business which I am enjoying now will prove sufficiently productive to keep us afloat after the severance has ended. Perhaps there is some new ministry assignment in the future which has nothing to do with our financial situation at all. Who knows? How can I be prepared for the eventuality?

I know. Wait on the Lord. Listen carefully. Hold my life lightly, and be ready to grasp onto whatever He brings. And work hard to avoid the temptations associated with being in the particular place of flux in which I find myself today.

So, that’s where I’m at right now. And I would appreciate your prayers as He is working on me to strengthen my faith and dependence!

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