Category Archives: Employment

Throwing off the shackles of the workaday world and following a dream … of sorts

I’m having to come to terms with unemployment, and it’s not easy. Staying home is not the difficult part. I have plenty to do. I’m usually up with my wife by 7:00 a.m., I’m at the computer by 8:00 or 8:30, ready to start my day’s work. My day’s work usually involves looking for a job, staying up to date on freelance projects, doing some personal writing (like this), or working on a number of household chores, anything from bills and paperwork to hard physical labor like mowing the lawn or using power tools. In between I keep the dog from chewing cords and whizzing on the floor.

Most days the urgent work, looking for a job and finishing freelance projects is put off. I’m not sure how this happens, but it always does. Like today. It’s 10:00 a.m. already, and I still haven’t touched my list of urgent work (though I could argue that the half-hour I spent surfing the web and reading news was “work” on my freelance projects). My wife will be home in the next half-hour for lunch (though it’s too early for me to eat), which means the dog will be preoccupied but I’ll be distracted. By the time she leaves to go back to work, I’ll have just enough time to get started on something before it truly becomes lunch time and I’m interrupted once again.

The difficult part of unemployment is figuring out what to do. I have a lot of bills to pay, and they don’t get paid by sitting at home. It’s not like I’m sitting on the couch watching TV all day. That’s not even a temptation (though sitting on the couch and reading all day is — I miss my reading time on the bus). But putzing on the computer and installing smoke detectors doesn’t pay my school loans. At some point unemployment becomes unfeasible.

Unemployment checks should technically kick in this week, though I won’t receive them for another week or two. Even then, the state’s handout isn’t much. Do I take a part time job at Target? Do I become a school bus driver? Do I hold out for that full time job in my field? Or do I dive into freelancing, forsake full time work, and hope the income will cover the expenses?

Yikes. It’s a scary position to be in. At least I have options. There are possibilities. It’s just not easy waiting to see how God will provide. It’s funny how concerned we are with our jobs, with what we do for a living. That’s the first question I ask people I meet, as if that is who they are. As if their employment somehow completes them. Once I asked one person what they did, and he looked confused. He asked if I meant for work, as a clarifying question. He obviously didn’t consider his job to be the most important part of who he is. Yet so often I feel like a job equals identity. There’s a feeling that if I don’t have a job, I’m not anything.

But what is a job? It’s just that. It’s work that has to be done, services in exchange for the expenses in our lives. For some of us it’s hours put in, a job done, and we go home. For others it’s something they truly enjoy, something they would do for free. I think an idealistic notion exists that the enjoyment of employment is the highest call. It’s the notion that you have to love what you’re doing. I think that’s true, but in a different sense. I don’t think it’s something we have to do that requires education and just the right position, but I think what’s important is finding joy in what we’re doing, no matter what it is. Whether I’m working at the grocery store or at the New Yorker, I should do my job to the best of my ability, enjoy what I’m doing, and go home at the end of the day to focus on more important things. I think that’s part of the problem with America’s disintegrating family. So many of us put such importance on the job that it stresses us out. Rather than just finding joy in it and moving and on, we focus on our work. We stay late, we bring work home, we let our employment become who we are. We forget about more important things like family, friends, God.

Sometimes I think God laughs at us. Our attempts to provide for our family become so much more. God provides for the sparrows, and he promises to provide so much more for us. When Jesus had his ministry, he didn’t have a day job. He didn’t have a home to come home to. But he focuses on what was important, and the rest took care of itself.

Unfortunately it’s not that easy, but sometimes I think we [I] make it too big of a deal.

Joblessness is no longer just for philosophy majors.

Welcome to the first official day of unemployment. Contrary to popular belief, I did not sleep until noon and then watch daytime TV. I got up with my wife, played with the dog, and tried to accomplish a few things. I did get a few things done, but the random chaos and lack of structure is really throwing me for a loop. I miss break time.

It doesn’t help that I’m now puppy-sitting. We’re potty-training Speak, so you really have to watch him all the time. It makes concentrating on any one task nearly impossible. Tomorrow I think I’ll make better use of his crate.

I also miss riding the bus. It was a nice to begin and end my day with half an hour of uninterrupted reading. The walk home was a nice way to clear my head as well. I’m going to have to find a way to structure that time back into my day.

So after one day unemployment has been a struggle. It’s probably too early to judge, but I think I need a little more discipline and a lot more structure. It probably doesn’t help that the last month and a half of work was a total slack-fest.

While reading The Road to Daybreak today I came across a passage where Henri Nouwen reflects on the pruning of the vine. It made me wonder if my life could use a bit of pruning. Too much of my time is taken up with all of these distracting little hobbies I like to invest in. Designing senseless websites, trying to find cool ways to show off pictures of my house, wanting to make t-shirts for no apparent reason, wanting to find a new way to sell photos online, wanting to do new things with ReAL–all this junk that really isn’t important, I just want to futz around with it. The idea of pruning is that you become more productive when you cut back the lesser things and concentrate on the important things. I could use a little practice at that.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

You don’t quit your job! You just go in every day and do it really half-assed.

Today was my last day of employment at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I am now officially unemployed.

The sky is clear and bright blue, but it’s raining. The pavement is wet, but I am dry. It’s good to be done, but I’m sad to be gone.

Under that rainy blue sky I said my last goodbyes. A handshake wasn’t enough, and we hugged instead. It’s better that way: the slowly healing blister on my thumb makes me grimace with each handshake.

I can’t read on the bus ride home. At one point I’m the lone rider. I can only stare out the window or pen a few random words like these, trying to understand the feelings that are finally coming through.

Do you happen to need a Messiah?

Apparently the BGEA is “trimming” their workforce, not outright laying people off. That’s news to me. But if by “trimming” you mean reducing daily staff-prepared meals to a few vending machines and microwaves, then I guess that makes sense. It’s good to know you’re being “trimmed” and not layed off. Tell that to the BGEA’s cancelled daily radio show.

In other lunch-related news, Bad Az Chicken sandwiches are now available in the Billy Graham lunch room.

Ringworm = Sick Day = Job Search

Searching for a job has to be the biggest awkward situation. In some cases it’s beyond stressful, especially if you’re doing your search between 9 and 5 because you’re unemployed. That’s never fun. But the prospect of looking for a position that will consume half your waking hours is a little daunting. How can you tell from the little paragraph in the want ads whether or not you’ll like the job, whether or not you’ll fit in at the office, whether or not this is a job that will drive you mad or make you happy? You can’t. Never mind that this elusive position will also determine your income, your benefits, your vacation, your daily commute. Whether or not you’ll get stuck in traffic every day depends on which job you get. There’s a point where something is beyond stressful, beyond irritating, where it reaches a plane of existence that I think is somewhere in the neighborhood of insanity.

For those of you who don’t know, yes, I’m looking for a job. My company is relocating and I’m not sure I want to relocate as well. So thankfully I’m not one of those people looking for a job between 9 and 5. Yet.

To top it off, I’m also now experiencing one of the benefits of being married to someone who works with children. I have ringworm. Despite how it sounds, it’s basically an itchy mosquito bite that’s contagious and won’t go away until you medicate it. Which I am, thank you very much. However, it sounds bad enough to be worth a sick day.

Change is often the root of insomnia.

11:58. So I’m not impervious to caffeine. Or it’s just the stress of potential change. Change is often the root of insomnia.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,'” (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s all well and good, but it’s not as encouraging when you remember that God’s definition of prosper and yours aren’t always the same. We like to think of this as a great encouraging verse when our lives are in the midst of change. But it’s not that encouraging.

The Jews were in captivity in Babylon. God told them to settle in for the long haul. Build houses, plant gardens, get used to life in Babylon, ’cause you’re not going back to Israel anytime soon. He even told the Jews to ignore the so-called prophets who dreamed of returning. Then God says in seventy years he’ll bring the Jews back to the promised land. For he knows the plans he has for them (enter the verse in question).

Context helps, doesn’t it? Hope and a future meant waiting seventy years before returning home again. We don’t always get what we want. But God still takes care of us. I guess that’s the lesson. It’s not necessarily what you want or how you want it, but it works out. Sometimes that’s hard to figure when the math doesn’t add up.

God doesn’t have the same calculator I do. My calculations say I’ll be in debt until I’m 38, and that’s just my school loans. And you really don’t want to wait that long to start a family, so the calculations have to get pretty tight. Children are expensive, though I wouldn’t want to put a monetary value on them. But you can figure the cost of care, which is either the equivalent of one spouse’s salary or daycare, which are often equal or nearly equal numbers. Unless of course you strike the good fortune of free baby-sitting, but that often comes with the perils of resident in-laws. Factor in a mortgage, and my calculator’s laughing at me.

But somehow, I think God’s calculator makes it work. Sometimes I’m tempted to call his bluff and see if it really does. Throw up my hands, bring on the family, take out a mortgage and see what happens. Sometimes I wonder if truly relying on God is the same thing as stupidity. I’m willing to bet they are, God just covers your back.

The one thing I really hate is not being certain about my monetary provision. I remember the few times I’ve been jobless as some of the most stressful times of my life. After my freshman year of college I scoured southeast Michigan looking for a job. Okay, I didn’t look that hard, but I looked everywhere I knew at the time. I ended up crawling back to the grocery store I worked at in high school, and had a blast stocking the shelves again.

The summer after my sophomore year I landed an unpaid internship in Chicago, and applied for every part time job I could find. When Toys R Us offered minimum wage and informed me I’d have to work the register, I said no thanks and literally took to the street.

When I was a senior in college and about to get married and graduate, I applied for everything I could find in my field. I got one interview and actually landed that job.

So I’ve always come up with something, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t sick with worry until it happened. I just wish it could be easier. I think I have a trust problem. I know God will provide, that’s what I keep telling myself. But I have to slough through the hell of not knowing how it’s going to happen. I’m the kind of guy who likes to have my ducks in a row. I like to know where everything is coming from, how the bills are getting paid. I’m not good at blind trust. Forgive me, but I would have sunk like a rock if I stepped off the boat. Call Peter what you will, but that guy had guts.

It works out in the end, I just wish I had the script in advance.

Begging for CDs

I hate begging for money. Yet I work for a non-profit organization and it’s part of the job. It’s not my job, thankfully, but we always have to keep donations in the back of mind. I can’t tell you how many times we’re reminded that the organization is supported by thousands of little old ladies who send in one dollar every month. The freaky thing is it’s no exaggeration.

For the first time in their history the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has put out a gift catalog. It’s basically one more way of begging for money, with the added bonus that you can decide where your money goes. You support whatever you want to support, assuming it’s in the catalog. It’s similar to the humanitarian support where you donate $50 to buy a goat for a family in Africa. Only with the BGEA, you’re giving money to evangelism projects.

One of those projects is the passageway.org Backstage Pass CD-ROM. passageway.org is the teen Web site of the BGEA, and the main focus of my job. This year we made these CD-ROMs to give to teens at BGEA events. The CD has a video presentation of the Gospel from a number of different Christian artists. They explain salvation in simple language, and teens can pray at the end. The CD also has the entire NIV Bible, a Bible reading plan, an introduction to the Web site, and exclusive access to a special “backstage” section of the Web site that includes more videos and articles.

passageway.org Backstage Pass CD-ROM
It’s a cool project and a powerful way to extend the Gospel at a Billy Graham Mission. All these teens are wearing these CDs around their necks as they listen to the music and the message. For the kids who don’t come forward at the invitation, they can go home and pop this CD in their computer and hear the message again on their own terms. And for the teens who do come forward at the event or who already are Christians, it introduces them to the perfect follow-up tool, a vast discipleship resource that’s updated weekly. It also gives those teens a cool and hip way to share the Gospel with their friends.

My point in all this is that the BGEA put the passageway.org Backstage Pass CD-ROM in their gift catalog. For the suggested donation of $1 per CD, you can help put these CD-ROMs in the hands of teens. Despite my dislike for fundraising, I think this is something worth supporting. So if you like what you’re hearing, please donate some cash for these CD-ROMs.

You can hear a report on the CD-ROMs (listen to the first segment, “Billy Graham Youth Web Site”) from Decision Today (the BGEA’s daily radio show), which includes some quotes from my coworkers and I.

Dallas Trip for BGEA

Jars of Clay performing during the Student Night of the Metroplex Mission with Billy Graham in Texas Stadium in Dallas, Texas. 48,000 passageway.org Backstage Pass CD-ROMs were given out that evening, thus my reason for being there. 82,000 people showed up that night, a new record for Texas Stadium. Of course the record only lasted one day. Sunday night’s attendance was 83,500.

I also have a fun treat for everyone, the Bushtop. George H.W. Bush spoke at the Mission on Thursday night, and we got this great photo of Bush blinking. I thought it made a nice Max Headroom-esque desktop. So there you have it: the Bushtop.