When my husband, Dennis, first began job hunting, I'd hold my breath as I waited for him to appear at the door, eager for a glimpse of his face to tell me if his day had been a success. But now, 15 months after he became a statistic—one of 300 laid off by his employer of six years—I can tell how his day's gone simply by the way his feet hit the steps leading from the garage into the house. Today his footsteps are heavy, as though he's carrying the weight of the world.
All these months I've watched Dennis stuff hundreds of résumés into the mailbox and pound away at the computer keyboard, courageously sending hundreds more electronically. I've waved good-bye to him as he drives off early in the morning to face another day of approaching unapproachable receptionists at companies that "are not hiring." And greeted his slumped shoulders and downcast eyes upon his return after another unproductive afternoon.
I've seen Dennis lower his expectations, then lower them further. An electronics technician with a sterling work record and more than 20 years' experience in his field, he first sought a comparable job. After a few months, Dennis expanded his search to include entry-level positions in his field, expecting that would do the trick. His wink and nod assured me we'd find a way to get by for a while on the lower salary. But after several weeks went by with no interviews, much less job offers, he began to respond to every job posting for which he was qualified—and, more often than not, overqualified.
He then began to be turned away for jobs on a whole different level: gas station attendant, custodian, grocery clerk, and school crossing guard, to name a few. And while I was proud of his willingness to do whatever job it took to put food on the table, it was at that point I became afraid.
My fear stemmed from all the unknowns: What if Dennis doesn't find work soon? How long can we go without his income? What will happen to us when the unemployment insurance expires, or our savings runs dry?
In the beginning, I was Dennis' biggest cheerleader. But the more time goes by, the more discouraged, despondent, and bewildered Dennis becomes. And the more tired I get. I'm tired of saying things I don't even believe anymore, such as, "It's going to be all right," "You'll find something soon," or, "Don't worry, today will be the day."
I dread the inevitable question from concerned friends and family: "Has Dennis found a job yet?" I hate the look on people's faces when they hear of our situation for the first time. And I'm frustrated that my attempts to help have proven equally unfruitful. As a stay-at-home mom with job experience that's six years stale, I'm aware of my inability to compete with people of my husband's caliber for the small pool of available jobs.
Several months ago, Dennis and I thought things were on the upswing when another mom from our church asked her husband to hire me as a temporary employee. We breathed a sigh of relief when I landed the full-time job, which was expected to last up to six months. Five days later, as I was playing with our son, Benjamin, at the park, I broke my hand and required surgery to repair the damage. I had to quit the job and, what's worse, lacking health insurance, we had to pay for the surgery out-of-pocket, setting us back even further financially. Afterwards, I was unemployable for the months it took to heal, and more bewildered than ever by the apparent futility of our financial situation.
I hit rock bottom the day I walked by my husband at the computer and saw a game of Solitaire on the monitor instead of a job website. I stopped dead in my tracks.
"What are you doing?" I wailed. "You're supposed to be looking for a job!"
Not looking up from the screen, he snapped at me over his shoulder. "I'm just taking a break."
Anger and resentment that had simmered for months suddenly bubbled out of me.
"Is this what you do all day when you're supposed to be job hunting?" I accused. "No wonder you still haven't found a job!"
More unkind words spilled out of my mouth, and even when Dennis swiveled around in his chair to face me with pain in his eyes, I couldn't stop. I finally was quiet when he said bitterly, "This is your idea of support? You're supposed to be encouraging me!"
His words rang in my ears long after our fight, each time followed by my unuttered reply: Oh yeah? Well, who's encouraging me?
All through this nightmare, I'd prayed for God's provision for our family. But with each passing week, I wondered what was taking so long. Why isn't God answering any of my prayers?
I cried out to God again from my position at rock bottom. Looking up out of my window, waiting expectantly for an answer, I noticed a flock of blackbirds glide across the clear blue sky. A familiar Bible verse came to me, as if whispered on their wings: "Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds!" (Luke 12:23-24).
I thought about the birds. And I began to look at my situation with fresh eyes. Then it struck me: God's been providing, all right. The reason I hadn't seen it before was because God's idea of provision is so different than mine. I'd been waiting for God to provide my husband a job. But instead, he's given us an opportunity to assess what's important and what isn't. He's stopped us in our tracks to take a look at ourselves and learn.
We've tightened our belts, done without frivolous things, and even done without things that aren't frivolous. I've watched our bank account drain away to dollars and change with nothing to show for it except meeting basic needs. At first it was painful, but now it's gotten easier. I'm grateful when I remember we once had more than enough, and I entertain the hope we will again someday.
God's provision has been time: a season for our son Benjamin to be with his father; one that, at five, he may not consciously remember, but that I know has shaped his character nonetheless. Dennis has read to him, painstakingly taught him to play chess, ride a bike without training wheels, and master pinball and foosball. Our son's had the opportunity to see
his father's perseverance in action. Benjamin's learned by example how to weather disappointment, and how to pitch in and encourage each other. And he's had
the privilege to pray earnestly for a job for his father.
God's provision has included a crash course in humility. When I had my hand surgery, some friends brought over dinner and groceries. Later, we opened the card they'd included; it contained a generous gift certificate for the local supermarket. I expected my proud husband to refuse it politely, but instead witnessed him sit down at the kitchen table and write them a heartfelt note of thanks.
And I've been humbled as well. The other night I sat with a frozen smile as an acquaintance, face aglow, told me her husband just was handed his dream job on a silver platter. She gushed about how it was an answer to their prayers, until I felt as though I was the unloved stepsister of fairy-tale lore. Even as bitter tears wet my pillow later, I was keenly aware of clean sheets, a full stomach, and a roof over my head. That night I committed to memory another lesson about provision: While it may not seem equitable, you have to trust God gives you exactly what you need.
I don't know whether we have weeks, months, or perhaps even years more to go in this trial. I don't know if we'll have to move away from a hometown we love so Dennis can find work. I don't know if there's a full-time career out there with my name on it. But when I dwell on all God has provided, I find the answers to questions I didn't know to ask.
First, I know what it means to live on a wing and a prayer. Because it's clear how God's provided for us so far, I can trust him for tomorrow. It doesn't mean I'm still not afraid, just that now I'm giving my fears to God.
I know I'll never again take a job, health benefits, or unemployment insurance for granted. And I now know that wealth has nothing to do with your income, your job title, or what you can buy at a store. Wealth is being surrounded by those you love, secure in your future not because of a bank balance, but because of the One who loves you.
Above all, I understand more fully Jesus' statement, "How much more valuable are you than birds!" Birds can fly, but they can't cry out to God, hear his answer, or learn to be grateful for suffering. Though I stand here flightless and jobless, I know God's estimation of my value: priceless.
Laurie Jackson, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Colorado.
Copyright Â© 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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