Brace yourself: It's another post about work. I got a call from a mom yesterday. A five-year-old girl I have worked with for awhile now has lost her kindergarten teacher. It seems her teacher died in her sleep. My little client isn't taking it too well, and has been storming the hallways of her school, yelling, "You're not my teacher!" at the substitute. My client's mother tried to comfort her that her teacher was in heaven, and the girl exclaimed, "Well I'm gonna go get her!"
Of course the entire school is grieving over this loss. Someone talked with the class earlier this week and explained to them that though their teacher isn't with them anymore, she lives on in their hearts. Now, my little client (whose mother is pregnant) says, "Mommy, quick, feel my heart! Mrs. Teacher is kicking!"
Agh! Telling a fifth-grader that their teacher lives in their heart might be comforting and kind, but this very literal five-year old is convinced her heart is as pregnant as mommy's tummy.
What follows is the story of God’s faithfulness in my life. It’s a lengthy little essay, but it’s my story, growing up, and it’s the tip of the iceberg. It begins before I was even born.
My parents, in the seventies, were living quite nicely. I guess we would have called them YUPPIES. My dad was an officer in military and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. Of course, home was a military base in Rota, Spain. My parents put in a few years there, and then as my dad continued to learn, he felt he was being called to teach. Not just to teach, but to teach about the Bible, and faith, on a college level. With one small child and one on the way, my parents decided to leave their comfortable life because my dad knew to fulfill this calling, he would need to go to seminary.
Grandpa and Grandma at first urged my parents not to do this- what about providing for your family? They had lived through The Depression and thought it sounded foolish to go back to school when raising a family and in your thirties. Dad was convinced this was something he couldn’t just let go- his heart wasn’t in the military. Finally Grandpa gave his blessing, and told Dad that he had felt the same way about moving to Arizona back in the 1950s, when my dad was a small child, even though my Great-Grandparents hadn’t understood why he was moving away.
My mom and dad completed their time in the military, and moved to Dallas in 1976 for seminary. My father continued in the Naval Reserve for smaller pay and "duties"- trips he took for a weekend or a month at a time, doing military operations on aircraft carriers and Navy bases around the world. While home in the Dallas area, he worked as a waiter at a steakhouse to make ends meet.
I was born into this life- I remember that when tips were particularly good from waiting tables, I wake up to fresh Dunkin’ Donuts that Dad had picked up on his way home from Bryan’s Steakhouse, or later, Steak and Ale. My parents stored them in the oven to keep them fresh. Every morning when I came for breakfast, I would peek through the clear glass of the oven door, looking for that orange and pink box that meant sugary treats awaited. Dad completed his Master’s program in 1980 and knew he really needed to go on for doctoral level if he wanted to get a tenured teaching position. So against all common sense, (with three children now) he went back to school again, for the doctorate degree.
It took a long time to complete that nagging dissertation, when leaving the country every few months for military duties and working part time, parenting small children and keeping up the house where everything seemed to break and fall apart- mostly when dad was out of the country. I remember playing in the living room, and being told, "You kids need to quiet down. Dad’s trying to work on his dissertation." He and his second reader on his dissertation didn’t see eye to eye, so the reader would make recommendations to basically redo the entire thing. Dad completed the revisions yet at the last minute, the dissertation was not approved, which meant a-whole-nother year in seminary.
On and on it went. I remember my brother made a cute little letter to Santa for first grade, and it said something like this: "Dear Santa, For Cristmas our family nedes some more finances! Love DOUg." It was one of those bittersweet things kids say. Obviously his young ears had been picking up on the financial strain upon the family, hearing parents say, "We just don’t have the finances right now."
Finally, sweetly, in the spring of 1988, my father graduated with his doctoral degree. We thought our trials and years of barely getting by and struggle were over. Now at last, the "Full Time Teaching Job" would come along because God provides and he was the one we did all this for, right?
My dad put out applications and picked up more extended stints with the military to earn the money to keep our family afloat. My mom got a job as a secretary at a mortgage company. The atmosphere there was "Money, money, money" and daily she felt assaulted by the materialistic messages she received at work, in stark contrast to the lean, "beggars-can’t-be-choosers" lifestyle at home.
While on his trips away from home, my dad was reading through the classics of English literature. He figured he might as well be getting credit for his learning, so he decided to take a correspondence course in English literature. One class turned into two, and three and four, until he had earned a Master’s degree in English literature as well.
Unfortunately, at the time he got his doctorate in Theological Studies, the recession of the 80s was in full force. Higher Education was in a bit of a financial crisis- which meant that no one was really hiring- especially because like with judges, professors are in it for life once they are tenured, and stay in the same positions until retirement. My dad ended up picking up some teaching classes at a community college, teaching English, of all things, to get experience at teaching and to earn some extra money for the family.
I remember my dad was offered a position at a very conservative, legalistic school in Florida, and he prayed about it, but just couldn’t take the job. He shared that it went against his mission to be teaching in an atmosphere that went so much against what he perceived as his mission: to guide college students to apply their intellects to their faith. No need to throw thinking out the window, just because it is a matter of faith, God also created our minds!
Finally, in Spring of 1993, (five years later after getting the teaching degree, and seventeen years! since my dad had left his full time position in the military) my mom said to my dad "Michael, are you sure that this was God’s will for us? Why don’t you just get a job in business, and give up on this ministry thing? It’s been years since we’ve had financial comfort! Let’s abandon this dream! I don’t think I can wait any longer."
My dad paused, and thought for a moment. He told my mother, "We could, but if we do, I’ll lose my faith." Had they struggled for nothing all these years? Was it all just based on a whim, and not from God at all? Did God even care?
My mom quickly responded, "Oh, well, I don’t want that! Never mind, I guess I can wait a little longer."
One week later, (one week!) the letter came from Taylor University in Indiana. They were interested in interviewing my father for an Old Testament teaching position. My dad flew to Indiana, and the interviews went well. An old friend from seminary was in the Bible department, who also put in a good word for my father. A position was offered: a full time teaching job!
We rejoiced and celebrated. One problem: the position was an adjunct position, only offered for one year, as another professor was taking a sabbatical. Was it worth moving a family, uprooting the kids from an excellent public school district to move to rural Indiana for a one-year position? My older sister, a senior in high school, had already accepted a military N-ROTC scholarship at the University of Texas.
My dad took the job. My sister changed her mind and moved with the family, going to Taylor, a small Christian liberal arts college (at that time with tuition at $18,000 a year), tuition-free. The following year, policy was changed that you had to work at the school for four years to get tuition-free status. But my sister got in the final year of that deal.
Each spring for the next four years it was a big question what would happen. My dad would send out further applications to other schools, but somehow, something always opened up in the Bible department at Taylor, so that there was a full time position for my father. My senior year of high school in particular, I remember a friend offering to let me move in to their spare bedroom, to finish school in my familiar setting, when it looked as if we would be moving to Tennessee, and my dad teaching at King College. But again, teaching position opened up at Taylor in the Bible Department, and we stayed.
In the long term, my dad is now in a tenured position, the chair of the Bible Department at Taylor, and helping to develop a Master’s Program in World Religions that they are starting soon. Though my parents were unable to save one penny for college educations for us three children, they were able to provide all three of us with a strong, tuition-free college education, at a school ranked by US News and World Reports as one of the top five regional liberal-arts schools for the last decade.
God is faithful and God provides. God teaches us through the lean years, that though it seems we will be snuffed out entirely, he is there, he is working, and not always in the way we imagine. This is why we need not fear.
If you struggle with anxiety, I encourage you to ask God to show you how he provided for you in your life. Ask him where he was in those lean times. Wait for an answer. Perhaps you are not to the end of the story yet, if it seems that he is leaving you on your own. I think the key is that God works in a way that makes it clear we did not provide for ourselves. He works in a way that we have to give all the credit to him, because if it were up to us, we would have abandoned ship long ago.
If you struggle with trusting God, ask him if there is a point in your past, in the deepest place in your heart, where you believed he abandoned you? Ask him to show you where he was in that time. I believe you will find he was right there, and that his people were around you, a source of strength when you didn’t have anything left. This is just the beginning of the story of God’s faithfulness in my life.
After I left the nest of my parents, God didn’t walk out on me. He is with me, even now. He provided me with a job doing Art Therapy, for crying out loud! Do such jobs even exist? I guess so! I could go on and on. There are so many ways God has been there, even in my darkest hour, he was there. Praise him! He lives, and he is faithful!
The past weekend I got sick suddenly on Friday afternoon and was sick till midday Saturday. Although it might sound great to get to leave work early due to a stomach ache, it really isn't if you spend the next 16 hours feverish in bed. Especially if it is the kick-off to a beautiful springy weekend.
Well, I called my mama, as I am prone to do when looking for that kind of sympathetic pity that only a mama can muster up, with just the right tone. And she came through (as usual). I mentioned to her that I was heading to the farmer's market when I was feeling better, and would buy some flowers for a friend's birthday, and she told me to buy some for me, and she'd send me a check for them.
We named an amount (double what I would have thought to spend) and off I went to Soulard. When I went to the market, the girl at the flower stall threw in almost two dozen fresh pink tulips, gratis! Now my apartment is bursting with spring!
The air outside is ominous with thunderstorm clouds right now, and I love a good storm. I just got back from my run in the park. I'm thinking to myself "Its a good thing we have things like storms and gloomy weather because otherwise I'd never want to go to work." Now I think a grilled cheese sandwich would be just the thing. Mmmmm, sharp cheddar, perhaps.