Tag Archive | unemployment

The Pizza Sign Man

There is a man in my city I pass very often.  I don’t know him–not his name, his family, nothing whatsoever.  All I see is a single action of his, but it’s enough to make me admire him.  I call him the pizza sign man.

For the past several years, this man has stood in all kinds of weather, from snowstorms to heat waves, and held a pizza sign at the edge of a busy road near a pizza place.  If I drive past his corner in the middle of the day, he’s there.  Day in, day out, always on his corner holding his sign.

I doubt many people grow up with the desire to hold a pizza sign.  It’s not a glamorous job.  It’s not terribly challenging, can’t possibly pay well, and to spend hours in one’s head with nobody to talk to surely gets difficult at times, but the pizza sign man continues on.

I spent a lot of years in an upper middle class world.  I worshiped there, have friends there, and am influenced by that world, even though I no longer belong there.  And the upper middle class world is no place for a pizza sign man.  In that world, kids go to college and get good jobs and become successful, those inside the church and out.  And in most churches there, those with more clout in the world have more clout in the church.  The idea, I think, is that a Christian with power and success can reach the world and change the world for Christ in a way a pizza sign man cannot.  Big, beautiful churches are not built by congregations of pizza sign men.  Modern church life and programs take resources pizza men simply can’t muster.

During our marriage my husband has had all kinds of jobs, including a stint making and delivering pizza.  People treat pizza men differently than engineers, but God doesn’t.  When the pizza sign man stands on his corner in the pouring rain, God notices, and I suspect he smiles.

My father is a PhD in Civil Engineering who supported his family for the past decade as a security guard because he lost a job too near retirement age.  Another PhD I know works at Lowes. Doing a job well is all God asks.  Unfortunately, it’s not all the world asks.  And even more unfortunately, the church doesn’t always see the value in the pizza sign man, either.

I don’t know what people think about the pizza sign man when they drive past.  Maybe they feel pity.  Maybe they feel superior.  Maybe they admire him.  I suspect most no longer see him.  I don’t always notice him, but when I do,  I pray for him.  Jesus came for the pizza sign men as much as anyone else, and he loves them and wants to see them in his kingdom someday.  When he first started I would point him out to my children. That man is doing a wonderful thing.  He’s working hard, and he always shows up.  I hope you can be an employee like that someday.

Yes, my friends with kids on scholarship at prestigious schools might think I’m setting too low a bar, but God just grins and hopes my kids grow up to be employees like that, too.  Even more, he hopes my kids will love the pizza sign men and embrace them should they walk through the church doors, because there were times we were living the pizza life, too, and we didn’t always feel the love.

I now attend a church that meets in a ministry building where homeless people are fed every day. I hope we’re welcoming, to doctors and pizza sign men and disabled people on welfare. I hope my youngest, who attends church with us, will never think twice about the status of those he worships with, because I admit there were times in my life when I did. Shameful but true.

And hey, if we could get a pizza sign man to worship with us, maybe our church events would get discounted prices for pizza.

On idols, idles, and idylls

I took some time away from blogging recently, mostly because I was in a bad mood and figured it wasn’t wise to go passing that around.  During my week of irritation, though, I think I learned a couple lessons, and I think I’ll pass them on.  They’re not entirely related, but they make a cool blog title, so here goes.

Last week I asked my pastor a question, and I think he answered me on Sunday with a powerful sermon.  In fact, because I wasn’t wearing my glasses it seemed me he even looked right at me during the sermon as if to say “Jill, this is the answer to your problem.”  The answer to my problem was that I am an idolator.  The problem is I’m becoming sick to death of unemployment.  But it isn’t about unemployment.  Honestly, if someone showed up at the door and gave my husband a check for five million dollars, I would never whine again about unemployment.

So the problem isn’t about a job.  It’s about money.  More specifically, it’s about the illusion of financial security.  Financial security is an idol.  Take it away for a couple years, and I lose my mind completely, because it was supposed to make my life perfect, and now it’s gone.  So, time to call a horse a horse and deal with the idol of financial security.  Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread.  Then he assured us God knows we need food and clothing–not that we can’t pray about those things, but if he gives them to the birds, who never pray for them, we can be sure they’re pretty much a done deal.  So, from now on it’s time to think in terms of my daily bread and not a great job that promises long-term financial security.  God will deal with the hows of the daily bread, whether it’s just given each day like manna or stored up in warehouses for the future like Joseph’s Egypt.

The next lesson has to do with idling.  I don’t mean being idle as in not doing anything, but moving in that slow, steady, mindless way a car moves when nobody’s foot is on the gas.  I realized this week I have a list a mile long of very good things I plan to do–meet with people, involve myself in ministries, spend time with my children, etc–and I never get around to them.  I just let time slide right on past.  I know it’s a good idea to live life with more intention.  The thing is, those are the easiest words in the world to say, but I have to do something.  To vainly quote myself from FB, I think I would have less time to worry about tomorrow if I put more energy into doing what I need to do today. The KJV Bible uses the phrase “redeeming the time” to describe how to live a life.  I need to redeem a lot more of my time from average tasks to Kingdom-worthy tasks.

Finally, it’s time to get the idea out of my head that this life can be heaven.  That’s the idyll, the image of the future I hold in my head that can’t be real.  In it we have a job that makes plenty of money, live on twenty acres, and don’t agonize over cars or medical bills or college for the kids.  Things just go well.  I struggled most with this right after I was diagnosed with diabetes.  I’d walk past homes in the neighborhood next to ours, an area of beautiful homes, and I imagined that within those homes people were eating whatever they wanted, and planning nice trips, and living this carefree lifestyle that would never be mine.  I do better now in certain ways, but I still spend too much time grieving something that can’t exist here, as though I don’t believe it will exist better than I can ask or imagine down the next road.

Time to start a new week.  Time to put things into perspective–something I seem to need to do on a daily basis–and put what I know into action.  Words are simple, but actual transformation…  well, I’m into the third year of a few of these lessons, and as the world’s slowest learner, I have to say transformation at the heart, mind, and body level can take work.  But with God’s help, I will keep at until I meet Jesus and find out the reward was worth all the difficult lessons.

The plane isn’t crashing; put down the oxygen mask

I haven’t been on an airplane in a very, very long time.  But, my memories of airplanes include that quick safety demo at the beginning.  The flight attendant holds an oxygen mask and points out that passengers with children should put on their own masks before placing them on their children.

A lot of people, though, seem to put on that oxygen mask and never get around to using that energy to help anyone else.  The I-need-to-care-for-myself-before-I-can-care-for-others mentality is rather a hallmark of the society surrounding us, and it’s as common in Christians as in others.  I definitely find myself doing it.  But so often it ends there, and my self care isn’t really about preparing to help others; it’s just about me satisfying me.

Too much oxygen isn’t good for a person.  Someone getting too much can suffer confusion, headaches, and sleepiness.  I wonder if too much self-care might have similar effects.  It’s so easy to lose track of how much time I spend on myself.  It never feels like enough; there is always one more thing that might satisfy me more.  And the more satisfied I am, the more I have to give to others, right?  The past couple years have been a little rough, and I tell myself I deserve a little break, a little me time.

Of course we all have to stop and care for ourselves.  I don’t think God meant otherwise.  But there is normal self care and emergency care, and some of us go into emergency mode and then stay there.  When my blood sugar is low, it’s time for emergency mode.  I have to eat; I have to sit quietly and not do much until I can think straight and move about safely–it’s when I let myself play computer games and ignore the world.  But within thirty minutes I’m fine, so if I’m still sitting in front of the video games ignoring things I need to do an hour later, it’s time for someone to pop off the oxygen mask and give me a shove back into gear.

In his letters, Paul seems to point to an idea that intrigues me.  He suggests there is this giant circle among believers, where we each put ourselves second and others first, where we receive so much care from our Christian family that we can give of ourselves without really losing anything.  It’s a big part of Christian community, where we bear each other’s burdens and fill each other’s needs.  If it’s done right, I can give of myself in a big way, because there are loved ones around me giving of themselves to fill me back up.  And I do the same for them.  Perfectly balanced.

I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen that work.  Perhaps it won’t work well until Heaven itself.  But maybe that should be the goal.  Society screams in my ears that I need to look out for myself.  School told me to take care of my own papers and grades and ignore those around me.  Media tells me I deserve to get the best I can from life.  But that’s not really the goal of the kingdom I live in.  This kingdom is a little backward, where the lowly and poor come first, and my needs come last.  But it’s safe, because someone should be watching my back.  A lot of someones, meaning nobody’s work is too hard.

Even when it doesn’t work quite as planned, though, I have a Comforter in the Spirit.  He wants to work through my spiritual family, but if they fail–and of course they will fail at times–then He’s also enough on his own.  And yet I give very little thought to the Spirit’s work, too engrossed in making my own way in the world.

Emergencies happen, where we have to become the most important person around for a time.  But most emergencies have ends, and we give the oxygen mask to someone who needs it more than we do.  If you’re feeling a little confused and sleepy in your spiritual life, and you realize you spend more time looking into yourself than out at your Christian family, perhaps it’s time to put down the mask.  I need to do the same.  We need to trust God to take care of our needs while we focus on the work he has for us to do.

Lollipops, sunshine, and job search psychoses

Facebook has started to tell me what some of my posts were a year or two ago today.  Today it showed me this quote, from exactly one year ago:

When I ask God to show me his path for me, and it is filled with sand pits, thorn bushes, and monster mosquitoes, I realize what I MEANT to say was “Lead me on the path that’s all roses and lollipops,” as though somehow I deserve a better life than countless prophets, martyred saints, and Jesus himself. Shame. On. Me.

That could be my post today, too.  I haven’t learned a lot in the past year.  I am STILL looking for the lollipops and roses.  And people don’t help.  Countless people have said to me during the past couple years,  “I hope God shows you his plan for you soon.”  For a long time I agreed.  Yes, we need a plan.  Clearly this isn’t right; something needs to change and God needs to put us back where we belong.

But, I suspect when my husband lost his job, we didn’t fall off the track of God’s plan.  Suddenly we’re alone, in freefall through some virtual realm, waiting for reality to catch up with us and for us once again to find the plan. I don’t think so.  I think, as much as I don’t want it to be true, today, unemployment and all, we are solidly standing on the track.  THIS is the plan.

I don’t want this to be the plan.  I want the roses and sunshine and lollipops.  I think everyone does.   And in this culture, where the TV and internet and magazines promise that the good life is possible with the right purchases or the right choices, sometimes I think I deserve it, that anything less than the lollipops is very unfair.

My husband is back in the game.  He’s got a couple resumes out there heading for hiring managers.  A couple interviews.  It’s time to dust off patience and start waiting again, and it’s miserable.  I have discovered I am the impatience queen.  It’s almost easier for him to be in classes only and not looking for awhile.

Yesterday I was angry.  It was the most senseless anger I can imagine.  My husband’s resume is on the way to a hiring manager for a good job.  A real job that would end our search, possibly for a very, very long time.  But I know we won’t hear anything for days.  And I was angry.  I was already angry with God for not giving us this job, for getting our hopes up and then letting us down, for making the path so filled with disappointments.  I was angry with my husband for not getting the interview or the job.  But nothing bad has even happened yet!!  Technically, there is hope for this particular job.  A good deal of it.  But certainly not much faith for it.

Nothing like a little preemptive anger to show just how faulty my thinking can be.  I must have told God a hundred times since yesterday how sorry I am and how stupid I feel and how I want to be faithful but can’t seem to get there.  I’ve enlisted help of others to pray over this job because I don’t feel capable of praying with confidence, with faith.  Not simply faith for this particular job, but faith that God is guiding us, faith in his care in general.  (And I know our care has been scrupulous and utterly miraculous, which just makes my attitude more sinful and ridiculous.)  It’s so embarrassing I’ve debated deleting this section for ten minutes, but it’s so true it needs to be said.

Clearly God is working on us.  I very much hope sanctification is occurring, because I feel a new awareness of the depth of my selfishness and silliness and sinfulness.  This is the plan.  The plan is from God, and the plan is good.  Painful, sometimes, and scary.  Not without tears and hard moments.  But also filled with joyful moments.  It’s big and complex and goes way beyond me and my little universe.  There are lollipop moments, but not many, not yet.  Once again, shame on me for my way of thinking.  And I can only hope that by rehashing these things over and over, repenting and admitting and turning toward better ways of thinking, maybe by next year I’ll laugh at last year’s post and think “Oh, yeah, I remember being like that.  I’m so glad God and I have dealt with that.  Now onto other areas to sanctify.”

Peace, hope, and why I shouldn’t read the news

Sometimes faith and peace can be rather fragile.  I realized that this week when I saw an article on Yahoo news about how many employers now tell the long-term unemployed not to bother applying for jobs.  In truth, I read the article and felt physically ill for the rest of the afternoon.

I’ve read enough comments on the internet to know the country no longer has much patience with the unemployed.  They’re tired of hearing about them and tired of caring about them.  Worse, they think the unemployed are living off the employed–they see us all as welfare cases, people who’ve figured out the system and are content to do nothing and let America pay their bills.  In reality, a person who has spent his or her life working doesn’t change character that easily.  The unemployed move in with family, get educated, volunteer, open businesses–they keep trying.  Yes, there are bouts of deep despair and depression when they struggle, but most of them shake it off and keep on going, looking to make a better life.  What else can they realistically do?

The idea that an employer would shun an educated, trained, hard-working employee because he or she has struggled to find work makes me angry.  It makes me frightened.  And I call to God for peace, realizing peace right now is a fragile thing.  I teeter on the edge, walking between peace and terror in equal amounts depending on how much hope I feel.  Articles like the one that upset me suck out a lot of hope.  I know God loves my family, but  sometimes he lets things get very bad for his beloved children.  Sometimes a rescue isn’t part of the plan in this world.

I don’t often read the news, and now I am renewing my vow not to read the news.  Just because an article scared me doesn’t mean anything has changed, and our plans for school and then possibly a job in another field are still our plans.  God is still paving our way for us.  If reading the news tempts me to question God or live in fear, then it’s time to flee that temptation, ignoring the wisdom of the world and clinging to the promises of God.  The article wasn’t the problem.  The problem was me not guarding against things that cause me to sin.  Just like a person who struggles with alcohol needs to stay out of the pub, in my struggle against fear I need to avoid things I know will frighten me.

It’s all very easy to say.  Most things are.  But, in light of some of my recent posts, I plan to spend more time looking forward to heaven and less focusing on making this world a paradise.  I plan to continue to look for ways my family can serve God.  I plan to build relationships within my fairly new church family.  There are many, many things I need to do with my life, and being frightened and losing my trust in the God who has miraculously sustained us thus far isn’t what God wants from me.

No more news, especially if it’s bad.   It spurs me to sin, so it’s not where I belong.  I need to focus on what I need to do, and let God deal with the impossibles in the world, knowing from Scripture that he’s done it before, and he’s good at it, and he’s more than happy to take care of his children in amazing and unique ways.  I’m reading Isaiah right now, where God moved entire empires to intervene for Israel; somehow I don’t think moving one employer to hire my one husband is really all that impossible.

Yes, it will take divine intervention to get us working again.  Good thing I know a Divine who’s delighted to intervene for me.