Thursday, February 27, 2020

Jamie's Perspective - Part 2: My Life is a Puzzle

"There are times when Jude is working on a puzzle when two pieces look like they should fit together and he tries so hard to make them work. That sums up the last 9 months of our lives.

After deciding not to renew my contract at the high school and go down to becoming a single income family we quickly found ourselves reduced to a no income family. Mitch got the news right after our Disney family vacation celebrating his parents 40th wedding anniversary. Not exactly the best news to come back to but an answered prayer nonetheless.

'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.' Now is when our faith gets tested. What do we put our trust in? The income we were depending on or the belief that God has something better? I’d been praying for him to find a new job but this wasn’t the way I would’ve planned it. Thankfully the first couple of months we were getting my salary from the school since it runs August to August. We cut down to bare the minimum and made the decision to move in with my parents. Life has a way of keeping us humble. I would’ve never thought at 35 years old I’d be living under the same roof as mom and dad. This season of my life has been one filled with unknowns, trust, and faith. It’s very challenging when you struggle significantly with self-control to realize you can’t control the outcome. We went from one temp job to the next giving just enough to make our necessary payments. There were times when we didn’t know how we were going to pay for next weeks bills when another project would creep up at just the right time to cover us and keep us afloat. 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.'

We’ve gone from one hopeful prospect to another. He’s been the top candidate more times than I can count, many of which later came back to say they just decided not to hire for that position after all. What do you do when when your heart gets crushed time after time? When it’s the one you love most in the world taking the brunt of forceful blows? Rejection plays a huge role on our psyche.

Light at the end of the tunnel began to creep through at the start of the new year. Mitch was in the final running for three different positions. One in Austin. Yay, we’d be close to Mitch’s family. The cousins would be able to see each other more often. We could hang out with our siblings. Second position, work from home. Yay, we’d move somewhere close to Dallas putting us closer to my family. I could team up with my cousin in homeschooling our kids together. Both positions are win/win. Then the third position. Indianapolis. Where we know no one. Where we’re far away from our families.

'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.' I’d love to say in this moment I did just that but I found myself negotiating with God. Have you ever done that? I knew where he was leading us to before the final interviews took place and I was mad. Why would you take us away from the people we love the most? I had to get to a place where I was willing to go wherever he may lead. Surrendering your desires to his can be one of the hardest things we do but the beauty of it is watching him mold your desires into his.

If you don’t know already, Mitch got the job in Indianapolis. He starts in two weeks. They have been nothing short of amazing. It’s interesting to see what happens when you let go. I can honestly say I am extremely excited about our upcoming adventure. I would’ve never thought a year ago we’d be Hoosiers but it looks that way. We’ve wanted to adopt and we knew wherever we were going the rest of our family is there. We’re looking forward to what lies ahead. Thankful for the time we’ve spent living in the present. Hopeful for what the future has in store. No matter what we’re still Texans at heart.

As Jude the puzzle master would say, 'This piece goes right here.'

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday 2020

"Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focused on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God.  The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a savior."
Thomas Merton

Today, much of Christendom enters the period of Lent.  The 40 days leading up to Easter.  A time of fasting and devotion, mirroring the 40 days of Jesus' temptation in the desert.  And one of the most prominent aspects of Lent is the self-denial.

This often manifests as a goal to give up something for the 40 day period. To give up sweets, alcohol, caffeine, meat, chocolate, fast food, television, internet, etc.  Something that represents a challenge.  That is a true denial.

It's a form of fasting, like the full-fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as the abstinence from meat on Fridays during the period.  In that aspect, it is important to remember the purpose of a fast.

Fasts in scripture are generally used for two purposes: to seek direction or to beg for mercy.

Both require the proper attitude for the fast to be fruitful.  With those purposes, it's easy to see why.  A half-hearted attempt to seek mercy will be clearly seen through and reveal unresolved issues that must be dealt with first.  Likewise, an attempt to seek direction that will likely not be followed is folly.  Both purposes have the ultimate goal of bringing the supplicant closer to God.  That should never be done lightly.

For God warns us of the fasting that He desires.  And of what follows from self-serving fasts.

"For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.  'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?' Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.  You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?  Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?  Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.   If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yoursevles in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-sorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will rise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
Isaiah 58:2-12

Oh, what the world would be if all of Christendom took these next 40 days to fast as the Lord has indicated.  How far His mercy would go.

May we use this time well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Fat Tuesday 2020

"It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans."
Mark Twain

Today marks Fat Tuesday.  The end of Carnival, of Mardi Gras.  The end of Shrovetide.  A day of the feast, for tomorrow brings the fast.  The last day before Lent.

Today is a day of celebration. Of joy. It's time for good music and great food. To embody that special joie de vivre.

So grab another slice of king cake or fry up some beignets.  Put on a little Preservation Hall Jazz Band or Marsalis Family.  Add a little rum to the punch.

Celebrate this wonderful world we live in and make an effort to enjoy as much of it as possible.

To encapsulate the notion of Mardi Gras as nothing more than a big drunk is to take the simple and stupid way out, and I, for one, am getting tired of staying stuck on simple and stupid.

Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge.

Mardi Gras is bars and restaurants changing out all the CD's in their jukeboxes to Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, and it is annual front-porch crawfish boils hours before the parades so your stomach and attitude reach a state of grace, and it is returning to the same street corner, year after year, and standing next to the same people, year after year--people whose names you may or may not even know but you've watched their kids grow up in this public tableau and when they're not there, you wonder: Where are those guys this year?

It is dressing your dog in a stupid costume and cheering when the marching bands go crazy and clapping and saluting the military bands when they crisply snap to.

Now that part, more than ever.

It's mad piano professors converging on our city from all over the world and banging the 88's until dawn and laughing at the hairy-shouldered men in dresses too tight and stalking the Indians under Claiborne overpass and thrilling the years you find them and lamenting the years you don't and promising yourself you will next year.

It's wearing frightful color combination in public and rolling your eyes at the guy in your office who--like clockwork, year after year--denies that he got the baby in the king cake and now someone else has to pony up the ten bucks for the next one.

Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.
Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Presidents' Day 2020

Today marks the celebration of Presidents' Day.  Initially, a holiday in celebration of the birthday of President George Washington, the day has expanded to encompass the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, as well as a celebration in honor of all those who have served as president of the United States of America.

In our current day, where our leadership disappoints us, where the divisions of our country seem to be widening, it is encouraging to look back to the exemplary presidents of our past for wisdom and counsel.

It is traditional today for Washington's Farewell Address to be read and it's surprising how much it is still applicable to us today.  He pleas for unity and warns against partisan fighting.  He emphasizes the purpose and importance checks on political power.  He pushes for neutrality and free trade.

I've included an excerpt of text of his address below, with my emphasis added, as well as a bonus at the end.

"Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man, who views it in the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers."

George Washington
United States - September 17, 1796

One last time.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Jamie's Perspective - Part 1: My Life is a Puzzle

Y'all get a lot from me, so I thought you might appreciate Jamie's perspective on this period and the move.  Here's her part one:

"'This piece goes right there,' I hear Jude say several times throughout his puzzle making. This little dude loves his puzzles. He also doesn’t take too kindly to people putting a piece in the wrong place. He’s not rude, he just knows where they go. I can’t help but think about life in that way. It’s one gigantic puzzle and we don’t know how it’s supposed to look. We keep trying to jam the pieces to fit together the way we want them to, to make us more comfortable, to keep us close to family, to keep us safe from physical and emotional pain but there are some pieces that will bring these in our lives.

Before every school year I would do the Daniel fast to pray for the year ahead with my students, for the upcoming journey we’d take through the shows but this time it was a little different. This time I began to pray for Mitch. His job had become unbearable and it was affecting him in a way that was detrimental to his health and well being. To anyone who doesn’t know Mitch is about as loyal as they come. He stuck with this company in the hopes that changes would be made. I began to pray he’d look for a new job, one that he was excited about, passionate about. I wanted him to feel what I feel about my students, about the shows we get to perform and the family we become. As the prayers became more frequent and furious a change did occur, just not in the way I was hoping for or would have ever counted on. I began my journey into a dark place. The joy I once had in teaching was quickly fading. I was shot into depression. I didn’t want to get up in the mornings. I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t look forward to the musical. I didn’t want to be there. We as teachers all have moments when we want to give up, when things get tough but this was different. This hit me like a bolt of lighting. There was no external factor propelling me to feel this way. I loved my students. I had a supportive administration. There wasn’t anything I could point to to say this is why I feel the way I do. I got to a place where I knew this would be my last year to teach in Wills Point and I got mad.

'What the crap? I’m praying for Mitch’s job. His is the one that sucks. I’m trying to make a difference in kids lives. God, what are you doing to me?' I wrestled with this decision for months but the moment I surrendered to the fact this would be my last year here I had peace for the first time in months. Not only did I have peace but I also had excitement for the show that was approved for competition, for coming to my classes, for the privilege of just being alive. What started as the worst school year in the 11 years of my teaching was transformed into one of my favorites. Second semester pulled a 180. I was extremely proud of our OAP. I met such amazing parents who worked their butts off for the show. We took a journey that few ever take. The year ended with bittersweet goodbyes.

I didn’t know it at the time but God was orchestrating the ability for me to stay home with my kids. To invest in them. To start our homeschooling journey. I would’ve never thought this is where my story would lead. I don’t know if my public school teaching days are over. I don’t know how long our homeschool journey will last. All I know is I’ve got to be thankful for each season as it comes. There’s a great adventure out there and it’s only just beginning.

'This piece goes right here.'"

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Happy Birthday Jude!

It's hard to believe this guy is three years old today.  He is our incredible little problem solver.  A lover of puzzles, dinosaurs, and Mickey Mouse.  A singer of "Mambo Italiano" and "Hey Jude".  Our new three-nager.

We love you buddy!  Hope you have a most incredible day!  And we can't wait for everyone to get to party with you next week!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Mitchuation Update - Hoosiers

Now to the celebratory part.

In the previous update and request for prayers about the job search, I relayed how we were excited about three opportunities.  One in Austin as an eDiscovery Consultant Manager, one remote as an eDiscovery Project Manager, and one in Indianapolis as an in-house eDiscovery and Information Manager.

The interviews and discussions all went well, and over the last couple of weeks, our future finally started to come into shape.

If you had asked us to plot the trajectory of our lives, we were most excited about both the remote position and the one in Austin.  The remote position would allow us to pick somewhere in Dallas to live, included the potential for travel, and kept us relatively close to all family.  The Austin position had great benefits, would allow us to be closer to my family for a while, and would have been something squarely in my experience.  The position in Indianapolis was exciting, but also a little terrifying.  Beyond the distance, it is a bit outside my realm of experience.

I think you see where this is going.  Man makes plans, God laughs.

Slowly, His plan for us became clearer.  The position in Austin disappeared; the company decided to completely restructure and offered me a chance to start the process over for a position at a $30K pay cut.  Thank you, but no.

The remote position became consistently less stable.  It would be a greater leap of faith.

All the while, the position in Indianapolis kept progressing.  Through it all, the company treated me very well.  The people I met were incredible.  And the opportunity became too good to pass up.  I got an interview with the Vice President and General Counsel.  Was told that I was the top candidate.  Heard from the recruiter saying they desired to move forward.  All the while waited, somewhat impatiently to get an offer.

We got the offer last Friday.  It was better than I could have anticipated and will include some relocation assistance.  I accepted immediately.

So, starting March 9, I will be the new eDiscovery and Information Management Specialist for Cummins Inc.  Right now, we're going through the pre-employment paperwork and processing, and are getting the last bit of our stuff altogether in one place for the move.  Thankfully it's mostly all boxed already, so that's not going to be too big of an issue.

We've begun web research for houses, for churches, for locations and are really getting excited.  We're going to be Hoosiers.  The first time really that either one of us have lived out of the state of Texas for a considerable period of time.  A lot of new places to explore and visit.  An opportunity for me to connect to a bit of family heritage and see where my dad's dad was from.

It's really funny and humbling to think how we got here.  From Jamie becoming depressed and unsettled teaching the fall semester of 2018, reaching the point where she decided to take time off to homeschool Avalyn and Jude for a season.  From being fired last June.  Moving in with my in-laws.  From taking a spur of the moment side-trip to Indianapolis and Franklin, IN on our family road trip last July.  From living out of boxes for the past nine months.  From the temp job that picks up right after the road trip.  To the next temp job that starts immediately after that.  And so on and so forth.

Everything that was necessary to get us to the point where we were able and ready to just pickup, and go.  To go where He tells us to go.

We have seen His hand of provision in incredible ways through this period.  We have struggled with patience, with frustration, and with depression.  We have also been closer to family.  Enjoyed time together and a lot of flexibility to just pickup and go.

It's been an incredible journey so far and I can't wait to see what this new chapter brings.

To everyone that has prayer for us, laughed with us, cried with us through this season, thank you.  You are family and we will carry you with us no matter where we go.  We're looking to get a large place up there, so if you ever have the itch to travel north, come up and see us.  We'd love to have you.

We're going to try and cram as much as we can in these coming weeks, so we hope we get to catch up with as many of you as possible.  If we don't, please know that we love you, we'll miss you, and we look forward to seeing you again.

I will be continuing to write this blog, and hopefully on a more consistent basis as I continue to improve.  And will definitely keep updating you on the move, the new place, and on the life up there.

Stan Lee always closed his musings with the word "Excelsior!"  He claimed he saw it in old English material and liked it, so he started using it as a sign off.  He probably also saw it on some of the tunnels in New York as it is the official motto of the state of New York.  It translates to "ever upward" and I think sums up a good bit about this journey.  Let us run with endurance the race set before us, ever upward.