Today you will find my friend Whitson ending the Broken Hearts, Fueled Passions Series. Whit and I went to high school together and we sang in the same ensemble. I find it fun to see how God uses, changes, and develops those we’ve known over the years. I always knew Whit was a smart young man, and seeing how God has grown his faith and love for others brings joy to my heart.
While it is always bittersweet to end something wonderful, it is exciting to see what God has next. Enjoy the last of a great series!
It is not natural, does not feel natural, and will not be by choice. If you’ve never been laid off or unemployed as an adult, you won’t fully understand the impact it has on you and those around you. I had no idea what unemployment was like. I was successful, in the top 10% of my profession in performance and income, and worked hard to stay there. For a decade, I enjoyed the benefits of high performance and managed the costs to achieve it.
I do not say this to brag. Only to set the tone for how I was impacted in the crash of 2008, when the company for which I worked shut down with little warning. My wife and I had six months expenses saved, so we thought we should be fine. I could find something new quickly. I had won awards and was a valuable team member. And yet, for three months I was totally unemployed. My wife, a stay-at-home mom, immediately went back to work full-time as an ICU nurse. After that first three months, I began a series of jobs at 20-30% of my former income. A good friend called them “tourniquet jobs.” We sold our boat, tried to sell my truck, scrimped, got help with childcare from family, and kept to our house, at least.
I got depressed and angry. I struggled with self-doubt. I asked God where he was, and why he had abandoned my family. I feared my children would lose the only home they had ever known. I shook my fist in the face of the Lord, demanding answers. I cried with my wife as we tried to find ways to have birthday parties and maintain some semblance of normalcy for our kids. Finally, through some connections, and after eighteen months of what I thought was hell on earth, I started back doing something rewarding which paid a salary close to what I had made. We started to rebuild, cleaning up the mess of our finances, rebuilding fifteen years of savings, searching for normalcy.
Along the way I met others sharing my fate. I listened to their stories and fears, which mirrored my own. I learned about networking, job-hunting, and interviewing. I shared that knowledge with whoever would listen. I shared stories of inspiration and hope from my worst times. How when we were crying about a birthday party for my daughter’s fifth birthday – who asked sweetly for just a simple dress-up tea party at home with a few friends, something that ended up costing $50 we did not have – God was speaking to someone about our fears. A week from the date of the party, a card with no return address and no name, said someone was praying for us, and included a $100 gift card to Publix which bought petits fours, a cake, and ingredients for punch, with the groceries. How a friend, who is a minister in another state, constantly prayed for my family, and challenged me to be Godly and resist the enemy. How our Sunday School class cared for us, giving cards and notes, one of which literally drove me to my knees in humility with a story of the faith a classmate saw in me – a faith I did not see from the inside. How those cards also carried gifts – more than our house payment. And once when I felt particularly down, how two of my Sunday School classmates came by the house and kidnapped me to go on a short mountain hike, buoying my spirits and offering to help with bills, childcare, or whatever we needed. How a church friend and mentor came to me one Sunday morning, put his arm around me, and said, “I want you not to worry. And I want you to take your family to lunch today,” slipping money to me to pay for lunch.
To be clear: money was not the problem. It was a visible symptom. That many of these instances speak of money is only that unemployment takes away that thing – money – so visibly. What folks don’t realize is that unemployment also takes away self-respect, hope, and self-worth if it is not countered with the love of Christ shown through His people on this Earth.
After finding my new job, I found joy in helping others walking the path. I pass along my advice for networking, job-hunting, and dealing with the struggle. The very best illustration I’ve found relates to a quote from Michelangelo, the artist. He once said,
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
From the perspective of the marble, I imagine the chiseling, filing, sanding, and shaping are painful processes. Giving up part of itself, being reshaped by the hand of the master, is not enjoyable. And yet, without all the painful, unpleasant parts of the sculpting, we would have no David, no Pieta, no Moses, no inspiring and timeless beauty. I would not wish my experience on anyone. Yet, I would not trade the knowledge and faith I gained.
Christ said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33). Christ doesn’t say ‘might,’ or ‘could,’ or ‘may.’ He says you will. Count on it. Plan for it. Be ready for it. But know in your heart the battle has been won. And, as Paul says, “…know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” (Romans 5.3-4).
I am on a one-man-mission to stamp out unemployment, one job at a time. May everyone cease to fear, and instead find the courage to embrace the chisel!
Whitson and his lovely bride Tracie have been married and living in Huntsville seventeen years. When he’s not busy working in business development in the biotech industry, he is a Boy Scout Volunteer with his son Hampton’s Troop, a ballet dad with daughters Haley and Hannah, a board member for his neighborhood youth recreational swim team, and a member of Hazel Green United Methodist Church. He can often be found spending time outdoors with his family, hiking, camping, and hunting. Both he and Tracie are alumni of Auburn University, and are die-hard Auburn Tigers for life!