The Mystery of Faith

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Photo from here.

I went to church this morning, which is something I don’t do as often anymore, but it’s Easter, and all good Catholics know that of all the days to skip mass this is not one of them.

It’s always comforting to me that no matter how long it has been, no matter which church I am in, I still can recite the words to the responses, offerings, and prayers. As I followed along today, four words stood out – the mystery of faith. I had said them thousands of times, but what does the mystery of faith mean? How does it show up in our lives?

And then, I thought of this story.

The news came a day earlier than expected. If it was going to happen, I thought, it would surely be Friday and the on final day of the fiscal year. But, on the Thursday, on the second to last day of the month, I got a text from my partner, Ethan, at 3:52 p.m.

I didn’t want to make you think a lot about this through the day, but I did get laid off. 

My heart sank. This is one of those big life events when things change. Some people fall into deep holes of debt and depression. Some  make it work by redefining normalcy and success. Some never recover. At that moment, it was too soon for us to see how Ethan losing his job would impact us, emotional and financially, but all the possibilities were laid out and I could only see the catastrophic ones.

We knew the layoff was coming. Ethan worked for a public entity in a state that hasn’t had a budget for three years, and a new administrator had come sweeping in with promises to get the organization back on track, which meant laying off 140 people. Ethan was the lowest man on a team, that on paper, appeared to be padded, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when his position was eliminated.

At first, the layoff was a godsend. Ethan had been applying for other jobs for months, practically since I met him. He was not happy with his work and those frustrations spilled over into his home life. After work, he set up camp on the couch, his computer propped on his lap, and staying there until it was time to go to bed. It was his way of numbing the stress of working a job you do not like. But, after he was laid off, a layer had shed and he was lighter, bouncier. Ethan greeted me with smiles at the door and offered to clean up the house while I was at work. A silly, jovial gleam had washed away the drain and he became a better version of himself, overnight.

My anxieties plucked their usual cord, specifically about money, but Ethan reassured me that it would only be a month or two before he had landed another job. With a master’s degree and 10 years of professional experience, he, and we, assumed another position would come quickly now that he could devote his full days to applications and attending networking events. We scaled back our spending a bit – staying away from big purchases, like tickets to concerts, and deciding only one of us should fly to see family instead of both – but it was temporary. That’s what we told our selves.

Before Ethan had lost his job, he had been applying to other positions and getting interviews, including for an incredible job at a well-known institution in Chicago. He was one of three finalists for that role and was fairly devastated when he did not get it. At the time it was heartbreaking, but not the end of the world because he still had a job. I told him this thing that I often repeat to all friends and family when they are looking for a job: “This just isn’t the right the job. The right one will come along.”

That phrase could be argued as straight up mumbo life coach bullshit. There are no guarantee that any job will come along, let alone the right one, and yet I said this to Ethan with a ferocity of belief. I knew this to be true as much as I knew that I would one day marry Ethan. I couldn’t explain why or how, but it just was.

About a month after Ethan’s lay off, he received a temp-to-hire job at a non-profit. The conditions of the position weren’t ideal, but he liked the people and could make it work. It was, after all, a job. We couldn’t quite relax, though, not until the temporary was removed from his title and he was hired full time. There was no reason to believe that wouldn’t happen, but we couldn’t let the air out of our held breaths quite yet.

It was clear that this was not the kind of job Ethan truly wanted. After obtaining his master’s degree, he had been hoping to steer his career in a different from his previous positions, but he was caught in the not-enough-experience-but-too-much-experience loophole. This new job was more inline with what he had done before, but again, it was a job.

One day, another Thursday, Ethan’s voice indicated something was different when I greeted him from the kitchen. He had gone to work that day, had a normal day of planning projects for the next day and three months from now. On his way home, after he got on the train, the temp agency who had placed him called and said his contract had been terminated. Without an explanation, he was told to not return the next day.

During the next five months, Ethan applied to hundreds of jobs, went on countless interviews, but an offer didn’t come. His initial optimism vanished, and a different kind of depression moved in. At most points within that period, he had prospects. Friends, former colleagues, and professors shared opportunities with him, getting him an interview when maybe he wouldn’t have otherwise. Recruiters found his LinkedIn profile and approached him about jobs that were meh but they paid. His hopes would soar at any nibble and then crash when yet another rejection came.

Me, I wasn’t handling this well. Our lives were put on hold because of his unemployment. While we are lucky enough to have parents who are offering to pay for our wedding in June, a honeymoon couldn’t be planned. We couldn’t save to buy a house let alone a new mattress. And, my ticking time bomb ovaries would just have to stay fertile until the circumstances were better. Everything felt stagnant, and not being in control and having to just wait is not something I do well. I got frustrated with Ethan, wanting him to do more and try harder, even though I knew he was doing everything he could. I wanted to jump in and fix it; if he could just hire an interview coach or get a part-time job, then we could beat this thing.

One of our darkest moments was when a neighbor complained about our dog Annie barking loudly and constantly while we were away. Annie had got so used to both of us being home all day every day (I was recovering from a hip surgery and working at home at the time), and she freaked out. We both assumed the worst from that passive aggressive note – that we were in danger of being evicted. We knew that we needed to hire a trainer for Annie, but we didn’t have the money to do that. Or, that we would have to return Annie to the shelter we got her from. We really thought we could lose everything.

More times than I want to count, Ethan and I had very challenging conversations about how were going to get out of this. His emotional health had declined, and I felt like I had a shell of a partner. I often freaked out about finances, which upset him because my worries were over that I didn’t save as much as I had wanted to that month. We were still splitting most bills, but I started paying for a few of them on my own without telling him, and when our car needed more than $1,000 worth of repairs, I paid for it. He had a nice savings that he had been living off of, but our time with that safety net was running out.

In tough times like this, doubt cracks your belief. I was no longer so confident Ethan would find that right job, and I even started to question whether or not marrying him was a good idea. I know that may make me seem like a horrible partner, and at times I did feel that way, but it was a very human reaction to this kind of hardship. I think other women, and men, in my position would have the same thoughts.

But after ever teary talk, we resolved to continue forward, together.

As I’ve gotten older, my faith is less of a raging stream that I can call upon and more of a faint trickle that I have to hunt and find. It devastated me that there wasn’t anything I could do about Ethan’s job situation, rather I would have to stand back and have faith that something bigger than us would take control. I had to believe that it eventually would all work out without any indication that it would other than my own faith.

Ethan and I were not going to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We have longed stopped going out to eat because we can’t afford it. He had an interview the week before that had led to a writing test. If he got a job offer, we decided, then we would celebrate.

At work, this time a Wednesday, he texted me.

Want to go out to dinner? 

Finally, after months of being told no – or, worse, not hearing anything at all – Ethan finally heard a yes.

And, this isn’t just a job. It’s the job Ethan wanted way back when he was in graduate school. It is the job that stood out from all the others he had applied to over the last eight months. It is the right job.

At times, it feels like it’s still not real, that there is no way that everything that was awful three months ago is suddenly wonderful. But, it is. Life can be unkind and cruel at times, but in others, it is magnificent and graceful. Even though my faith is shoddy, I have no doubt that a bigger power was at work here. It turned out too well to believe otherwise.

I love this story about Ethan because it’s a reminder that of what faith can do. It also encourages me to have faith in other things, big and small, and that faith is a much better option than fear and anxiety. Faith is mysterious because we can’t see it’s edges, but it’s also glorious because it can lead to incredibly things more beautiful than we could have imagined.

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