Walking in the valley of the shadow of … life.
Fear – a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
Fear is more than a word, it’s a place.
A dark place.
A place we let ourselves get taken to.
Last night our pastor, Lorri Conover, spoke on fear. She spent a good deal of time focusing on overcoming the fear of death, but also on just fear in general. She spoke to the fact that fear resides in the darkness and that the only way to overcome it was to step back into the light.
He words reminded me of something I learned a few months back, that darkness is not the absence of light but rather the absence of power. Because power creates the light and allows us see our way to safety.
And someone has to shine that light for us. And sometimes that person has to be you.
So after a fitful night of sleep before which I had decided that my story probably wasn’t very relevant to anyone, God pressed upon me that sharing what follows is what I should have done last night.
In 2004 things were sailing along for me. I was a teacher at La Sierra High School in Riverside, Calif., was respected by my students and peers, making more money thank I ever had and had a great family made up of my no ex-wife Laurie and my son, Zachary. My bosses were great, class numbers were up and I had practically cornered the market on service at my church by having a hand or leading nine different ministries. Life was good.
But in October of that year my wife asked me for a divorce. Six months previous she had undergone gastric bypass surgery and lost half her body weight, going from 280 to 140 pounds. She had decided that there were other fish in the sea and she was tossing me back. I tried to convince her to change her mind and she relented and we went to counseling with one of our pastors. It failed as she never intended to give it any real effort.
That moment marked the beginning of what I can only describe as my “Job experience”. Because over the next 2-1/2 years my life changed so fast and so dramatically that it almost consumed me.
In February of 2005 my bosses suddenly told me that they may be canceling my classes unless I got my numbers up. I needed to average at least 27 students per class. Not a big problem except for one small detail. My classroom was about as big a one-car auto bay in a repair shop (by the way, that’s what it actually use to be) and it only held 26 seats! After talking with her and her superior, they decided that wasn’t a fair requirement for me, so I’d just have to fill 24 seats a class.
In June Laurie moved out to live in her dad’s place while he and his wife summered in Michigan. Zachary stayed with me and I made every effort to soak in as much of little eight-year-old boy as I could, knowing that he’d be living with Laurie after that.
In late August I took Zach to the King Tut Exhibit in Los Angeles with some friends. It was awesome. When we got back Laurie informed that she had never told our landlords, childhood friends of her family, that she had moved out. So I called, explained the situation and they said to come over and we’d sign a new lease. On my way to a Bible study Zach and I stopped by. It was only then they informed that they had received several letters requesting references from apartment complexes for Laurie and they had assumed that it was for all of us. They had already sold the house and I had until October 1 to find a new place.
Monday morning came and my secretary at the high school called. She normally wouldn’t but wanted me to have a heads up that my job was in severe jeopardy. We were going to have fill the seats pronto when we got back on Wednesday.
After getting off the phone the depression, the fear, was welling up inside me. I drove Zach the 40 minutes from Banning to Redlands to drop him off for the last time that summer. After an emotional goodbye I started the drive back, talking with God the whole way. A we neared Beaumont (about halfway), I said, “God, I don’t know what else You can do here. My wife is gone, my son is gone, my job appears to be gone, my home is gone. What else is there to take? My mom? Is she next?”
With God, remember two things: (1) He knows everything, and (2) Don’t ever ask a question you don’t really want the answer to.
It was at that very moment that the car started smoking and the engine seized for what would be the last time ever. My friend Dave, who also a mechanic, said he had never really seen a car’s engine do what that one did that day.
Man was I humbled and darn near crushed. I felt like my world was collapsing around me. But in the eye of that storm God’s provision started to appear. And it’s first look was a beat up old gray gray Taurus that allowed me to get to work the very next day.
It showed itself a second time when my secretary and I were able to average 24.5 kids a class (those ‘half kids’ are such a hassle) for my school. So my job was safe, at least for now.
It appeared a third time when a guy at church, John, offered to let me live at his place while I looked for another apartment.
But as things go, Satan wasn’t through with me yet. Evidently, much like Job he went back and asked for a second round and God felt I was going to be up to the challenge.
So on Nov. 1 I moved in with John and quickly discovered that John is what some people would call a ‘neat freak’. Don’t get me wrong, I like a clean place as much as the next person – sans my desk, a clean desk is the sign of a sick mind – but John was maniacally so. He was cleaning the bathroom, the UNUSED bathroom in the house once a week and his own 2-3 times a week … all from normal use. It was stressful to say the least.
But after a month, that became the least of my worries.
In mid-December my mother finally lost her battle with multiple diseases, all brought on by smoking. Lung Cancer, Congestive Heart Disease and more finally claimed her after 5 years. And because my sisters and brother are not Christians and didn’t know what I did about my mom, they were inconsolable. So it was left to me to give the eulogy at the funeral.
Once the new year had started, it seemed like things were headed in a good direction. While the loss of my mom hurt a lot, she had left me about $9,000 which helped with some of the financial burdens I’d been under. Since Laurie had moved out I had been honoring an agreement to pay her insurance (health and car), her car payment and her cell phone bill. I was even able top help some friends keep their house by giving them a loan.
But within weeks my boss made it clear that she was going to get rid of me, and did so by instigating a review of the entire Digital Imaging division that had five us laid off in early February. And so while I got administrative leave through June for sitting at home and looking for work, John thought it was a good time to have me move out. I finally found a place in Loma Linda where I could pick up Zach every day and see him a lot. Laurie then filed the divorce papers and the process began.
At this point I was feeling a lot like a human whack-a-mole. You know, that game at the carnival where you hit the moles with hammer whenever they pop their heads up? It seemed like every time something went right, WHAM!, back down came the hammer.
So I looked for work, any work, over the next 10 months and got nothing. Not even an interview. The divorce had finalized in August and money started running out in November. My church gave me enough to pay rent for that month, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for any more and so I moved home to Ridgecrest.
This was perhaps the most gut wrenching thing in the world for me, as I had to leave any kind of regular contact with Zach. I was able to get him at Christmas, but it was so meager and I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t even muster a decent Christmas dinner for him much less a bunch of presents. When hel left o go back to my ex, I cried for almost a day straight.
I was finally able to get work back at the newspaper I had left almost 8 years earlier. I figured going back after winning several writing awards in Indiana would be worth something. It was. It was worth a 50-cents and hour decrease in pay and a demotion to writer/page layout artist.
At that point, absolutely everything I had had previously had been stripped away – family, possessions, everything. I was stuck in a menial job in a small town with few prospects. The only things I really had going for me was the relationship with my sister Ellen and her two daughters, Sarah and Lisa, my best friend from grade school Kurt and his family and the owners of a local radio station, Eric & Kim Kauffman. Had it not been for them giving me hope on a daily basis, along with phone calls to Dave and Pete, good friends form my former church, I’m not sure where I’d have ended up.
But one day just before Christmas a friend called the paper and asked if I’d come shoot her day care kids as they did a “Happy Birthday Jesus” parade in their neighborhood. My managing editor liked the idea so I went. When I got there I met an old colleague from the paper named Mary. After exchanging histories of the past few years I did the shoot and headed back to the office. It was about an hour later when she called.
“Tim, I really feel like the Lord wants me to give you something. A verse,” she said.
“Sure Mary,” I replied, “What is it?”
“It’s Jeremiah 29:11,” she started. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
I was speechless. A big thing for me if you know me at all. I thanked her and she encouraged me hang in there and let God do His thing. After I hung up, I sat at my desk and cried quietly, unbelieving that anyone would have taken that kind of time for me.
A few weeks past and I every time the fear would creep in that I was stuck where I was and would see Zach little to never, I just kept recounting that verse. And one Sunday night while sitting in my apartment all alone, God evidently decided that it was time His plans were put into action.
My niece called and asked if I had seen this job in the classified section of the paper. When I asked what page and she told me, it occurred to me that I had been the person to lay that page out the night before. How could I have missed it? It was for a Community Education Specialist at the local credit union. They needed a person with both technical and instructional backgrounds who could present material on financial literacy. And preferably, they wanted someone who knew the town.
I applied and got an interview. I was asked back for a second interview and walked into a room where I knew two of the three people I was speaking with. I got that job and was able to create a financial literacy program that received an award for California and Nevada.
Things have modulated between good and bad since that time. I lost that job when the big nationwide financial dump hit and I dislocated my shoulder while unloading wood from a small pickup truck. Truck-nastics as my kid sister Julie calls it. My time with Zach has ebbed and flowed, but we have grown steadily closer and has he has grown and matured. I still hold the hope dear that he may be able to live with me here in Vegas one day.
And of course God gave me Dee. Dee is the woman that I sought so long for and had started to lose hope that I’d ever find. She can be a bit of wing nut from time to time, but that’s OK. You see, we’re a matched set.
Through it all I remember sitting one night staring at the ceiling and just talking to God. And in that moment He finally revealed to me what it was that I had needed, why I had to go the route I did even when I had begged Him a thousand times to just tell me what was up or give me the Cliff’s Notes for my lesson so I could get on with life.
It was as simple as this – I needed Him and ONLY Him to survive. The rest was just icing on the cake.
You can get sick on eating just icing, but not so much on the actual cake.