“There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.” ~Richard Bach
I have been reflecting a lot in the last week, now that the hustle and bustle has died down, on the Christmas season and the end of the year–2015 has been an interesting year for us. We had a very low-key Christmas, only getting the kids a few things and not exchanging presents with each other or anyone else. But yet, I feel like I received many gifts this Christmas.
I have been reflecting on the gifts of the blessings you receive when things don’t go as planned.
Dr. Wayne Dyer tells the story of a visit to a radio station in New York where he frequently did interviews. On this particular day, all the employees had just learned that the station, which had been a talk-radio station, was changing format and all of the employees would be let go, many of them who had worked there for decades. They were understandably upset, ruminating “I can’t believe this! This is the worst thing that has ever happened!”
Dr. Dyer’s response, on the other hand? “Congratulations!”
They were dumbfounded at his response. “How can you possibly be telling me congratulations?? What is wrong with you?” they replied.
A few years ago, I would have thought his response was crazy, too. But I completely get it now. I even agree with him.
Four and a half years ago, Craig and I found ourselves in the same situation as those radio station employees. We had moved across town to our current home to be closer to his dream job. I left my teaching position, that I loved, and we decided I would stay home with our two girls. At the age of 31 he had been promoted to CFO of his company and was making extremely good money. He had been featured in a local magazine’s “40 Under 40” issue. We had a beautiful home. We decided to try to have another baby. I was able to volunteer and help at the girls’ schools. Craig loved his job. He started as employee #26 and had helped to build it to the success it had become. It was his baby. He talked about retiring from this company after years of helping it grow. Coming from childhoods with not much money at all, it felt like a dream we couldn’t have possibly dreamed for ourselves.
Then, a couple of years later, the company decided to go public, and the climate changed drastically. As CFO, Craig’s job was to get the company financially ready, and he worked tirelessly to do so, getting positive feedback all along the way. However, at the last minute, the board of directors decided they didn’t like the “look” of a young CFO taking the company public, and they replaced Craig with someone more experienced. One month he was getting a bonus and a huge pat on the back, the next he was no longer “their guy.”
And just like that, that dream was gone. This was not in our plan.
To say that we were heartbroken is an understatement. Craig and I are both first-borns (yes, that works out somehow) and were both very goal oriented. Type A. We had both worked our way through college and paid for our own educations. We did well in school. We did well in our jobs. We checked all the boxes and did all the things we were supposed to do, and it had gotten us to this amazing place. And then we didn’t belong in that amazing place anymore. What we thought our life was supposed to look like, suddenly it didn’t.
Craig was dealing with a huge rejection and he felt betrayed. I felt betrayed. I wasn’t working. We just couldn’t understand why so much had been given to us only to be taken away.
We were scared.
We were also grieving.
People often act like grieving is only to be done for the death of a person. No one brings you a casserole when you’ve lost a job. Cards don’t show up in the mail. I felt like there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t just “let it go.” Most people around us acted like it was no big deal. I’ve learned, though, that we need to allow ourselves to grieve our dreams and life-plans as well. People often act like they shouldn’t be upset when they lose a job, a friend, a lifestyle, health, a dream, plan or goal. They think “I should just get over it. At least it’s not worse.” But that’s not true. A loss is a loss no matter what it is. We rob ourselves when we limit what is grieve-able and deny ourselves space to mourn life’s losses. It is harmful not to grieve. It changes us and allows us to incorporate the loss into who we are. It is a process. Before a new plan can take root, you have to let go of the old one. Give yourself (and others) permission to grieve, in your own way and in your own time. Everyone grieves in a different way and at a different pace.
Grieving is the doorway to truly moving forward.
It took six months for Craig to find another job. We did all the responsible things-we stopped spending, we cut our grocery bill as much as possible, stopped eating out, reduced where we could. We were stressed, and I’m sure it showed to everyone around us. The job market was really bad at the time, and just ready to be done with the job search, Craig took the first job he was offered….for less than half the money he was making before. So, we adjusted our entire life even more.
Eight months after Craig started his new job, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and died 24 days later. In those 24 days, he became paralyzed from the waist down, lost 30 pounds, lost his hair from the radiation. He was so sick. And then he was gone.
That wasn’t in my plan, either.
When my dad died, he left behind a huge financial mess. He was a residential rough-in contractor, and worked for a local builder. But when they went out of business after the housing market crashed several years ago, he never recovered. He was a very proud man and never talked about the mess he had gotten himself into, so we didn’t realize how bad things were. My mom had never worked outside of the home, and had no intention of doing so. Craig and I worked for months, keeping her in the house, getting the Medicaid application to go through, and eventually filing bankruptcy for her. I was so stressed that at one point Craig looked at me, thinner, exhausted and not feeling appreciated, and told me I needed to back away or I was going to make myself sick.
Add to that, my family is very dysfunctional, and we had the recipe for disaster.
Craig and I tried our best, for our kids, to hold some of the pieces of my family together. I actually hoped in the days after Dad died, that his death would bring us all closer. I was the one who always craved family and connection. My dream had always been “when we are all grown up, we will all get along and my kids will have relationships with aunts, uncles, and cousins I didn’t have as a child.” I had always been the “make sure everyone is ok” person in my family. The mediator. I mean seriously, I used to joke that I got a psychology degree to figure out my “crazy family,” but I wasn’t really joking. When I would come home from college, Dad would tell me I should “analyze” what was going amongst everyone.
My dad was the crazy glue that somehow held the dysfunctional mess together, and he wasn’t there anymore. His death brought out things in people that weren’t OK with us, and brought into focus things we had tolerated “just to get along” for a very long time. Always the people-pleaser, I bucked that role and I finally learned how to set some healthy boundaries for me and my kids, and those boundaries were not respected.
In the end, we have chosen just in the last year, for the safety and wellbeing of our kids, not to have contact with my family. Honestly, I should have realized this a long time ago, but I thought if I did just the right thing, if I just explained myself one more time, if I could only make them understand, things would be different. If I wanted to work on our relationships and make things better, they would, too, right? But, ask Craig, and he will tell you that I have a very difficult time letting go. I always think I can make things better.
I thought I could control the outcome, but I finally learned that what others do is about them, not me.
It wasn’t in my plan not to have a family to go home to…to grieve the loss of people who are still here, but won’t/can’t have healthy relationships.
After my dad died is when Natalie started to get sick. We were so lost, so worried, so desperate for answers for so long. We tried so many ways to help her and none of them did much good.
Nothing teaches you to live in the unknown like having a sick child that no one can seem to help.
Then, in July 2014, Craig was let go from his job, again. He never felt like he fit in, so we were surprisingly ok with it. A few weeks later, he found a new job at a local family-owned company. The company told Craig there was a huge mess to fix. They were in the middle of a messy software conversion, and if he could get it figured out, they promised him the moon…bonuses, ownership in the company, a great future. They told him the company was on the verge of taking off, they just needed the financials in place before they hit the gas. It seemed like a great challenge. And a challenge it was. Right off the bat, they started asking him to do some questionable things. Ethically questionable things. Then, when Craig got the mess of the software conversion cleaned up and everything financially as it should be, he discovered that the company wasn’t making the money they thought they were.
So, they wanted him to “massage” the numbers….to cook the books.
He refused. At the end of August, 2015, they let him go.
Yes, you read that right. Again. The third job loss in four years. He is still looking for a new position.
NOT what we planned.
And you know what Dr. Wayne Dyer would say to that?
Because after all of this, I can honestly say it has been a gift….the gift of things not going as I planned.
God has been inviting me, and Craig in his own way, to walk down a different road than the one we were on, and I don’t just mean with a different job. The new road for me has been the road of seeing the world differently and reacting to life in a completely new way. We have learned to let go of the way we think things “should” be and learned to start asking “what am I supposed to learn from this?”
The last few years have changed me…for the better.
I have learned to sit in the tension of the unknown. To be uncomfortable without panicking.
I am calmer, more patient, more compassionate, empathetic, nonjudgemental and loving.
I have figured out how strong I am.
I have found deep faith in this season without answers or quick fixes. I have learned that God will use the bad for good, and He will repurpose my plans into ones I couldn’t even dream for myself. I know that I don’t have to rush, because as lost and heartbroken as I have felt over the last four years, lost things get found.
New dreams take root in times of uncertainty.
Some might think that after all this loss that I would want to play it safe, not dream too big, and at first that’s exactly how I felt. But not anymore. Why not chase my dreams? We’ve lost big already, so I know I will survive if the new dreams fail. And, I have a plan, although a much looser one that I don’t hold onto nearly as tightly as I did before. I’m not obsessing about the past or fearing the future, because God will provide what we need in the moment, even if it’s not exactly what I thought we needed. I am less interested in “success” than in just living a full, open-hearted life no matter how my plans go.
As you look back over this last year, you may have had a year, or a season, like ours. One of those years where you just can’t wait to get to the next one.
But there are always gifts hidden in times of struggle. The loss of financial security has taught me what true abundance is. Losing my dad has made me softer, more open. The emotional pain of not having the family I thought I “should” have has taught me that love comes from my Creator and it is already within me. Helping Natalie get better has taught me that healing is possible, and true health is not just physical. Through her illness I have found a new path, a calling really, to become a health coach. I would have never found this path had we not gone through the last few years.
What if your year didn’t go the way you wanted it to? Please, don’t dismiss this season, and trust that newness is just around the corner.
Happy 2016, Everyone.