I’ve never been one to “pull punches” in this blog, and I’m not about to start now. Get ready for one of those “Uh-oh, there he goes again on another rant” kinds of length-wise blog posts.
This blog post is in memory of Daniel Harper — the amazingly honest, energetic, inspired, dedicated, caring, loving, “crazy about salvation and sharing it with the world” young man who inspired me when it comes to this blog. And if you haven’t read Daniel’s blog yet, click on the link just below. I’ve been a writer for years, and he wrote at a “whole new level.” A much “higher level.”
Today marks four months from the day I was told in no uncertain terms that I was losing my job, with no warning at all except for one oddly handled (by my boss at the time) dressing down around a common work meeting table with all of my co-workers present two months prior to that in August. But it was how my boss handled that situation the next day that was downright cowardly.
It hadn’t been that long before that August day that I was pulled into my boss’ office for my annual performance review, and the guy — who has the kind of personality that would find any imperfection he could in Santa Claus, and tell him about it in front of all his elves — gave me an above-average rating. Coming from him, that was positively glowing. So, hey, I thought I was safe.
I’m not the only person that this boss has not-so-subtly slammed in front of all to see. Tact is not his style. So my own “dressing down” by him came as no surprise. And it wasn’t like I never tried to communicate with the guy. In fact, we could be standing up in little meetings, I’d give input, and the guy would interrupt me in mid-sentence and go off on his own verbal jaunt like I wasn’t in the room. I was not among his “favorite people,” his “chosen ones,” and that was brutally obvious.
And I worked for him for just over five years. That’s pretty much how it was, on a daily basis. A real peach. But I’d just keep making that hour-long commute to my job, do my work the best that I knew how, try and respond to “customers'” needs as quickly and completely as possible (at least my “customers” seemed to like me and the efforts I made, which is one thing that made the job worthwhile), communicate with my co-workers as much as possible (I loved my co-workers, great bunch of people), and then I’d make that hour-long commute back home every day. For pretty much five years.
Now, let me go back to the “warning sign” on that Friday in late August, the day after my boss’ personal “dressing down” that left me more than a bit ticked off, but I kept my cool. I was heading to work that Friday and had just picked up my close friend of many years whom I’d worked with for many years since our college days, so we could drive to work together in my car.
I was waiting at a stoplight to turn left onto a busy highway to head toward the freeway, around 6:40 in the morning, when I felt my cell phone vibrate. My caller ID let me know that it was my church pastor. With me being the head deacon at our church, it wasn’t unusual for him to call me when there was some kind of urgent need, and he knew the kind of hours I kept so it wasn’t like he was going to wake me up or anything.
There was something very different about that particular phone call, however. My pastor couldn’t speak, he was in tears, and I could tell that over the phone. And he doesn’t cry all that easily.
“Just take your time, Bernie, and just tell me what’s going on when you can,” I said to him.
“I think my dog just died.”
“Which one? The big one or the little one?”
“It’s Prince, the big one.”
Bernie was about to fly out to Kansas City to a speaking engagement. He travels very often, and this wasn’t the first time he’s called me up to ask me to help with a family matter while he’s been away. And I’ve always been glad to help him out, because he helps out so many other people so much. There was absolutely nothing he could do back at his home for his own family, and I wasn’t that far away from his place.
The dog Prince in particular was a Swiss Mountain Dog, full-grown, and even though he’d quickly been losing weight with a sudden illness, he still had to weigh a good 120 pounds or so. We’re talking a human-sized animal. Bernie could do nothing to help his wife with the dog, and he knew me and my family are huge lovers of all different kinds of animals, so I got the call. I took my friend back to his vehicle so he could drive on to work, I decided to take some earned time off from my job for the day, and I went to get Prince, not sure what to do with him.
Bernie’s wife and I managed to wrap Prince up in a white blanket, and it took both of us to lift up his limp body and get him onto the front seat of my car. I drove him out to our friend’s place where my lovely wife boards her horses, and asked our friend if we could bury Prince on her property. She quickly agreed, bless her animal-loving heart.
Keep in mind, this was late August — maybe just a few days over six months ago. If it wasn’t the hottest day of summer, it was close to it. And keep in mind, I needed to bury Prince in clay soil. Have you ever tried digging a grave big enough to fit a human in dirt that amounts to something not much softer than a rock, with nothing but a hand shovel and a steel bar to break it up so you can scoop it out? And you’re doing it by yourself? In temperatures approaching 100 degrees?
You’d better believe I drank a lot of water that day, hardly ever had to use the restroom, and I wore my latest Charlie Daniels-style cowboy hat to keep the sun from frying my face.
It was approaching late morning when my commuting co-worker friend called me on my cell phone and told me that he thought our boss was a lot more upset with me than anything he’d ever indicated in any other prior “employee dressing down in front of everyone” kind of meeting that we just started to chalk up to one of his condescending moods. My friend had apparently been called into the boss’ office where he proceeded to tell my friend all about what a lousy programmer I was and how he hated the thought of letting anyone go with the economy the way it was, something along those lines, with the door opened so everyone outside the room could hear the conversation.
It was right then that I started fearing for my job. It was right then that I started fearing for the welfare of my family, keeping a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs, all the things that go with being the main bread-winner of the family in a rotten economy.
But I had a grave to dig for Prince. And while I did that, I just started saying one of those “heart-to-heart conversation” kinds of prayers, out loud. While I broke up that clay soil with the steel rod and scooped it out with a shovel and sat down for a cold drink of water every 15 minutes or so, I prayed — out loud — for about two solid hours.
I laid my burdens at the feet of someone who could help me and lift my burdens off of my shoulders. After two hours, it felt like the weight was lifted. I felt relieved. I started thinking to myself, “What will I do if I were to lose my job?” Go back to school and re-learn newer computer programming languages? That was an option. Hold up one of those guitar-shaped signs outside a pizza joint and play “air guitar” while trying to attract people to buy a $5 pepperoni or cheese pizza? I could do that, if it got down to it.
But this gentle feeling came into my heart and mind as well: Do some witnessing. Okay, I thought, how? Am I supposed to travel around the country to various churches and talk to people about how to be a really good head deacon? The complete answer wasn’t clear to me.
I never told my wife and family about that phone call from my friend, giving me a heads-up about our boss’ latest move, having my friend ask him point-blank, “Why are you talking to me about this? Why aren’t you talking to John about it?” I wouldn’t tell them about it until the Sunday AFTER the Friday (October 28) that I was actually let go.
I didn’t want to worry them in case it turned out to be nothing. And, for the next two months, it still looked like it was “nothing.” I went into work that Monday morning after burying Prince, expecting to be called into the boss’ office … nothing. Days, weeks, two months went by … nothing more was ever said about any concerns over my performance at work. I participated in projects, got approval from the boss on work that I’d completed after giving him a chance to review it, participated in daily “scrum meetings” to give updates on work done and work still left to do. Things seemed to be fine.
At least they seemed fine until October 28, when I was called into the boss’ office as I was preparing to head upstairs to a suddenly called department-wide meeting.
“We’re going through some cutbacks and we’ve had to make some decisions, and for us, you’re it. We’re going to have to let you go,” my boss said with a straight face, with the added “kicker” of, “To be honest, I haven’t been happy with your work for a while now.”
Well, thanks to my friend’s call in August, at least I had some clue. And as I was given instructions on any medical coverage I’d have left for the next month and what my final paycheck covered, yada-yada-yada, before packing up all my belongings and being escorted out the back door to my car in the parking lot, I thought back to that two-hour prayer I had back in August while I was burying Prince. It helped me to remain calm.
“Well,” I thought, “maybe I’ll take up that blogging thing I’ve been thinking about doing for years now and see if that goes anywhere while I look at my computer programming job options.”
And here I am. Doing some witnessing, just like the feeling that gently entered my heart and mind the day that Prince died.
I’d love to get the message through to my old boss and his boss above him that, hey, I’m fine. Letting me go from that company was the best thing you could’ve ever done for me. I’m on the ground floor of something that I’m excited about, and someday you might regret not hearing me out on suggestions I used to try to give, interrupting me and moving on like I wasn’t even there instead of actually giving some thought to my input.
I’d love to get the message out to them that says, “Your loss! Not mine!”
And, hey, I might still not be getting a paycheck … yet. But we’re still okay. We might still not have health insurance coverage through any employer, and my two adult-age sons might be totally without medical coverage. But we’re still okay. We might be living off of what’s left of my retirement money to pay our biggest bills, helped along by unemployment insurance and my wife’s relatively small income from private music teaching. But we’re still okay.
And we still have faith that it’ll stay that way. We still have faith that there’s something very good out there just waiting to happen to us and for us … someday.
It’s all about having that special kind of faith. And we’ll hold on to that as long as it takes, thank you!
AND HERE’S MY “THEME SONG” FROM OVER THESE PAST FOUR MONTHS OF JOBLESSNESS, HELPING ME DAILY THROUGH THE PAIN AND THE FEAR OF JOBLESSNESS, CARRYING ME TO A BETTER LIFE …