Grace in the Storm

As we came out of my son’s bedroom closet after we got the all clear from the weather service, I figured most of the action was over. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. While the action was over for us personally, my weather alarm would go off one more time as the storm system that prompted our initial trip to my son’s closet would spin up the tornado that would ultimately hit Wetumpka.

As I looked at the pictures of the devastation, my heart sank. Such beautiful buildings lost. Such history destroyed. But through it all, I took comfort in the fact that no one was killed and the injuries appeared light. This tornado could have been much worse. The people of Wetumpka had plenty of warning and it appears most headed them.

However, due to my heartbreak over the loss of those beautiful, historical churches, I’m ashamed to admit that a part of me wished it would have hit that stupid casino further south. But unlike the churches it demolished on a Saturday afternoon, the casino would have been full of people. The death toll could have been devastating.

Alternatively, if the tornado had gone to the north, it would have taken out the state’s women’s prison. A facility that also would have suffered multiple deaths with a direct hit by what has been ruled a large EF-2 tornado. Despite holding some dangerous killers, those women don’t deserve death in that manner.

This tornado showed us God’s grace. I oppose casinos, but as a Christian I should be reaching out to those who put their faith in gambling. I oppose crime, but as a Christian I should be reaching out to those who have thrown their lives away by breaking the law. However, I can’t save the dead.

So, as weird as it may seem, the tornado hitting those historical churches was the best path for it. It ensured the safety of the people who need those very churches.

2018 Year in Review

As I have gotten older, I have realized one mistake we as a generation make is comparing ourselves to our parents as they stand now instead of comparing ourselves to where they were at this same point in their own lives. Looking around, I’d say I’m trending slightly better than where my dad was when he was my age and so I’d have to say I’m doing well.

I am 36 years old, which means I’ve hit 18 for the second time. To say I have learned more since graduating high school than before would be understating it. The change in 2018 alone would be enough to make my head spin. The year started out with me working as a business analyst, living in an apartment, two kids in public school, and a wife with a single, twenty year old old cochlear implant.

Career

As a male, it is no surprise I find a great deal of my identity from my career. That’s not a criticism or a statement about our culture. It is simply a recognition that God gave man a desire to be productive and our careers are a function of that.

Sign outside the office

As a business analyst at DXC Technology in Montgomery, Alabama, I was responsible for maintaining the document database subsystem. It was a little outside the normal role of what DXC usually requires for their BAs, but it was one I enjoyed. In addition, it came with a ton of paid overtime. My boss recognized that the role was more suited for systems engineers and decided to move me into that role instead.

However, in 2017, I had finished my Masters in Information Systems Management and I had a desire to put that degree to use. When an opportunity came open for me to apply for a project management role within the same office, I let my boss know I was interested. In October, I started transitioning over into the role and in November, the role became official.

That is not to say it was not a rocky start. I jumped right on a project that was running a tad tight on its deadline and there were concerns about having all the required approvals on time. However, everything worked out. I learned a lot and I think I am going to enjoy this new position.

Home

In 2017, we had tried to buy a home but a technicality kept that from happening. While the details of why that occurred is not important, it resulted in us looking again in 2018. This time we took a different approach. We found a new neighborhood that had new construction homes. Located on the northern end of Prattville, the homes are built, contract to close, in about four months. We signed the contract on April 4 and moved in August 3.

Bell Ridge … What I’m currently calling it.

It is a beautiful home with an open floorplan that is perfectly sized for what we want. It is 2,000 sq. ft. as anything bigger would be too much for our family of four. We have two kids at 10 and 9 and they either will be in college or gainfully employed in nine years anyway. Therefore, there is no need for any more room.

With four total bedrooms, I have a dedicated office for the days I work from home and AT&T fiber gives us 1-gigabit download speeds with no data caps. Gas heat and a tankless water heater gives us luxuries we have never had before and we have been a bit spoiled. The garage gives us room to store our popup camper while we decide its fate. The yard is spacious enough but not too large. Which is fine by me, as I hate mowing anyway.

School

As we moved to Prattville, we made the decision that time was right to start homeschooling. While we personally know teachers that we love and respect, the cultures of the public schools themselves were no longer acceptable. Part of this is in part the result of administrators who no longer stick with the tried and true methods of teaching while utilizing suspect resources that result in me telling my fourth grader I work at an actual IT company and I don’t care what her little handout says.

Lincoln’s hat

On the other hand, I believe a major part of the culture problem at public schools are the parents of the other students. Those parents are either so committed to the idea their kids are infallible that the schools have to adopt a policy of universal achievement that nothing is actually learned or those parents are completely not involved and the schools are nothing more than glorified daycare centers.

Schools have to take on so much of the personal development of the students that time is wasted and with the student to teacher ratio continuing to climb, teachers are spread too thin. While I am no child education expert, I just felt that there was a better method. I know personally that I got bored when I was in school being one of the smarter people in class and it, paradoxically, lead to poorer grades.

Private schools end up with better academic achievements because that what parents end up paying out of pocket to get and the teacher to student ratios are smaller. However, private schools were just too expensive for us to pursue and so we went the homeschooling route. We have had a few growing pains, but I think we are starting to get a strategy lined up.

Hearing

What started as a way to get our insurance to cover Angela’s out of network audiology appointments turned into an accidental adventure. During the process, we learned that her non-implanted ear was eligible for cochlear implantation. In fact, it was highly encouraged as the medical science and opinions over the last 20 years had changed. A CT scan and a chewed up deductible later, we decided to pull the trigger and set a surgery date.

Programming the processor

The surgery itself was successful as the doctor was very pleased with how the implant went in. The nerve to the cochlea looked good and the coil on the implant went exactly where he wanted it. The surgical site has healed nicely and compared to her surgery in 1997, this one was minimally invasive.

It was not until after they wrapped up the surgery that things went wrong. Angela had an anaphylactic reaction to what is currently suspected to be the antiseptic they used to store the implant and clean the surgical site. Fortunately, she was still in the operating room at the time and they were able to save her life. If she had been anywhere else, the results could have been deadly. She has an appointment with an allergist in early January to get a definitive answer on the cause.

A month after the surgery, she got her new Cochlear processor turned on. She is still learning to hear with it but is getting more confident with it every day. She enjoys listening to videos over the Bluetooth streaming directly into her brain, something of which I am a little jealous.

Other Events

Of course, we did other things throughout the year.

In February, I went backpacking and realized my mistake doing that. I will likely never be invited again and I am fine with that. Scouts will likely give me more than enough of that than I can handle anyway.

In June, the kids went to DC for a few weeks to visit their aunt and uncle. Jonathan, a bit of a history buff at the moment, really enjoyed the trip and made it a personal mission to see Abraham Lincoln’s hat. Something, I am happy to say, he was able to see. I really enjoyed the tour of the Pentagon by Angela’s brother and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was deeply moving.

We. Have. Made. Fire.

In August, Rebekah joined her brother in Cub Scouts. She was well received and he joined the group feet first. This coming year, we will start a new girl troop under the Scouts BSA umbrella with the intent of going to Summer Camp in June. Lots of details to work out, but hopefully everything will work out. I will say that much of the public outcry against the Boy Scouts of late has been overblown. Criticisms by people who have no experience with the organization who have no do not know what they are talking about.

In November, Jonathan went squirrel hunting for the first time. However, he only saw one squirrel be harvested. It rained the entire time. It has been a rather wet fall and winter by Alabama standards. Since October, I have not had to run the sprinklers on my new lawn because it has stayed wet.

Jones Squirrel Hunt 2018 for the ten seconds it wasn’t raining

Looking ahead

What does this last year of the decade hold? Well, I do know we plan to move towards getting Angela’s older cochlear implant replaced. We also plan to shore up our finances since we did buy a house last year and Angela’s medical expenses did take a chunk out of our wallets. I do not think much movement will happen in terms of my career this year.

I plan to let my weight continue to drop. A medicine I have been put on has caused my appetite to be destroyed. I have lost ten pounds over the last month but I think I will wait until around August before I complain about it. Even then, I will still likely meet paper definition of overweight.

As I mentioned above, I plan to help start up a Scouts BSA troop for girls in Prattville. We think we have enough interested girls to get it going so that we can get into summer camp in June. We just need five girls and I know of three solid. As those girls share the details of what they do, I am confident we can get some more. Getting parental buy-in will be huge.

As for the kids, we will stay the course with homeschool for the rest of the spring and try a new advanced curriculum this fall that will take the weight off Angela’s shoulders. Since we will not do that until August, we have time to prepare for it.

As I hit 37 this year, I will make sure I keep my perspective and remember that I do not need to beat my dad today. I just need to beat his 1991.

Head in the Clouds

A couple of weeks ago the VA realized they were double-medicating me and had me stop taking the antidepressants they prescribed me for nerve pain. The medicine I take for tremors also treats nerve pain and so the antidepressant was unnecessary.

The problem with stopping antidepressants are the severe withdrawal symptoms. I suffered from dizziness, fuzziness, and an overall “drunk” feeling that persisted. I also was very sensitive to loud noises and even had to walk out of my brother-in-law’s “charismatic” church service because of how it was affecting me.

These are not unique. In trying to see whether I need to be concerned, I did a basic search online for the medicine I was on and one of the top results was a medical discussion about its withdrawal symptoms. It recommended not going cold-turkey and instead slowly backing off the medication.

I planned to do that, but I also read most people are over the withdrawal within two weeks. With a week already into it and me planning to take a week off to travel to DC, I decided to just dive in feet first. While it made for a very fuzzy DC trip, I wanted to be off it.

Finally, the withdrawal symptoms from coming off the antidepressant are starting to subside.

I am also noticing benefits of stopping the medication. My Fitbit is showing that my quality of sleep has increased, and I do not feel as drowsy as I used. Rather than looking for justification to work from home so I can take a nap or stay in bed, this past week I got up every day and went into the office like normal. My energy levels are up as well.

I am not a fan of mind-altering drugs. This is the second time a doctor prescribed me to one and the second time it has messed with me. The first was an anti-seizure medication to treat migraine. I am at the point now where I do not want a medication if it is designed to work on the head. I would rather deal with the occasional migraine than take anti-seizure meds. I would rather drink a glass of milk than take Ambien. And I would rather just deal with the nerve pain than take an antidepressant.

My suggestion: if you are prescribed antidepressants for anything other than depression, please ask your doctor if there is an alternative. There might not be, but it is better to take meds that do not mess with your head.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor and have no desire to be. If your doctor prescribed you an antidepressant for depression, DO NOT STOP TAKING IT!

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Climbing Out

The Great Recession hit me hard. On August 4, 2010, I lost my job during a workforce reduction that took out 30% of the employees at the company I worked. I figured it would not be that big of a deal. In 2006, I found that job after only looking for a month. Two years later, I would be at my lowest point as I looked back at two years of failure.

Other than a temporary job in 2011 working for a family friend at a seasonal retail store, I had no real gainful employment. During the summer of 2012, depression and shame took me over. Alcohol numbed the pain to a degree. While I will not say I was an alcoholic because I did not physically need it, I found that a shot or two of whiskey did at least allow me to stop caring for a few hours.

I tried to stay positive. However, it didn’t take me long to figure out that with my life insurance plan, that I was financially worth more to my family dead than alive. If not for the Holy Spirit reminding me of a comment from one Army buddy of mine, “suicide is a coward’s solution to a temporary problem,” I would have considered it more. The love of my kids and my wife also played a big role.

In June 2012, my wife’s family was planning their seemingly biannual family vacation. We were invited and I decided I would use the time at the beach to try to see if I could determine what God’s solution was to my problem. At the time, I did not understand that He did exactly that. All I know was I was the one life loser surrounded by success. My father-in-law is a retired successful orthodontist and my brother-in-law is that freak of nature with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and a law degree. I was an unemployed college dropout.

Surrounded by reminders of my failure, my attitude took a nosedive and for the first time in my life, I hit the bottle during the day to try to numb the shame. If you have ever been around Jack Daniels, you know it is impossible to hide the smell. While my in-laws never said anything, I am sure they knew. At the end of the week, I apologized for my behavior. However, in my mind, I did not have the answer I went to beach to find. I was still stuck in the same mud I was in when we went down there and God did not answer my calls to rescue me.

Of course, in hindsight, I see God actually did give me the rescue I asked for. During the middle of the week, I had received a text from my baby sister telling me the local school district was looking for custodians. Yeah, like I would stoop low enough to become a janitor. When I got home, I did. After a short time, I applied and had an interview. I did not get the job.

The Straw

At a loss of what to do next, I fell back on my unemployment hobby of filming my church’s activities to share online. It was at least something to do. The church was planning an event at the Mana House, a local food bank. I figured it would be a good chance to highlight some of the good the church does in the community.

When I arrived, I was all prepared to begin. I tried to hunt down the manager of the Mana House to get permission to film, but the head manager was not there that evening. After a little back and forth with the staff member in charge, I did not get permission. I left empty-handed.

I do not blame them. That is Videography 101 stuff if you do not have a political agenda. You always call in advance and get permission to film. It was 100% my fault and so I packed up my gear and headed home. About halfway home, I had an epiphany. I know exactly where I was. I was driving up the Huntsville side of Chapman Mountain when I realized, “I can’t even get a job even when I’m working for free!”

I was in a foul mood the rest of the evening. That night, I probably prayed the angriest prayer I ever prayed, “God, I know I have your grace. But it would be nice to see it from time to time!” Not even an “amen.” A few days later, I got a call from the school system. They needed a “substitute custodian” and I gladly accepted.

Sacrificial Lamb

I believe we all have our points where God wants to test how far we are willing to go before He pulls us back from the cliff. With Abraham, it was his son. God tested to see if Abraham had the obedience to sacrifice his long-desired son to God. At the last moment, God stopped him and provided a lamb instead. For me, it was driving a truck.

I have full respect for truck drivers. It is a difficult job and one that does not get a lot of public respect. However, it is also a job that pays well if you are good and are willing to put in the hard work. During my unemployment, I had considered it. After I returned from the beach with no answers, I decided to pull the plug.

To understand why this was a major decision for me, understand that if you start working in the trucking industry, 99% of the time you start as an over-the-road driver. What this means is you drive for nine days before you get a couple days home with your family. You do this for over a year before you become eligible for “local” jobs that tend to have you home most days. At the time, I had a three and five year old.

I was desperate, however. After a ton of research, I decided I would apply to work for Maverick. They offered training, had great reviews on trucker forums, and flatbed trucking tended to pay more. I went to their website and filled out an application. Just as I was about to plunge the knife, God grabbed my hand and disconnected the internet. When the internet connection came back, the page reloaded and lost all of the info I had typed in. Frustrated, I just turned the computer off. I decided the next morning to pursue the open custodial position.

Correcting the Course

As I stood in shower a couple days after my angry prayer, my phone rang. The middle school on the other end of the county had a custodian quit and they needed someone to help at least get the school ready. I dressed and headed over and ended up working there for almost three years.

One day, between classes while I stood aside to let the students get where they needed to go, I was talking to one of the teachers and one of the assistant principals. The principal was talking about how he did not get his degree until after he retired from the army in his late 30s. He was about to retire again from education.

Why that conversation touched me, I do not know. He probably does not even know it did. Nevertheless, I immediately contacted my college to figure out what I needed to graduate. Six months. That is all I needed. Six months. I worked as a second-shift custodian at a suburban middle school for three years because I did not finish six months of college.

In October 2014, we went on the biannual family vacation with my wife’s family. This time, there was not a drop of alcohol in sight. I was in my last course and spent the evenings of the vacation working with my team on our senior project. Two weeks later, I officially received my Bachelors of Science in Technical Management from DeVry University.

DeVry University immediately enrolled me into their post-graduate job assistance program they offer all graduates free. Over the next six months, it was like Groundhog Day. I would apply for jobs and hear nothing back. I applied for 91 total jobs that I logged as part of the job assistance program. Part of the problem was the town I lived in. God had another sacrificial lamb I needed to slaughter: the willingness to leave home.

Towns have an educational pyramid. What this means is the higher up in education, the fewer people there are. Huntsville, Alabama is different. It resembles a cylinder. Part of the reason is the fact NASA and the Space and Missile Defense Command are major employers. As a result, the entire local economy is built around supporting literal rocket sciences. This creates a city full of highly educated potential employees that compete against the recently graduated janitor.

Seeing I needed to bring something else to the table, I decided to start my master’s degree. At the same time, I decided to stretch my net outside of the Huntsville area. At one point, I drove up to Nashville for a job interview. Why I did not get the job, I do not know. But this experience ultimately led me to apply for a position at HP in Montgomery, AL. A couple weeks later, I accepted a job. I never would have considered moving to Montgomery if not for the failure to find work in Huntsville.

Resetting the Score

My family decided to settle in the Prattville/Millbrook area. While we were looking for a church, I decided to see who had a TV ministry of some kind. I found First Baptist Church Prattville. What I did not realize was that they had a TV ministry in the form of a single camera that recorded the services. However, they were looking to expand.

After our first visit to the church, we filled out the visitor card and we had a visit from three staff. The church was getting ready to install a sophisticated live video production system but had no idea how they were going to use it. I, on the other hand, had a hobby of video production that at one point I could not give away. It became obvious soon that God brought me to FBC Prattville. The church was looking for someone who needed an outlet for his spiritual gift.

At HP, the reason I moved to Prattville to begin with, things started slow but quickly picked up. My volunteering for extra work led me to helping test a subsystem few people had experience. I also took on the lead business analyst role for another subsystem. After a year of frustration due to the workload, the different expectations of the two people I worked most with, and my continued graduate work, I was ready to drop one of the subsystems. I chose to drop the one in which I was not the lead BA.

God decided my decision was wrong. In February 2017, the head of the Feith subsystem left the company and I became the technical lead by proximity. I cannot express how serious I am when I say that. As the tester, I had the most experience and so was given the role by default. It would take a year before I finally figured almost everything out. I had to educate myself on how to run an application while I finished my master’s degree.

In June 2017, five years after God threw me that rope on the beach, I earned my Master of Information Systems Management from DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management and serve as a Technical Functional Area Lead and involved in technical decisions affecting the Alabama Medicaid Agency.

Lessons Learned

What I learned as I look back at this journey is that God wanted to do more than just rescue me from the mud. He wanted to make sure I knew how to avoid it in the future. By giving me a rope instead of a rescue crew, He was testing to see if I was willing to do the work to pull myself up. If I was, then He set me on the correct path.

While I will never be able to keep up with the Jones, who both have doctorate degrees, I have found contentment in what I have. I enjoy the work I do and my family has rooted themselves into the community. We found a supportive church family and friends. It was not exactly what I asked God for in 2012, but I am happy with the results.