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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.