Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Patience of Job

When it comes to the job front, I'm running out of patience, which was never my strong suit to begin with. I just can't figure out what's going wrong here.

It's been 25 months since I graduated college, magna cum laude despite extenuating life circumstances. It's been 25 years since I first dreamt of my future, of what I might be when I grew up, and to be honest - those dreams have not changed much. Many along the way encouraged me, highlighting my strengths and gifts, my personality and spirit. "You'll do great things," they always said. "You'll have no trouble making it in this world."

Yet, here I am. Doing nothing. Feeling restless, frustrated, desolate, inadequate and completely worthless at times. It is true that I have tried to blaze my own path, but with freelance design work all but drying up and no way to push foward my latest authorship project without sacrificing quality, I'm kind of at a stalemate here.

For so long, too long perhaps, I have been putting on a brave, faithful face. God is teaching me patience, I've thought. He is working on something incredible for me. Patience. The patience of job. But for all the patience I've been forced to develop, I'm running out of it...and fast. This year alone, I have applied for well over 200 jobs, fast approaching 250, and have had only two interviews. A handful of rejection letters with no specific details on what I'm doing wrong, and too much silence to count. That's just this year; the 19 months prior boast an even worse record.

And I've heard a million things from those trying to be helpful but not knowing what's really happening. I've heard that I'm too ugly, that no one will hire me as long as my face looks like this. I've heard that my wardrobe isn't professional enough, though I have added some interview-only pieces, as much as I can afford, to combat that problem. I've heard that I don't carry myself well, and I have been working on my posture and eye contact to change that. All postive changes and none that I regret, but so far, no fruit.

Guidance counselors and interested parties pushed me to focus on my studies, to work on my personal issues, to build myself up and that would be enough. To be smart with superior academic achievement - that is what would open doors, particularly if I could find that smile within me to charm any potential employer. So I was 4th in my class in high school and tops in college, all while searching earnestly to find the healing and beauty God so wanted to put into my life. I've found it, but it's not getting me any jobs.

Any experience is good experience, they said. So i have had a number of internships and volunteer work - the police department, a hospital, a paid gig at a non-profit, a start-up magazine, a large-market newspaper, not to mention mission trips, local volunteer work, and trying to make my way as a freelancer when the job market collapsed on itself. Initiative, they said this would show.

Hardly. A quick look at a copy of my old resume seems to emphasize that few have ever paid me to do anything. Maybe I'm just too generous with my time.

So I revised my resume, adding keywords and tangible accomplishments. Trying to show my capabilities. Listing my proficiencies and highlighting successes. Per the advice of the career education professor my last semester of college, I have done everything right: memorable resume, tailored cover letters, a confident smile and a firm handshake. I even continually update my elevator speech, though I have yet to be stuck in an elevator with anyone capable of giving me a job.

There are many employers who, right now, have my resume in their hands. Many positions I am excited about; some I can see as stepping stones to bigger things. I pray about this every night, pray that one day, God will make the phone ring. Obviously, I'd like Him to be magic. I'd like to see some fruit from my confidence and His assurance that something is coming. It's tough hanging on. It's tough fighting rejection after rejection. I mean, what's a girl to do?

The more I'm rejected for jobs I feel so well-qualified for, especially for those that suit my heart, the more I wonder if I'm missing something here. Am I qualified for anything? Do I have my own heart wrong? My passions? I just can't buy it; to say any of these things is to say that God has been lying to me.

So here I sit, waiting on the phone to ring, trying my best to follow-up with companies and HR people who probably auto-screened me out long before they read my cover letter, before they knew what a perfect fit I'd be for them. I am outright rejected and ignored by the jobs I would consider stepping stones, those flexible schedule retail positions that come and go in the blink of an eye. But there are others that I'm praying pan out somehow, those I can see myself staying in as a career.

A few may come as a shock to those of you who know my passion for communication. It is true that God has gifted me greatly with words and messages, and it is a gift I do not take lightly. Which is why my current writing project and the upcoming one are so important to me. However, psychology and counseling are my first loves. I love stories, and people are the greatest stories. Somewhere in the future, I still plan on graduate school for a counseling degree and license; I aspire to open my own private practice and specialize in trauma. God-willing, of course.

But for now, what I want is a place in this world, some niche to fit into on whatever path God has chosen for me at this point. Not what He's choosing long term, but just for right now. One small, faithful step at a time. It is obviously not an hourly job at the local retailer - He has made THAT clear, though that doesn't stop me from applying. But there's got to be something. Someone out there looking at my resume who understands what an awesome contribution I will make.

It is so hard to believe that in a day like today, employers are so reluctant to even talk with a well-qualified, honest, dependable, responsible, polite, professional, enthusiastic, disciplined, empassioned person with integrity like myself. So hard to believe that I can hardly believe it and choose, when my heart of faith doesn't fail me, to believe that God is working. He's working on something.

At least HE has a job.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nail-Pierced Hands

There’s no doubt that the story of Thomas teaches us quite a bit about ourselves. It makes us feel better about the moments our faith falters and we start to require some sort of evidence that God is Who He says He is. If even a superstar of faith like Thomas, someone who knew Christ personally and had walked with Him for many years, could have questions, then how many more I have!

But what I’m coming to appreciate more than Thomas’s role in this whole encounter…is what it says about Christ. And I’m not talking about His patience or His willingness to answer our doubts and show Himself.

I’m talking about His hands.

We are told that Thomas touched Christ’s nail-pierced hands. We hear the stories of him putting his fingers through the holes where stakes once held Christ to the cross. And we skip right over that as a powerful image in a touching moment, but not the point of the story.

It is ENTIRELY the point of the story. Look again.

Thomas puts his finger through Christ’s hands. He holds nail-pierced hands in his. Why not nail-scarred? You’d think that after three days in a tomb and however many of the forty days He had already been walking around scaring people out of their wits as if they’d just seen a ghost, some of that flesh would have healed back over.

I stepped on a nail once. It poked a hole through my foot, and I had to wear my mom’s house slipper to school for several weeks. Still, every day when I changed the bandages, there was evidence of the healing. Scar tissue was forming. If Christ brought Himself back from the dead, triumphed over the finality of lifelessness, then we might reasonably assume that His flesh would also begin to heal itself.

Obviously, that’s not the case. That is what makes this story beautiful.

In Greek, as in a few other languages, there is something known as the perfect tense. It’s almost lost to us today, except through our historical documents, as we confine ourselves in past, present, and future, each with their own participles. The future tense is different; it is special. It is used when something happens perhaps in one moment but with continuing consequences or a continuing presence throughout the time to come. The unforeseeable eternity that stretches before it.

The perfect tense is the language of God, and that is evidenced by Christ’s hands in His encounter with Thomas. These Holy hands were nail-pierced in the perfect tense – pierced at one moment in time for the continuing redemption of the world. The Romans got their hands on Him one time…just one time…but His hands keep healing, restoring, redeeming, and reconciling.

The story of Thomas? Good story; see myself in it more often than maybe I’d like to admit. But the nail-pierced hands at the center of that story? Incredible.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Most Highly Qualified

"We are committed to finding the best candidates to fill our vacancies, and while we were impressed with your education and experience, you were not among the most highly qualified. We will keep your resume on file for .... "

These are the words that have lately come to define my life. As my job application total nears 1,000 over the past two years, these e-mails are tougher to swallow than even the silence from the majority of employers. Why?

Because I'm losing sight of what "most highly qualified" means.

It seems to me that the most highly qualified candidate is the one who: has X degree, as required by the job description; has X years of experience; demonstrates proven results; tailors the cover letter to show knowledge of an organization; responds enthusiastically and promptly to opportunities; speaks politely and pleasantly; serves with passion; and seeks to stay in constant personal and professional growth.

That's what most job descriptions ask for, anyway. Yet over and over again, when I meet or usually exceed those expectations, an employer won't even give me the time of day. They respond with silence until several weeks later when, if they are courteous enough (and most employers are not these days), they inform me the position has been filled because I am not among the "most highly qualified." This has been true for everything from retail sales jobs to data entry to entry-level newspaper reporting (which is SUPER weird because that is, specifically, what my degree is in) to the obvious long-shots I've applied for in desperation.

I'm running out of enthusiasm here, to say the least. If an employer doesn't want what they say they want, then how am I ever supposed to raise myself to the ranks of the most highly qualified? If they won't talk to someone with the degree, experience, and passion of a gifted soul like myself, then who ARE they talking to? (And for the record, many jobs where I truly believed I could make an incredible contribution have been filled only to be reposted in the following six months. If only they'd hired me the first time....) And why is it that no community service, volunteerism, initiative, devotion, or achievement matters any more?

These questions keep me up some nights. Too many nights. Because while a job will never define me, it speaks a lot to the lingering questions I have about other things - the way the world works, my value, the blessings of God's gifts, and all the little things I have always felt were leading to something bigger. Where is my something bigger? My purpose? My place in this world?

And after I let myself ruminate on these questions for far too long, I finally turn to the only Boss who matters.

What, Lord, can make me "most highly qualified'?

The question is more than one of meeting an employer's needs, blowing a boss right out of the water with my passion and enthusiasm and work ethic. It is rooted most deeply at the center of myself. Because oh, how easy it might be to fall victim to the trap that says, "Conform. Now. Mold yourself in the image of a model employee for whatever company you're applying to. Show them what they want to see."

To an extent, I think we all do that. I know I'm guilty. But at a deeper level, I am also aware of when I'm going too far outside my heart, contorting my spirit in a way that I could never maintain - or if I could, would lose more of myself than I'd gain even in worldly measures. Maybe that's my downfall: that I refuse to sacrifice the spirit and beauty of God in my life for anything, even a job, even a job where I know I could make huge contributions to an organization and meet my own objectives of continuing in growth and service.

So I fall into prayer. Lord, what makes me most highly qualified? Or...conversely, God, what keeps me short of that distinction? Is there some offensive way in me that I'm not seeing? If so, show me. Purify me. Teach me a new way. If not, give me the strength to hold on, to stand firm in faith, and to wait patiently for whatever You are doing here.

I'm not so naive as to believe I'm God's gift to any employer. I'm not perfect and many days, I'm not even great. What I always am is honest. Real. Sincere. I'm always going to be my simple, basic self who is happier serving in silence than demanding attention. I'm always going to be more comfortable in a place that provides not only growth but stillness, the opportunity to shine but the demand that I not take the credit or the attention. That's odd for someone gifted in communications and drawn to outreach, public relations, strategy, and media. I don't see the two as opposites, though. I believe it is entirely possible to stay humble, centered in Spirit, while not being afraid to risk and put myself out there for the duties of my work - the work that calls so passionately to my heart.

Back to this prayer, which comes more frequently with each passing day and with each rejection (and the rejections come often, seemingly en masse). The e-mails all seem to carry one message, the one that tries to sneak into my mind when I least expect it. It is the message that says: "Even though you are pretty much perfect according to what we say we want, we know you and you suck. You are not an exceptional candidate. You are not skilled or qualified or even close to the model employee we seek. There is some fatal flaw in you, and we're not interested in stepping on that land mine. You're too much of a liability and not enough of an asset...." and the million other little voices that try to capitalize on these moments of failure and rejection.

But there is one voice much stronger, the Voice that has been speaking my whole life - whether I've been listening or not. He is the One Who says: "You are beautiful. You are talented. I have given you the greatest of My gifts, designed speficially for you and the place I've created for you in this world. And I HAVE created that place. There are none left homeless in My plan; there is something so beautiful and perfect and special for you that you wouldn't believe Me if I told you right now. Your gifts are incredible. Your words are blessed. Embrace the gifts I've placed on your heart. Embrace what you know is from Me, what I am doing in your life even now. Even when you don't understand or your patience falls short, know that I am still working. Your gifts will not go to waste. You will not be wasted. I am getting ready to use you. Mightily. Powerfully. I will use you in this world. Just watch and see.

"Because you ARE among the most highly qualified. I, the Most High, declare it."

And my heart is drawn to His Word and the qualifications He has laid out.

...those who realize their need for God.

...those who mourn.

...those who are gentle and lowly.

...those who are hungry and thirsty for justice.

...those who are merciful.

...those whose hearts are pure.

...those who work for peace.

...those who are persecuted because they live for God.

...those who take on the very nature of a servant, making themselves last.

...those who give up their life in pursuit of the Eternal.

...those who are perfect, even as Christ is perfect.

Obviously, then, it is just my ego that gets in my way! Just kidding. I'm not saying I'm perfect or that I'm somehow holier or more devout than the guy standing next to me. With Christ by my side, that would be blaspheme. But what I'm saying is that these are the guides of my honest heart, and they shine boldly through when I am able to push aside ego and pride and the temptations of the world. That's becoming easier to do with each day, as I see the fruit of faithfulness and righteousness and God revealed in my life.

As these principles take hold in my heart and my life, as my footsteps soften and my voice pauses to reconsider its words and my hands still in gentleness (not perfectly, but getting there), I've got to say that there is no greater gift than this nature, this divine presence that comes from discipline and obedience. Truly, as these transformations come boldly into my life and I'm more comfortable than ever with who I am and waiting patiently in God, with the confidences and assurances He reminds me of every day, with His answer to prayers and comfort in disappointments...I am nothing less than most highly qualified.

For just about anything.

Maybe my degree in communications somehow doesn't qualify me for a communications job. Maybe my background in psychology leaves me a few credits short of legitimacy. Maybe years of experience in the industry isn't sufficient to demonstrate quality or expertise. Maybe a track record of volunteerism and service counts for diddly. Maybe fiery passion and enthusiasm ruffle the feathers of a human resources directer - the gatekeeper for all good work - or comes off as fake or contrived. Maybe some as-yet undiscovered hangup stands between my qualifications and those "most highly qualified."

But that's just what the world says. In my heart, I have no option but to hang on to the truth:

That God is Who He says He Is. That He has never lied to me and will not start now. That He has granted me incredible gifts that He WILL use. That He works every day softening my spirit and comforting my heart. That He stands beside me even in the rejection that says I'm not good enough and whispers that, indeed, as far as He's concerned...

I AM most highly qualified.