Desparate Times. Desparate Measures.

The last couple of months have been a roller coaster ride. Between the election and the economic crisis, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air. Last year, all the talk was about the bursting of the housing bubble and the debate about whether or not America was in a recession. Now there is consensus that our financial markets have all but imploded and all sectors are feeling the affects. In the space of two weeks, I have heard about the lay offs of two colleagues.  My heart goes out to them. No one is ever prepared for that news. Times like these call for us to gird up our strength and rely on God for direction and courage.

This brings to mind a time in my life when I received the same terrible news. I was being laid off.  The year was 2001. A recent graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, I had a difficult time securing meaningful work that would pay a living wage.  It seemed impossible to find a job with my credentials. Potential employers didn’t quite know what to make of my Bachelor of Arts in religion and history or my Master of Divinity degree. Since I had decided against PhD work, I jumped head first into the job market. I finally found work in the social services sector as a night manager for a domestic violence shelter that paid little more than $20K per year. This was a night job with hours from about 8pm

to 6 or 7 am.  In an effort to supplement my meager income, I worked as a temporary in the medical claims department at an area hospital during the day from 8 am to 5pm. I was essentially laboring around the clock Monday thru Friday.  Sleeping at the shelter was permissible, but I was still responsible for answering the crisis line, bringing in clients, or serving the families in the shelter if needed.

Needless to say I couldn’t maintain this lifestyle for very long. Aside from the quality of life issues, I had a small child whom I only saw in passing. Were it not for my very supportive mother, those already difficult times would have been a lot worse. After about two months, I successfully applied for a day position at another shelter that paid about $5K more a year. Things started to look a lot better. About two months later on September 11, two planes flew into the World Trade Center. Citing a drastic decrease in charitable donations, the shelter decided to eliminate my position as a way to save money. Later it would be revealed that the cause for the shortfall had less to do with dwindling donations than with poor financial oversight by the Executive Director. My job was phased out nonetheless. I bounced around from one temporary job to another trying to figure out what had happened. We were living from one anemic paycheck to another.

These were desperate times. Then I had an idea! Now, I can’t remember where I got this idea but I decided to explore joining the military.  I felt like I had exhausted all my other options. I could not find a position working within the non profit sector, my best bet, given my credentials. I toyed with starting a non profit or going back to school. These options didn’t look viable to me so I began visiting recruiters for the Army, Navy, and the Marines. Military chaplaincy wasn’t in play since I wasn’t ordained. It might seem crazy now, but I had run out of options to make money and be engaged in some meaningful work. The Army recruiters were really enthusiastic and were falling all over themselves to get me enlisted. As I did more research, I came across the option of applying to be an officer. Since I already had college and graduate school, I could begin with rank and higher pay. The Navy recruiters were not very helpful and seemed to blow me off. Once I stepped foot into the Marine Corps recruiting office, I knew this was my choice. After months of upheaval and trying to find my way, I found something to strive for that brought a sense of purpose. The recruiter was very attentive though a little shell shocked by my story: a single Mom with two degrees exploring the armed forces. From that day on, he took me under his wing and shepherded me through the process of getting ready to qualify for Marine Corps officer training.

My first test was actually a standardized test. I had to take the ASVAB. Had I gotten over 1000 on the SATs, I could have place out of the ASVAB. With 10 points shy of 1000, I had to take it. At the direction of my recruiter, I purchased an ASVAB prep book and began to study. I took the test and passed with flying colors. My recruiter cheered me on. My next obstacle was the physical fitness test. I had to run 3 miles in under 21 minutes, hold myself up in a female version of a chin up for a couple of minutes, and do a set number of crunches in a pre-determined amount of time.  Every day after a long day at my temp job, I hit the gym or the track. I even hired a personal trainer to help me do the correct exercises to build upper body strength. I met up with my uncle a couple of times a week to run and work out. He had been in the army and loved to share stories. He was opposed to what I was doing because he didn’t think it was a good idea for women to join the military. My other preparation included reading everything I could get my hands on involving war. I read Black Hawk Down and Generally Speaking. I also looked at a number of war and military movies trying to get into the solider mindset.

In two months, I was ten pounds lighter and ready to take my physical fitness test. I passed again, with flying colors. The only other requirement was a complete physical to gain a medical clearance. Now that was an interesting day. It was like a cattle call as they attempted to process scores of people from all branches of service seeking medical clearance. While I waited for the results, my application to officer boot camp was accepted. My recruiter called me in and I took my oath. I was so excited. This excitement was short lived because my medical clearance came back with a request for further examination. The reasons included my mild acne, my birth mark, and the slight curvature in my spine. My recruiter went through the roof. He began to advise me on what to do. However, by this time I had gotten a referral from someone about a job at the American Academy of Religion. I had been on this wild ride, but now it was time to get off.

My mother and family were ecstatic that I wasn’t going to pursue if further. When I shared my intentions to join the Marine Corps, most folks thought I was crazy especially with the rumors of a coming war in the middle east. I have to admit, I was a off course during these times. These were some pretty desperate times and I was taking some pretty desperate measures. Now, looking back I can’t believe that I was considering the military option. This was definitely a time of testing for me. On reflection, I think the process of trying to qualify for the Marine Corps officer program gave me a sense of purpose and direction. I’ll admit that I was driven more by impatience and a desire, again for purpose. More than anything, this process of qualifying helped me through a very difficult time. It provided a means to an end.  I am happy the end was never realized though I am grateful for that journey. Thank God for rescuing me from what would have been a very bad choice. Those were desperate times and I was taking desperate measures.  Since then, I have been tremendously blessed. As I reflect on the job losses of my two colleagues, I remember that God was the constant that brought me through. I know that God will do the same for so many other Americans who are facing or have experienced job loss.

Now I want to hear from you all out there. Share with me a time when you lost your job. How did you cope?

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