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“Mind the gap between the platform and the train” – words that would grow increasingly familiar as I started taking the train to and from work every day. This was new, this taking the train 45 minutes each way. But it meant I had work. I had been unemployed for about six weeks after having been made redundant.
Redundant: a word everyone fears hearing if/when applied to them. Redundant: a situation that had previously evoked zero emotional reaction. Prior to my own redundancy, I had several thoughts about its happening to others. “Well, they should have planned better – planned for the certainty of redundancy” or, perhaps a more spiritual way of looking at it – theirs was a failure to trust God.
Part of my job involved weekly payroll so I did notice people disappearing from parts of the organisation. But I didn’t think for a moment that I would be next (or that I would even be considered for redundancy). After all, I convinced myself, I was indispensable – an unavoidably valuable member of the organisation. Without me, who would do payroll? Who would look after the various websites and provide onsite IT support? Who would compile resource and building consents or liaise with council? Who would stay on until 2am to get a proposal finalised? Who would meet an urgent courier at 6am to get the proposal to Wellington by noon?
“We’re going to have to let you go” – these words came as a total surprise. I offered a muted response – I said something about it being OK and that I understood the circumstances. But it wasn’t OK and I didn’t understand. What else could I say? This wasn’t a situation that I could argue myself out of. I know this because there were others in the organisation, co-workers, actually went to bat for me, telling the powers that be my value to the organisation. This was something that had a profound impact on me – that there were others who had put themselves on the line to express how much they wanted me in their team.
As I drove home that evening, my thoughts went into hyper drive – but rather than being a helpful means of processing the information, my thoughts were painting a very bleak, no win situation. They went something like this: I was being made redundant… I would never be able to find another job… I would have to go onto a benefit, again… I can’t afford to pay rent in Auckland… I am going to have to move back to Invercargill… I won’t be able to continue my studies… I’ve failed. I have disappointed those who saw me off on my journey with their blessing.
My thought process was complete and the outcome of my logical and rational decision making process had intruded and lodged itself in my mind by the time I got home. The prognosis was bleak but, I thought, realistic: A failure and a disappointment.
I am notorious for making jokes with a straight and stern look on my face and tone of voice. Like when I reintroduce myself to people after they’ve had a haircut. Or like the times I have asked the deli assistant at the supermarket whether they use shaving cream to shave their ham. Or like the time I asked a Briscoe’s employee whether they ever have sales. All this to say that I had to repeat myself several times before Ashley was convinced I wasn’t joking about the redundancy.
Having successfully convinced Ashley that I was telling the truth, she promptly suggested I go talk to someone about it, a pastor or someone similar. Such advice, I am sure, came directly from the Holy Spirit. So I rang and went and met with a pastor who wept with me to the degree that I wept (which initially wasn’t much and more metaphorical) as well as helping me think through what I needed to do next. He concluded our meeting with his famous Cheshire cat smile and the words “What a wonderful opportunity to trust God”. These words would prove golden in the weeks that followed.
From there I put my hand to the plough and was determined to make a fulltime job out of looking for fulltime work. I was checking online job seeker services; I was making phone calls; I was sending emails; I was searching for and registering with employment recruitment services; I was contacting companies directly. How was this part of my newly unavoidable opportunity to trust God?
I’ve been unemployed at other times in my life, but those were the days when the job-seeking lifecycle was much longer and involved hand written cover letters and physically mailing CV’s and application forms. There was often a series of correspondence, especially with the larger companies who would send a letter to say “Thanks for your application” and then another saying “Due to the high quality of applicants…” which was their way of saying “Thanks but no thanks.” There was time to think, to deliberate, and to hope – before having those hopes dashed to pieces by a rejection letter.
These days are different days and as I was busy making applications, emails were coming through usually on the same day that I had made an application. This definitely had its advantage. One, there was no time to build hope or to set my heart on a particular job. Two, I knew were things were going without having to wait for days or weeks to learn the outcome.
Another unique benefit was that I was now living in Auckland. I thought – a larger working force, more competition, and therefore it’d be harder to get a job. But along with its large population Auckland is a commercial centre and there were hundreds of jobs being listed everyday (and dozens in the particular job type I was looking at). I was kept busy with making application after application, making pre-emptive phone calls, necessary tweaks to cover letters and CV’s, while keeping an eye on emails. Suffice to say, there was little time to have hopes built and dashed.
So I spent a few hours every day during my last 4 weeks at work job hunting. While the rejection emails were definitely coming, they were water off a ducks back. I know to thank God for Him working a spirit of resilience and tenacity in me.
Then the end came. Then my notice was up. The four weeks rolled around and I had no job. I was made redundant without a new job to walk into. The job seeking continued – this time from home, in a corner of my living room which has since been dubbed the office.
Let me just say something about my living situation. Remember earlier I wrote about how the idea of being made redundant had spiralled out of control and the part paying market rent in Auckland had to play? Add to this the fact that the rental property we had called home for the past 18 months was up for sale and that this sale had been completed. Our house was purchased by a family who, rather than seeing it as an investment property with us as ongoing tenants, brought it as their home. This meant that in addition to the stress of looming redundancy, we were also facing the prospect of not actually finding a suitable house at a reasonable price.
At the beginning of the year a new lady started at work and would be bunking in with me as it were, we would share an office. A fellow Christian, but also an older, widowed lady – we slowly developed a good working relationship, and I would also say friendship. She was one of the ones who went into bat for me, advocating that I be spared from the axe of redundancy. To a degree, being new on the job, she blamed herself – as if her recent appointment had led to my even more recent redundancy. This was not the case as in many ways our jobs were different and while she has now been given some of my responsibilities, she has by no means been my substitute.
This is where Providence really shines – where the hand of God was clearly visible. We began to speak of “God moments” – times and events where the unfolding of events far exceeded any idea of it being coincidental. I do not mean to downplay her grief one bit, but my co-workers elderly mother passed away, leaving a 92-year old widower. This is significant because rather than sending him off to a retirement home, my co-worker had a strong sense of calling to move in with dad and care for him for the remainder of his life. This is something she could quite easily do, being a widow with grownup children. Where this becomes significant is the point where her house becomes vacant as she moves in with dad.
A very tidy two bedroom house within a secure property in a quiet street very handy to amenities. She had offered the house to others whom she knew might be able to make use of her house, but these others each said “no”. She didn’t want to rent it out as she wasn’t willing to go have the additional stress and anxiety of having unknowns in her house with no guarantee that they would keep the house in good order. This is where our paths intersected. She needed someone to tenant her house, and we needed a house to tenant. God had so ordered our circumstances in a way that reminds me of His provision of manna for the children of Israel. Those who collected much and those who collected little both had just enough.
We moved in the day after my notice at work was up and have since made a home of her house and are very happy there. But there was still a problem. I still had no work and no work meant no income. My former co-worker turned friend was so gracious that she decided not to charge us any rent until such time as I had a job. So it was that for about 6 weeks we lived rent free. This was a real testimony of God working through the sensitivities of others. My friend was under no obligation whatsoever to allow us this liberty, but she did!
Surely there were other living costs though? Such living costs needed an income to match right? Right. My fears seemed to have become a reality. While Working for Families has always provided a buffer, this was by no means enough to buy food, put petrol in the car, and pay other bills. Providentially, I received a very large sum of money that basically tided me over for the best part of 6 weeks. In between I had the odd-temping assignment, and received the bond from our former residence. Not only were the bills paid, but I was able to prevent things like vehicle licensing to lapse.
It was well into my unemployment that finances became a matter of increased concern. But that’s all it ever was – not fear, or anxiety, or depression – but concern, responsible concern. Money was running out. Up until this point, I had had no real reason to approach Work and Income to obtain any form of financial assistance – and I was stoked because past-dealing with them had proven demoralising and stressful. I enjoyed saying to people “I haven’t needed to go to WINZ yet” to encourage them as to God’s provision. I do not hesitate to say that God provides through the social welfare system as He does in other, seemingly more miraculous ways. One of the challenges of getting assistance from WINZ was the difficulty of getting an appointment. Finally I got one and we started the process. But there was no demoralising and while things weren’t going quite as I had expected, it wasn’t stressful.
Income! Bills – paid. God – provided and glorified.
I started work half way through October and have since found it a job with very little stress, responsibility, or need for complex decision making. There is real risk of it becoming a burden of boredom, but I know very well that this is just where the Holy Spirit would have me. The absence of responsibility actually frees my mind to listen to lectures, sermons, and the Word of God. It also frees me to think, and use my downtime to do some writing (I even have my managers approval to use my downtime for personal causes). It means I have no work to take home and have no need think about work outside of business hours.
Taking the train has been a new experience. I use my morning commute to read and/or pray and with my evening commute I usually seek to interact with people. My fellow commuters are starting to look more and more familiar as I guess they too are taking the train to and from work each day. I tend to employ my sense of humour, to the amusement of other commuters.
While this job means I am away from home for 10 hours a day – it means that when I am home, I am present and accounted for. With extended sunlight hours, there is more time to spend with my family once I am home – and we can go for walks after dinner, except when I have classes (Tuesday and Thursday evening).
Over the past few months I have seen the hand of God move in my favour and this has reaffirmed the sense of His love, care, and provision. While He has not always moved in the way that I would have initially liked, He has done what I could not imagine, with infinite wisdom – to the greater glory of His name.
Since starting work I have been given the opportunity to share a brief version of this testimony with my church community. Weeks have passes since speaking and yet people are continuing to talk about it as a powerful testimony and encouragement to God’s love, care, and provision.
I encourage those who have heard me speak, or who have read this version of things – to notice the ways God shows His love, care, and provision – and to make the effort to make this known. This will be to the edification and encouragement of God’s people and the glory of His name in Jesus.