Almost twenty years ago I got a call from Tom. I still remember I was weeding a flower bed. Bluntly he told me he’d been laid off (a result of the post 9/11 downturn in the economy). I remember feeling shocked – the foundations of our newly established life in Denver suddenly feeling shaky. My mind whirled into gear, thinking of all we needed to do and wondering how we could manage financially. In all that mental noise, I thought I should pray, so I went into the house and upstairs to our room and knelt down. I don’t remember what I said and I’m sure it wasn’t a long prayer – but I did feel the impression that I should read from the Doctrine & Covenants, specifically the revelation to Emma Smith. Again, I don’t remember all my thoughts about what I read, except this one thing in section 25:5: “And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto … thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.”
At the time I thought, “OK – I can do that.” I resolved that I would be confident in Tom’s ability to handle our situation and that I would be supportive, not critical or nagging. Above all, I would not jump in to fix things. On any old regular day, that resolve would probably have been weak (I am, after all, highly capable and a great problem solver 😉) – but in the face of this crisis I stuck to that decision fiercely.
And then followed 18 months of unemployment and under-employment. I did work part time, but Tom did the lion’s share of scrambling for work and applying for any job he thought he had any chance of getting. It was a rough period in a lot of ways, because we felt so insecure. We couldn’t afford medical insurance and so we worried about Tom’s diabetes and the cost of medications. Every month we worried we wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage. Every month we thought surely Tom would finally get hired back in his field – and yet it didn’t happen.
Interestingly, though, it was also a good time in our life. We discovered we could live on a lot less money than we thought we could and we were really grateful to have a good supply of food storage that made our cash stretch further. We were more grateful for acts of kindness. We enjoyed the extra time we had to spend together and learned how to work together as a team.
During this period I kept thinking, “what am I supposed to be learning?” like it was a puzzle – if I could just figure it out and learn it then it could be over and we could go back to our normal lives. When Tom finally got a job in his industry I was so relieved but what I mostly thought was, “there are things that are out of my control in life.” And that was a lesson I thought I had already learned so it didn’t make any sense that I needed yet another class in the subject.
Anyway – jump forward a few years. We are in the middle of figuring out how to parent our youngest children who spent their earliest years in foster care. It is a whole new level of parenting skill and we are struggling. I remember our experiences of being unemployed and think, “I’m so glad we learned that we could do hard things for long periods of time – that is the lesson!”
More years pass – I’m fighting the good fight with my children and one in particular is stretching me to my very limit. Sometimes I feel crazy – especially when said child is relating very different versions of what is happening at home when Tom is at work. Like a rock, he always sticks by me. I treasure those words, “you are here with them all day long – you know better what is needed – I trust you”. Again I reflect on those 18 months and think, “We learned to stick together no matter what – that is the lesson!”
Jump forward a few more years – the unthinkable happens and Tom is gone. I wander from day to day, unable to think about the future. It is all I can do to get through each day and make sure my kids are fed and going to school and I’m available with hugs when they are grieving. I don’t know how I’m going to support our family, I don’t know if I can afford to stay in my house – really the only thing I know at that moment is that God is real and He knows what I’m going through. And I remember those 18 months and feel some comfort that He took care of us then – I’m sure He will do it again. Finally I’ve learned the lesson of Tom’s unemployment.
But wait – like those ubiquitous commercials where you get not one, not two, not three amazing super knives but rather twenty awesome fancy knives – I’m still learning lessons from those short 18 months. Maybe it is the fact that I’m not actually in my marriage anymore that has made it more clear looking back. Whatever the reason, when I reflect on our life together, it is pretty clear that when we moved to Denver our marriage was on shaky ground. We were stuck in unhealthy ways of relating to each other – ways that were eroding our love and respect for each other. When Tom lost his job that could have been the breaking point. Instead, it became a catalyst for change.
All those years ago, I faced a frightening future and pleaded with God to please fix our problem of financial instability. I prayed and prayed and prayed and often wondered just when He was going to take mercy on us. Over the years I began to realize that there were important things we needed to learn and I believe God used those circumstances to prepare us for future challenges. But recently my thoughts have changed again.
Way back then I thought the problem was unemployment. But really the problem was my marriage. I didn’t even know enough to pray about it – I thought things were ok and we could work it out. But God, being God, was much more aware of the problem than I was. And while I was praying about the problem I could see and understand, He was answering the prayer that really needed answering – fixing my marriage. He even sent me a revelation that was pointed right at that problem – “be a comfort to your husband” – but I was too blind to see what He was really saying. I somehow thought that it was some kind of faith test – if I was really good at this challenge then He would reward me with the thing I really wanted (Tom to get another job).
All this is to say – God sees the big picture all the time. I have learned that my perspective on things changes with time. I understand things now that I didn’t as a teen or a young wife or a busy mom. I expect that will continue. I have also learned (and continue to learn) that I can rely on God implicitly all the time. I might not understand why things happen in my life but I know He knows and it will always be to my good. And that is the most valuable lesson of all.