New year, new profession…

It’s just the third day of the New Year, and I’m sitting inside my home, watching big feathery wet snowflakes wafting down from the sky. So much has changed in this past year; I can hardly wrap my head around it all. I gave up my weekly writing gig at our local paper…not enough time to devote to it.

I’ve been “too busy” to blog. I’ve been “too busy” to do many of the things I love. Without going into the boring specifics of the past couple of years, I found myself in need of a full-time job, basically for health insurance for my family. An opportunity presented itself at the perfect time, and I began a full-time remote position as a stylist at a subscription clothing service in 2017. Setting my own hours?

Working from home in my pjs?

Being able to log off, go pick up my kids from school daily?

The best health/dental/vision insurance of our lives? …All positives. The negatives?

Sitting in front of a computer, inside my house, for 40 hours a week.

Having practically no adult face-to-face contact or interactions.

Feeling isolated from coworkers & the branch office–there was no incentive to go to events, no pay for the 2 1/2 hour drive to get there.

No chance for advancement, no cost of living nor yearly increases at evaluation time.

But the worst part? Not being given the tools to be successful in my position.
Not hitting the metrics set by said company led to my being disciplined. Several times.

My superior was just following protocol. She was probably being called on the carpet due to my inconsistencies (directly related to not having necessary items to do my job well). I became so disheartened that I would begin saying, “I hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job…” as I signed on for another 3 to 4 hour stressful session of styling.
AJ said, “Just quit Mom, we don’t like seeing you this way! You’re miserable.” Aah, but you see, young grasshopper, it’s not that simple.
When I was a married woman, it would’ve been a no-brainer. Mark would have told me to quit (he did that a couple of times during our 25 years together). I would have written a beautifully succinct resignation letter and given this place two weeks’ notice. Instead, it finally (after seven years, I know, I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes) hit me:

I am the breadwinner of our party of three. I am it.

Health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, bill paying, home improvement projects, and 150 other tasks all fall in my lap. I’m the one who checks to make sure all the doors are locked and the alarm system activated before bedtime. With these responsibilities, I was stuck until I could find a viable alternative to my current situation. I began looking in earnest around late May or early June 2018. I found it impossible to condense all my work experience on a single sheet resume, but made it as short as possible while extolling my skill set. As I was perusing the job possibilities, my 15 year old son, Ben, had a heart to heart with me. “Mom, why are you looking at clerical positions? You know what Dad would say if he were here?”

No, Benjamin Wallace, but I’m sure you’re going to enlighten me…”He’d say you have two college degrees. You should use them. Aim high, don’t settle!” In my life B.C. (before children), I was a medical technologist and a clinical laboratory database administrator. But that was close to 20 years ago!

I gave it up to be a full-time stay at home mom, thinking I would never have a reason to go back to the clinical setting. But as we all well know, many times life doesn’t turn out the way you plan it. Instead of moving to central Kansas in 2013, I became a widow in 2011. Plan A, then B were gone; heck, I think we’ve gone through at least 7 or 8 more in the years since 2011. My best estimation is we’re currently on Plan H, for “HOWELL.” Taking the advice of my very wise son, I reorganized the resume and put in applications at the local hospital and city. I was a bit surprised not to get at least an interview with the hospital, considering I worked there for almost 7 years, leaving on what I thought were good terms. (Heck, I doubled my salary by leaving…any one of the superiors there would’ve done the same).
Sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, which is situated in a clinic here in town, I had a mini-revelation: the Clinic had a laboratory.

I pulled up the website while in the waiting area. They had an opening for a medical technologist.
After arriving back home, I filled out an application and finished all the on-line processes. The next morning, around 11 am, they called wanting to interview me. Sitting in my pajamas, working in my home office, I asked if we could possibly schedule something for the next day. Long story short(er), they didn’t offer me the medical technologist position. After my interview, they formulated a job description that would play to my administrative and computer skills.

Yes, I accepted a job I didn’t interview for, before I had the opportunity to look over said job description.
I didn’t even know what my official job title was until I went in for my pre-employment physical. I joyously sent a message to the hospital HR department, saying I was no longer in need of a position & to pull my applications.

I had to cancel another interview with the city as well. The new job began last month.
I’m slowly settling into a routine. I haven’t worked outside the home, full-time, since AJ was a baby.
That baby turned 17 the day after Christmas. I’m loving the adult interactions, having a reason to get up, get dressed, and get out among the living. I could not for the life of me find my ASCP certification certificates, nor my two diplomas from Murray State University (necessary documentation for my position).
My best bet is that Mark Howell put them away some place “safe”whenever we were reorganizing our home office about 10 years ago.
You know what? I found out replacements can be ordered ūüôā The best thing that’s happened in the past month is my happiness and contentment have returned.

I’m no longer stressed about meeting metrics or being held to impossible standards; I don’t have to choose between my integrity or my job. The boys noticed the difference as soon as I turned in my notice. “Mom, you’re like a different person. You’re so happy!” I don’t want my sons to look back on their high school days and remember my yelling at the computer, saying how much I hated a job. I want them to see their mother working a full-time position, using her degrees and certifications, in a job that even the 15 year old computer geek is impressed by. (Dude, a lot of your knowledge came from moi.) When they were younger, I worried they might never see me as “more” than a stay at home mom. I wanted them to know I had a career until age 40.

I walked away because I could, and it was what was best for our family. Now they’re adapting to my not being able to stop, drop everything, and be chauffeur.

Or lunch delivery person before the band leaves on a 4 hour trip for a football game (Whataburger travels quite well in a backpack).

I can no longer pick up the younger one at school. Instead we’re depending on the kindness of friends to fill in the gaps. I’m missing several of the older one’s varsity basketball games, after promising to be in the stands for every game possible.
His response, “Mom, it’s okay. You’re a working woman now.”
I’m truly excited for this new year, this new opportunity for a career.

A re-start, an annotation to the previous chapter, the beginning of a completely new one.
And I have time to do what I truly love…..write.

You may get tired of reading my sometimes-disconnected-almost always-funny musings. I’m back, baby.….

The devil’s NOT in my details…

james1_6-800x800

I spent this past weekend in bed.

Crippled by a stomach virus that had me running the Texas two-step, unable to keep any liquids down, I was a mess.

I hate being sick for many reasons, not the least of which is I’m a terrible patient. ¬†As solo parent, there’s no one to pass the baton to for daily responsibilities of home and family. ¬†The blessing (if there can be a blessing in this situation) was that it was the weekend. ¬†We had no where we had to be. ¬†No school, no athletic events, just an absence from church.

The hardest part for my family is the fear I see in my sons’ eyes whenever I’m under the weather like this.

I’m supposed to be Superwoman, “I am woman hear me roar,” a badass that can leap tall buildings in a single bound (at least in the eyes of two teenagers).

But when I’m a pale incoherent puddle, barely able to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, unable to speak in complete sentences, much less roar, it is terribly difficult for AJ and Ben.

I reassure them it is “just” a virus.

I tell them I will be fine.

Although they try to believe me, they’ve seen similar circumstances before. ¬†A daddy tells them he’s going in for “routine” surgery but never comes home. ¬†I write this not for sympathy nor empathy–it’s been 5 1/2 years and will always be an integral part of our lives. ¬†Many of our decisions and beliefs and ideas about living and dying have been shaped by this loss.

As I lay, unable to sleep, unable to eat or drink, dreading the night because I know it will be excruciatingly long, my mind wanders.

Call it fever, or weakened immune system, or a mind unable to process any coherent thought, but I was tortured.  By doubts.

Doubts that bubbled to the surface.

I heard, “You’re not good enough to be in charge of this family. ¬†Who do you think you are?”

“What a joke–you think you have your life together? ¬†You’re just going through the motions, everyone sees through the smoke and mirrors.”

“How are you going to afford to send two boys to college as a single parent?”

“What the heck were you thinking, building a cabin in Kansas, two states away. ¬†You must be nuts!”

—and those are just a few of the doubts and thoughts racing through my mind on continuous play for what seemed like an eternity.

I cried out for help and my boys came running.  I assured them I was calling out for God, not them (and that probably really freaked them out.)

Satan took this most perfect opportunity to hit “Superwoman” when she was down.

It was the hardest singular night I’ve had since the day Mark died.

I prayed, the best I could in my dehydrated semi-crazy state, over and over for relief and shelter.

The next morning I was better and could see things more clearly.  Those statements the devil threw in my face are all decisions I made after careful deliberation and prayer.  I remain steadfast and confident in them.  With God, I am enough.

When I was able, I grabbed a Bible and went to my favorite book, James.  These words comforted me:

5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.

7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

 James 1:5-8 (NLT)

Do I still have doubts?

Sure, because I’m human. ¬†I have a lot of irons in the fire. ¬†I’m pulled in a dozen different directions on any given day.

I miss my help mate taking care of me when I am too sick to take care of myself.

I try not to worry about tomorrow because I know God is already there.  I have assurance that He will make our paths straight so we can use our lives for His glory. I trust that He will provide for my family as our needs come down the pike.

I will continue to ask for wisdom.

Without wavering or doubting.

According to James, if I waver I should not expect to receive ANYTHING from the Lord.

I don’t know about you, but I need me lots of good stuff from the Lord. ¬†For my sons. ¬†My larger family. ¬†My sometimes-lonely heart. ¬†My community and my nation.

So the devil is no longer welcome in my details.

I’m leaving my details where they should’ve been all along—at the feet of Jesus.

p.s. ¬†Two teenagers can make it all weekend on pizza delivery, peanut butter sandwiches, Pepsi, and assorted snacks. ¬†On-line pizza ordering, evidently, is a breeze with Mom’s credit card. ¬†How’s that for thriving, Satan?

 

*thanks to hersword.com for the beautiful image above*

Focusing on what you have…

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Epictetus

My 13 year old, who lives-breathes-dreams-sleeps basketball (baseball is a close second), is out front, practicing his shots and moves.

After a 3 month ordeal in getting a replacement backboard for our basketball goal (that saga is best saved for another posting), AJ is back in business. ¬†He’s making up for lost time before basketball tryouts at his middle school.

On this occasion, one of the cooler days of late summer, I put aside my “to do” list. ¬†Instead, I pull up a lawn chair in the shade and watch.

Tall I am, but not blessed with the natural athletic abilities he has–I’ve found it much better to sit on the sidelines and cheer him on.

His lanky, increasingly-muscular frame moves gracefully as he dribbles and shoots. ¬†“Nothing but net” from practically every spot he shoots. ¬†Lay ups, hook shots, free throws, 3-pointers—the boy’s got game. ¬†And that’s just not the opinion of a loving mother; I grew up in a family where two uncles played Division 1 college ball (both on full scholarships). ¬†I know game when I see it.

A smile sneaks across my face as I watch him do his thing.

And then I glance at my watch.

It’s 5:17 p.m.

The smile remains, but the tears come.

My son is playing basketball in our front driveway alone.

If his dad were still alive, this would be the exact time his Toyota truck would be turning onto our cul-de-sac.  The boys and I joke we recognized his motor sound.  And instead of slowing down as he turned onto the street, he would punch the accelerator, getting that little silver truck into the garage as soon as possible so he could spend time with his two treasures, Andrew and Ben.

I’m sure I was a close second on his list, but they were more fun to play with.

He should be here.

He should be exiting his vehicle, grabbing the ball from his older son, and taking it to the hoop.

He should be giving him advice on blocking, shot technique, and zone defense.

It’s not fair.

This boy–who picked up a ball before he could crawl, whose first word after “dada” was “ball,” ¬†who got his first t-ball set up at age 1 1/2, his first basketball goal at age 2–needs his father. ¬†So does his younger brother, blessed with a set of talents very different but still amazing.

They don’t get him.

And as AJ continues the dribble, bob and weave, shoot routine, my tears continue to flow. ¬†He glances my direction and immediately comes to my side, asking what’s wrong.

Over the past 4 years our tears have come easily.  We all 3 cry.  Tears, for us, are healing.  For awhile in public I tried to hide them, or explain them away when folks would notice.

No more.

We cry.  We laugh.  We sometimes do it simultaneously.

aj collage for blog

After he finishes up, I search for the photos seen on the left side of this collage.  Mark helping AJ make his first basket on a regulation-sized goal.  He was 20 months old.  On the right, AJ as a 13 year old player.

He may look like he’s alone in these, but both he and I know better.

His dad, although not here in the physical sense, is right alongside him. ¬†He’s whispering advice, giving encouragement, and busting with pride as his mini-me conquers the court and his opponents.

We are called to rejoice for what we have instead of grieving the things we have not.

Life’s not fair. ¬†It’s a gigantic bitter pill our sons had to swallow at ages 8 & 9.

Grief has made them stronger, more resilient, more empathetic, and better people, in spite of their loss—one they will never recover from. ¬†It’s an integral part of their souls. ¬†It’s a big part of who they are, who they will be as adults.

I tell AJ I’d give a million dollars to have his daddy drive up in his truck and join in on the fun. ¬†I don’t have that kind of money, and even if I did, it wouldn’t bring him back.

Instead we have to rejoice for the time we had him.

Moving forward doesn’t mean moving on. ¬†It means living life to the fullest each day, despite great loss.

We’re getting pretty damn good at it.