Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Shadow and the Glory of the Cross
I have been limping this road to Calvary for a very long time, even before I knew that this was the road I travelled. And today, even as I saw the Glory, I felt the cold shadow of the Cross fall upon me.
I had my interview for AMU's Institute for Pastoral Theology this afternoon. The interview was set yesterday, but unbeknownst to me, I had been scheduled to attend a "web conference" at the very same time. As I told my co-workers, "too bad, I'm busy", my phone rang at 1:00 on the dot: because Professor Bushman is, as he says, "very German."
The interview went well, and as he's already had me in his class and thus is familiar with my work as well as some interaction during class, our conversation was helped along. It was the most interesting interview I've ever had and it was the most productive lunch hour I've ever spent!
And at the end of it, he officially welcomed me to the IPT program as an MTS (Masters in Theological Studies) grad student.
The financial discussion was part of it: IPT offers a 1/3 scholarship for those who take the full course load of 6 credits. I explained my current situation, planning to leave my job, unknown what this new one might pay IF it is meant for me, etc, and the fact that even if I were in my same position, I would struggle to cover the costs. So the scholarship is awarded, first under merit by virtue of my first papers as well as application/interview impression, and secondly, financial need. I am to let him know if circumstances change. Agreed.
The finances have always been in question, and long ago I entrusted this to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I will not falter now. Now that I'm accepted formally, I'm one step closer, and the next step has yet to be discerned. All money belongs to God, so if He wills this for me on behalf of his Kingdom, then it will be done.
I had referred to the shadow of the Cross, and just after this interview and the subsequent joy, the shadow fell over me. It has always been there, but it is the nature of shadows that we pass through them (or do they pass through us?).
First it was about some file reviews for work. I have been struggling for a long time and I took sudden vacation in March to deal with the burnout that nearly made me literally walk off the job. I have a good Manager, he and my direct Supervisor knew I was burned out, and they have done what they can to help. But I am struggling and even though I am working myself to death, I can't seem to meet the numbers. Not in any category. My most recent Personnnel Evaluation was disastrous. I was once one of the top performers, even broke a record...and now I have fallen so low!
And even though I desperately want to quit this job, and even though I think being fired would be merciful, that pride within me struggles for I have put nearly 5 years into this company, I have lost nearly 5 years of my life working in this position, and it is physically painful to think of walking out in shame rather than triumph. But I have to wonder if that very humiliation is what is being asked of me?
During Holy Week, especially on Holy Thursday, a prayer that continued to come to me until I prayed it over and over was "Let me be crucified with you. Let me die with you." I didn't want to pray that prayer, but I had to obey.
That prayer is being answered, and the shadow of it is chilling to the bone.
Just after my interview, I brought the requested files into my superiors, and only about 20 minutes later, I was called into a closed door meeting. I knew without a doubt the judgment to which I was walking.
En route, I came across a mother and her son, and had to go around them. I cannot help but be struck by their presence in my path.
I entered, and was bidden to close the door and be seated. My Manager before me across the desk, my supervisor to my right, I got "the lecture." This is the talk given to all those who are sliding and can't seem to get up. This is supposed to be redeeming, but, in reality, when most of us get to this point, it's actually a sign of things to come.
As my Manager spoke, I nodded, held back the tears, the agony, the humiliation, and reminded myself to keep my eyes on the Cross. I refused to let go of the Joy of my recent news, and the Hope of another job; I listened, nodded, responded, and endured. This is happening by God's will.
My Manager went into a spiel about how this is not personal, he and they all really like me, want me to stay, he sees me as the "spark plug" that usually keeps everyone going and they recognize that I'm at a very low point. I was actually shocked that, even though since my vacation my demeanor has been much better, apparently my burnout is still all too apparent, especially to those whose job it is to review my work.
They know I'm working hard. They know that I'm not consciously throwing my career away. They know I'm struggling and they know it's out of character for me.
My Manager reiterated that he will write me references, no matter how many hoops he has to jump through to get it approved through HR.
Of course, at this point, now I'm crying, and that kills me because I have always been an emotionally-driven person but keep it, especially tears, under wraps when in a professional environment. The only other time I have cried at work was when I learned of my Grandmother's death. I have to tell him to stop because he's making me cry, and I turn it into a joke, saying, "This is what girls do!"
Somehow, though, even in their humiliation, the tears were freeing. I am who I am, not the robot the company wants me to be.
They gave me examples of others, including themselves, who have hit rock bottom but were brought back and found their niche, and they were trying to encourage me to stay.
They are aware of a possible pending job, they are aware of the direction my life seems to be taking, and they are happy for me...but they still have to do their job, which involves an impending disciplinary action, based on performance, which will eventually lead to termination.
I told them very candidly that I am leaving, no matter how they try to make the job "better." I explained that I am trying to move on to something I'm truly good at.
My Manager told me, "You ARE good at this!"
I told him, no, I'm not. I've been trying to overcome my natural weakness for nearly 5 years; this isn't my area. It's never been my area. It's never been my gift..
He told me that if I ever get to the point that I really can't do this anymore, they'll understand, he'll help in any way he can and he wants to see me happy.
I explained that this is what I'm telling him; I CAN'T do this anymore. This job is all about numbers, and structure, and absolutes. It's not that I don't need structure for I do, but numbers...my worst subjects, and for almost 5 years they have ruled my life and the measure of my worthiness in my employment. And it's a losing battle. I can't overcome this weakness. I have given all I can, and I can't do it any more. I'm worn out. It's not who I was designed to be.
I have to go. It's time.
I gave him the time frame for the position for which I'm interviewing, but said that whether I get the job or not, I'm leaving. I will give notice, but I won't be staying. They agree that I'm not a slacker, he told me that he thinks I have a lot more character than that, and we discussed the remedial consequences of my present failings that I will be addressing with them in the next few weeks.
These are the dreaded "short-term objectives."
I have met Pilate...and I have been passed to Herod.
How will Herod judge me?
I know that God is opening doors before me, even as this one is slamming shut. He is calling me to something else, and I know that what is happening now MUST happen because there is no other choice. I know that ultimately there is glory in this, but I am having a very difficult time in seeing it, and so I am trying to walk in absolute trust.
Yes, there is hope with the potential new job, but is that my place? Is that where I'm being sent and for what God has been preparing me? Or is the interview only a stepping stone and is my current crisis a valley of death through which I must pass before I meet even a bigger Cross with a different type of Glory?
I knew this was coming, for with great consolations come great trials, and this trial is very real, very dark, very ominous, and very final. I've seen this place before, but this is the first time I've seen it through eyes unified with those of Jesus.
I flee to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, because, like Jesus, I have seen the shadow of the Cross and the suffering it entails, and I must go somewhere for comfort and for assistance. She knows of this Cross and where it leads, and even knowing the ultimate Glory, she is united in her own maternal suffering. So I flee to her, and I beg for her intercession and assistance.
The shadow of the Cross is so cold...but without passing through this, there will be no resurrection and no revelation.
Our Lady of Perpeutal Help, pray for me!