Today, in an effort to keep my current wardrobe from becoming too worn from work on the Retreat, I dug through some of the bundles of items tucked away in storage, landing upon my old farm coat. My hand reached into the well-worn pockets of yesteryear landing upon an odd feeling shape. Retrieving the metal objects, the curious figure of T-post wire wrappings came into view. The edges of the coat had frayed, the cuffs torn in places where the barbed wire so often would catch. Many nights, out in the freezing cold, or daytime blistering summer heat, invariably a tree would fall across a fence, and its immediate repair would be required. The jacket had been my comfort from those bone-chilling nights.
Cattle always had a sense of finding a “hole” in the fence line. Anytime the call came in, “You’ve got cows out,” the dagger would hit home and the job of finding the livestock, getting them back in, and then repairing the breach in the wire would begin. Each time, the anxiety of fighting time, fearing the loss of one’s livelihood from the possibility of an animal getting hurt or killed by a car always pressed in upon me. In all, it was not something that I missed of my former life. Yet, it was those times of dread, those tribulations that produced the character of who I am today. Knowing that those things that once created turmoil today provide me contentment in the darkest of times. In a manner of speaking, I fear less of what is to come than I once did, knowing from whence I came.
When the seemingly impossible task looms ahead, do we cringe in fear or do we, as so often referenced to in the Bible, gird up our loins, with faith as our shield, and boldly march forward into the fray? Would we find ourselves, as the Apostle Paul, reflecting back on our lives and finding contentment in all; all being our deepest lows, and our highest peaks?
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound, everywhere and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”-Phil. 4:11-12
Pastor Joe’s sermon today spoke to the very thing that I had found myself lacking; contentment.
The past four years, since beginning my journey in Christ, there has not been one day where I have not been challenged; often beyond what I thought possible. To cover the entire length of time and the events therein would take more than a couple pages of manuscript. But to summarize, it began with moving an entire farm of 20+ years and selling a house with land. To add to the complexity, since God never makes anything easier than we expect, my learning curve for becoming the Director of the Trail of Faith only compounded the level of stress, as many would call it. Looking back, it was the moment when we literally stood on that far distant shore and began our journey across; our River of Jordan, if you will.
To imagine the immensity of it all, simply consider what it would take to uproot your family, farm, and life and leave the world you once knew behind, to cross that proverbial river to a new life where nothing was certain. As if blinded, like Saul, and then having one’s eyes reopened, our life began anew in a strange world, in a foreign town, in a job that was anything but simple. Through it all, the ever-present thought was with me, “If it is God’s will, then it shall be done.” The peace of mind that simple saying brought was the saving grace that kept my life sane. In all the struggles, in all the blood, sweat, and back-breaking days of labor to make it happen, my heart was always content to be doing, “The Will of God.”
Again, to rewind and revisit that entire stretch of time would require a story worthy of another novel; perhaps in time. Yet, one of the highlights, or challenges, if you will, that signified all that was yet to come was the final night of working with my previous employer, Genband. For the last two weeks, I had requested to work remotely. Happy to keep me on as long as possible, and because I had a fantastic Director, they approved my offer. From my perspective, it was purely selfish, in the fact that we needed the extra income since I had left that previous life, and as such, there was no severance package. When you leave, you leave it all. Now it wasn’t simply working remotely that made those two weeks a challenge; rather, it was also the fact that at the same time, I was working days in my new position at the Trail of Faith, I was working nights with Genband. The learning curve at the Trail was much more than had been anticipated. To compound the issue, my new employer at the Trail had literally dismissed all the former office help, so that in addition to my new role as Director, I was now left learning how to run the books and manage the office, which had previously been done by two separate individuals, on my own. Mind you, this is not a complaint, rather a reflection of the difficulty presented in those last few days of working two jobs, but more technically, four roles to be exact. Through it all, I remained content that this was God’s will.
When the last week of the final two-week period arrived, as you might imagine, I was physically running on fumes. To add to the level of pain, I had barely four hours sleep in the last three days. My spiritual life had become ablaze with all that was possible. It felt as if there was no night in the day, in that every waking moment something Godly was transpiring. So, when I prepared for my last night of work with Genband as the Emergency Recover (ER) Manager, I literally planned to simply log in, receive the customary hand-offs and then let my team run with it, as I dozed off and on through the night.
Before logging in that night, I went to the altar of a nearby church and prayed. In that prayer, I asked God for strength and guidance, to help me make it through the night and beyond. The next day at the Trail I had two tours booked, and there was nobody to lead them but me. In other words, I needed all the help I could get.
As God would have it; easy was not in the plan.
In ER, we supported equipment not only made by Genband but nearly everything that had once been made by our previous owner, Nortel. This meant thousands of pieces of equipment around the world would have their support go through my team who were located in the Research Triangle Park (RTP), NC; 24x7x365. Yes, we supported the world.
About an hour after our customary start, one of my engineers announced that he heard the smoke alarm going off. At first, I thought he was joking. Soon, others came back acknowledging that he was not joking. Knowing that our ER Teams rarely adhered to the alarms, they kept on working. Not long after, security came through and told everyone to get out; this was not a test, there was really a fire.
In all my 25+ years working in or around the original building in which my team was housed that night back in the RTP, there had never been a fire in any of our buildings; never. Yes, there had been minor alarms, smoldering wires possibly at worst, but never, again, I repeat, never a full-blown fire that caused the overhead sprinkler to engage; but that night was the first.
That was when the world seemed to begin to spin out of control.
During the course of a night, my position was to direct calls, handoff tasks to my team, or reach out to our next levels of support around the world. Meanwhile, I would run conference calls and work on equipment when there wasn’t another engineer available. It was at that moment, as my team told me they would try to reconnect when possible, the realization of what my night would become hit me. If I had not been working remotely, our team would not have been able to perform their job. If God had not put me in this new place, we would have dropped the ball, and our company would have been held liable by hundreds of companies that had our support written into their contract.
Through the entire course of 25+ years, my background through the Telecom Industry had led me from one end of support, research, and beyond. My technical background covered all that was possible in the realm of communications; wireline, wireless, optical, and data. If anyone could run our team solo, I was one of the few individuals capable. At this point, it may sound as if I’m bragging, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My point is merely to emphasize that this was more than a coincidence, this was the hand of God at work.
From the moment my team evacuated the building to safety and then tried to regain connectivity from home, it was apparent things would get worse before they would get better. Because of the configuration of our equipment, my team could not get logged back in because of the equipment to connect with was in the office that was on fire; yet mine was not, it became apparent that the role of supporting the world relied on me. Again, the words returned, “If it is God’s will, then it shall be done.” Eventually, a couple of my engineers would find a workaround that was possible and were able to connect, but it was a far cry from having a full team.
We often joked that it was taboo to use the word “Quiet.” I’ve met other support agencies that had that same thought process. For as soon as someone boasted, “Hey, it sure is quiet tonight,” all hell would break loose. As you might expect by now, the night of the fire was as if someone had shouted from the blazing rooftop, “Hey, it sure is quiet.” Calls rolled in, and it was all I could do to “Rack-em and stack-em,” as we would say. There was no time to worry about hunger or exhaustion, but as the sunrise began to filter through the windows of the shack where I was living, the duration of the night’s toll began to weigh on me. As the day shift ER Manager logged in and was briefed about the night’s events and why he couldn’t come into the office, the expanse of work that had been accomplished in one night began to weigh on my mind. One-by-one, I handed off the jobs to the incoming staff who were slowly getting logged in using the workaround that my team had found through the course of the night. With each greeting, there was not time for bittersweet goodbyes. They had to hit the ground running, so we barely had a chance to say our farewells.
When the last of the handoffs and calls were closed on my end, I stopped and prayed.
This was truly the work of God, “But why,” I asked?
“Someday, it will become apparent,” was the reply.
From working nights for nearly ten years, I had learned that when you are exhausted and need to stay awake, it was important not to eat. You could drink water or liquids, but once you ate a meal, the game was over; you would have to crash and sleep. So, after my head was able to clear enough to think about what was next, I realized that it was about time to open the Trail for business. Knowing there wasn’t time for a nap, I took a shower after putting on a fresh pot of coffee. From that point forward, the day became a blur. Each time I felt my body beginning to weaken, I would lift up a prayer for strength, and each time, the feeling of electricity running through my body would flow through my being; each time there was a renewal of the spirit.
By the end of the day, after two wonderful tours and once the Trail was closed, I returned to the shack. There, I made a meal and waited for my family to arrive. They had made another run back to the previous farm to carry more household goods to our new life. I knew that I couldn’t go to sleep and peacefully rest until they arrived. Fighting fatigue beyond belief, it was when the sound of their car pulling up in the drive that I began eating.
Once I went to bed, I didn’t get up for another 16 hours.
Why had there been such a challenging end to a previous life? Why had the struggle been so great? In the end, it was as if God was showing me what it was to “suffer need.” When we reach the end of our physical life here on earth, we see many of our loved ones face those last few days in extreme pain. As we watch and pray for their relief, we learn that to cross over from this life to the next is not easy.
Jesus was tortured beyond belief, dying a painful death on the cross. His ending was anything but easy. It was as if the whole world had been consumed by fire, and in the end, the veil was torn in two on that day. Unlike certain death, we can trust that when we accept Christ into our lives, we and face the end with a promise, that when we pass from this life to the next, we shall live forever more. Yes, to cross that River of Jordan and to reach that far distant shore will be the greatest beginning to an ending we shall know.
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound, everywhere and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
Yes, although what we might face in our not so distant future may seem overwhelming, we can take comfort in knowing that we are not alone. We may suffer, we may be sated, we may be abased, we may have plenty, but in all things may we find true contentment. For as someone once said, true contentment is to, “Live above your circumstances.”
The struggles of the past, be they understood or not, teach us how to persevere in the future. God uses each circumstance to teach us what we are capable of, building our character and in the end, giving us hope.
May the challenge you face allow you to seek God in greater affections than ever before.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The old jacket still fits, even though it may not be presentable to wear in public; yet, it says more of who I am than one might know. To live above our circumstances is what life should be about, and in the end, always giving thanks to God for all that is.
Be content in all that you have.
Thanks be to God.