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Grace period

The act of saying grace is a welcome set of parentheses between one part of the day and the other. I love how grace is a time when we sit, hands tented over our laps, neither here nor there, and at peace.

One of the best moments in South Africa was when in the tremulous sunshine of a Johannesburg springtime I bent heads with my hosts, ever so south of the equator, and said grace over our lunch. It reminded me of how in Korea fifteen years earlier I would lie in bed late at night with the Book of Common Prayer and think how the world over, people were praying what I was praying. At grace the world is at one.

Tonight I ran into our home, soaked head to foot from a thunderstorm, plunking myself down in front of the computer for a friendly connection or two, only to be irritated to the core by what will be the last unwelcome Friday-night email from what is about to be my Former Place Of Work (FPOW)… late emails of a Friday having become something I learned to dread.

Everyone has at least one irritant from their Place Of Work. Not too long ago I was cleaning out old memos from my PDA and found one from an FPOW of yore where I had listed my beefs. Today I remember that place as one where I learned a lot and was treated well. But I also remember creating the list of beefs (LOB?) specifically because I feared forgetting what I didn’t like about that job, and what was pushing me to go elsewhere.

I was still fuming over the latest late-Friday memo when I decided to make a list for this job, or at least how I was experiencing it late Friday night four days before my job ends:

1. Unfair, unfair!
2. This would never happen to X or Y.
3. Where is God in all this?

(1) and (2) are internal issues. (3) is a tad more ambitious in scope. (3) asks me to stop dwelling on the details and think beyond myself.

Where is God in all this? Reminding me of the difference between the important and the petty, the eternal and the short-term. God is reminding me to be generous in my support of others and stingy with my rebukes. God is reminding me not to look back, lest I become a pillar of salt.

God is reminding me of the grief like a cut to the hand I felt sitting beside a friend as we drove through New Orleans several months back, visiting the homes she had lived in, all now forlornly uninhabitable–a grief so wide it shames the feelings I felt tonight.

God is reminding me not to send bad news by email on Friday afternoons.

I have a new job that is a bit of a ramp-up for me, which should be good for my middle-aged brain. I know a few things here and there. What I have picked up on this job:

Don’t send bad news by email on Friday afternoon. (Don’t send bad news by email, period.) But good news–that’s nice to have in writing. I say that as someone who has at times been shored up, in a bad week, by email from a team member or a member of the public that felt really nice.

Over-communicate. I remember in one unit in the Air Force we had a communication problem. I set up newsletters and made trips and engaged people left and right… I knew I had succeeded when one airman on the night shift complained that he had just way too much information about what was going on.

Take time to praise people. I have tried to do this, but I feel I could do it a million times over and it wouldn’t be enough. I think about Wendy, Jennifer, Maria, Pat, Charlotte, and Tom–plus Martha and a few others who have come and gone on my watch–and I just wish that whatever I said positive I could go back and multiply times 500, like the fish Jesus cooked for breakfast. Even then it wouldn’t be enough.

Not turning into a pillar of salt. How that biblical passage strikes home these days. It’s easy to become so salinated with where you’ve been that it’s difficult to rinse yourself free of the past with the future’s fresh water.

In the past week I had started to feel sentimental about my almost-former job… and as if no one else could possibly do things as well as I had done. One reality is that no one will do my job as I have done it, but that doesn’t rule out someone else doing it well in another way.

Then there is the fiscal reality. For five years I have been working well under-salary in a contract position (meaning I pay my own benefits, Social Security, and retirement, etc.), and as of July 1 I put myself on 3/4 time without reducing myself to 3/4 hours… and that could not last very long. It was an emergency arrangement acknowledging (to myself, if no one else) that I had cut other team members’ hours and also, deep down, that I wouldn’t be staying.

Now I’ll be moving to a “real” job with real benefits and better pay. I suppose I’m feeling the cumulative stress, and subsequent relief, of five years of hardscrabble contract work. Those of you glamorizing work on your own: do it while you’re young and can afford it.

I’m also missing California. Not the California we lived in five years, where Sandy never got permanent work and we never got a foothold, but the California I thought we were moving to. Looking back, I was probably trying to move back to the California of my childhood, that sundrenched land of possibiltiies.

We moved here on faith, and the rewards have been immediate. Everyone is so welcoming. The world seems settled. We feel a foothold. Is it perfect? No. Nothing is perfect. But irritating late-Friday emails? They are from another world. I feel the five years behind me, shrinking, disappearing. I am turning it over. It is my grace period.

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