Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 6

This post is part of a series of journal transcriptions from my second retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY during May 28 to May 30, 2004.

Sunday May 30, 2004 8:35 AM EST

I resume writing having stopped late yesterday after a marathon session. I arose to my watch alarm at 3:00 AM this morning for Vigils at 3:15 AM, although I was already awake. A thunderstorm had descended upon the Abbey. I was lying in bed listening to the rain and thunder, and watching the lightning dimly strobe my room through the filter of the window blinds and half-closed eyelids.

Vigils, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline are the seven hours of the liturgy of the hours or opus Dei (work of God) as St. Benedict called it in his Rule. They are common prayer services, the prayer of the Church as well as the prayer of our community. None of these hours actually lasts an hour. All seven add up to two and a half or two and three-quarters hours. The backbone of these services is the 150 psalms, sung or recited according to a two-week cycle. At each hour there is also a hymn, reading from Scripture, prayer of the day and commemoration of Our Lady. Some of the brothers recite a simple office of Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be to the Fathers in another part of the monastery. The monks and others who pray the liturgy of the hours do so on behalf of the Church, and of all humankind, to praise, thank and petition God throughout the day. [1]

I enjoy Vigils because it is quiet, sparsely attended, and the prayer time has an overwhelming spiritual ambiance: a sanctuary shrouded in the early morning darkness subtly illuminated by candle light. The flickering flames create fluttering shadow angels on the high Abbey walls, apparitions formed from the praying figures of the monks. The environment demands a quiet, meditative attitude impressing upon you that this is a place of worship and reverence, and that you are in the presence of God. This atmosphere is further imposed by the storm that accompanies our vigil. Lightning flashes like epiphanies, and thunder resonates deeply through the stone of the Abby before rumbling off into the distance. It is as if the heavenly hosts are slowly sweeping through. I catch imaginative glimpses of the specter that accompanied Israel and Moses in their wanderings.

Father Matthew mentioned in last evening’s homily that after Pentecost, the form of man, worship, and the Church was different because the Holy Spirit accompanies us now as promised by Jesus after He left us. Today is Pentecost and this is the first worship period of the day. I cannot help but feel a connection between the power of the storm and the Holy Spirit as we worship.

I left my story on Monday afternoon, May 17, 2004, heading to my interview with EASI after the events of Sunday evening and Monday morning with Phil, Nathan, and the family. The interview goes well. We had taken one car to the hospital Monday morning knowing we would be back that afternoon. Anita and Maria have driven me to Hendersonville for the interview. I call Anita via our cell phones when I am finished as she and Maria are cruising around. We head back to Nashville with greater hope as EASI has invited me back for a second interview. I am to return on Thursday at 10:00 AM.

On the way into Nashville, the Philadelphia lawyers call regarding the intellectual property dispute in which I am involved for CIC’s parent, Exelon Energies, who is selling us. They want me to change my schedule for the following week. Referencing Chapter 4, I have told the attorneys from the beginning that I am not available on those dates. I have a ticket to the Rush concert on the 26th, and my Gethsemani retreat begins on May 28. The Rush concert is opening night of their new tour, and they have not toured in about five years. I am adamant that I cannot change my schedule. Keep in mind that Exelon has seen fit to dump me on the street at the end of the month, with no severance, yet they want me to continue assisting with the case and be a key witness as well. The lawyers are sympathetic, and they have argued my case with Exelon. They cannot understand how Exelon is hanging their key witness out to dry. They have said they would understand if I told everyone to, “Go pound sand.” I will help as I can, but I will not change my schedule.

On Tuesday May 18, I am back on the phone with the lawyers. Paul, the lead attorney, a very profane but otherwise nice person understands my stance. He is scrambling to adjust the witness schedule to get me in on the next Monday and maybe carryover until Wednesday so I can get back to Nashville by Wednesday afternoon. The judge is not meeting on Tuesday, how convenient. Paul likes me, and he tells me not to apologize. He has been pressing for a severance package but hasn’t had any luck. Although Paul and I are completely two different people with different sets of values, I have formed a friendship with him, and with the co-lead attorney. The co-lead attorney, Rich, is an ex-football player, ex-district attorney who has seen more than anyone can imagine. When he was a child, his father was executed in the streets while they were walking together. His father was a non-violent, Cuban resistance leader. I think Rich was 8 years old when he testified in a world court. He has a daughter who is Maria’s age who is dying from an ALS type disorder that affects children. She is the oldest living child with the disease. Rich is a great guy and a strong, sincere family man. I have been praying hard for his family, which they truly seem to appreciate.

Changing themes for a moment, I failed to write about another powerful event involving Christ and His Church that occurred on Sunday. I had mentioned in an earlier chapter a family for whom I had been praying. Their 7-year-old daughter, Julia, had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, despite the congregation’s fervent prayers that the tests would be negative. I had truly felt in my heart that she would not be found positive. I had steadfastly relied on Mark 11: 22-24:

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” [2]

On this Sunday morning, Tim, our minister, noticed the mother Maria crying in her pew. Many of us had noticed, and we were tearful as well. Tim said he could not preach until he dealt with this opportunity. He walked over to the family. I got up to accompany Tim. A large number followed including our elders. We put our hands on the family and prayed over them. Their younger son, our daughter’s age, was to be tested for CF the coming Friday. At Wednesday evening services, we are asked to pray and fast for young John’s CF testing.

There was a benefit barbeque and concert after Church that Sunday for the Wayne Reed Christian Childcare Center. Todd, Julia’s father, gave me an extra ticket he had to attend. We had not bought tickets at $25 per person due to our uncertain financial state. Maria had a cold that morning so Anita had stayed with her at home. What an act of kindness on Todd’s part. Wayne Reed is a long time member at our church. We used to play basketball together every Sunday afternoon. Wayne and his wife, Diana, founded the Christian Childcare Center after realizing Wayne would not be able to coach his sons in sports when Wayne was diagnosed with ALS. Wayne suffers mightily, but he is at Church every Sunday. He has had the disease a long time now, much longer than most with ALS. A true miracle. I am surrounded by examples that put my situation into sharp perspective teaching me how to handle my trials with faith and courage.

Back to Tuesday, May 18: That afternoon I get a call from Ingram whom I had felt was another lost job opportunity. They want me to come in on Wednesday. Amazing how the Lord is working. I am officially terminated, but I have two follow-up interviews in the same week, both are in the Nashville area, and the Philadelphia arbitration does not interfere. I find out too that the deal for CIC Global has died. Now Ritchie and Mark, the only two at CIC that are moving on to the new company, are in the same boat I am, but they have no other prospects. I empathize with their turmoil. I head back to Vanderbilt Hospital on Tuesday afternoon to sit with Nathan’s family during his follow-up skin graft surgery. The prognosis is very good, but they do not perform the skin graft. The doctor wishes to wait until Thursday.

I go to the Ingram interview on Wednesday afternoon, but I have mixed feelings on its success. I like everyone I meet. The VP of human resources and I interact well. I also feel I did well with the team members I would be working with, and I had a nice conversation with the VP of Sales. Yet, I again get the impression that Kaj, my boss elect, does not like my personality. Kaj is a very direct but pleasant person. I like him, but I am not sure he cares for me.

Another diversion note and flash back to the Friday, May 14. I remember while I am journaling that my Vanderbilt football season ticket and my National Commodore Club donation were both due on that Friday. I had held off as long as possible not knowing if I could afford it, or even if I would be staying in Nashville. I had several resumes submitted for out-of-town jobs, and theoretically, the job with DCSI in St. Louis was still open. It was not dependent on DCSI buying CIC. My support of Vanderbilt University and its athletics programs are a financial priority. I worried that I would not be able to continue this support. I again made the leap of faith trusting that I would remain in Nashville, and that I would be able to afford my support. I renewed.

Picking up at Thursday morning May 18: I have my second interview with EASI and again it goes well. I get a better feel for the business. The position will be over all manufacturing and engineering as well as being responsible for distributor and sales support. I would report to the President, Paul. The schedule and objectives would be aggressive. I worry that Paul’s and the company owner’s expectations may be too high. The w0rkload would be heavy. Travel would be necessary, but hopefully it would not exceed 25% of my time. However, I know Paul is traveling frequently trying to do two jobs. It is evident that my family would need to move to Hendersonville eventually in order to minimize the commute time and to allow me to maximize family time. Paul and the owner tell me that whoever is in this position can write his own ticket if he can perform. They also want someone who would have fun doing the job. I like both Paul and the owner, and I feel I can succeed.

EASI is a small company with few benefits and no health insurance, so I would have to fund my own. Higher risk, greater reward, at least financially, is the way I sum it up. I like the potential, but I have some reservations about the company overall. Would I be stepping into another CIC? The interview ends shortly after lunch. They acknowledge that they will probably make an offer and will call soon. Hope grows!

I leave Hendersonville traveling to Vanderbilt to be with Nathan and family. They are just taking Nathan down for his surgery. Bailey, Nathan’s older sister, arrives from school with Phil. Bailey and I head to the playground so Phil can eat, rest, and be with his wife Patti and with Nathan. The playground is on an upper floor outside which is pretty cool. You can look out over the hospital complex while you play. You have a great view of the Life Flight helicopter traffic which is always exciting, even though I mindful of what each arrival and departure imply. Maria and Anita arrive a short time later. Maria and Bailey run to each other, shouting each other’s name, and they hug tightly. They never say a word about the situation, but this 3-year-old, almost four, and this 7-year-old know just how to minister to each other. Love abounds among sadness and tragedy. Is the growth of love among our families and our Church a tragedy? God indeed works in mysterious ways.

Nathan’s surgery is a success. I end up taking Bailey and her grandparents to her house. This allows Phil to keep their van at the hospital and to go home later that night after Nathan has come out of anesthesia. I arrive home about 8:45 PM; tired but with a measure of peace that I have not felt in a long while.

[1] “A Monk’s Day.” Monastic Life. Copyright 2003 The Abbey of Gethsemani. 19 July 2005.

[2] Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. The NIV and New International Version trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 5

This post is part of a series of journal transcriptions from my second retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY during May 28 to May 30, 2004.

Saturday May 29, 2004 11:10 AM EST (Part 3)

Phil is very distraught as any father can imagine he would be. My heart is breaking for him. I hold him, and I tell him I love him. I assure him that I am not going to leave until he asks me too, and that we will get through this. At this very moment, while I am journaling this story on a garden wall here at Gethsemani, a ruby throated hummingbird suddenly appears near me dancing and flitting among the flowers. Part of the holiness and mystery of Gethsemani for me is the appearance of such natural wonders at precise moments. I feel God is paternally attentive here. He reaches out with delicate touches of grace at the perfect moment it is needed. Just two weeks later, I am writing with the tears of reflection on this heartrending event, but God reassures me with this small, magnificent gift.

The evening and early morning of May 16 and 17, 2004 is a long, but special night. Christ as the Church reveals Himself this evening. Sandra and Jeanine minister to Patti beyond waiting room doors, while Tim Mangrum and I stay with Phil. Tim is the family’s physician and pediatrician, and he is amazing. He knows just what to say and when to say it. God has truly gifted Tim as a healer. I try to stay quiet and offer physical support through hugs, shoulder massages, and head rubs. However, I do serve as a periodic spokesperson to the waiting room crowd. There must be 50 or more people present from the family’s community of faith including our elders. I am not sure, but I think every elder was present that night.

At one point in the evening, the elders and our ministers come back to pray over Phil and Patti. Phil begs for forgiveness and resolution. They nurse him with spiritual love, tell him there is nothing to forgive, and that terrible accidents occur sometimes. It is the first natural response, but we all know Phil does blame himself. Every one of us would do the same to ourselves. They understand this, and thus offering forgiveness is vital. Therefore, the elders offer forgiveness when he pleads for it. Then we encourage him, and we pray that he begins forgiving himself. We also pray for the Holy Spirit to protect this family for Satan; that he not be allowed to leverage this event for any negative affects in this family’s relationships.

I believe this time of prayer by our elders was a critical time for Phil, and may have prevented many future problems as well as immediate detrimental thoughts or actions. Christ’s love through Christian family is an amazing power that overshadows all negative powers.

Earlier that night, the nurse had told me that since Phil asked me to come back, that I should not leave him. In these situations, they feel strongly that a close friend or family member stay with the parent involved in the accident. Phil’s family and his in-laws do not live in town and will not be in until at least tomorrow. I told the nurse I would not leave Phil until he kicked me out. I told him this too. He finally kicked me out at about 12:30 AM, Monday morning. I left reluctantly.

Nathan was now out of surgery, stable, and resting. The results were that Nathan’s foot was amputated, but his knee and a good portion of his lower leg were intact. He had two places that needed skin grafts and muscle repair, which would require additional surgery in the next few days. Long-term, with a prosthetic, he would have a normal, active life. There would be few limitations if any. He would be facing future surgeries as the bone at the stump would grow, but the surrounding muscle and tissue would not. Therefore, the bone would require 2-3 more amputations as Nathan grows. Nathan is alive. Now, Phil Patti, Nathan, and Bailey must let God’s love heal them. The Church rallies around the family in the coming months.

We cannot overlook 7-year-old Bailey, Nathan’s older sister, and a big sister to our daughter Maria. Bailey witnessed the aftermath of the accident, and she likely witnessed the accident itself. She will have much to deal with. She is currently at a neighbor’s house—she was not brought to the hospital. We pick up Bailey Monday morning, and she plays with Maria at our house before we take her to the hospital to be with her family.

Bailey has spent the night with David and his wife, Jackie. They are fellow church members, and another neighbor of the family. They have been at the hospital and running back to the house for the family getting clothes and toiletries for them. David and Jackie had picked up Bailey late from another neighbor's house. I meet David at Phil’s house with our lawnmowers at 6:30 AM. We need to finish mowing the lawn, which is high. We are both working on a restless two to three hours of sleep. Our first task is to clean up the accident site, which I will not detail out of respect for the family. David and I are thankful that the family is spared the additional trauma of dealing with this job.

After we complete our tasks, I take Bailey to our house to play with Maria. I shower, and then the four us, Bailey, Anita, Maria, and I, head to the hospital for a day that we know is going to be tough on Bailey. Nevertheless, she has a strong, resilient spirit. It is her courage, energy, and happiness among tragedy that inspires Phil, and the rest of us too. It will be a long road for the family with periodic setbacks. The emotional trauma will take much more time and effort to heal than will the physical. The family’s community of Christ must be in this for the long haul and I know we will.

Sandra, Patti’s close friend, and her husband Noel are at the hospital. They have the kindness to pray over me about my interview this afternoon in the midst of this much more important ministry. Anita and Maria drive me to Hendersonville for my afternoon interview with EASI. My job situation is in sobering perspective at this moment. It doesn’t seem to really matter, as I look over at my wife and daughter—whole and healthy. I thank God.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 4

This post is part of a series of journal transcriptions from my second retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY during May 28 to May 30, 2004.

Saturday May 29, 2004 11:10 AM EST (Part 2)

As I wait to hear from Ingram and brace myself for another disappointment, I continue to wrestle with the issue of tithing. As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I had decided that tithing would be our financial priority regardless of what our new situation would be. However, during the seemingly interminable wait for Ingram’s decision, I found myself contemplating the tithing issue and the immediate blessing that occurred after our commitment. Something was pressuring me to start the commitment immediately rather than wait for resolution of our fate. This pressure was definitely not a Pavlovian response to action then reward. My faith does not hold to a health and wealth mentality. No, this was some external force not an internal force. It was a conviction.

Yet, with only a couple of guaranteed paychecks remaining and a likely period of unempl0yment afterward, we could use every penny. I was not sure tithing, which would about double our current contribution, was even feasible, well alone prudent. Conversely, if a cliff appears, if a leap of faith presents itself, shouldn’t we jump? The story of the widow’s mite could not help but come to mind.

He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” -- Luke 21:2-4 [1]

I leapt and wrote the check for our next contribution tithing on our monthly gross income. I thought I had discussed this with my wife and had gotten her agreement. Sadly, there was, borrowing from Cool Hand Luke, a failure to communicate. Anita was quite surprised and fearful, as was I, but she supported me in the bold (rash? faithful?) action.

Several powerful events occurred quickly after this. Within a day or two of contributing the tithe, I got a call from a Hendersonville company, EASI, about a Director of Engineering position. The phone interview went extremely well, and I was invited to a formal interview. The interviewer would call tomorrow to schedule. My time for testifying at the arbitration in Philadelphia was a day-to-day decision that kept dragging on. I informed the gentleman of my situation, and that I may have to travel to Philly at a moments notice. He understood. He had to wait until tomorrow to schedule because of a deposition in which he was involved.

This was Thursday, May 13, 2004. That same day, the president of CIC Global informed me that May 31st would be the end my tenure. No severance, but CIC would pay my insurance for June, and the ceiling on vacation pay would be waived, which was set at 192 hours. I had just over 200 hours of accrued vacation. In addition, I would receive full vesting in my 401(k) so that I would not lose any matching dollars. God provides.

Rachel, our part-time office manager, also gave me a book called Career Shock written by her late husband, James C. Cotham. He had been an executive with the Nashville Gas Company, South Central Bell, Nashville City Bank, and First National Bank in Clarksville. He also served as Commissioner of Economic and Community Development in the cabinet of Governor Lamar Alexander. He spent the last years of his life as a professor of management in the Jack Massey Graduate School of Business at Belmont University. The Massey School was where I had studied for my MBA. Dr. Cotham died from cancer during the semester I started the program. The book is excellent and helped in my thoughts about what was going on in my life, how to manage it, and how to make it a positive turning point in my life. Dr. Cotham expounded on what he had learned was important in making career decisions. I don't remember money being on his list. Quality of life, family, enthusiasm for the job, trust in management, and alignment of personal beliefs with management were the points he emphasized. Rachel is a spiritual woman and truly reflects Christ in her life. From what I understand, the same was true of her husband. His book was ministering to me. Another blessing from God.

A wealth of news, blessings, and a mixed bag of emotions are occurring in my life. The end is near, but a measure of hope is on the horizon.

I contact my friend Chuck at Ingram sure in my mind that I am not in the running. He informs me that round one is over and that round two is beginning. He tells me not to worry. I still have strong doubts, but I pray to God to intervene while deferring to His will. I want to work for Ingram. Besides Chuck, for whom I have deep respect, another friend and brother in Christ works for Ingram. Chad and his wife, prior to their marriage, were in the college life group my wife and I lead in our home. Chad and Laura are special people, and they have prayed diligently for me. Both Chuck and Chad speak highly of Ingram.

On Friday, May 14, 2004, I schedule an interview with EASI for Monday, May 17. I also find out that I will not have to fly to Philadelphia that week, but they do expect me to testify on Wednesday, May 26, and Friday, May 28. From the beginning of the case, I have told the attorneys that I am not available on those dates, and I remind them of this. I have a ticket to the Rush concert on the 26th, and this Gethsemani retreat begins on May 28. The Rush concert is opening night of the tour for their new album after a very long absence. This is Rush’s first tour since the drummer’s daughter was killed in a car accident and then losing his wife to cancer within a ten month period. This is an incredible story of healing which the drummer, Neil Peart, chronicled in his book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Besides being one of the best drummers in the world, he is also an award-winning author (for this book).

On Sunday evening, May 16, at about 6:00 pm, we get a call from a church friend. Another family we are close to has had a terrible accident involving there 3-year-old son, Nathan, who is a playmate of our daughter Maria. Nathan had gotten behind the lawnmower and his dad could not see him. While backing up, he ran over Nathan’s leg. Nathan’s older sister witnessed the accident. The family is at Vanderbilt’s Children Hospital. The sister is staying at a neighbor's house. We rush to the hospital to help. Nathan’s father, Phil, is dear to me. He is one of the most devoted, loving fathers you could ever meet. Phil is devastated when we arrive. I know he is torturing himself mentally and emotionally. The staff is still doing emergency procedures on Nathan. He will survive but has severe damage to the right foot and leg. A friend Rob and one of our elders, Steve, are present and ministering to Phil. Shortly after we arrive, the nurse asks Phil to come back as they discuss options and treatment. The nurse asks if he wants someone with him. Phil asks Jeanine, Steve’s wife, to come back and be with his wife, Patti. I tell Phil any of us will go with him if he needs us.

During the time after Phil is called back, Rob, Steve, my wife Anita, and I pray for the family. Our daughter Maria is present as we pray for her friend Nathan. Sandra, a very close friend of Patti’s, arrives and joins us. During our chain prayer, the nurse returns and asks for me. Phil has requested my presence. I go back standing with Phil next to Nathan’s gurney as he waits for surgery. He is sedated and stable. I pray silently and hold Phil. My job situation no longer exists as a reality, as even an event in this universe. My heart pours out to God for this child and for Phil. My mind is totally void of any knowledge of how to deal with this situation and h0w to minister to Phil. I beg silently for God to act for me as I look down on Nathan and knead Phil’s shoulder.

[1] Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. The NIV and New International Version trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.