Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 9

Here endth the journal entries. The rest of the story is composed from recollection.

Monday & Tuesday, May 31 & June 1, 2004
There were copious hugs and kisses upon my return home from Gethsemani on Sunday afternoon. I could not immediately share with Anita all the emotions and meditations I had been through at Gethsemani. First, it was just too much to convey in one burst. Secondly, I did not want to tell her my inclinations on the job until I had heard her thoughts without any influence from me. However, I am sure she sensed the peace I carried with me from Gethsemani.

We launched our trip to Destin early Monday morning. I do not remember exactly how much we discussed about the job and about my weekend on Sunday evening while packing and how much was discussed on the drive down I-65 south. Given the fact we had an excited 3 year old with us who is very energetic and imaginative and going to the beach for the first time, I am sure we did most of our talking on Sunday evening. Cohesive conversation in the car would not have been a reality. That was fine. It was family time. They had sacrificed my time and attention enough over the last month.

What I do know was that Anita felt that Ingram was the better choice. She knew my personality and could foresee the stresses that would naturally arise from the EASI position. It was a step up in my engineering career and EASI needed much done in a short time. There would be no easing into that position. I would have to hit the ground running and go full bore not that either of us were afraid of this. It was just a fact. We both knew I would be traveling a good bit up front, and that it would level out at about 25% of my time. In addition, I had the longer commute through major construction on I-65 northbound. She was also factoring an eventual move to the Hendersonville so that we could maximize our family life.

This thought had major ramifications. In early May, Anita and I completed our third year of hosting and leading a college life group as part of our church’s college ministry. We were very close to the young men and women in our group. They were now part of our family. In fact, the whole uncertainty of my situation as school ended in late May 2004 was very hard on the group. We had spent much of our prayer time on my family’s situation. We had our last meeting of the year and said our goodbyes; we all thought that it was likely the final night. We parted with tears and hugs. They were not goodbyes for the summer infused with the knowledge of the fall return. They were the goodbyes of relationships that would take on new forms from distances. We really believed we would likely be in St. Louis at that point.

Now we realized that this job could affect the joy we felt in being able to continue life group. Even if we did not move right away, it would be difficult to continue the life group in the same manner with the time and travel constraints the job was likely to impose. In addition, we were very active at our church in other ways now with Maria involved in the children’s ministry. All of her friends and social activity was through church. Anita was involved in many activities at church and with other mothers there during the week. We loved our church and it would be very difficult to leave. Even if we remained at our church after a move, it would be impossible to maintain the same level of involvement with a 45-minute or better one-way commute. One family we were friends with had already left just for this reason. They lived in Hendersonville and the commute was too much, despite their love for our church, so they ended up leaving for a church closer to home.

Anyway, I shared with Anita my thoughts and understandings from the weekend. When I had been walking in the woods that Saturday morning, I had been continually moving toward the EASI job offer as the right choice. Then the diversion of path in the woods occurred (reference Chapter 8). Afterward, I re-evaluated my feelings focusing on the wisdom Charlie provided in our Friday phone conversation and reflecting on what God might have been showing me during that walk. By the end of the weekend, I had determined Ingram was the best choice—the choice God was impressing on my heart. We had one problem however. No matter how we sliced it, we could not meet our budget with the initial Ingram offer without selling our home and moving to something cheaper.

Sometime during the drive down to Destin, I talked with Kaj at Ingram. He said he would be faxing an updated offer to my condominium. He told me verbally that he was able to up the offer. The new offer was the exact amount we needed to make ends meet in our budget. When we arrived in Destin we stopped to eat, checked in at the condominium, and I picked up my fax. Anita took Maria to the beach. Maria did not have time to wait around for such inconsequential matters as money and career decisions. There was a beach calling her name! Children are awesome in helping adults keep their priorities in order. I do remember Anita and I praying for final direction and offering thanks.

I stayed in the room for a while with my laptop making sure I had not missed anything in our financial analysis. With a final word of prayer, I called Kaj and verbally accepted his offer. I then signed the faxed forms and had the condominium office fax my acceptance to Ingram. The only down side was having to phone EASI and tell them I was not taking their offer. When I called, Paul immediately offered me more money. I gratefully thanked him, but told him this was not a money issue and that the offer I had accepted was lower than EASI’s initial offer. He thanked me for my professionalism throughout the interview process and wished me the best. I felt bad for EASI because they needed help and I knew I had the enthusiasm they wanted. Yet, Ingram was the choice to which God had led my family and me.

The rest of the week was one of the most enjoyable, relaxing times I have ever had. I relaxed in the light of Anita and Maria’s enjoyment and with the peace of a journey completed. I also felt energized with the excitement of a new journey beginning.

Author's note: I will conclude this series with an epilogue that should tie up some loose ends and provide a status of how things worked out. Thanks for reading.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 8

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 12:25 AM EST (Part 2)
I reach the conclusion of this Gethsemani retreat. I am writing from a wooden deck chair grayed from age and weather. My feet are propped up on a rock wall looking out over the flowers in the garden beneath me with my knees as a writing surface. The sun is bright as is my renewed spirit. I feel a duality of peace and excitement: the peace from a journey completed. The excitement for a new journey beginning. God knew I needed to be here this weekend. I arrived having two offers and a major decision to make on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

I talked to Kaj on Friday as I left Nashville for Gethsemani. I told him if the base salary had been $7000 higher, I would have accepted immediately. He does not think he can do anything, but I am to talk with him on Tuesday. I will be in Destin, FL. Anita and I scheduled a last minute trip to the beach for the coming week. We booked it Thursday night to celebrate getting the two offers that day. We have not been on a vacation in a long while. With the new job and income reduction, we will not be taking one anytime soon after starting the new job. I will be making just enough extra money in June from receiving both vacation pay from CIC and the salary from the new job. We have been aching to take Maria, who is almost four, to the beach. This will be her first real trip to the beach. She is so excited. So am I!

I will be driving home within the hour to prepare for leaving tomorrow. God has spoken to me this weekend through my silence, my walks, Scripture, worship, and the reflection this writing provides. During the drive up from Nashville on Friday, Charlie Brandon, a senior member and former elder at my church, and someone I deeply respect, called on my cell phone. My men’s group had decided to recruit a few new members to the group. One of the men suggested was Charlie, and I volunteered to speak with him. This was months ago when I invited him to our group. He was just now calling to tell me that his schedule would not allow him to join. He had no idea about my situation. In addition, I was near the end of the three-hour drive, maybe 30 minutes from the Abbey. Very soon, I would loose cell phone coverage. Yet unexpectedly, I get this call from Charlie.

After conveying his message he asked me how I was doing and what was going on in my life. I briefly explained my job situation, the two offers, and the aspects of each. We talked about my situation and the decisions I was facing. He did not give me advice directly, but he engaged me in discussion about frenetic lifestyle, what does one really want from their life, and how do career decisions affect these desires. More wisdom delivered from I AM via an earthly agent. What a glorious preface to my arrival and purpose at Gethsemani.

Another powerful measure of guidance occurred on Saturday morning during my three-hour hike among the rolling hills and forest. I love these hikes at Gethsemani. I feel as if I am walking into and amidst the purlieu of God’s kingdom. Indeed, I believe I am. On this Saturday morning, I departed early. I walked access road, made of large, brown gravel, which leads into the depths of the Abbey property on which visitors are allowed. On each side are wide strips of tall grass that are periodically harvested for hay. These strips are bordered by trees marking the creeks that drain the rising hills into the watershed next to the Abbey. This watershed contains a series man-made canals and pools that are guarded by an abandoned pumping station. This station previously managed the water and sewage needs of the Abbey years ago. It is apparent that the monks who founded the Abbey precisely selected this spot to build the Abbey. They were intelligent in its design and resourceful in its management.

As I walk, insects aerially sprint from one spot to another; drone by like cargo craft; or swim gently and aimlessly in the heavy, humid air. Small birds dancingly flit from place to place or dart by like jets as they go about their inviolable functions. The magnificent insect polyphony and variety of bird songs perform the Creator’s Nature Symphony, which will accompany me throughout my trek this morning. Rivulets hidden in the thick grass trickle along the road edge, methodically moving toward the collecting basin that I am leaving behind. After a short walk in, the gravel access forks. If you travel left, it will take you to the copse where the Statues of the Garden of Gethsemane rest.[1] I break right heading into the hills and forest and to a man-made lake. This lake is formed by a large concrete wall that dams one of the creeks emanating from the hills and supplying the watershed. I assume the lake was created to guarantee a water supply for the Abbey during the dry seasons of the year. You can walk this wall, approximately 2 feet wide, across the mouth of this small lake, which I guess is between 100 and 200 yards in length. A few inches to my left is the dark water of the deepest part of the lake. Inches to my right is a plunge of maybe 20-30 feet into a waste of weeds, tall grass, and trees. No rails or protection on either side just air—an exhilarating walk! I make this walk to determine if my middle-aged nerves can still handle being a boy.

After I have passed my little test, I continue upwards into the woods and hills. The gravel service road turned into a dirt road well before the lake and continues to narrow until it becomes just a hiking path, although at points it still gets wide. The 2000 acres that make up the Abbey property are well managed including the forests. A vast network of trails branches and links allowing a sojourner to choose from multiple passages and to find new areas for exploration. The monks now use ATVs to move about this vast nature reserve performing their stewardship of their Garden of Eden. Yet, I have not had any of my hikes disturbed by the work of the monks, nor have I met anyone else in my hikes unto these hills. Solitude is plentiful.

As I stroll through this majesty, I feel more and more at peace. Not because I have made any decisions, but a peace from perspective. The world is out there somewhere, and my soul is walking on the fringes of God’s realm. It is as if He is in some secret center deep within; a place I am not seeking to enter but am aware is there. I mentally attempt to empty myself of thoughts, my busyness, and my will. I begin praying for God to fill this emptiness with His will—to give me mental ears to hear. “Father, lead me to the decision with which I can best serve you.” As I have mentioned before, this months-long ordeal is really the first time I have ever consciously placed my career in the hands of God and sought His will for it. Prior, I was not spiritually mature enough to know to do it. Career was separate from Church and Christianity. I was to be a Christian in the work force, but what career and where I choose to work was compartmentalized outside my spiritual life, rather than being a subset of it. God has led me to know better.

I tried to be empty and listen, but this is hard for a human and takes much practice. I had reached a strong proclivity toward one of the job opportunities. As I had mulled over the options, analyzing the pros and cons of each, I felt the facts might be God’s way of showing the path that was best. During this walk of meditation, prayer, and listening, this intuition was solidifying itself into decision. I grew more and more comfortable with this choice. I almost felt in a trance at this point, very removed from self and surroundings. Sort of like a runner’s high—moving through your environment but removed from it; hardly affected by the physical.

I was jolted out of this out-of-body rest. The path came upon one of the bigger creeks that flowed from the engulfing hillsides. I knew this point from a previous hike. It was a wider part of the creek, 6 or 7 feet across, in a valley between the hills where the land flattens just a little more than the adjacent terrain. Last time I was here, I could walk across in a few inches of water over the rock ledges that were exposed by the water’s slow excavation. Not today. The Ohio and Tennessee Valley regions have received a large amount of rain over the last week. The creek was now 3 to 4 feet deep and moving swiftly. I could make it across, but did not want to get soaking wet with several hours left in my hike. I had a specific area I wanted to explore further and this was the path to it. I begin walking up the creek hoping to find a narrow place at which I could leap across. I had to leave the trail, push through the underbrush, and dodge through the trees.

After 15-20 minutes, I finally reached a point I thought I could attempt. I made the leap and got across. However, I now I had to find my way back to the path I wanted. As I pushed downstream, I quickly ran into thicker underbrush that became impassable. This area of growth was very large resulting in another deviation. I was no longer sure exactly where my original path lay. I was not worried about being lost. I knew the direction of the Abbey, and knew I could find my way back to it. Nevertheless, I was not sure I was going to find the path that leads to the particular hilltop that I wanted to explore. A point at which I had stopped during my first visit to Gethsemani.

As I tried to make my ever-meandering way back to where I thought my path lay, I kept meeting resistance and had to choose new directions. I finally walked upon another trail. One that did not appear to go in the direction I wished. However, it was passable, so I took it. I resigned myself to the fact that I may not make it to my original destination today, which was fine. I began trying to reacquire my meditative state of listening to God. As I worked on this transformation, the trail met up with a much wider path. My original path. I was back on the road to my original destination.

My rhythmical and purposeful stride began to restore my somnambulate state, and as it did, I began to realize that God may have been speaking to me and answering my prayer for guidance. Was the job choice I was leaning toward really the right path to His ultimate destination? Did I need to take a circuitous road to get to where I needed to be and in the process wade through a few obstacles? Were the original exhortations I was feeling from a different source, that is, Satan trying to influence me? I am not alluding that one job was evil or could not serve God’s will, just that it may not have been God exhorting me, and that the other job was His preference. Could it be that one of the jobs would offer more opportunities for temptation and thus was Satan’s preference? Just thoughts and questions that came to me in my meditation.

I prayed to God to open my eyes and heart even wider and to attune me to His will. This led me to contemplate harder on my phone call with Charlie. I also realized I needed to pay close attention to the thoughts of my wife, specifically without her knowing my initial inclination. I needed her uninfluenced reasoning, her gleanings from searching God’s will. The tide of choice began to change. To do this day, I firmly believe that this incident was God loving and leading me.

Back to Sunday. I will have the drive home today, and all day with Anita tomorrow as we drive to Florida to contemplate our decision. As conclude my retreat, I reflect on the words God delivered to me Friday soon after my arrival (see Chapter 1). “Behold I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice.” [Exodus 23:20-21] I haven’t seen my family much in the last few weeks. I miss them very much. I close my journaling and my retreat with this prayer:

Dear God, thank you for your foresight in delivering me to this place this weekend. Thank you for the overwhelming, redemptive gift of Jesus my Savior. Lord I also thank you for the underserved blessing of Anita and Maria in my life. I am going home now. AMEN!

[1] The statues are two life size sculptures, one depicting the apostles sleeping in the garden and the other of Christ praying in agony. The statues were donated in honor of a young seminarian who traveled to Alabama during the civil rights movement. Witnessing an escalating argument between a young women and a law enforcement officer who raised his weapon to shoot, he stepped in and took the bullet for her. A plaque at the path entrance to the statues reads: "In memory of Jonathon M Daniel. Episcopal seminarian martyred in Alabama Aug. 20, 1965. Donated to the Monastery by William Coolidge of Boston, MA. Walker Hancock sculptor. May we always remember that the Church exists to lead men to Christ in many and varied ways, but it is always the same Christ."

Monday, August 01, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 7

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 12:25 AM EST (Part 1)
I have just returned from the Pentecost Mass service followed by lunch. Back to my epistle. I really want to finish journaling this story today, if possible, but as in my speaking, my writing is long-winded (long-inked) and disjointed. I resume with Friday May 21, 2004.

It is my last day in the office at CIC. The lawyers have me scheduled for testimony in Philadelphia on Monday, May 24, and for Wednesday the 26, if necessary. I am booked to leave on Sunday at 1:30 PM and to return at 6:15 PM Wednesday just in time to make it to the Rush concert. I tell Mark and Ritchie that I will not be in the office next week because of the Philly trip through Wednesday, another interview with EASI on Thursday, and leaving on this Gethsemani retreat on Friday. The interview with EASI will be my third and last. They called this morning to tell me they wanted me to come in so they could make a formal offer in person. Mark, my boss, notes that I am done since the following Monday is Memorial Day and after which I am no longer a CIC employee. I acknowledged he is correct. I do not go to lunch with Mark and Ritchie as I am fasting for young John’s test for cystic fibrosis. Shortly, after they leave, I get an email saying John’s tests were negative; he does not have CF! Praise God!

A strange, hurtful thing happens this afternoon. Mark, VP of Engineering and my boss for the last five years, leaves in the afternoon without saying a single word to me—no goodbye, no good luck—nothing. This is a man I prayed for, in his presence, when his wife was diagnosed with a tumor. The tumor was benign and treatable, but it was a very stressful time for him and his wife. I leave him an email telling him I am surprised by his abrupt departure, but I also tell him I have enjoyed working with him and I have learned much at CIC. I also attach a file that gives him a roadmap to all my documents and how to handle my items of responsibilities. Mark has my book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. I wonder if I will see it again. He was supposed to have returned it earlier in the week having had it for several months and never reading it. Like everything else with Mark, you have to hound him for what he promised to do. Contrarily, if he needs something from you, you had better get it done fast and perfect. I do not look forward to the book retrieval process.

Ritchie is pleasant and we exchange goodbyes and best wishes. Jon, the President of the company, is at his mountain retreat in North Carolina. He has been nice during the last few weeks. We talk on the phone, as we are partners in the ever-changing schedule of the arbitration. He is to testify after me. His last day is also on May 31. I am told by the attorneys that Jon has been going to bat for me behind the scenes. Despite the efforts of Jon and of the lawyers defending Exelon, our parent remains mute regarding any severance. I guess they feel they have squeezed all the blood they need out of this turnip.

My friend Chuck, my Ingram contact, calls to see how everything is going, and I tell him. He laughs when I tell him some of the statements Kaj made in my last interview. “Another candidate is the one I really want, but he cannot start until July, and I cannot wait that long.” “If you come on board and do not carry your weight, my team will cut you off at the knees.” Kaj was whom Chuck reported to, and to whom I would report. Despite these comments, Ingram is where I want to work.

So I head to Philly on Sunday. I do well in the testimony on Monday and Wednesday, at least according to Paul and Rich, the attorneys. I personally felt that it was a mixture of good and bad moments, but they say it went well. The judge sustained many of the opposing Counsel’s objections making it difficult for Rich to ask me the questions he wanted to during his direct examination. Both Paul and Rich tell me I did well in making sure our points were made during the cross-examination.

On Tuesday, my day off in Philadelphia, I call the head of HR at Ingram to inform her that I am receiving another offer on Thursday. I convey that I want to work at Ingram, but that I will find it difficult to turn down an offer while facing immediate employment. I do not want to push Ingram, but I also do not want to eliminate myself if I am still in the hunt. She tells me I am on the final list.

Wednesday, while I am waiting for my flight, Ingram calls to set up a Thursday interview at 4:00 PM to meet other executives in the Barge group that I have not talked with. Wow! The Lord is working! I tell her that I will try to postpone a decision on EASI until the Tuesday or Wednesday after Memorial Day. I have not heard EASI’s offer yet, so it may not even be attractive. In addition, there will be a 90-day probation period, which works both ways. Either EASI or I can dissolve the business arrangement without cause during this period. I could still accept an Ingram offer later, if one is made, and if EASI is not what I thought it would be. I would not do this unless I knew I had walked into a bad situation. I honor my commitments.

My flight touches down in Nashville airport at 6:15 PM Wednesday, and I head directly to the Rush concert. I thought it started at 8:00 PM. Most concerts do. While listening to the radio on the way, I find out that it begins at 7:30 PM. If I had known the starting time all along, I would have just been more hurried and anxious throughout the day. My inattentiveness to the start time printed on the ticket saved me a wealth of self-induced anxiety. I make the show in time, arriving at the parking lot at 7:05 PM. I hit very little traffic coming in from the airport to the amphitheater via Murfreesboro Road. I would have been stuck in traffic traveling my normal route from my home. The show starts at precisely 7:30. Rush has no opening act, and the show is a wonderful three hours long. A fantastic concert! The band is tight and full of energy. The light show and big screen graphics perfectly coordinated to heighten the experience of the senses. Opening night after weeks of stress. I needed this.

Thursday May 27, D-Day, that is decision day. Well, not really. It turns out that Decision Day will be Tuesday and Wednesday next week, June 1st or 2nd. I meet with EASI at noon. They make a decent offer, a very good offer from their standpoint. The base salary during the 90-day probation period is $15,000 below my current—I should say my former—salary, but it would increase by $6000 afterward. Also included is $250 per month to help with insurance (recall that EASI does not provide health, life, or disability insurance); $200 per day for billable travel (they bill my time at a much higher rate); and 10% of the profits for any product or project sales I generate. Additionally, if I can bring them outsourced manufacturing business to consume their excess capacity, I will get a big percentage of the revenue, and it would be my operation to run. One reason I was an attractive candidate for EASI was my long history in the electronics industry. The felt my extensive network of contacts and good relationships with these contacts could help expand their business. Bonuses are also part of the plan for meeting product milestones ahead of schedule.

I am not a proponent of incentive and quota type compensation plans. I believe they often create behavior patterns opposite of those intended. However, EASI was correct, the person in this position can write is own ticket. I am even more convinced though that I would end up in Hendersonville after the 90 days in order to mitigate the intense work schedule. Yet, it could be fun as well as tough. I would be a crucial member of the company.

My Ingram appointment has been moved up to 2:00 PM, so I leave EASI and head directly to Ingram. I meet with the President and with the VP of HR and Legal Advisory. Both of these men are pleasant. Chuck prepped me for my meeting with Craig, the President, and the interview went well. I then meet with Kaj. He shocks me by handing me an offer letter. The base offer is much less than EASI and is $24,500 less than my CIC salary. There is up to a 10% bonus based upon profit sharing, but this is not guaranteed. There is also $0.50 on the dollar matching on 401k contributions up to 5% of salary. The matching percentage is graduated based on years of service until it reaches dollar for dollar. EASI does not have a 401k. I will also receive 3000 shares of phantom stock that can provide substantial pay out later. Ingram provides great health benefits, and I need to factor in professional growth within Ingram.

So on Friday morning, May 28, 2004, I begin my three-hour drive to Gethsemani Abbey with two very different opportunities to choose between. The EASI opportunity offers much better money upfront; an exciting chance to make my own way; staying in my field of expertise of electrical engineering; few benefits; higher risk and higher stress; and a longer commute with a likely move looming. Ingram offers a stable company with excellent benefits; a new learning experience but the risk of a major career change; opportunity to work with my friend Chuck; lower financial reward upfront; and a less stressful environment and an easy commute.
It is 2:40 PM as I begin my second retreat at Gethsemani. I have walked to the top of St. Joseph’s Hill across from the entranceway to the Abbey, and I am sitting next to the statue that adorns the hill. Joseph, with the baby Jesus in his arms, looks out over the Abbey, while I gaze out over the rolling Kentucky Hills and miles of countryside. It is a warm, just bordering on hot, humid day with thick billowing clouds rolling over the hills surrounding the Abbey. Although the sun shines through frequently, you can feel rain in the air just waiting for its chance. When the breeze blows during cloud cover, it is cool and almost damp.

Thunder concussions, deep and vibrating, resonate in from the distance, while bright yellow butterflies chase each other above the high grass around me. Swallows dance over the surrounding meadows in stunning acrobatics performing their dinner ballet. Farm equipment drones peacefully from outlying fields. As with my first retreat, God has looked at my time line, and He has put me where I need to be on this weekend. I could not foresee where I would be, what decisions would be looming, what frame of mind I would be in six months ago when I booked this retreat. God did.