Preacher’s Kid: Honest Faith, Real World

It's about perspective

If it hasn’t already, there will come a time when you experience a career setback. Whether loss of an expected promotion, reassignment to (seemingly) lesser duties, or sudden unemployment, that is a blow to self-esteem.

Whether that blow is a roundhouse right followed by a lights-out uppercut, or a stinging wake-up slap than only leaves you briefly red-faced, well, ultimately that is up to you. Faith – in God, in yourself – can make all the difference in perspective, and long-term impact of the setback. In ways complicated as they seem to be at the core of our natures, we need to work.

As a preacher’s kid, I learned early in life how devastating the specter of unexpected rejection or unemployment can be.  My Dad and Mom went through setbacks that would have derailed lesser souls. I remember two winters in particular, one when I was 8, another at age 11, when our circumstances were just plain dire (like those of a lot of people now, with joblessness near 10 percent and under-employment even higher).

In the first case, we found ourselves in drafting old rental house in what we euphemistically today would call a “distressed neighborhood” in Yakima, Washington. Every morning, Mom would rise to see me off to school, preparing a single poached egg and piece of toast. To save on utility bills, the heat would be turned down overnight – so Mom would fire up the oven to warm our tiny kitchenette until, bundled up in scarf, mittens and woolen coat, I’d walk the mile to school.

Mom worked as a waitress as two restaurants, and her tips kept us alive. My Dad, unable to find a pastorate that year, walked the streets of Yakima every day looking for work. Miles and miles were put on his worn shoes, the slush leaking through the thin leather. Usually, he’s come home, defeated, but quiet, doing his best to be “Dad.” Never complaining, the next day, his collar pulled up on his old coat, he’d be back out, asking, applying and making the cold, lonely walk back home.

Despair . . . or prayer?

One day I came home from school and heard muffled sobbing coming from my parents’ bedroom. There was Dad, on his knees, in prayer or despair, I never knew. Probably both. My Rock was broken, and that was a shock to a young boy.But Dad saw, dried his tears, hugged me, told me he — and we — would be all right.

He was prophetic. That winter did come to an end, and with spring Dad landed an associate pastor’s position.

Ups and downs are the milestones of life, it seems. Between the ages of 5 and 12, I went to 11 different schools, moving into new (old) houses, where Mom and Dad made it a point, always, to first set up the bedroom where my sister and I would sleep. It was important, Mom would whisper to Dad, “for the kids to feel they are at home.”

A few years later, another winter of discontent descended. Dad was not unemployed, but under-employed. The preacher worked the graveyard janitorial shift at a downtown Spokane, Washington, meat market. Hard, filthy and, to any other man perhaps, soul-rending work. But Dad never complained and every Sunday, though sometimes he had been sleepless since the day before, we still went to church.

One day in mid-winter, the rotten floor of our front room caved in. All that was left was a ledge along the edges where the main beams still held. The landlord would not fix the floor, but he did knock off some of the rent. So, we held out through another winter, navigating the front room canyon to get to the kitchen for meals, or the hallway that led to the bedrooms and bathroom.

Another spring came, though, and we moved again, this time into the upper floor of another old, but this time warm and solid house across town. Dad also was preaching again by then, and finally we put down roots that would last for the next decade.

In those dark times, my parents taught me a lesson that seems to have been lost on a lot of people today who lose their careers or jobs. Now, a lot of folks shun “lesser” work, spending their time lamenting, rather than trying. My folks taught me different.

You see, it’s not about you. It’s about your family. You do what you have to do to put food on the table, whether that work also feeds your soul and ego (which is great when it does) or simply makes it possible to provide food, clothing and shelter for you and your loved ones. And, there is honor in work, as there is honor in self-sacrifice, and honor in taking what you find in your hands and using it.