**Caution: This is lengthy, but who can make a year short?
To reword a famous quote, this has been the best of years and the worst of years.
When this year started I never imagined the mountains I would be soaring over, or the valleys I would tumble into. The amazing amounts of money and the utter lack. The beautiful relationships and niclear bombs that all went off together.
Remember the story of Job in the Bible? Job had everything ripped away from him in the blink of an eye, his children perished, livestock died off, his workers were captured or driven away, his wealth vanished, and yes, even his adoring wife and best friends turned against him. This year has been my Job year.
To give you better insight I need to briefly step back to last year. I was a single man making an ungodly sum of money. I quickly rose in stature in my job and everyone loved me. In the Seattle PHP and WordPress communities I was a rising star. I even bought a boat and spent every waking moment, not already obligated, sailing. I love my boat so much I even slept on it most of the time. I was on top of the world!
The year started with a bang! At work I was the pride of the team. I was working as a technical evangelist and in that role I was creating technical documentation, writing demos and tutorials, interacting with communities online, speaking at conferences, handling PR, project managing external vendors, the list goes on. Needless to say I was rocking it. Unfortunately I was a contractor and my contract was up at the end of the month. Everyone had the anticipation that I would be brought on full time, however the head count simply never became available. I was bummed but planned for the contingency. I had plenty of money saved up and was going to sail around Puget Sound for a couple months and then come back and start the contract again.
About the same time I learned I was not getting the full time position I also learned my aunt in California had cancer. There is no family in California and left without a network of strong friends, my aunt was left virtually alone to deal with her cancer and the impending treatments. I love my aunt, but at the time I did not know her well and yet I felt God whisper “Go to her.” I called my mother and asked what she thought and a few days later I had a single suitcase packed and was on my way to Orange County for in indeterminate amount of time.
A couple weeks before learning I was going to California for several months, I was hooked up with a blind date by a dear friend from church. I spent a delightful evening with a young lady whom I shall label as K. The remaining weeks in Washington I spent as much time with her as I had available, even forsaking sailing my boat ( Sidenote: She broke my boat :S. You know the old adage that women are bad luck on boats?… It is true, the old gal got jealous and blew her top ). Promising to talk with her often I hopped on the plane and headed south.
Orange County in the winter is a delightful place to be. The locals were freezing in the 75F weather, but I was loving it, having come from piles of snow. I got into the swing of things with my aunt fairly quickly. K and I established a fun daily routine of communication, I learned the area and how to shuttle my aunt around, and I hooked up with the Orange County WordPress Meetup group. Let me tell you, if you are involved in WordPress in any way and you are in or visit Orange County you *must* go check out their Meetup sometime. Simply fantastic people.
The days came and went and I was enjoying myself, my aunt really appreciated me being there to support her, and my relationship with K had grown pretty deep. A lot happened while I was in California and in the interest of length I will attempt to sum it as best I can.
Stress, cancer is very stressful. During treatment you purposefully poison your body with chemo in an attempt to kill whatever cancer may remain. Through this process the doctors say that all other stresses should be kept out of a person’s life. My presence with my aunt helped drastically to alleviate her stress as I was able to make trips to the store, take care of the car, pay the rent, drive her around, etc. Cara was living with a lady who lost her husband to cancer, and had had cancer herself years ago. Lets call her J. J was a perfectly sweet person, until you did or did not do something she disapproved of. She resented my presence in her house and, as if cancer was not enough, she put my aunt through a living hell. I paid close attention to my aunt’s energy levels and how she was handling situations and I noticed that whenever she thought about going home her stress level spiked and her energy dropped dramatically. This did not sit well with me, but I kept up a nice pretense with the J for my aunt’s sake. I am normally a peaceful person, and feel hitting a woman is the opposite of manly, however I freely admit that on many occasions I had to leave the house or risk punching her in the face. My aunt’s insurance only covered the area where she was living so I was a good boy.
I was lucky enough to have Saddleback Church, home of Rick Warren, nearby and attended every week. Saddleback is an amazing place, they do not have a church building, they have a campus. Sunday morning you park in one of many huge parking lots and as you walk in the ground is vibrating to the throbbing bass coming out of the youth building. Yes, building. There are several large buildings on campus, and each is dedicated to kids, main service, high school, etc. One of the neatest features to me is the strategically hidden speakers around campus. As you walk in you are able to listen to whatever is going on in the main hall, so if the sermon has already started you still hear it.
I had an agreement with a Seattle company I did some limited contracting with to fly me back to Seattle once a month for the Seattle WordPress Meetup. I usually padded my time with a few extra days to spend time with K. One such time is very much worth mentioning. I cannot remember if it was the first or second time I had come up, however after church we went out for lunch before visiting some of her friends. Turns out that we both got food poisoning at lunch and spent a lovely evening together trading the toilet and watching all the Mickey Mouse episodes.
In May I moved my aunt to Washington to live with my parents. She still had a couple treatments left, however she found an insurance company she was able to transfer to that covered Washington and it was a much better living environment than with J. I crammed her few belongings into her Mercedes and we made the long drive to Washington. Other than Mercedes seats not being made for long trips it was a very enjoyable ride.
When I returned I was almost completely penniless. Supporting not only myself, but also my aunt and her roommate wiped my accounts out. Intending upon returning to my previous job, I looked for housing in Redmond. A friend graciously extended his house to me. There was a huge unfinished room in his basement that I called home for a few months. He and his family are dear friends of mine and it was great to live there and be able to play with his kids every day. Being physically close to K was great! We spent more time than I would have liked watching TV, but I do like cuddling so I did not complain too much, and after her long work days she did not want to do much else, which was fine. The friend I was living with was the music pastor at a nearby church. He and I have been playing on music teams together since our young years and I joined his team right away. There are some very great people in that church.
The old job was going through some transitions and was unable to hire me back. I had a few small contracts here and there to keep me from starving, but I was as poor as I had ever been. If not for my friend providing a place to live I would have been on the street. A friend at a startup in downtown Seattle that was poised for growth called me up one day and offered me a job with him. It did not pay great, but as the company grew my salary would grow as well, per the employment contract. I liked the guy quite a bit so I hopped on board with him. About this same time other things started to happen that spiraled my world even further out of control. The friend I was living with accepted a new position in Portland, and K decided it was time to move on. Already penniless, the remaining two really good things in my life were suddenly stripped from me.
I found an apartment a block from my new job. It worked out that the day the apartment became available was the day my friend had his uHaul loaded for Portland. The new job did not have the anticipated growth and my salary stayed low. I was bringing in $300 less per month than I needed for my basic bills, not including student loans or food. There was some outstanding obligations I could not meet. My bank froze my account for a while. I was unable to go anywhere that was longer than a walk. I could not go out with friends due to lack of funds, not that I had any friends in this new place anyways. It was a very dark time in my life. I went from having a great job with full benefits, a beautiful girlfriend, and the ability to go anywhere and do anything I wanted to a concrete prison called Belltown. I did not even have money to visit my sailboat, and that was my biggest passion at the time. Life was tough, but through it all I knew God had a plan and did not worry. Jesus has always taken good care of me and I expected him to continue to do the same through this time. I knew he was teaching me something, and though I was not fond of his teaching methodology I knew it would come out for good.
Several weeks after moving to Belltown my parents were visiting. My mother wanted to get to know the area I live in and we walked, and walked, and walked. We walked all over the Belltown area. It was a pretty fun experience actually. On the way back for dinner we walked past City Church. My father remarked that he had heard good things and suggested I check it out. When I moved to Belltown I left the Redmond church and had been attending one close to my apartment, but each week I felt as if there was a wall. Something was telling me that church was not the right place for me. The next day my grandparents stopped by and my grandfather mentioned I should check out City Church as well. Completely unrelated to my father’s suggestion. Five people that week told me to attend. That was good enough for me, though after the first I was determined to go. I walked into City Church and immediately knew it was the place for me. The atmosphere was so loving and accepting. Not normally a cryer, I bawled during the worship time, and kept right on spilling water during the sermon. The people were so on fire for Jesus and loved each other so evidently that it blew my mind. Pastor Judah spoke from the Bible, and only the Bible. His sermons are deep. Everything about the church appealed to me. I went again and again. There are three services on Sunday and sometimes I attend all of them just to soak it all up.
Alone in a new place I desperately desired a community. A few weeks after starting at City Church they had a painting party. The lobby area was being upgraded. I am no painter, but I figured this would be a great opportunity to meet people and start building a community. It worked great. I met a lot of fantastic people there, a couple of which I now have strong relationships with. I tried learning names by handing out bottled water and writing people’s names on them. It worked sorta. Being terrible with names I always struggle, but I did remember a few.
The weeks continued to go by, but I was still in a pretty dark place. Living completely bare bones and subsisting on sandwiches and the generosity of others, or not eating at all for stretches of time. Sundays were the shining beacon in my life and I excitedly and impatiently awaited. I became very close friends with a couple that worked in the same office complex as I did. They were also relatively new to the area and looking for a community. I appreciated them during that time more than they will ever know. They help provide a light and promise of better days to come.
One week I was sitting at church. Pastor Judah announced the offering. I had not been contributing anything at that time. I had $40 in my pocket. That is all I had for the foreseeable future. At least the next three weeks. I told God that was all I had to live on and dropped half of it in the offering after telling him I expected to see something great come out of it. Well wouldn’t you know, God is faithful. That day my life started to turn around. Every meal for the next two weeks was provided for me by random people who called me up, usually about the time I was wondering if I would be eating that day, and took me out for a meal. Shortly after two more great things happened, a girl at church approached me, and my old job called me up and asked if I wanted to come back. Suddenly my life was restored. I dated the gal for a while, and though it ended I am pretty certain God put her in my life to help me get back on my feet and experience his blessing again. She does not realize this, but she helped me in big ways. My life was in the pits, my relationship with Jesus was at an all time low ( though I still fully relied on him I was not being a participant ), my spirits were low and things looked dark. The girl came into my life and it was like someone shining a huge beacon of hope and inspiration into me. I have a lot of respect and admiration for this gal, and always will. Everything and everyone she comes in contact with cannot stay the same. She unconsciously forces you to want more and want better.
At the same time the girl was around I was asked to help on a project with another web firm. That provided me with enough cash to breathe again. My old job started the paperwork, and suddenly I went from below the poverty line to upper middle class.
The last two months of this year have been fantastic and I expect they will only continue to get better. This was without a doubt the worst year of my life, though it also had the best highlights I have experienced. Through it all I continually kept my eyes focused on Jesus, even if I was not following him “as I should” and he brought me through.
This coming year of 2013 is already promising some great things! I am super excited to see where God takes me, and I hope it involves finally finding that one special lady I will spend the rest of my life with, and realizing a dream that has been percolating in my head for the last decade.