Thursday, July 10, 2008

Beatitudes: Blessed are those who mourn...

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
- Matthew 5:4

In the late 90's I was self-employed as a contract trainer. I traveled around the country teaching Cisco, Microsoft, Novell, A+ and Network+ classes. Training companies would host the classes, enroll the students and then bring contractors like myself in to teach them.

It was very lucrative. I was making between $600.00 and $1,000.00 a day, plus expenses. The down side was that I had to travel constantly and invest a lot of time studying, certifying and keeping up with all of the technologies that I taught.

Then, in March of 2000, the bubble burst. Almost overnight, the work dried up. Rather than sending employees to training, companies began laying them off. Classes began canceling. Training companies began going out of business, in large numbers. I went for months with very little work. We had just enough in savings and occasional consulting jobs to cover basic living expenses.

We were caught unprepared. Two years before this, we had bought a charming old house with a spectacular view across a valley. We had been pumping tens of thousands of dollars into renovating it. It was, of course, a money pit. Now we found ourselves upside-down (meaning the value of the house--what we could sell it for--was way less than what we owed on the mortgage) in a half-remodeled house, with a huge second mortgage, auto payments, massive credit card debt and, quite suddenly, no work.

It took 6 months for me to find a job. At that time, you could barely throw a rock in Seattle without hitting an unemployed network engineer. I got hired on at Nintendo as a lead network engineer, making in a month what I had previously made in a week. But by that time the damage was done: our financial ship was irreparably sinking. We filed for bankruptcy and had our house foreclosed on.

I'll never forget the sense of shame and humiliation. We had utterly failed to manage our money wisely. I had failed to provide for my family. I had broken my word to our many creditors. We had to go stand before a judge in a packed Bankruptcy Court. A Foreclosure Notice was nailed to our front door, for all the neighbors to see. Within a few short months, I had gone from thinking of myself as a success to having to admit to the world that I was an utter failure.

Yet, through this time a most amazing thing happened: Carla and I both felt the presence of God like we had never felt Him before. He was a steady, peaceful presence. We realized that, when everything had been stripped away, He was the ground beneath our feet. He always had been, we had just forgotten.

And so, as we mourned the loss of our dreams, we were comforted.

In the midst of this, my friend Timothy came to me and told me he had a message for me from the Lord: "Danny," he said, "the problem isn't that you failed. The problem is that you were succeeding in the wrong direction. God is redirecting you." It was true; we had become pretty worldly and I had hated the constant travel--being away from my family so often during those years. Now all of that was gone.

Carla and I look back on those times now as one of the best things that ever happened to us. Our entire lives were redirected. Our values changed. I found myself set on a course of intense spiritual, theological and Biblical study that continues to this day.

We try to live simply now. We carry no debt, own no credit cards. We drive old cars that are paid for. We live within our means. We are much, much happier and less stressed. Most importantly, we know that He is always with us and will never leave us, no matter how badly we screw up.


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