In September of 2009, I had just been promoted to a special position within the company where I’d worked for the previous six years. I enjoyed the work, and felt like the promotion meant that a lot of hard work had payed off. Best of all, it allowed my wife, who had worked in the same department with me during that time, to quit her job to stay home with our eight month old baby.
Her being a stay-at-home mom was a dream come true for us both.
But two weeks after she quit, I was called into the conference room for a rare, impromptu meeting with the Vice President. After seeing the economic downturn affect our company the previous few years and cause round after round of layoffs, I suddenly had that ominous feeling of a cow being led to the slaughterhouse. My senses were confirmed when I arrived at the conference room to find the room full of three managers and two other employees that I’d never worked with before.
This was no layoff. This was a firing squad.
The Vice President proceeded to tell me and the two redshirts on my flank that the company was changing in a way he didn’t like, and that he was sorry…blah, blah, blah…and he had to let us go. I was completely shocked, but before I could even summon a reaction, he slid an envelope across the table that, he explained, contained my severance package.
He continued to explain to the three of us that today would be our last day. We weren’t allowed to return to our computers. We had to pack our things right now and one of the other managers in the room would be glad to help me with that. (Translation: we’re also going to escort you from the building just in case you decide to flip out and start breaking things or peeing on them.)
I felt stunned. I felt panic. My mind immediately went to thoughts of my wife and baby at home. My gut reaction was to try to change their mind and remind them of the promotion I had just received and of how much value I was bringing to them with my current projects, but I immediately realized we were beyond that. Then, I felt a rush of desperate anger––but I immediately realized that would be no help, either. All of those emotions and thoughts came and passed in less than two seconds.
As the two other schlubs painfully filed out of the room with their tails tucked between their legs, I did the only dignified thing I could think to do. I stood up, looked the Vice President directly in the eyes, reached out my hand to him and said as sincerely as I could, “Bill, it’s been a great working for you, and I appreciate you hiring me six years ago and for the opportunities I’ve had working here. Thanks.”
I later realized this must have taken him off guard. He was probably preparing for something less cordial. The image of Han Solo in the Mos Eisley cantina later came to mind––his hand secretly grasping his blaster under the table, pointing at Greedo with his finger on the trigger, in case things went south.
Whatever Bill was ready for, he wasn’t ready for a sincere thanks from someone he’d just sent packing. The look on his face made that clear. But he quickly gathered himself, stood, and shook my hand while mumbling something about me landing on my feet.
As I left the parking lot that day, amid the rush of “what now?” thoughts, I felt an undeniable and overwhelming sense of relief. It felt strange, and as I began to question why I felt relief, I realized how much I disliked that job. The politics, the gossip, the commute, the mundane, factory floor-style nature of the work itself–it was a rock in my shoe that I had, in time, developed a callous for. With it suddenly yanked from me, I couldn’t deny the relieved feeling of “ahhhhhh!” that I felt.
And that was when I felt a sense of great comfort wash over me like a gentle, giant wave. “God is up to something big,” I thought, “and this is just the beginning.”
When I got home, my wife asked why I was home so early. I explained to her what happened. She cried. I told her about what I had been thinking about on my way home, trying to reassure her that we wouldn’t soon be out on the street, eating garbage.
One week later, we found out we were pregnant with baby #2. I just laughed. I laughed from joy, but I also laughed because I didn’t want to panic again. “These are only the kinds of stories you can write,” I told Jesus. I’m sure he laughed, too. If he could have text messaged me a response, I like to think it would have said, “Yep. I know! LOLZ. Best parts are still coming.”
He would have been right.
With a severance package that lasted for six weeks, I found work in five. And the new job paid more and was half the commute of the job I’d lost. Baby #2 was born very healthy (at nearly 10lbs). I’ve had a couple of different jobs since that time, and each one has been better than the last.
So how did I survive that first job layoff?
There’s a scene in Matrix Revolutions where Neo speaks with the antagonist who built the matrix. They’re in a room surrounded by walls made of hundreds of small TV screens. When the Architect speaks to Neo, each TV screen plays a different reaction Neo could choose as a response. The responses range from anger, to weeping, to fear, but in the end, Neo chooses one reaction to actually display. From a range of emotions and reactions, he chose to give the best one.
There’s also a place in the Bible where Jesus gives a hard teaching, and most of His disciples choose to abandon Him. Jesus turns to the core Twelve who remained and asked if they wanted to abandon Him, too. Peter speaks up in John 6:68 and confesses that there’s nowhere else to go when Jesus is the only thing they need. He says:
I survived that trying time in my life by doing the only thing I knew to do: trusting God and choosing the response I thought He would have given. That doesn’t make me special or holy. It just makes me thankful that God has trained me to weather life’s storms by looking to Him for strength instead of looking to myself.
So in every storm, I can always claim His promises to me and know that the best parts are still to come.