Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chapter 20

20.  Darkest before the Dawn

The next morning, I went over to my parents’ house before breakfast as I headed out to work.  I told them that Mario and I had gotten engaged and hoped that they would be happy for us.  We talked about some things and I shook the whole time.  I didn’t want to do anything that they didn’t want me to do but I really believed that I was walking in God’s will to be with Mario.  Solving nothing in that conversation, we went to our separate jobs.

The next few months were my most difficult and yet most happy times.  Mario and I planned our wedding for May 2002 and I became a chief-delegator sort of bride.  It took no time at all for us to choose our hall, photographer, church, cake baker and sign up for pre-marital counseling.  In order to make doubly sure that we knew what we were doing, we took counseling classes at two different churches.  For the rest of the wedding tasks, I made a list and gave it to April and my best friend.  I figured if it happened, it happened.  If not, oh well, I was still getting married in May.  

At the same time, April and her husband were building a new house and in November, I decided to buy the house in which they were living.  Mario didn’t have enough credit to help me purchase the house so a family friend put a down payment on the house and I agreed to be responsible for the other two-thirds of the mortgage.  Wasting no time at all, I moved in immediately.  I was now a homeowner!  

As the year ended, we were excited about our upcoming wedding.  In 1999, after April’s wedding, Mario had started a side business with a jazz ensemble playing music at wedding receptions.  He also worked as a janitor at a huge church nearby.  Soon his little side business quickly expanded to include DJ services and he was in high demand around the area.  I became his manager and an event coordinator, organizing wedding receptions and making all the announcements.  In addition, I was very busy at my corporate job and although things were getting a little weird there, I was easily distracted by wedding plans.  I also decided that I would work during the evenings at the same tax agency again that tax season in order to make extra money for the wedding.  Knowing that I needed to save both time and money, in January 2002 I made up all the boutonnieres, corsages, flower arrangements, bows, baskets and bouquets, including my own with silk flowers painstakingly hand picked by me.  Although it might seem like it would have been a lot of work to do alone, it actually was very therapeutic to be able to design the arrangements, putting them together with love and pride. I'm happy to report that they turned out beautifully!

Perhaps you might be thinking that I placed a lot of pressure and expectations on myself at this particular time of my life.  You would be correct.  But it had become a habit for me by then, to overschedule and overwork myself.  I didn’t know how to operate any other way.  If I wasn’t busy all the time, if I had any moments of stillness, I believed that I was failing somehow to be all that God had called me to be.  As you can imagine, this began to take a toll on me both physically and mentally.

I survived the next few months and on May 3, 2002 my father walked me down the aisle and I married my best friend and love, Mario.  My father and mother were there and he walked me down the aisle, not because they agreed with our choice but because he wanted Mario and I to know that regardless of his opinion and no matter what was to happen in the future, he and Mom would always be there praying for us.  Since then, we have developed a friendship and relationship with them that is solid in Christ’s love and mercy.  We are honored to have them in our lives.

The stress of my personal life those past few months paled in comparison to the next ones at work.  After returning from our honeymoon in Cancun, Mario and I settled into married life in our new home quite easily.  We had our disagreements and (honestly) rip-roaring fights but we were happy and very much in love.  But things at work were no longer so honeymoon-ish and the undercurrent of unrest was beginning to take its toll.  I can not be specific about the situation there but I can say that my boss and I were no longer getting along.  Emotionally, I felt like I was going to school and a bully was waiting at the corner to beat me up.  Don’t get me wrong, my supervisor was not at heart a bad person nor was I but our communication had deteriorated.

I know now that I was treating him as though I knew more than he did about his job and our division.  I did control a great many aspects of our section but I think that perhaps I didn’t need to communicate that to him.  He, on the other hand, felt like I was pushing him out of the loop.  Other managers would speak directly to me, the sales guys were communicating exclusively with me, if you needed it done, you came to me.  We had heated arguments about reports and meetings.  I had panic attacks nearly every day either on the way to work, while at work or just after leaving work.

He accused me of deliberately sabotaging his authority, told me I was "moronic" and "catatonic" while I worked, rolled his eyes when I asked for time off because of my health.  The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was when he literally yelled at me after I refused to change some important details on a report I had generated.  I contacted the human resources department several times over a period of 6 months and received no help or advice.

It got so bad that the year after I got married, while we were on vacation for Memorial Day in Canada, I became so physically ill with the intestinal problems I had a mammoth panic attack and ended up in a hospital in Sarnia, Ontario.  After treating my symptoms there for seven hours, I was finally released and we crossed the border back into Michigan.  On our way home, I called my supervisor and explained to him that I wouldn’t be in to work the next day.  Though it is true that I had taken a lot of sick days and time off in the past year, his response was cruel and rude.  After hanging up with him, I cried all the way home.  We made an appointment with my doctor in the morning and at that consultation, my doctor advised “you either have to quit that job or plan on being sick for quite a long time.  The stress is destroying your health.”

Shocked, Mario and I prayed about it that evening.  We realized that I had been to a hospital or the doctor at least four times in the past eight months treating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome as a result of panic attacks.  The doctor gave me an anti-anxiety medication and I felt at a loss.  I was a child of God, raised in faith believing I was healed in Jesus’ Name!  I was a walking miracle already and I was struggling with a panic disorder?!  

“A failure,” I thought, “I am a spiritual failure.  Why am I so weak?”  But I did not share these inner thoughts with my husband.  Instead we decided that I would speak to the vice president of the company and I wouldn’t discuss anything with my immediate supervisor at all.  So, I made an appointment with her.  After two separate meetings, she and I decided that I would no longer work at the company.  I committed to working from home for another month to set up training sessions, finish a few projects and say goodbye to my coworkers but then I would be done.  I never spoke to my boss again.

After the decision was made, I found that I slept a great deal.  I had received a severance but couldn’t bring myself to look for another job.  I was defeated mentally and physically.  Depressed without knowing it, it took me three months to get out of bed without having a panic attack.  I didn’t want to become addicted to the anti-anxiety medicine and only took it when the nerves caused the I.B.S. to flare up.  I constantly thought about how I had failed, that God must surely be disappointed in me and what a horrible example of a Christian I was.  Mario struggled with this “new Angel”.  I was not the strong, capable girl he’d known for six years and he wondered how long it would last.  I wondered too.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chapter 19

19.  My New Life
After arriving home, I quickly found a job with a tax agency where I had worked throughout college.  It was easy for me to jump right in to the working world again and I was revved up about showing all my friends and family how much I had changed.  I wish I could say that I was able to stay on that spiritual high but all highs eventually come down.  I was happy to be home, happy to rejoin ministry at my home church, happy to be home with my family.  But I missed Mario.  The stresses of being back in the “real world” at home weren’t overwhelming but my health hadn’t changed much and once again I would have to start paying my own bills with regularity.

During the months at the tax agency I was able to calmly look for a more permanent job and found one with an attorney in the same office building.  I worked for him for another six months and then my cousin called with good news.  “There is an opening for a sales administrator where I work.  Do you want me to give them your resume?”, he asked.  “Of course,” I answered.  After one interview, I received the news that I got the job.  And I was on my way to fulfilling my dream of being the “ultimate corporate chic”.

Meanwhile, Mario was in California working any and all jobs that he could find.  We talked on the phone and even tried this new-fangled thing called chatting online.  He was determined to save up his money and move to Michigan by June 1998.  And he succeeded.  When we finally knew that he was really going to come, I rustled up an apartment for him and lined up a few job interviews.  Once he arrived, he moved in to his tiny little place and got a job at a sports equipment store within one week.

We were so excited to be together again and I knew that I knew that I knew that he was “the one”.  I figured if he had the guts to move all the way out here for me, he was definitely the real deal!  We did not anticipate that it would be five more years until we could get married nor we did we realize the lessons we would learn together about faith in God, patience and just plain old common sense.  Through those five years though, we committed to remain sexually pure before the Lord and we did.  It wasn’t easy and temptation was always right there in our faces, but we did honor God in that way.  Mario and I also committed from the very beginning that we would not play emotional games with each other.  If either of us ever felt that we shouldn’t be together we would be honest about it and would let go.  But it never came to that.

Soon after Mario arrived, my sister and her long-time boyfriend got engaged.  I was so excited for them.  They were married in January 1999 and on the day of their wedding it snowed seventeen inches!!  I felt so bad for them because half of their guests couldn’t come to the ceremony or the reception.  But those of us who braved the roads had a blast.  Mario and another young friend of ours ran the music for their reception and we danced until they kicked us out.  Which didn’t take very long due to the weather conditions.  

It was a very memorable time in our lives and I loved how easily Mario fit into my circle of friends.  Over the next years we worked, we ministered and we played.  We grew together and became the kind of couple around whom anyone could be themselves.  Mario and I decided early on that we would live honestly before the Lord; we would be honest about our struggles, our victories, our stories.  People would watch us and know that they were welcome in our circle.  They would be accepted and loved even while being challenged to pursue God even more.  We have kept that goal ever before us and still live that way today.  My family and friends loved Mario the moment they met him.  Everyone did and still does.  Well, except for my parents.  Don’t get me wrong.  They totally love him now but at first, well maybe not so much.

I will not go into detail about our courtship because mostly that’s a story for Mario or my parents to tell.  Suffice it to say, we waited for five years to get married because we wanted my parents’ blessing and did not exactly receive that.  But time passed and things changed greatly in my life, in all of our lives.  My paternal grandfather (you remember, the one who lived next door to us while I was growing up) had remarried and was building a home up in the Soo near the place where I was born.  He was unwilling to sell the house at the time and rather than have it sit empty, we agreed that I should rent it from him.  Thus began another set of adventures that I will not bore you with involving roommates, Christian young adult parties, and just general growing-up sorts of lessons.

I enjoyed my job as a sales administrator at the automotive company.  I worked there for nearly three years until it was bought out by a larger company and moved its headquarters an hour away from my home.  But I was never satisfied with what I had and what I was doing.  I always wanted to be moving up, to be accomplishing something, changing the way things were done.  I regret my attitude because I failed to see a good thing when I had it.  But I’ve learned from every situation and my lesson while a lowly sales administrator was about being content in the little things.  You know, finding the silver lining.  It was a great job with fantastic benefits and incredible pay.  When I needed laparoscopic surgery in 2000, I was able to take medical leave without any problems.  When I wanted to go on a ten-day mission trip to Romania just a month later, the company gave me leave with pay.  I increased my computer skills, my marketing and database knowledge and sales experience.

But I still struggled with panic attacks, endometriosis (discovered during the laporascopic surgery) and random I.B.S. episodes.  I was torn between wanting to minister and be a Godly example and wanting to live the life my worldly colleagues led.  When the company moved out to Farmington Hills, I knew I would not be going with it.  I said, “unless they make me vice president of something, I’m not driving an hour each way to be a glorified secretary for the rest of my life.”  And so I found another job in the newspaper, went for an interview, was hired and gave my two-week’s notice.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have kept the job I had and found another way to “move up the corporate ladder.”  The new job was at a local, family-owned manufacturing company that had nothing whatsoever to do with the automotive industry.  I felt that I could really go places with this job even though it, too, started low on the totem-pole as a sales administrator.  The first year with this company was like a honeymoon in paradise.  Everything was going so well.  Mario and I had been together for nearly four years, I had my own place and a good roommate that I had met while on the mission trip in Romania, and I was feeling good.

I was well-liked at the new job and got along well with my boss as well as the other directors and workers.  The division I was working with had a simple structure.  I reported to my supervisor as did four sales people “out in the field”.  My guys, as I soon began to label them, were located in Illinois, Georgia and New York.  I developed an amazing relationship with each of them and with the plant personnel.  Among other tasks, each month I took data from the different plants in the eastern United States, generated reports and gave them to my director.

Sales goals and marketing plans were based off of my reports and I began to feel like I was part of something important.  Soon my supervisor began to rely on me for all kinds of tasks and projects.  I began to write operating procedures for our division which was growing by leaps and bounds.  He hired another assistant and I trained her.  I was the only administrator who went to the meetings with the other managers while he was out on the road meeting with customers.  I was feeling.....and acting....mighty important.

Meanwhile, outside of work, things were great with Mario.  But time was beginning to strain our relationship.  Where was it going?  It had been four years since he moved here and yet we were no closer to becoming engaged than before.  I was hanging on to the hope that my parents would have an epiphany and realize that he was the amazing, wonderful, superb, perfect one for me and would shower their blessings on us.  In June of 2001, I finally realized that I was a grown woman with my own rented home who had traveled the world and who had wonderful parents that taught me how to hear the voice of God in my life.  I told Mario I was ready to move on in our relationship if that’s what he wanted regardless of any familial consequences.  It was a heart-wrenching decision for me but the time had come to grow up and away from my family, if that was necessary.

But Mario didn’t ask me to marry him right then.  In fact, several weeks passed and I began to think he wouldn’t.  And then, on the 4th of July at the fireworks in a local town Mario knelt on both knees (he said he was too nervous and thought he’d fall over if he only knelt on one knee) and asked me to be his wife.  With hands shaking, thoughts swirling, eyes sparkling and a huge grin I answered, “yes, of course I will!!”  And just like that, I was engaged.

And I was terrified.  How would I tell my parents?  The people I trusted most in my life, the ones who prayed me through thick and thin - I was going against their advice and wishes.  My heart broke for myself, for Mario and for them.