Leigh Kramer is one of those rare kindred spirits that you find on the internet who makes me glad for worldwide connections and computer scientists. She thinks and cares deeply, and she’s generous-hearted to the core. I love her words and I’m glad she’s here today. Here’s her story:
The weight settled so gradually, I no longer know when it first arrived. My period of unemployment after graduate school is a blur of Before and After. At first, I confidently proclaimed, “God has a plan, it’s all going to work out.” As the months passed by without change, my confidence grew quiet and unsure. Did God have such a plan for me? Did He even care?
A month after graduating with my Masters in Social Work, I headed to Thailand to volunteer with Cross-Cultural Solutions for three weeks. A mini-Peace Corps experience, one of the best experiences of my life. I went because I’d never been out of the country and didn’t know when I’d have that much free time again. One last hurrah. Little did I know it would be 16 months before my first job offer.
August 2004 I dove head first into resumes and applications. I cast the net far and wide. I was ready to move beyond my Chicago suburb hometown.
A promising prospect emerged right away, only to disappear as we started making plans for a second interview.
Back to the drawing board. In between creating resumes and applying for jobs, I reluctantly went back to work at The Christian Bookstore, which had helped me pay for college and grad school. I supplemented those hours with babysitting, house sitting, whatever I could find.
This was building my character, I decided. God had a plan. Didn’t He?
Whatever His plan was, He didn’t see fit to clue me in. In fact, He was rather silent. Bold prayer requests turned to frustrated pleas.
Discouragement crept in. I’d done everything “right.” I’d balanced school and work for so long, I’d never considered a job wouldn’t appear in the end.
While I wrestled with my life’s purpose and the unkind social work job market, I navigated platitudes and reassurance from people who meant well. I resented the implications I wasn’t doing enough or looking for work in the right places. The tips from people who knew nothing about non-profits or social work. Anger and despair welled up in equal proportions. Although interviews went well, they never translated to a job offer. There was seemingly no reason I couldn’t find a job. Except I couldn’t.
No longer a student or a social work intern, I questioned my identity. Who was I if I wasn’t a social worker? I was good at my job at The Christian Bookstore but it wasn’t my calling.
My calling. If you’re not working in your calling, are you still called to do it? These questions made me toss and turn at night.
I combed memories to figure out where I’d erred. Had Thailand been a lark? Should I have applied for jobs right after graduating on the off-chance an employer would hold the position for the month? Was there some contact I’d overlooked? Had my Thank You notes contained a grievous typo? Had I picked the wrong career? Would God ever speak into my life?
This wasn’t my first trial, nor would it be the worst, but I’ve never questioned my identity, my calling, or the presence of God the way I did during those aching months. I longed for clarity, direction, encouragement, some indication God was paying attention. To no avail.
I latched on to the idea of moving to Nashville, where my best friend and her husband lived. The job search stretched to 6 months. I grasped at straws, even as it became clear I should stay put in Illinois. (Funny enough, I did move to Nashville…5 years later.)
Books often help me understand whatever I’m facing. I read books on God’s plan, waiting, and dealing with dark nights of the soul. A friend lent me a sermon series on God’s will. I realized I hadn’t veered from the center of God’s perfect life plan. I was doing the best I could, given the circumstances. True, my life didn’t look the way I’d imagined it but I had a great circle of family and friends and I could pay my bills.
I couldn’t interpret God’s silence, nor did I understand why I hadn’t yet found a job in my field. I kept plugging away. I took it one step at a time. Instead of moving to Nashville, I moved into an apartment with two good friends. Instead of starting a social work job, I nannied for a family while their nanny went on maternity leave. I dated, I hosted parties, I served at church.
I tried to believe He would provide for all my needs. I tried to believe He was enough.
And though this was most difficult of all, I tried to see myself apart from the labels. I was simply me. My identity could not be found in a job or status or friends or activities. My identity came from Christ alone.
Sixteen months of ups and downs. Countless resumes and interviews. Hopes lifted up and then dashed. Hard lessons learned. Bills paid, even when the nanny job ended.
When I least expected it, the local hospital called to interview me for a hospice social work position. Relief poured out of me when HR offered me the position. When I accepted the job, I cried grateful tears the season had finally ended.
There is no rhyme or reason for that season of unemployment. I have the gift of hindsight, knowing it worked out perfectly. But I don’t think I’ll ever understand why it took that long or why I couldn’t learn those lessons another way.
Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at A Deeper Family and Prodigal Magazine. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.
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