When I was a teenager who didn’t want to get out of bed for my early-morning newspaper route, my newly single mother took it over and delivered hundreds of newspapers before she headed off to work. She told me the “extra” money came in handy to supplement her meager pay.
It was hardly extra. I think she had it targeted to pay for milk.
I didn’t recognize (or appreciate) it then, but she was an incredible budgeter and a loyal worker and she had financial discipline that kept us from sinking in times that could have delivered us to the doors of a homeless shelter.
She kept — and still keeps — a very careful budget and a ledger of gas purchases and resulting mileage per gallon. When there was nowhere else to cut, she restricted driving. I didn’t understand then just how tight things were, but when she charged me for gas to drive me to the mall, I happily paid her 50 cents.
During that time, she did what she had to do to make ends meet.
But she was unresolved inside, I have come to learn, about the circumstances that brought us to the financial tightrope. I suspect that you know that kind of unresolved — ANGRY unresolved — bearing the burden and doing what you have to do, all the while lacking internal grace. It’s a special kind of spiritual and psychological torture.
It was also during that time that she found some solace in returning — with fervor — to the Catholic Church and to her previously abandoned practice of faith. I didn’t understand what that was all about then, but I know now that she was opening to spiritual support that would bring her some peace and usher her through the next stages.
She resigned from her job as a college professor — the one she had worked so very hard for — because she couldn’t simultaneously tend to the emphasis on research over teaching — and to her own emotional needs. She chose to invest herself in healing some very old but newly surfaced emotional wounds while she did the hardest work of her life — and meanwhile took whatever jobs she could find that not-quite-paid-the-bills.
So she was thrilled a few years later when she got a full-time job at the local Catholic Church organizing the education program. It combined her love of teaching and her faith — and a regular paycheck to boot. She threw herself into it with abandon. And then 11 years later, she was let go with no notice and no severance, and she was crushed.
She came to visit me once a week during her jobless days, which stretched well into months and then into more than a year. I happily slipped her $20 for gas when she visited — but it wasn’t as easy for her to ask me for gas money as it had been when she drove me to the mall almost 30 years earlier.
When she finally got a job at a Catholic seminary as Director of the Mass Association, I affectionately dubbed her “Boss of the Mass Cards.” It was a fitting title and a fitting role, for ever since she had gone back to church, there was not one special occasion or time of need that we didn’t get a mass card along with a loving note or gift.
She more than embraced the job that she thought would deliver her to retirement at 70 (which had been VERY carefully planned and budgeted), and for eight years she ran the department like she ran our meager budget. She sees now that perfectionism drove some of that dedication, as if the department would cease to exist without her tireless hours and labored dedication. And I now see where I learned some of my own perfectionist tendencies.
Things were off in the working environment there, though. It was less than desirable, and morale was accordingly low. Definitely no atta girls for all that extra work. No raises. No reviews. Part time assistants taken away. There is more to it than that, but we don’t need to go there. She stuck it out because she was happy to have a job — and because she loved her co-workers.
A couple of years ago, she was called into the head priest’s office and informed that she was going to be laid off because the mass association was in the red financially. She ran the numbers and showed them that, in fact, it was making money. And the powers that be never said another word, so she just kept right on showing up at work.
Then eight months before she turned 70, she was again called into Father’s office, and she was again told that she was laid off, but there was no pink slip and no termination date. She accepted the news, though she was sad and scared for financial reasons; her retirement plan was tight enough if she retired at 70. Father seemed relieved and told her that he had not been looking forward to that discussion. You can’t imagine that laying off a 69-year old hard-working, faith-filled woman would be easy.
When she followed up to get her termination date and pink slip, she was told that she hadn’t been laid off but that she had in fact resigned, which of course she hadn’t.
I imagine my poor mother’s head spinning in the priest’s office, and not because of an exorcism.
Somehow she got that sorted out, and then she was told that she wasn’t eligible for unemployment AND social security. She did some research and went back and told him that she was.
My brother offered to bring in a lawyer. She thought and prayed about it and decided for a brief moment to explore that avenue because it felt so unfair.
She paused, though, and acknowledged to herself and to God that she was scared and emotionally triggered. The woman who used to blare Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive had been internally blaring — in that familiar, angry, unresolved way — the same tune. She did not want to be poor again, to not know where she would find money for gas. Or food for that matter.
We talked one afternoon about trust, and about how hard it can be to step gracefully into the unknown, especially when we touch old wounds and activate raw, primal fears. It is so very hard to sit with those primal fears, to be brought back to past pain and perceived injustice.
Soon she knew that what she wanted was peace and nothing more than a pink slip so she could (hopefully) supplement the retirement shortfall with unemployment insurance. She got her pink slip, and in her characteristic, hard-working style, she stayed through the end of the month to balance the books, organize the stacks of unused mass cards, and write the letter that Father would sign informing supporters of the mass association’s closing. (I will note here that the department did cease to exist without her!)
Co-workers who planned a lunch party for her were surprised when she invited Father, even though she expected he wouldn’t show. But he did — and so did twice as many people who ever showed up for one of their office gatherings.
While talking to her at the luncheon, he commented on how exceptional the restaurant was.
But what she commented on to Father — and to every single one of her co-workers — was the goodness that she saw in them and exactly how each one had touched her life. There was not a dry eye in the restaurant that afternoon.
I think it’s safe to say that she is resolved. And that she is discovering that she has again been being spiritually ushered — with grace and its resulting freedom — into her next stages.
She is loving retirement so far. And still paying for her own gas. 😉
It’s a personal paradox that we must feel and acknowledge the very feelings we don’t want to feel. The fear. The anger. The resentment. The sadness. And whatever else is there.
When we finally surrender and stop trying to do it all and maybe even ask for a little bit of help, we invite grace into our lives. We allow ourselves to acknowledge and feel our painful, primal feelings, and it is then that grace has a way of showing up.
And grace, by its very nature, can’t be contained. It was present in the restaurant that afternoon, and its ripples have surely moved into the souls of her former co-workers at the restaurant that afternoon — and then through them and out into the world of those who were not.
My momma reminds us that the work we do to welcome grace into our lives is not easy, but that it matters more than we may ever know.