This was the very first article that I wrote. I posted it at themestream when it was alive and kicking, so if this sounds familiar to some of you, it was there that you probably read it.
As we close the year out on 2000, I am reminded that this was a year of Jubilee. Not since I was 24 has the Lord put me through my paces. When I was twenty four, I left to go to college and spent two summers working at a YMCA summer camp where I was depending on the Lord's help on a daily bases. Three things were taught to me this year of Jubilee; death, joy, and trust.
It was about a year ago I started looking for a new career. I was working for a Ford dealership and after being passed over for a job promotion for the fourth time I realize the prognosis and knew I had gone as far as I could at that place. However, I knew I could do better.
One of the first loves I had was that of the railroad. I always thought that would be an awesome job. Just imagine pulling mile long freights with anywhere between five to twenty thousand horse power in your grasp is a feeling that is beyond description. Now if only I could work for the Santa Fe, my life would be set. It was my grandfather, Pa, who would tell me stories of his days with the Central of Georgia and Santa Fe Railroads. Ever since, I was able to crawl up into his lap, he would tell me his stories of life on the rails. There was a spur track down the street from the house where I grew up. It belonged to the Southern Pacific Railroad. Every night at about seven thirty, the local that carried empty tank cars to the Standard Oil Refinery in El Segundo came by. Pa would take me down the street to watch the trains. It was watching those trains go by and hearing Pa’s stories that gave me my love for the rails. (Judy, my wife, called this the indoctrination period of my life.) Later at Pa's memorial service, my mother told me I would have a crying fit if I didn't get to see the train go by.
December of 1999, I went online one night and surfed over to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe web site and looked at the employment page. They were hiring all sorts of crafts in Los Angeles and San Bernardino shops. One of the jobs that were offered was a Laborer. I typed up my resume and sent it in and waited for an interview. A week after, I sent a follow up letter requesting a date for an interview. The interview never came. In fact, I received a phone call saying that they received my follow up letter, but could not find my resume. It was too late to resubmit a resume since the job date closed, but I was told to keep sending in my resume, because jobs were always opening up.
January 2000 arrived. We survived Y2K, but lost a grandfather. Pa passed away January 4, 2000. We saw it coming and braced ourselves for it, but it still hurts. The Sunday after Pa's passing, when we were visiting my parents' church, their pastor challenged her congregation to trust the Lord this year because this was the year of Jubilee. All debts were cancelled. All properties were returned to the owners. Slaves were set free. Israel however, never had a year of Jubilee; it was too risky. So, the pastor challenged us to trust God this year in every decision, we make and to pray without ceasing. With this fire inside of me, I trusted the Lord that my career was in his hands. On January 8th, I went surfing again. This time I went to the Union Pacific Railroad web site. While I was there, I went to their employment page and lo and behold, there was a job with my name written all over it. It was not a main line engineer job nor conductor job, but a lowly laborer. They also had an application that you could fill out and e-mail them at Omaha, so I did just that.
I was a Sunday school teacher at the church Judy and I attended. I was teaching my class on some basic Bible beliefs. I always tried to challenge the kids at the end of the class time with, "what would Jesus do?" situations and "what would you do” responses. I was a teacher; I did not think that I had to do the lesson also. January 14th, I received a phone call at work, asking me to come in for a battery of tests that the UP was giving. Now for the "what would Jesus do" part of the exam. It had 3 possible answers: 1) Dan, I need some time off Thursday for some personal matters. Dan would understand, after all, he did know my grandfather just died. I could tell him it had something to do with the will. It would be a lie, but hey, I'm looking out for my family. 2) Call in sick the day of the test. Dan knows I suffer from Crohn's Disease, a cousin to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. With the stress of Pa's passing, my Crohn's could flare up and I would have a legitimate excuse. It would be a lie, but hey, I'm thinking of my family. Or 3) Dan, I filled out an application with the Union Pacific Railroad and they want me to take a test on Thursday morning. This was the truth and I was thinking of my family. Dan could have said at that time, "We don't allow for personal time to be used that way". The words that I left my class with came back to haunt me, "What would Jesus do?” Jesus would have told the truth, so as his example to me, I told the truth. Telling my boss the truth was liberating, and as a result of this, I kept him informed on the whole process.
You know it's hard to be an example for a bunch of sixth graders, as I later related the above story to them. I mean, I could have easily called in sick the day of the exam, and told those kids that their great teacher did the right and honorable thing. They would never know. Nevertheless, this was also a test of grit. I would have known and not liked myself one bit for what I would have done.
Blessing number one; Integrity and Character. I may not be a rich man, but if you have integrity and character you have wealth, my friend - you have wealth. I took the tests they wanted me to take. I was told that if I passed the tests, that they would call me for an interview the next week.
Tuesday of the following week came. I was sure that they would call anytime but all morning and afternoon came and went with no news. When I got home, I told Judy that I didn't think I passed the test. Judy wanted to know why I was so certain of this. I told her that last week on Tuesday they called and wanted me to take the test on Thursday and since I didn't hear from them this particular day, well... I presumed I did not pass the test. Judy in her own sweet way reminded this nervous as a long-tail-cat-in-a-rocking-chair-factory husband of hers that I had up until the following day to hear from them. After all, the man was coming from Chicago, which was experiencing a blizzard at that time. I think her exact words were TRUST GOD ALREADY! Strongman of faith that I am. Five minutes passed since this conversation ended when the phone rang. It was the Personnel Representative of the UP telling me I passed the test and could I come in Thursday for an interview.
Blessing number two; Confidence and Faith. I later told Judy after I passed probation, that the jobs I did well on were the jobs I set out to find on my own. The jobs I did poorly on were jobs set up through some one else. This was a career I left at the alter of the All Mighty and had practically given up the idea on. To quote a song, The Lover of my soul, lifter of my head, the one true God who is always in control heard my prayer.
Thursday came. Out of the seventy-five people who came into to do the test, only seven were there to be interviewed. Only four positions were open. Pretty good odds if you ask me. Now if only I could get the right place in for the interview. I didn't know what place that would be, I just didn't want to be first nor last. First, name up...MINE! I don't remember any of the questions I was asked, nor the answers I gave - I just remember I shook the panel members' hands and thanked them for their time. That night, after I got home from work, I waited about thirty minutes when the phone call came offering a position with the Union Pacific Railroad. I just had to pass a physical.
I passed the physical and was told that there will be a background check, and if that clears, it would be about a month until I would get a start date. On February 22, the call came for a start date of March 1st at West Colton, which is in Bloomington, California. I originally put in for Commerce Yard, which is in East Los Angeles, and everything was set up for Commerce, but it was West Colton that called. I was trusting the Lord on this situation, so if he wanted me at West Colton, West Colton was where I needed to be. After all, I was working for the railroad; this was a job that was in my blood.
March 1st came and it was like a dream come true. I was working for the railroad. The job felt like a pair of worn Levi's 501's; didn't need to break them in. The job was that comfortable. Roughly, two weeks into my new career, Judy told me she wanted to go looking at houses in the Riverside/San Bernardino area.
You see, Judy was trusting the Lord also. We had had problems with the school that our son, Jared, was attending. Jared is a bright kid that has a lot going for him. Unfortunately, his schoolwork was suffering quite a bit. Having Attention Deficit and a motor skills problem, he was sinking further behind in his studies. The school told us that Jared does qualify under Americans with Disabilities Act and that there was help for him. That was all we were told. Judy did all of the footwork to help our son with school. The school was too slow to help our son or just flat out refused to. As in a case with one of Jared's teacher refusing to give him an oral exam, "because it's not fair to him or his classmates." We were even told that it is not wise to dwell on the problem because that will lower his self-esteem! My reply was "So, he's bringing home poor grades and falling further behind in his studies and I shouldn't worry, because his self- esteem might be hurt?" Who thought up this garbage!
Judy, bless her heart, has a lot of faith in me. I believe its true when it is said behind every good man; there is a fantastic wife. Judy is my Proverbs 31 lady; charm is deceitful, beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD shall be praised.
The third blessing; the love of a godly woman, I love you honey. Where am I going with this, you might be asking yourself. It was her idea to buy a house at this time, not mine. It was her idea to pull Jared out of the Public Education System, (Pink Floyd was right, "we don't need no thought control"), and home school him. We were not getting any help from the school district. It was as if the school's response to us was, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Fulton, but Jared's round philosophy does not fit our square holes." They were big on having students go with the flow, but when someone came along to challenge "their god", well, we have no room for him; he's a non-conformist.
March 17th, we went to a town called Moreno Valley, 12 miles east of Riverside. Keep in mind the Lord is still active with us; we got one of those magazines that describe the houses that are up for sale. Judy spotted an ad for a 5 bedroom, 2 baths for $95,000. She called the realtor, who told us that was an old ad and the house had been sold. She did, however, have a few more listings and if we had the time, she would show us the houses. About the fourth house, we saw that day was a 4 bedroom 2 1/2 bath, for $98,000. Before I knew it, we were back at the office filling out papers. We put a bid in on the house and were told we should hear from the homeowner’s bank within 2 weeks to see if the bid was accepted. We were told that the bank was still reviewing the bid after 5 weeks. We were discouraged, but not disheartened. Meanwhile, we had to get our financial records in order. At the beginning of May, we went house hunting again in Moreno Valley. This time we hit pay dirt. We found a 4-bedroom 2-bath house with a pool that was in our price range and put in a bid. When we went to sign the escrow papers on the second house, the loan officer that was working with us told us that day the bank had accepted our bid on the first home. Two days after celebrating the seventh anniversary of Judy's thirty-second birthday, we moved into our new house.
Judy gave notice at her work that due to problems with the school, she was planning to home school Jared. Since it was a sixty-two mile drive (one way) for me every night to go to work, we were also looking to move to be closer to my work. She would leave at the end of June. Judy left like she said she would, and my family was totally dependant on me. (Lord please help me, this is so scary!) Although, I have to admit it was rather nice coming home to a house that was ours. A place where I could put a nail in the wall, or better yet, knock down a wall if I wanted to, and not have to explain the reason to the land lord.
I started doing evening vespers, in our backyard, a practice I did back at those summer camps, mostly thanking the Lord for his guidance and mercy. In September, I noticed that my legs were starting to ache. A type of ache that only comes from a lot of running. Yet, I hadn't done any running. I have had low potassium before due to my Crohn's, the illness that I have been blessed with. I had lost seven feet of intestine to this disease, which gives me chronic diarrhea. Because my body processes food at a shorter run through my body, I tend to lose a large amount of potassium. This is what was happening to me. I did try to medicate my self with over the counter potassium ( I'm not a smart man), which was water soluble, so every time I went into our pool the potassium would leave me through osmosis. I had stiffness in my legs and I could not control my feet. I told Judy that she had better get me to the hospital. When we arrived there, I started walking along and she told me I was walking like Frankenstein. My reply was to stretch my arms out in front of me and say, "Fire good!" which caused Judy to laugh. I have always been able to make those around me laugh when the times got tough or hard. It's my way to deal with stress.
I had been wondering what The Lord had in store for us, since He seemed to have been quiet with us ever since we moved into our house. While we were in the hospital, it became apparent to me that I needed to be praying, not for me, but for those around me. There was a seventeen-year-old girl with appendicitis in severe pain. I was seventeen once with the same pain, but that's another story. I asked her father if he would like us to pray for his little girl. He said yes and Judy and I did. Three hours later they went home and she wasn't in pain anymore. She was alive, but not in pain. A little boy of nine years in the bed next to me had to have a spinal tap. We prayed for him and his fluid was clear, a good sign. Blessing number four, consider others before yourself; be willing to serve others.
Then came my turn. A normal reading for potassium is between 3.0 and 5.0. My was 2.2, low, but not enough to put me in the hospital for overnight. Then the doctor thought it best to run an EKG on me. This is where Judy's smile turned to worry. My heart could not find a rhythm. That's when the doctor came over and said "How come you didn’t tell me about the pain in your chest?" There was no pain in my chest, thank you Jesus! at that time. Although, worry did set in on me. I'd been in this type of situation before and was always able to bounce back, but this was like going skinny-dipping in a lake in Minnesota in January. This happened on a Thursday night; Friday night came and I was still losing potassium, even though I was getting massive amounts of potassium intravenously. It was not staying in my body. I was to the point where I could not control my hands or arms. Judy later told friends at our old church through a prayer chain, that she has never seen me so weak that I had to have her scratch my head. When Judy left Friday night, my potassium was at 1.3 - the lowest it has ever been. This was something I couldn't control. It seemed I was able to trust the Lord with the easy parts of my life, career and home. I had to trust him now literally for the next heartbeat. I was too scared to pray. It was Judy who left this at the Lord's feet, not me. I was trying to remember if I sent in the Life insurance form from work. Who would Judy get to be my pallbearers? Please Lord if I 'm to go now, please don't let her get someone that would drop me on my head! When Saturday morning came, I was able to gain control of my arms and hands. I called Judy to tell her and I wept while talking to her. I didn't want to leave her this way. She risked everything with me and I didn't want to leave her holding the bag. I was responsible for my family and it would be unfair to her and Jared if I left now. Some of you might be saying that it was a strong will to live, but that's not it. I was too worried about my wife and my son to have a will to live. A lesson I learned when I was seventeen was that I was dependent on the Lord for the next breath, the next heart beat, the next everything. This was His life he gave to me, not mine. He is the author of my life! He is the one who will get the glory in the end, not me!
When Saturday evening came, (we serve such an awesome God), I was feeling better then I had felt in a long time. The prayers from all of our friends were answered; my heart had found it's rhythm and my potassium was again in the normal range. I went home the next day, more thankful for life and the joy it brings. I told Judy, when I worked at those summer camps so many years ago I felt His presence everyday. Every day I was in prayer. I missed those days. After this ordeal, I was made aware of His presence and influence in my life again. I regained those days of my youth.
Blessing number five; ABUNDANT LIFE!
There was a problem with my kidneys that I was aware of, but the new doctors we were now with wanted to make sure this was not a complete kidney failure in the making. Tests that were made during my hospital stay indicated that my kidneys were functioning at 60%. The doctor wanted to rule out different causes. He felt my Crohn’s might cause it but he wanted to be sure. A kidney biopsy was ordered in December, which proved to be good news. My kidneys will never be functioning at 100%, but with the medicine I've been taking - the prescription stuff not over the counter stuff - there is room for improvement. The failure also hadn't worsened, but rather has remained consistent.
I started this story with a death and almost ended with a death. Through this last year, Judy, Jared and myself have been stretched physically and spiritually. Some people equate joy with happiness, this is wrong. Happiness is fleeting; it's cotton candy for the soul, it tastes good for the moment, but dissolves quickly. True joy lasts. In the midst of our sufferings and glad times, Jesus, our joy, was ever present with us. This was a Jubilant year.
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Quite a journey Bro', thanks for sharing! - Jay Cookingham