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The building where I work. It’s especially pretty early in the morning.

Yes, I took the State Insurance Exam on Friday.  After my last blog post it was determined that we would be taking the test for certain on Friday at 3:30. Both the other gal who was hired and myself were concerned about this, and our concern increased as the week went on. The pre-testing quizzes were taking us a lot of time between the site not cooperating and having to take the tests over until we passed. There were about 40 quizzes, about 8 of them had 50 questions each.

I can’t tell you how foreign the whole insurance vernacular was to me, and my comprehension was equally shallow.  So much seemed like legal jargon. Everything I read made me wonder what I was getting myself into. The quiz questions were complicated. “Johnny, an uninsured motorist, let Joni, an insured motorist, drive his car from Oregon to Kalamazoo, but before she left, he told her not to fill the tank with unleaded fuel. Joni hit a telephone pole when she was talking to Johnny on her cell phone to tell him that she forgot to use Premium gas. Joni also broke her wrist, and reported to the emergency room after the car was towed. Who is at fault and will insurance, if any, pay for Joni’s broken wrist and Johnny’s car?” For a literal thinker like myself my head spun in circles and triangles, all. week. long. The class we had taken the week before was directed solely at learning the material so we could pass the test. We weren’t allowed to ask questions, so we madly took notes, with little understanding of what the notes meant. I had to have faith that I would figure things out in the end. I had to ignore the little voice that didn’t believe it was possible. I had to eat more chocolate.

I had an ongoing QUESTIONS sheet of paper.  When we went over it with our boss the Thursday before the test, I had figured out the answer to most of the questions I’d written down. For example, I kept hearing the term, “a covered auto.” My literal thinking brain was working over time.  When I heard the term “a covered auto,” I figured that the auto was covered, as in a protective material or something. I envisioned an auto fitted nicely with a heavy fabric.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that a “covered auto,” is an auto that is covered by insurance. So passing the pre-exam quizzes that were stated like trickster questions was a long arduous process.

The test was at 3:30. I finished my pre-exam quizzes at 4pm the Wednesday before the test. That was a team effort between my co-worker and myself. Once those were done, that gave me only Wednesday night, Thursday, and Friday morning to read the 175 some pages of written notes and try to not only memorize and digest insurance: Property and Casualty, Auto, Homeowners, Ocean and Inland Marine, Workman’s Comp. I was frantic, barely taking a break to go to the bathroom, and when I did, I read my notes on the way to and from, and kept my notes in site while there. Multi-tasking at its finest. This week Bradley was on his own and there was no Farkle.

Friday at noon I picked my fellow employee up at her house.  One minute I was speaking words of peace and encouragement, the next minute she was comforting me. I wanted to cry; I wanted to be done. It wasn’t so much that I felt I had to pass to impress my boss. He was adamant that we shouldn’t stress about passing the first time, that it was common for people to take the test over. I simply wanted to pass so I could move on. I wanted to go to the bathroom unencumbered. I wanted to make a meal for Bradley and play Farkle. I didn’t want Bradley living with an absentee mom, present, but not really. I didn’t want to be a hermit behind an office door, with a singular focus.

My fellow employee and I got to the test site about 3 hours early to get finger printed and then to have lunch while we studied and put the finishing touches on our brains (thank you, boss). We wondered how we could possibly make a difference this late in the game. But we knew that we could pass or fail, by one question, and neither of us could bear the thought of that. I needed to pray before my test one last time. I wanted to pray in union with someone. It wouldn’t do to mutter a final prayer under my breath, so I muttered to Jesus that he would protect me from embarrassing either myself or my new friend, and I asked her if she had a faith. Her answer was longish but clear: She shared enough and I asked her if we could pray. As we drove back to the test site I asked aloud if God would reward us for our hard work, and that his will would be done, and that we would relieve ourselves of the pressure we had put on ourselves. AMEN.

I was surprised when I finished the test with an hour left. I had the opportunity to go back over my questions. With that much time left, I considered it, for fear that I was foolish not to. I went back about five questions, but then decided I wasn’t going to do it. I knew what I knew and that wasn’t going to change. Going back might sabotage my results. I hit the SEND button that indicated I was finished. The test calculated for a minute. I looked at the screen and saw the word PASS. I was stunned.  I bowed my head and thanked Jesus, truly in disbelief.

I walked out of the testing room, beaming.  The proctor congratulated me and showed me my results. I passed by O-N-E question. I am certain it was God’s hand that allowed me to pass it, by one question. Every second I shoved that information into my head paid off, but I know my heavenly father was looking out for me. He knows my limitations, and I was stretching them.

It was with great relief that my co-worker also passed. She passed by more than one. We had articulated our concern about one passing and one not. We were both thrilled to celebrate our successes with a quick drink. We went our separate ways; I went to the high school basketball game. My friends indulged me while I beamed and expressed myself gleefully.

Both kids are away at a church camp. Bradley’s a camper and Bridgette is serving. The weekend was mine. After church today I went to Ross Dress for Less to see if I could get a couple things for my work wardrobe. I really hate shopping. I love clothes, and I love to have clothes. But I don’t like the process of getting clothes.  But I couldn’t pass of up the sales. I ended up purchasing $189.00 worth of clothes (16 items!). I made it home in time for the end of the third quarter of the NFC Championship game. I’m so glad I stopped shopping when I did.

So… I have my Insurance license. I do understand what an umbrella policy is (we had one when I was married, but I didn’t understand it), I know what my deductible is, I know what Homeowners is, I understand the concept of Commercial General Liability…

Now, on to learning my job!

One night a friend called to tell me that she had a friend, who was also her insurance agent, who would be adding to his team in the capacity of a Customer Service Representative.  I love this friend and trust her. I know instinctively based on who she is and our relationship, that her words have value. These same words spoken to me by another person may have held little value.

She gave me a few more pieces of information, but because I was having a conversation in my own head, I heard very little. What I heard was:  INSURANCE. He’s a CHRISTIAN man, he’s a big supporter of YOUNG LIFE, his office is CLOSE, you don’t HAVE to sell, but you’re good with people, and I thought I’d just let you know about the opportunity.  In my own silent conversation I was considering what life could be like working for a Christian.  But working in insurance has never been on my radar (except for two good friends who have found a lot of satisfaction working in insurance for years). Would I be settling? Should I wait for the secretary job to open up at the local grade school my kids attended, being part of a schedule that allows me to share my son’s schedule, and the district benefits. I thought about my efforts in the last year to learn Spanish, which is a real desire, but a slow progress.  Would I be learning something new that has never been on my “Professional To Do” list, and would these be skills I could use in other professions that would qualify me for other jobs in the future?

I considered all these things as my friend kindly told me about this opportunity. I appreciated this gift, but would it look good when I put it on? Even though my own voice was louder than hers (it usually is), I heard enough to know, I was to pursue the job.  So, it was in obedience that I submitted my resume and proceeded with an interview.

My prayer was this: God, give me clarity.  A concern I’ve had in my job search has been that I would be too particular.  I often hear people struggle over “God’s will for their life.”  I understand their confusion. When we want one thing, but it doesn’t make sense because we’re limited by health, family circumstances, finances, etc. it can be hard to reconcile our desire with our resources.  Aren’t desires placed in our hearts by God?  My own Bridgette had the desire to be a swimmer, but no matter how much PT we engaged in, how much she worked around an uncooperative shoulder, after three years of pain and complicated circumstances, she gave up swimming. It was a huge loss. The same was true for her other injuries and running. It was torment. She finally adjusted and gave up her dream of running in college.

I think many of us have had those moments where we feel “called,” only to discover that the calling evades us. So, comes the question, “What is God’s will for my life?”  The answer came to me about 10 years ago.

My mom

My mom

My mother was mentally ill. When I was about 10 years old, we were taken from her. We were also taken from her when I was about five, but that was a short lived period of time.  She came back into my life when I was 35.  At about age forty my husband and I took on the responsibility of taking care of her. For five years I looked after her until she died. I did that while my husband traveled extensively and my young children required a lot of attention.  I had very little time to relax or have fun with other women.  I attended a bible study every Thursday morning, but it was often interrupted by the unpredictable fire that needed my attention, often ignited by my mom.

I recall a particular morning that I had looked forward to bible study. But my mother was persistent that I come over and help.  It was a juggling act in those days, trying to decipher an “emergency” from something that could wait.  My heart felt for her, knowing how hard it was that she face her limitations.  I also fought resentment with frustration that she didn’t value my time, or desire my life to be less burdensome. She was expectant and entitled, and legitimately needful at the same time.

That morning I found myself cleaning her shower.  The water from the shower head mixed with the tears that fell down my face, as I thought about bible study, what I was missing out on, including the social interaction. “Why Lord, wouldn’t you allow me to go to bible study? Why aren’t I able to cultivate the relationships that allow me to be blessed, and to bless?” I considered the other ladies who attended bible study without the weight of burdens that required them to miss out.  I was envious of women who organized church events or lead worship.  Both things for which I was equipped. I begged God for answers.  He created me to love interaction with people. I love to give and to get. It’s a two way street that I find invigorating. It’s been hard wired in me from the day I was born. Why then would God place me, me? “of all people”, in a musty shower, in a home that smells, with piles of junk mail that I’m prohibited to touch, with a mom who I felt was siphoning me dry.

The water ran longer than it needed to. I meticulously scrubbed the grout as I cried and sorted through my emotions.  I didn’t want my mom to hear my crying. Anything that pointed a finger at her would require more of me. As I lifted my aching heart before the Lord, somewhere between the tiles, the grout, and the sobs I heard him say, “You are right where I want you. There is no better place for you than here, in this moment, serving your mom.” It was a defining moment for me.

God’s will: That we serve him, wherever we are, wherever he needs us.

In Matthew 19 a rich man asks God how to be assured of eternal life, and Jesus says, “Obey my commandments.”  Then the man says, “and what else?”  I would have been like, “Grrr… isn’t that enough? I answered your question!”  But, Jesus says, “To be perfect you must give up your wealth and follow me.” The man walks away sad, because he has great wealth.

I don’t believe Jesus was speaking only to people with great wealth. What else must we give up to serve Jesus? I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t say we have to be perfect. He first said, “To gain eternal life, follow my commandments.” Since we’re incapable of being perfect, I’m not going to walk away sad, because perfection isn’t my aim. I am joyful that I can look forward to an eternal life with Jesus and I’ll do my best to follow God’s commandments.

I think we confuse God’s will with our own personal ambitions. I get it. I’ve have ambitions that haven’t been fulfilled. If you’re a dreamer with a lot of ambition, it’s hard to be confined. But when health or finances or divorce get in the way of a dream, isn’t it God’s will that we take care of those things first?  Isn’t God’s will that we provide for our family?  Shouldn’t we take care of our bodies, so we can serve others (for me, my concern is that I’m available to my children, and my children’s children). As a parent, wouldn’t God’s will be that we nurture and grow our children, to prepare them for a life of self sufficiency, according to God’s word? For some, these things get taken for granted. For others, they are the dream.

Did the realization that I needed to serve my mom remove my desire to be and do more? Absolutely not. But this is my perspective: God’s will in my life, wherever I am, is following submitting to his will, which I find in his word, the bible.

So, when I consider potential jobs, I must be mindful not to reach for a dream that will cause me to miss out on the basics that are the stepping stones to our dreams, not to mention, the most fundamental form of glorifying God.

In obedience I went to the interview where I would be entertaining a job in insurance. I was uncertain of what to expect, but asked God this:  Please give me clarity. In no uncertain terms, God gave me clarity, in spite of myself. I look forward to sharing more with you, but for now, I will finish so you can get on with your life on this day, and return to mine, on another.

 

The new doggie set up looks good to me. Now, I have to convince them of why it’s more appealing to be in a cold garage than inside a warm house. Hopefully the appeal will be that their kennel, doggie bed, food, water, access to the outside whenever they choose (no waiting for their human to open the door for them), and constant music (I purchased an old radio at an estate sale) will entice them. So far, they’re not convinced. But I saw glimmers of hope that they will adjust and I will no longer resent the dirt they drag in every day, or be anxious when working away from home.

They'll get used to this, won't they?

They’ll get used to this, won’t they?

Even if they don’t appreciate this, I do. This is the Taj Mahal compared to a couple of weeks ago:

That's the same wall the doggie door was built into. My joy that this job is finished is like a snow day after Christmas vacation. WooHoo!

That’s the same wall the doggie door was built into. My joy that this job is finished is like a snow day after Christmas vacation. WooHoo!

I love wearing white vests in the winter.  But, I discovered a long time ago that white vests on a person who wears make up is no longer a white vest after a couple of hours. I don’t even wear that much make up!

It's embarrassing! But I can't be the only one whose face transfers on to one's clothes.

It’s embarrassing! But I can’t be the only one whose face transfers on to one’s clothes.

It’s a pain to wash that white vest after every wearing, so I decided to try Soft Scrub. It whitens my sink so I put some on a damp rag and it whitened my vest! I took a photo, but it’s not showing up on my phone, so no photo of that. But trust me. It worked. One word of caution… wipe it off better than i did before wearing the vest. Bradley got in the car and said, “Why does the car smell like bleach?” I love the smell of bleach, and swimming pools. So, if I did notice the smell, I enjoyed it. Next time I’ll be more mindful of that, though.

I’m pretty much done with Christmas decorating. The tree isn’t trimmed, but that’s okay. It’s up, it’s green, and smells wonderful. I’ll post more photos of the decorations later.  It feels good to be this far. I can focus on things like more job resumes, interviews (I do have one next week. Yea!), networking, classes, etc.

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I discovered something I’m missing. Something big. I’m missing a statement piece that proclaims our love for Jesus, the gift that he is. I have an idea that I’ll share with you, if I get it done! But it would replace that piece of art that I think is so beautiful, IN THE FALL! It stays there for now.

It was a productive day, for sure. I also showed the house I’m managing to a couple. More praying. This would be a great family to rent to because they’re a family of six, so the house would be well utilized.  When I was showing the home, and we were looking out from the upstairs bonus room, I got a big surprise.

Me, not really paying attention: "It's such a pretty view from up here" Her: "Ah, is that, that tree, is that in their property, or the other peoples'?" Me: Well, look at that. It appears it's on both properties!"

Me, not really paying attention: “It’s such a pretty view from up here.”
Her: “Ah, is that, that tree, is that in their property, or the other people’s?”
Me: Well, look at that. It appears it’s on both properties!”

It was the weirdest thing. Needless to say, that took some time!

My days are full and I’m certain where I need to be. God’s goodness is evident. While I was showing the house, the potential renter and I talked about job opportunities. No experience is wasted. The woman’s husband and she founded a non profit for disabled people.  It’s called Incight. Their mission is “unlocking the potential of people with disabilities.” The woman and I had a great conversation, I was exposed to a new worthy cause, and it’s a potential opportunity for me to explore!

So, that’s a day. I’m hoping to get out of bed at 5… this morning it was 5:30. 5 is not only early, but in Portland, Oregon these days, 5 is very cold, and windy!  Although… is 5:30 any less so? Brrrrr and good night!

I’m not quite ready to show you a decorated house, because a decorated house isn’t quite done. However, take a look at my garage!

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A new place for the laundry basket on the shelves my friend’s husband installed.

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Oops. It looks like I took this pic prematurely. I see a bird that didn’t make it in a box. The buckets in the middle are Christmas, so they don’t count. They’ll go back into the attic.  However, I’m going to hold off until I get the ladders installed into the attic, next week.  Yea! Hauling the ladder that fits up into the attic back and forth from outside is a big pain.

Next up: Doggie Door is installed today.  Much of the impetus in having an organized garage is to create a home in the garage for the dogs while I am away. Also, right now the dogs’ primary in and out of the house is through the family room, which means a lot of outside traffic brought into the house, which drives me nuts.

A couple of months ago I strongly considered giving the dogs away.  The effort, responsibility, and money that goes into pets is huge.  I considered the constant responsibility of their well being and my own.  The amount of money being spent on just home maintenance around the dogs was increasing: The furniture, the back yard being made secure, the carpets being cleaned, and now the doggie door. It’s a big chunk for a single person wanting to create a home and focus on a job, not to mention the primary responsibility of one’s children.  Deciding on the doggie door in the garage is my commitment that I have decided to keep them.  As much as I wanted to shed the responsibility of the dogs, every time I considered the unpredictability of their future if I let them go, I cried. They are staying.  But owning a dog isn’t something I recommend, unless you have people in your life who are frequently available to help out when you’re out all day, and basically want to take over for you.

The Christmas mugs are out, and a favorite part of my day during the holiday season is choosing one of my coffee mugs.

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Ignore the splatter inside the cup. That happens when the Verismo splashes up on the sides.

Last night was the Football Banquet. It was long.  I love listening to the coaches talk about the various kids. They only talked about Varsity, so there was nothing about Bradley, but I love it, anyway.  I think I’m in the minority because as we walked out, I heard comments like, “Man, that was long.”  One coach got really choked up as he talked about one of the seniors who got injured and was cheated out of his senior year.  Granted, not all coaches are as expressive. I soak that stuff up.

For the banquet I assembled these little cookies. I didn’t have much time for much else.

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Ginger Snap cookies from Costco: Spread melted white chocolate and sprinkles on top.

I submitted another resume yesterday. I haven’t heard back for an interview from any of the resumes that are outstanding right now. I’m doing my best to embrace where I am, keep my productivity up, so when I’m called on, I can move forward knowing that home is in a relatively good place.  It’s not so easy, but it’s my strategy and I’m sticking to it.

This weekend was a Christmas weekend in every sense.  Bridgette and I got to go downtown and watch the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  Unfortunately, Bradley wasn’t with us (he was with his dad), but we had fun singing Christmas carols, loudly, with our friends we met down there, we drank a Starbucks Red Cup holiday drink, we unexpectedly got to say hello to a good friend who happened to be downtown as well, and we did a little shopping, too.

Pioneer Place, Portland Oregon

Pioneer Place, Portland Oregon

I don’t remember doing that downtown Christmas thing last year, or even the year before.  Maybe Bridgette being gone, then coming home for a few days was the impetus to get us downtown and do what thousands of other Portlanders do.

I began decorating the house today. I love love love decorations at Christmas.  Bradley and I pulled all the boxes out of the attic and I knew right away I’d be having to donate a good amount once I decorate this house. Like our furniture I’ve struggled to figure out, I’ve got more decorations than I have house.  One minute I find myself mourning the loss of a particular item, the next minute I am convincing myself why I must shed it and be done, move on, and get over it.  But it’s a constant conversation, rarely eager to put that “thing” in the give away pile.

One of the tubs is marked “Banister.”  We don’t have a banister.  I remember the banister garland with fondness. I’ve used it for three houses, and since the kids were toddlers.  I had spray painted pine cones royal blue and added blue glitter. Those were put on garland with red cardinals.  I looked forward to putting that pine cone and cardinal laced garland up every year, knowing that I’d be battling the kids’ efforts to remove the birds from the garland, as they went up and down the stairs. Last year in the small rental we skipped the garland too, but I held out hope for another banister in our future.

With our new home, permanent decisions are being made left and right.  There are two main rooms to decorate. It’s good, and it’s hard.  I have an anxiety that when I give these things away, I’ll also lose the memory of them. If I could be certain I wouldn’t forget, the loss wouldn’t feel so significant, maybe even desperate.  I forget a lot of things at age 54.  So it’s very possible I’ll forget what decorations I used on my banister, or what wreath I hung on a door, or how I only used sparkly candles in the black candle stands.  It’s something with which I have to come to terms.

So, the house is a mess. In part, because of the quantity of stuff, and the lack of storage space, and in part because I’m a messy decorator!

Christmas decoration mess

But progress is being made.

I love lights. I considered making my life easy by putting Christmas ornament balls on top of the greenery that had been up there before. But I figured out a relatively easy way to get the Christmas sparkle ignited, which is ultimately the way I like it.

This morning a friend’s husband came over and installed shelves above my washer and dryer in the garage.  It was a true gift.  I am so grateful for those friends who loan me their husbands for a few hours.  He also secured a coat hook that I had incorrectly installed in Bridgette’s room a few days ago, and he hung a picture.  I watched, hoping to remember what he did.  I’ve been hanging pictures for years, but there are times I hold my breath and after a few weeks, I’m happy when nothing comes crashing to the floor.  I still have a few pieces of art that are beautiful, meaningful, and valuable. I don’t like to risk them on my picture hanging abilities.  To hang the picture, he used this device that I’d used once before, but had forgotten.  I think it’s called an Incredible Hook.

Incredible Hooks...sounds more like a description than the name of something!

Incredible Hooks…sounds more like a description than its name!

But it is incredible. It makes a small hole, so even if one makes a mistake, it’s not a hole that’s going to horribly scar your wall.  Speaking of other things that I’ve discovered. I am a sucker for apps on my phone. One that I just discovered is called Sleep Pillow.  I generally have NO problem falling asleep. But the other night I had this funny instinct to listen to something enjoyable while I went to sleep. I wondered, “Is there an app for that?” And sure enough, I came across this app, and I love it.  I don’t want to become addicted to it, so I’ll have to watch myself. But as I turned off my light, chose my white noise of choice (rain and thunder, waves splashing up on a shore, creek water), and set the timer for ten minutes, I snuggled my pillow tightly with a smile on my face with my new discovery, and an image of being someplace special.

And that’s what I’m going to do right now.

Good night!