Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Looking Back

While living in Orlando, FL, Alan and I became members of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. The head pastor there, William Barnes, is an immensely gifted speaker and an overall amazing human being. I'd leave his sermons feeling like an empty cup that had just been filled to the brim. One of my favorite Pastor Bill sermons involved an instance where God had helped him through a difficult time. He was so distracted, it wasn't until years later that, when looking back, he saw God's hand in every aspect of that dark season of his life. As he was speaking that day, I kept nodding my head up and down vigorously. I knew exactly what he meant, because it happened to me, too.

The day my ex-husband walked out the door, my intense shock and grief were quickly joined by my panic over how I was going to get by financially. I had left NYC just a few months earlier to follow my husband to Syracuse so he could teach. I had only been employed doing temporary secretary work since the move. Now, I was living by myself in an apartment I wasn't sure I could afford with no friends, no husband, no insurance, and most importantly, no job. I was a mess. I kept breaking into tears at my temp jobs, I looked like hell because sleep was pretty much out of the question, and I worried. Constantly. My loving family supported me the best they could from long distance. My parents suggested I come back home to Ohio to kind of "heal-up" and re-group. But I wanted to stay nearby in case my husband had a change of heart. I thought this was a distinct possibility, because it was what I had been praying for every single day. "God hates divorce," I assured myself, "He'll supply this miracle for me." Never mind that my husband was already seeing someone else and loving his new life. I had prayed for reconciliation, surely God would provide, wouldn't he?

Once again, running was my refuge. It was really the only outlet that brought me comfort. I could work-out all my frustration and anger and doubt and worry with each stride. It also helped me to sleep better. One day I was walking across campus and spotted my husband strolling happily, hand-in-hand with his new love. I turned around, made a beeline for home and laced-up my running shoes. I ran for miles and miles, trying to erase that image from my head. I was distracted enough that I never saw the giant pothole in the street and was soon falling, my ankle twisting at a bad angle.

So there I was, sweaty and spent, miles from home, holding my ankle and cringing in pain. I remember physically shaking my fist in the air at The Heavens. "REALLY?" I shouted. "This is all I have left and now you're taking THAT, too?" That was the moment I decided to break up with God. I told Him He had ignored all my prayers, I didn't believe that He loved me and to just forget the whole thing. I wasn't going to waste my time praying anymore to a God that was just going to do his own thing anyway. I would take it from here, own my own. Thanks for nothing.

My ankle was pretty bad. I finally conceded and went to the ER. They referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. I almost didn't go, I was so broke. But I wanted to be able to run again, so I went. I was sitting in the examining room when Dr. Timothy Izant entered with my x-ray in one hand and an air cast in another. "You've just got a really bad sprain," he assured me, "You'll be fine. Just stay off it for two weeks and wear this. By the way, do you need a job?" Apparently, his assistant noticed the "temporary secretary" line I had filled-in under "occupation" on my chart. They had a medical transcriptionist who was going on maternity leave and might not be returning. "But, I don't know any medical terms," I confessed to him. "That's OK, we'll teach you. I'll send in Judie, the office manager, to talk to you." So, in Judie walked, and she interviewed me there in the exam room as I sat on the table with my foot propped-up and air-casted. Funny, I didn't notice her halo and wings at the time. She kept them well-hidden.

I had a full time job!! I arrived my first day focused and ready to learn quickly. My desk was placed very near Judie's so she could answer my numerous questions. Then she had one for me, "So, Joan, are you married?" I wanted so desperately to appear professional. I tried very, very hard to answer as calmly as I could. I think I smiled and got about as far as, "Actually, I'm separated right now..." before the inevitable frustrated tears started flowing. As I was trying to regain my composure, Judie went into action. She stood up, smiled warmly, said, "Come with me," and gently led me to the empty ladies room off a nearby hallway. She handed me a roll of toilet paper, leaned-up against the sinks and said, "Tell me all about it." I remind you, this was my first day. I'd been working a total of two hours. Judie was a very busy woman. I'm positive her phone was ringing off the hook. None of this mattered, she wanted to hear my story. So I told her. Everything. I told her about my husband's "I don't love you anymore" announcement and the student he was now involved with. Judie listened intently, then as I wound down, she placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eyes and said, "You are going to get through this, I promise you. Not only that, you're going to be happy again." I told her I didn't believe her. She proceeded to tell me how she had lost two children, both when they were infants, and how she was sure that she'd die from the grief of it all. "But I didn't," she said, "And neither will you. I'll make sure of it." Let me assure you--Judie kept her promise.

I really loved working in that office, largely because of Judie. Here was an office of three doctors and two nurse practitioners. She was in charge of them along with receptionists, transcriptionists, secretaries, x-ray techs, and medical billing specialists. There were about nine or ten of us, all in our twenties. Judie, although older, was a friend, a mother, a counselor, and, when needed, a mediator for all. She was an awesome boss. She was fun and friendly and personable, but she also knew when to tell us all to cut the chatter and get back to work. We did, too. She made work fun. I never believed in luck until I met Judie. She was overflowing with it! We all had clock radios on our desks, all tuned into the same radio station. Whenever the DJ would announce, "OK, we're giving out a prize to the lucky eighty-seventh caller," we'd all grab our phones and dial furiously. Guess who ALWAYS (I mean ALWAYS!) won? Judie raked-in cash, concert tickets, and even a night of free beer and karaoke at a local bar for her and her co-workers! We never did figure out her dialing secret, but we were always pleased when she shared her winnings!

We'd do anything for Judie. She had one grandson whom she adored (more grandkids would follow in later years). When he was a baby she spent hours trying to get him to say "GRAND-MA." All he could manage was "BOOMA!" So, Booma it was. She preferred everyone call her this. She would also accept the shorter, more casual version, "Boom." We gladly obliged.

Because of my financial situation and the reality of needing two jobs, I wasn't always able to make it home for Thanksgiving. Booma didn't hesitate and made a place at her table. She knew I missed my family, she adopted me into hers. I assure you, there were many tearful trips back to that hallway restroom over the next few years, and every time Judie listened patiently to my rants, then threw her reassuring arm around me and convinced me it was all going to be OK. Guess what? Booma was right.

Looking back, I know what God was trying to say to me that day as I hugged my knee and cried into that stupid pothole: "I need you to go through this so you can meet Judie." Pastor Bill was right. Now that I'm through it all, looking back, it seems so clear. Looking back, that was such a raw, hard time in my life. Yet I have so many fond, sweet memories of working in that office. I know that this is all thanks to kind, sweet Booma. For this, I thank God every day.

I hope I can be "Booma" to someone someday. I hope God will place someone in my path who's broken and sad and unbelieving that it's ever going to be any better. I will gently grab their hand, look straight into their eyes and say, "You will get through this. You will be happy again. I know, I was there." I hope I'm half the angel that Judie was for me.

Thanks for reading!


Laura S. said...


Erin said...

beautiful. I love reading your blog everyday Joan! Thanks for writing it!

Kathy B said...

I thank God for you, for your writing, and for Judie.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you just make me blubber.....sigh

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