Monday, December 31, 2007

One more page

Two years and nine months ago I walked into this office for the first time. And in five minutes I'll be walking out of it forever. I know that time frame doesn't seem very long, but for me it is. When I go somewhere, I put all of me into that place. This little corner office was no different.

Leaving anywhere for the final time is very emotional for me. When we locked the door on our first house to move to the one we now own, I cried. I made certain I was the last one to walk through my Dad's church before they shut it down. I was the last car to pull away from the house I grew up in when my parents moved to Columbus. After the last truckload of stuff was hauled out of it, I spent a good half hour walking around the shop that my Dad and I had built with our own hands. And even now, tears are in my eyes as I type this.

I'm usually fine with the big things in life, but it's the little things that destroy me. When I walk out of this office, it won't be pretty. The thing that makes this one hurt a little more is that I'm not walking out under my own control. I'm being kicked out. Evicted. Barred from returning. This is not a decision I made on my own. I am a victim of the corporate machine. And I hate it.

But life is not over. I am still alive, I am still strong, and I am not alone. My friend Kyle sent me a simple text today to say he was praying for me. My wife sent me one to say she loved me. My friend Chip called to see how the day was going. And my Dad called to see if I was alright. I am so very thankful for these people, and all the others that have had me in their thoughts the past week or so. Thank you all.

So one more chapter is closed in my life and I have no idea what the next one is going to be like. But I'm ready. I'm scared, but I'm ready.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Where am I?

I just finished cleaning out the desk drawers and file cabinets in my office. There's one file I'm working out of and one drawer that still has supplies in it, but other than that everything is empty. And I feel lost.

On the two or three occasions I've cleaned out an office and walked out the door with one of those office boxes, I've always done so with an air of anticipation. When I turned off the light-switch in that office for the last time, there was a new job or a good promotion to look forward to; a new light-switch to turn on. This time when I flip that switch, someone has already turned on the light at the new place, and there's nothing to look forward to.

In the last week since I was informed I was being moved, at least a thousand thoughts have flown through my head. Things like:
Should I try to find a bank I can transfer to, closer to where I live?
Should I maybe look into other banks?
Or should I look at other professions?
Why did I bring our family to such a financial cliff that I now have to keep climbing instead of using this opportunity to broaden my horizons?
Is God punishing me?

And then there's the question from Adrienne......... no......... more like an observation. She said, "You being a banker doesn't fit the image I have of you." Adrienne, you aren't alone; it doesn't fit many people's. Thinking on that makes me ask, am I a banker? Do I fit that mold, that stereotype, that description? And if I'm not, what am I? To be honest, I don't know.

The statement I've heard a hundred times is, do what makes you happy. Really? You're going to feed me that crap? We no longer live in a culture where most people make career decisions based on what they're good at or what they enjoy. We live in a culture where most people can't afford to do the things that actually make them happy. Or rather there's a huge financial mountain they'd have to climb just to even entertain the ideas. And most people just can't muster the courage to get over that mountain. We live in a culture where most people work with only one goal in mind: to pay the bills. So we find ourselves having to earn a certain amount, and as such find a job that pays that amount. And those jobs aren't normally in the "makes me happy" category. (Normally.)

I sit here in that same bind. I sit with a stack of bills that I have to work to pay for. I am thankful that Ell and I have taken the necessary steps to provide an actual end to the madness, but for at least three more years that proverbial suffering continues.

And it leaves me sitting in an empty office wondering what my next career move is. I can't exactly just quit and focus on my garden or the two books I'm writing or hiking the Appalachian Trail; you know, the things that truly make me smile. None of those pay the bills we've amassed or get my lovely wife through school. (Which by the way, is her dream and does make her happy.) Sure, the book thing could make me some money, and the gardening thing would fill my pantry, and living on the AT would be cheaper than owning a home. But none of those are right in front of me now nor do they pay any of the bills due January 1st. And because of those bills, I'll be heading to the new job in a week just as I've been instructed.

I am blessed to have some friends who have taken risks to start their own businesses, or raise their families on one income, or pursue a more adventurous life. Each one of them inspire me and spur me on to my own greatness. So I know the dream is possible. But there are times I wish I didn't know them. There are times I wish I had no outside influence to show me that life can be fun and a job doesn't have to be a chore. Then I'd be happy in a job that didn't fit me and a life that was lived only to pay bills. But then I wouldn't see happiness, or worthwhile struggle, or fulfillment. So in the end I still thank God for these friends, but envy them at the same time.

I know there is something out there for me, and I know my God won't let me down. But right now I'm just so lost. I feel like I'm roaming with no goal or direction. The answer may very well be in the bank, or it may be something I haven't even thought of yet. Either way, I wish I could find it soon, because the trail isn't blazed very well from where I'm standing.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Season

In the stupidity of Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, and star tree toppers versus angel tree toppers, and even the absurdity of the commercialism people versus the Reason for the Season people, this little segment of the year holds a special place for me.

When I was young, my Mom was diligent to include Swedish traditions as well as a few of her own special things as part of the the month leading up to Christmas. Things like sweet rolls and tea on St. Lucia Day to opening our presents on Christmas Eve. She kept reusing this crappy cardboard advent calender that despite it's condition, still kept us kids in anticipation. We did the advent candle thing every morning during our morning devotions. The candles were ugly within a week, the base was an old log from the woodpile my dad cut in half, and the message was mostly lost to us; but we still fought over lighting those candles every day. And we never believed in Santa, but my parents would never admit they had put the oranges and toothbrushes in our stockings.

When I was a teenager I swore I'd never let the Christmas spirit die. I'd always have a tree, I'd always buy a lot of presents for the people in my life, and I'd always make sure I shared my joy with everyone I came in contact with. Now that I'm a cynical thirty-something Gen-X'er, a lot has changed. We didn't even do a tree this year; no presents either. And I only started saying Merry Christmas today. I'm annoyed with all the stuff I started this post with, and even more so with all the religious quacks who use this self-declared holiday to ruin more people's idea of what Jesus came to earth for, than any number of Santa's or Happy Holiday's cards ever could.

But even though it sounds like I've gone to the dark side, that couldn't be further from the truth. In the wise wisdom that thirty years brings (yes, sarcastic) I now see that the special feelings of the season are different to everybody. Mine are expressed to me through the many blessings in my life that I'm so very thankful for. I'd like to share some of them with you.

*My beloved wife. The exact match to my life, my heart, and my soul. The one person that I've allowed to look into my cracked shell and see the disgusting insides. The one person who can make me laugh no matter what. The one person I can go to for entire and complete support. The woman who trusts me as her leader and receives as her lover. The best person in the world. I love you.

*I'm thankful for two amazing parents that tried to bring me up the best way they knew how, and never stopped loving me as I fought their efforts every step of the way. I have been so blessed to have them in my life, and ache for the day they won't. Besides my wife, they are easily the best gift God ever gave me.

*A great circle of friends. These people are the reason I haven't slipped into depression and slid off the planet. They make me laugh at themselves and myself. They provide for me the desire to be exciting and the need to be calm. Friends make the world worth living. I am blessed to share this season with more friends than a guy deserves.

*Tobacco and beer. There are few more wonderful things that God allowed man to discover than the many varied applications of malt and barley and hops, and a pipe full of good leaf.

*America. For all it's problems and issues, the country has allowed the world an opportunity to be anything it desires. And it has allowed me the same opportunity. God bless America.

*Fresh snow. Yes you heard me right. But not just any snow, I'm talking about the pure white stuff that Jesus must have been envisioning when he coined the "as white as snow" phrase. It was that same snow that covered my neck of the world last night. The same snow the quack weathermen said we weren't going to get. It's the stuff that's allowing us to have a white Christmas and not a muddy brown one.

*Music. The one thing that can spark joy, anger, spirit, angst, laughter, tears, and pure ecstasy all within the beauty of a single note.

*A job. Even though I'm not happy now, I still have one.
*A house. Ugly and dirty and in need of repair. But it's ours, and it's served us well.
*Nieces and nephews. Bright little sparkles of light in a bleak future.
*My Volkswagen's. I hate those things sometimes, I really do. But they still do what I need them to do. They make my life turn on their happy little wheels.

I'm sure there's more, but those are things in my head this morning. Thanks for reading and thanks for not giving up on the season. You need it and it needs you. Happy Season.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Funny

My last post was a bit of a downer, so here's some funny I lifted from Guy to get you through the weekend.

The local news station was interviewing an 80-year-old lady because she had just gotten married -- for the fourth time. The interviewer asked her questions about her life, about what it felt like to be marrying again at 80, and then about her new husband's occupation.

"He's a funeral director," she answered.

"Interesting," the newsman said. "Would you mind telling us a little about your first three husbands and what they did for a living?"

She paused for a few moments, needing time to reflect on all those years. Then a smile came to her face and she answered proudly, "The first one was a banker who I married when I was in my early 20's. The second one was a circus ringmaster when I was in my 40's. The third was a preacher when I was in my 60's. And now that I'm 80, I chose a funeral director."

The interviewer looked at her quite astonished. He asked, "Why did you marry four men with such diverse careers?"

She smiled and explained, "I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go."

Have a great weekend everyone.


What a great discussion those two previous posts were. Dave has taken a branch of the tree that Chris' question grew into and posted a new question to his blog. Check it out by clicking HERE or by clicking on his name towards the end of my blogroll. Let's keep the good thoughts rolling.

I want to shift gears and share something happening in my life. I've hesitated for a couple days whether or not to do this because I didn't want to stop the great flow of the previous two posts. But with Dave continuing the conversation, I've decided to share.

The other day I was summoned to my manager's office which is about 10 miles south of the branch I work at. He didn't tell me what the meeting was about or if I was to bring anything. That worried me a little because meetings held in his office are usually to discuss sales goals or results or something in the area of how to make our branch perform better; all of which require paperwork and binders and sales reports. (If you remember my post from earlier in the year where my boss misrepresented me in front of his boss, I wasn't going to make the same mistake again.) So I went prepared for similar discussions, but no amount of binders or spreadsheets could have prepared me for what was to happen.

The meeting was with my boss and the boss on the next level up. They informed me that they were moving me from the branch I'm currently at to the one I was now sitting in. They hemmed and hawed at different excuses for the move, but finally came out and said it was because I make more than anyone else in my position. The new branch is five times as big as the one I'm currently at, and as such could support my salary better. Or so they said.

I'm not sure how much I want to share with you or how much you care to know, but I will tell you their decision is not as simple as that. And they didn't present it simple like that either. They started by insulting my sales results and the performance of my tellers and my dedication to my branch, and on and on and on. They went on to say that by moving me they would be able to manage me better in the areas I'd been lacking. I like to think I can be pretty objective, even in personal matters, and so I attempted to separate myself to see if they had a point. Was I lacking in my sales figures? Was my branch worse than it had been before I came? Did my tellers not know how to do their jobs and was I ineffective in coaching them?

The answer to all those questions as compared to my bosses' claims are very different. In the two and a half years I've ran my current branch, the sales to goal and profitability of the branch have far surpassed the previous two managers. I came on board midway through 2005 and had some fixing to do to repair the damage done by those I replaced. Even so, we came within a few percentage points of hitting our numbers for that year. In 2006 the numbers were 106% and to date, 2007 is showing 113%. As for my tellers? They've made more incentive money in each of the three individual calendar years than in three or four previous years, combined. Sounds successful to me.

So what was behind this move and why make such bold statements against my character and performance? (I really like the company I work for and I think they have their head screwed on straight when it comes to the business of banking, which is why talking ill of them is hard for me to do.) The reason behind the decision to move me is simply about the politics of money. For some time I've been informed that my salary was at the ceiling for my position and it would be in everyone's best interest if I moved up in the company. But I didn't want to then and I don't want to now. As my Dad loves to say, I'm a satisfied and content individual. That doesn't mean I'm lazy or that I don't work hard. The exact opposite is true. But since the managers are paid on the profitability of their branches, if they moved my salary out of a successful (thanks to me) small office and moved a lower paid person in, they make more money. And since I'm really good at what I do, they know I'll be successful at the larger branch as well so they'll make even more money off me when I get established there. From a business point of view, it's a great move for them. From a selfish point of view for my managers, their incentive checks both just got bigger as well.

As for the harsh statements about my productivity? There's a really good possibility that they may be trying to convince me to quit. If I did that they could hire some college grad schmuck to do my exact job for half my salary. No, the company wouldn't get the production out of that person they'd get out of me, but my bosses' paychecks would be much larger. And they could hide that offset for a long time.

So what about me? Well I now have an hour commute to work; an entire two hours of my day will be spent in a car. I make no additional money, so with the increased gasoline bill that means I'm taking a pay-cut. And I have to start all over again with a new client base in a town I have even less attachment to in a job that's all about those attachments. So do I start looking for another job, and thus play into their hands? Or do I put my best foot forward and continue to work for people that don't want me around?

I'm really trying to find a positive light to this but it's hard. The only thing that keeps me humble is knowing I at least have a job. I make a decent wage with good job security. It could be worse. I just heard my friend Rob has to work three jobs. My Dad can't work at all. And I have many friends who own their own businesses and everything they have is tied up in them. So I have it pretty good, right? I'm trying to remember that, but this sucks. It really sucks. Sorry to unload, but it's been heavy on my mind for a few days and will be on my mind for a long time to come.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A question from Chris

My brother-in-law Chris joined the discussion on my previous post. He has presented a question that raises a whole different topic but is definitely worth having it's own post. I've kind of touched on this before, but I would love to see it addressed again. The previous topic is still open for commenting and discussion, so feel free to post your thoughts there. Chris' thoughts and question is below (in his words):

I have a topic that might open up a whole new bag of worms, but if it is alright with you Sam I would like to use your blog forum to pose a question.

It seems as if some of you readers have the feeling that the church service or structure should be radically different from what it is right now. I would like to know what you would change about it?

Maybe I am narrow minded, and no offense to Paul, but what happens when your traveling group church get too large to practically take to a museum? I also think that just because the New Testament church did something, doesn't mean to me that it is God's ideal way of doing it. I think that the early church would have loved to meet in large groups (as Jews of that time were accustomed to doing), but were unable because of persecution. I love the idea of the church being a community as with a home church, but I think that often times home churches turn into an social clubs with a chip on their shoulder against institutional church. Home groups are good, but they often times are awkward and forced. In reality, you end up "doing life" with those you enjoy.

My feeling is that the church and subsequent church building is a place that we should worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth, it is the place where believers can love one another, encourage one another , “spur” one another, serve one another, instruct one another, honor one another, and be kind and compassionate to one another.

With that Biblical structure in mind, what can you radically do to a church service or church structure to make it so different? I don't think that you can leave out a worship time, or a teaching time.

I look at who is making a difference in the world for Christ today, and I see churches like Mars Hill, who is doing exactly those Biblical standard with the traditional service (Worship service followed by a teaching) with a spirit of love and excellence. I see the aforementioned Morning Star campus who is reaching people by the thousands with a very traditional version of church done in a way of excellence.

To boil this down. My feelings are that it is not the traditional church structure that needs looked at or changed, but it is the in what spirit that the church operates. I think that we should make sure that Christ is acknowledged as its Head, the Bible is preached and taught, and the way of salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s death and bodily resurrection, the Holy Spirit is obeyed in the leadership and the people, and the Great Commission is being taught and carried out by the churches members.

But as I say, maybe I am narrow minded. If so enlighten me :)

Monday, December 10, 2007

An interesting concept

I was talking to my friend Andrew last night and we were discussing the (what seems to be) falling apart of a local church. Some of the leaders have left, others are slowly doing so, the congregation is half of what it was a couple years ago, their original mission has been replaced by a somewhat superficial one, etc, etc, etc. The saddest thing is that the church just completed a renovation project that included new construction that doubled the size of the church as well as remodeling much of the existing area. One of us posed a question about what would happen if the church completely fell apart. The other one answered what seemed like a simple answer: they could sell it to all the new churches starting up in the area.

But wait, maybe that actually would be a great idea. (We talked about the concept for a while, so I'll try to condense it.) Think about it, what are some of the pitfalls of the conventional church? Finances, organization, decision making; the types of things that are usually associated with a business but all too often end up being the main focus of many churches. So what if these new churches didn't have to worry about those business-structure things but still got all the benefits of their existence?

Here's the plan: There are four new upstart church groups within a five mile radius of this building. Each and every one of them currently meet in local schools. Now some organization, not associated with any of them, buys the building. All four of the churches rent it and use it when they need it. One meets on Saturday night, another at 10:00 Sunday mornings, another at 11:30 Sunday mornings, and the last one uses it more during the day on Saturday. Now none of them have to worry about sound systems, carpet cleaning, renting out halls, janitorial work, heating costs, building maintenance, or any of the other thousand things that can lesson the pastor's and leader's time. What you end up having is a building that houses churches. The church is the people and their organization, not the building.

Of course there are logistics and planning issues with the concept, but there are with anything. And yes I know that there will be time and space issues. But they won't have to be dealt with by the pastors or the church. There will be a business structure in place that deals with all of that. A business structure that can be fair and level headed because it will have no affiliation with the churches at all. The organization will be the CEO and CFO, not the pastors.

The point is these new growing churches will have a more useful home than a school gymnasium. (Not to say they aren't blessed where they're at, just limited as to what they can do.) They won't have a wasted building on their expense sheet that only gets used two or three days a week, and even then only a few hours. The pastor's and leader's time, and the church's resources, can now be used for outreach and faith-building uses, not wasted on trying to run a business. We talked about a lot more, but I hope you get the concept. Any thoughts?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Funny/At the Bank

In lieu of a joke, I thought I'd share a couple incidents from the wacky world of banking in PodunkTown-USA.

First story... Two weeks ago I did a 'Personal Line of Credit' application for a lady. She already had a line with a $2500 balance that she hadn't used. She wanted to raise the limit to $5000 for Christmas shopping. Yeah, I know. (Some technical bank information here: Raising the limit on an existing line of credit results in the closure of the original line and a new one created with the new dollar amount.) After I had explained the process I entered the application into the computer. Unfortunately, her income didn't qualify her for a higher amount. Her credit was approved but only for $2500. If you're following along with the story, that's what she already had. I called her and apologized that she hadn't been approved for the higher amount. Her present line was still open and all the funds were still available. But she wasn't going to get a new loan. She was disappointed but thanked me for my time.

She called me back at the end of the week. Here's the conversation:
Lady: I decided I want to take that new Line of Credit.
Me: You weren't actually approved for a new Line, but you do have a Line with available funds you can use.
Lady: I do?
Me: Yes.
Lady: So what do I do with the new one.
Me: There is no new one. You weren't approved for the $5000.
Lady: But I don't want $5000, I only want $2500.
Me: That's what you have, and you can use it right now if you want to.
Lady: Oh thank you very much. Now I can can go Christmas shopping.
Me: You're welcome.

Skip ahead to this morning. She calls me back and this is the interaction:
Lady: I decided I want to take that Line of Credit. Can you sign me up for that?
Me: I'm sorry. What was your question?
Lady: I want to go ahead and take that Line of Credit I was approved for. Can I come in and sign the paperwork this morning?
Me: You weren't actually approved for a higher amount. The only thing you qualify for is the amount you already have.
Lady: Alright, I want that.
Me: You already have that. The full balance is available to you right now.
Lady: Oh, OK. I didn't know I had one already. Thanks for your time.

Anyone think I'm gonna get another call next week?

Second story... This is from a while ago, but I keep forgetting to tell you. If you have children, cover their eyes.

Really old man is waited on by one of my tellers. He then comes to the door of my office and says:
"I been having a lot of problems with my pee hole. Sometimes I have to pump by balls for a few minutes just to get things going."
And then he walked out.

Anyone want my job?
No one?

Have a great weekend everyone.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hello old (and new) friends

So November is over. And in its passing I've seen the return of some old blogging friends as well as some new links to eleven. And for all of you who might be wondering why, or how, I write so much, don't get used to it. I was extended a challenge by Kimmy to blog everyday in the month of November; and I accepted. So after a grueling month of tapping my fingers on the keyboard each and every day, I'm now back to my normal two or three times a week. The challenge was fun, and there was a lot of really good stuff being written by many people. So if you have an extra two or twenty hours to spend in front of your computer, go back and check out the November archives. You won't be disappointed.

And speaking of posting a lot, my dear friend Dave has returned to blogging. And in response to the craziness of November's posting frenzy, he has questioned all of us to respond. So click HERE or go towards the bottom of my blogroll and click on his name, and answer his queries.

And one more hello, but this one a bit less energetic. December seems to have come in with a flurry. Literally. Our old log house did not like the bitter winds of this early winter storm. Ell and I were both gone all day yesterday, and my oh my was our house cold when I got home last night. Heating with only wood carries a certain romance to it, but it also carries frozen toes and 40 degree indoor temperatures. BRRR. But some people claim to like this miserable season, so hello Winter. Welcome. Hope your stay is pretty, but brief.