Life in the hallway
Thus far I have said very little in these blog posts about how I make my living. For the record, for the past thirteen years I have been earning my daily bread in the field of information technology as an Oracle database developer/analyst. After my year at business college (1996-1997), I worked for almost two years for my good friend Graham Brum, who was at the time the area manager for Omega Logistics of Canada. Graham did me a huge favour by giving me a chance to get some experience in my new line of work, and then in December 1998 I repaid him by leaving him high and dry (actually I wasn’t that hard to replace, and I think he’s forgiven me) and taking what felt like a huge leap of faith into the world of IT contracting.
I remember clearly that when the door opened for me to do contract work after less than two years’ experience in my new field, my decision to go this route was only partly based on financial considerations. At that time, people who did contract IT work (aka consultants, although the label is sometimes a misnomer) typically got paid better than permanent employees, and this was considered to be appropriate compensation for the lack of benefits and the insecurity of not having a permanent job. I was the sole breadwinner for our family of six, as my wonderful wife Marion was fully employed home-schooling our four active children. We had just bought a house after having rented during the previous six-and-a-half low-income years of church planting and business college, so we were financially stretched with new obligations even though our income had increased. So, I was attracted by the promise of higher pay that came with being a consultant, as well as the prospect of being able to reduce taxes by splitting my income with Marion, who was now my business partner in our newly created corporation.
Marion and I, of course, were not blind to these financial advantages, even though they came with some attendant risks. But when we made the decision that I should become a contract professional rather than seeking a permanent job in the IT field, we sensed that we were being led in this direction for several reasons, finances being only one. Considerations of time and energy played a part in the decision, as we were still involved in church planting and I wanted to put some time limits around the demands of my work, which was easier as a contract professional than as an employee in private industry. However, besides all that, we also sensed the Spirit telling us that doing contract work would be an opportunity to grow in faith. And this has in fact proven to be true.
While some of the colleagues with whom I have worked over the years have been with the same client for years on end, I have worked on fourteen different projects during my eleven years of contract IT work. That means fourteen rounds of contacting potential clients, tweaking resumes and trusting God to work something out, fourteen changes of scene, fourteen new teams, new managers and new work roles to adjust to. Often as one contract drew to a close I would have no idea where the next one was coming from, yet always the Lord was faithful to provide work for me.
Not only that, the work that God provided – although always within the world of Oracle technology – was very diverse, so that I never really developed a single area of expertise. This has given me a breadth of knowledge and experience which has considerable advantages, but it has also often meant that I would start a new contract feeling somewhat vulnerable and having to do a lot of new learning. Even the pay scales have varied widely. Some people have the mistaken impression that because we are called consultants, all IT contract professionals are on a government gravy train, earning massive six-figure salaries for comparatively little work. Not so. In fact, things have shifted so much that my colleagues and I now find that we often get paid less than employees who do comparable work, certainly when employee benefit packages are factored in.
Not that I’m complaining – my family and I have been well provided for and richly blessed over the past eleven years. I never wanted to be somebody’s employee anyway – I just wanted to serve the Lord and provide for my family. Contract work has allowed me to do that while teaching me many valuable lessons, not the least of which has been the development of a more entrepreneurial approach to life. So while some of my colleagues find themselves quite discontent with their lot, I can’t really echo those sentiments. I can say, though, that it has been an interesting ride, with many unexpected twists and turns. They have been challenging years, but good ones. Among the many lessons that the Lord has been attempting to work into me during these years, surely one of them must have something to do with flexibility.
So what’s my point? Quite simply, I now find myself without work for the first time in almost six years, and seeking God for clarity and direction. During my eleven years of contract work, on only a couple of occasions did I leave voluntarily because something better was on the horizon. Most often I have seen a new opportunity materialize, seemingly from out of nowhere, just as the current one has been about to expire. This has happened more times than I can count, and it seems to be the Lord’s preferred method of dealing with me in these situations. It’s a bit like one of those nail-biting hockey games where the home team scores the tie-breaking goal with only a few seconds left in regulation time. Occasionally, however, the game has gone into overtime, so to speak, and that is where we are at now.
Not being in control of our own life is the one experience that most people try with all their might to avoid. Yet for me, I have come to the place where I don’t want to be in control, I just want to know the next step in the game plan so that I can get it right. At the moment I have the sense that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing, and that something new will materialize in the near future. I’m OK with that, I know I’m in good hands, and I am even enjoying the time off – but all the same, part of me would like to have it settled. To quote a song by Caleb Davidson, former youth pastor of City Church and a good friend and former band-mate of my sons Joe, Simeon and Reuben, I currently find myself
… in the hallway …
in between the doorways of now and not yet
And while I truly am OK with being in this in-between time, I can’t deny that it’s a bit uncomfortable and I hope it doesn’t last too long – although I also know, God being God, that it will last as long as He thinks it needs to last in order to accomplish the work He wants to accomplish in Marion and me.
So why is this even worth sharing? Simply because learning to truly trust God is where the rubber hits the road for most Christ-followers. It’s the single biggest challenge in the life of a disciple. We can say we trust God as long as he doesn’t upset our applecart, but when he changes the game plan we find out whether our trust is real or whether it’s only words. My greatest ambition in life is to be a man of God – a man who makes a difference to others because I represent something of the life of Christ to those around me. My work in technology, while it has been interesting and rewarding, isn’t ultimately all that important to me. In fact at one time I didn’t even really want to do it. I have since come to enjoy it and have gotten quite good at it, if my clients’ comments are any indication, and I am very grateful to have had this experience. But if God now wants to close this door and open a different door that will lead me to a different form of provision, I’m fine with that. I don’t really think that’s the game plan quite yet, at least not as far as I can tell at the moment, but I have a hunch that one reason God occasionally drops one of these episodes of uncertainty into my life is to remind me of who is God and who is not. So – yes Lord, I get the message. I trust that you have something in store for me, even though I can’t see it just yet. I know your timing is perfect and that you are looking for faith from me. Please strengthen my heart so that I don’t get bogged down with self-preoccupation. Thank you for the freedom you give to trust You and serve others no matter what is going on around us.