October 09, 2012

In my mid-forties I went to work for a sheltered workshop. After I had been there for a while, there was an opportunity for advancement. I put my trust in people who respected me, i thought, but the opportunity went to someone else. I felt betrayed. Fortunately it turned out not to be the end of the world, or the end of my story.

I was hired, because the bookkeeper had walked off the job one day, and nobody knew what to do with the books. The plant manager and the chairman of the board had huddled over the checkbook the previous Friday in order to pay everyone, but the manager and the board of directors were distraught. The auditor was still trying to complete an audit of the books, begun four months earlier, and nobody knew how to answer the questions he was asking. In my interview, the manager asked if I could type, I answered, “yes,” and she left it at that.

The next day I was hired, and I went to work. After a brief walk through the facility, the manager showed me my desk, let me get my things arranged, and then she brought me the books of account. I have seen a variety of methods for keeping cash records, but this one baffled me. Fortunately for my pride, the auditor felt the same way about them. It was virtually impossible to figure out what either columns or rows meant in what was labeled as a “journal.” Fortunately the checkbook was orderly and balanced perfectly. At least we knew how much money we had.

I spent approximately a week trying to make sense of the books as they had been kept in the past, but it seemed hopeless. Simultaneously, I was trying to get the files in order. It became apparent that the previous bookkeeper had kept every scrap of paper that ever entered the office, even though it was sometimes challenging to figure out why she had put it where she did. By the end of that first week, I was ready to pull my hair out. I sat down with the manager and asked her if she had any objections if I simply started the year over using a standard double-entry accounting system. She had no idea what that meant, but she told me that if the auditor approved of the change, it was fine with her. The auditor actually called me with a question shortly after our meeting, and when I told him what I wanted to do, he enthusiastically approved.

I created a chart of accounts. I dragged out all the pieces of paper in the office and filed them by vendor, customer or employee. Using the check book and the various documents, I started with January and began recording transactions. It was a lengthy project, but when January came around, I was excited to be able to create orderly year-end reports before the end of the month. The auditor showed up in June to begin the new audit, and he completed his work in only two weeks. His previous audit had required four months just to sort out all the transactions. He gave us a clean bill of health.

For three years I kept the books and files in complete order. Where previously the annual audits had required four or five months, they were always completed in about two weeks, plus wait time for confirmation letters. Before I had arrived, it was always a big challenge to come up with the money for payroll tax and social security deposits, but I led the board to create better financial policies and procedures. All our records and reports as a non-profit corporation improved, and the board frequently complimented the improvements.

In addition to my improving records and reports, I began to help with projects to increase sales. I researched prospective customers. I contacted prospects and existing customers to develop new work for the shop. When a local service club offered to fund a sales brochure for us, including a professional photographer for the illustrations, I wrote the narrative and designed the book. I researched the way non-profit boards of directors were expected to work and discovered that the board needed insurance for their own protection. I helped them find what they needed. I began to make connections with other organizations who served people with disabilities, and I arranged for our annual meetings to include informative and inspiring speakers from some of the other organizations with whom we were beginning to work cooperatively.

After three years, the manager left. I thought I had earned priority consideration for the job, even though I knew that by law, there had to be an open search and opportunity to find the best prospect for the business. In fact, it was my job to schedule and welcome all the other applicants, and I did so with what I believe was a professional attitude.

Among my various responsibilities, I took minutes for all the Board meetings in addition to preparing all the monthly reports for the Board. On the night they were to choose the new manager, I had to be excused during the deliberations. They sent me to a room nearby where I was to wait for the outcome. They closed the door and left me there. Unbeknownst to any of us beforehand, in this room, it was possible to hear much of the conversation in the room where they were meeting. At first I didn’t hear much, I didn’t hear many comments until they got ready to vote. Then somebody must have moved closer to the wall and I could hear her say, “I still think we should pick Darlene.” Someone said something I could not hear, but then I heard this woman say, “Well, Darlene has a year of experience as a manager. If she doesn’t work out, we always have Katherine to fall back on.”

I felt kicked in the stomach. I didn’t hear another word. I just sat there hyperventilating. When someone came to get me and take me back to the meeting, I could still hardly speak. They told me they had decided to hire Darlene, and they thanked me for all my work in the process, and they went home.

I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t breathe. I could hardly speak. I didn’t sleep that night. I felt that I had done everything anybody could possibly have done for this board of directors. I knew that I had raised the bar for the job of assistant manager/bookkeeper considerably, and I knew that I had made everybody’s jobs easier because I kept looking for ways to improve. I could think of nothing negative about the woman who had been chosen, but I just thought I had earned the job.

The next day, I made up my mind to find something else. I felt I had earned advancement, and I didn’t get it. I would need to advance under my own steam.

You would think that as a Christian, I would have been praying about this situation from the beginning. Well, I must confess that I prayed only one prayer: please let me get this job. And when it didn’t happen, I didn’t know what to do. I was hurt. I felt betrayed by the board. I even felt hurt by God. Why didn’t he want me to have this job? It takes some nerve to accuse God of being unfair. I didn’t realize how obnoxious that was at the time. After a while, I prayed for God to help me find something else, but that wasn’t a very good prayer, either, because I just wanted to show the board that I would not be available for fallback after all.

I did find a different job. I gave thanks to God for that job, but I had no idea how thankful I would be in the years to come. I had a lot of maturing ahead of me. The truth is, to make a long story short, the whole rest of my life would be a different story if somebody on that board had not decided to hire Darlene instead of me. God had other plans for me, and if I had been hired for that job, I would never have been ready for the things ahead of me.

Looking back, I realize that I should always have put my faith in God, and I should always have been ready for his will. God’s perfect will is the best place to be at all times, but we can’t always know in our own wisdom what his will is. We simply need to let go and quit trying to be in charge of everything.

It was tempting a year later to feel personal vindication when the woman hired in my place turned out to be a thief who had to be let go. I learned about it when I ran into her working at a convenience store at a gas station. I had to let go of that feeling, too, because the whole world isn’t about me. A good thing happened to the workshop after that, however, because a woman I had hired was, by then, ready to be the manager, and she did a great job for years thereafter. I would rather think of that as my legacy there than take any vengeance over the hiring of Darlene.

The reward I feel comes from looking at my life story from the time I left the job at the sheltered workshop. God used that job to help me grow up in many ways. The things I learned there would bear fruit in my next job, and my next and my next. The simple experience of making a mature decision not to accept defeat and to go after what I thought I had earned was immensely valuable.  That experience would pay off again and again.

God has plans for each of us, but he doesn’t just pave the way for us. He gives each of us gifts and talents with which to build a life. He leads us to the work and opportunities that will require his gifts to us. But he doesn’t wave a wand and make it all happen. We need to act. Just like the men in the parable of the talents, we are called to do things on our own in order to get ready for God’s next steps. I had to think and make decisions and act and plan and complete things. I couldn’t just sit down and cry to God because things went wrong. The truth is that nothing went wrong. It was a turn in the road, and God had to get my attention to see the sign.

Things are not always what they seem. I learned that even in my darkest night, God was still in control and bringing good things to pass.

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