Not A Coincidence

If you are a Christian, you've probably been asked the question, "How do you know prayer works?" If you are not a Christian, you've probably asked a Christian that question. It's a big one--right up there with "Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people?" Answering this question for each person is complicated. We all have different perspectives and levels of skepticism. For example, sometimes people refer to things as answers to prayer, and I have my doubts about whether God really did what they say He did. I'm a skeptic by nature. Then other times I perceive that God really did intervene in a situation and do something very unique. But ultimately it's a matter of opinion whether you view an event as answered prayer or simple coincidence.



Recently my family and I have experienced an interesting series of circumstances that I attribute to answered prayer. You might read this story and chalk it up to randomness. However you conclude, I respect your opinion; but hope you will at least consider that God is actively working in our lives.

Rewind to August 2013. My wife and I are both working full time and our son is two-and-a-half years old. My wife stays home with him but still works a full time job while simultaneously caring for him and trying to keep him entertained. This gets stressful. I went to work too, but I work in a professional environment free from snotty boogers, spilled cheerios, and incessant verbal assaults from a bored toddler. I'm still not exactly sure how she managed to successfully do that. For quite some time we had discussed my wife quitting her job to be a "full time" Mom. Of course, she already was a full time Mom, but the whole job thing was cramping her style.

I have never been a chauvinist. I believe women are equal to men in every regard to quality and status. However, I simultaneously believe that women are inherently unique from men. Science has repeatedly confirmed the suspicions of men throughout the ages--the brain (and obviously body) of a woman are distinctly different from that of a man. Having said this, I believe that women working professionally is great if that is their passion. They are capable, intelligent, and ought to be given the opportunity to pursue their dreams. But what if a woman's dream is to be a Mom? Shouldn't that be respected and honored just the same? Should society be allowed to diminish that dream as being sub-standard? I think not. My wife falls into this category. She has always wanted to be a Mom, and just a Mom.

At this point in our marriage, my wife had worked full time every day with the exception of maternity leave after our son was born. She worked for financial reasons. When I was in graduate school, I made pennies; so it was necessary. When I got hired as a postdoctoral researcher, I made more, but her income was still very helpful for saving and splurging every once in awhile. In other words, my income sustained our lives. 

Since I'm not interested in disclosing details of our personal financial life on the internet, I'm going to continue this blog with percentages. In August 2013, approximately 65% of our income came from my job and 35% from my wife's job. As I said, we were "living" on my 65% and using her income for other things besides surviving. Enter the dilemma.

Our son was getting older and demanding more attention. It was getting harder and harder for my wife to be full time Mom and full time employee. She began telling me that she felt bad because our son would "beg" her to get off her computer and play with her during her shift. He wanted full time attention. Some might say he just needed to get over it and learn to play by himself. You can say that, but I tend to view things differently. Children are only toddlers once. They grow older and things change. We have such a short time to enjoy that stage of life when they are infatuated with us--the parents. They want our attention. They yearn to be tackled and tickled and hugged. If parents ignore this time or brush it off in favor of other endeavors, I believe they will regret it. And more importantly, I think it can have detrimental effects on the relationship between parents and their children.

These were the topics of conversation between my wife and I for several weeks. You can argue with what I am about to say, but we also believe that a Christian home ought to be directed by the husband. I listen to my wife, greatly respect her opinion, and more often than not, I allow her to make decisions as she sees fit. But in this case, she wanted me to make the call. She was scared to quit her job because it meant we would be living on the edge of my income. Women typically like financial security (profound statement of the day). She knew that we could live on my income, but any negative events that happened in our lives in that situation would mean taking a chunk out of our savings. It was a risk.

We talked and prayed about it for awhile, and I finally told her she needed to quit her job. She knew it, but she wasn't willing to pull the trigger. I was (and am) thoroughly convinced it was the right call. Micah needed his mother, and his mother needed to be free from that desk. We set a date for her to quit, knowing it was a financial risk.

I had been talking to God. I firmly believe that if a Christian makes a decision, however difficult, with the correct motivations, God will honor that decision. I told God money was not the most important thing in our life. If He wanted us to have more money, He could take care of that. I wanted my family to thrive and be full of love and contentment, not divided by selfish ambitions and misplaced priorities. Elizabeth was frightened to quit, as I mentioned--so much so that she made me hit the 'Send' button on the email to her supervisor. She just couldn't, so I did. Please don't misunderstand me. She wanted to quit. I was not making her quit. I was doing something for her that she was scared to do for herself.

Here's something more exciting. We were pregnant! We found out we were having another child (we now know it's a boy!) literally two weeks before Elizabeth was scheduled to stop working. That makes things interesting, doesn't it? More financial pressure. I honestly didn't sweat it. God is a really big God. So Elizabeth quit her job in November 2013 right before Thanksgiving.

Of course, we looked at our budget to see what we could cut to save money. We are frugal people, so there wasn't a lot of fat to trim. We made some adjustments and moved forward. Thankfully, November is a magical month in which I received three paychecks instead of the normal two. That was convenient. That extra money floated us for Christmas and a few other things. 

Here's where faith comes in. Many Christians look at their budget and consider cutting their tithes and offerings. Beware of this. Like I said earlier, God will take care of us, so long as we honor Him and demonstrate our faith in Him. It's not always easy. It's tempting to skip a few months of tithing or drop "additional gifts". I chose to keep giving as usual. Of course, our income was less so our tithe (10%) was less. That's math. But our church was having a special Christmas offering to finance several projects. We were not obligated to give anything. That's why it's called an offering, not a collection. God is not the IRS. So we gave because that's what we felt was the right thing to do.

Things got very interesting after we gave that Christmas offering. I do not want to give the impression that God is an investment strategy--I don't believe that. However, I believe if we honor God consistently with the small things in life, He is able to prosper us in the "big" things that are fundamentally out of our control. I did not make any "deals" with God. I did not barter with Him and say, "If I give this Christmas offering money, you better do something cool in my life." That's not how it works. I can't boss God around or coerce Him. He's God. However, immediately after we gave that offering, God said something to me (or so I perceived it). That just means a thought entered my mind.

What was the thought? I can't tell you that yet because it won't make sense. Let's rewind again--this time to late October 2013. I had been looking for job opportunities in my field that would help me get where I eventually wanted to be. Postdoctoral positions are temporary, and I was hoping to some day land a position more permanent so we could settle down. While searching for positions, I came across a person who had previously been a postdoc like me, but had since moved on to a biotech position right here at St. Jude (where I work). I wanted to meet this guy, so I found him on LinkedIn (this really happened, I swear), sent him an email, and we had lunch together. He recommended I apply for some positions at his facility because he thought I seemed qualified. So I did. That was October. Now fast forward to late December. I haven't heard a peep from those applications. Nothing.

I had great hopes for 2014. I anticipated it would be a great year. If nothing else, we plan to have another child in July 2014; and that's enough be thrilled about! I had no idea. So what was that thought that entered my mind? What did God "say" to me? Immediately after that gift was given, the thought entered my mind that "You will probably get that job you applied for back in October." I'm not making this up. I have no reason to lie. I'm not selling books here people. I'm writing a blog that 44 people will read. Nobody is getting famous.

That seemed like a strange thought to have. My wife even said, "That's a little presumptuous, don't you think?" Yes, it was. She was right. Whatever. It was just a thought--probably didn't mean anything. But you know what does mean something? A phone call. I got a phone call in the first week of January 2014. "Would you like to have a phone interview for that position?" Sure, that sounds nice. But let's not get too worked up. There are a lot of applicants. God could still be bluffing.

Phone interview went well. I felt good about it. Waiting...

"We would like to invite you in for an on-site interview." Oh, that would be cool.

I went to this interview believing this job would be an improvement in my income, but frankly I was unsure how much. That stuff doesn't get discussed until things get serious. So I let it be. Perhaps more importantly, this position was still under the umbrella of St. Jude so my benefits would continue uninterrupted. That's a big deal since my wife is pregnant! Don't forget about the Mommy-Baby duo! They need insurance. The funny part is that my job interview was literally at the same place I was already working. I've never done that before. No travel necessary! The on-site interview was great. Everybody was nice, and it seemed like a great place to work. To put cherries on top, my would-be boss and would-be co-workers told me they were Christians. Now for you legal people, that had nothing to do with the interview and they were NOT discriminating based on religious beliefs. Most of this discourse happened at the end of the day AFTER the main interview process. My would-be boss simply saw that I attended a Christian college on my resume and asked if we attended church in the area. This was shaping up to be a pretty neat experience. But again, no promises have been made.

One week passed, and we were hopeful.

If my memory works, it was the evening of January 28th that I received an email. I had been hired! Woot woot! But wait, was God involved? I can't be sure--or can I? God is subtle and leaves us hints. He operates in a seamless manner that often eludes the distracted or lazy eye. But this time wasn't so subtle in my opinion. It was pretty in-your-face. When the dust settled from being excited, we realized that my new salary almost exactly (within a few hundred dollars) matched the income we had when Elizabeth was working full time. Remember I made 65% and Elizabeth made 35%? Now I made 100%. And I was only familiar with the exact amount of our 2013 income because I had just finished doing our taxes. When they offered me that dollar amount, I smiled. Yes, I smiled because I was getting a Texas-sized raise; but I also smiled because my God is awesome. He knows every detail of my life and my thoughts. He cares for me and my family.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights [God], with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

Are we special? No. God has not reserved these things for certain people. He offers to be a Father to anyone and everyone; but so few are willing to bet on Him. So few trust that He will come through. We are not special because this happened to us. We are thrilled to know a God that keeps His promises and exceeds our expectations. You should get to know Him.

As a quick note, I want to be clear about one thing. I know God brings good and bad into the lives of His children. He has not guaranteed prosperity or convenience to me or anyone else. My life could be turned upside down tomorrow. Things could go majorly wrong. We never know. This isn't all about money or answered prayers. This is about us learning that God is there and He's paying attention. He may test us in 2014 too. Only time will tell. But if tests come, He is still there and He will still be paying attention. That's nice to know.

FYI My new position is at St. Jude Children's GMP, LLC, and I start March 3, 2014.

Image credits:
Coincidence Is a Plan In Disguise image from http://blog.rinajakubowicz.com/2014/02/04/there-are-no-coincidences/

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