Well, it happened. Jason is working in New York City while the kids and I carry on with life in St. George. Thus far I've survived three nights and four days on my own, including some dramatic moments such as when my eldest daughter broke into tears and packed a backpack so that she could move out on her own--to the trampoline. I've learned that no matter how much I love Menchies, our favorite frozen yogurt bar, navigating four dessert cups and a dozen toppings when you've got a screaming baby and only two hands is one really bad idea. And I've learned that snuggling together and reading aloud from the favorite book that Daddy used to read makes everyone feel better.
Every once in a while I have to stop and wonder--what's going on and how did we get here? The situation is complicated, so please excuse the convoluted explanation.
Jason came to St. George as an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow for Enterprise Community Partners, an organization dedicated to finding sustainable and affordable housing solutions. (You can learn more about Enterprise, the fellowship, plus see Jason's cool picture and blurb by clicking here.) Basically, Enterprise places promising young architects with local community organizations who are likewise interested in sustainable and affordable housing. In our case, Jason was placed with Color County Community Housing, southern Utah's only non-profit housing developer. In September 2010, Enterprise agreed to pay Jason's salary for the next three years; in turn Color Country agreed to provide the same benefits as they provide for the rest of their employees.
Working with Color Country provided Jason with amazingly diverse growth opportunities. Unlike many beginning architects who spend twelve hour days glued to AutoCAD, Jason was constantly interacting with the community, whether with individual home owners or important city officials responsible for forming public policy.
Even so, from the beginning Color Country has struggled financially. When the housing bubble burst, Color Country, along with most other local housing developers, was strapped with some major debt. For a time, we were able to coast on optimism. Back in September, however, we noticed clear signs that Color Country was starting to unravel. Color Country fell behind on employee health insurance premiums, life insurance premiums, even 401K contributions. Every two weeks, we were uncertain as to whether or not they would meet payroll. At work, Jason spent more and more time dealing with unpaid financial obligations. Most of all, he struggled with a loss of purpose. As a fellow, he felt a strong desire to make a meaningful, lasting contribution to the field, but was uncertain how to do so with an organization struggling to stay afloat.
When January rolled around and our health insurance was still suspended (premiums having been unpaid since October), I finally insisted that Jason have a frank conversation with Enterprise about Color Country's financial troubles. Being thirty six weeks pregnant, the clock was certainly ticking. Had I known in advance how that conversation would end up, I might have kept my mouth closed....
Essentially, Enterprise decided that it would be best to pull Jason out for the remainder of his fellowship. Uncertain about where to place him locally, his boss Katie joked about how she'd send him to New York to work on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts if he didn't have so many darn kids.
Well, that was enough to have Jason hooked. Those who know Jason know that he loves New York, particularly since his time in the city as a missionary. Professionally, the opportunity to be so closely involved with the Sandy Recovery and Rebuilding Program is unparalleled. But perhaps most of all, we felt drawn to New York because of extended family on Long Island. The first two summers of our marriage, Jason worked construction with my Uncle Jay. Ever since, we've felt closely connected and deeply indebted to their family. What a perfect opportunity to go back!
As right as it felt for Jason to go to New York, it felt wrong to uproot the entire family, especially on a short term basis. Jason's work agreement extends through the end of August when his fellowship would have ended. While it's possible that this job could turn into a permanent position, we're not planning on it. Truthfully, I'm not anxious to raise four children in the city--I love grass, the outdoors, a trampoline. To find a place roomy enough to accommodate our crew, we'd have to move way out of the Big Apple--so far out that we'd lose our Dad to a lengthy commute. When August rolls around, we're looking forward to having Jason back for real, not just on weekends.
Ideally, when the six months are up Jason will move back to St. George (not to work for Color Country, of course, who had to let go of three full-time employees in the past month, including its executive director.) No, Jason would start work for Peter, a local architect who has been a committed and insightful mentor over the past two and a half years. While there is no guarantee that this will work out, I feel excited by the idea of staying put a little longer. There are too many canyons still unexplored to say goodbye right now. Too many friendships just starting to blossom, too many lessons left unlearned. The girls are making such great progress with Spanish in their dual-immersion school--it would be a pity to pull them away too soon.
You know, it's funny how quickly ones perspective can change. There used to be moments when I felt we needed to move because our home was too small. Now, after contemplating the reality of a NYC apartment, it seems plenty spacious. I used to think Jason could never work for Peter because either the commute would be too long or else he would have to work from home and be underfoot. Now, a forty minute commute seems lovely, particularly one that winds through a red rock landscape. As for being underfoot, oh, how I'd love to have that concern!
So in the meantime, our plan is for the kids and I to finish out the school year here in St. George. I won't be completely alone--my Mom is coming out to visit for a couple of weeks and Callie is planning on spending her Spring break with us. Susie has offered to come down if I need extra help, plus I'm planning on bringing the older kids up to her for a week in May while Annika and I fly out to see Jason. Once a month, Jason will come home for the weekend, including in a couple of weeks for Annika's baby blessing. When the school year is over, we plan to spend time with my parents in Nebraska before driving out to New York for a long vacation with Dad. And before you know it, August will be here and we'll all be together again. Easy peasy. Right?
Okay, maybe it won't be easy, but I feel great peace that it will be okay. Despite the mayhem that inevitably surrounds parenting four active children, I have been blessed with a great sense of serenity. Last weekend, we had a couple of friends over for dinner. At the end of the evening, they commented on how calm we seemed. They'd expected us to seem much more anxious with all of the changes surrounding Jason's job and a newborn baby. Their remark caught me completely off guard. Those closest to me know that I get quite uptight and stressed out when entertaining, particularly for those I don't know well. If I seemed calm, well, it was most certainly a calm outside of my own.
Indeed, I feel enveloped by a peace that defies rational explanation. I have every reason to be anxious. This whole thing is crazy. Jason and I don't really believe in living apart. For relationships to be strengthened, it just makes sense that you need to spend time together. I worry about whether I can care for four kids all on my own. Even if I can, I'm quite sure I don't want to. And yet despite all the logical reasons to fret, deep within I still feel that this is right.
Perhaps this calm comes from the realization that I won't be all alone. Thanks to technology, Jason is just a phone call away (assuming decent cell coverage, of course.) We have been positively overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family, friends, and neighbors. But most of all, we've felt peaceful assurances that there is a divine hand directing our path.
Small things that some might consider to be mere coincidence, we acknowledge as tender mercies blessing our family. We were concerned, for example, about Jason having to commute from Long Island every day. Just as we were looking for other housing options, a woman contacted Jason's sister about a unit available in the city. Large as the city may be, this apartment happens to be one subway stop away from Jason's work. The timing of this job change is also remarkable. The request for Enterprise to find a fellow to help with Hurricane Sandy Recovery efforts came the day before Jason contacted Enterprise about Color Country's troubles.
Even the timing of Annika's birth can be viewed positively. At first I felt confused as to why God should leave me as a single mother with a newborn. And yet Jason pointed out that had I not been expecting Annika, we would have been less concerned about health insurance. Instead of contacting Enterprise preemptively, we likely would have waited until things fell apart at Color Country completely, missing this opportunity.
Ah, and therein lies the key--the deliberate choice to view this entire affair as an opportunity instead of a catastrophe. In praying about New York, Jason and I both felt strongly impressed that blessings will come from this trial. God is requiring patience and faith as we venture into the unknown, but I know that some day we will be able to look back and clearly understand why this experience was necessary.
So there you have it. What happened and why it's okay. This explanation turned out to be lengthier and preachier than I intended, but you never know what you'll find when you take a moment to probe the depths of your heart. The Master Architect, in his wisdom, decided to tear down our well-laid plans and reconstruct according to his own design. There may be moments when it hurts and moments when it feels too hard, but ultimately it's in His hands...and that's okay.