Wednesday, March 05, 2008

~ tugging at my heart strings ~

When I was in junior high school, there was this boy. Actually, when I was in junior high school, there was always some boy… that was part of the problem. But this one particular boy stands out, because he was the last one I really dated. Technically, I don’t think you could call it dating. We didn’t, either. Generally, it was referred to as “going together.” We didn’t really go together, however. We met up at friends’ houses, the mall, the skating rink, the swimming park, etc. I don’t think any of my little boyfriends ever actually met my parents, and that was probably for the best.

It was thanks to this particular boyfriend that I was pregnant at the age of fifteen.

To clarify, I wasn’t actually pregnant, nor had I participated in the necessary activity to become pregnant, but rumors get nasty when other girls want to date the guy you’re “going with”. And it wasn’t unheard of or particularly surprising in our circle of friends and acquaintances. In fact, it was kind-of flattering. My boyfriend was so desirable that other girls were willing to resort to any means to break us up… and he wanted me.

Being with him made me feel significant and beautiful... and not a bit superior, if I’m honest. Compared to my two best friends (and worst foes), I was pretty plain. J was blonde-haired, blue-eyed and stunningly attractive, even at our age. R was half-Filipino with consequentially gorgeous exotic features and the most damned confident attitude I had ever encountered. I was freckle-faced, straight-haired and completely unsure of myself. The guys I generally dated were not by any means the runt of the litter (I did have some social standing to work with), but they were not exactly the most sought-after choices, either.

So here I was with this guy, and he was beautiful, and he thought I was beautiful, and he didn’t want to dump me even though (by God’s grace, while we were yet sinners...) I was too scared to sleep with him. Guys who had never expressed interest in me before were suddenly calling me to make sure I might not rather “go with” them. Girls who had never paid attention to me were suddenly calling the Hitman’s Hotline radio show to tell the city how they were planning to steal my man. Life was good.

But the hearts of men are easily corrupted…

It wasn’t long before I was listening to the rumors I should have known to ignore. Rumors about girls he was hooking up with at his school. Rumors about things he was saying behind my back. I ended the relationship without giving him a chance to defend himself.

Rejection ushered in a necessary period of long phone calls in which he tried to win back my juvenile heart. If anyone has the displeasure of remembering the Timmy T song, One More Try, I deeply apologize for bringing it up. However, this sad little excuse for music is permanently burned into my brain because of the ex’s consistent playing of it in the background of our conversations… this was the song meant to woo me. I was just about to give in, when suddenly the phone calls stopped coming. Within a week I found out that he was dating J… the blonde and beautiful friend/foe.

Social strata being a significant force, I continued my friendship with J despite what I had felt to be a betrayal by both parties. I even went on a double-date with them and some guy I don’t remember. What I do remember was the way the ex kept staring at me, touching my arm when we were walking, or my foot under the table, and trying to talk to me every time J looked away. I was furious at him for putting in me in that situation, and at the same time I felt honored that he still cared about me, still thought about me, still longed for me. I had left an impression.

I didn’t follow through with his advances, and their relationship didn’t last long. Summer brought some travel, we all went to different high schools, I found the Lord and the rest is history. But I can still remember how valued I felt in that situation.


I got a call at work yesterday. It was from my boss at my old job. She was the CEO of the organization, but is now with another division of the university hospital since the non-profit switched hands. Out loud, I said she was probably calling to solicit me for a fundraiser or something, but deep down I think I knew what she was calling about.

Boss Lady: How are you?
Hesitant Me: I’m good, how are you?
Boss: I’m good. It’s great to hear your voice.
Me: Thank you.
Boss: So how’s the corporate world, again?
Me: It’s really good.
Boss: You’re liking it there?
Me: Yeah, I really am…

The conversation went on a bit awkwardly and, as I suspected, she wanted to talk to me about a job. I was at work. She called me at my job... to talk to me about another job.

The summer before I graduated from college, I worked in the summer program of a residential treatment center for pregnant and parenting women with mental health and substance abuse disorders. I loved the kids and I loved the moms, despite the obvious issues, but I could tell that there were some serious organizational issues and staff manipulation. I finished my summer with both animosity and affection for the place. Over that last school year, I made a decision that rather than pursue seminary (which had been my plan), I wanted to work in the “real world” and work on a Master’s degree at night. Influenced by several factors over that year, and quite a bit from my experience at the center, I chose to enroll in the Master of Arts in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication. A week or so after I moved back home, the director of the program called to tell me that I had been selected to receive an assistantship to help pay for the degree and pay a (very) meager stipend. I had a decision to make, as I had yet to find a social-services position (which is what I wanted), but still felt compelled to pursue one.

The center I had worked for called just days after the offer of an assistantship, and asked if I was available to work for the summer. I explained that I had graduated, and was looking for permanent employment rather than seasonal work. Conveniently, that was even better for them. They had a position that would be perfect, and I would start with the summer program and then transition into the permanent position. There would be benefits, including tuition assistance. The salary was $18,500. And I took it. Fell for it hook, line and sinker. I would be helping kids, helping families, making a difference in the world. Interestingly, the staff had changed a lot since the summer before, but the culture had not. In fact, in some ways it seemed to be much worse. It did provide a great backdrop for my communication studies and, while I never completed my thesis and thus forfeited the degree, I learned a great deal about human interaction and organizational mayhem.

I stayed as long as I could manage, and then I left for the corporate world and a paycheck that could at least cover my student loans. After about five years away, however, I longed to have a job where I felt significant, like I was impacting change and making the world a better place. I returned to the center as a Vocational Specialist, and felt really good about the decision. Before I knew it, the director of my program left and I was promoted to the Director of Continuing Care. Of course, I received the responsibility immediately, but none of the accompanying perks until at least six months later.

The guard was changing throughout the organization, and my program was becoming the scapegoat for the problems at every level. I was pulled from all sides until I was ready to pull my hair out. I told the CEO I was not prepared to go down with this particular ship, and that I was in the process of looking for another job. While at a grant conference for a million dollar grant we were operating under, I received the call offering my current position, and I broke the news to the CEO.

So less than a year and a half later, I receive this call. See, there’s this new grant. And she knows that I go back and forth between corporate jobs and public service. And they needed someone perfect for the position, someone who understands addictions, and families and poverty and who also has the organizational skills to administrate the program. She knows that I not only have the skills, but also the heart to fill this role.

I resisted the urge to ask what the pay range was, despite my ever-present need to pay off truck loads of debt. I thanked her for her consideration, but assured her that I was happy where I was. I reminded myself quickly of how thinly resources are stretched, how poorly the grants are often written (making promises they do not have the resources to keep), how uncomfortable I am with many of the budgetary games that are played, and how content I am in this place at this time.

I am not changing the world through my job, but I am in a healthy place. And perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to work with families in addiction again, or maybe God has other plans for my life. For right now, it seems it has much more to do with being and listening than it does with doing.

I had to resist the urge to return to an unhealthy employment relationship, even though it brought with it a feeling of significance. I had to say no. The resistance was empowering.

Still, it felt good to be wanted…


Ramón said...

Well done, Kimberly. A very difficult decision to make when one is wanted. You and I both know a dynamic, olive-skinned speaker who was successful in wooing me to a job I knew wouldn't work with that kind of "wanting".

Maybe it's a pipedream, but I think the process of being has to be the only portal to true change. I have yet to see legislation and programs, as important as they are, produce lasting change. Until we know how to combine those kinds of initiatives with the qualitative state of being that is a catalyst for transformational communities, I think we spend our time and resources in vain.

Kimberly said...

shysters live from scheme to scheme and my 4th quarter pipe dreams are seeming more and more worth fighting for...
~Kimya Dawson, Loose Lips

Agent B said...

You seem gifted with great wisdom, even in the face of emotion-based decisions soaked in flattery.

Keep it up man.

Bonnie said...

Good for you Kim,i know that was hard. When we moved back to Texas and I took a great job at a bank I knew God told me not to, and three months later I couldn't turn in my notice fast enough.

I struggle with wanting to use my degree, get into psych or social work where I can "do some good!" but God reminds me that I am where I am for a reason. And the sunday school class and small group that I now have time to teach is my job where I am doing my good. You do so much - you don't need to get paid to change the world - you're changing yours!

BTW -- I think that weekend you wrote me about looks fine so far! I would love to see you!

Anonymous said...

Yeah for receiving the flattery while maintaining your own emotional (etc) health! I'm glad for you that you won't be going back to that crazy stress (which I'm sure will just continue into the new grant).