Jason and Michelle’s Voyage Home

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

Philippians 1:6 NKJV

I was happy at the fitness company. One thing I had learned, though, as a result of my being hired there, was to not discount God’s plan. As recruiters contacted me, occasionally, I would speak with them. I really didn’t think I’d get anything better, but I knew God’s plans were better than my own. While Michelle and I had struggles in various areas, and we weren’t walking where we should, we still trusted in the Lord. I thanked Him for everything He had done. Even though Michelle was still having health issues, I thanked Him for His provision. That the biggest health struggles were in the past. So, if the Lord had something else in mind, I would not get in His way.

This was how, after two years at the fitness company, I returned to working consulting and working from home again. It was a decent pay increase, that was unable to be matched by the fitness company, and did allow me to work from home. This job, though, was a nightmare from day one. I didn’t know who my manager was. I never had a person I could talk to. I was stuck “on the bench” with no idea how to get seen to be added to projects. The company was more concerned with “acquiring companies” than they were with the employees they already had. I heard of people getting laid off, and the fact that I wasn’t getting utilized increased my risk there as well. Why would God move me from a good company to something so chaotic? He had to have a reason, so I trusted in that reason.

The first reason soon became apparent. The house Michelle and I were renting was put up for sale a couple months after I accepted the new job. This meant we had to move. If I was still working for the fitness company, I’d need to find something close, but everything that was available was a lot more expensive than the house we were renting. Working remote, I was able to look beyond the immediate area. Ultimately, this search brought us back to the area we moved away from fifteen years prior. The townhouse we found to rent was in an apartment community just five miles from where I grew up, where my parents still lived. We were ten miles from Michelle’s sister and a couple miles from her best friend. The Lord had brought us home again, something that was made possible due to the fact that I was working remotely.

After we got settled from the move, we found a new church, Calvary Chapel Eastvale. That became our new home and we were happy to be there. I felt more at home there than I ever did at Calvary Chapel Vista. I can’t say why that is, but the Lord made it clear that was where we needed to be. At the same time, I joined my father for a Wednesday night men’s Bible Study. Michelle joined a Women’s Study at Crosspoint Christian Reformed Church with my mother. That was the same church my mother had gone to Bible Study for years and where she took me for Vacation Bible School when I was in grade school. Things were starting to look up again.

The company I was working for did get me onto a project, but it was still incredibly unreliable. As a result, when the recruiters started contacting me, I responded. Normally, I would have waited a year at least, but I didn’t know how long it would be before I was swept up in the layoffs simply due to the fact that I had no manager to talk to and no way that I knew of to get assigned to projects. So, when I was interviewed to become the Lead CRM Developer at an IT company for a business to business reseller, it looked like a good opportunity. They were based in Boston, but I insisted that if I took the job, I wasn’t going to move. They agreed to it, with a stipulation that I did go to Boston for onboarding and would go out for major releases. I had no problem agreeing to those stipulations, as I expected them anyway. This new company was great. I liked the people and I was going to be able to do more in the architecture side, which is what I wanted. Unfortunately, though, I never would be able to find out just how far I would have been able to go with this new company. Just three months after I was hired, the entire world was locked down with COVID. My position, unfortunately, was one that entered into a furloughed state. I was still employed but I was no longer getting paid.

The whole world was turned upside down, and I didn’t know what this meant for me. Up until that point, I was constantly being courted by recruiters. Now, those calls had slowed down considerably. My in-demand role was no longer in-demand. Yes, I was still employed, but who knows if or when I’d be able to return to work. Starting the new jobs and moving had allowed me to build up a small portion of savings, which I was quickly cutting into. I did sign up to receive unemployment, but like so many in California, I was getting nowhere. My parents were able to offer some financial assistance, and some bills were able to be deferred or lessened. When the lockdown started lessening, our church had set up an outdoor service. We went to that, but unfortunately, no one there wore masks, and they still wanted to hug and greet. There was no thought to those who wanted to stay safe. COVID could kill Michelle if she were to get it, so we took extra care to stay safe. So, unfortunately, we stopped going to church completely.

Living in isolation is not easy to do, but it became a necessary way of life. I was out of work, but God was still providing. I was able to still buy food and pay bills that couldn’t be postponed. My parents were able to offer assistance when needed. I was still talking to recruiters, but they didn’t have any job options for me. It was the middle of summer when I was contacted by a recruiter for a large consulting company that sounded promising. Unfortunately, the process with them moved painfully slow. Or at least it seemed to be painfully slow from my perspective, due to the shrinking bank accounts. I was juggling in my mind if I would take this new job or if I would still hold out for the company that furloughed me. The Lord, again, proved to be faithful. Like all the previous jobs, I went to Him and asked for His guidance. Michelle and I prayed about it. My parents prayed. Our Bible Studies prayed. When the offer did come, it was better than what I was getting at the furloughed company. God had answered once again and given me a clear indication that this was where He wanted me to go.

I was hired right as I used the last of the money in our bank accounts. I’d have to borrow some from my parents to make it through to my first paycheck, but the Lord carried us through, even without the state unemployment that was due to me. I praised the Lord for His provision, and believed that things would go uphill from there. That was up until I had a stroke on the third day on the job.

Michelle was the one with the health issues. I was the strong one. A little over a year earlier, I had been to the doctor and got a clean bill of health. I hadn’t been back, though, as COVID got in the way of that. The stroke landed me in the hospital for a little over a week, then another couple weeks at my parent’s house learning to walk again. My stroke was cerebellar, which was in the balance center of the brain. I also had a secondary minor stroke that affected the vision center. I had done laser eye surgery a couple years prior, but the stroke brought the glasses back.

I didn’t complain. I wasn’t upset. I just focused on recovery. I trusted in the Lord’s healing hand. According to my physical therapist, I recovered quickly. The Lord had just given me a new job, so I knew He was not done with me yet. He was the one who healed me. He was the one who made my recovery swift. My new employer was understanding of the situation and I started working as if nothing had happened. I had been out of work for almost a month, but when I returned, I had a project already lined up for me. Things at this company were, and still are, completely opposite what my experience was when I left the fitness company. This is, by far, the best company I’ve ever worked for, and an amazing team to work with.

As things started opening up more and the vaccinations started to become more available, we were able to get out a little more, but I was still discouraged by the fact that so many refused to get vaccinated and refused to wear masks. We were able to return to our respective Bible Study groups, but we didn’t return to our church. I loved the verse-by-verse teaching of Calvary Chapel, but the fact that I felt they weren’t taking our health into consideration, I didn’t want to return. That is not where God wanted us to be. I still hadn’t stopped trusting the Lord, but I just didn’t know where to go. I knew we needed to go somewhere, but where, and when?

We were still dealing with Michelle’s health issues. On top of that, we now had to consider my own health issues. I did everything I could to protect us, and thanks to the protection of the Lord, neither of us have had COVID yet. We are both vaccinated and we both still wear our masks when we go out. We don’t with my family, as they are all vaccinated, nor do we do it at our Bible Studies. Still, though, we take care to continue to wear our masks just to avoid complications for either of us. My job has been great. The first project I was put on was a nightmare, and frequently caused long hours. I have been moved to a new project, one that has been moving a lot better. I’m very happy here and have no desire or intention of leaving. I see plenty of room for growth and opportunities here, that could last me through the end of my career, whenever that may be.

Leaving the fitness company, which at first glance seemed like a mistake, has become more clearly now. That first company allowed us to move back close to family. The second company, while short lived, allowed me to start building up some additional money in savings that took us through my five months without income during COVID. My current employer has allowed me to grow my skills even more along with my income. For the first time, we are almost completely debt free and my credit is back in a good state. We’re still paying old medical bills, but that should be paid off in about a year or less. We still deal with my wife’s medical issues in addition to my own, but we’re able to stay on top of it. For the first time, we are getting ahead, and that’s all thanks to the Lord and His provision.

This past Easter, we returned to church, after COVID had kept us away. We didn’t go back to Calvary Chapel Eastvale. Instead, we went to Crosspoint Christian Reformed Church. They have an area for those who choose to wear masks and seem to be a lot more caring and understanding of the bigger picture. Now, one month later, we are officially members of that church. We’re both happy here and feel like that’s where God wants us to be. It’s amazing to me and to others in the church, that I have, in a small way, been affiliated with that church since my youth. I went there to Vacation Bible School in grade school. I attended a Men’s Bible Study there in my early 20’s. My mother has been part of the Women’s Study since I was in grade school. The women’s group has been praying for Michelle and I for years. Now we are members of the church body that has been there for us, even when we didn’t realize it.

I don’t know what our future holds, but I do know Who holds our future. God has promised to give us a future and a hope, and He has shown that to be true in our lives countless times. Some might write this all off as coincidence, luck, or even my own perseverance. The fact that I barely graduated high school, have no college degree, and my wife has survived countless surgeries and cancer isn’t just luck, this is a testament to the power of God in our lives. There are still areas that Michelle and I struggle in our marriage and in our walks with Christ, but even despite those struggles, we continue to walk with Christ and trust in Him. The evidence is just too overwhelming to do otherwise.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21 NKJV

Jason and Michelle’s Climb

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4 NKJV

Being laid off from a company I invested thirteen years in, actually pouring my life into, was a devastating blow, but also one of the best things that could have happened to me. My fear was such that, no matter how miserable I was working there, how underpaid and underappreciated, I wasn’t about to leave on my own. I thought that if I were to leave, or in this case, get let go, my lack of degree would prevent me from finding anything new. The fact that I had crushing medical debt resulting in a very poor credit rating, and a very sick wife, I thought my prospects for the future were far less than ideal. That fear kept me from leaving, but God heard the cries of my heart, and He answered in His time.

After I was let go, an online friend put me in touch with his recruiter, to help me find a new job. I also signed up with LinkedIn, putting a simple profile together to highlight my technical experience. True, it didn’t show education, but it did have eight years of technical support and three years of Microsoft CRM 4.0. It was something at least. I went back down to Southern California on interviews and got set up to get unemployment income. It was a stressful and scary time, but still I trusted that the Lord would provide. The recruiters I was referred to wasn’t that much of a help, unfortunately. The LinkedIn profile, though, proved to be more fruitful. Soon after my profile went online, I had a recruiter contact me, one who dealt exclusively with Microsoft CRM. She was actually able to get me set up on a couple different interviews.

After being out of work about two months, just before my old medical was set to expire, I was hired by a consulting company that worked exclusively with Microsoft CRM. One of the owners of the company actually had written a couple different books about it. The experience I gained at my previous company gave me the foothold that I needed to be hired. Not only that, but my income increased to just above what it was eight years prior when the old company restructured and moved us to Monterey. The Lord proved, once more, that He was watching over and guiding me. Despite the fact that we weren’t walking as closely as we should have been, He still reached down and guided me to where I needed to be. He let me lose that job, where I was overworked and miserable, and He put something better in my path.

When I first started with that company, I had to drive 120 miles one way to the office three times a week, but eventually, it came to a point where I was working exclusively from home. I was able to learn even more about Microsoft CRM at a number of different clients, with a variety of scenarios. My manager saw my skill and said that he felt I was being underpaid and even underutilized at times. He said he could see my income increasing dramatically over time. It wasn’t something that happened while I worked there, but I did see some pay raises along the way. More importantly, my knowledge and experience grew and I even added some Microsoft Certifications to my list of accomplishments. I was happy working at this company and saw that I could grow with the company in time.

Michelle still struggled with health and doctor’s visits, but not like they were before. She was no longer able to drive, but thanks to the consulting job, I was able to have flexible hours to be able to take her to appointments during the day and still work a full eight hour day from home. With unlimited vacation, I was able to take occasional vacation time to help deal with her health issues and surgeries. I went from the stress of the previous job, where I practically had no life, to a job that had a much better work-life balance. We soon returned to church, but it was haphazard and inconsistent at first. I didn’t want to “explain” our absence, because they only sounded like hollow excuses. I was afraid of being judged. Then there were still times we weren’t able to go due to Michelle’s health, but not like it was before. Things were actually getting better overall.

Finally, we did start returning with some regularity to Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay. I didn’t get involved in any Ministry, but Michelle did help out as a greeter. It was good to get back to church. God had been proving Himself faithful, and it was good to share with other Christians the good things that were going on. My job was even going well, up until it was acquired by another consulting firm. Acquisitions are hard. I went through it, to an extent, when the previous company absorbed their independent sales reps. Now, I was going through it again. There were some people that were let go as part of the process, but I was not one of them. Even though I had survived the transition safely, I still was a little concerned about how I could grow within the new company. It wasn’t bad working there, in fact the working environment really didn’t change, but there still was this shadow of uncertainty.

Not long after, I had a recruiter contact me from the same recruiting company that I worked with four years prior. She had heard about the acquisition and wanted to know if I was looking for another position. I told her that I was looking and would be interested. This was entirely different than last time I was looking. This time I was working in a stable company and wasn’t desperate for a new job. This gave me a much more relaxed time during my interviews. I also now had almost seven years experience working with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which now outweighed my lack of degree. As I interviewed, I spoke to Michelle about the opportunities, as well as talked to our church so that we made the decision God wanted us to make. What’s even more interesting about what happened is that I gave the recruiter a figure that I wanted before I’d accept another job. I actually thought I was pricing myself out of range, as it was probably 50% to 75% higher than the salary I was currently making. I figured it could still be negotiated down if necessary, and still be a decent raise.

That just showed how little I knew about recruiting at the time. It also shows that God’s promise to give us a future and a hope never fails. I was interviewed for the IT department of a fitness company in Carlsbad, California. Not only did I “ace” the interview process, but the recruiter negotiated an even higher salary than the base salary I had suggested to her. I was hired at a salary almost double of my current income, and it included full moving/relocation expenses. Michelle and I were moving to north San Diego county. Instead of being seven hours away from family and old friends, we would now be just 90 minutes away. We spent thirteen years in the beautiful Monterey County, and now we were moving to an area I had said I always wanted to live in. We were moving to the same city we had our third honeymoon in. Not only that, but I was hired as a senior developer for the company’s Microsoft Dynamics Online implementation. About ten years earlier, I was told I would never be a good enough developer. About twenty years earlier, I thought I’d be working a dead-end job for the rest of my life. God, in His infinite love and mercy, even despite my unfaithfulness at times, had proven His promises to be true. He was giving us a future and a hope.

For the two years I was at that company, I worked in the office. The office, though, was just a 15-30 minute drive on streets, depending on traffic. I wasn’t able to have lunch with Michelle anymore, and taking her to appointments mostly stopped. She started using Uber to get to her appointments. It was a very stressful job at times, but I loved working there. The team was amazing to work with and the benefits were good. I was even able to lose 70 pounds in less than a year at one point, which was wonderful. God continued to shine His blessings on us. Despite that, we really didn’t find a church to go to. We went to Calvary Chapel Vista a few times, but never really got settled there. There really wasn’t much of an excuse for that. We were still dealing with Michelle’s medical issues. We still had our mountains of medical debt, but we weren’t adding to the debt anymore. My benefits and income was finally to a point where I was able to pay for the medical issues as needed. Unfortunately, the very large cost of living increase caused by the move, combined with the medical bills, didn’t really allow us to get ahead, despite the increase in income. I was able to get a new car, though, at a high interest rate, to at least work on starting to rebuild the shattered credit.

One of the things that was most surprising during this time was the increase in the calls and contacts from various recruiters. Calls from recruiters I’d spoken to in the past, direct emails and messages from LinkedIn. I actually found myself in a position where my experience was in demand. I could look back over my life even more clearly now and see everywhere the Lord had worked in my life. From the first ISP that offered me a job without even being asked, to the second ISP that God used to answer my prayer, followed by the third ISP which gave me the necessary experience in order to work for my Christian Brother. That Brother in Christ helped me build more experience and pushed for me when the company restructured. Even in what seemed like a dark and stressful time, God was still moving and giving me the experience I would need so that when He finally pushed me out of the nest, I was able to rise by the power of His grace from one consulting company to another, and then to the role of Senior Developer in an IT department of a large fitness company. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, there is no doubt in my mind that this was all the work of a living God who loves us more than we can imagine, or sometimes even deserve.

Michelle’s health issues were still a struggle, but the addiction issues she once faced were in the past. She didn’t completely avoid narcotics, because sometimes they were unavoidable, but when she had them, she got off them as quickly as she could. A lot of the struggles we faced in Monterey were left in Monterey. Michelle’s growth, through the strength of the Lord, continued.

This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.

II Timothy 2:11-13 NKJV

Jason and Michelle’s Storms

Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.

Psalm 61:1-4 NKJV

There is a song from the 1940’s that most people remember by the song title alone. “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” by the Ink Spots. I don’t know the song nor the group, but I do know the song title is quoted and misquoted frequently. There is truth to the phrase and sometimes it is more than just “some rain.” Barely a year into our marriage, Michelle and I could start seeing the coming of the rain, but we had no idea the storms that were on their way, or how they would rock the very foundations of our marriage and our faith.

I was 30 and things in my life were going well, thanks to the Lord. I was married to a wonderful wife and working a 9-5 job for a great employer. Just a few years earlier, I had no hope for my future. I thought I’d be stuck working security or a similar dead end job for the rest of my life. I would have been happy working at that same job even longer, if I could. Perhaps even getting a home and starting a family. God, had other plans, though. Soon after returning from our “third honeymoon” I was told that the company was going to be restructuring and doing away with their independent sales representative position. That meant there was a very real possibility that I would have to look for another job. I was scared. I did have five years experience with sales and some IT work, and I did have some certificates for extension courses related to web development, but I still didn’t have a degree. If I had to find a job, would I be forced back into a dead end job again? If so, how would we be able to live?

Things moved on and I found out that the man I worked for had been talking to the owners of the company, trying to negotiate for the main company to bring in their employees, so no one would have to look for another job. That meant there was a chance we could have to move to Dallas, Texas, continuing to work in sales, or move to Monterey or San Jose, California, where the corporate offices were located. He was working with the owners to pull me onto the development team in San Jose, but there were still no guarantees, just a lot of unknowns. I was afraid of my prospects should I have to try to find another job.

Thanks to the Lord, the company decided to hire all the independent sales reps and their employees that wanted to remain with the company. They took our previous experience, which in my case was five years, and counted that as part of our employment period. In addition, I was brought in to the Software Quality Assurance. They didn’t want to hire me as a developer, but I was told that I could move into development after I proved myself in QA. This moved us from Southern California to the Monterey area of the California Central Coast in October of 2003, not even a year into our marriage. While not as far away as moving to Dallas, and, of course, a much nicer area to live in, it was still a six to seven hour drive from family and friends. This was a big deal for us, considering how close we were with my family, her sister, and our friends. In addition, it was a cut of over 10K from my annual salary, despite moving to a more expensive area.

Moving to the Monterey area was a blessing as well. Growing up in Southern California, I hated the summer heat. Growing up, I had said I wanted to move to San Diego, as it had nice temperatures year-round. Monterey, though, was still a wonderful place to move to. Temperatures were on the cool side, but fairly consistent, year-round. There wasn’t the traffic like there was in Southern California, and it was much more green. We found a new church, Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay, and chose to make that our new home church. We got involved in the Junior High and Children’s Ministry soon after we arrived, but I cut it back to just the Children’s Ministry soon after. I even started doing the coordinating and scheduling of the teachers in the Children’s Ministry.

Things looked like they were off to a good start, but then Michelle started getting sick. We went to doctors and had tests done, and not even six months after we had moved, Michelle was told she had a tumor on her pancreas. They couldn’t tell if it was cancer or not, so they were going to have to treat it as if it was cancer, which means performing one of the most invasive abdominal surgeries, known as the Whipple. This surgery was extreme, and one that had a high mortality rate. Just over a year into our marriage, and we were looking at a very real possibility of Michelle’s death.

Why would the Lord allow this? Why would He allow us to move so far away from family and friends just to put this into our lives? Oh, there can be any number of reasons, but only God sees the bigger picture. I knew that God was in control. I knew that He had a plan for us. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was not the end. God promised to give us a future and a hope. He had already shown Himself faithful in my own life, and I knew that He would continue to do so. I had a peace that surpassed all understanding, a peace that surprised a lot of people, including Michelle. Where did this peace come from? It came from the Lord, my trust in Him, and my putting our cares at His feet.

The surgery was late June/early July of 2004, just a year and a half into our marriage. My parents came up just before the surgery to spend time with us, and stayed the day of the surgery to support us. I was scared, but I knew that God was in control. The surgery lasted over eight hours. They removed the tumor along with the head of her pancreas, some of her intestines, her gall bladder, a part of her stomach, and pretty much “rewired” her insides. The doctor said the surgery went well, but they would have to send the tumor to be analyzed. There was no way to know if it was cancerous or not. Even though the surgery went well, there was still the recovery, which could still be fatal.

After a week in the hospital, Michelle was released. She spent barely a week at home, before going back into the hospital due to complications in the recovery process. In all, she spent about a month in the hospital recovering. She did survive, but her life, and mine, would never be the same again. We would soon discover what our new normal was going to be, and that new normal wasn’t always a good thing.

As she recovered, she had follow-up visits with doctors and surgeons to keep track of her recovery process. Along the way, they discovered that she may have a problem with her thyroid as well. In November of 2004, not long after she had mostly recovered from the Whipple surgery, she was back under the knife again. They determined, during the surgery, that she had thyroid cancer, so they completely removed her thyroid. First a tumor on her pancreas, which we still didn’t know if it was cancerous or not, and now thyroid cancer. I still trusted that the Lord would pull us through all of this, and I still had peace through it. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.

Our new church was very supportive at this time. They brought us food and prayed with us. I still tried to be involved in Ministry, but soon had to pull out as there were so many times I couldn’t be at church due to needing to be at home for Michelle. There was a song at that time by Casting Crowns, “Praise You in the Storm.” That song was played quite frequently as we both tried to continue to praise the Lord, even in spite of all that was going on. That song always brought tears to my eyes as I sang it to the Lord, knowing that no matter what was going on, He was in control, and I would continue to praise Him.

We started going to church less and less. We’d show up sometimes, when we were able to, but there was just so much going on. I never stopped trusting in God, though. Even with all the struggles and trials, I knew He was in control. The mountain tops I had been on from 1996-2002 were gone and now we were in the stormy valleys. There were times that I felt like I was barely holding my head above water, knowing that it was only through the strength of the Lord that I wasn’t drowning.

Michelle was in constant pain. Michelle was frequently sick, vomiting uncontrollably. She was going to the Emergency Room frequently. She went back to the hospital several times, hospitals from Monterey all the way to San Francisco. It was at least one surgery a year. At one point, she spent almost five months in a hospital up in San Francisco, and I was only able to see her once a week, due to how far away it was. All the while, I was working my normal work shifts the best I can, and ensuring that I was getting my work done on time, so that the medical issues rarely got in the way.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, that created an entirely new issue. The Monterey office that I worked out of was shut down and I had to start commuting to San Jose on a daily basis. It was 65 miles one way and there was no possibility of moving, due to Michelle’s medical issues and the cost of living differences. In order to save money on the commute, I started taking the bus, which made my day even longer. I would leave my house at 5am, and not get home until 8 or 9pm. Sometimes I was able to meet a coworker half-way and commute with him. Sometimes, I just had to drive myself, just to get to and from work quicker. I was still working in QA, and I was still trying to get into development, but it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t go looking for another job. Our debt was spiraling out of control due to all the unpaid medical bills. I still didn’t have a college degree. I had a very sick wife that I didn’t know how each day would affect my job. I was unhappy, felt trapped, and often times felt like I was going insane. Yet, I continued to trust in the Lord and I tried as hard as I could to put up the “brave front” around everyone.

With all the surgeries that Michelle had gone through, all the pain, and all the vomiting, there came the unfortunate time that Michelle became addicted to the narcotic pain medication they gave her in the hospitals. Unfortunately, it’s a story all to common. I struggled with her on that, not knowing how much was real, how much was the addiction. We were going to the ER every other day, sometimes she even drove herself. I felt helpless and powerless. I didn’t know what to do and I felt like I was a horrible husband, unable to care for and protect my wife. Then came the “theft” that broke the camel’s back. I had received a bonus check in the mail from work, and she got it from the mail. She told me it was half the amount it was, and used the rest herself. When it was discovered and admitted, I knew that things had to change. I actually kicked her out and sent her to live with her father for a couple weeks. I told her she could return when she agreed to work with the hospital to get off narcotics and her addiction to them.

I don’t recall exactly how long she was living with her father. She thinks it was a couple weeks, I think closer to a month. Whatever it was, when she came home, she kept to the commitment to get off the narcotics. It was a long struggle, but it was one that we made it through with the Lord’s help. Unfortunately, that time still left its scars which remain today. She is no longer addicted to the narcotics, but I still fear that any trip to the ER or surgery is going to start that downward spiral again.

Work continued despite these struggles. My life had literally become work, Michelle’s health, and sleep. There was nothing else. I was so exhausted, that our weekends were spent recovering. We couldn’t make plans. Any plans we did make often got changed due to her health. It was a miserable time. I never turned away from God, though. I know we weren’t walking as close as we should have been, but I still trusted Him. I knew He would deliver us, despite the mounting debt and never ending medical issues.

Finally, I was able to get some development work at my job. I was still in the QA department, but I started out working on our installer, as a way to transition into development. That work eventually led to me being tasked to do the development work on a new Contact Management System we were rolling out in-house. Microsoft CRM 4.0. I worked on the CRM with our Database Administrator. She did the database integrations while I learned how to customize the system to do what we needed it to do. The company hired a consultant not to do the development, but to be a resource for me to reach out to with questions. I’m pretty sure I annoyed him with the questions, but I didn’t care, that’s what we were paying him for. Between my calls with him, and my own research, I managed to build some very complex systems to do the work, even despite the highly unreasonable timetable I was given.

For three years, I worked on the CRM. I was still technically not a developer. I was told that I wasn’t good enough to be a developer, but I could work on the CRM. I was still in QA during this time, so when the company finally decided to let me go, they had a convenient way to do it. They pulled the CRM project from me, saying they wanted a developer to work on it, and since I wasn’t a developer, I was no longer needed. Since I was still in QA, I asked if I would be returning to QA work, but their response was I wasn’t needed there anymore, so they were letting me go. I know the reason they were letting me go was because of Michelle’s health issues, but there was no way for me to prove it. Thirteen years with the company, eight years directly employed by them, and it meant nothing. All my fears over the past few years came crashing down on top of me. I was given a severance package that would carry me a couple months, but that’s it. I had a sick wife, I had no degree, I had mountains of medical debt. Where was that going to leave me?

Unlike my firing about fifteen years earlier, this was different. I wasn’t right around the corner from my church. I hadn’t even been going to church regularly anymore. I was too busy just trying to survive. There are those who would turn their backs on God, but even in what appeared to be my darkest hour, I wouldn’t do that. God had proven Himself faithful, time and time again. My wife was alive, she had gotten past a near crippling narcotic addiction, I was living in the beautiful Monterey Peninsula. Even though I was being laid off, I still had eight years of practical experience with software testing and three years development of Microsoft CRM 4.0. All of that, thanks to the Lord, so, even though I was scared, I knew God would provide like He had so many times before.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 3:34 NKJV

Jason and Michelle

And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:23-24 NKJV

It had been three years since I had rededicated my life to the Lord at the Harvest Crusades. That time I was walking closer to the Lord than I ever had. I was going to church, going to Bible Studies, and was teaching the children and serving as a counselor in the Junior High Ministry. During that time, I kept hearing how important it was for a person to be married. Not to mention, my own past with my strong need and desire for close companionship. So, even while I was serving, I was looking for “a girlfriend.” There were a couple of Christian women I met online, one who lived in Washington. At one point, I thought I’d move up to Washington as a result. There were a couple of women I met at church as well, one who I thought would be “the one” for me, but that turned out not to be the case. I even tried out a dating service, that was just a waste of money.

I was renting a room of a house with several other guys from my church. It was a couple blocks from the church, so I often would leave my car at the house and walk or ride my bike to church. It was nice being so close to church. I was able to get to church without having to worry about parking, stay late, and be involved in the ministries without having to worry about how long it would take to get home. My primary focus at that time was the Lord, so even though I was “looking” it wasn’t really a driving focus for me. I loved being at church and I loved working with the kids.

One Sunday evening, when I was working with the four-year old children, like usual, a woman walked up to me. She was one of the stage performers and singers for the Children’s Ministry, and it was slightly before the performance had started. I’d seen her around, and she’d said hello to me before. Her best friend had a daughter who was four-years old, and she sometimes checked her friend’s daughter into my class. I didn’t know her name, I had only said hello in passing. Little did I know that she had been watching me for a while, and looking for opportunities to say hello to me. This night was supposed to be another night where she just said hello to me. The Lord, though, had other plans. Rather unexpectedly, both to her and to me, she had asked me if I’d like to join her for coffee at the church café after the service.

I was stunned to say the least. Here was a woman at church, one whom I didn’t even know, asking me out. I agreed and then she walked away. She went back to her friends in the Ministry and told them “I just asked Jason for coffee.” They were all surprised, and her best friend complained that she wasn’t told. The two always talked before decisions like that were made. The response was “I didn’t even plan on it. I don’t even have any money.” So, they all gave her a couple dollars so she’d have money that night.

That night was the first time I knew her name. I might have been told before, but I’m horrible with names, always have been. So, even though we had met casually before, this night was the first night I truly met Michelle and had conversations with her. We seemed to connect fairly well that night. Then, I didn’t hear from her again the following week. I figured it was a one time thing, that it was a nice conversation, nice to get to know her, but nothing more than that. Like many other women I met, we may become friends, a Christian Sister, but nothing more. I was wrong. Two weeks after our first night at the café, she again asked me if I wanted to go to the café after service. Yes, she asked me out twice because I didn’t see a future there at the time. I thought, at most, it was just going to be a friendship.

Michelle and I talked and connected with our love for children. That wasn’t the last time we talked, of course. Over time, she talked to me about her ex-husband and told me about her “list.” She had a list of qualities she was looking for, and apparently I matched every one of the items on her list. I found out she had been watching me for some time. She had loved seeing how I interacted with the children. Over time, we drew closer and closer together. Someone was actually interested in me, in who I was, and wanted to be with me. It was someone who I connected with. Not just me to her, but her to me as well.

As time went on, we started doing more of our Ministries together. We attended the same Sunday morning service. She joined me as an assistant in one of the Children’s Ministry classes I taught. I went on stage and acted with her in front of the Children. She joined the Junior High Ministry as a counselor. We were even able to do one of the Junior High retreats together. The Lord had brought us together for a reason.

After dating for about a year, I proposed to Michelle. I didn’t have a ring yet, but I drove with her up the mountains. She hated driving mountain roads and kept wanting to go back down. At one point, I pulled off to the side, for a nice view, and I proposed to her. She accepted, but insisted that we go back down. I agreed, not wanting to ruin the time. I had thought it would be a special time, that getting the proposal that way would make everything magically better. Well, reality check, she still hated the mountains, and while she loved the proposal, the fear was a little more powerful.

The ring would come later that same year at her birthday party. I had made plans with her sister for a special surprise birthday party and proposal announcement. She contacted several of Michelle’s friends, while I contacted our mutual friends. We invited them to a restaurant for her birthday and told them that I would also be proposing and giving her the ring that night. Everyone we invited was excited to be there. It was going to be a perfect night, or so we thought.

Michelle and I went to the movies while her sister went to the restaurant. They didn’t take reservations, so she had to show up early to make sure we got in, and with our large party, that made it difficult. After the movie, I got a call from her sister telling me to delay arriving, as they were still waiting on the table. People were showing up and I had to find ways to delay without giving anything away. I pretended to make wrong turns in areas that I knew like the back of my hand. As it was Christmas season, I went to a neighborhood you could drive through to see Christmas decorations. All the while, Michelle was getting more hungry, begging to just get to the restaurant so we could eat. I was running out of ways to delay.

At one point, before beginning the final drive to the restaurant, I stopped at a gas station to use the restroom. While I was in the restroom, Michelle was digging through my glove box looking for a ring. Because it was her birthday, and the fact that I had already proposed to her, she assumed I would be giving her the ring that night. She was partly correct, I did have the ring, and I was going to give it to her that night, but I didn’t leave it in the car. I had the ring in my jacket pocket. So, after returning to the car, I drove to the restaurant.

When we arrived, it was an hour after we told people to be there. Thankfully, everyone was there waiting for us and Michelle was very happy to see everyone. Due to the long wait, though, a couple people had to leave, but they did leave their gifts. Most people, though, were able to stay, and even though we were seated about 2 hours after the scheduled time, we all had a great time celebrating Michelle’s birthday.

The gift opening came after we finished the meal. The last gift on the table was a small wrapped box. It looked like it could be the ring, but that was still in my jacket pocket. When she opened it, she discovered it was a faberge egg from one of her friends. Her response, which caused a bit of laughter from everyone, was a slightly disappointed “Oh. It’s an egg.” That disappointment was soon to fade, as I pulled out the ring from my jacket and asked her to marry me. She was excited for the but didn’t answer immediately. Someone at the table next to us spoke up. “So what’s you’re answer.” We didn’t know them, but it couldn’t have been more perfect of a response. Michelle, of course, said yes, and we all celebrated.

During our engagement period, which was actually about two years long, we started going through pre-marriage counseling. We worked with the pastor over the Junior High Ministry, whom we were close to, due to serving with him. There was a lot that we were going into. I had, obviously, never been married. She had come out of a previous bad marriage. Her ex was an abusive drug addict that she managed to escape from with the help of the Lord. Her divorce was Biblical, but she was coming into the relationship with a lot of baggage. I was warned that it wouldn’t be easy to deal with, for either of us, and even today, the phantom of her ex can still haunt us.

About a year into our engagement, Michelle had lost her job. She was living with her sister and paying rent to her sister. I was living at the house with the other Christian Brothers. She struggled to find another job and I often helped to support her financially even though we weren’t yet married. For months, as she went from job to job, I helped to supplement her income. My thought was “we’re going to be married anyways, so our money is already shared.” The thing was, we weren’t married, and our marriage was still months away.

In December, about a year and a half into our engagement, we spoke with our pastor who was counseling us. We had completed the pre-marriage counselling sessions, and we just counting the days at this point. We told him how I had been paying her bills and asked if there was any reason for us not to get married early. His response was “I thought you were crazy for waiting two years to begin with.” His only other stipulation was to keep our original May wedding date since we had already been making plans for that date, and use it as a reaffirming of the vows. That was something we easily agreed to, as some things were already paid for anyways.

After a week of intense planning and very little sleep for Michelle, we went to Las Vegas. On December 21, 2002, Michelle and I were married in a small hotel chapel in Las Vegas. No, there was no Elvis impersonator at our wedding. Instead, and more importantly, we had our families and a few of our closest friends that were able to make the last minute pre-holiday commitment. They knew we weren’t just “running off to Vegas” and saw that our desire was for the Lord first. They were happy for us and happy to celebrate with us.

Our honeymoon was a couple days in Las Vegas. One day, we walked from our hotel to where the Star Trek Experience was. We thought it was closer than it actually was, so it was a lot of walking. On the way back, Michelle was getting very hungry and irritated at the walking. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I figured we’d just keep walking, pausing periodically along the way and trying to find a place we could afford to eat. That wasn’t working as planned, and I made the mistake of pushing further than I should have. There is a picture we have from that time. Everyone who sees it who doesn’t know Michelle says it is a very nice picture of her. Those who do know her, can tell her expression is one of irritation. She pretty much had daggers in her eyes toward me, rightfully so. It did work out, though. We made it back to our hotel, to a place that we could afford to eat at. In the end, it gave us an interesting memory to share.

We returned home on Christmas Eve, and I moved in to the room Michelle rented at her sister’s house. We celebrated Christmas Eve at church and Christmas Day with family. The next day, we went on a company paid trip to Kawaii. This was the company that we resold the mortgage software for. While we were there, our rental car was upgraded at no additional cost to a Mitsubishi Spider convertible. This gave us a second honeymoon in Hawaii. We only had to attend a couple company functions, the rest of the time was ours to spend. Since most things were paid for by the company, we only paid for our food, gas, and souvenirs.

We only lived with Michelle’s sister for just over a month before we found an apartment we were able to afford. I was even set up so that I could work from home, which was wonderful. I was able to take lunch with Michelle and in the summer, we even went into the pool which was right out our door. That first apartment we shared gave us a lot of memories, many good, some not so good. Our first argument, when we couldn’t afford to get her best friend a birthday gift, caused her to get very upset with me. I was the only one working and it was a challenge to stay on top of the bills. A night of worship and fellowship where friends came over for a potluck pool party followed by singing.  And, of course, in the middle of it all, was our “actual wedding” as Michelle still calls it.

Our original wedding was planned for mid-May, and that date didn’t change even though our actual marriage happened five months earlier. We were married at our church by the pastor over the Junior High Ministry. My father was my best man, my brother one of the groomsmen, and several other friends from church were groomsmen. My side of the family were mostly Catholic, with a couple agnostic or non-practicing Christians. As Michelle is a messianic Jew, she had several family members who were Jewish that had never accepted the Lord. We wanted our marriage to show the believers and non-believers alike who God was, and how important He was in our lives. So many of our church friends donated time and services to us. We had a church friend DJ our wedding, another made the cake for the cost of the materials only, another gave us discounts on the flowers from his florist shop. Thanks to the blessings of the Lord through friends and family, we saved thousands of dollars on the wedding, and we were able to glorify God through it.

The wedding, though, was not going to be without it’s own set of challenges. Shortly before the wedding, Michelle had locked her knee back and I had to take her to the ER. So, at the wedding, she was wearing a knee brace under her dress. She was still able to walk down the isle, and have her father give her away. She made it through the ceremony and even was able to dance at the reception. We had joked, as a result of this injury and her existing asthma, that we were getting married “in sickness and in sickness.” So, even despite this injury, the wedding was special, memorable, and glorifying to God.

My parents had given us the use of their week at their timeshare down near Oceanside as a honeymoon for us. This week became what we refer to as our “third honeymoon.” I remember we stayed in a bed and breakfast the night before, as we couldn’t check in to the timeshare until the following day. I don’t remember much about that week, what we did, what we didn’t do. I know we were limited as a result of her knee injury, but we still enjoyed our week there. We believed that the Lord had blessed us with three honeymoons because we stayed faithful to Him in our engagement. Now, we both think that he gave us those three honeymoons because He knew the trials which were just over the horizon.

There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.

Proverbs 19:21 NKJV

Jason’s Early Walk

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV

Jeremiah 29:11 is my favorite verse, and a verse that God has shown to be true in so many ways. I don’t recall if it was one of the verses I clung to in my early years, or one I clung to when I was struggling in the darkness, but it certainly has been a verse near and dear to my heart for many years now. I can say, with absolute certainty, that God is alive, that He is moving in my life, and that He has a hope for my life. This isn’t just a belief. It isn’t just faith. It is truth that I have personally experienced, and continue to experience to this day.

I rededicated my life to the Lord on July 4, 1996, and I can honestly say that after that date, my life changed forever. Sure, I was still working the dead-end job of security. I still had all the speedbumps that I put into my life in regards to my education that would hinder me. Yes, even the depression was still there in my mind. These things looked bleak and hopeless before that fateful night, but now, I had given it to God and moved out of His way.

There was a kiosk in the mall of a company known as “Internet in a Mall.” They were a small Internet Service Provider that I decided to sign up with for my Internet service. I was still living with my parents at the time, but I had my own phone line and my own computer. I would talk to the employees there quite regularly, and when I had problems with the service, I talked to them about it. They could tell that I knew a lot about computers. One day, not long after I rededicated my life, one of the employees came up to me and handed me an application. “We’re opening a new location. You’re already hired. Just fill out this application to make it official.” I hadn’t even asked about it, the thought never even crossed my mind, yet here it was, being dropped into my lap like manna from heaven.

I worked for the company for a very short time, at the same time, I was still working security at the mall. In a very short time, I was promoted to assistant manager at that location. Things were looking good, until they weren’t. I was called one morning and told not to go in to work, that the company had just gone bankrupt. I was still working security at the time, so I wasn’t completely out of work. It still looked, though, like I was going to be stuck at a dead-end job. This time, though, I had something else going for me. I had a few months experience working for an ISP, which meant I could probably work for another ISP. I managed to find a small local one that was willing to hire me one day a week and for special events. It was a start, at least.

A short while after I was hired, things got more unstable at the mall. I knew I had to make a choice of whether or not to stay working security. Security, while it was a dead-end job, was still a safety net for me. I was barely working at the ISP, and security had been stable. That same weekend, I was attending a Promise Keepers event in Los Angeles. I remember going to the event and praying on the way there. “Lord, I know I need to leave my security job, but I’m only working part time for the ISP. Please give me a sign that I’m making the right decision.” I didn’t know what the sign would be, or even if I would get a sign. I just put my fleece before the Lord and sought an answer. I had already made the decision, and even if I had no answer, I was going to go forward, trusting in the Lord.

The Lord answered very loudly and clearly. Those who don’t believe might stand on coincidence, but for it to happen the exact same day, the exact answer I was seeking, is about as much of a coincidence as monkeys typing War and Peace. While I was at the Promise Keepers event, I had received a voice mail message. When I listened to it, it was one of the owners of the ISP offering me a full time position starting the very next day. I hadn’t even put in the notice to quit the job with security, nor had I reached out to the ISP to see about getting hired full-time. I had only prayed, asking the Lord to confirm that I was making the right choice. I was in tears with joy. The Lord had answered my question and had shown me the way to go.

I put in my two week notice at the mall and accepted the full-time position at the ISP. The ISP was right around the corner from my church, so on my lunch break, I often went to the church bookstore/café. When I wasn’t on a call for work, I, like everyone at the office, was allowed to work on our own projects. My project was “Door to Christ.” It was a web site where I would share the Gospel, much like my goal for Reflections. At the café, I would do research, take notes, and bring those notes back to put onto the web site when I had a chance.

While I was working at the ISP, I started becoming more involved at church. I was going to home Bible studies and a college and career Bible study. After a while, I decided it was time for me to start serving in Ministry. I thought a good place to start was as a decision follow-up counselor on Sunday evenings. Praying with those who just accepted the Lord and setting them onto the right path, as others had done for me a year before. In addition, I thought I would join the Children’s Ministry as a teacher for grade school. The Lord had other plans, and He put me in with four-year old children. It was soon after, that I discovered they had a shortage of four-year old teachers on Sunday evenings. I knew the Lord was calling me to help fill that shortage, so I stepped back from the follow-up counseling and chose to teach the children in the morning and in the evening. It was an incredible blessing and one I never once regretted.

They say that all good things come to an end. That may be true for those who aren’t with the Lord, but my experience has always been quite different. I had been working at the ISP for a year and a half, all while serving the Lord in various ways. Then, suddenly, after returning from the church café, I was called into the manager’s office and was told I was being fired. The reason was something to do with how I handled phone calls. There was one manager, not my direct manager, who was gnostic and always complained about how I was on the phone, but would never tell me what I was doing wrong or how to correct it. Apparently, she had complained to my manager and the owners as well, and ultimately, they decided to let me go for that reason. Everything seemed to be crashing around me, and I left the office in tears. I went to the church for prayer and by the end of the prayer, I was filled with the peace of God. I had no job, but I knew that I would be ok, that God would provide.

I was still living with my parents at this time, so I went home, not crying but rejoicing. My mother couldn’t believe it and was worried about my job options. I wasn’t, though. I knew that there was another ISP I could apply to and would undoubtedly get hired. They had purchased the ISP that went bankrupt, and between the two ISPs, I had about 2 years of experience. I didn’t want to apply there right away, though, as I didn’t want another phone support job. So, instead, I tried to get hired at an orphanage for disabled children. When that didn’t work out, due to education and experience, I applied to the larger ISP and, as suspected, I was hired. I was only out of work for two weeks.

When I was hired, I had put down a condition of wanting Sundays free for church. I was told that company policy was all new hires had to work weekends, but after six months, can switch off weekends if an opening is available. I would still be able to go to church Sunday morning and still teach in the morning, but evenings had to stop. Trusting the Lord, I accepted and reluctantly informed the Ministry that I had to leave Sunday evenings. Again, the Lord had moved in unexpected ways. In less than three months, I was offered a shift that freed up my Sundays completely, and I was able to return to teaching the four-year old children on Sunday evenings.

Two years prior to this time, I was working a dead-end job at security with no hope of anything better. Now, I was working call-center technical-support for a nationwide ISP. I was serving the children in the church, and walking with the Lord daily. It wasn’t always walking in a straight line, but I was walking forward. My schedule also allowed me to start in a new Ministry, as a counselor in the Junior High Ministry, working with 7th and 8th grade kids. It was an amazing time. During one of the summer retreats with the Junior High kids, I felt the Lord’s leading to be baptized with the Junior High kids that had also chosen to be baptized at that time.

With everything going on, the Lord continued to show His faithfulness through that time. After working at the ISP for six months, I was offered a new job. I went to a home Bible Study at the house of a man who owned a small business he ran out of his house. We had gotten to know each other through the Bible Study. He knew about my work at the different ISPs, and my work with the children. He knew of my computer experience and needed someone to do IT for his home office, as well as help with sales. He had even talked to the owner of the ISP that fired me and was told “We made a mistake firing Jason.” As a result, I was able to move away from the ISP into an actual hybrid IT/sales position with a Christian Brother.

Coincidence! Luck! Happenstance! There’s no such thing. The only explanation that makes any sense is that there is a God, and that He is giving me a future and a hope, like He promised. The company I worked for now, working for my Christian Brother, sold software to the mortgage industry. It was the #1 selling software at the time, and sales calls were simple. I just answered the phone and took the orders. The people calling in already wanted to purchase. At the same time, I was the sole IT person for the office. Looking back, I probably wasn’t the best choice, due to my lack of experience, but it gave me experience I desperately needed. On top of that, I was sent to take extension courses in VisualBasic 6, ASP, ASP.NET 1.0, and VB.NET 1.0, which he paid for to prepare me for a time if I ever stopped working for him. At that time, I couldn’t imagine not working for him, because he was a generous, fair and honest employer who was also a true friend. Of course, the Lord had other plans, and like all that had gone before, He has shown himself faithful, giving me a future I could never have expected.

to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:26 NKJV