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The difficult experience that immediately came to mind is still raw, and even though it happened months ago it passes through my mind daily.  This experience dovetails well with the humility essay I recently wrote, “Lessons in Radical Humility” (2012), because it is a story about entering into a place of humility and then being humiliated when asking for help.  My husband, Steve, and my FSPA companion community have helped me process through the situation because of the intense feelings of violation and helplessness that I continue to experience.  I welcome this opportunity to further explore what happened, and pray that I gain insight that leads to peace.

After our annual 2012 New Year’s “where are we headed” discussion, Steve and I decided that if our family was going to make relational sacrifices with both of us working, then it was important to make some changes to ensure we had enough income to make ends meet and support Sam in taking private cello lessons.  Sam’s instrumental music teacher at school recommended private lessons.  We didn’t have the extra money for this, nor did our families.  We needed a plan.

I had applied for a promotion at work several months prior.  If I did receive the promotion, our problems would be solved.  If I didn’t, then I would begin searching for a new job that paid better, and we would find someone to sponsor Sam’s cello lessons during the transition.

Unfortunately the department director let me know that I was not being considered for the promotion because I lacked a master’s degree and it was a preferred attribute.  The next day I met with my supervisor to inform her of my need for a higher paying position, ideally staying with the organization.  I asked her to serve as a reference and she said she’d be happy to help, but to keep her informed if I had any interviews.  Later that evening I sent off my first job application, and composed a letter to be sent to a few family friends and business acquaintances asking them to consider sponsoring Sam’s cello lessons for several months.

Despite my keen intuition, two days later I was totally blindsided.  The department director summoned me to his office.  He stated he had been notified I was soliciting money from trustees.  This was considered unethical behavior and I should be prepared to meet with the President at the beginning of next week and potentially lose my job.

I explained I hadn’t contacted any trustees asking for money.  “No,” the director replied.  “You sent a letter out to our trustees asking them to pay for Sam’s cello lessons.”  Now I had a clue!  I tried to clarify.  I explained I had sent the letter to a few family connections, but no one I was aware of who was on the board of trustees.  (I later discovered that the wife of one of my father’s business associates is a trustee.)  I provided a letter copy, and a list of whom I had sent the letter and why they received the sponsorship request.  The director thanked me for the transparency.

The following day I received a call from the family acquaintance in question.  He thanked me for the well-written letter and explained he gets sponsorship requests all the time and cannot help everyone.  However he said he had made a call to my employer to see if there was an employee assistance fund and encouraged me to pursue that avenue.  I received a phone call from a true servant leader that day.

After several weeks my supervisor finally called me into her office.  “Good news!” she exclaimed.  “Your materials were reviewed and it was determined that you were not doing anything unethical per se.  However, it was determined that your letter inappropriately noted you worked at our organization.”  She had me sign a memo stating I understood I may not tell people I work for the organization when making personal solicitations.

While I was relieved by the “good news”, I was feeling victimized by the entire process.  Why was I immediately accused of being unethical?  Why hadn’t I been approached in a neutral “fact-finding” sort of way?  Why had I not been given the opportunity to explain myself in person after being accused of wrong-doing?  Why did the acquaintance react as a servant leader to my solicitation while my employer treated me as a criminal?  The entire situation had been utterly humiliating; having to share my personal business with my supervisors in order to prove my innocence, and especially considering we had entered into a deeply humble place in order to reach out for help in the first place.

Desmond and Mpho Tutu share three important truths in their book Made for Goodness:

First, we will see that we are all designed for goodness, and when we recognize that truth it makes all the difference in the world.  Second, we are perfectly loved with a love that requires nothing of us, so we can stop “being good” and live into the goodness that is our essence.  And third, God holds out an invitation to us – an invitation to turn away from the anxious striving that has turned stress into a status symbol. (2011, p. viii)

When I apply these truths to this difficult situation I come to several helpful insights.

I was approached the way I was because my supervisor and the director do not automatically recognize the goodness in others.  Their reaction was not about me; it is how they perceive others and all new situations.  This was evidenced in the fact that they used a “trying to catch people doing something wrong” instead of “trying to catch people doing something right” style of supervision with the entire staff on a regular basis.

I also learned if I accepted the fact goodness is at my essence, this situation would have caused me less stress than it did.  The accusation immediately brought forward the vestiges of low self-esteem.  I felt worthless and guilty.  Had I done something wrong?  And if I did, how could I have been so blind to that fact?  Even though I have made great strides in accepting my value and giftedness, I still have work to do in believing I am worthy of respect.  Had that part of me been fully healed, the situation would still have been stressful, but I would not have allowed myself to be treated that way.

This experience also helped me to again accept God’s invitation to turn away from anxious striving.  I do not need to make decisions based upon what my parents will think (I’m 40, for God’s sake).  I do not need to “keep up with the Jones” or cave in to fast-paced urban living just because we moved away for our simple rural way of life.  I can bring that simple way into the urban setting.  I am now embarking on a journey into the center of my wholeness through graduate school knowing when I am whole, anxiety melts away and does not cling to my soul.

Thank God for the goodness in every situation, even this one.

References

Clements Orlan, K. S. (2012). Lessons in radical humility. Informally published manuscript, Master of Arts in Servant Leadership, Viterbo University, La Crosse, WI. Retrieved from https://kristaclementsorlan.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/lessons-in-radical-humility/

Son of citation machine. (2010). Retrieved from citationmachine.net

Tutu, D., & Tutu, M. (2011). Made for goodness: And why this makes all the difference. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

 

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