Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our Story

I keep hearing the same questions over and over again, and I figured I should get down as much of the story as I can. One question that people ask the most frequently is "Why Houston? Did you look at all the schools around here?" But this story backs up to long before we started looking for a new job.

About a year ago I came home from a Creative Memories convention excited about a new direction in life that I felt God was leading me. I blogged about it: http://stephsoundoff.blogspot.com/2006/08/fond-farewells.html. My weighty decision included closing my in-home daycare, which was a major source of income for us. But it wasn't just income, it was also a major source of stress. My health and emotions flourished after I quit. I felt better than I had in years and had a much better outlook towards the future. We knew that it would be financially hard, but Mitch supported my decision. We had no idea how we would make it. In October I shared about some of the struggles: http://stephsoundoff.blogspot.com/2006/10/problem-solved.html. Ultimately, God provided for us (and I feel it was miraculously) through October, November, December, January, February...well, you get the idea. We were never late on a bill and never missed a mortgage payment and our debt did not increase. Our grocery list was sometimes short (I remember not being able to buy sour cream at one point because it wasn't "necessary"), but we always had what we needed. I read through Experiencing God and received much encouragement.

This certainly did not mean times were not stressful. Faith wavers. Doubts prevail. We were constantly keeping our eyes open for opportunities to increase our income. Boy did we have some interesting ideas! One thing that I looked for on occasion was other teaching jobs where states desperate for teachers may offer hiring incentives. We were not opposed to moving out of state--I will remind everyone that Mitch and I are only "transplants" to the St. Cloud area, both of us are not from here (I am from Virginia, and he has lived all over but was born in Colorado). One question we always asked was, "What will we do about the kids' schooling?" Homeschooling did not seem like the right answer for many months, and we did not want to give up the Christian school. Finally during one "heated" discussion in March, we came to an agreement over homeschooling. With that out of the way, I informed Mitch that if there were "so many" states desperate for teachers then he needed to find them because I couldn't.

Monday came, and I was still steaming a little from our discussion. I sat down at the computer and typed a simple search in google: desperate to hire teachers. Finally, I got results! I was pointed to the Northside Independent School district in San Antonio. I researched salaries, I researched housing, and anything else I could get my hands on. It looked like we could easily make $20,000 more per year--and Mitch would not have to work any more part time jobs or summer jobs! What I didn't know, was at the same time Mitch was chatting with one of the secretaries at school and she said, "Mitch, I'm going to pray that God sends a flaming arrow to show you what to do." I couldn't wait for him to get home so I could show him what I had found. As we researched more, we discovered that there was going to be a teachers' job fair in Minneapolis in April. Many school districts from all over the United States were going to be represented, and many would be conducting interviews. Mitch called an uncle who lives in San Antonio (cool coincidence) to ask what living there was like--he was encouraged. The next day, Mitch went to school and requested time off to go to the job fair. At this point, I have to leave out an important detail to protect a friend.

We polished up Mitch's resume and completed online applications for districts we were interested in. I researched each of the many districts that were going to be at the job fair, ranking them by location and salary (I was determined NOT NOT NOT to move to Alaska, lol). Yes, I even researched Minnesota! The day of the job fair approached so slowly, and I was on edge the whole time he was gone that day. Finally he came home. He had a contract in his hand (sort of a pre-contract contract) for Aldine ISD in Houston. Houston? I was sure we were going to San Antonio! He called his uncle who lives in Houston (another cool coincidence). His aunt told him that it rains there all the time and the grass is green all year. Wow! I could get used to that! We still applied to other school districts (in Houston and San Antonio), but we never heard anything from anyone else. We were set on going someplace warmer. And the cost of living by all figures looked like it was going to be much cheaper there as well. Not to mention Texas was paying more than anyone else--usually as much as $10,000 more.

We worked quickly to get our house ready to sell. We packed up stuff we didn't need until "after the move." We had a garage sale. I got rid of all the snow pants and decreased our winter clothes by at least half. Don't forget that we had a baby on the way in early June! By the end of May we got our lower level carpeted and put in new carpet in the living areas upstairs. We had some realtor woes (more due to the really slumpy real estate market than anything), and didn't put our house on the market until June 28th. We thought we'd know for sure where Mitch was teaching by the first of June. Nope. He didn't get a "for sure" job until the end of June. That was stressful, let me tell ya. We know now that there was never any question of whether he would get a job with Aldine or not--it was just which job in which school. But for a period of time there, we had our doubts when we were unable to get anyone from the district on the phone. We couldn't get any phone calls returned. They would say "you can expect lots of phone calls this week" and then there would be no phone calls. But finally it happened, and he was hired in the position that sounded great to both of us.

In the end, there were no other job offers. Out of all the places we applied, this is the only one that really led anywhere. We felt a peace about the decision, and felt that we had been led by God to this area. Now we just waited for Him to sell our house--because clearly if this was the way He wanted us to go, then He would sell our house miraculously in such a down market, right? Sigh. "His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways." Did we make the right decision? Yes. Did God know that it would be like this? Yes. Could He have sold our house? Yes. Just before Mitch left we spent a day fasting and praying, and this is the peace that God gave us. We are constantly searching to see if God has some answer to the housing situation, but each hope and dream for that seems to fade away. If we had known that our house was not going to sell, we may have tried harder to get something within driving distance. But we were following our hearts and that is so much harder to explain.

But that's not the end of the story. This journey began with a financial search. The heartbreaking reality is that the financial increase seems to be shortening all the time. We find out that this costs more money or that comes out of his salary...and we are confused. The sale of our home, as wonderful as that moment will be, will bring us a $15,000 loss. At least that's what it looks like right now, and it could certainly end up being even worse than that. So will our dreams of paying off debt be taken from us as well? What does God want for our lives? He will make good out of every situation, and we strive to learn through this struggle. At times it seems like God is silent and distant, especially after guiding us so carefully on this journey. This is probably harder on Mitch than it is on me because he doesn't have the benefit of our friends close by to encourage him. I have "lost" him, but he has "lost" his home and his family. They have been replaced by a tiny bedroom with one window he has not even lifted the shades on and a cell phone.

But God is not silent. We have no other choice but to trust Him. It is the strengthening of our faith.

People ask, "Will Mitch come back?" And I am always a little puzzled by that. I say, "And do what? Work at McDonalds?" For now, no, he is not coming back. Yeah, it's tough there. It is not like we thought it would be and as it looks now, that's not a good thing. But we're not ready to give up, and we don't see God leading us in a different direction yet. So we'll hang in there.

I'm gonna go do some sew some diaper covers!!

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