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Friday, 17 February 2012

Jesus throws Paint Stripper…

Until March 2011 I was a social worker, latterly a team manager on silly money. The impact and process of my adopted children arriving I will talk about separately on here, but suffice to say my job was the only part of my life where I felt in control, vaguely proud, secure, and affirmed, even though the weight of responsibility and the stress was off the scale.

Otherwise I felt scared, doomed, unfulfilled, confused, angry and like a square peg in a round hole. My wife and I were trapped in a dark saga of not coping with the challenging behavior of the children. In the darkest times, the best solution I could see, given that Heaven seemed strangely silent to our crisis prayers, was her and I living separately with a child each. We could meet weekly at Costa, looking like crack addicts, and talk about the past.

At night, if I wasn’t immersed in Xbox worlds where I was the saviour of mankind and unerringly good, I would stand on our balcony looking over the inky lake and ask God to do something. I was trapped. I didn’t want a big mortgage any more. I didn’t want to be trapped into endless payment schedules of the state of the art kit we had. I didn’t want to continue to degenerate into a hardened, increasingly foul mouthed manager I had become, wading through disintegrating families and abuse and the crumbling staff team I had. I didn’t want to depart the solar system where I had met Jesus and seen Him give me incredibly specific prophecies about future ministries. I was on the outer edges of it, stuck in a profession I no longer beloved in. Social care was just child harvesting toxic bullshit. I kept hearing Johnny Rotten singing “No futcha, no futcha, no fucha for you”

My last posting was in a major city frontline team. They no longer had child in need level support (low to mid level crisis, working with the family, crudely put). Only child protection. Injured children, dangerous parents, nasty event horizons. My team was known only as a code number. Most of the workers I had were 20 cases over what they should be. My boss epitomised all that is foul in social care; managerialist, hard, procedurally savvy but morally adrift, experienced but vacant, capable but lethal. He wanted results from a team that was no longer a team but rather a collection of stressed, bitter and frightened people who had no hope of ever emerging from their caseload. Attempts to build morale were frowned on. I remember organizing a team lunch, and as we ate and tried to enjoy ourselves I saw him glowering from his desk, with the slow loading resentment of a stepchild.

I was to be a hatchet man. I would wake early in the morning, sometimes before my son (not famed for late rising), and sometimes not be back home before 9pm. I was checking into hotels to complete court reports and assessments. I spent hours on trains.

Soon after a big argument over legal process with my boss, I left. He no longer trusted my style, judgment or ability. I figured I would walk into another posting more locally, as I always had done, but as the interviews went on and I couldn’t pull even junior caseworker positions, I began to wonder whether vast impersonal forces were preventing me gaining employment. I have nearly always got every job I ever went for. My CV is better than most due to the niche posts I have had and the breadth of experience I have gained. So I was pretty sure it wasn’t anything I was doing anything wrong in the interviews, unless I had developed some catastrophic subconscious twitch.

Months later I gave up looking for social care and tried looking for… anything. But if I wasn’t using my professional credentials I was worse off than a 16 year old leaving school with nothing. In Somalia. You even needed some kind of qualification to guard a car park. I got sideswiped when a local job that I thought could have been written for me kicked me out the interview process mid stage, just after lunch with service users. I lost track of the applications I made, and the huge tracts of time it takes to cut and paste to job application forms because some proud cupcake won’t allow your own CV. (Why, out of interest?)

And the fear began.

We couldn’t pay our mortgage. We couldn’t even eat on my wife’s money, even with her working overtime. My humiliating weekly trips to the Job Centre (and believe me, that place rapes you of any vestigial self respect) were pointless as every position I applied for never replied. Thus I was denied an exiting career in ice cream making and delivering engine hoses to Blandford Forum. And I couldn’t get any benefits as I hadn’t paid enough National Insurance as a limited company manager.

Cheesy lack of security pictoral analogy
That’s when Christ, through wonderful people in our church, started buying our shopping, helping with the mortgage. My ability to provide as bread winner was gone. My job security was gone. My fiscal profile had gone from thousands a month to literally nothing. We had to accept peoples help. We had to accept we were in trouble, and we couldn’t do anything.

We put our townhouse on the market but due to some lawyers cock up, we were unable to sell even though our chain was eventually in place. The cock up, like the power of Sauron’s ring, could not be undone.

I’m talking separately about the Sacrament of Failure later on, but my Christian life is littered with job and “ministry- that- came- to- nothing” episodes, major personal failures, and cock ups. This was beginning to play to type.

But it got me thinking. At the point I chose social work as a career, I was on the verge of going to join Youth With a Mission (YWAM) on a discipleship training school. I chose a career because I was late twenties, my Christian walk was wonky, I couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to a church, and I was sick of being poor, going from dead end job to dead end job. I wanted security.

In the end I got a pastoral role in a school, supporting pupils in their behaviour. The job, I thought, could be bent to working with families and using the social care model (what the model should be, that is) rather than shouting at kids.

I spent all summer prepping for the role and felt excited. I barely did anything else, apart than try and make money selling toys on Ebay. Not much to share on that one beyond Corgi Adidas vans go for at least £7- and you can buy them for 20p.
Insane returns

Barely two months in to the new job, and I got fired for lack of results.

The children remained naughty even after my “interventions”. The sacking process was outrageously unfair, although legal, as the cheerfully unrepentant HR desk jockey told me. But I had to admit that I was not gifted at the job. I was stressed and walked dislocated around the school, thinking of other futures and what was going on at home. They said I often looked like a frightened rabbit in headlights dealing with some of the more challenging children. They were right- admitting that is hard. A good definition of stress I heard is “All of the responsibility and none of the power”. I could not do anything given my role (all my radical social work ideas had been denied) and you are either good with children or not. My wife dropped a depthcharge that week. She questioned whether I was good at working with children.

I’m not.

Which answered the question as to what the smell all my career was. It was the burning clutch of slow despair and clawing at what wasn’t natural.

I like people, and families. But unless its my kids, my face does not light up seeing children. I mean I’m glad they are there, like tennis and cricket- but spare me. I don’t want to hold a baby. I’m not interested in what teenagers think, feel, or do, and unless a child is toilet trained, can converse about Star Wars or wants to explore an abandoned castle, I don’t really want to know, frankly.

A second job failure. Added to an appalling reference from the last social care posting, and the tectonic plates of poor career choice grumbling. My esteem went into the toilet.

My wife and I worked out that in two overtime shifts she could earn what I could as an unskilled worker in a week. My relationship with my adopted son was not optimum. I had been running from that truth a long time. So I became carer for him. His school day has only just bounced to nearly normal timescales- previously he would rarely do more than an hour and a half due to challenging behavior. He put two support workers in hospital. But he still needs support from waking (often 5.30 am) through to school and then after the school day, and all weekends.

To cut a long story short, there have been massive improvements with his behaviour that me being carer certainly hasn’t hindered. I have also been wanting to write full time, and I get a daily slot whilst he’s learning.

But fear reared up again. The bald opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and write a novel that is theoretically publishable is scary. It raises the question- am I any good at this? Where do I go from here if I’m not- now sans a career-and  still not “doing a ministry”.

I threw myself headlong into trying to design a social project that could be run voluntarily from the church. I went straight into this in the first week of my new carer status, but felt God put the brakes on. It was about a spurt of passion and a striving for role and security, a peaceful harbour of comfort and belonging. Part of me is still not happy with the role of adoptive father “being it” as opposed to part of a larger blueprint.

So I’m waiting. Listening. Still writing the novel. Being a Dad.
This is the biggest adventure of my faith. I am living by faith daily. Humanly speaking, I am insane. I should be at the peak of my career, both status wise and money wise. I should be carving out a legacy. I should be preparing for what Erikson called the last two stages of life- Generativity vs. Stagnation and Ego Integrity vs. Despair. The two questions "Will I produce something of real value?" and "Have I lived a full life?" hover over me like vultures of doom (that’s going in the novel).

These questions ponder, in turn, whether one has made a contribution to society and achieved a sense of productivity and accomplishment, and whether such accomplishments have enabled integrity and life success. If we see our life as unproductive, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.
(from Wikipedia;'s_stages_of_psychosocial_development)

I’ll end with this; at the beginning of the process I think God gave me a scripture- Genesis 32:24. Jacob- the uber dysfunctional con man whose name means “he clutches” (interesting, eh?) is left alone on one side of the river whilst all his family, men and worldly goods go ahead to meet his dangerous brother. Finally isolated from his strength and comforts, he wrestles with God, and always walks with a limp after.
Potential river/ Jacob imagery

I’ll keep you posted.

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