Call it a trifecta.
In the same week I was let go from my job as an advertising copywriter in New York City, my wife, Nicole, and I learned we were being evicted from our apartment building and we found out that Nicole was pregnant. No income. No place to live. We had one kid and one on the way. It was like being asleep and then suddenly waking up to find that I’m driving straight toward a cliff.
But truthfully, I wasn’t too worried. I had a good resume and portfolio. I had written high profile ads for Canon copiers, Bahamas Tourism, and Merrill Lynch and New York City seemed to offer another agency on every street corner. I saw no reason I wouldn’t be back on the job in no time. Besides, I knew God would provide.
My first order of business was to get my portfolio to the headhunters. However, to make sure I covered my bases, I created additional miniature portfolios and would travel the city to circulate them just to make sure every agency had a chance to see my work. In addition, there were guys that I had worked with at my first couple of agencies that were dispersed around town in new jobs and I knew they would keep an eye out for me just for the asking. I called them. “Of course!” they said. I was set.
“Any bites?” Nicole asked me about a month after the search began.
“Not just yet,” I replied. “I think January is usually a wash because a lot of people are just getting back from the holidays and stuff.” Seems logical to me, I thought. “I think things will start getting settled down in February.”
I was one of the millions of unhappy faces that trudged through the dark snow all throughout February and March as I schlepped my portfolios around town and got nothing but silence in return.
Snowy days in the lead up to Christmas in New York City could not be more exciting. Between the giant red bow that rests above 5th Avenue and the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, it’s like living in a snow globe. The city is alive with smiling, excited faces. Snow in New York City after Christmas, however, is a very different thing. The city turns frigid and harsh and dirty. I was one of the millions of unhappy faces that trudged through the dark snow all throughout February and March as I schlepped my portfolios around town and got nothing but silence in return.
At the end of March, three months after I was laid off, I still didn’t have a job and I had not gotten one bit of encouragement from any agency. I would have taken anything, like, “We like your work, but…”
The day that our apartment building would be converted into condos was fast approaching—just four months away—and our efforts to secure another apartment in the city fell short as we had no income to show on the application. My wife’s growing belly added more daily pressure. We would pass each other in the house and exchange a smile. Hers seemed to say, Any day now, I just know it. Behind my smile, was, I’m trying. I give you my word.
Finally, I felt the need to speak the words both of us were hoping to avoid. “Let’s just say I don’t find a job, what then?” I asked her.
“Well, you will find a job,” Nicole replied as if trying not to hear that question.
“I know, I know. But let’s just say, for some crazy reason I don’t. What happens then?”
“It’s a silly thing to talk about because you’re just getting scared. You know God is in control so there is no need to let the enemy start playing with your mind.”
“You’re right,” I said, trying to talk myself into it. “God will provide. He has never forgotten me and He never will.” We both smiled and sat down to watch some TV, but both of us knew the seal of certainty had been broken. Fear was now a player.
The days and weeks passed and weekly “check-ins” to my headhunters turned into daily calls. I began to consider agencies for which I previously would have never worked. I crunched through the snowy streets with a bit of panic in my step. Why are my efforts getting no traction?
One evening, my dad called. I knew what the topic was going to be. I tried to avoid what was sure to come. I couldn’t. “Not yet, dad,” I said. “Should be soon.”
“But how long has it been?” he asked as the temperature in the room suddenly skyrocketed.
“Just about four months,” I replied. I began searching my mind for how I was going to change the topic.
“Well, if you don’t find a job and need somewhere to go, you can come back home to California and stay with me,” he generously offered. I know he was just watching out for his grandchildren. But to me, it was my dad essentially saying, “Dave, if you fail as a husband and father…”
I couldn’t have that. I didn’t even consider it.
After our phone conversation, I found myself in my room mapping out the dead-end-laden maze of our life. Just then, Nicole walked into the room rubbing her growing belly. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Do you realize that if I don’t find a job, we will actually be homeless with a toddler and a baby?”
“Connie said we could move in with them,” she answered with a bit of hopelessness in her voice.
I stood with outrage. “So you’ve been talking to Connie about it?”
“Of course! Babe, we have to have some contingencies, right?”
Suddenly, the walls were closing in on me. In the wake of my failure, my wife was starting to scramble. I was beside myself.
Our good friends, Connie and Joe, were loving, faithful friends. But we simply couldn’t live with them.Bringing that kind of inconvenience into their lives was more than I could stomach.
Our good friends, Connie and Joe, were loving, faithful friends. But we simply couldn’t live with them. We had one child, were expecting another, they had a little boy and a brand new infant and their apartment was no bigger than 650 square feet. We were going to stuff eight people into that? Bringing that kind of inconvenience into their lives was more than I could stomach.
Our savings account dropped to numbers we hadn’t seen since we first got married. We stopped buying all non-essentials to make sure our son had enough food, Nicole was getting the proper nutrition, and I had enough to get around on the subways. That was about it.
These were our options: if we stayed in New York, we would be homeless with two kids, we could take up our friends on their generous offer and in so doing, bombard their lives with ours and probably take the friendship down with it. But if we left New York and moved back to Southern California, we would have no doctor for Nicole, no money, no vehicle, no job, no prospects for a job, and the awful plight of having to face the reality that at nearly 40-years-old, I still needed daddy.
“Do you have any sense of what we should do?” I would ask Nicole.
“No,” she would always say.
“Keep praying,” I would add. I knew she was praying like crazy, but I just had to say it.
We would pass each other in the apartment. “Have you heard from God yet about what we should do?” I probed every chance I could, knowing that God surely had to speak to Nicole as she is a woman of extraordinary faith. Over and over, I would ask. Her answer was always the same. “Not yet.”
The fifth month of my search came and went and still there was nothing for me—not so much as even an interview. I couldn’t understand it. Again I would ask her. “Have you heard from God yet—should we stay in New York or move back to California?”
“I have no idea.”
Why had God turned so silent? Why no answers to our prayers? Why no favor upon my efforts? Why no direction in our time of need?
Six months passed by. Nothing. The letters from the building’s management kept arriving to instruct us about our upcoming eviction. Our Bible study group came over to our house to pray and fast with us. One of them commented that he had never seen two people with their shoulders hanging so low. It made perfect sense. As both of us looked at our options, the weight of each was more than we could bear.
That night was another sleepless battle for sanity. “You are so silent, God. What is going on with you? Please lead us in one way or another, we are begging you!”
That morning, I got up early, walked out to the living room and kneeled down by the couch. “I have to hear from you by Friday, Lord. The doctor won’t let Nicole fly after Friday.” When I finished praying, I opened my eyes and searched my consciousness for God’s voice. Then I searched the room for a sign. I looked out the window at the trees. The silence was tormenting. I pictured God, large and looming, simply standing and silently watching me.
Friday came and went. God said nothing. I stopped traveling downtown. There seemed to be no use. There were no more agencies to hit up. My headhunters stopped taking my calls. Each time Nicole and I looked at each other, we shared wordless disbelief that it had come to this. It had now been seven months. I saw Nicole in the kitchen. “It’s time, babe.” I said. “Meet me in the living room in a few minutes.”
A few minutes later, Nicole came over and sat on the couch across from me. “Have you heard from God yet? Do you have any sense of which way we should go?”
She shook her head.
We stared into each other’s eyes, both of us in shock over our predicament. Being homeless was not an option. Staying with Connie and Joe was not an option. Going home completely empty-handed to stay with my dad and living off his limited income was not an option.
“I think you’re just going to have make the call,” she said. I said nothing, lost in my unbelievable dilemma. “Dave, you’ve got to make the call.”
I closed my eyes and bowed my head. “Lord, please help us.”
I lifted my head and spoke with a languid, sullen face. “I think we should move back to California.”
“OK.” Nicole said, in a what’s-done-is-done tone.
“That’s it?” I asked her. “You have nothing else to say?”
“What else do we have? At least it’s a decision.”
She got up, lifted Julian and began to put him in the stroller. “I’m going to get some milk.”
“OK,” I said. I walked with her to the door and we said nothing. She went left. I went right.
I walked to our nearby park and there, prayed that God would protect us and perhaps start talking to us again. We needed Him now more than ever. It was hard to imagine that He would be kind enough to answer a prayer made by someone who was quietly angry with Him. All I needed was a job, I thought. How hard could that have been?
Returning home, I walked up to our apartment and put my key in the lock. I opened the door, stepped in and as I did, something caught my eye.
Returning home, I walked up to our apartment and put my key in the lock. I opened the door, stepped in and as I did, something caught my eye. I looked over at our desk where our phone message machine sat. The red light was blinking.
I pointed at it. “That’s my answer!” I shouted. “That’s my answer!”
I quickly walked to it and just stared at the blinking red light.
Beep. “Hi, Dave, this is Kim Howard, the recruiter at Grey Advertising. We have your portfolio and creative director, Mike Silver, has asked that you be the copywriter on a short freelance job. It’s only two-weeks, but it could turn into full time. So…give me a call.”
I was nearly 40 years old, but it didn’t stop me from jumping up and down like a kid. When Nicole began to open our front door, I nearly attacked her. “You gotta hear this, you just have to hear this!”
I pushed play. A smile came over her face. Then we began jumping together. Finally we fell into a crash-hug that included tears. “Thank God! Thank God! Thank God!” Nicole’s voice filled the room. “Looks like God is saying, I just wanted you to stop sitting there and step out in faith!”
“Right, right, right!” I said. “So what do we do?” She looked at me like I just asked the dumbest question in history, which I had.
“We build a life on two weeks of freelance,” she said. “Just make sure you get that job.”
READ PART TWO OF THE BLINKING RED LIGHT HERE.