I have a simple philosophy to life: “Go where the wind blows, make hay while the sun shines.” Today I hit the 3-month mark of “unemployment”!
In May, I headed out to China for two weeks to wrap up my two-year film production. Despite the delay the film had faced, I left Shanghai on May 23 confident that we have a good fine cut of the film. As sole producer, it’s imperative to get the film to this place before being released to the job market to hunt for new employment.
Or at least the way I thought “employment” should look like.
Exactly a month later it became clear I’m headed into a season of “unemployment”, which I had not seen coming. Nor financially did we think we could afford to live in this new (expensive!) city on just the husband’s non-profit income. No, I wasn’t retrenched or anything like that, it was more of an “ill-timing” of things and feeling blind-sided?
The husband was just two months into his new job in DC, settling in, and loving it. Having him uproot for my situation was unfair. Despite the usual non-profit pay, the benefits this time are far superior to anything he has had in life or dare I say available in the US? Living in the US, it makes a huge difference especially if the family relies on just one income. But I’m also an energizer bunny — I rarely get tired, stressed, sick, or anything like that, and can go without sleep for days if it so requires of me to.
After a crying fest (keeping it real!), I finally took to the Lord. “Why is this happening?” I asked.
“Why is what happening?” I heard a whisper. “Enjoy your sabbatical, my love.” I froze. What?! Sabbatical?! I’m 34! That’s a terrible time to. I got a momentum going.
The last time I took a gap year I was 22 and fresh out of college. I mean, can people really afford a sabbatical in mid-thirties? How will HR view this “gap”? Isn’t it perceived irresponsible or immature? What if recession hits? Will I have to start over? Just no way… this is far too risky. I did not make it all the way here to lose it all.
I mean, if I really wanted it, I know I could hustle to get “employed”. But I’ve learned in my career it’s pointless in the long run to be anywhere that God’s Grace did not take us there. It’s better to pray for closed doors than to hustle our way to pry one open. (In fact this is my secret of how I “leap-frog” in my career all the time, my trajectory spurts make no sense to HR. Even at 30, I was always still the youngest hire on any team.) So at any major cross-roads in life, inquire upon the Lord about its purpose. After that, then, I started talking to the husband about taking a sabbatical year as I’ve heard. Turns out he was supportive despite how our financial situation may prospectively look like. “If this is really Him, He will provide”, we rested. And not only that, He will protect it all. After all, we are just custodians of what we get to do in life.
As I lean further into the still small voice in the next days, I actually became increasingly challenged, and a paradigm shift took place. Instead of seeing only all the risks, the have-nots, and what I could “lose”, instead, I had this new thought: “I did not make it all the way here in my career, to *not* have the confidence to be able to take time off as and when I’m called to.” I could either continue to doubt out of my own insecurities or take a chance at love. Yes, love because I see a sabbatical as a wild love adventure with God — or in this specific case a response to a love invitation: time for us and for myself. It’s such a rare season I should be grateful that at 34 I still get to have it.
Funny enough, the last time I was “unemployed”, I had also taken a chance at love. 3 months into dating, we knew in our souls that marriage was on the cards, the husband proposed 2 months later, we tied the knot shortly after. Beyond just me turning down great job opportunities from around the world and across the country, in choosing love, I became a new immigrant to the US. And while waiting for legal residency by marriage, which took almost a year, I was not allowed to be employed. Yet we were also living in the most expensive city in the country at that time to serve in a non-profit ministry as well, which was the main reason we had moved out to San Francisco.
Despite the “unemployment” status then, it wasn’t a sabbatical year for me by any means with the weddings (I guess self-employed as my own wedding planner? Hah), and as a dutiful support for the husband’s freelance film business, I played every support role possible. All in all, it just felt every bit of an “unproductive” year for me in terms of what I saw as my “work aspirations”. But thinking back, how silly it was not to have relished our precious first year of marriage with all the time we had together.
When I think of sabbatical, it’s about not at all engaging in any “productive work” outwardly so. At least in how our world perceives “employment”. I may read, study, reflect, write (and I do that a lot) and take up new creative hobbies like sewing — things that simply nurture my soul more than having to make a living out of any of it so to speak. I may even start experimenting on my fivetwosix brand that I’ve put off for the last ten years. I’ve lived enough to know very well that the Lord can use anything seemingly “unproductive” in our sabbatical for something “productive” in another season later. It’s about a trusting.
As in that first year of marriage — the year of “unemployment” for me — it actually led me to discover a “productive” purpose I never knew I had, and work opportunities I never knew I was capable of even after 30 years of my life!? I don’t think many of my family or friends from childhood or college would have expected me to be producing for film and TV today. Oddly enough, we had ended our first year with the husband responding to the Lord’s call to take a sabbatical and to begin his Masters and seminary. The very next day after he said Yes to the sabbatical, I received a full-time expat job offer in sports TV production in Europe.
And so in our second year, I was quite surprised by my ease to step it all up so quickly, and where most of my income went into his Masters and to purchase our first home within a year of “productive work”. I had to work long hours for the job, but Grace kept me from any burnout or stress! We also got to help church plant in Europe together.
Over the years despite missteps and mistakes — but with lots and lots of God’s Grace — one thing I’ve learned in life and marriage is to be ever better in recognizing our seasons. To “see” things alternatively from His perspective. What the world perceives as an “unemployment” means something else to Him. So in our fifth year now, even as I had not seen a sabbatical year coming for me at all, but here I am easing into it all “as the wind blows”. But just as I did earlier in our second year of marriage me easing into new employment “making hay” when the husband took his sabbatical, there is no difference in heart posture.
After all, He is our ultimate financial provider, too. The Jehovah Jireh. So just why should our worth be defined by how the world defines “unemployment”? Or even in just all the roles that we play in our societies — “employee” “entrepreneur” “mom” “wife” what have you. With social media, it has set us off in a constant justification mode of how we live our lives. What exactly do we fear? So screw it world, this is the year where I look it in the face and say to my spirit, “I’m secure in all of my worth in Him. It’s my time, His time, our time.”
For love, for us. To just find rest, and allow ourselves to be spoiled by His love.