Saturday, May 1, 2010

Clothed with Strength and Dignity: What I Wore on Black Friday

Unfortunately, many of us have received the dreaded “pink slip” in recent months. Theresa shares her experience and offers hope for others in a similar situation.

Clothed with Strength and Dignity: What I Wore on Black Friday
By Theresa Ceniccola

I wasn’t one hundred percent certain, but the empty pit in my stomach told me this was it. My time had come. Call it intuition, but when my boss set an unannounced private meeting on my calendar for a Friday afternoon during a recession, anxiety became my friend. I barely slept that night, bargaining with the Lord as I tossed in turned in my bed. When the sun finally peeked through the curtains I was filled with a sense of urgency and panic.

What does one wear to work on the day she gets laid off? The thought itself seemed superfluous and irrelevant, but at the same time oddly appropriate as I perused the options in my closet. Should I pay tribute to “Black Friday” by dressing head to toe in the obvious color?

Maybe I should wear something slightly outdated or mildly tattered in hopes that my boss will take pity on me and change his mind at the last minute. On the other hand, I could present a brave front wearing my power suit as an outward symbol of the inner strength I was searching so desperately to find. Perhaps I should let my whimsical side prevail by sporting a pink slip under my skirt. (No, I don’t actually own one, but a pink slip would have been a welcome reminder to retain my sense of humor.)

In the end, I opted for business casual – after all, it was Friday. I wore a simple olive sweater and tan dress pants that probably should have been pressed. I added a funky beaded necklace I purchased at the gift shop where I worked – using my employee discount, which I would sorely miss.

As I rushed through my usual routine in the mirror, I instinctively reached for the waterproof mascara, normally reserved for days at the beach or a girls’ night out at the movies. I knew I would need the reliable smudge-proof formula. I recited a litany of my favorite prayers as I drove to the office, too preoccupied to be mindful of their meaning, yet finding comfort in the familiar sound of the words in my head.

My qualms were confirmed when my boss closed the door behind me as I entered his office. I knew instantly that he was uncomfortable. His words were rehearsed yet awkward. “You are aware of the current economic situation,” he began. I mentally pleaded with him to get to the point. I remember hearing the words “economy” and “termination” and “sorry.”

“Breathe,” I instructed myself. Despite my best efforts, I felt the tears surface against my will. I wanted to ask questions – to clarify the details – to negotiate. But the words simply could not emerge in any intelligible manner. I managed to utter a feeble request, “Isn’t there any other option?”

He struggled to conceal his sympathy. “We have no more work for you,” he responded. Ouch. My thoughtfully assembled attire was meaningless now. It provided no protection from the pain and hurt. No escape from reality. Holding back my tears, I managed to express my gratitude for the opportunity to work with a wonderful organization and for the friendships I had formed. There was nothing left to say.

The floodgates released as I left the office and I had to stop twice on the way home because I couldn’t see well enough to drive. I called my husband and invited him into my state of shock and despair. We spent the next 24 hours crying and praying. Despite my devastation, I was keenly aware of the gift in my situation. Here I was, holding hands with my husband and praising our Lord aloud. Other than blessings before meals, and the bedtime routine with the kids, prayer is a private activity in our house. I could not help but reminded of the words of Matthew 18:20 – “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

The remainder of the weekend, we alternated turns keeping the kids occupied so they wouldn’t notice our world was coming to an end. Whoever decided it was best to terminate workers on a Friday clearly did not have young children at home. I would have preferred to mourn in private after I put them on the school bus under the illusion that everything was just perfect. Instead I grieved in stolen moments in between basketball games, birthday parties and Sunday school. Sleep eluded me, yet I was drawn to my bed as if there were some healing powers in my covers. I emerged on occasion, wearing my weekend uniform of flannel pants and a comfy sweatshirt.

On Monday morning, I found myself alone in the closet, once again searching for the perfect outfit for the occasion. Then the Lord whispered in my ear a familiar phrase from a favorite scripture, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” Proverbs 31: 25

So I dusted off some of my classic favorites and tried them on for size: grace and honor, hope and faith, kindness, wisdom, ambition and honesty. I was surprised how well they fit. And I have a feeling they will always be in style. As timeless as the Word of God.

Months later, I understand and accept God’s plan for the once unwelcome change in my career. Despite the emotional turmoil, the endless soul searching has yielded an opportunity for growth and transformation. My new professional direction allows me to spend more time with my children and to truly be present in their lives. While I pray that others are not faced with the same unexpected challenge, I also offer my personal tips for surviving job loss with strength and dignity.

How to Dress Divinely in Times of Despair

• Remember that God has a plan for you – even when you don’t have one for yourself. Most of us control freaks know this is true, but it’s very difficult to internalize. I relied on my journal to pray and write to God asking Him for patience and courage to follow His plan.

• Find one positive thing in your situation and enjoy it. Perhaps you can spend more time with family, sleep in late or work in your garden. For me, it is a blessing to be able to be home when my children get off the school bus every afternoon.

• Be honest with yourself and others. People respect a straightforward approach and in today’s economy, there is no shame in losing a job. The disgrace comes from how you convey your story to others. I found it refreshingly healing to admit that life is difficult but through hard work and faith in God, something wonderful will develop.

• Seek comfort and support from others and be willing to accept their assistance. At first, it was difficult for me to ask for help – to acknowledge that I needed someone to watch my kids so I could go on a job interview or that my children could use some hand-me-down clothes. It was even more humbling to decline social invitations because they were no longer in the budget. But, I found that friends truly did want to help me and these were simple ways they could show their kindness.

• Remain open to God’s call. When I told friends about my situation, many of them gave the standard reply, “When God closes one door, He opens another.” This response, although comforting, became cliché after awhile. But the message at heart is significant – God was calling me to create a change in my life – one that I never would have made on my own. I had to remain open to this call and believe in the world of opportunity that He opened for me.

Theresa Ceniccola is a writer and corporate communications professional living in Virginia Beach, VA. With more than 20 years of experience in healthcare, Theresa has covered topics from cardiac surgery to patient safety and family-centered care. She recently answered God’s call to write personal stories to inspire others. Theresa’s passion for writing allows her to spend time with her husband and their three children. Theresa is co-founder of Write to Health, a guided journaling practice dedicated to encouraging people to discover the health benefits of writing. Her own journal writing enriches her personal relationship with Christ and provides a sacred place for ongoing spiritual reflection. Theresa is active in community organizations including her home church, Susan G. Komen and Girl Scouts.


Benjamin said...

Great article! I've been the personnel manager on the other side of the table for far too many "Black Friday" meetings. Each meeting was a mini-funeral, ripping apart a person and his/her family. In some cases, the reason given was financial pressures. But in many other cases, it was more personality driven. Although I spoke up if I thought the employee could be turned around, it seldom did any good. If a manager wants the person gone then it's easier to fire than trying to forgive and restore. As a believer, I tried to conduct these meetings with as much compassion and respect as possible. Still, I usually felt I was doing the dirty work for managers who hadn't tried very hard to coach, counsel, or restore an employee. Even in a Christian organization, I saw very little redemptive love. It was the rare manager who wanted to help a troubled employee, even after someone showed repentance and remorse. Here's an example of what happened at a Christian place during a termination meeting. This man who had struggled with work following a divorce and then a mortgage foreclosure said, "If I had cancer, my manager would be praying with me, offering help and support, instead of firing me. Where's the Christian love for me?" Good question. The person was still let go. Business is business, you know, even in a Christian organization. Fortunately, our Lord God is compassionate and His eye is on the sparrow -- in this case the little terminated sparrows. The same God who noticed and blessed a widow who dropped a few pennies in the offering also notices injustices done to employees, especially when done to fellow believers by believers. At a secular company, I once had to let 30 employees go and the company president sat in on every one of the meetings to take personal ownership of his decision. At a Christian company where 60+ employees were shown the door, the president was not at the meetings and not even on site. (Not long after, this leader wrote an article about showing leadership during difficult times. Very ironic.) It's a tribute to our loving God that many victims of wrongful terminations are blessed in future jobs. BTW, I've repented and gone into another career where I don't have to fire people.

lalyuf said...
A major turning point in Christian history occurred when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Whether this conversion was sincere or politically motivated, historians can only speculate. But the result was the end of persecution of Christians and the beginning of Christendom.
In 313 Constantine issued the "Edict of Milan," which commanded official toleration of Christianity and other religions. He ordered that Sunday be granted the same legal rights as pagan feasts and that feasts in memory of Christian martyrs be recognized. Constantine outlawed the barbaric gladiatorial shows (although they persisted until the fifth century) and forbade Jews to stone to death other Jews who chose to become Christians.
Contrary to popular belief, however, Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire. This was to be accomplished by Emperor Theodosius in 380. Constantine's program was one of toleration only, and he continued to support both Christianity and paganism. In 314, the cross appeared on Constantine's coins, but so did the figures of Sol Invictus and Mars Convervator. He raised his children as Christians and secured Christian clergy as person advisors, but retained the title pontifex maximus, the chief priest of the state cult, until his death