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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Rollercoaster - Guest Blog

My good friend Cassie, over at Mama Phrass, has had the journey of a lifetime. In a crash course of growing up, she's truly experienced more heightened highs and lows than anyone I've ever met. A few months ago, her struggles culminated in a dream job. That combined with her loving family, including a gorgeous little girl, gave her the sense that, yes, everything does happen for a reason. Even though when times are tough, that phrase may be one of the most hated. Here's her inspiring story.

I hate it when people say, "Everything happens for a reason." What a rotten expression. It is probably the least helpful phrase ever and when you're experiencing rough times to hear somebody it feels like a slap in the face.

At least for me.

My husband and I were going through some rough times not long ago and when I look back at our journey to where we have arrived I scratch my head and wonder if all the obstacles really did happen for a reason. I remember smack dab in the middle of our struggles telling myself that this HAD to be the bottom of the rollercoaster and things would start moving up soon only to be hit with another awful obstacle.

Our journey, and specifically mine, started when I was in college. I was an aspiring flute player, ready to conquer the world. On my first day of college I aced a music theory placement test. I thought I had this music school thing in the bag. Obviously, I was going to soar through college and become rich and famous beyond my wildest dreams. Obviously.

I was so wrong.

Things started to get rocky around my sophomore year. I was doing well in most of my classes save for one that I was having many problems in: Ear Training. One day I noticed that my ears were hurting a bit and my parents suggested I see an Ear Nose Throat doctor. I thought they were being overly concerned but it felt like my whole world came crashing down upon me on that day in the doctor's office. I was losing my hearing. There was no explanation as to why or how or when but a very significant chunk of my upper-range hearing (which is especially important to flute players) was gone. The words "profoundly deaf" rattled my brain.

As you can imagine, this sent me into a tailspin.

My life chugged along and I faced challenges that made me grow to be a better person but there was always a special part of me that resented my hearing. Why me? Why now? Why why why?

I did what felt natural, I moved away from music. I took my desk job, married a wonderful man, and moved on with my life. Occasionally people who knew me would ask about music and try to push me into music again, but I just couldn't bring myself to crack my flute case open with any amount of lasting enthusiasm. Sometimes I would think, "Screw it, I've just got to get back on the horse!" and start playing...but then I'd hit a particularly high note and feel devastated all over again. Too many emotions. Too difficult.

And you know what? Life was pretty okay as long as I kept my back turned on music. My husband and I were happy enough. We had a nice little house in a suburban area, to fabulous paying jobs...what more could there be to life?

We dreamed about moving to a small town. We were both raised in small towns and spent a lot of time traveling to small towns in Eastern Oregon and when a job at the school opened up, I encouraged my husband to apply. He got the job and we jumped on the chance to have an adventure.

The town had a population around 450. It was heaven on earth for me. I quit my job, and we moved into a small little house in town. I loved it. I volunteered at the school. I enjoyed running our by the big ranches down the road. I loved knowing everybody in town. I loved all of the new things we got to try. It was amazing to us how much we learned from being there. The small town atmosphere forced us out of our comfortable boxes and we were suddenly extremely active in the community. We would referee sporting events for the school, chaperone dances, and got involved with the school board. Unfortunately, the job wasn't as stable as we had hoped and after a year of living in the small town, we decided to move back to the big city.

It was a crushing blow. Especially since after a year of trying to conceive, I was finally pregnant. It was scary to be leaving our comfortable small town life for the unknown back in the big city. We were confident, though, that my husband or I would find employment back in the city.

Months later we were still unemployed. We were paying for insurance out of pocket and bills were starting to accumulate so my husband took the first job he was offered: a job at big box store. My husband is a teacher by trade so this was quite a downgrade but seeing as he was up against people with PhDs we were grateful for whatever we got. We also figured it wouldn't last very long. Surely something would come up.

Except, nothing did.

We had our daughter, who was the light of our life and the thing we both clung to for positivity in our lives. Money was tight, and we had to get creative when it came to grocery shopping and having fun (read: we went on A LOT of picnics).

The next summer we applied for jobs like crazy. The most logical thing was for my husband (who hated working at the big box store) to get a teaching job. He applied for 130 teaching jobs (in two states), had interviews with 15 of those jobs (for which we put countless miles on our car getting to), and he didn't get a single job.

This was another huge blow. I felt crushed after each one didn't pan out.

Then life took an even scarier turn. My daughter was born with a large cyst in her abdomen. We discovered it when I was still pregnant and the doctors decided to monitor it (which was accompanied by some very large medical bills). She was born perfectly healthy but the cyst continued to grow and in December it had nearly doubled in size in three months. Her doctor suddenly turned into a "team of specialists" and the decision was made to operate. We spent a whole week in the hospital. It was easily the most difficult thing I've ever been through. I found strength, though, that I never knew I had.

And I won't lie, things were rough. I felt like we were on the brink of financial ruin. One more bout of bad luck would send us over the edge. I cried so much and my husband and I fought more than ever but we communicated through it and kept trucking along. I tried to switch gears into accepting our fate but I just couldn't. I felt awful about the whole thing. I'm a planner. I like to be prepared and I found myself in exactly the opposite situation than I had ever wanted to be in. I tried to stay positive and keep a smile on my face and focus on my daughter. We found free things to do (hello library!) and took lots of runs and walks. It was hard to stay positive through it all.

One day, not long ago, my parents emailed me a job posting. The local community symphony in my hometown was hiring an executive director. I scoffed at the posting when they sent it to me. Me? An executive director? They had to be kidding. I told them thanks but no thanks and listed off a thousand reasons why I wasn't qualified.

Then I thought about it. And I stewed. Executive Director of a small community symphony? Basically my dream job. I can't think of a job better suited for me. After living in the small town I felt so strongly about communities and working as an executive director would take the pressure off me to actually perform music. I'd be able to enjoy the music from afar.

The next morning I emailed a good friend of mine who used to have a similar job. I asked him if I would be making a fool of myself by applying for this job. He was the right person to contact about it because rather than saying a blanket "Yes" or "No" he quizzed me on my qualifications. He asked hard questions and I spent a day answering them...and when I was done, I decided to apply.

I didn't want to merely apply, I wanted to put a huge amount of effort into the application to show the hiring committee that this job would be my heart and soul. I asked for four letters of recommendations from friends, I contacted people connected with the symphony, I spent DAYS working on my resume and application. My whole life revolved around it. I thought it was a pretty long shot but I also saw it as my only hope. I know that sounds dramatic but after everything that had happened it felt completely true.

You can imagine my shock when I was contacted for a phone interview, then invited to the next round of interviews and the next. When I got the call that said I had been chosen, I screamed. I cried. I jumped up and down. I danced. I hugged my husband.

The totally bizarre thing? That same week, my husband was hired for a job in the same town doing something more suited to his training. It was like fate finally decided to shine upon us.

Our lives changed before our eyes.

Some days I feel like creating a flow chart of how our past experiences lead us to this moment because I can pinpoint the obstacle that seemed so impossible back then but prepared me for some small trial on a certain day. It is almost spooky. That saying that I hate so much is ringing true. If I hadn't lost my hearing, I would have never had the chance to gain the experience to make me successful in my current position. The rough financial times forced us to learn how to be good with money. Even the surgery taught me so much about myself and really made my bond with my daughter stronger.

I never want to take it for granted and I try to pass our good fortune on as much as possible. I leave really big tips when I get good service. I pay for coffee for the people behind me at a coffee shop. I smile and enjoy every minute that ticks by. Every concert that I attend gives me goosebumps. Every sunset in my town makes me feel so lucky.

Here is the thing, I still hate that saying, "Everything happens for a reason" because, sure, things happen and when they are awful, they are awful...but, the things you experience in life, no matter how horrible, prepare you for the things that are yet to be and sometimes, if you use those experiences right, things pan out pretty well.

Be sure to check her out at Mama Phrass. She's truly an amazing woman, mother and blogger.


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