All of the reasons we ended up here in Eureka, they seemed cut & dried. We made our plans, accepted that the move had to happen and moved on.
We rolled into Eureka on a super rainy day in August, but we were ready for a cooler climate and a complete life make-over. We knew 2 things for sure…we would have a roof over our heads and we would be able to (finally) be in full-time ministry. A dream we’d had forever. We came to terms in our hearts that everything fell apart for one reason: to push us into our destiny.
We started out with a bang! We got the kids enrolled in school, we got everything moved into Grandma’s and storage and settled into our new office at the church. Marcos started meeting with school principals, we were planning our first outreach and we flipped the old church chapel into a youth room. I’m being generous when I say we started with 5 teenagers-2 of them being our own- and started to build a youth group from scratch. It wasn’t easy, but we were loving it, and soon we were running between 15-25 teens weekly. (Yesssss) Eventually I took over the worship, but the very BEST part was that my Gramma, whom I’d prayed for for years began attending church with us regularly. And not just attending, getting super involved. I remember even telling Marcos, “if that’s the only reason we moved here, so Gramma could find Jesus, it was all worth it.”
We settled into a routine at church and home, I was working part-time for my Aunt and it seemed like everything was just the way we planned. 2 years prior, my Great-Grandma had passed away, but my Great-Grandpa was still with us doing better than ever!! A little grouchy, always ready to give anyone a hard time, spunky for sure and super active. We got to see him all the time. Marcos was still drawing unemployment, looking for part-time work, because by now we realized Gods plan was much bigger than OUR plan. We didn’t know how long we’d be here, but we knew when the year was up, we were going to stay.
On the last day of February, I was coming home with the church ladies from a conference when Marcos called me. I thought it was strange because he knew I was in a car full of people. If he didn’t text me, something was wrong. It was the day before my Great-Grandpa’s 92nd birthday, we were planning a dinner with him, and when my Grandpa drove down to his house to get him, he found him in the hallway where he had passed away early in the morning on his way to turn off the heater. (He was retired navy. We ALL knew his routine and he never diverted from it). He told me what had happened and I sat in a car full of women I hadn’t known long and cried my eyes out. Thank you God for ladies who can gather around us in hard times and say nothing at all, because nothing can fix it, and just pray and let us cry it out.
It was the longest ride home, ever!!!
When I got home, it was so good to be with family and hug my Gramma and tell her how sorry I was. It was her dad that had passed. To say it was sudden sounds funny because of his age, but he had had a physical that very week and was given a clean bill of health. It was sudden to us. And his age didn’t make it hurt any less.
I remember getting up on stage the next morning to lead worship, feeling like I was going to lose it and making eye contact with Gramma in the 3rd row. She was crying, but smiling at me and she gave me the strength to do what I had to do that day.
It was a crazy week as the family began to make decisions about his house and belongings. Where do you even begin packing up a lifetime? Meanwhile, we took a break 4 days later to celebrate my Gramma’s birthday with a family dinner. Everyone was happy, tired, a little stressed, but it seemed like we would all be able to move on.
One week later, Marcos and I drove into the driveway and gramma was sitting in the carport, unable to move, her breathing was shallow and she hadn’t been near a phone to call for help. She had not been feeling well for months and the Dr kept reassuring her that she was fine. One look and we knew that wasn’t the case.
She wouldn’t let us call an ambulance, so Marcos left to get my Grandpa and the kids, I called my aunt and told everyone to meet us at the hospital. All the while, gramma insisting that she was fine.
For a week we lived in the hospital waiting room, one day she’d seem better, the next, worse than ever. It was a roller coaster for sure, all while still dealing with the loss of Grandpa. It was not fun. It was exhausting. To make a long story short, they decided to fly Gramma down to Stanford for heart surgery that was “routine” and she would have another 20+years with us.
1 week after she got down there, things were not getting any better, they were getting worse and no one could explain. On Friday they decided to schedule her surgery for Monday-there was an end in sight-then on Saturday they put her in ICU. Saturday night she was on life support. When I got done leading worship on Sunday morning I had 2 missed calls from my mom. Gramma’s body had completely shut down and they were going to have to take her off life support. At noon on March 30, 29 days after we lost Grandpa, Gramma Penny went home to be with Jesus completely unexpectedly.
Now we were trying to tie up all the loose ends on 2 people, one of whom we lived with. It was a nightmare. Gramma was like a 2nd mom to me. She was 37 when I was born. We had always been close, just like mother & daughter. All of us grandkids that lived near her were super close with her. We all took it hard. I’ve never, ever lost anyone that close to me. I’d never had to come home to a house and have someone missing from it forever. I hated coming home to her house without her in it. It made me angry, sad and depressed.
As soon as Gramma’s funeral was over, Marcos ended up in the ER for the 3rd time that year with excruciating stomach pains and they finally diagnosed him with Gallstones. He was going to have to have surgery to have his gall bladder removed. He was soooooo sick. They put him on bedrest for the 4-6 weeks before his surgery.
That took us right through Easter, our anniversary & Mothers Day. I don’t know how much you know about church, but Easter is the Super Bowl of Christianity (or World Series, you get my drift. It’s BIG) it was not a good time for him to be sick. But, what could we do? We did what we always did, we pushed through. The few times he made it to church, he paid for it dearly in the days after. I tried to pick up the slack as best as I could and do both of our jobs.
The day of his surgery was INSANITY!!! The nurse couldn’t find his vein for his IV, he became unresponsive and passed out. And I mean, he was looking at me and alert, then his head started to roll, his eyes went blank, I was calling his name and he just fell back on his pillow and stopped moving. I FREAKED OUT on that poor nurse. And I do mean it. I yelled, “What did you do to him? Wake him up! What’s wrong with him?!?” Tears, snot, panic, the whole deal. Let’s just say, they rushed in, woke him back up and I never saw that nurse again. (My bad if you’re reading this, nurse. My stress level was through the roof!!!)
When his surgery was over and the Doctor came to find me, the good news was he was fine. The bad news? It was much worse than they thought. They had to pry his gall bladder off of his liver and his recovery went from 2-4 weeks to 4-8 weeks. No lifting over 5 pounds, bed rest as much as possible.
It wasn’t a great time in our lives.
But, it got worse.
Marcos’s unemployment had run out, he was applying for jobs all over the place. And he was receiving ZERO feedback. I was only working part-time, we were still keeping the youth group afloat and now he was recovering from surgery.
Finally, it came down to this: we had no choice. We had to humble ourselves and see if we qualified for welfare. Neither of us had ever done that. Our parents hadn’t. Our grandparents hadn’t. It certainly wasn’t what WE wanted. But we literally were left with no choice.
I don’t even understand how people can cheat the system. The sheer amount of paperwork was overwhelming, stressful & depressing. Thank God we were matched with a worker who brought no shame to the situation. He made us feel human and I actually left that meeting feeling better than when we went in.
It wasn’t something we were proud of, but it was something to help us get on our feet. Once you’re dependent on the system, you are matched with a worker who helps you look for work, helps with your resume and even helps you retrain if needed.
We didn’t go around telling everyone what was going on, we only told one couple and we were met with:
“Marcos, you’re a man of God. Men of God don’t go on welfare. They don’t put their families in that situation.” As if we planned it and it’s what we wanted. He also told him, “why are you looking for work and your wife is working at the cafe? Why aren’t you working there?” Ummmm…in what world can a man go in and demand to take his wife’s job??? And then the worst, “if a man doesn’t work he shouldn’t eat. You aren’t taking care of your family. You should no longer be trusted in the ministry.” The final blow in an already completely disastrous situation.
It was too much.
We had prayed. We had fasted. We had buried ourselves in Gods word. We had asked for prayer. We had sent out resumes. We had reached out to different contacts in the area. We had tried everything we could think of and nothing had worked. Welfare literally was our last resort. And to be shamed by people we thought were our friends was humiliating, especially for Marcos. As if he wasn’t feeling terrible enough. Meanwhile, even IF a job came along he was still in recovery and couldn’t be up and around working for 8 hours a day. It was a no-win for us.
We hadn’t had time to stop and breathe, let alone grieve and deal with what had been happening in our lives. On Memorial Day weekend, I got the sickest I think I’ve ever been. I was in bed for a week straight. I couldn’t hold anything down and all I wanted to do was sleep. I think my body just shut down. I felt like I was on the verge of a complete breakdown and something had to give.
We went on sobatical at the church.
We had to spend time focusing on our family.
We had to begin to heal.
We had to look to the Lord for the next steps.
I’m so thankful that through it all, the stress never came between Marcos and I. I always lecture everyone on the importance of being friends before you’re involved with someone and this situation proved my point. He is my very best friend I’ve ever had. We have no secrets. We know it all-the good, the bad and the ugly. And we were able to vent, to laugh, to cry, to pray, to say bad words when it was just too much (yes, it happens to the best of us) to joke, to share our deepest worries and fears and really walk through it all together.
And looking back, I’m thankful.
I’m thankful for the hurt, the pain, the disappointment.
I’m thankful for the haters.
I’m thankful for a man who loves me and our family enough that he would not be shamed into letting his pride win when he felt that God was telling him to humble himself and take the help being offered through the county systems.
I’m thankful that in this situation we had the clarity, even though we felt so lost, to block out the noise and the outside voices and just DO what we knew we needed to do, even when others disagreed.
I’m thankful that God uses every crappy situation for our good, even when nothing about it looks good.
I’m thankful that everything we went through was for a purpose and that our purpose became clear so quickly.
As Marcos began to meet with his worker, it became clear he no longer wanted to work in the same industry he had been in in the Bay Area. He wanted to work with people and be in the ministry.
It was about that time she told him 2 things:
1. There was a mistake on his resume and two of the numbers on his phone number were inverted. (Could explain why he NEVER got a phone call with all of his experience.)
2. She knew of a place that was looking for someone and she thought he would be perfect. It was through the Work Exchange Program (WEX) and the county would pay his salary and he would be placed there for 6 months to train in social work if he was interested.
I don’t believe in mistakes.
I believe in purpose.
I believe he was never supposed to hear about another job and settle.
I beieve he was 100% correct when he felt God had humbled us to go on welfare despite what others said.
Marcos was about to walk us into our destiny and FINALLY all of the struggles, the loss, the homelessness, hitting rock bottom-all of it-was about to have a purpose.
His worker set him up for an interview and he went that morning. They told him it would take a few days.
An hour later they called and offered him a position at the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center and our lives changed forever.
(To Be Continued)