“Well done, my good and faithful servant; Enter into the joy of your master.”
I began writing this blog post in late September of 2021, but time and editing got away from me (and I’ve been just a little bit busy) and now here we are four months later… But like most of our existence, everything worthwhile that happens in our lives happens in God’s time and not our own. Let me try to explain what I mean.
I have been an attorney for over 21 years. It has been a long 21 years. Some of those years have been very good and some of those years have been decidedly less than good. I have, at times, questioned whether I made the right decision all those years ago when I decided to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). To be honest, the motivation that ultimately pushed me to take the test and enroll in law school was more just to see whether I was capable of doing it. At the time I was a college graduate, but still working at my college job in the food service industry at Franciscan University. After getting my B.A. in Political Science in 1993, I decided to continue working full time flipping burgers and schlepping scrambled eggs to the students who were still working toward degrees of their own. I spent two years there working 40 hours a week feeding the hungry. At one point I asked myself if there was something different or better out there that I was meant to be doing. I had entered the political science program four years earlier with the intention of going on to law school and becoming the next Perry Mason or Ben Matlock. But after graduating and feeling a little bit burnt out, I decided to take a few years off and coast a little bit. I really enjoyed the interaction with my co-workers while I was a student and thought it might be worthwhile to stick around a bit longer as I recharged my battery.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t take very long for me to wonder if I was wasting my time, energy, and education working in that job rather than doing something in the political or legal fields. I even signed up for a few evening session classes to keep my study habits and intellectual stimulation in practice in anticipation for something further. After a year of food service work, I signed up to take the LSAT in 1994 and did adequately okay. I applied to a few law schools and received my acceptance into the 1995 fall term at the University of Toledo. So I finished up my two year term of feeding the hungry at Franciscan University and then got myself back on track toward higher academic achievements.
During the summers of 1996 and 1997, many of the other law students got legal clerking jobs. A few law school buddies of mine got summer jobs driving taxis at nearby Put-In-Bay and made a killing in tips from the drunken fares they drove home from the bars and dance clubs that populate that summer vacation spot. During those two summers, I returned home to Steubenville and rekindled relationships with my old co-workers in the Franciscan University food service while assisting with their monumental task of feeding the many thousands who passed through each summer attending the summer Catholic conferences held there. Thankfully we had more than two fish and five barley loaves to work with! Yet as other law school classmates were gaining valuable practical experience and developing networking relationships which would lead to future legal careers, I found myself wondering again if I was going to be left behind due to my decision to feed the hungry.
In the 1997 fall semester of my final year in law school, I knew I was going to need to begin thinking about life after graduation – when I would once again be facing the question of whether I was putting my education to the best use. If I’d already felt that working in food service feeding the hungry was not the best way to put a political science degree to the best use, I certainly wasn’t going to feel any better about working in that same type of job after obtaining a law degree. The hurdle for me was that I knew where I was comfortable and I knew that I typically did not like change. The friendships and familiarity of that college cafeteria were my comfort zone – one that I knew I needed to step out of. So one day in October 1997, I suddenly found myself in a part time remote job as a legal research clerk working via e-mail. I never really interviewed for that job. I simply responded to an index card posted on the job bulletin board in the law school lobby and was immediately given a legal scenario to research and prepare a memo of my results. In retrospect, I suppose that research memo was my interview.
The case involved an eccentric old woman whose Last Will and Testament had left her entire estate of several hundred thousand dollars to her cat – or more specifically – to the local humane society to use for the care and treatment of her cat for the rest of its natural life. After the woman passed away, the humane society trapped and took possession of her cat and then promptly euthanized it, while trying to still claim the entire estate for their coffers. My new employer represented some nieces and nephews of this woman who might have otherwise been entitled to her estate as her next of kin.
My research unearthed some old Ohio caselaw about honorary trusts and some possible legal arguments that might be positive to our clients’ position. Based upon my luck of happening upon that old case and reporting those findings in my memo, I now found myself with a new job doing remote email legal research from my apartment and law school in Toledo for an attorney based in Sandusky, Ohio. A few subsequent unrelated legal research tasks came my way. Upon my graduation, which coincided with an uptick in business for that Sandusky attorney, the research job that I literally just stumbled into turned into a full time position. I commuted from Toledo to Sandusky for several months before eventually moving to a temporary apartment in nearby Huron. I have been in Erie County, Ohio ever since.
I did not pass the Ohio bar exam on my first or second try and I began to worry that maybe I just did not have the knack for that exam. I knew that there was no shame in those failures. Disappointment for sure, but no shame. I knew the material, I simply struggled with the procedure of the three day marathon that was the Ohio bar exam. Rather than give up, I tried again and was successful in February of 2000. The “cat case” as it came to be called had waited patiently for me and I was actually able to take part in the courtroom trial as a licensed Ohio attorney when the dispute over the euthanized cat was argued in front of an Erie County, Ohio jury — a jury which, by the judge’s ruling, was never allowed to know that the cat was euthanized by the very entity asking to profit from its deceased owner’s estate. You see, this was a case about the eccentric woman’s capacity to execute her last will. The fact that the cat was captured and euthanized and never otherwise cared for was not at issue, despite the fact that time and time again the jury kept asking the question: “What happened to the cat?” and despite the fact that the woman’s Will requested that the humane society care for the cat for the rest of its natural life.
This was one of the first cases in Erie County where a jury was permitted to submit their own written questions as the trial progressed – leaving the attorneys and judge to discuss privately which questions from the jurors were permissible to receive an answer and which answers would be too prejudicial to the jury’s ultimate verdict on the issues presented for their determination. In this instance, despite our protests to the contrary, the question of what happened to the cat was determined by the judge to be unnecessary for the jury to reach a determination on the issue of testamentary capacity. That same judge later prohibited us from using visual cues during closing argument to the jury explaining what those necessary elements of testamentary capacity were – reasoning that it was duplicative and unnecessary for us to do so. Not surprisingly, with those limitations, we lost that case.
The cat case was one of my first experiences of putting significant amounts of time and effort into a project and ending up with little success to show for it. It would not be my last. But I continued to fight the good fight. Don’t get me wrong. Not every legal battle ends with more frustration than it starts with, but my early research uncovering issues relating to honorary trusts had seemed so promising early on. Just as with everything else, you win some and you lose some.
In the years that followed, I got more involved in my new parish and found a new group of friends and lay ministries to get involved in. There are three Catholic parishes in town and I tried out all three as each one was ‘represented’ by a parishioner in the small office where I worked. But I was ultimately recruited to be an RCIA sponsor at Sts. Peter & Paul by my office liaison from that parish. As the RCIA year wound down and I became a registered member of Sts. Peter & Paul parish, the pastoral associate there at the time, Sr. Martha, told me (I’m not sure that she ever really even asked me)… she told me that she was going to add me to her social concerns committee. So in 2000, I officially joined that group. About five or six years later, I became the chairperson on the committee when the prior chair moved out of town. Just before taking over that role, we had a new pastoral associate replace Sr. Martha – and thus we had a new staff person on the social concerns committee. Over the course of the next 15 or so years, Linda P. and I, along with the rest of our committee, worked to grow and adapt the Sts. Peter & Paul social concerns committee into what it is today. Collecting and distributing items for the needy, raising awareness of items of social concern, promoting the Catholic Church’s teachings on issues of social justice, and facilitating public events which touched upon all of these aspects. In short, we promote and put into practice the Corporal Works of Mercy: Jesus’ model of how we should treat each other with acts of charity. It is not the sole effort of our committee, but we do try to do our part in feeding the hungry. Despite my desire several years before to leave behind a full time job of feeding the hungry to embark on the start of my legal studies and career, here I was – finding myself back in that familiar Christian mantra/message of feeding the hungry – this time on a volunteer basis during my ‘after hours’ time.
I once heard a speaker lecturing on the call to all Christians to feed the hungry. In making his points about the full meaning of this obligation, he threw a curveball into the mix. Sometimes, he explained, the obligation of feeding the hungry doesn’t mean finding strangers in need and giving them a meal. Sometimes feeding the hungry literally means feeding your spouse and children inside your own home. He reminded us that while we are called to share what we can when we can, we must not do so to the neglect or detriment of our own families.
There are many stereotypes in the collective mindset of the general public about the legal profession. There are a lot of jokes. There are a lot of positive and negative opinions. There are a lot of assumptions. One of the assumptions that many people make, with good reason I suppose, is that lawyers make a lot of money. Those blood sucking, ambulance chasing, soulless shysters at least have nice bank accounts! In the right circumstance with the right client base and the right (or at least favorable, if not ‘right’) judicial decisions, that can be true. The legal profession can be quite lucrative. But just as possible is a scenario where lawyering is not necessarily a blank check and one way ticket to easy street. Incidences of alcoholism and drug abuse and suicide rates are all quite high in the legal profession as compared to some other fields. The high stress levels and the relatively sedentary life style aren’t always the best factors when it comes to one’s blood pressure and heart health. Just like any other profession, there is both good and bad in the legal industry. As my daughter once said as a ten year old, “Life isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows.”
In 2008 when the real estate market and the banks took a big hit, the entire economy was negatively impacted. The bottom line became everyone’s bottom line. That bursting bubble also hit the legal field, including the small office I was a part of. We continued diligently working on the cases we had, but it was far from the secure financial future I had hoped to have when I first entered into law school in 1995. It was around that same time that I went from receiving a regular paycheck to getting irregular payments on a project basis – sometimes several months passing in between meaningful income. A few other promising cases which judges and juries saw differently and several clients who were less than prompt in paying their legal fee bills left me working 40+ hours per week, without a steady paycheck for that effort. I would get a nice check here and there when things came through and it averaged out to a modest annual income, but it was impossible to budget anything with that model.
For more than a decade, I trudged forward doing my part laying groundwork to advance several large projects with the potential for some really significant payoffs when they came to fruition down the road. This was not an instance of placing all our eggs in one basket. There were several different major projects for different clients all progressing along their respective development tracks. One by one, the bottoms fell out from each of those before project financing came through despite some really promising developments along the way. The carrots on the end of each stick simply withered up and dropped off. Hundreds and hundreds of hours of work all for naught.
With each passing month to year, the handwriting which had started out as a faint scrawl became darker and easier to read on the wall. I was still able to handle smaller matters to generate a modest contribution to our household finances, but the hole I was digging with the hopes of a delayed reward was beginning to cave in upon itself. And then COVID hit. COVID decimated a lot of industries and did things far worse to thousands of lives. Although I was still chugging along, working mostly from home since March of 2020, that wall of handwriting was getting even bolder and larger…
I know that COVID has been absolutely devastating to so many families, but I also choose to look for silver linings in my experiences with adversity. I feel absolutely no joy or relief in others’ misery and sorrow, but I did experience a few personal benefits as a direct result of the pandemic that I might have never seen otherwise. One of those was when one of our deacons sent me an invitation to join the Saturday morning men’s bible study group. That Saturday morning group had been an ongoing thing for quite some time, advertised in our church bulletin periodically – but I had never taken part prior to that COVID-time invitation. I used to go to a small informal men’s bible study group on Thursday evenings, but that fizzled out when three of the five or six from our group moved away over the course of a few years. I missed the weekly sharing and reflection that the Thursday group used to provide, but I was not really all that interested in regularly getting up in time for a 7:00 a.m. bible study on my Saturday mornings. When COVID hit, and the orders to shelter in place went into effect, the Saturday morning men’s group went virtual. For whatever reason, Deacon Phil included my email on the invite list to join the virtual gatherings, even though I had never attended the pre-COVID in person gatherings. (Not long before COVID – perhaps a year or so – Phil took over as the joint pastoral associate of all three Sandusky parishes. In that joint role, he became the new staff person on the Sts. Peter & Paul social concerns committee.)
So I starting Zooming in to the Saturday morning men’s bible study group on a regular basis and began to get to know a few of the regulars. One of those regulars was Pat – who periodically filled in as the group leader when Deacon Phil could not be there or needed a break in the prep work.
As I said, COVID had a heavy negative impact on my (already declining) law practice. I knew that I needed to make some changes. My wife, God Bless Her, who had carried us through the rough times with her steady and reliable income, has been burning her candle at both ends for years keeping us afloat while I would contribute to the pot whenever I could. She could never count on my contribution for budget purposes and whenever a chunk of money would come in from me, it was usually used to catch us up on things which had fallen behind, rather than used to get ourselves ahead of the game. Throughout the process, I simply continued to pray. I prayed that this project would come through or that case would cash in, etc. I also prayed that something better might come along for me to transition into.
They say that when we pray to God asking for something, He can answer our prayers in one of three ways. I found a really good blog post on this point that I am unable to improve upon, so rather than try to explain it or plagiarize it, here is a link to 3 Kinds of Answers from God. But to summarize, God will answer all of our prayers with either “Yes;” “Wait/Not Now;” or “I have a different plan for you.”
In May of 2021, I went on an ACTS retreat that I blogged about already once before. That retreat was supposed to happen in November of 2020, but the surge in COVID cases in the fall of 2020 threw a wrench into that plan and delayed our weekend by several months. The Mass readings for the original ACTS weekend of November 15, 2020 included the parable of the talents and inspired the title of this blog post and the opening line: “Well done, my good and faithful servant; Enter into the joy of your master.” Despite the fact that we did not experience our weekend until May – when a completely different Gospel reading would be read at Masses throughout the Church, the leadership group decided to keep the Matthew 25:21 quote as the focus theme of our retreat. This scripture presents the words that we would all hope to hear when the time comes to face the music for the last time.
I didn’t know what to expect from ACTS or how it might impact me, but I knew that I needed to intensify my search for something different which might bring about some financial relief. I knew I needed to ease the burden I had placed upon my wife while waiting for that next best case to break in my favor. I wasn’t praying to win the lottery. I wasn’t praying for a huge financial windfall. I was simply praying for something to materialize which might be a better fit for me and would allow me to better provide for my family. Recall the revelation I had earlier that sometimes the call to Feed the Hungry simply means to provide for your own family and their needs. The ACTS retreat was a welcome opportunity to take a step back and to evaluate my life, in both the spiritual sense and the practical sense.
I did not disclose any of this back story to my ACTS brothers through our faith sharing that weekend. Nor did I share any of it in my earlier blog post about some of the other God-Incidences I experienced as a result of the ACTS retreat. Quite frankly, I was not comfortable publicly declaring at the time that I was actively looking for different employment. I had to remain 100% committed to all of my active legal matters should a particular outside opportunity not pan out. If word got out that I was thinking of moving on to a different job out of the legal field, some clients might question my commitment to their causes and some adversaries might see that as a chink in the armor to attack. That reality made my job search a bit challenging and restricted my efforts somewhat. So instead, I decided to keep silent my prayer for change. I still prayed it consistently over the course of that weekend, but I kept it just between myself and Jesus.
Over the ACTS weekend I prayed for an opportunity, whether that was something breaking positively in my current job or some external opportunity. I prayed for many other things and for many other people, but my most fervent prayer was for some guidance and opportunity. I prayed for God’s will and for my acceptance of that will – whatever it ultimately was. I did not get an immediate answer to that prayer, but I did experience an overwhelming feeling of peace and decreased anxiety with regard to my situation. I had no inclination of how my prayers might be answered, but the peace and decreased anxiety was significant. My thought at the time was: “For the moment, this is enough.” I came home from that ACTS weekend on May 16th (keep that date in mind as you read two paragraphs below) with a renewed sense of purpose – not necessarily career wise, but just in general. And it was an all encompassing sense of purpose.
I didn’t know where life or ACTS was taking me at that point; however, there was a definite progression of events, revelations, and dates over the course of the summer and fall of 2021 after I returned home from my ACTS retreat. As I recognized the early stages of a potential pattern, I began journaling those dates and events in contemplation of this very blog post. For a good portion of the remainder of this entry, I will simply document that progression in a date/journal format as the different God-Incidences of this journey build upon each other like bricks of a foundation.
Tuesday, May 25: [I was not actually aware of this specific brick in the foundation until January of 2022, but I decided to slot it into the chronology. This is the first that I mention “Catholic Charities” in this post – just a bit of foreshadowing as the story and progression unfolds below.]
I happened to come across an old copy of meeting minutes from the Erie County Advisory Board meeting for Catholic Charities documenting the discussions and disclosures of this Tuesday morning meeting. This meeting, which I was not in any way a part of, took place three days after I uploaded my post ACTS Doves and Cardinals blog entry. This meeting took place just over one week after the conclusion of my ACTS weekend experience. Recall that my unspoken prayer at that weekend was for a job opportunity to materialize for me in some worthwhile industry that I could feel good about.
The May 25 meeting minutes state in part: “Rodney [the executive director for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Toledo] mentioned that due to the success of several campaigns, he will recommend to the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities of Toledo that a full time position be made possible for the Erie County Catholic Charities office” and later in the same minutes under the heading ‘Advisory Board Recruitment’: “Pat mentioned a representative from Sts. Peter & Paul is still needed. Pat will coordinate with Deacon Phil on this.”
As I said, I was not aware of this meeting at the time it happened. Nor was I aware that Catholic Charities even had a presence in Erie County. Yet the above meeting took place just a few short days after my ACTS retreat. Also of significance not to be overlooked here – the Erie County Catholic Charities office did not even have a full time position at this point. They had opened the office in Sandusky roughly six years prior, but never created a full time paid position there in those six years. … Until now.
Thursday, June 3: we had an ACTS reunion event that evening where we gathered and shared our experiences after returning home from our weekend. I shared a truncated summary of my Doves and Cardinals blogging thoughts to the group when it was my turn to step up to the mike and give witness to what the weekend meant for me. Later in the evening, I had the chance to chat one on one with our Pastor, Fr. Hoyles, and we talked a little bit more about some of the details in my blog and my thoughts on God-Incidences. He was very affirming of that concept. So later that night, I shared a link to the Doves and Cardinals post with him – believing that my written blog explanation of the experience was far more eloquent that my stumbling-with-words oral representation.
There was a lot of discussion from the group that night about getting more involved and in discerning our individual places in parish ministry groups. I was already knee deep in my social concerns committee leadership and acting regularly as a Mass Coordinator, in addition to being the parent [chauffeur] of a very busy teenager, so I wasn’t really looking to take on any additional ministry responsibilities. No. That nudge from the Holy Spirit was meant for some of these other guys who weren’t particularly active in any church ministries. During that gathering, Deacon Phil took me aside and told me that the local Catholic Charities office was looking for advisory board members from the Sandusky parishes and that he had mentioned my name to another advisory board member as a possible candidate. That person was Pat, from the online bible study group, who was also the new chairperson of the advisory committee.
I knew nothing that night about how the coming weeks and months would unfold, but I had a strange internal sense that this just might be a stepping stone to another path. There were no obvious indications of any new career opportunities at that point, but I still mentioned it to my wife the next day – thinking it might be a new networking opportunity.
Friday, June 4: we began our Fellowship & Fitness walks with the very first Friday morning walk through downtown Sandusky. My wife was typically off on Fridays and I was still working from home myself, so I had a pretty flexible schedule. What started out as an opportunity to get in some daily steps soon turned into a regular part of our week that we greatly looked forward to. We made some new friends in the process with some of the other regular Friday walkers. I posted some remarks about that walking group and a few group photos from some of those walks in the blogpost We Walk by Faith.
Friday, June 11: during our second Friday walk at Sheldon Marsh, Pat was there. He had spoken with Phil and he asked me during our walk about my interest in the Catholic Charities advisory board. He gave me a brief overview of the meeting times and board member obligations. It sounded like something that would be worthwhile to get involved in, so I told him that I was interested.
Tuesday, June 22: was the first advisory board meeting that I attended. I also had the opportunity to meet afterward with Pat as the board chairperson and Rebecca who was the regional director of Catholic Charities in Mansfield – responsible for overseeing the Sandusky office as well. It was also at this meeting that I first became aware of the new full time paid position being created with Catholic Charities due to the growing ministry needs in the Erie County area. As advisory board members from the local community, we were asked to take this not-yet-but-soon-to-be-posted job offering from Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo out to our networks of contacts.
I have a confession to make here. Despite the request from Pat and Rebecca that we get the word out and share this opportunity within our professional circles, I purposely and with full intent failed to discuss this job opportunity with anyone outside of my wife. I talked to her about it that very evening and couldn’t help but wonder if it just might be an answer to my prayers for career guidance. If this truly was the job for me, I would have been a fool to go out and share it with other competitors!
There had been a handful of different job opportunities I had looked into over the past decade, each of which on paper seemed like a possibly good fit for me and my experience at the time. Each opportunity began with a stir of excitement and swelled into hopefulness that this might be my calling to a new future. Each ended in disappointment and a sense of loss when they did not work out. I remained in my legal career continuing to hope that one of those big projects I was working on would eventually pan out and come through with a substantial payday, thinking that perhaps the other missed opportunities were just a sign that I was already where I was supposed to be – and I should just stick it out.
I was worried when this new opportunity with Catholic Charities surfaced that I might be in that same pattern of excited hopefulness and that maybe I should try to temper that excitement. Still, I could not dispel the feeling that this just might be the change I was looking (and praying) for.
It was also announced at this – my first – advisory board meeting that a long time staff person from the Catholic Charities adult advocacy ministry in Norwalk was retiring and there would be a party/picnic for her in mid-July with an open RSVP invitation for any advisory board members planning to attend. I made a mental note of that event and kept it in my hip pocket.
Thursday, July 8: Fr. Hoyles replied to my email link to Doves and Cardinals and apparently enjoyed the read. He also asked if I had the opportunity to chat that weekend before or after one of the Masses. I didn’t know what he wanted to chat about, he didn’t say, but when the pastor asks you for a minute or two of your time, you don’t typically blow it off!
Saturday, July 10: Fr. Hoyles asked me if I would consider joining the SCCS School Board as a pastor appointed board member. Much like the Catholic Charities advisory board, the school board was meant to have members appointed from each of the three Catholic parishes in Sandusky. Both the Catholic Charities board and the SCCS School Board were in need of a Sts. Peter & Paul representative. I had already committed myself to the Catholic Charities board and knew that I wanted to continue that given my longstanding association with the parish social concerns committee. But my soon to be high-schooler has been in the SCCS school system and its precursor day care and preschool since she was 18 months old. The thought of being asked to help shape and advance the Catholic mission of that school was equally enticing. Once again, I found myself discussing the time commitment and other aspects of board membership that evening with my wife. Once again, I knew before even having that discussion that I was going to say Yes to the request.
Monday, July 12: I continued to think and pray about the Catholic Charities job for several days. I ultimately decided to email Deacon Phil, and for the first time, disclose to someone outside of my immediate family that I was possibly looking to transition out of my current career into something different with more financial stability. He and I discussed the prospect informally later that week. Outwardly, I remained non-committal and gave the impression that I was simply making due diligence inquiries, but internally I was growing more and more convinced that this might be perfect for me.
Sunday, July 18: I decided to attend the retirement party/picnic planned for the Catholic Charities staff person in Norwalk. I did not know Carol who was retiring and had only just met the other Sandusky and Norwalk folks at the one meeting. I mean no disrespect to Carol by this admission, but my objective in attending her retirement picnic was less about congratulating her (still a complete stranger to me at the time) and more about me getting some possible face time with other players in the agency who might also be there. If I was to follow through on applying for a job there, it wouldn’t hurt to get my face out there as much as possible. (It would turn out that my face wasn’t even familiar to anyone when I got there.)
I emailed my RSVP by the deadline date and planned to take my wife and daughter along with me. When my wife had a mixup on the start time and did not get home until 40 minutes past the time that we should have left, I considered just skipping it – not wanting to show up that late. But my wife talked me into going even if we were showing up over an hour late. When we arrived, I knew absolutely nobody there and nobody there knew or recognized me! But thanks to my emailed RSVP to her – Pam put 2 and 2 together and figured out who the late-coming-stranger was. We took a seat next to Diane, a very friendly and quite talkative staff member from the Mansfield office. My wife and I learned quite a bit about some of the Mansfield office operations that day. Despite not really knowing anyone else there and feeling a bit like late arriving party crashers, we were able to avoid the awkwardness of the interaction we might have felt had Diane not been there.
Wednesday, July 21: During my first school board meeting, I felt a bit overwhelmed by many of the discussions, most involving unfamiliar details or financial figures that all of the existing board members appeared to grasp quite well. Meanwhile, I was swimming in the spreadsheet just trying to keep up with where the numbers flying around were coming from.
Around this same time, I was also doing a little independent research of job postings from other Catholic Dioceses in the area of Catholic Charities. The Sandusky position with a job description and expected qualifications was not yet posted. I saw some of the requested/recommended/required experience areas in similar job postings from other Dioceses. I began to wonder whether my 20+ years of experience in the legal industry, but with no actual social work or non-profit experience, would really make me an ideal candidate for these jobs. Sure I had volunteered on a charitable committee for that same length of time, but the lack of hands-on work experience made me just a bit nervous about my practical qualifications for this yet to be announced new position.
Thursday, July 22: Still feeling a bit overwhelmed with the school board and under-qualified for the Catholic Charities job, I was listening to a podcast called The God Minute, when I had shivers go down my spine. The host for that particular episode commented on how she never would have thought she would be part of a podcast ministry – that she felt like she wasn’t qualified for that sort of thing having had no formal Catholic studies, but that she has been “radically rocked by the transforming love of God” with a desire to proclaim that love from the mountaintops. She then uttered a phrase that radically rocked my perspective of the two boards I was newly a member of and my question of whether I might be right for the newly created Catholic Charities job. She said, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” and a short while later: “The Lord invites us to store up treasures in Heaven through how we spend our time and energy on earth.” These words from that podcast host right at the depth of my own self-doubt felt like a direct message to me and me alone.
Friday, July 23: The new job of Program Coordinator for the Sandusky office of Catholic Charities was officially posted online.
Tuesday, July 27: I submitted a resume and cover letter to the Diocese of Toledo asking them to consider me for that newly posted job offering.
Saturday, July 31: (I may be off by a week because I failed to write this one down at the moment it happened) – I was invited by one of the Saturday morning bible study group to join the local council of the Knights of Columbus – a group which works closely with Catholic Charities on a number of efforts. In fact, the Catholic Charities advisory board meetings are typically held in the K of C meeting room in the old Holy Angels school building. I had considered looking into this group in the past, knowing that it was a Catholic organization, but I never sought them out to look into it seriously. The local Grand Knight mentioned that he had seen me involved in several community activities and asked if I had ever considered joining the Knights of Columbus. I had maybe thought about it once or twice over the years, but never seriously explored the possibility. But after this encounter and open invitation to join this Catholic fraternity I thought maybe it was something that warranted my consideration.
Wednesday, August 25: I attended my second Catholic Charities advisory board meeting and had scheduled a telephone interview later that morning with the Catholic Charities HR director, Yvonne, about my interest in the new position. I felt cautiously optimistic after this interview and had some good conversations with my wife about the possible opportunity should this pan out.
Wednesday, September 8: I had not heard anything more beyond the earlier telephone interview and was feeling a little bit discouraged at the lack of news – wondering if I had been weeded out based upon my telephone interview. My wife came home from work that evening and sensed my mood. She suspected that I’d heard something negative about my application and just didn’t want to tell her. I let her know that I had not heard anything either way and was just feeling a little bit discouraged having not heard anything yet. That uncertain delay, coupled with some new difficult developments I faced with another new client tasked to me at the law office, blended together leaving me feeling deflated like a Tom Brady football. My wife and I decided to go to a favorite outdoor waterfront location for dinner and unwind. While we were there, I casually scrolled through the email app on my phone. I saw one email which lifted my spirits. It was from Yvonne, asking about my availability to attend an in-person interview later that month.
For several weeks throughout August and September my wife and I had been lighting candles after Mass on Sundays – offering up prayers for my job application. During those prayerful moments, I refrained from lifting up the “God, please please gimme what I want!” prayer, but instead simply prayed for a positive result to my job search and a fulfillment of God’s will in my life. I was hopeful that this job might be the right fit and the answer to that prayer, but I knew well enough to not limit myself to an all or nothing dynamic.
Monday, September 20: I had a 90 minute job interview with a panel of four interviewers. I went into the interview feeling very calm and hopeful, but I honestly felt pretty discouraged afterward. I felt like I had fumbled a few of their questions and struggled with clearly expressing my thoughts on a few others. They thanked me for coming in and Yvonne let me know on the way out that there might be a second round of interviews scheduled based on how the rest of those interviews went today, but she wasn’t entirely sure how it would proceed. I won’t lie. I was feeling a bit depressed that evening as I did not think I’d made a very good impression.
Throughout the entire three months from first learning about this position in late June to the interview in late September, I had consistently offered up a daily prayer. “Jesus, if this is Your will, help me to discern it and to do whatever I need to do to make it happen. If this is not Your will, help me to accept that.” I would sometimes pray that same prayer over and over and over again out loud to myself as I was driving in my car to and from the grocery store or on my way to a court hearing. I continued to pray that prayer into Monday evening after my interview, knowing that my last best chance to “do whatever I needed to do to make it happen” had been that less than stellar interview earlier in the day. I resigned myself to the possibility that despite all of the God-Incidences in getting me to the interview stage, despite the God-Incidences dating back to Sr. Martha adding me to the social concerns committee roster, despite the ACTS retreat prayers and my initiation to the Catholic Charities board coming at an ACTS after-event, despite the podcast message that God qualifies the called – maybe it just was not His will. I found myself leaning pretty heavily that evening and the following day on the final portion of my prayer: If this is not Your will, help me to accept that.
Tuesday, September 21: I missed a telephone call and voice mail at 12:30 p.m. from Yvonne with Catholic Charities. I was still feeling a little bit depressed about what I felt was a poor interview. I did not even notice the missed call and voicemail request for a call back until 7:00 that evening. Even in calling her back, I believed it was likely going to be a “Thank you for your interest, but we have decided to go in another direction” telephone call. I hit the redial button, reached a voicemail prompt, and left my reply message in our cruel game of phone tag. I called my wife who was volunteering in the office at our daughter’s dance studio that evening and let her know about the missed call. As I was talking to her, another call rang into my phone. I quickly hung up with my wife and picked up the incoming call from Yvonne. She thanked me for getting back to her and thanked me again for coming in for the interview. “Here it comes…” I thought to myself as I braced for impact and tried to formulate in my head the best “thank-you-for-the-time-and-consideration / it-was-an-honor-just-to-be-nominated” response.
That was when everything changed. She told me that they were impressed with my qualifications and she was happy to extend a job offer to me for the new Program Coordinator position with Catholic Charities in Sandusky. I will be straight up honest here and tell you that I don’t really recall anything else that she said to me for the remainder of that telephone call and I am not certain that I was even closely listening to her any longer.
A lot of things happened in the days and weeks after that call. I had to tell my wife the good news, I had to have the conversation with my boss at my existing job, I had to prepare myself for my new work schedule (I had literally been a work from home house-husband for the most part since March of 2020 aside from the occasional client meeting and court appearance). Over and above all of those things, I had to pray. I had to pray like I had never prayed before in my life. Not only did I have to offer prayers of Thanksgiving for this blessing I had received; not only did I have to ask God for the strength and guidance to live out His will in my new vocation in service to others; but I also had to consistently pray more often, more completely, and with greater intensity for the decision makers at Catholic Charities to even offer this job opportunity to me in the first place.
I will never forget the time and place where I first grasped the concept that our prayers are not limited by the same time restrictions that our human lives impose upon us. I was sitting in the Fireside Lounge with Dr. Regis Martin and several other students in the second year of the Franciscan University Great Books program as we discussed this concept. A fellow student, Todd, who now works with Catholic Answers, excitedly exclaimed something along the lines of: “You mean we can sit here today and pray for the conversion of St. Augustine and those prayers can be applied retroactively to help bring about an event that already happened centuries ago?!? I can make a positive impact to help St. Monica in her efforts to convert St. Augustine?!?” It was an amazing revelation! So you better believe that I will continue to ask for God’s grace and divine guidance through the process of my job interview. I will continue to pray that I am able to discern His will and help to bring it about!
Monday, October 11, 2021 was my first day on the new job. The first few weeks were a bit of a whirlwind of learning new things and meeting new people. Meetings and emails and telephone calls… Learning processes and paperwork and techniques… The biggest part of our local operations is a furniture ministry where we take in donations of used furniture and purchase new beds and mattresses and then give those items to local families and individuals in need. There is obviously much more to it than just that, and there are hopes and aspirations of expanding our local office into many other service ministries in the coming years. But that will come all in due time – growth and development in baby steps – so as to not outgrow our means.
That evening of October 11th, just around the corner and down the hall from my new office at Catholic Charities, I was initiated into the Knights of Columbus – Council #546. The fact that my new job and my new brotherhood both began on the very same day is not a coincidence. Far from it! And to think that just a few short months earlier – in the call to get more involved in local ministry following my ACTS retreat, my initial gut response was that the call was being made to those other guys. Not me! I was already involved!!!
On the contrary, during that short span, I was called to a minimum of three years and more than likely a total of six years commitment to the Sandusky Central Catholic School. I was called to most likely a lifetime membership with the Knights of Columbus. I was called to earn my living and provide for my family by living out the Gospel message through the mission of Catholic Charities. But I wasn’t just suddenly called to do these things in 2021, despite the perception otherwise. I was called to do these things back in 1972 when I was baptized into the Church. I was called to do these things back in 1989 when I was confirmed. I was called to do these things back in 1991 when Todd was praying fervently for the conversion of St. Augustine. I was called to do these things in 1993 when I graduated from Franciscan University. I was called to do these things in 1998 when I graduated from law school and first moved to Erie County. I was called to do these things throughout my several “missed” job opportunity hopes.
Throughout the course of my search for something different and something better and something worthwhile to transition into, I encountered several possible opportunities, but none seemed to work out. In each instance, I prayed for guidance and direction. It has essentially been the same prayer throughout – that I shared earlier – for God’s will and the ability to see it when it presented itself. Just in the course of writing and editing this blog post, I came to realize that I’ve received all three of the possible God Responses to this single prayer. In the earlier renditions, He heard my prayers and said, “No, I think I have something different planned for you.” Somewhere in the middle there, I believe He was telling me: “Not yet… Wait for the right thing to happen in My time not yours! 😉” Then it took the right time and circumstance for me to finally get a “Yes! This is where I want you to be!”
There is so much more to the job and this summary is a tremendous over-simplification of its duties and objectives. But it really boils down to that charitable call to Feed the Hungry. It wasn’t put on by Catholic Charities, but a few weeks after starting the new job, my wife and daughter and I had the opportunity to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to about 1700 people through the joint effort of several local churches. They prepare and serve the meals right out of the kitchen at Holy Angels where my new office is located. So it felt like the right way to give back and Give Thanks. It was actually my daughter’s idea/request that we take part as volunteers in this project. Isn’t it ironic how so many things in life come full circle? After several years at Franciscan University; after the process of applying to and experiencing law school; after 21 years of civil litigation – starting with the infamous cat case; after an equal amount of time working with the Sts. Peter & Paul social concerns committee, God has once again called me back to those roots and to Feed the Hungry. Would you call that a coincidence? … Neither would I!
This weekend of January 29/30 I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of Catholic Charities at the parish in Huron before their weekend Masses. I spoke on Saturday afternoon and then got up early on Sunday to make it there in time for 8:00 Mass. I slept through my alarm and then woke up later when my wife’s alarm told her it was time for her to get up. Due to my later wake up call, I didn’t really have time to grab anything to eat for a quick breakfast before showering and dressing for church. But it was okay because I knew from the announcements the night before that after the Sunday Masses we could attend a parish breakfast there which was being put on by the Huron Council of the Knights of Columbus (a different Council than my own). My wife and daughter accompanied me to 8:00 Mass and we joined the after-Mass crowd in the grade school cafeteria, hungry for some good food. We were served a fantastic hot breakfast where I was warmly greeted with a smile by the woman scooping out scrambled eggs and hash-brown potatoes. When she saw my zippered fleece shirt with the Catholic Charities logo, she asked me, “You’re Tom, right? Congratulations on your new job!” I thanked her, telling her what a blessing getting this job was for me, preparing to move down to the next food station to allow the person behind me in line to make their egg/potato preference known. That was when the woman, still doing her part in feeding the hungry said to me – “Yeah. I applied for that job too.”
All I could think of at the time was: “Wow! Is that a message from above or what?” FEED. THE. HUNGRY.
So with all of the above in my consciousness, I remain inspired by two different quotes as I embark on this new journey in my life. Two quotes that I would share with my own children should they ever ask for my advice or seek out my approval:
When you have that inner feeling that you may be called to something greater that you are not certain about – or when you experience those moments of self doubt, always remember that “God doesn’t call the qualified… He qualifies the called.”
And when it is all said and done, the greatest thing that any of us can ever hope to hear would be the words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant; Enter into the joy of your master.”
To my daughters Kelsey and Kassidy, and to anyone else who might ever be inspired to listen to what I have to say with the slightest bit of interest: if you live your life with those two pearls of wisdom, you will always be on the right track.
Earlier this month, my daughter painted this artwork for my new office which is mounted above my door to see every time I depart and go back out into the world – hoping to Feed the Hungry.