“Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before and you lay your hand upon me. ” Pslam 139:4-5
Recently I had the occasion to walk in downtown Waterloo (our neighboring city) along streets I hadn’t been on in a long while–at least not on foot. Usually if something brings me here, I’m in my car rushing from one meeting or errand to another, not paying attention to memories from long ago which came trickling in on this day.
Thirty-six years ago my “career,” if you can call a part-time job a career, began downtown. That job changed my life in ways my young, naïve self could never imagine.
It’s always interesting to look back over our lives to see God’s hand directing our path.
My dad had insisted I go to school after high school to become a secretary. I’m confident he thought that was about the only job I was qualified for that would make a decent living and maybe land me a good husband. Dad was a stubborn, old-fashioned Irish-German that didn’t take easily to being argued against.
So, two years later, I graduated from our local community college with my AA degree in the Executive Secretary program. God had His hand on me even then. I learned shorthand and typing skills very well (thanks to many hours in the typing room doing timed writings!)
Four friends and I all interviewed for the same internship at a local brokerage office. I was hired for the three-month intern position and asked to stay on part-time when it was completed.
I thought I would just stay a few months while I looked for another job that would pay me enough to be able to move out on my own. The pay at the brokerage office wasn’t great, but the experience and wisdom I gained, like the commercial says, was priceless.
It was a professional office where everyone dressed in suits and skirts. Business people, attorneys and judges stopped by over their lunches to check stock prices. An old-style ticker tape machine chattered away in the reception area cascading a long trail of paper onto the carpet.
Being the only person in the office who knew shorthand made me a valuable employee for the nine stock brokers to communicate with their clients. That skill paid off in a big way in the summer of 1982 when I got a call from our office manager asking, “How soon can you be here? The s*** just hit the fan!”
Our office had experienced several collapses of stock positions and “guaranteed” bond positions which our parent company had underwritten and consequently we had sold a ton of to clients. This last default of a huge holding of bonds issued by Gamble Skogmo Company was the beginning of a journey that would change the trajectory of my life.
I was suddenly working full-time. Every day consisted of taking dictation from the brokers and transcribing and typing reams of letters to clients who held these bonds. People were literally losing their retirement funds and life savings.
Four months after I was hired full time, my boss left for another brokerage firm to take over the regional office and asked me to come on board with him. We started transferring accounts, withstanding non-compete agreement lawsuits, trying to hold together a Cedar Falls office whose manager had been fired, build a new office in downtown Waterloo for us and three other brokers who came with us from our previous firm, bring on a new, first-time broker and all of it fell on top of my totally inexperienced desk!
I was only just 20 years old and so much less confident than I am today as are most of us without the wisdom of life.
God blessed those tumultuous times. Our office survived the lawsuits and mass of paperwork and fiery personalities. In April of 1983, we all came together in a beautiful, newly renovated downtown office. Many of those folks are still friends of mine today.
The most amazing thing that God orchestrated was introducing me to a man, who at the time I thought was extremely arrogant and made me very nervous on the job! That man was Tom Barbatti who eventually became my husband.
During my working years at the brokerage office, I used to walk to lunch along the banks of the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo for brief outdoor escapes from the stressful work.
I thought about those times this day, thirty-some years later, as I walked along the same river. I thought about that young, naïve, self-conscious woman who I was then. What advice would I give her from my wiser, older self?
I would tell her she has no idea the journey that lay ahead of her.
I would tell her that God’s hand is over everything in her life and, even though she will stumble and make mistakes and some bad choices along the way, God is good and patient and can use her mistakes for His good and His glory.
I would tell her about the amazing ways she will grow in confidence in herself and the amazing things she will experience and learn and the wonderful people who will come into her life.
I would tell her she will be embraced with a love so deep from that man who made her nervous that she would wonder how God decided to bless her so richly.
I would tell her that she will be tested in ways she doesn’t believe she has the strength or courage to endure. I would tell her she is much stronger than she can imagine.
I would tell her to savor every moment of life because it is short and fleeting but not to be afraid because her salvation is secure.
And I would tell her that our amazing Heavenly Father will show her His grace and draw her closer to Him through trials of fire and use her in unimaginable ways to bring glory to Him and touch family and friends for His Kingdom.
Heavenly Father, thank you that throughout my life—through my sins and stumbles and tears and fear and joys and moments—your hand has always been there to pick me up when I fell, to forgive me when I strayed, to carry me when I couldn’t walk on my own, to collect my tears and give me laughter and friends and family and beauty from ashes. I especially thank you for knitting all the pieces of my life together so that I am assured of my complete adoption as Your precious child. Please continue to guide and lead me in the ways You have for me to share Your story. In Jesus holy name. Amen.