Funny how the heart can be deceiving
More than just a couple times
Why do we fall in love so easy
Even when it’s not right
It was dead quiet in the shipyard. The blinking green and yellow indicators on the computer terminals surrounded me in the dark, rising all around like the lights of the city skyscrapers and shopping malls across the river. As field engineer for a major subcontractor on a $100M naval contract for multiple ten-figure hulls, working in two locations 100 miles apart, I had three desktop computers in my office, a laptop I took everywhere I went, and a tablet PC I used for onsite analysis, as well as my cell phone (a relatively new concept in 2004). Our battered construction trailer sat near the drydocks, deep in the belly of the sprawling industrial complex.
The luminous hands on my silver Citizen wristwatch showed 2:00am on the hour. As I peered at it to make sure I hadn’t seen it wrong, the little hand kept quietly moving around its inexorable arc, and the big hand followed at its own pace, as though well satisfied with their terse and undeniable assessment of my status: Doubtful.
What the hell am I doing here? I should be asleep at home. Hope my wife and the boys are OK. I have to come up with something to say, if she asks…
That “something” was only slightly believable. I had dropped our good friend Rachel off at the airport at 11 at night, after her saintly visit for a week to help my wife with the new baby. Doing laundry, cooking food, reading to our two-year-old son Steven, sweeping and dusting, talking and catching up on a friendship that went back to our early teens, and somehow doing it all without my wife being able to feel guilty for resting: Rachel had been an amazing blessing to us.
The truth about why I was sitting here at such an ungodly hour was something else again, though. Somehow I’d convinced my wife that I had to come in to the office instead of going home.
Our yearly meeting with the corporate executives had been just the weekend before. My friend the Production manager and I sat in a tired little high-rise in Westwego (a name that always seemed to me more desperate than romantic) and listened to the department managers bicker back and forth, trying to figure out when Engineering would deliver drawings to Production. The conversation had just reached an apparent roadblock as one of the project engineers made the statement that we absolutely could not meet their schedule, because the drawings could not be translated into a modern format compatible with the drafting software.
Confidently (and foolishly), I raised my hand. “I can fix that,” I blurted. The couple of dozen executives and managers and engineers sitting there all looked down the table at me. I knew that as soon as I opened my mouth and contradicted my boss in front of other people, I had burned any bridges that were still there between me and the department I still worked for many miles away; but when you’re twenty-six and have something to prove, you do things like that.
The senior vice-president crossed his skinny legs underneath his laptop and peered ominously at me over his wire-rimmed glasses. He pointed his pen at me like a gun. “Jeremy, don’t say that unless you’re absolutely sure,” he warned. “Do you even have time to take this project on?”
The room had been dead quiet for a moment or two, as quiet as it was right now, sitting in my dark trailer, thinking about how I was going to figure it out. I had paused only briefly, and then had jumped in with both feet. “Yes,” I’d said calmly. “I can do it.”
There was nobody on the East Coast more qualified than I was to say it. I had spent five years learning the operating system and the layout of the 900+ compartments of the ship from top to bottom. I had a degree in mechanical engineering with a diploma in drafting technology. I’d been working 70-hour weeks to hammer out a good relationship with Production and I knew what they needed from us, and although nobody had yet found a way to translate the drawings, I had some ideas and was willing to take the risk.
The VP looked at me for a long time. He knew I wanted his corner office someday, and he knew the move I’d just made had a lot to do with that. Finally he sighed. “Ok, tell you what. You have four weeks to get this done, and if you figure it out I will send you and your wife to the best restaurant in the city. But if you don’t figure it out, you have to give me back all the time you spent on it, even if it takes you a year of working weekends. Deal?”
And, obviously, here I was working on it.
Is this really what my life is? It’s not healthy, it’s not right, it’s not real. I shouldn’t be doing this.
The hands on my watch kept turning. In the coming days I pulled many more all-nighters, not without pangs of conscience. About two weeks into it, I broke through and was able to rewrite the code for all the drawings we had, finishing up and delivering my project to the VP a week early. And we sat down to the most expensive dinner two country kids from the Valley had ever seen, and as I looked out in triumph over the lights of the city, I thought back on the darkness of my office as I had sat there alone.
It was a darkness I would look out over many, many times again in the next 14 years. Little did I know that I would end up having to leave that career track: that Jesus would call me away from it, with a voice unmistakable speaking to my soul. Little did I know that this was not a matter of time management or of a healthy work/life balance. This was a matter of love.
Because I loved that job. I loved the hit I got from people acknowledging my achievements, just like the effects of any drug. I loved the freedom it gave me (“I have to go, just got a call from the office…”) from the love I had vowed to show to my wife and children, the love that Rachel had showed far better than I that week. I loved the rich rewards the business world was willing to throw at me, as consideration for my soul. It was a love affair, as real as with any human being I could have illicitly lost my heart to – a topic for another day.
Shakespeare once said that God has given us one face, and we make ourselves another. I was a Christian who loved my wife and loved Jesus, yet another love was slowly and surely pulling me in. How could I have been so deceived? Why was it so easy for me to fall into a love that destructive? The answers to those questions would be among the hardest I would ever grapple with in my life. They lay not in the bright hues and colors of the world as it allured me, like leaves adorning the trees in the fall; nor were those answers to be found in the condemning silence of the darkness of the path I had been following. I would find them only in a different vision of what love is: a vision that showed me love in a broken world is only easy when it is not right, and that the Gospel would not deceive me into thinking I could love someone without suffering. It was Jesus’ vision, and there He showed me a love that is willing to lay down its life for its beloved no matter what the cost, that it might be raised up again at the Last Day. And that vision, though it has cost me dearly to follow, has enraptured my heart.
Image credit: http://www.lovethatimage.com