Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Whimper. And Pray. It's the Only Way.

So I got this letter in the mail last week telling me I had to attend a mandatory meeting re: EI (Employment Insurance) this morning. There was a page two to the letter, which was a form with 4 blank areas that I needed to fill out before I came to the meeting.

Those blank areas? Needed to be filled in with details of my job search thus far. I was to use a blank sheet of paper if I needed more space.

This morning at 7:30 am, I completed my paperwork, finding contact info and checking dates re: the interviews I've had thus far.

At 9:00 am, 8 of us randomly chosen 'winners of the investigation lottery' were in Service Canada's board room  and asked to hand in our forms. Only half of us had it done. (Yay me for being a keener. Again and always.) (It's a curse.)

Those that didn't have it done swore they'd never received it. So they were given a grace period to produce the required evidence. And it needed to be hand-written and hand-delivered. NOT EMAILED. NOT FAXED. They (the fraud investigators) needed to see their (the would-be frauders) handwriting. (I know, right?) (Yay Canada.)

After they'd collected the completed forms and handed out new ones to those who needed them, the information dump began; complete with powerpoint slides, video commercials, charts, pamphlets and a wonderful condescending attitude. The threat of having our claims cancelled was ever present. The threat that we would have to pay back money already received was a very real possibility. The were cracking down on lowlife scums (my words, not their's), and us 8 (seven over 40) were the subjects of the investigation in the Langley area.

I know! How lucky am I? Chosen, at random like that. What are the chances?

Meanwhile, back at my house, Mark, the Yellow Van Handy Man was working on my plumbing. The garberator in the kitchen leaks, the toilet in the downstairs bathroom randomly refills itself (WHICH, IF YOU'RE HOME ALONE, AT NIGHT, IN THE DARK, AFTER 2 AM - freaks out a person), the tub faucet in my bathroom drips, the sliding door in my kitchen doesn't close (WHICH, IF YOU'RE HOME ALONE, AT NIGHT, IN THE DARK, AFTER 2 AM - freaks out an already jumpy person) and the drywall has a hole in it where Drew put his heel through. So, things were being done, and money was being spent is what I'm trying to get at here.

By the time the speakers have finished telling us what we should have been doing while collecting EI, I knew that I was going to fail "FILLING OUT EI FORMS 101". They wanted evidence that I had applied for a job everyday since May 1. Not LOOKED for a job, APPLIED for a job. Evidence that I had applied for 85 jobs. Dates, times, names, contact info, job descriptions, outcomes. Uh, yeah - NO WAY THAT ONE PIECE OF PAPER WITH 4 EMPTY SPACES WAS GOING TO BE ADEQUATE.

So as people were filing out, I wandered over to the woman whose style of communication had offended me for the past hour and told her that I had totally misunderstood my responsibility these past few months. I thought my responsibility was to be actively searching for jobs EVERY day, not maintain prooof that I had been APPLYING for jobs everyday. I mentioned that I would try to come up with additional info for her to add to my form, showing that I have been acting in good faith. She gave me til 4:30 pm. I would have to handwrite it, and hand deliver it.

I drove away feeling sick.
No really.
I'm not even exaggerating.

When I arrived home, Mark, the Yellow Van Handy Man, was groaning. "When I got your emailed list of chores today, I said to myself, "Oh good. An easy day. Nothing too complicated." And know what? NOTHING about any of your chores is straight forward. Every single repair requires way more effort than anticipated." And then he gave me a detailed list of all the extra stuff he'd need to do because parts were discontinued, or the original installation had been mickey-moused.

None of this surprised me. I knew I won this lottery too. The Lottery of Complicated, Costly Home Repairs.

I am such a winner.

Anyway for the next few hours, he and I danced around my kitchen; him in his tool belt, me emptying boxes and files looking for paperwork to support the fact that I have not purposefully been ripping off our Employment Insurance program.

At 2:30 pm, just as Mark was finishing up with the hole in the wall, the phone rang. It was Caroline and she had my file open in front of her. When could she expect me to be back at the office?

I told her I was sorry but I was unexpectedly in the middle of some more-complicated-than-anticipated home repairs and I had no sliding door on my house, so I couldn't leave until I could lock up things up. She said we could handle it verbally over the phone... and based on the evidence I'd provided them with this morning, a stop payment had been placed on my claim.

This did not surprise me. They had warned us in the meeting.

I fail at being unemployed.

With nothing to lose, I explained my philosophy for job searching:

  • 100% of my jobs have been the result of word-of-mouth, so I've been working my network. (And I tossed back the stat they touted in the meeting - 85% of all jobs are 'hidden' (unadvertised) - it's WHO you know...)
  • I am not married, so I need to be self-supporting. I will not work for less than a certain wage. (So, even though I may qualify for an advertised job, I'm not going to waste everyone's time by applying for it.)
  • I have outside-of-work responsibilities, so I cannot spend hours each day commuting; I will only work within 30 minutes from my house. (So even if I may qualify for a job in Richmond, I'm not going to waste everyone's time by applying for it.)
  • My experience and preference have me leaning towards a Christian organization; I have the most to offer in that environment, plus I want this, my final job, to have meaning. 
  • Everyday I go through a whack of online job listings (craigslist, jobs canada, monster) plus I check the websites of the organizations that I'd love to work with. And at least once I week I connect with a friend or contact in my network and see if they're aware of anything suitable. Thus far, I only apply for jobs that I really want to work at. 
She asked me if I could prove any of this. Like, could I bring in my laptop and she could look at my internet browsing history since May. 

"Unfortunately, I was robbed in mid-June and my laptop was stolen. By the time that portion of my insurance claim was resolved, it was mid-July before I got a replacement laptop."

"Your laptop was the only thing stolen?"

(I get it. This totally sounds like an elaborate 'my dog ate my homework' excuse. I don't blame her for sounding sceptical.)

"No, a number of things were stolen, including all my jewellery. Two days later, they came back and stole my truck. It was found later, doused in gasoline, on fire. So while I was been looking for a job, I was also looking for a replacement vehicle, filling out insurance claim forms for two separate robberies, and because I've had to put my house for sale, I'm also checking new listings daily, trying to figure out where to live next. I have a routine that takes a couple of hours checking my bookmarked sites on the internet."

She didn't say anything for a few seconds. 

And then she became human. And her voice was full of compassion when she said, "Oh. I see. You know, these are significant extenuating circumstances. You've had a rough time of it lately, haven't you?"


Mark the Yellow Van Handy Man decides this is a good time to call it a day.
He waves at me and motions that he'll call me later. 

"At this point, your payments have already been stopped, based on the information we had this morning. However, now that I've talked to you, I will file an appeal. I cannot make any guarantees, but I will try. I will be doing more meetings each day this week and next week, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to get back to you. And I don't what our chances are of being successful. But a robbery is a set-back. And clearly, you have been searching, even though you have no documentation..."

I blubbered. Thanked her for her help. Hung up the phone and sobbed.
Then I prayed, "God? Oy. Why is everything so friggen hard? Is this it? Another safety net gone? It's just You and me right? Have I been relying on EI too strongly, a not enough on You? Have I not prayed enough? Is this because I didn't go to church much this summer? Or is it Zanna, Don't? Instead of listening to that soundtrack over and over again, (I Think We Got Love) should I be listening to Matt Redman (10,000 Reasons)? Do you want me to be a missionary instead of an being an employed professional? AM I SUPPOSED TO GO TO INDIA?"

More than anything I felt like lying down and falling asleep. You know, to avoid thinking. But I did that on Tuesday and slept right through the dinner hour when I was supposed to be visiting my dad. And I wasn't going to do that again. So I marched my defeated body up the stairs and slapped on another layer of makeup and got into my truck. 

And just as I was pulling into the underground parking at the Lodge, my phone rang. It was Caroline. She had fast-tracked my appeal as she felt it was a priority, AND TOLD ME THERE WOULD BE NO STOPPAGE.  I was to carry on. But please, could I document everything? Someone would likely be checking up on me. 

My voice was all crackly as I thanked her for all her assistance. 

And my dad saw a no-make-up-on-her-face version of his daughter at dinner. Didn't matter to him, he was more interested in my feet. 
"You have pink shoes on."
"Yup, I do."
"And painted toes."
"Uh huh."
"And no nylons?"
"Nope. No nylons."

Thanks, God. For my dad. And for Caroline. And for another hard day, where being honest and transparent were my only options, and they were enough. Amen.

Three FIVE Things I'm Thankful For:

1. Summer. In September. It's the best.
2. Ensure. It's the only thing with some nutrient value that my dad will swallow.
3. Praying friends.
4. My natural, God-given talent for heart-felt tears on demand.
5. Wendy, my co-worker from that one season at Bevo, now my facebook friend living in a different province, who has a huge heart. This was her status earlier today when I statussed that my claim had been stopped:

I am asking all my friends of prayer to pray a hedge of protection around Jane, breaking of the barriers that are preventing God's blessing of her, freedom from conflict in her life, and peace for her and her family.. Thanks,

I feel God's blessings everyday, regardless of the challenges. I'm just a weiney. And long for an easy, stress-free, spoiled-princess-life because I had one in my past. And I liked it.


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