I’ve never been one to badmouth past employers or bosses… and I’m not about to become that stereotypical past employee right now. Like every job, my position at White’s Residential in Wabash, Indiana had it’s upsides and downsides, but most of my fellow employees were what they’d call on the streets “good people.”
From January to July, I served as an assistant house parent in a cottage full of 12 to 15 teenage guys who had either been in the Department of Corrections or were on their way if they didn’t get their act together. I thought I might like it, but it turns out, I was wrong.
I took the job in January because JoAnna and I had to pay for our wedding in April, and I had spent all of my cash a couple months earlier on a gargantuan diamond ring from Medawar Jeweler’s in Jackson, MI. Okay, so maybe the ring wasn’t immaculately huge, but it definitely emptied out my wallet. In order to buy the ring, I sold every piece of clothing that I didn’t wear regularly, my HD Camcorder, and every piece of junk that the pawn shop would ante up some dead presidentials for. The crowning achievement of my efforts came when I did a four day hair salon tour in Kalamazoo, MI and sold 100 cd’s to 100 different ladies (both stylists and customers). I literally had over 1,000 bucks burning a hole in my pocket thanks to the generosity of curler and hairspray laden womenfolk.
After I bought the ring, my first thought was, “I could have talked them down to an even lower price.” My second thought was, “I’m getting married on February 25th!” Let’s be honest, the February date didn’t happen. So we pushed it back to March. Then we pushed it back to April so my Grandma, my aunt, and my uncle could make the trek from Minnesota. I’m glad we delayed it. It gave us some much needed time to plan, think, and save money. We planned our wedding on the cheap, but it still cost thousands of buckaroo’s that we wouldn’t have had without jobs at White’s.
Back to the job. Why did I dislike it so much? 3 reasons.
1. It wasn’t music. 2. It wasn’t music. 3. Refer back to reasons 1 and 2.
I spent 16 hours a day managing and disciplining teenage guys. They hadn’t known discipline or a work ethic for most of their life, so it was understandably a hard task to instill good values. I remember days when it felt like all I did was answer questions like, “Can I go to the bathroom?,” “Can I have my meds?” “Mr. V, can I go outside?” “Can you get me a snack.” Other days were worse. One kid hit me in the chest a couple of times after I wouldn’t let him near a baseball bat. (He was violently angry, and I figured baseball bat + out of control teenager= not a fun time.)
Some of the brighter spots in my job came when some of the guys took me up on invitations to study the Bible, practice guitar, or participate in Subway Shootouts. Subway shootouts were three point competitions on the basketball court, where I would promise that any guy who beat me would get a Subway sandwich paid for by me. Only two or three guys won during my six months. My goal was zero, but nobody’s perfect. There are many good memories of me and the guys playing until 9:30 p.m. when the summer sun had almost disappeared behind the rows of Indiana corn. Some nights seemed like a scene straight out of Hoosiers, the famous movie about heartland basketball.
My favorite times though were definitely in Bible study. Every time I studied with any of the dudes, they ate it up. We would read something in Proverbs, and they would say, “Oh, you mean you’re not supposed to cheat on your girl?” and other things like that. I’d laugh out loud, because some of the right’s and wrong’s that I had taken for granted were heaven sent revelations to them. At the end, I really loved hangin’ out with some of them so much that I dreaded saying my final “goodbye.”
On my last night, we pulled our chairs around for cottage council, the current events meeting for the cottage, and I said, “You are experiencing your last two hours with me working in this cottage.” Immediately, I got an honest and mixed reaction. The guys who I had to discipline the most celebrated. But others were shocked and kind of sad. When I told them I was leaving to pursue music, some of them genuinely wished me luck and said, “Mr. V, you’re gonna be famous one day…” One guy even said, “Awwww man, what about Bible Study?”
In a couple years, White’s will probably seem like a blip on the radar, but there are certain guys who I’ll always remember. Like the dude who said, “Awww man, what about Bible study?” or the one with a rainbow belt who always sang a little off-key, but tried so hard to learn, or the guy who still asks me for guitar lessons every time I see him. Those guys make it hard to leave a place like White’s. The other not so pleasant personalities make you wanna run.
But in the end, I didn’t leave because I needed to escape, and I didn’t consider staying because I needed to help. In the end, I needed to feel alive. When God speaks a calling into your life, He means what He says. And when I was 16, He said, “You’re a songwriter.”
Now, doing anything else but music feels like I’m selling myself short. When I started working at White’s, I asked God about it, and I always heard Him say, “I have something better for you than White’s.” And if I tried to be a lawyer or an accountant, I’d probably hear something very similar.
Why did I quit White’s? Because God said, “You’re a songwriter.” And I finally chose to believe Him.