On January 2, 2000 driving south down I-65 through Cullman, Alabama God reminded me I only get one life.
I had recently graduated from Auburn with a Mechanical Engineering degree and was working at Wyle Labratories in Huntsville. (All engineers in Alabama at some point work in Huntsville. It’s our Mecca.) But for months I had the nagging feeling that it was all a waste.
Back then I was much more evangelical and my future was so rosy I couldn’t see blue. I expected God to do something truly exceptional in my life. It wasn’t a question of if I would change the world, only how.
Maybe it was the non-event Y2K sugar crash. Maybe it was Michael W. Smith singing about the girl from Columbine. But in that moment I believe God said to me something like: “This is it, your one shot to leave a lasting Kingdom impact, to make a difference where otherwise the difference won’t be made.”
It wasn’t audible. But it was real enough that I wagered my marriage and my career, pushing my entire life out on the proverbial table. I talked with a pastor and was quickly put onto the conveyor belt to United Methodist ordination. I quit my job and went to the only seminary I’d ever heard of. When the admissions office asked what degree I wanted to pursue I didn’t even know what the options were – all trivial details for a world-changer of my status.
And thus began a calling to ministry. I got an MDiv, got ordained, and by the sheer goodness of my wife’s heart kept my marriage. I spent almost twenty years in youth ministry, racking up stories and relationships that I still treasure today. Then I moved to grown-up ministry, preaching, managing staff, raising money, real Jesus stuff.
Then it all went sideways.
I was the number two pastor over a contemporary service and much of the staff at a large church when LGBTQ inclusion, Covid-19, and Trump’s presidency became too stormy to navigate. All three full-time pastors became statistics.
Moments of pain are often catalysts for growth. And the other day I was hiking (I go to the woods to soul-search) and reflecting on something a mentor said to me about taking control of your own life – it’s up to me. In church work Sunday’s come around every week. Sunday morning is going to happen regardless of how prepared I am for it. But in creative work it’s up to me. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.
And then I remembered I-65 … to make a difference where otherwise the difference won’t be made. If I don’t make the difference in my own life, it quite literally won’t be made.
So here I am, trying to be a good steward of this one shot God’s given me, mustering up all of the courage and will-power to make a difference and create something beautiful, trusting that things like what I eat and what I wear will work themselves out. After all, the flowers and birds do ok.