In my circles, Thomas Jefferson is said to have observed, “At the end of life all you will have are your relationships and your experiences. Make them extraordinary.” Growing up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt in Nashville, Tennessee, the pursuit of the extraordinary Christian life never felt too far out of reach. Influences led me to believe that being extraordinary came from accomplishments and acclaim based on performance both in behaviour and even in spiritual etiquette.
I had a relatively privileged and sheltered upbringing. I attended private schools and I was raised in a wealthy Nashville neighborhood. In high school I became a three-sport athlete and I travelled abroad. Sports pursuits and leadership positions kept me focused in school and helped me grow in my relationship with God. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes gave me an outlet to pursue sports and Jesus. As I grew in my faith in the Lord, I also became increasingly uncomfortable with the box Christianity seemed to put me in. I found myself longing for something more than an act of faith as a one-time message, prayer, or testimony and I couldn’t find who I really was as a person in those activities themselves.
I inherited a sense of duty for my country from my father and grandfather. After college, I was commissioned a third-generation, army officer. I found myself in the Army Corps of Engineers. My job was to train a combat platoon how to “put in” and “take out” mine fields. During this season of military service I began to explore some of life’s deeper questions: “Why am I here?” and “What was I supposed to do with my life?”
During these years I sensed a call to serve God full-time. I recognized that there would be nothing better than to surrender my dreams and aspirations to Him. In many ways, I was hoping for the extraordinary. In my naïve and unknowingly selfish way, I hoped to make a big impact in this world for Jesus Christ. Little did I know at the time that the extraordinary acts of God often come to pass in quite mundane and ordinary circumstances.
When I transferred out of the Army I sought the wise counsel of several respected men in my life. Each seemed to think that the call on my life meant that a season of seminary was the next step in my training process. In the South, the word “ministry” immediately brings visions of clerical collars and pulpits. So I headed to Dallas Theological Seminary to learn God’s word while deciphering the “call” on my life.
In seminary, I enjoyed studying and learning more about the Bible but did not feel drawn to the scholarly or pastoral life. Meeting my wife-to-be helped elevate my experiences in the Texas heat. Six months into our marriage, my wife sensed my lack of direction and asked me, “What do you want to do with your life?” This question began one of the most blessed explorations of my life. A simple and ordinary question allowed me to realize the deep need to explore the vocational calling that felt buried just beneath the surface. I turned to the Bible and the books surrounding me at seminary, but I did not find the four steps to vocational discovery. In fact, the more I looked the less I seemed to find. So I took it upon myself to interview those before me.
I spent time with the chaplain, questioned pastors about their daily routines, interviewed politicians, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen all with the intent to finding the experiences that would be the most extraordinary (or at least the best fit) for me. Even as I write this I see how my life was so defined by my experiences—I was an athlete, an officer, a student, a “whatever I was doing.” My pursuits were the pursuits of an individual bent of giving meaning to the life that I could create and shape as I saw fit.
During the quest to find my life’s purpose, my wife and I found an exciting new place to explore life together at Regent College. Through a series of unmistakable signs, God seemed to be drawing us to a place outside of our comfort zone. Without knowing exactly why, we moved during the summer of our first year of marriage from Dallas, Texas, to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Vocation deeper than any job or career
Regent College, we found, was a place of far more questions than answers. At times the frustration from the questions and diversity of perspectives drew unrest, yet it was in the questions that I found my true self and my true God. I found something beautiful in the unity and diversity among the faculty and students. The community was intentional and the dialogue embraced the mystery of God’s ways.
Exploring my vocation at Regent College resulted in my working in a small Anglican church participating in the ordinary stuff of hospital visits and funeral services while at the same time facilitating some ministry efforts with the business community downtown. At one of the businessmen’s Bible studies I met Dr. Jim Houston, the founder of Regent College. His simple smile and quick wit were winsome yet he was the least impressive looking man in the room. I was drawn to his humility and wisdom and before the study adjourned I asked him if he would be willing to meet with me sometime. He asked me to come walk with him. I accepted his invitation and asked, “When?” To this he replied, “Every morning at 7:30 at the park right down from my house.”
What follows is by no accounts an extraordinary experience, for walking around a park with an old man and his little dog is anything but exciting in itself. But the relationship that grew from these walks has been the most transformative and caring relationship centred in Christ that I have ever experienced. For eight to nine months we walked for twenty minutes a day before we would head our separate ways. On many mornings it would be the two of us while on others there would be two or three others in tow. The care with which Dr. Houston listened and responded while genuinely walking through my life—both literally around the park, and more intensely as we explored my meaning and calling and the One who was calling me. It was through his relationship and others during this time that I began to discover who I was apart from an experience. What did it mean to feel and care as I did? What were the passions that had been planted so deep within me? Who was this God who was calling me to a vocation deeper than any job or career I could pursue? What did I long to do apart from the world that wanted to define me by what I did or did not do?
Before long it was time for me to pursue that “ministry” to which the Lord had called me. As my seminary days drew to a close, I found myself signing on with a hospital company to help build a brand new hospital, not to become the chaplain, but simply because I was good at leading construction projects and people.
The freedom I found to pursue an administrative function in the business world came because I had come to understand my calling. My journey had helped me come to understand that this higher sense of calling should always take precedence over any job because no career path can be fully satisfying and significant without a deeper sense of calling.
The root word for ministry comes from the Greek word for “service.” As long as I was serving the Lord with a whole heart pouring my all into something to produce excellence, I found freedom and confirmation that I was falling into that vocational calling the Lord had for me. I was very blessed by the experiences in building—and then assisting to run—a hospital, but it was the relationships I formed that brought the most energy and joy. I have been very blessed with success as the world might define it with promotions and positions, but it has been the stuff of everyday life that has filled life with meaning.
Occupationally I find myself now running a small business started to help find and address prescription drug problems. Our company has been very intentional about defining our business model to serve those in need and to be profitable in doing so. Thomas Jefferson may be right about only having relationships and experiences at the end of life, but I am convinced that experiences are meaningless without relationships. In the midst of the ordinary stuff of life—family, work, community and even taking walks around the park—we find God’s presence . . . maybe even more than when we are exploring the mountain tops of the extraordinary.