Today’s post comes at the invitation of my friend Tracee Persiko who has recently contributed to a book called “Inciting Incidents” where people share stories that have changed their faith and the course of their lives forever. As a part of the book promotion, she has asked some of her fellow bloggers to share their own inciting incidents. I especially enjoyed reading stories from Sonny Lemons and from Carl Jones. You can read more of these stories here. This is one of mine.
It was a cold, December Saturday morning in Ft. Worth, TX. Three and a half years of driving two and a half hours one way to seminary in order to complete a seventy-hour masters degree had come to an end. And on this less than glorious morning, at the age of 27, I was waking up in a motel room with my parents. Yes, I was married, but at this particular point in time, the wheels were rapidly coming off a marriage that seemed like it was over before it ever got started. Not only was I married, but this was my second marriage. It seemed that a life in the ministry, a meager paycheck, family issues, poor communication, and a number of other factors had made the last three years of my life a firestorm of emotions that wasn’t ending well for yours truly.
Back up eight days to the Friday before. I had recently been in Ft. Worth for my last day of classes before finals and I went to buy my wife an anniversary gift. It was at this time I found out rather suddenly that our credit card was maxed out. The discussion of the incident ended with her going to her parents’ house and never coming home. I endured the long, lonely weekend, reluctant to tell my parents what had happened, after all, I was still hoping the situation would rectify itself. The next week, I mustered the strength to get through my last three days of finals, staying in a commuter dorm room on campus. Having completed my finals, here I was in a hotel room with my parents. With my cap and gown all ready to go, what should have been one of the happiest days of my life was anything but.
As I waited my turn in the little motel bathroom, my mind was racing with lots of questions and speculations. I was mournful for a marriage that was over. I wondered if I would ever work in ministry again because my “track record” screamed everything but stability. I wondered if I would be able to stay in my small town where I had been doing ministry for the last five years. I wondered if I would be forced to tuck my tail between my legs and move back in with my parents because I had a masters degree and no job. I wondered how someone who was supposed to have it all together could feel so broken and messed up. I still felt so much hurt and pain from the distrust in our relationship, but at the same time did not want to see the marriage end. I wondered if I would ever see my stepdaughter again. I wondered if my in-laws were spreading rumors about me around town to make it appear that I was somehow worse than I was. So, needless to say, graduation was the last thing on my mind.
As I finished getting ready, I had my cap and gown in one of those clear plastic covers like you get from the dry cleaners and was headed down to the car. As I walked out the door of the hotel room, my mother handed me a card. I think she had intended for me to open it at a later time. But I didn’t do that. When I hung my garments on the hook in the back seat, I opened it and read it. It was a note of comfort and it had this verse in it: “‘I know the plans I have for you’, says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” -Jeremiah 29:11. As I read that verse, the emotional weight I had been carrying around for what seemed like forever came gushing forth. The words of that passage cut straight to my heart and spoke to me in a way that went beyond my mental comprehension and spoke into the depths of my soul that everything was going to be alright.
To be honest, I often take issue with taking verses out of context and applying them to ourselves. This verse was written to the nation of Israel and was spoken in the plural that God would prosper them as a people. But you know what? We who are in Christ have been grafted into that new Israel. God does have plans to prosper us and not harm us, and to give us a hope and a future.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that morning, God was giving me a promise. This note from my mother is only one of three things I remember about that morning. (I also remember that Dr. Henry Blackaby of “Experiencing God” fame prayed for our class for a very long time, and that the girl next to me had stashed a couple of candy bars in the long draping sleeves of her gown.) In the months and years that followed, I did move home to my parents house and slept in the guest room because my old bedroom had been converted into an office. I helped my dad get caught up on some ranch work projects including building a new corral. I got a decent job as an insurance salesman, and moved back out of my parents’ house. I sold insurance for a couple of years. At that job, I had lots of opportunities to counsel and pray with people who were in difficult situations. They might need to drop someone from their auto policy and as I visited with them, we would pray about the situation. But it still wasn’t the church work I missed so much. Then one day, I didn’t think I could sell any more insurance, so I went to speak to a local pastor who had needed a youth worker for his church. I said, “I don’t really even know why I’m here, except I’m tired of selling insurance and I miss doing ministry.” A week later, I had a job.
To find out the details of what has happened since then, you can click here. But to summarize, that was over six years ago. I have remarried. I have a daughter who I’ve adopted, and a son on the way. I am still working at the same church. I know trials will come again. But I also know this: “‘I know the plans I have for you’, says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.’”