The first thing that I ever remember wanting to be when I grew up was a doctor. My uncle asked me when I was about seven years old, “Do you like gummy bears?”
“What are gummy bears?”
“You don’t know what gummy bears are? That’s a tragedy.” And with that we got into his pickup truck and went to the mall. Jelly Belly to be exact. We filled up a trash bag with gummy bears and then he asked me how much I liked jelly beans. “I don’t really like them that much.”
“Then you haven’t had the good ones.” Another bag, another cavity, and I headed home with a sugar duffle full of gummy bears and jelly beans. From that moment on, I wanted to be a doctor. Any profession that afforded you the ability to drop everything that you’re doing and satisfy your sweet tooth jonesing- I was in.
It didn’t last long and I was on to lawyer, professional athlete, police officer, FBI agent, US Marshal (I had just seen The Fugitive), but none of them sat just right. My senior year in high school, the pressure was on and I had to make a decision and nothing made sense.
So many people have voilá moments where the stars align to point to a calling so clear it is unarguable. And maybe it felt that way to many of my closest relationships when it occurred to me that ministry made sense- but the sky never opened up, no dove decensions, no audible voice. It just clicked one day. I think this is what I’m supposed to do. And no one second guessed it. “You’ll do great.”
At the time I was driving a 1982 Chevy Monte Carlo with a million miles on it. My cousin had given it to me, “No high school senior should be car-less for their senior year!” I loved my first car, some because it wasn’t one of my parents’ two minivans, and I endearingly named it Hooptie. You had to be the Fonz to make a lot of it work. The radio, the ignition, the trunk, the steering column all had to be MacGuyver’d to get them to cooperate. But the truth was, Hooptie wasn’t going to make it to Bible School and I had to work. Which meant that there was no chance of holding a job without a vehicle.
So I did what any kid that had grown up in church would do. I threw out a fleece. “God, you know I need a job. And in order to work a job, I’ll need a way to get there. Hooptie won’t make it. So, if you want me at Bible School I need some help.” And I left it there. I wasn’t a fleecer. It always felt like it would backfire, giving God an ultimatum. If I were God, I’d write people off for giving me ultimatums, demanding proof of existence type stuff. At some point, the ever expanding universe, the intricacy of the human brain, the brilliance of life, death, and rebirth through the cycle of seasons, and like, the giraffe are going to have to suffice. But fleece I did.
Just after the baseball state playoffs had ended, I was in my last two weeks of school and came home to an unrecognized car in the driveway. This wasn’t odd, with my dad a pastor we regularly had people over. I skipped into the house just in time for dinner and asked my mom who else was joining us. “Joining us for what?”
“Dinner, there’s an extra car in the driveway where Hooptie usually parks, and I was curious who was over.”
“Your dad and I need to talk to you. Let me get him.”
We walked outside and my dad and mom looked at me and said, “A couple in the church heard that you were going to Bible School and said that they believed in you and wanted you to go. Here are the keys.” Suddenly I had just upgraded to a 1986 Mazda 323 that would make the trek to Lakeland, FL over the next several years at least a dozen times.
With that, I loaded the car and moved 700 miles away to Bible School. On my own to learn how to pastor.
This weekend was my 12 year anniversary at Kingwood. 12 years of my over 18 years of youth ministry spent at one church pastoring teenagers. That’s a lot of cars and even more teenagers. And somehow, I still love teens. You don’t have to be around them long to figure out why. With their faith-testing questions and doubts, their all-in attitudes toward everything from Jesus to Snapchat, their energy and life and love and hope and dreams- I just love being around them. To stare at challenge and loss everyday of my life, I love the medicine of what teens do for my soul.
So, to all of the teenagers that I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of your life, here at Kingwood for 12 years, and Jackson, Atmore, and Huntsville for over 18, thank you for making me feel like what I do matters. It’s one thing for God to give me a 1986 Mazda 323 to confirm that what I will do will mean something, but it’s a whole other thing to get you.