I do not like the idea of saying, “live a story worth telling” because it concerns me that this will have everyone making decisions on what other people think is important or valuable, or worse, cool. That being said, I do very much appreciate being encouraged and inspired to take risks, make bold moves, dare greatly. As Mary Oliver asks me, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
In 2005 I finished 20 straight years of school (kindergarten through law school) and began practicing law with a boutique Estate Planning & Probate firm in San Antonio, TX, my hometown. It was the end of a long journey of preparation for the workforce. I began my journey into a career for the first time. In three years time I was not where I expected to be, stepping away from a successful legal practice to take time off to seek out a call from God. “Go to the place I will show you,” was a Scripture that God told Abram, and now it seemed He was telling me. Stepping out to change careers is one thing. Leaving to go to a place you don’t know, is much different.
It began a terrible and wonderful journey of stepping out of the known path and embarking on a new journey. Eventually I quit my job, moved out of my house, packed up all my belongings and moved across the country to live in a discipleship house for young men. I was 28 years old, a voluntary out of work attorney surrounded by mostly 18-20 year old men. Twelve of us lived in a house together and did yard work for a meeting house during the day. We paid to live there, paid for our food and rent, and worked for free. In less than a year, my life had been totally turned upside down.
Sitting at the War Memorial in Nashville, TN this week, I heard leaders from many different fields tell their stories about stepping out in life, the fear of failing, the fear of not knowing where you are heading, and the fear of looking like an idiot, the fear of being found out you are not as proficient as you appear. I was reminded of the difficulty of stepping out, cutting ties, taking risks, venturing out into a calling beyond your own imagination and control. These stories sound so wonderful, so inspiring. They encompass people going out on adventure, leaving family and friends behind to strike out into the world in new ways in new places. It sounds glamorous. And for a few days I felt the buzz of that excitement luring me in. “Just go ahead and do it,” my buddy’s mentor told him that day as they discussed the callings that plague him. All around me the signs point towards being equipped, the hands seem to gesture waving towards me “come this way.” The tug on my heart is back.
Excited this week, I dreamt about some of the things this may look like. Some of the burning desires of my heart and plans I have envisioned, solutions for situations around me. Dreams are fun to have and great to think through. I even talked to some friends of what early steps in these areas might look like. And, as usual in these times, they all agreed. Now, as I sit down to write this article and briefly recount for you the journey I have had in my past, the feelings start to come back. I start to resonate with the speakers as I recall their words of the fear, the insecurities of not being good enough, the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think of maybe having to depart again. The fear of cutting out on some new path, fearful that a big fat dead end will be around the next corner. I experience the nervous feeling that doubters who say it won’t work are actually more perceptive than I am. I feel the fear that my insights are not insights at all, but rather misunderstandings of basic common sense and reality. I fear looking stupid, failure, wasting efforts, time, money and resources. The fear that I will lose some position or trust I have with others. All of these feelings come flooding back. These are the very real emotions that come with the start of doing something new. The realities of branching out, of taking the road less traveled. This is the part of the beginning that you don’t hear about when you see the success stories. This is the part Robert Frost didn’t tell us about in the road less traveled. He chose the road less traveled and it sounds fun, eventful, inspiring. We think of it as joyful, awe inspiring. All upside in an easy journey of joy and laughter, taking in beauty and discovering win after win after win.
What most success stories do not tell you, or take you through is the fear, the worry, the anxiety, the failure. Most success stories don’t reveal the challenges, the deep, deep pain, the fear of coming to the end of yourself, the fear of not knowing who you are or what you are capable of. They don’t reveal to you your limitations, the edges of you, and the pain you haven’t ever experienced or imagined.
These speakers at the conference, they were real, they were honest, they were vulnerable. They allowed me to remember those times of doubt, fear, pain, rejection, failure. They allowed me the assurance that even these men and women whom I admire and look up to, that even they faced the doubts, fear, struggles, pain and failures I did. As I reflect on these common parts of all there stories, these people who risked by stepping out to do something new, something big, something undone, something unimagined; I realize that this fear, this doubt, this anxiety is not a sign that I am weak, or I am off, or I am stepping into something I should not. No, these trailblazers reminded me this week that there will always be fear and doubt and trepidation. They reminded me that at the edge of myself and my experience and my perceived competencies lies an opportunity. This opportunity is great, it is large, and it is scary because it is new, it is unknown, it is uncharted territory. And that is where some of our greatest potential lies. In the unknown, the undiscovered, the road less traveled.
Sitting here today imagining new possibilities and potentially new realities, I feel the fear in the pit of my stomach that the world may indeed be flat, and my theories and dreams may be all wrong. But more than that fear, I am beginning again to feel that very strong pull. That magnetic pull to believe in something that I know so deeply to be true that I can almost taste it. I am beginning to be drawn so powerfully again that this pull is taking me over the barriers that typically keep me in the same place – those doubts and fears and naysayers. Those whispers in my head that say no way. Those thoughts that persuade me that these dreams will be too difficult, that too many people won’t see it, that the leaders won’t buy in. The pull is becoming greater and greater and I am reminded by the beginning of one of my favorite books. In Leap Over A Wall, the fantastic author Eugene Petterson quotes Psalm 18:29, a Psalm by David who knows no limitation of fear and anxiety because he knows the greatness of his God. “By my God I will conquer a troop, I will leap over a wall.” Fortunately for me, I have been through things to learn that my God is the same God David wrote about thousands of years ago, and my God does indeed lead me to be able to conquer a troop and leap over a wall. Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing.” One of the outcomes of this reality is that when I am walking a path with Jesus and He starts to lead me to something different, and new, and radical, and out of the ordinary, then I get to choose whether I go with Him or not. You see where this is going. If I choose to stay in the comforts of what I know, where I have been, what I have been doing, well then I choose to not be with Jesus. Then nothing works. I get nothing done. And I am slowly reminded by this that Jesus has gone a different way.
I witnessed this at my law firm as I began to discern my call to ministry. It was very strange, but for the first time ever, work became a chore. It was difficult, draining, sucking the very life from me. I described it as being in quicksand. Work had never felt this way for me before, and never since. But I experienced what life was like when Jesus had taken a turn on the path, and I did not go with Him. I stayed in the comfortable, the known, the familiar. I stayed on the path He had been on, had taken me to. I was not on the path He was on currently, inviting me to.
As I sat and heard leaders this week tell of stories of bold and terrible adventures of stepping out, I again identified with their stories, just as I did with those ministry leaders whom I met with back in March of 2008, as I began to search out where this call might lead. I identified with their stories, and it was the beginning of signs of being in the right place. This week, I identified with the trailblazers yet again, those who left it all behind and went all-in to believe they could create a new normal, a new reality, to discover a new world. I do not know yet if I can see, or where it will lead, or who it will involve, or what it will look like, but I am feeling it again, the tug is back, I sense it again, the buzz in the air, the tingle in my fingers, the fear in the pit of my stomach. The call is coming again. “What is it?!” you ask. I don’t yet know, I don’t even know if I can explain it. Trying to do so, I know I would smile a lot, use a lot of hand gestures, and “you know what I mean’s”. I know another adventure is around the corner. I know another adventure is near. I can sense it in the tingly of my fingers, the shortness of my breath. God is up to something again. Like Abram, I am starting again to hear the phrase, “go to the place I will show you.”
Here we go again!