In the process of de-cluttering some of the “stuff” that accumulates over the years, I recently came across a letter I wrote during my senior year of college to the administrator of the Christian school where I was hired to teach after I graduated. Reading through the letter, which I had no idea I had saved all of these years, definitely brought back some memories. In the letter I explain how I came to learn of an upcoming opening at the school due to the retirement of the teacher who taught social studies courses at the school. I was about to enter my final semester of undergraduate study, majoring in Political Science. As I explained in the letter, I was applying to a number of graduate schools in both Political Science and American History, but I was not sure what God’s plans were for my future. As I wrote at the time, “I do not consider it a coincidence that my parent’s mentioned [the teacher’s] retirement to me the same day I had spent a significant amount of time praying that God would show me what He wants me to do after graduation.”
Discovering this letter allowed me time to look back on the last seventeen years of my life and see how God has orchestrated a path I never intended to follow. The truth is, when I wrote that letter in 1997 I had no real interest in working with children. The possibility of spending my life teaching young people was nowhere on my radar screen. The few times it had ever been mentioned to me I immediately shot down the idea. I had plans, goals and dreams. I was going to do big things. Children were not part of that plan, other perhaps having a few after I got married. God’s plan was different, though.
I was accepted to graduate school, by the way. I was offered admission to one of the top programs in the country in Public Policy Analysis. To a lot of people that may sound about as appealing as a bowl of sawdust for breakfast, but it was something that fascinated me. I spent considerable time and effort during my undergraduate studies studying and writing about the federal budget and the federal budget process. I had done an independent study course on that very topic, written a lengthy paper and presented at a regional honors council on my findings–after which I had professors from other colleges ask for a copy of my work. That door was open for me! Yet, for reasons I could not articulate, I had no peace about accepting the offer. I assure you, some of my professors were wondering what I was smoking when I told them I was turning down the offer in order to go teach in a Christian school. One of my professors joked, “One of the advantages of teaching in a small private school is that you can quit and not notice a drop in pay.” (He was kidding, but not all that far off, I would find!)
By following God’s lead, I was in the right place to meet the woman who would become my wife. She was a first-year teacher at the same school, a place she had not intended to be, either, according to her plans. I would discover that I really enjoy teaching–communicating ideas, developing thinking, helping students learn to apply the knowledge they have acquired in meaningful ways. The teaching position at that school did not last all that long–only three years–but it was a step that led to the steps to come later, which of course eventually led me to where I am now. Never in my wildest imaginations would I have become the Executive Director of a multi-site non-profit ministry with an annual budget in excess of $3 million at the age of 28, but that happened later. Never in my wildest imagination would I move to central South Dakota to lead a school that attracts students from across the state, the country and the world, but that is where I am now. Never would I have imagined spending more Sunday mornings filling the pulpits of other churches that I spend sitting in the congregation in my church, but that is my present reality.
Looking back, in this instance, has been an affirming exercise for me, as it has reminded me of how God has been at work over those seventeen years. The path has not always been easy and the realities have not always been pleasant. After all, being fired from two leadership positions within less than twelve months was never a part of my wildest dreams, either, but that happened, too. Seeing our life savings disappear and a considerable debt result from plunging wholeheartedly into the pursuit of a dream that I thought surely God was directing me to pursue is something I would rather not have experienced and certainly hope not to experience again. There have been other bumps along the way and there will no doubt be more to come. The simple truth, though, is that God has always been in control, still is in control and will always be in control. Sometimes I will be able to look back and see clearly how He orchestrated events to accomplish great things for my good and His glory. Other times I will look back, scratch my head and wonder, “Why did I have to go through that, again?” Looking back can be fun, it can bring memories, smiles and tears. Most importantly, looking back will hopefully cause us to look up, to thank God for His provision, His plan and His purposes being fulfilled in our lives.