I heard a quote many years ago by St. Augustine, the theologian. “Love God and do what you want to do.” It sparked something in me. I was a new Christian, traveling the country with everything I owned packed into my Toyota hatchback. I moved to Seattle sight unseen to hopefully do two things, lead high school ministry and sing in a rock band. I had never sung in a band before, but that didn’t deter me. Those days were marked with freedom and joy. God’s hand was in the details.
I didn’t become the rock star I envisioned. But that belief, trusting God in every aspect of one’s life, never diminished. I’ve never been one to play it safe. The idea that I could do what I wanted, living freely, and God would take care me—it’s probably no wonder I chose the pursuits I did, ones with no guarantee. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I knew it was up to God to open the door; if it happened, he got all the credit. There would be no blurred line between what was my doing and what was his. And if he didn’t, I believed he would guide me onto a new path, providing for me all the while.
As the years climb, it’s become more difficult, especially when so many endeavors have been met with disappointment. Years of banging on closed doors. I sometimes wish I hadn’t heard that quote by Augustine. Maybe I would have covered my bases and given myself a fallback plan. My life would possibly look much different, more like I want it to. No doubt it would be safer, with more stability.
If God would open the door just a crack, I’d kick it to shreds.
For Christmas, I went to my sister’s home in Tennessee. She and her family live in a small, college town east of Nashville. It was the first time I’d been there. There’s something invigorating about walking through a foreign town, with its unknown landscapes and buildings and houses. I went running each morning past the small train station and town square. Past the boutique shops and quaint restaurants, the university where my brother in law works. I soaked in the anonymity. Found it refreshing—none of the baggage that comes with familiarity.
One day, my dad and I took a walk together.
A little backdrop: In the early 90s, my father moved our family to Texas. My brother was a having a hard time in school; my dad, who owned a clinic with five other doctors, was burned out and stressed out. I had just finished my freshman year of college and wasn’t sure if I was going to stay at my current school. My father, having served in the Reserves after Vietnam, was offered a four-year stint in the Air Force, serving as a lieutenant colonel physician. It was a risky decision. He’d be leaving his friends and family… his hometown. But he accepted the offer. He sold the house, his share of the clinic, and uprooted the family to Ft.Worth.
He took a lot of criticism for it, not the least of which came from me and other family members. We didn’t understand his decision, either. He was taking us away from the only home we’d ever known. His patients loved him; his friends loved him. How could he leave?
Those were tough years for everyone involved (two years in Texas, two in Colorado), but they were strengthening years. We can look back on it now (Time provides that gift) and realize not only was it the right decision, it was the only decision. But it took stepping into the unknown and the (often) uncomfortable.
My dad are slowly learning to communicate better, after years of not doing it. During that walk, the subject of careers came up. It’s usually the subject we avoid talking about. Easier to keep the peace that way. But I found myself encouraged to speak of it. I’d recently finished a book and was looking for an agent who could sell it. I’d been taking on more training and responsibility with my current job. I mentioned a friend of mine who went to law school at a later age.
“Have you thought about going back to school?”
“It’s too late for a radical career change. I can’t go back to school now, at this point of my life.”
Surprisingly, my dad didn’t offer suggestions or counter my argument. He told me a story.
“When he was 92, Oliver Wendell Holmes decided to study Classical Greek. People asked him why he wanted to learn a new language at his age, and he answered, ‘Better late than never.’
“The trick is to find something you’re passionate about.”
That was probably the wrong thing to say to someone like me.
“It would probably take me three years to go back to school and change careers. I think I can establish a successful writing career in three years. I know I can. So I could go back to school to do something I don’t want to do, or I could do something I love in the same amount of time.”
“So what you’re telling me is that you want to write books for the rest of your life?”
It sounded strange to hear it said that way. Seemed so formal… declarative. Final.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Well, then do it.”
It was not the answer I expected. My father was heading down an unfamiliar road: this was a man who knew he was going to be a doctor from the time he was in junior high.
“When I was growing up,” he said, “my favorite TV show was ‘Adventures in Paradise.’ It was based on the James Michener stories. Gardner McKay, who played Captain Adam Troy, would sail the South Pacific on his ship, the Tiki. Each week, he’d sail into a new port, and there would be a new adventure. Those stories gave me the biggest thrill. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to sail the South Pacific one day.’
“But I played it safe. Most of us do.
“Folks thought I was crazy when I moved us to Texas, but I believed I was doing the right thing. Davy Crockett was a Congressman from Tennessee. In 1836, he failed in his bid for reelection. When they asked him how he felt about losing, he said, ‘You can go to hell; I’m going to Texas.’ And that’s what he did. He put a note on his door that said ‘G.T.T.’ Gone to Texas. And he left.
“I thought about Davy Crockett when I was making that decision. He said, ‘First, make sure you’re right, then go ahead.’”
It sounded eerily similar to the Augustine quote. Who knew a frontiersman from Tennessee would have so much in common with a first century saint?
“In the end,” I said, “I want to be able to say I knew what I was doing, and God was telling the truth when he said ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you,’ and ‘do not worry about your life,’ and all the other stuff. I want it to be all or nothing. I want to know that I trusted God, and God provided.
“I don’t ever want to hedge my bets,” I added.
I guess it comes down to the question: Can we trust God in every area of our lives? Or are there some in which it’s simply up to us?