STORIES FROM OLD JOE
At the time, I wondered if it was a mid-life crisis — what I was going through. I was the right age . . . forty-three . . . getting gray hair, my oldest kid heading off to college, my youngest just three-years-old.
It was 1985 and we had lived in Spokane for ten years. I’d been on the staff of Young Life for fifteen years and was the regional director for Montana, Idaho, and eastern Washington. Things were going well, but I was feeling like it was time for a change.
Me at Young Life’s Malibu Club in the early 80s.
I was feeling like I’d come to Spokane and done the things I was supposed to. Wondering if I might be getting too old and gray to relate to high school kids. Unsure if one could be on the staff of Young Life in their fifties and still be effective with students. On Young Life staff, everyone led a Young Life club of their own in addition to supervising staff or volunteers. If I was going to eventually get out of Young Life, wouldn’t it be better to do it now, rather than when I was in my fifties? Looking back now, some of the questions weren’t really legitimate, but they sure were at the time. And it wasn’t, by definition, something crazy enough to qualify as a mid-life crisis — but it sure felt like it.
Around this time, my boss, Bob, came into town for a visit . . . and I ended up sharing all of this with him. I even went further and told him that I didn’t know where I’d be in a year, but I knew one thing: I wouldn’t be here doing this job. Cherry was with me in the coffee shop when I told him that — on the way home she told me that she was in shock that I had said that. Even though I had talked with her about my feelings, she didn’t know that I was ready to act on my feelings so soon.
Bob encouraged me. He told me that I was valuable to Young Life; that he didn’t want to lose me; and that he would look for spots inside of Young Life while I looked for something outside of the organization. We arranged to talk again in a few weeks and see where I was.
In Spokane, one of my favorite spots where I would go to pray was an isolated piece of public land called Indian Painted Rocks which meandered along the Little Spokane River and was an even five miles from our house. I knew that because I would often run there, and have Cherry pick me up. It was a great hilly course. So I began hitting Indian Painted Rocks two or three times a week to pray about all this, asking God to show me what to do next. Those were great peaceful times of prayer walking beside the river.
I put together a resume, though I did think I was pretty out-of-date in my former field working in the Aerospace industry. Went to the library and looked at newspapers from Silicon Valley and LA for opportunities.
And Bob did call, like he said he would. Told me he’d talked to the “bigwigs” in Young Life and they had come up with three great options for me . . . one overseas, one in Georgia, and one in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara made me smile. Cherry and I loved the place. She’d gone to college at Westmont in the hills above the city, and our son, David, was currently a freshman at the same school.
It sounded incredible. We could live in one of the prettiest spots on the California coast and be close to David at the same time! We were excited.
Two weeks later, I was in Monterey for a quick regional director meeting. I had arranged to have Cherry fly down at the end of the meeting, get a car and pick me up so we could drive to Santa Barbara and look things over to see how we would feel about moving there. We built in some time to drive down to Santa Barbara so we could be with David. I remember, as we left Monterey, we both remarked to each other how fun it would be to live there.
After the Santa Barbara weekend was over, we were driving north along the coast when Cherry asked me what I was feeling. I told her that I was quite surprised that Santa Barbara didn’t feel right to me. I simply didn’t have peace about the idea of moving there. To my surprise, she sighed with relief, and shared that she felt the exact same way.
So we kept praying. Indian Painted Rocks saw a lot more of me! During that time period, I had a staff retreat on Coeur d’ Alene Lake with the people I supervised and I shared with them what I had been thinking. This is where God began giving me some direction.
We had two guests at the retreat who I had asked to come and talk about volunteerism for two days. They did a great job. Taking one of them, a Chicago businessman, to the airport at the conclusion of our time, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. After we ordered he said to me, “You know, I never do this, but I am going to give you some unasked for advice. I hope that’s okay.”
He proceeded to tell me in essence that he thought I would be crazy to leave Young Life. “Joe, you love kids! Why would you leave a job you love to go to a job that you obviously don’t want to go to?” His observation was that I was really good at what I did, and that my heart was very obviously with kids. I thanked him genuinely for his thoughtfulness and drove him to the airport.
The second piece of direction came the next day. Doug, an old Young Life kid from Lewis and Clark High, called me and asked if we could have breakfast the next morning. Doug was in his final year at WSU. Between bites of our Egg McMuffins, he told me that he’d met the woman he wanted to marry and that their wedding would be in several months. I immediately thought to myself that he was going to ask me, his old Young Life leader, to perform the ceremony. But he surprised me.
“Joe, do you remember asking me who my best friend was when we were fishing last summer? Well I’ve thought about that a lot, and realized it’s you,” he said. “You are my best friend, because you are the one who pointed me to Christ, and I wanted to ask you if you would be the best man at my wedding.” Of course I was happy, and told him yes. But what really delighted me was that I had been wondering if I was too old to relate to kids anymore —remember, because of my being in my forties and my new gray hair? This was God saying to me very clearly: “Joe, you are not too old to relate to anybody. If you like them, they like you, and you really love kids. It’s that simple.”
Hanging out with Doug in 2013.
Through these two conversations — neither of which I had initiated — God had spoken clearly.
So I ripped up the resume, called Bob, and told him that none of the three opportunities he had given me were a fit — but added that he should keep looking, because God was directing me to stay in Young Life. (By the way, about this time I was offered a very good-paying job back in the industry which I had left fifteen years earlier. I didn’t take it.)
A month later, Bob asked me to move to . . . guess where? Yes, Monterey! It was a rebuilding position, and that’s what I was good at. I immediately told him yes.
Cherry and me in Monterey after the move.
As I’m writing this, 29 years later, it’s even clearer to me now how God’s direction and heart were displayed as he directed me there. You see, I had been born in Carmel, on the Monterey Peninsula, during World War II, because my dad was stationed there. We only lived there for two years, but I had always been sentimental about the place, and had dreamed of living there some day. Cherry and I had even honeymooned there.
So began seventeen years which were special far beyond what I could imagine. Wonderful years with great opportunities to point young friends to the Savior. Wonderful years seeing three of our kids graduate from high school there. Wonderful years watching three of our kids get married there.
There’s a verse which I love in Ephesians. Here is what is says in the Message Bible: “God can do anything, you know . . . far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”
He had sure done that for me. Far from being a mid-life crisis — it was the perfect change God had planned for me, my family, and my ministry in Young Life.