It all started when someone else didn’t show up.
I was working at a camp during the summer of 1992, taking a much needed break from binge drinking and other ridiculous things that college students do. I had discovered God at this camp – the God that liked me, the God that saw me and chose me, and I was electric with life. For the first time, I felt integrated. I was caring for campers, having spiritual conversations, playing, and experiencing joy in ordinary moments. For the first time, it felt like nothing was missing. I was alive, and I knew it.
Every night, the campers and counselors gathered together in a large, sweaty room that smelled like junior high. There were silly games and fun songs, and then a speaker would talk about God, sometimes in ways that went miles over those sweaty heads, and other times in ways that pierced their hearts.
One week, the speaker didn’t show up.
And so they asked me to be the speaker. The college student who was taking a break from binge drinking and other ridiculous things. Me. The one who had never given a talk in my life. The one who used to stutter. The one who had a lot to hide.
But also the one who had an experience of God that was so real that it affected every atom, every molecule of whatever it is that is most me. They asked that me to speak to third through fifth graders about God.
And I said yes.
Saying yes, it turns out, is key to letting your calling discover you (so is saying no, but that is perhaps another blog post).
I have no recollection of what I talked about. I do remember really, really liking this speaking thing. I liked taking time to collect my thoughts beforehand, pouring over a passage of Scripture until the fireworks came, until I knew I had something real to share. I liked putting it on paper, watching that blank page fill with wonder, with words, and with ideas that I hoped would set hearts free. And I liked climbing those steps and facing them, those kids with ketchup all over their faces and dirt under their fingernails. Those kids that were still wearing their swimsuits, covered with summer and friendship and glory. I liked feeling like it was me up there, but it was also somehow God up there, our words mixing together, pouring out over all that ketchup and dirt and swimsuits.
I liked when I sensed that something bigger than words was happening.
I spoke six times that week, every night from Sunday through Friday. I also did my normal work of being a counselor, doling out medication and making sure all ten of my campers made it out of bed, into their clothes, to the dining hall, to the chapel, in and out of the lake, and also sometimes in and out of fear.
On Saturday morning when the week was over, a fifth grader came up to me, eyes shining behind wire rimmed glasses, his head a mop of brown waves. He looked me in the eyes, said, “You did a really good job up there this week.” Then he reached out and with a sly grin, gave me two quarters. “Go get yourself a pop. You deserve it!”
And that, somehow, is when I knew. I was going to use my words, which used to be garbled and stuck, to invite people to taste and see that God is good. That was going to be what I did with my one, wild and precious life.
I was twenty-one during the summer of 1992. I’m now forty-four, and I have spoken hundreds of sermons, most of which I and those who originally heard them have forgotten. I’ve recently become a writer, using words in a different medium for the same purpose. I’ve been hurt and I’ve hurt others. I’ve been humble and patient, as well as blind with pride and bullheaded. I’ve made good and bad decisions. I’ve trusted and I’ve gone my own way. About thirteen years ago I almost quit the whole thing. But I didn’t, and here I am.
And in all of that, God has continued to put me in front of people to share those words and that life. My calling discovered me when I was electric with life; when I was fresh with discovering a God who liked me.
Perhaps you are searching for your calling. This is a noble thing. You have one. Searching for it and waiting for it is one of the most important things you will ever do. You may be seventeen, or you may be sixty-seven. You may have lost one calling and are looking for another one. You may be electric with life or filled with despair.
My experience is that your calling discovers you when you abandon the ridiculous things and move towards a life that is integrated. When God ignites something in you that makes you believe that God likes you, that God sees you, and that God chose you.
So go do that.
In it together.