Lie #1: You’re not ready.
“O Sovereign Lord,” I said,
“I cannot speak for you!
I am too young!”
Looking back on that time in my life, the message really should have been clear. You don’t know how many days you have left. I’d love to tell you this was the event that turned my life toward God. Instead, I have a story of ignoring God’s call again and again. Instead, this will be the chapter that reviews the numbers of times I have been handed a calling in life and either missed it entirely or rejected it outright.
Missing a calling seems to be the easiest thing in the world to do. It was only recently that I looked back on my life and realized how many callings I had missed, how many times I had missed the opportunity to do what I was built to do. It took me a long time to realize that I had not been created by accident and there is a world waiting for me to fulfill my role.
You would think a fast-growing subdural hematoma pressing in on my brain would be enough to break me. I had some small realization that things should change as a result of my accident, but I was still in control. I was still running things. I had to be broken more than that in order to serve God. Broken of my belief that I was not ready. Broken of my belief that I could not serve God because of my sin. Broken of my belief that had to do it alone. What I eventually learned was that I was ready to serve God the day my head hit that pavement. And probably before. I was ready. With all my issues. With all my sin. So are you, by the way. You’re ready. Today. Right now. You don’t feel ready. But if that was the test we used, none of us would ever answer our calling.
It turns out I am not the first to try to reject God’s call. And that gives me hope. The Bible is full of examples. Examples of people just like you and me. There is something that is easy to miss about the Bible until you really dive into it and get through it a few times. With the exception of Christ, the Bible is not about amazing people. The Bible is about average people at best. Perhaps more often than not the Bible is about people who were a mess before being called. The Bible is full of people who were not ready, and sometimes who were steeped in sin. In short, the Bible is full of examples of God doing something amazing though people who are just like me. Just like you.
God doesn’t call heroes. God does not sit on a throne waiting to sort out who is the most qualified candidate to take on a particular calling. God calls average men and women whose lives are a mess and leads them to become the heroes he built them to be. Moses divided the red sea and led Israel out of slavery. But before that he begged God to choose someone else and gave God excuse after excuse to avoid his calling. Jonah literally ran from God going the exact opposite direction he was called to go. Isaiah was perhaps the greatest of all of the prophets. But he tried to reject his calling because of unclean lips. Jeremiah tried to refuse God’s call because of his youth.
There is a reason we are given these examples. I just listed four average people who at some point were living their lives just like we do from day to day, feeling unready to answer God’s call. And here we are, thousands of years later, talking about the amazing things they did for God. I started to ask myself the question, “Who is going to be talking about us, me and you, in a few thousand years because of what God has done through us?” Why shouldn’t we expect God to act in our average lives the same way he has acted in the average lives of every person throughout the Bible? I love the phrase, “The Bible is not a book of exceptions, it is a book of examples.”
My first true opportunity to minister to kids was while attending Benedictine University. It was known as Illinois Benedictine College at the time. As these things so often begin, I had my eye on a girl two years ahead of me and I wanted to impress her. She coordinated volunteers for community service and I signed up to tutor troubled kids on the west side of Chicago. At least that’s what I was told. The assignment made it clear that these kids were distracted, and were a distraction to the other kids. They were way behind the other kids developmentally and it looked to me like the school was just looking to get these kids out of the teacher’s hair for a couple of hours a day.
These kids were not troubled. They were ignored. Without a stitch of formal training in educating kids, it was obvious to me that these kids didn’t get a lot of encouragement in their lives. They were inundated with the message that they were failures. They had never been told the truth: that they were created for a purpose and had something amazing inside of them meant to change the world. My mantra with these kids was the same every day: “What is the strongest muscle in your body?” And the kids would scream, “My brain!” But that reaction took time. At first they looked at me like I was issuing a biology exam to fourth graders. No one had ever told them that they had strength; much less that it was in their ability to use their mind. But it didn’t take long for them to catch on and the responses were more enthusiastic every day. I made those kids say that mantra so much they probably have nightmares about it to this day.
This was children’s ministry and I had no idea what had been laid in front of me. But the neighborhood noticed. The west side of Chicago is not necessarily a friendly place. There is a lot of gang activity and my Scandinavian roots had me sticking out like a sore thumb. After leaving school one afternoon I found my car surrounded by what I assumed to be a local street gang. Great. I’m down here out of my element trying to help these kids, and now this. Let’s just say I was nervous. The quiet suburbs of Chicago are not the best training ground for this situation. I assumed they were unappreciative of the presence of an outsider. I assumed wrong.
I was confronted by a young man who appeared to be in a leadership role who asked me if I was the “gringo” teaching kids at the school. I confirmed his suspicions. He told me that his younger cousin was in my class and that he kept talking about his brain being strong. (I briefly gave myself a mental high-five. This was before the days of the much cooler fist-bump.) He told me I was keeping his cousin off the streets. I wasn’t quite sure if this was meant as a good thing. Chicago street gangs don’t really have the “positive affirmation” body language I was used to getting when someone was delivering good news. They tend to operate exclusively out of the “I could kill you with my bare hands” posture.
He then told me something the pried my suburban eyes open forever. He told me that he would take personal responsibility, along with his compatriots, to safeguard my car every time I came down to the city to work with the kids. He never smiled. We didn’t “hug it out.” We didn’t shake on it. But they followed through with their promise. It didn’t take long for them to learn my schedule and they actually started reserving a parking space for me after a while.
I didn’t deliver well rounded educational brilliance to these kids. We played games. We played “hangman” until I was informed by someone who did know how to teach that a body hanging from a rope might not be the best educational tool for these kids. But I did deliver something important. For once in their lives these kids in my class were not being ignored. For once in their lives these kids had someone telling them that their Creator designed them for a specific reason and it was their job to figure it out. For once some guy was coming from outside the neighborhood and actually making a difference.
My response to all of this? I walked away from it. I walked away from it. I actually have a hard time even writing this because I am ashamed of what I left behind. Did those kids retain a lasting confidence in themselves or did they just go back to being ignored? I try not to think about it. I had a children’s ministry handed to me on a platter and I walked away from it because the semester ended. It never occurred to me until decades later what I had sitting right in the palm of my hand. I try not to think about God’s reaction when I abandoned it.
But as would become a repeating pattern in my life, God did not give up on me. Brother Wayne Teasdale was a Benedictine lay monk and professor at Benedictine University and he taught a course titled “World Religions.” At the time I had no idea the opportunity I’d been given to study under him. He was amazing in a very humble and quiet way. He had a concept of interspirituality that had him travelling the world. In the process of writing this book I was saddened to learn that Brother Wayne lost a battle to cancer in 2004.
I enjoyed writing the assignments in Brother Wayne’s classes. I actually wrote a paper comparing the Hindu concepts of advaita and visistadvita with thermonuclear dynamics. Where that connection came from inside my head I will never know. But based on the grade it would seem I made sense of it enough to pass muster with Brother Wayne. I really wish I could find that paper today to look back on what I was convinced was brilliant writing at the time. I’m sure I would have a laugh or two.
Brother Wayne was a very quiet man but had actually accomplished a lot in his life. In addition to being a Benedictine lay monk, he was also a Hindu sanyasi which is not only rare, but may be unique to Brother Wayne alone. His embrace of all religion, while remaining dedicated to Christ, was unique and inspiring. He saw amazing connections between the seemingly conflicting belief systems and spent most of his life exploring them, travelling the world while doing so.
I remember a small photo he had tacked to his wall in his humble office. The photo captured the simple but simultaneously complex man perfectly. He was atop a mountain at a secluded Buddhist temple wearing traditional Buddhist robes with his arm around the Dalai Lama himself. What was amazing about the photo is that they were all wearing the same cheap sunglasses; the same sunglasses adorned by Tom Cruise in just about every movie he ever made. Apparently the sun is exceptionally bright at that altitude so everyone wore these sunglasses. High level spiritual thinkers that looked like the cast of an 80s movie. So I had this clash of images in my head that delivered one simple message: Stop making assumptions about monastic life. I filed this away with my prior lesson on making assumptions about street gangs on the west side of Chicago.
Brother Wayne pulled me aside one day after class and asked for a meeting about my future. I was excited. I had really dived into his class and put a lot of time into it. I had an amazing respect for Brother Wayne and was excited to hear what he wanted to discuss. We spoke for a long time about his monastic journey. And then he asked me outright to consider monastic life. He asked me to join the church, and become a monk. Walk away from it all. I was expecting something big. But not that big.
To be honest it came out of nowhere, almost mid-sentence. It was as though he had been making small talk trying to find the right way to say it and then just blurted it out when the perfect opportunity kept failing to present itself. I will never forget what he said next. I was in a bit of a fog. I was at an internal crescendo of spirituality. I can remember feeling chills as I considered the fact that this world traveler and quiet servant of God was asking me to consider taking up a life like his. I was enthralled in the moment.
Then he leaned over to me and said, “You want to know what is really great about the monastic life?” Do I want to know? Yes! A better connection with God? Hours of pondering scriptural texts? Vows of silence? Would I actually be able to hear God speaking to me? Access to original scriptural documents? The Dead Sea Scrolls! Would I learn to do that cool Gregorian chanting? (Forgive me, the band Enigma was huge back then. You can YouTube it.) Yes Brother Wayne! Tell me what my ears are so desperate to hear!
He said, almost whispering, as though it was a high level spiritual secret, “The food is really good.”
What? The food? Oh. Okay. Brother Wayne was a great spiritual leader. He was not exactly a salesman. We all need stories we can eventually tell our grandchildren and this is definitely going to be one of the stories they hear again and again someday.
So he invited me to dinner at the Benedictine monastery across the street. I was in college so I was not about to turn down a free meal. So off we went. And he was right. The food was really good. Aside from the food, I was fascinated. And I was feeling called. This is probably the first time I was truly conscious of what I would describe as a calling from God. I had completely missed it on the west side of Chicago. But I was getting it a little bit more this time. Call me Captain Obvious: I had been asked by a renowned monk to join the monastery and I was picking up the clue that this might be a calling from God. Congratulations to me.
At Brother Wayne’s suggestion, I got heavily involved with the World Parliament of Religions. This is a meeting of the world’s religious leaders that gathers only once every hundred years. Literally a once-in-a-lifetime event. I met an amazing man Ravi Singh, a Sikh. We co-chaired the Youth Plenary session where we packed the house and actually arranged for our session to be broadcast throughout the world at closed circuit television locations. We had world-renowned and even controversial leaders like Louis Farrakhan and others making speeches about walking away from years of prejudice to come together following the example of the youth of today. It was a genuinely amazing time.
While it was wrapping up, Ravi and I were running on an all time high. And he was already putting the wheels in motion to explode this opportunity into something global. Doing things halfway is not in Ravi’s DNA. We had momentum and he had no plans to lose it. But I did something that, to this day, I still do not fully understand. I walked away from that calling. I remember leaving the hotel where he had jammed our team into a tiny room, sleeping on the floor and not even caring. I left that team, really without even saying goodbye, and I got in my car and went home. I vividly remember walking through the parking lot. I remember odd details like the suit I was wearing. But mostly I remember walking away and physically resisting the desire to turn back and look at the hotel. With my mind intentionally shut off to what was happening around me, I just walked away. Just like Jonah, I physically walked away from God’s calling in the opposite direction. Why did I do that? I still don’t know.
I never had any involvement with the Parliament after that day, and I eventually alienated Ravi and lost him from my life. I became a lawyer and I treated Ravi the way lawyers sometimes treat people. And it cost me a dear friendship with a truly amazing man, a true brother, someone passionate about invigorating my future. Now he was a part of my past.
But God did not give up on me. And for the second time, the thought of working with kids came into my life. After my accident, I was unable to continue with bike racing until I had more fully healed. That would take a projected two years, which put my racing career on hold. But I wanted to stay close to the industry. I had been working at a law office and one of our clients was opening a bike shop. I spoke with him, and took a job managing his shop. It was one of the first times I had just blindly followed a feeling I had to make a big change in my life.
Not long after I started, the shop hired a mechanic. This guy was unbelievable and had a true specialty in BMX, vert ramp and flatland bikes. These areas of biking were targeted almost exclusively at kids. His skills attracted a fairly high end crowd and decent group of kids who were into BMX racing. We started a team and I spent most of my Saturdays up in Elgin, Illinois running a team of 5 to 16 year old racers.
These kids were amazing. I am convinced that every one of them had ADD and this type of racing was perfect for them. If you have a need for attention, then putting on a racing uniform and sailing through the air on a bike is a pretty good way to get it. One of our kids, our best racer, was Derek. This kid could race. But he had an edge on him that was razor sharp. He could blow up, particularly at his mom. One of our rules became very quickly that you respect the adults, or you don’t race. Another became grades. Low grades, no racing.
Here’s the funny thing. I had no authority to determine who did and did not race on a given Saturday. We were a team, but it’s not like football. If a kid shows up by himself with a bike that fits the rules he can race. You don’t need to be on a team, and the rules don’t give the coaches any say in who does and does not race. But the kids responded to these rules. Their grades were all average at best, but they brought them up. They were all pretty foul mouthed at their parents, but I started getting calls from the parents saying things were changing.
The racing got serious. These kids were starting to dominate and other riders wanted to be on our team. We went to Nationals in Missouri. And we won. One straight up victory in one age bracket and five top three finishes in others. It was amazing to watch these kids reaching levels of achievement they had been told their entire lives were impossible. They were just kids with ADD, or behavior problems, or a lack of self control. Wrong. They were kids. And kids are amazing. And they were starting to see it.
Let’s cut through the suspense. Let’s bring down the emotional high of seeing these kids achieve. Let’s remember the point of this chapter. This chapter isn’t about the amazing this I’ve done. It’s about the amazing things I’ve abandoned. Here we go again: I had been given an opportunity to make a difference in these kid’s lives and I walked away from it.
I got engaged and decided I needed a “real job” even though my new fiancé never once pressured me to do so, and never once told me to stop working with these kids. I walked away all on my own. Remember that mechanic we hired? The one who started it all with these BMX ragamuffin kids? He married my wife’s sister. We see each other almost every week. And he still works at a bike shop. They pay the bills. They have a beautiful home. They lead a great life. Their daughter is amazing. Turns out I didn’t need to walk away from that life to “make it.” But I did.
Listen, I don’t want anyone wetting these pages with tears on my behalf. I did these things, and they are done. I cannot change them. I don’t include this chapter to beat up on myself. I’ve come to terms with it. I had several opportunities to reach into the lives of kids and remind them of what they are created to be and I missed them all. Until now, that is. I include this chapter in the hopes that you may have your eyes opened to the opportunity sitting in front of you that you aren’t seeing. It is so easy to have the world in your hands and not even realize it.
Your opportunity may be kids. Or it may be writing your own book. Or it may be just picking up the phone and calling your dad because you haven’t spoken in twelve years. Regardless of what your calling is, I would hope that seeing my mistakes in missing my calling would be a part of you not missing yours. The world is an amazing place. And much of it is waiting desperately for us to get in the game and answer that one calling planted deep within each of us. To be precisely what we were created to be.
I told myself for decades that I wasn’t ready. And for decades I was wrong. Don’t make my mistake. You’re ready. You don’t feel ready. But if we waited our whole lives to feel ready for our calling, we would never answer it. My life, and the stories in this chapter are proof of that.
Stop telling yourself the lie that you are not ready. And start getting in the game. Start taking the steps you are worried about taking. Stop worrying about what might be at the finish line before you even step across the starting line. You are ready for this. The mere fact that you are reading this book is evidence of a calling that is rising up inside of you asking you to get out of its way.
But know this: once you’ve finally accepted that you are ready to answer your calling, you will slam into the thick concrete wall that can stop anyone dead in their track if you let it. You will be confronted with your own sin. You will be told the lie that your sin disqualifies you from answering your calling.
And it’s nothing more than that: Another lie. Let’s crush it before it has a chance to crush you.
Chapter 3 to be released in two weeks.
We were built to be heroes.
It’s about time we started acting like heroes.