December 2011: Everett, WA
I walked through the door from work, my mind on other things, and immediately asked Stephanie if I could leave. It was evident her day was as stressful as mine had been. Stephanie looked at me with that, “I’m done doing this by myself” look and asked if I could put the kids down to sleep that night before I left. Of course. I would never trade jobs with a stay-at-home mother of three little ones. She had every right to have me pitch-in with the bedtime routine and I knew it. She also knew that we had a big decision to make.
I worked from youngest to oldest. Pajamas on. Teeth brushed. Tucked in. Bible story read. Prayer and lights out. I had the routine down and I needed to get out as soon as possible for more “spiritual” things.
Levi was last. He was about 6 years old and loved bed time with Dad. I tried to rush things and skip the reading but Levi insisted we continue on reading in one of his many children’s Bibles he loved so much. I opened to where we had left off the night before and read the story of the sower and the seed found in (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). As I read the story a wave of emotion swept over me. The Holy Spirit started stirring my heart. If you know me, you know that when I sense God start to speak I cry. A dear friend once told me, “The eye’s leak so the head doesn’t swell.” There would be no risk of that. The eyes were leaking.
“Dad, why are you crying?”
“Because Jesus is speaking to me buddy.”
“What’s He saying?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I’ll tell you tomorrow when I know more. Sweet dreams.”
I grabbed my Bible, kissed Stephanie and headed out the door. She knew we needed God’s guidance and was gracious enough to give me time to try and seek it out. Shortly after that I sat in my truck in a dark parking lot reading the story of the sower and the seed again. I wasn’t really sure what God was saying to me but I knew it was really important. However, in order to know why, I have to skip back a few years to explain a road trip I had one day.
June 2009: Wenatchee, WA
There’s something special about a road trip. The sound of the pavement passing underneath. The warm wind through the cracked window. The sting in your cheek of sunflower seeds after you’ve eaten far too many. This trip was a shorter one, but a road trip nevertheless. I was working as a business banker in Central Washington in a town called Wenatchee. My family and I had moved to Wenatchee a little less than two years before to take a promotion at the bank I worked for.
It was an exciting season in our lives. Stephanie and I had moved in December 2007 to a house high on a hill overlooking the valley. The house was brand new and over twice as big as our previous home. Our measly furniture barely made a dent in the square footage we now had. We felt like we had “arrived.” I white-knuckled the steering wheel of the moving truck across the pass as it snowed. Stephanie followed behind in my loaded pickup truck, 4 months pregnant with our second son, Seth. As I backed the moving truck down the driveway in a foot of snow, it legitimately felt like adventure. However, like most things in life, the excitement soon faded to normalcy and new routine.
I was about 18 months into the job and past the move day during the time of this road trip. I was heading from Wenatchee to a small town, Republic. The job required that I drive by an apartment complex which was collateral for a loan we held at the bank. All I had to do was drive by, snap a few photos, and make sure the building was there and in decent shape. The six-hour drive seemed like a lot for a couple pictures but that was the job: three hours of high desert driving along the Columbia River. As usual, I downloaded some sermons, set my music list the night before and was getting in some pretty good “God” time along the way.
I arrived in Republic and slowly crept by the apartment complex snapping photos out of my truck window. I always feel creepy when I have to do that. If I saw someone doing what I was doing I would write down the license plate and call the police. The place was unkempt and it didn’t look like anyone was living there which did not bode well for the loan. Looks like this was a huge waste of time.
As I headed back I decided to drive in silence. A guy can only take so much sermon and music in one day. About an hour into the drive an interesting thing happened. Unprompted, I started praying out loud. Not anything fancy. The usual, “Thanks for everything God. Please keep my family safe.” However, I could sense the discontent in me and those prayers seemed unrepresentative of the state of my heart. Hesitantly I went for it and it got real.
The discontent was driven in part by our family’s financial situation. When Stephanie and I bought our Wenatchee home it was right before the housing market crashed in 2008. What we first thought was a great investment and good deal ended up owning us. Stephanie was clipping coupons as I desperately tried to make the numbers work as the credit cards and lines of credit dried up overnight. What we had put our hope in failed us miserably and we were in the midst of it. The irony in all this was I worked for the bank that held the mortgage on our house and we were going more and more into debt every month. I was literally a slave to the bank I worked for and there seemed no way out. We were trapped and it was nobody’s fault but mine.
“Lord, I know I’ve messed things up pretty bad. I want to serve you with all I have, finances and all, but I’m a slave. To make things worse, I’m a slave by choice. Lord you said you would bring freedom. Can you bring freedom to me? I need you.”
This went on for some time. At moments, I just cried. Then waves of anger as I yelled at the windshield and punched the roof of my truck. Then desperation and back to tears. I had opened the floodgates of grief and went through every stage on that drive home. Through it all, no reply. No voice. No answer. Only silence.
To be frank, my time that day was very forgettable and that is exactly what I did. The next six months were a roller coaster for our family. The bank asked me to move back to Western Washington and work out of Everett. I wanted to continue working for the bank so we rented out our house in Wenatchee while we tried to sell it. We moved into my parents’ house for over a year while we tried to figure out what to do with the home in Wenatchee. Stephanie gave birth to Addison, our third child and first daughter, while we lived with my parents. It was a very trying time in our lives to say the least. I am grateful for a wife that sticks with me through all seasons of life.
After the birth of Addison we were able to short-sell the house in Wenatchee and find a house to rent in Everett. This put us near my work and our new church. Moving day was an exciting time as we felt things were finally changing for good in our family. I had taken a job with another bank which gave us a much-needed raise. However, due to the short sale of our house we were deeper into debt than we had ever been. On the positive side, we were really active in our church; playing worship, helping with finances and hosting a mid-week gathering at our home. God seemed to be blessing everything we were doing. Most importantly, we felt like we were able to be generous again. We hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
The banking world is a pretty small one. Once you’ve been in it a while you tend to get to know a lot of people. The banking world is also one in which you have to move banks in order to get a promotion. Having been in the industry for some time, I had friends scattered at different banks all over town. One day I went to coffee with a fellow banker in Seattle who had brought someone along to introduce to me. I’m always down to meet new people and we had a great time connecting. Little did I know that the guy he brought was the hiring manager for a large international bank and they were looking for someone to bring on to the team. I soon received a call from this bank asking if I would be interested in coming aboard. I had only been at my new bank for a year but the opportunity was one that really increased my pay and I could work with much larger companies. Again, God seemed to be blessing everything we were doing. His favor was evident everywhere we went.
The new job, although more money, would require me to commute into Seattle every day. That would equate to at least two hours a day in the car and away from family. I really wrestled with the idea of the increased commute. As a family we wanted to be engaged in our community and this seemed like this job would be counter to that. We had always made decisions based on how well we could be family focused and God focused. On the flip side, we really needed the money to get out of debt. This move would even allow us to possibly buy a house again someday. I wasn’t sure what to do. If God was talking, I wasn’t hearing Him.
The job offer was made to me. The deadline was set. I had delayed my answer as long as I could. The next day I had to decide. Take it or leave it. I drove home after work, my mind on other things, and asked Stephanie if I could leave to get some quiet time seeking God’s voice for this decision. She asked me to put the kids down to sleep before I left.
There I sat in my truck, in the dark, in an empty parking lot reading a parable Jesus told over 2000 year prior about a sower and some seed. If you’re not familiar with the story, it goes like this:
The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9)
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
I’m embarrassed to say but, having grown up in a Christian home I never thought I was any seed other than the one that fell in the good soil. I was the good kid. Never smoked. Never drank. Went to parties only to drive my drunk friends home so they would be safe. The good seed.
But now the Holy Spirit was showing me that there was another seed I might be. The seed that sprouted up, bore fruit for a season, but was ultimately choked out by the weeds. Luckily, Jesus explained the parable to His disciples shortly after telling it.
The Parable of the Sower Explained (Matthew 13:18-23)
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out its fruitfulness. My fruitfulness. Our family’s fruitfulness. All I could do was pray. “Lord, it seems to me that You don’t want me to take this job. I feel like You’re telling me that if I do take the job my fruitfulness for Your Kingdom will be choked out. I don’t want that. Unless you say otherwise, my answer tomorrow will be ‘no’.”
I battled disappointment in that moment, in the dark, in my truck. All the negatives aside, this job would mean some really good things for our family. It initially seemed that it was God’s favor that had guided us to this point. Why would He give me His favor but at the same time take away the gift? I wasn’t sure what He was doing but I knew that my only option was to trust Him. My only option was obedience. Stephanie and I had trusted Him in the past and He always came through. We would trust Him again and see what He would do.
I sat there in silence, praying. I’m not sure how long.
Suddenly in my mind came a memory. A memory of a time of prayer I had with God back in Wenatchee driving back from a road trip to take a picture of a run-down apartment complex in Republic. It was as if the scene was playing through my head as clear as if I were watching a movie. God reminded me of a very forgettable, insignificant moment in my life when, out of desperation and discontentment, I prayed. I will never forget the impression of that moment. I felt God say, “This job is my gift to you. This is my answer to your prayer. Take the job but know that you cannot allow it to choke out your fruitfulness.”
God spoke. He told me that I needed to trust the giver of the gift over the gift itself. The gift came with a warning. I knew at that point that sometime during my career I would have to choose fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God over the gift that God had given. That would all prove to be true. However, in that moment I sat in wonder at a God who cared enough to both bless and warn, much like I would for my own children. He showed Himself as my Father and a trustworthy one at that.
The next day I took the job. God was moving, teaching me a ton and leading me deeper and deeper into trust in Him. This was just the beginning.