The Search for Something More (Part I of II)
Life, As I Find It
By the end of 1984, I thought the direction of my life was fairly established. I’d been writing dramas for my church for the previous five years, at times spending 20 to 30 hours at the church taking part in a vigorous arts program. I was even published by a couple of reputable play publishers. Though none of that paid the bills, I didn’t mind. I had a day-job (my “tent-making,” to borrow the words of St. Paul) working as a copywriter for a local publishing house.
It’s funny to think about it now. Earlier in 1984, I had gone to my Pastor and asked if there was any way I might join the staff, since I was at the church all the time anyway. He laughed and asked, “What would you be – the minister of recreation?” (The relationship between the Arts and Church Leadership was not as cohesive as I thought.) Alternatively, he suggested I do a one-year degree at a nearby Seminary with the idea that it would smooth my way into a church position. I guess it was all right to be a “minister of recreation” as long as I had a Seminary degree behind it.
So there I was in October sitting in a Hermeneutics class and, rather than taking notes, I was scribbling out an idea for a Christmas play. I realized I was kidding myself. One way or another, paid for it or not, I was going to be a writer. And so, by the end of the year, I had quit the Seminary and turned my attention to the obvious. If you’d asked me my plans then, I would have told you that I expected to live there in my hometown, attend and serve my Baptist church, and work at the publishing house to pay the bills. I’d marry a faithful Baptist girl and we’d have good Baptist children and live out our days to a happily ever after.
Then, just after the New Year of 1985, my father killed himself.
The event was unexpected, to be sure. And though I won’t go into details I will say that the jolt – with the ensuing aftershocks – changed everything in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. A little at a time.
Within a month of his death, I assumed I’d pick up the pieces and carry on with my life as usual. Then, within three months, the publishing company for whom I worked was bought out by a larger company in New York and closed its offices. Within six months I was trying to make ends meet as a freelance writer – and not successfully. Worse, the creative drive I’d had at my church simply wasn’t there. I was still doing all I’d been doing before, but my heart wasn’t in it. I became restless.
My father’s death and the loss of my job gave me pause for thought. My assumptions were shaken. If my Dad could kill himself – if the company I’d worked with for five years could simply go away – then all bets were off about my expectations.
Through my dramatic writing, I’d become connected to a drama troupe in Southern California. A friend there suggested I do the unthinkable: move west. It was unthinkable because I’d actually been to Southern California. I didn’t want to live there. I’d decided that God would have to re-arrange the stars in the sky like a giant arrow pointing in that direction for me to consider such a thing.
Over the summer of 1985, the constellations moved. All my reasons not to go were knocked off one by one, like the proverbial tin cans on a fence. By early September I had packed most of my belongings in a red Chevy Sprint, left my family and the life I’d known until then, and drove across the country.
Reflecting on it now, I see how the foundations of my years as a Baptist prepared me for what was to come. I’ve written about that elsewhere. But I also see how the rug had to be pulled out from under my expectations and assumptions for me to understand more deeply what it might mean to follow Christ. It took a geographical move for me to be moved spiritually. I was searching without knowing for what I was searching. And I had to go through some uncomfortable experiences before I began to understand.
More about that in the next post.
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