By Chris Roberts
We sat in the booth at the local coffee shop getting to know each other. Rebecca was 22, having recently graduated from college, and she was trying to figure out how to get a real job. As with anyone in that stage in life, the task seemed overwhelming. I explained what I thought we could accomplish together and asked her if she was willing to do the hard work required. Once she agreed, I outlined the process that we would undertake in the following weeks and months. In parting, I told her how excited I was to see how all this would turn out. “This is going to be a lot of fun,” I volunteered. When I saw her questioning look, I quickly added. “Oh no, it’s going to be fun for me, not for you. For you, there is no fun associated with the process you are about to go through. But you’ll get through it. And, you’ll be able to draw from what you learned for the rest of your life.” From her the unimpressed look on her face, I realized that she had no idea what I was talking about.
Later in the week I was visiting with a friend in his early 60s who was having his own questions about his future. He listened as I told him of my time with Rebecca, and he responded, “I’ll never forget my college graduation. The ceremony was over. I had left my family and friends and was walking across campus to my room. The overwhelming feelings of uncertainty that I experienced created a level of fear that I will never forget.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he added, convincingly.
After that conversation, I began to wonder if it was different for any of us—at any age—when we feel totally ill-equipped to face the unknowns of life. The challenge is that it is always new. As the writer of Joshua said to the Jewish people as they were about to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land, “You’ve never been this way before.” Earlier in the book, their leader encouraged repeatedly, “Be strong and of great courage.” Oh yes, and “don’t be afraid.”
By the time of my third meeting with Rebecca, we had moved past the “getting to know you” stage. I had already asked her a litany of questions in order to pull information out of her. “But,” I thought to myself, “how much do we really even know about ourselves at 22?”
I couldn’t help but reflect on the contrast between her life and mine at 22. Rebecca is so full of unrealized promise. By comparison, when I was at that stage in life, I had already quit college and run away to join the Navy. As we talked, I reflected on the fact that, while she was just beginning her journey, I was about to celebrate my 67th birthday with a head full of gray hair. I couldn’t help but wonder if my own journey was coming to a close. I also hoped that, for her sake, her journey would be somewhat smoother than my own. On the other hand, my own rocky road may have been what prepared me to help serve as a guide for those like Rebecca who were just starting out.
For 40 years, I had walked intimately with the God that had created me. Even though I had been raised in church, it took a struggling marriage, addiction to alcohol and a series of poor choices to lead me to a life-changing decision to surrender my life to Jesus Christ during a business trip to Crossville, Tennessee. My wonderful wife, Susan and I joined together in a passionate attempt to understand how to live life as God intended. This understanding has led to a ministry that has permeated my business, our family, even life, itself…it was a 24/7 calling. There was no such thing as secular and spiritual; my life was totally and completely His. It wasn’t about church; it was about living the life that Christ outlined in the scriptures.
Susan and I were new believers when we lived in South Florida. It was the ’70’s, and we were all enduring a serious recession. Homes were not selling, and jobs were scarce. Susan had been a flight attendant for about ten years, and I was in business with my dad. The plan was for me to buy his business and employ him so we could keep the relationships that he had established over a period of 30 years. Plus, it would provide him a nice retirement income as he wound down. Growing up, my father and I had never been close, but as we both grew older, he had begun to cherish our time together. I was the youngest of four children, and I suppose that at that particular stage in his life, he seized and treasured the opportunity to do what he hadn’t done in his earlier years—spend time with his son.
However, one day the Lord spoke to me and told me that I was not to go through with the business purchase. This “God speaking thing” was new to me, but He confirmed it immediately through a trusted friend and believer, so I dutifully met Dad at a Rexall drugstore in Homestead and gave him the news. I told him that Jesus had spoken to me and told me not to buy the business. Dad was devastated, but I left the business that day.
An hour later I received a call from Susan and she was in tears. I had dropped her off at the Miami International Airport earlier in the day. When I questioned her, she informed me that she had just resigned from her job because of the Lord directing her to do so.
The truth hit me like a lightning bold—our two incomes had disappeared in one day!
At that point, we both realized that we were being required to live by faith and trust God for every need. It was just the beginning of our journey of faith…a journey that continues on for us to this day. It forced me to face the one thing that I always feared—no money and no possibilities of income on the horizon. A notice of foreclosure, back taxes owed to the IRS, and the birth of our firstborn (through Caesarean with no health insurance) were just a few of the challenges we faced that year.
Eventually, I interviewed for a sales job in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Flying into the local airport, I checked into the Holiday Inn at Baer Field. Standing at the check-in counter, I could hear the music in the lounge, laughter bubbling up, and the tinkling of glass. Fear surge through me as I heard these familiar sounds of my past. Once I checked in, I ran to my room and fell face down on the floor. “Please don’t do this to me,” I begged, “Don’t send me here—I can’t face this!”
It was difficult, but that year and a half in Indiana was on-the-job-training for a Christian believer who was passionate to learn how to live a life of faith. Joshua was told not to fear and to be strong and courageous, because they (he) would have every reason to experience fear and to not have courage. Our life was following a similar path. We were continually being forced to face the unknown with the command to trust in a heavenly Father that we could not see. We were, however, getting to know Him.
Success followed, and we moved to Atlanta as a result of a promotion, and I became the Southeast Sales and Marketing Manager. A year or two later, I took over as regional manager and was responsible for a couple of divisions. My father was an independent sales rep for the company. As a result, when I took over the position, he and I worked together again as father and son—we had come full circle. My dad was one of my reps. Consequently, I spoke to him every day, and the company paid me to entertain him and my mother. I found that in His faithfulness to us, my Father continually blessed us in unexpected ways. And, He directed us on a path that we could never have anticipated.
Then, another turn in the road came as He directed me to resign and dedicate my life to other endeavors. When I notified my boss of my decision, I had no idea how I would support my family. However, what followed was another series of divine appointments and His ongoing provision.
All of these events happened within a six-year period. It was a time of trials and heartaches (such as the death of loved ones and relational challenges), but also one of great joy (such as family members being raised from certain death). The decades that followed only affirmed and confirmed that we trust in a God who loves us passionately, and I’ve learned that if we will risk surrendering our ways and trust Him, His goodness and mercy are ours to experience in real and tangible ways. In fact, I recently heard a speaker say (quite correctly, in fact), “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.”
As I contemplated Rebecca’s challenge and the uncertainty of her future from her perspective, I in turn found myself certain of the answers to follow. Beyond any doubt, I knew that God would partner with us to direct her, that He would provide for her, and that her future was in His loving hands to guide her. The things that she knew nothing about, I knew were certainties. But how did I know. I thought through some of our stories that spoke to me of certainty and trust in my Father who always has proved to be faithful.
And now—my long and winding journey has led me to this coffee shop, where I am sitting across from a promising 22-year-old woman who is asking me if I can serve as a guide for her journey. Just like all of us, if Rebecca desires to have a successful life, she will be required to face many challenges of the unknown and times when everything seems absolutely impossible. But I have the absolute certainty and know without equivocation that “it will all work out.” She will find her first real job, and each challenge she meets will teach her something important for future application. They will all serve as a tutor, and life will be good—not easy, but good.
As we talk, I realize that the stories of an old man may seem completely inapplicable from what she is facing. I also know that as much as she appreciates me spending time and coaching her—and helping to put a plan in place and then overseeing her as she implements it—she cannot envision how her life resembles mine. She sees life through her eyes and her perspective—and that is a very good thing. However, I see her as the person she can become as she steps forward in faith. She will eventually learn that the unknown is a wonderful gift that will mold her life in unplanned ways. And, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one day she is sitting in a coffee shop talking to a young woman forty years her junior, telling her, “This is going to be a lot of fun…”