We met John at Faith Works last semester. He's a great guy; here is his story.
My Essential Story
When I was first told we would be writing our story and that through this process two of us would be selected to give the commencement speech my immediate thought was I hope it wasn’t me they picked. Not because of some scheduling conflict. Unemployment has a way of clearing your calendar most days. But just to be safe I checked anyway and yep, sure enough after Judge Judy my day was all clear.
So what was really going on? Why wouldn’t anyone want to get up in front of 200 or so strangers and pour their heart out? I mean, that’s not so tough, right?
Then it hit me that this is so much bigger than myself. This is about FaithWorks and the butterfly effect it creates. And so, upon reflection, it is truly a deep honor to be at graduation speaking about FaithWorks. Not only did I spend some of the best weeks of my life at FaithWorks, but it has continued to define my life in countless ways. But before I can enumerate those ways we need to take a trip back to the 80’s. The decade that summed up how big hair could get and how I became who I was.
When I was eight years old, I started my first business. Insects fascinated me so I read extensively on bugs. This was not an easy task. I grew up in a very rough neighborhood and reading a book was an offense punishable by wedgie. But onward I went to become the member of the summer reading club. Notice I did not say a member but the member as in one and only. I was too young to realize it at the time but I think I actually received hate mail from the librarian who had to come open the library just for me every day during summer break. At the very least, I don’t think I made her Christmas card list. So, I take the books and the passion and I collect every insect I can. Some alive, most pinned to cardboard I had collected and cut out. I used index cards to write out the descriptions and such and then I advertised on paper plates to all the neighborhood kids and charged fifty cents a pop to come see my self-professed, bug museum. I made like fifteen dollars. Donald Trump look out!
That little venture didn’t make me a bug mogul but it did motivate me and I lived my life for one central purpose after that—to make money. My family was poor but I was sharp and observant. My father was a cook at a restaurant and I could tell he wanted me to follow that path so he showed me prep and sautéing but I wasn’t the least bit interested in how flipping omelets is all in the wrist; I was watching the owners. That’s who I wanted to be. The cars, the parties, the lifestyle that was my ticket. I had to find out her secret. At the time, I was 13 and if you think it is hard to be heard as a 13 year old try being a 13 year old dishwasher. But I got audience with the owner. More like I ambushed her on the way in but hey, one man’s ambush is another man’s elevator pitch so I asked, “How did you get all this?” She said, “I went to college and I wasn’t afraid to step on people.” For that moment, I was inspired and terrified. I felt like one of my own bugs. I had no doubt that she would squash me if the heels weren’t Prada. The answer got me thinking, “Where could I go to some of the best colleges and where is the best placed to step on people. Answer: New York City. The people squashing capital of the States.
I received my bachelor of Business Administration, got married, got divorced, got my Masters in Public Administration, got married, got divorced. Seeing a pattern yet? But after lots of people squashing, including the people in my life, I was at the pinnacle of my career with the people skills of Attila the Hun and I was so alone. So utterly alone. Not lonely. Not like no people were around. I’m talking no one was living inside of me. Even my soul had abandoned me. Everyone around me could only take so much before the bags were packed and the cabs were called. But I forged on with the indignant, what was so wrong with me? There was no detracting life force encapsulating me.
I wasn’t a drug user or an alcoholic or a wife beater. I didn’t come from an abusive family, nobody put their cigarettes out on me or chained me up in a closet. I was highly educated, sharp and hard working. And soulless.
Then I asked myself, “What did I want?”
But simply asking myself what I wanted was easy. Another far more powerful question that can be much harder to explore, but has the potential to bring about breathtaking clarity, is simply: What do I fear? And I feared lack of success as defined by a 13 year old dishwashing insect entrepreneur.
That’s where I was when FaithWorks found me. In the deepest, darkest mid-life crisis anyone could imagine. I had had everything and then in one swoop of the divorce pen I had nothing. Worse, I was less than nothing; no home, no car, no career, no money, no hope. It would have taken two of me just to equal zero.
But through FaithWorks, the scattered scraps of myself started to add up again and I discovered that I did indeed have a detracting life force and maybe it wasn’t drugs or abuse but it was every bit as hostile and detrimental. It was my separation from God. My soul hadn’t left me, I had kicked my soul out of the house.
And If you hear nothing else from me tonight hear this: There is no deeper, darker, damper, deadlier place than the Hell you live in when separated from God.
Enter the transformational power of FaithWorks. An initiative that brings together people from all walks of life; some of whom are off-the-charts in their separation from God. Some come from environments and communities that told them they had no gifts. Others had to actively hide their abilities and passions for fear of being ostracized and ridiculed in a cookie cutter world. Students come to FaithWorks from every situation, every ethnicity. Some from educated, affluent families, others from ones that live at or near poverty. But they — we —I shared a common passion. That it is never too late to become what you might have been.
Because of this, whenever we see another FaithWorks graduate the rest of our lives, we know that we have a past in common. That both of us have secret powers that you often keep hidden from regular view. Regardless of how different our pre-FaithWorks backgrounds may have been, we will feel deeply connected — like people meeting from a long lost village or family or galaxy. We will actively seek other potential FaithWorks students to spread that connection from the community to the edges of infinity. When others talk about an intellectually or spiritually challenging experience they had or complain about how hard they had to work, we will glance at the other grads in the room and share a quick smile. That smile is a shared moment in which I really feel I have come to my roots. That I am surrounded by an incredible family that I am deeply connected to and that I care deeply about.
We have relied on that family atmosphere and each other’s grace daily but soon we will enter the outside world and be somewhat taken aback. But as long as your desire to love is greater than your fear of not being loved, you're on the right track. A life oriented toward giving is infinitely more rewarding than a life oriented toward self-preservation. But it doesn’t make it any less scary out there. ‘Out there’ will be far less efficient, far less fair, far less supportive, far less productive, and far more political than what we may have imagined it to be. There will be pessimism and cynicism and criticism everywhere. It is easy to succumb to this, to become cynical or negative ourselves. But if you do, you separate yourself from God and from the potential that you all have, and that would be a loss for yourself and for your fellow man and woman.
So how do we survive life after FaithWorks? Trust your instincts, trust your passions, trust your empathy, trust the advice, trust the life skills, trust your love and most importantly trust your God.Trust that he has something in store for you just as he did for me with this speech—something bigger than yourselves. Trust that he will give you both:peace and success. Bread on the table while taking your shots at the moon. And there are plenty of shots to be taken. We’re at a unique point in history. Where what once required many people spending many years and many millions can now be done by a small group of inspired people from a garage, or in my case, cardboard from a Sears refrigerator box. Ideas can be dispersed in real-time. Instant collaboration across continents. Music CD’s can be independently released, books can be self –published, higher education is just a click away. The revolutions of our generation — in business, education, entertainment, social services, religion and even politics — are not being catalyzed by popes or politicians, but by highly empowered individuals like ourselves—the change agents of our time — who can see with clarity how the assumptions of previous generations and the teachings of Jesus can be expounded upon in a digital age.
These revolutions often grow out of nothing more than an intense hobby, a chance meeting or an inspired attempt to see if things can be a little better. If we can love a little harder and give of ourselves a little more today than we did yesterday then we will be successful. So go forth with your careers, but leave space for your passions and God’s will. Remember that we are much, much more than our current station in life. We are future artists and authors, teachers and typists, dental assistants and dog breeders. And if we give our passions room to breathe the spiritual air, we might find that is all we need to help us move the dial forward for everyone and TURN IT UP. Now, this isn’t just Joyful John Moment Chaser trying to make you feel good or take the weight of the world off your shoulders. I will tell you this, however--I know how badly the world needs each of you. I know how scarce a resource love is and how important you are to providing it to the world. I also know that FaithWorks’ graduates, like a tall person who learns to slouch to not stand out, sometimes undersell who they are, even to themselves.
But in thirteen weeks, we have mined something from the catacombs of ourselves more precious than any stone DeBeers could ever wrench from the earth—Love. Love for God, love for ourselves, love for relationships, love for all humanity and that—Love— is the truest measure of success. Thank you and God bless.