“Take, Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you, O Lord I return it. All is yours. Dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for that is sufficient for me. Amen.”
This prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola means everything to me. I learned about it only three years ago, however, it captures what I long for in my life. It also feels like something that I have identified with in some form or another all my life. This, by no means, makes life easy. In fact I have found that as I continue to journey with Christ, he challenges me and stretches my being in order to continue to mould my character. At 32 years of age I struggle with things of this earth, which I should know by now only satisfy the external. A passion to follow Christ provides me with fervor, yet as a struggling human I must find ways to refocus almost daily. The quest, however, provides an intrinsic satisfaction that burns like a mountainous flame and cannot be extinguished by anything of this world.
Growing up on Long Island, in a middle class, “good” Presbyterian home was a good foundation. My parents loved me and always did what they thought was in my best interest. I respect that but will always love them because they created a forum for me to experience life to its fullest. Although my father made the majority of my decisions, neither of my parents boxed me into a way of thinking. I am pleased when I look back on that because it certainly set the tone for a journey that continues to take me to new places, both comfortable and uncomfortable.
Entering seventh grade, my father offered me an opportunity to apply to a private school that I was familiar with through attending their summer camp for my entire childhood and youth. The school is the Stony Brook School, Christian college preparatory. I attended that school from seventh grade until I graduated as a high school senior. My parents always appeared to do the right thing. They were very active in our church, Dad a deacon and Mom in the choir. Yet for me I did not really understand their personal faith or what drove them to be good people until Stony Brook. Each day for six years I would attend mandatory chapel and listen to testimonies and personal stories from faculty members and guests, like alumni. Each year I would go through the necessary Bible curriculum. I learned a lot of great things and much about Biblical history yet when my parents retired to North Carolina when I was a sophomore, I became a boarding student and got involved in Bible study and Fellowship groups. This is really where the journey got exciting.
Stony Brook taught me that faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In that relationship, he will walk wherever you wish to go and listen whenever you wish to talk as long as you remember to invite him. My high school football coach, John Kenney, had a verse that was dear to him that he used to share with the team. Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another.” As my journey continues today I still reflect on that passage and can feel the motivation as if I just buckled my chinstrap to take the field!
College brought new terrain to my journey in the form of Campbell University, a private Baptist college in North Carolina. My time there seemed both long and short yet I am very proud of the years I spent there. I met people who challenged my belief system and me. Having spent six years of my life in a small, enclosed environment of love and support, this was college and the boundaries were drastically different: there were none! I made my way from Baptist Student Union to Fellowship of Christian Athletes and spent time between a local Presbyterian church and a Methodist church. However, as a senior I was asking the very typical question. Help! What will I do next fall?
Would you believe, after falling in love with the state of North Carolina, its pace and the much more open roads which were perfect for motorcycle riding, I ended up back on Long Island, at the Stony Brook School? Having a Sports Management degree and PE minor did not deter my old coach John, who had become the Athletic Director, from seeing me as a teacher as well as a coach. At that time in my life I certainly did not see it! All in all I spent seven years at Stony Brook in various capacities between sabbaticals that took me to graduate school and the corporate world of professional athletics. I kept returning to Stony Brook because the students became a central part of who I was and what I felt I had to offer. My responsibilities over time saw me go from Equipment Manager and coach, to coach, dorm parent, and finally Assistant Athletic Director, freshman Bible teacher and Head football and Head Girl’s lacrosse coach. I worked under three different headmasters after the school, founded in 1922 only had three headmasters in its history. Needless to say, times were changing and the administration looked to take a new direction in my later years.
Early in my time back at Stony Brook, I began to date a dear high school friend who also moved back to Long Island from Washington, D.C. As we began to get serious we spent plenty of time looking for a church home in addition to our fellowship at Stony Brook. This took us from the Presbyterian Church I grew up in to a Gospel Tabernacle to the Episcopal Church. The most we knew about the Episcopal Church was that Larissa’s best friend’s father and surrogate dad was an Episcopal priest. I was working in New York City for the National Football League, and Larissa worked in her family business with her father on Long Island. We got married on June 22, 1996 in St. James, Episcopal Church in St. James, a town near Stony Brook. Father John Morrison, Larissa’s surrogate dad, served at the wedding. We would later become Episcopalians and active members of St. Peter’s church, Bay Shore. It seemed like the journey was smooth sailing.
I grew up sailing on the Long Island Sound. Sailing is a lot of fun but a good sailor is always prepared for a change in the elements. In my life at the moment I had no clue what God had in store. My Athletic Director, former football coach and Bible teacher who had befriended me and saw something in my heart to offer to students was preparing me to become his successor. My dream was to be a head coach. I married someone who I always thought of as a true sweetheart and she was supportive of the life we were leading. However, the weather was about to change!
In 1998 I seemed on top of my world. The problem was I seemed to forget whose world it really is. As the administration was changing the direction of the school, John, the Athletic Director, who was and is today a mentor and friend, decided to leave. I was unsure what to do and not ready for him to leave. The school had asked if I would consider changing my role and I was not sure of that. Always believing in prayer, I was not sure where to go and I had to learn to listen a lot more clearly. In the late winter of 1999, just before spring, a message was left at the house. It was from Susan Morrison, my wife’s surrogate mom, the husband of Father John and the Bishop Suffragan of Long Island’s Administrative Assistant. The message stated that, as she knew I was teaching and coaching at a Christian school, an opportunity came up that she thought I might like to pray about. The Diocese of Long Island was looking to hire a Director of Youth Ministry. The position was created only two years prior and the position was open. Youth Minister, what was that?
Much prayer ensued and much discussion with Larissa. That was followed by much research on what a youth minister was. I applied and interviewed. The process lasted several months and I made it through graduation at Stony Brook, in which my two best friends and assistant football coaches had decided to leave and pursue other careers. I was very unsure and not willing to be still.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you.” Psalm 55:22.
The world I wanted seemed to crash right before me. At least that was what I thought. Maybe things would have been different had I remembered to ask Jesus to walk along side of me. Maybe things would not have seemed so difficult. I accepted the position of Director of Youth Ministry four years ago and learned that one’s will is not necessarily Gods’ will. Once I recognized that I was being prepared for adversity in order to fulfill his will, I was able to see the blessing that is my current vocation. Youth ministry is about the formation of young individuals and helping them to be in touch with their faith story as they experience it at a young age. I have been witness to youth that grow and mature into leaders of our church today and each time I am thankful.
God has much more in store for me and I am more patient now to listen and be still. Formation lasts ones entire life and the terrain in my journey is ever changing. I played football, basketball and lacrosse in high school and yet I love to wrestle with the Lord today. He issues challenges to all of us who claim Christ as our Savior and I am thankful that I am following his lead. He is in the details if we are willing to look and have faith. I am not sure of the next step but I know, through faith that I am being prepared and I am willing.
“Be totally present to yourself, and make total use of yourself and whose image you are so that you can discern and understand what you are and what you can do in Him whose image you are.” --William of St. Thierry