It started as a joke, but it was repeated so many times it stuck. My nickname at work was “The Undertaker,” a term I quickly learned to hate. But let’s go back to the beginning.
It was the early 1990s and my family and I lived in the Denver area. We were watching the growth of an incredible new ministry that was touching lives all over the nation. I learned that this new ministry wanted to start hiring paid staff. As an experienced HR Director, I applied for their HR position and was hired to launch their HR department. Over the next three years, the ministry exploded and the staff grew to over 670 people.
By 1997 attendance at our ministry events began to decline and the budget became tight. That summer, the organization decided to lay-off a small number of staff. None of us imagined at that time that this dreaded event would repeat itself every year for the next ten years. These annual lay-offs struck at the core of the ministry. I drove home many nights overcome by the trauma of telling my best friends that their job was ending. I remember asking God over and over again, “God, why did you choose me for this horrible job?”
By the summer of 2008 the ministry was in a full-blown financial crisis. At the fall board of directors meeting, the board brought in a new leader to take the helm. At the first meeting with the executive team, the new president asked all of us to resign. This news blindsided us and we sat there stunned. The “Undertaker” now faced his own burial.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
For several weeks, I sat at home bouncing between denial, anger, and disorganization. The first few Sundays after my job ended, I went to church angry. After telling my story a few times, I realized it didn’t help to relive this event. I finally stopped talking about the past and started talking about my plans for the future.
At that moment, my wife was my saving grace. Kathy and I started talking about my future and what options I had as a 62-year-old man in a depressed economy. Going back to Corporate America in the HR world seemed like an obvious direction. I decided to talk with my pastor. I made an appointment to chat with him the week before Thanksgiving.
I walked into Pastor Steve’s office, hoping to find someone who could understand what I was experiencing. I poured my heart out, and Steve was a good listener. Steve sympathized with me, and then began to share his own frustrations.
“Since the start of this recession, I’ve got all these guys coming into my office who have also lost their jobs and they all ask me to help them,” he said. “Other than to pray for them, I don’t know what to say or how to help.”
With Pastor Steve’s innocent confession, God began to whisper to me in a voice I will never forget. His simple message was direct, “Gary, this is what I have been training you for over the last 25 years.”
We both sat there in silence, I finally responded, “Steve I know how to help these guys. In fact, I should help them.” While Corporate America seemed logical and safe, God had just given me a different vision for the future.
Over the next week, I kept asking God how I could help these people at church who were also unemployed. Slowly God shared more of his vision. He simply said, “Share with them what I’ve taught you.”
Taking the First Step
I was back in Steve’s office excited to share a new idea for our church. I offered to lead a workshop for the unemployed. We met a couple of weeks later and 12 people showed up. We talked about networking, resume writing, and interviewing prep. Looking back, I realize now the workshop wasn’t very good, but it was a start.
The reaction I got at church the next Sunday blew me away. The folks from the workshop made it a point to come up to me and let me know how much our time together encouraged them. They said they now had the courage to start trying to get back in the game of finding a job.
Another church heard about our workshop and asked me to come and do the workshop at their church. We incorporated as an organization in 2009. Over the next several years we presented dozens of workshops in churches in Colorado. As the recession improved, our ministry continued to evolve into other coaching opportunities that included helping high school students and their families identify college majors that best fit their student’s skills and passion.
God tells us in Proverbs 11:14, “Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances” (The Message).
Hoping in God’s Plan
I realize now that the discussion with Pastor Steve in his office was the birth of Careers With A Purpose. The journey has been transformative and taught me a lot about trusting God in the twists and turns of life. I have adopted a simple saying, “God never wastes my time.” Every step, every conversation, every layoff, and even every mistake is all part of God’s plan.
What about you? I encourage you to understand that in each new day God has a plan and is preparing you for the next chapter of your life. Keep praying, keep searching for wisdom, and remember Solomon’s advice in Proverbs, “the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.” I have learned that at any age, God has another opportunity for all of us to serve the kingdom.
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