This week’s reflection focuses on the story of Steve–a bright and ambitious young man who experienced a life-changing “God-nudge.”
Read on to learn how Steve left the corporate world when he experienced an epiphany and discovered a deep gladness.
May Steve’s story be your teacher.
From a Burger King to a Guiding Light
“Give all you can. Don’t die with anything in reserve. Don’t retire knowing you could have done more.”
I grew up in a family of highly successful individuals. My grandfather was lead attorney at AT&T and later served nine consecutive terms in the United States House of Representatives. My father worked for IT&T and the CIA. We were sent to the best college preparation schools. We were bred for success.
I graduated from Hope College with a double major. I wanted to go on to graduate school, but my wife and I became pregnant, so I left the ivory tower and headed out into the world to provide for our growing family.
With lots of hard work and plenty of lucky breaks, I became a “burger king.” I opened forty-two Burger King restaurants in the West Michigan area.
Religion was always an important part of my upbringing. Following the foundation my parents provided me and my siblings, I raised my family in the Christian faith and sent my children to parochial schools.
I went to church and did all the things expected of a good Christian husband, father, and business owner. But something didn’t feel right. There was something missing, but I didn’t know what.
The story of the rich young man in the Gospel of Mark often poked at me, causing me to question my life’s path.
In Mark 10:17-22, a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. After the man confirms he’s followed all the commandments, Jesus says to him:
“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
The parable of the rich young man was in the back of my mind when two events occurred that became an epiphany for me, changing the direction of my life.
One of my sons was diagnosed with ADHD. His well-meaning, although perhaps misguided, teachers labeled him as “poor college material.” They pigeon-holed him into taking lower-level classes and suggested he not apply for college since he wouldn’t succeed in the collegiate world.
During a counseling session, my son’s high school counselor delivered the final blow to my son’s dream of heading off to college. My face burned with anger as the counselor shared her recommendations. Discrimination! was all I could think. My son is being discriminated due to his special needs.
After leaving the counseling session, I went to one of my restaurants to check in with my crew. There, a customer refused to be served lunch from a minority crew member. For the second time that day, the word Discrimination! blasted my blood pressure sky high and shook my world.
In that moment, the rich man’s story from the Gospel of Mark became my story. I knew I had to leave my safe, materialistic world behind and follow Christ.
My wife and I sold our seven-bedroom home and moved to a twelve-hundred square foot home. We gave up most of our possessions and financial resources and committed ourselves to living a minimalist lifestyle.
I sold my Burger King Restaurants and started a high school charter school, where we successfully sent 95% of a diverse population to college. I became one of the original funding sources for the Institute for Healing Racism, a twenty-first century learning experience that gives participants tools to enhance their capacity to engage in constructive conversation about racial equity, race, and racism.
After serving on several non-profit boards and working as a coach and consultant to empower others to achieve their maximum potential, I was humbled to be hired as the executive director of Guiding Light Mission. Guiding Light is a donor-funded Christian non-profit dedicated to helping individuals recover from addiction and the associated chaos of a life consumed by substance abuse.
Formerly a burger king, I became one of the guiding lights for twelve and half years, helping countless men overcome their addictions.
My relationship with God also shifted. God is no longer a Divine Being “out there” somewhere in the galaxies. He’s now an intimate friend who loves and guides me each day. I’ve come to realize that God is always present—the trick is to listen and discern where and how the Spirit is leading and guiding us.
To continue my spiritual journey, I have had to eliminate the noise in my life, replacing it with what I call “discernment time.”
My best discernment time is from midnight to two a.m. During those early morning hours, a loving God and I come face-to-face. I experience divine comfort, insights, and sometimes overwhelming joy.
I walk eight-to-ten miles each day. During my walks, I listen for God’s voice and review the conversations I’ve had with others to figure out how I can serve them. I also focus on the people and things for which I’m grateful.
The epiphanies in my life (although I wouldn’t have called them such at that time) have formed and shaped me with the hands of God. They helped me evolve from a burger king to a guiding light.
I’m not sure how much longer I might live and what roads the good Lord might lead me down, but I know God is real because he has opened my heart and touched my life with amazing grace and love.
Here’s to epiphanies. May you name and claim yours!
Your friend in Christ,
Some Additional Thoughts
Many of us associate the word “epiphany” with the three wise men who followed a star across the desert so they could see the newborn Jesus. Those three seekers experienced an epiphany—their lives were changed by their journey and their face-to-face encounter with the Christ-child.
An epiphany is a sudden and profound realization or insight that offers us a fresh understanding or perspective on a specific circumstance, idea, or challenge. It signifies a moment of clarity sparking significant shifts in our thoughts and behavior.
Like the three wise men, our lives are often transformed by moments that bring about an epiphany. When we embrace the wisdom imparted to us by those holy moments, we learn to follow where we’re being divinely lead.
What were the moments of epiphany in your life? What happened that gave you deeper insights, changed your life’s direction, or became a guiding star you’ve followed?
A Personal Invitation: Share Your Story
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, once said, “We are each other’s teachers.”
Thich states that we learn universal truths from the lives of others, enabling us to apply the insights they’ve learned to our own lives. When we share our moments of epiphany—those events that have changed our lives—we name those transforming moments and then break them open to nourish others’ lives.
Bearing this wisdom in mind, from time-to-time I love sharing stories of other fellow seekers like Steve, who are also walking the spiritual road Home.
The stories revolve around their moments of insight, even if at the time they didn’t identify them as epiphanies.
I invite you to share your stories in one of two following ways so we can learn from each other.
Option 1: Share your story as a comment.
Click on the link below to under “Submit Comment” and share your epiphany story.
Option 2: Be brave like Steve.
If you’d like me to share your story in a future blogpost like Steve did, I would love to work with you to make your story come alive!
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