I have not been here in 3 years… Here being a position of just utter and complete dependency on Christ. But it feels so familiar I can remember the last time I was here like it was yesterday. It was in early August 2013, Amanda and I were in College Station at her brother and sister-in-law’s house. We had been back from Africa for a little over a month. Just leaving Africa was hard enough but trying to find a job, a car, a place to live, and readjusting to life in general made it a whirlwind month to say the least. However, we thought everything had worked out, it looked like I had been offered a great coaching and teaching job in town near College Station, a city that any proud Aggie, such as the one I married, would love to live in. We were looking at buying some land with an awesome little craftsmen house on it. It just seemed to all be working out perfect. If you know me very well at all it is probably no secret that I never wanted to leave Africa, but things seemed to be working out so well that I even I had to think, “I guess we really were supposed to move home.” Then I got a call… one of those calls. I’m sure we have all experienced one of those calls, a call that you will never forget for better or worse. I walked into the backyard to take it and sat on my niece’s and nephew’s swing set as I listened to the principal explain to me why they had to rescind the offer because the assistant AD who had been there forever wanted someone with more volleyball or football experience. Boom. There goes the five-year plan, there goes College Station, there goes the house, and there goes the job. I would like to say in that moment that I instantly thought of Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. “ But I didn’t, in fact I had to look it up just to write it on here. All I really thought was how am I going to tell Amanda. I went inside and gave her the news and I can still vividly picture her sitting down on the floor of the kitchen and crying. All I could do was try to consul her and tell her it’s going to be alright. But in reality I didn’t know that. We were living with my parents, about to receive our last paycheck from the support we had raised, we had no jobs, we had no prospects. As hard as it was luckily this was not unfamiliar territory for us, if the past 2 ½ years in Africa had taught us anything it was how to be totally dependent on God. And seeing so many people in much more dire situations over the previous two years had given us some real perspective. So after talking and praying about it I think we both had peace that something would work out. Then the next week Houston Christian called. I had actually previously applied there to be a Bible teacher but it didn’t work out. However a week before school started they had a last minute opening for a history teacher and freshman basketball coach. So very possibly out of desperation they decided to offer me the job. I signed my contract on a Thursday and had to start on a Monday. That was 3 years ago….
The time since then has been a blur. I have had three awesome years at Houston Christian, Amanda got a job at her old company, we have moved three times to three different parts of Houston, I got a jeep (yes that is significant), we became involved at an awesome church called Bayou city Fellowship, we had some amazing adventures, and most importantly we became parents on February 20 of this year when God blessed us with the most amazing son named Winston Duke Carpenter. If you follow either of us on social media you might have seen a couple of pictures of him. However, I have to admit that I never fully felt at peace. Looking back I think restless would be the best word to describe it. A large part of me was still in Africa. There was not a day that went by where I did not think about it. It is what I found myself always talking about or relating things too. In fact it did not take my students very long to realize that if you want to get Coach Carpenter off track in class just start asking him questions about Africa. The crazy thing is that I knew what they were doing every time but I still could not help myself. Then before Christmas of this last school year I really started to feel like God was leading me down a different path. It is not that I did not enjoy what I was doing. I loved everything about Houston Christian. I loved the students, my players, the faculty, the administration, and the school in general. I just did not feel that the exact role God had for me was to be the sophomore history teacher and freshman basketball coach there the following year. After a long period of prayer, study, discussion with Amanda and the administration, and reflection I felt very confident that God was moving me to take a leap of faith. So in March I officially notified the school that I would not be returning the following year. That was 5 months ago.
Now it is August 8. Most teachers will be going back to work in the next few days, if they have not already. However 43 applications and many interviews later I still do not have a job. It is not that there have been zero offers. I have actually been offered jobs at places from College Station, to my hometown, to St. Thomas (yes the island). But ultimately God has closed each door and made it abundantly clear why. The only thing that has been clear is that I need to continue to evolve the Coaches for Christ coaches’ ministry I started in Africa. Hopefully you will be hearing more about that soon. Although right now that is nowhere close to being something full time and anything raised for it will need to go straight to the ministry for a long while. I’m realizing as a type this there are 0 words to accurately describe what the past 5 months have been like for our family. Roller coaster might be the most appropriate way. We have gone from moments of pure joy watching Winston grow and change to moments of pure fear wondering how we will give him the future we so desire for him, we have had moments of excitement turned into moments of disappointment, we have had moments of doubt turned into moments of faith and all of those moments vice versa. I have questioned myself about a million different things. At times I have seriously thought something must be wrong with me. Why am I not normal? Why can’t I just be content where I’m at? Why do I always put us into these positions? What is wrong with just managing life? What if I was never supposed to quit? Everyday I think about how am I going to help provide for my family. Every morning I pray and ask God if this is the day where everything will make sense? Will I finally have that moment? Will I get one of those good calls? I have prayed to God, asked God, yelled at God, and pleaded with God. I wish I could sit and here and write that I have handled everything like a Job, that I have praised God in every situation that I have remained this steadfast rock for our family that has never waivered, but I would be lying. In fact if there has one thing that has come out of all this it is, that it has given me a real reality check on where my relationship with Christ has been since Africa
The past few months I have really felt like God was leading me to start reading 1 Samuel, which seemed a little random since I have been studying Mark. However it has been amazing how for every situation we have been in, something from 1 Samuel has spoke to me just at the right time. One passage in particular in 1 Samuel 13 really hit home with me a couple of weeks ago. Just a little background, I read this passage the morning after I had just been offered a job at a school here in Houston. It seemed like a no brainer, it was not the perfect situation, but then again nothing is. I would be teaching middle school history and coaching JV basketball making close to what I had been making at Houston Christian. It was at an up and coming Christian school and by this time it was middle of July and there was a slim chance anything else like it would come along. For some reason though, I just did not have peace about it, however I did not want to base a decision that could jeopardize my family’s future over a feeling. So I had really been praying and seeking God’s will, but I needed to give them an answer by that day. That morning I just by complete chance read 1 Samuel 13. Saul has been anointed King of Israel. He is marching out against the Philistines. Samuel the spiritual leader at the time instructs Saul to wait for him at the battlefield and don’t do anything until he arrives and can perform the burnt offering to the Lord. Then it picks up in verse 7:
Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, Bring me the burnt offerings and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering Samuel arrived and Saul went out to greet him.
So when Samuel does not show up Saul grows impatient. He decides he will take matters into his own hands and do the burnt offering himself. Shortly after Samuel arrives and Saul comes out to great him proud of what he has done. An offering needed to be made to the Lord and he did it. Now in verse 11:
“What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor. ‘So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”
As I sat there it became evidently clear what the Lord was telling me. I needed to wait on Him. See at first glance it might seem like Samuel was being a little harsh, although it wasn’t necessarily what Saul did but more about why he did it. Saul became impatient and when you really think about it, impatience is really just an outward expression of fear. We are afraid we are going to be late for work so we become impatient in traffic, we are afraid we will miss the beginning of the movie so we become impatient with our spouse, we are afraid we won’t be able to pay the bills so we are impatient with our family. Saul was afraid that the Philistines would attack so he became impatient. Then that impatience that builds within us quickly becomes pride. When things don’t happen when we believe they should we decide to take matters into our own hands. I didn’t get the promotion I deserve so I’m going to use another offer to leverage for one, my child isn’t playing as much as they should so I’m going to talk to the coach (does that one sound like a coach talking), we can’t wait for our spouse to be the person we think they should so we are going to find something else. Saul became impatient and then decided to take care of it, he thought the only way something was going to happen was if he did it himself. That was his pride and ultimately it was his pride that led to his downfall. If you are prideful then God can’t and won’t use you. If you think you can do it all on your own then God’s glory and purpose can’t be displayed through you. Fear brings impatience, impatience brings pride, and pride always brings a fall. In fact it was this same formula that led to Israel wanting a king in the first place. It was something neither Samuel nor God had ultimately desired for Israel, not because having a king was inherently wrong, but more because of the reason the Israelites wanted one. They wanted a king because they wanted to be like all the other countries around them. They were afraid they would never be as powerful as the other nations if they did not have a king, which led them to become impatient with God, and led them to believe if they had a king they wouldn’t need God and could take care of themselves. Who knows what could have happened if they did not desire to simply be like everyone else around them and trusted in what God desired for them instead.
We often talk about David and Saul and compare the two; we often idolize David and criminalize Saul. When in reality they were ultimately both very flawed men. The only that really separated them was Saul’s pride. Saul was afraid that he would never be the great King he felt he was destined to be, which led him to take everything into his own hands, which led to that pride, which meant God could no longer use him. Where more times than not David trusted in the Lord, he was not afraid, he was not impatient, he was not prideful, he was not concerned with who he wanted to be but with who God wanted him to be, he was a man after God’s heart. David believed and lived the promise that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. But what really hit me after reading 1 Samuel is that as much as I would love to be a David, most of the time since we have gotten home from Africa I have been a Saul. I am afraid. Afraid that I never should have quit Houston Christian, afraid that I have put my family in terrible position, I am afraid Amanda will never be able to stay at home, but I am also afraid I will just end up managing life, I am afraid that I will never live out the calling God has for me, I am afraid that I will never be the husband, the father, the man God created me to be. You name it and I am probably afraid of it. And because of that fear I am impatient. I want it all now and feel I deserve it to all happen now. I want to do the ministry I started in Africa, I want Amanda to be able to stay at home right now, I want to be a head coach now, I want to have the job of my dreams now, I want to be a better husband, father, and man right now. And that impatience has produced so much pride. I have tried to do all of those things I fear all of those things I am impatient about myself. I have not waited on the Lord, Samuel has yet to show up so I’m going to take care of this offering myself. I am a Saul.. I have lived my life and led my family like a Saul. I have been a better coach to my team than a leader to my family. I have always prided myself on not being the coach who got too over emotional, it is not that I just sit there but I always wanted to not overreact because I wanted to display to my team that in any situation no matter what the circumstances its was going to be okay and they could keep perspective. I have not done the same for my family over the past three years. I have overreacted to circumstances in and out of our family, I have swayed with the current situation we are facing, and I have lost that perspective God gave me in Africa. I am a man that has been more motivated by the fear of what will happen then by the desire and belief in what God’s heart is
Let’s be clear I am not saying you should just sit and wait on the Lord in everything and not do your part. If you need a job you have to try to get interviews, if you want to get married you have to meet people, if you want to buy a house you have to save. Even for me ultimately I am going to do whatever it takes to help provide for my family even substitute teaching or uber driving. But living as a David, as someone after God’s heart is more about, realizing that ultimately he is in control, giving Him glory in everything, and being willing to step out on faith even when you can’t see the end result. In that way you become someone who God can use for his purpose and for his desires. Immediately after reading 1 Samuel I knew what God wanted me to do. I called Amanda then I called the head of school at the place I had just been offered a job and turned them down. As crazy as it seems to have turned down a job after looking for four months, I honestly had nothing but complete peace about it. Again, I wish I could say I have been a David instead of a Saul every moment since, but I’m still a David in training and probably will be the rest of my life. I have to wake up every morning and tell myself that today I will be someone motivated by the search for what God’s heart is rather than the fear of what it isn’t. That is today…