A few years ago, I made a decision that redirected the rest of my life. It was a career change, but deeper down, it was profoundly more. It was a life change.
This is what happened.
At the end of 2006, I drove a U-Haul from Cincinnati to Oklahoma City. I had twin goals: finish my Ph.D. and land a teaching job at one of the Christian universities in that buckle of the Bible Belt.
It seemed doable. After all, I had the education, the experience, and a few publications. Surely a position would open up.
The only drawback? I’d be living over four hours away from my two young children. My daughter was eight, my son six.
But we’d make it work. Somehow. Someway.
I transformed half of my apartment into a study. Got a part-time job loading FedEx trucks. Worked my mind during the day, my body during the night.
All the while, I was putting my career plan into action. I researched the local universities, brought my CV up to date, made contacts with the heads of various departments.
And every couple of weeks, I would drive those four long hours to spend a few fleeting hours with my son and daughter. Then I'd turn the car around and drive back to the city, to the apartment, to my books.
And to my dreams. My big dreams.
But a strange thing was happening to them.
The brilliance they once had was fading.
In fact, they were slowly being swallowed by darkness.
And the darkness, it was swallowing me, too.
Every time I saw my children waving goodbye, inside me a dark presence was waving a blade, slicing away at my heart. As I stared at the pages of my books, I saw no letters, no words, only the faces of my children.
One day I walked about that place I had tried to make home.
I realized it was a prison cell to which I held the key.
So I made the decision.
It took a few months. There was a short course to complete. Moving plans. A couple of interviews to arrange. But by the summer of 2007, with a Commercial Driver’s License in my wallet, I was behind the wheel of a semi, driving in the oil and gas fields.
Most importantly, my new home was about three miles from where my children lived. I was able to take them to school and pick them up on my days off. We played in the park down the street. We swam at the local indoor pool, all year long. We made up for lost time, grew closer.
Life is too short to dream big dreams.
But my dreams of being a professor, well, they were dead. And I confess that, in times of selfish weakness, I still muttered to myself,
There go my years of study.
There go my aspirations.
There goes my life.
But on those mornings when I hugged my children, told them I loved them, and watched them walk from my car into the school; on those summer days when they’d run ahead of me down to the park for an hour or two of play; all those times when they’d scurry through the house, bang out the back door, and jump on the trampoline, calling for me to hurry and join them, I’d smile and say to myself, There goes my life.
There goes my daughter, overjoyed to be with her Daddy.
There goes my son, looking up to a father as only a son can.
Indeed, there goes my life, in those two young gifts of God.
The hardest truth for me to learn was that big things are of little worth.
Big careers. Big achievements. Big dreams.
No thanks. You can have them. But I'll pass.
Give me an ordinary career, a simple life, time with my wife and children.
Give me little dreams, little aspirations, an ambition only to try and love as best as my feeble heart can.
Life is too short to dream big dreams. They tend to devour everything that gets in their way, including family.
At the end, when we look back, let's gaze on our children, our spouse, our friends, our church, and our flesh-and-blood Lord, and say with humble joy: Look! There goes my life.
This post tells a very small part of a much larger story that I've written about in my book, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, available October, 2017. You can read more about it and pre-order your copy at Amazon. Thanks!