Saturday, December 9, 2023

My Desperate Parking Lot Prayer

My Desperate, Parking Lot Prayer


God changed the direction of my life 25 years ago today.  I don't pray for my sports teams to win games, and I don't normally ask God to do ridiculous things for me, but 25 years ago today, I did.  

About 100 days before my desperate prayer, I had entered the crisis of my life.  

In August 1998, I moved to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.  After two weeks of classes, I found out that the bad debt of another person named Kevin Elders had been attributed to me.  My student loan was denied.  The major credit agencies said it would take a minimum of 6 months to clear my credit record.  Meanwhile, I owed my entire tuition bill and couldn’t pay it.  Additionally, I wouldn't be eligible for a student loan for the spring.  At the counsel of one of my college professors, I withdrew and came home.  

I had stubbornly forced that move to seminary.  Two years earlier, I had graduated from North Greenville College with a ministry degree, and I'd been serving my home church as part-time youth pastor for the previous 1.5 years.  Even so, I thought I needed more education before I pursued a full-time position.  My church called a new pastor in March of 1998.  Shortly after he started, he asked if I was interested in being the full-time youth pastor.  I told him I was going to seminary in August, and I didn't even consider interviewing for the full-time position. I realized later how foolish that was.

My plan completely fell apart on my 25th birthday.  Everything caved in on me so quickly.  No school.  No plan.  No job.  I'd given up TWO JOBS I LOVED to go to seminary.  All of that was bad, but a few days later, I got CRUSHED.  The girl I thought I was going to marry broke up with me over the whole thing. 

Over the next 100 days, I worked four different jobs I didn't like, sometimes two of them at a time.  I tried to give the girl time and space but grew increasingly distraught over her.  I lost 20 pounds I didn't need to lose.  I got shingles from all the worry and stress. Since my church had a new youth pastor, I stayed away and became a church drifter - here one week, there the next.

I was a mess.  All I did was work and lift weights.

On December 14, I pulled into my gym parking lot about 10am and just sat in my car.  I was tired of being sad.  I was mad at myself for how I felt and how I was handling things.  The girl was moving on without me.  In that moment of desperation, I asked God for something ridiculous, and I still remember my words clearly: 

"Father, I'm tired of hurting.  I don't want to feel like this any more.  I don't know how to move on from her.  I don't even want to move on from her.  Please let there be a girl in here today that I'm attracted to.  I'm not asking for a wife.  I'm not asking for a date.  I just want to be attracted to somebody else."  

That sounds realistic enough, but at 10am, most of the people at my gym were senior adults.  I was asking for a miracle and I knew it, but I walked to the door fully expecting to see a pretty girl in there.  Guess what.  I didn't even get inside the door before I got my answer.  Standing at the check-in counter was a tall, athletic, attractive blonde girl I'd never seen before.  I smiled to God and said, "Thank You!" and went to change clothes.  I was satisfied.

Here's the exact spot where I made that prayer, and the exact spot (through those double doors) where God answered it just a minute later:

Right as I started my workout, someone approached me from behind and asked for a spot.  It was that girl!  There were two or three other men nearby, but she asked ME!  My heart leapt as I followed her to a squat rack.  Over the next hour, we talked between sets and learned the basics about each other.  We had mutual friends.  She was from Greer but she was a college softball pitcher, home for Christmas break.  For the first and only time in my life, I asked someone I'd just met to go on a date.  She said yes, I got her number, and we went out a few times before she went back to school in January.

Within a few weeks, I was able to move on from my former girlfriend.  God gave me peace and hope for the future.  He showed me that not only could I LIVE without her, but that I could be HAPPY without her. I never looked back.

The new girl spent the next few months traveling all over the country with her team.  We talked and emailed and I went to a few of her games, but she was too busy for me.  I was just happy that God had used her to help me move on.  

And I did move on.  In February, I met with the youth ministry director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.  He gave me the names and addresses of 14 churches in our state that were looking for youth pastors.  I sent my resume to all of them and they started calling me, but a different church called him a couple weeks later and he gave them my name.  I met with THAT church on March 1, things went quickly, and I started my first full-time youth pastor position on April 4.  I spent 4.5 wonderful years there.

The softball pitcher went home to Greer in May.  My new home in Greenwood was about an hour from Greer, but we spent a lot of time together that summer.  I thought the relationship was going somewhere, but by the end of 1999, I accepted that we'd never be more than friends.  It didn’t matter: 1999 was the turning point of my life, one of the best years of my life.  None of it would have happened if I hadn't met her on December 14, 1998.

We're still friends 25 years later, but this is the first time she's ever heard about my desperate prayer in the parking lot of our gym, five minutes before we met.  

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