Bright-eyed and 23 years old, John paced across his condo balcony. Houston’s medical center towers loomed in his twilit view. He gripped the phone by his ear and smiled as he waited for the answer. “Dad, hey! You won’t believe it—I got a new offer! No, not with the agency—they’ll keep me at the bottom at least another year. This could be my calling. It’s here with my church in Houston, in the youth ministry.”
His face fell as his dad’s voice cut through the wires, “Don’t even think about it. If you do, I will disown you.” Click.
♢ ♢ ♢
Sixteen years later, in the back seat of a car on the O’Hare tarmac, John ended another call with his dad: “Gotta go, just pulled up to the plane! You know you could still join me one of these days, anywhere in the world—Hong Kong, Taiwan to see the family, even Tokyo! The benefits are good for you, too.” He hung up smiling, hopeful.
John stepped out of the car and gazed for a moment at the 787 Dreamliner against Chicago’s distant skyline. He breathed in deeply, raising his shoulders and puffing out his chest, then exhaled lightly in rhythm with his first step toward the plane.
He blinked a few times as he stepped into the fuselage, not ready for the set lights stationed at the end of the aisle.
“You must be John!” came from just beyond one of the lights. John turned, still blinking, as a man with a camera emerged a few feet in front of him.
John smiled and threw his arms out to his sides in excitement. “Ready! Where do you need me?” The photographer tilted his head back to gesture toward the end of the aisle where some models were standing. John smiled, politely slid past the photographer, and walked over to introduce himself.
During the shoot, John leaned slightly forward in the aisle, explaining to the seated model the brand new first-class features his team designed, his posture and his expression as soft as the down pillow under his left arm. His eyes darted toward the camera as the shutter clicked. He couldn’t help but smile.
♢ ♢ ♢
Back in his office, a knock on his open door made John look up as he set his phone on his desk. “Come on in.”
His manager pushed the door wide enough to lean his head and shoulders in the room while he kept his feet stationed in the hall. He half nodded and cleared his throat. “Actually, I was going to ask, could you join me in my office? It’ll just be a minute.”
Once in his manager’s office, John closed the door behind him and sat in the guest chair, his fingers interlocked over his right knee with his calf propped over his left thigh.
“So I’ll get right to it,” his manager started, hunched behind his desk, hands clasped in his lap. “First, I need you to know this is from above. I know I’ve only been with you for a few months now, and you had a good history with your former manager, and from what I’ve seen you’ve been great.” He looked down to his feet as he continued. “Now, you’re still going to be our product marketing director, but we’re creating a position for someone else to oversee the team, calling it managing director. She’s been with us a while—not with our team, but with the airline since before the merger. She’ll be taking over primary responsibility for all product marketing and development.”
John raised his eyebrows and then relaxed them slightly just as his manager finished and turned up to face him. John smiled and nodded slowly, “OK. Is that all?” His manager nodded, leaned forward with his hands on his knees, and exhaled as he stood. He came around the desk and opened the door to show John out.
John forced a smile as he heard the heavy etched-glass door whisper to a close behind him. Holding his head up and stepping a little high so he wouldn’t drag his feet, he strolled through the corporate maze to his office until he could safely lean back against his closed door and slump to the ground. He dropped his silenced phone to the floor, buried his face in his hands, and exhaled heavily.
♢ ♢ ♢
At lunch with his best friend Marcus four months later, John picked up his hot dog, hesitated, and swung his elbow onto the table and leaned forward, looking up as he explained, “So yeah, you know, they take care of their own, but this is industry standard. Especially after a merger, everything’s up in the air. And my pay isn’t changing. I’ve got a secure spot.” He let his eyes drop back down to his tray, “I just need to keep my head down, stick it out.”
Marcus nodded, “So call it good timing, but we might have something for you down in Austin. In fact, we’re looking for someone with almost exactly your skill set. It would be with the church.”
John flinched and his knee smacked the table, sending their drinks and trays sliding.
♢ ♢ ♢
John, lying on his side in bed, turned slightly to look over his shoulder at his wife. “You know, Emay, even if my job won’t be the same, it’s still aviation, it’s still basically my dream job, and who knows what will come later? Things always change. And besides, who can complain about this?” He patted the bed then gestured toward the vaulted ceiling and the window overlooking their backyard.
Emay, sitting up against the headboard, nodded, “It is nice, and I know God didn’t bring us here for no reason, but I was thinking—the job Marcus mentioned—you know, it doesn’t hurt to hear them out. Might be something there.”
John waved the idea away, “Yeah, sure, but I don’t know. I don’t want to go through all that and put them through all that if I’m not sure. I still feel like God has us here.”
♢ ♢ ♢
Ten months later, John looked down from the sermon to his buzzing phone—a text from Emay. “So what are you thinking? They’ve been so generous.”
He sighed, looking over their children’s heads at her a few seats away, then back to his phone. “I know! My third trip down, plus the whole family this time, and I’m still not feeling it. Maybe the most difficult ‘no’ I’ve ever had to say. You?”
“Yeah, would be hard to leave Chicago. Maybe we’re not ready.”
On stage, the worship leader stepped to the microphone, strummed his guitar, and asked the crowd, “Will y’all stand and sing with me?”
John just read and mouthed the words on the projector through the first verse, his brow furrowed, nodding his head with the melody. He sang softly through the second verse. Then during the bridge, tears rolled down his face. He put his hands up and sang loudly:
In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe.
In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe.
Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe.
More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe1,
They walked to the car after the service in silence. John reached to start the engine and stopped, “Emay, I really don’t know now. That song—Let’s pray.” She nodded, and they bowed their heads. John prayed, “God we want to obey you. Guide us to make the right decision.”
♢ ♢ ♢
John sat at their kitchen table back in Chicago, looking out at the snow-covered yard. The sun, just below the trees, left everything a pale blue. He held his phone to his ear. He swallowed deep as he heard his dad on the other end. “Hey, Dad, yeah, so I decided. We’re moving to Austin. I’m going to run communications for The Austin Stone Community Church.”
A few moments of silence. “Are you sure? Can you really provide for your family like that?”
“Dad, this is what God is calling me to do. He’ll take care of us.” “OK,” his dad sighed.
♢ ♢ ♢
John paced slowly across his screened patio with the phone to his ear, fanning himself with his free hand as he watched the sun set behind the trees, “Oh, no, like I said, I’m no longer an employee but got a six-month extension on flight benefits.” He paused in silence, looked through the window at Emay over the sink, and grinned. He continued into the phone, “Right, so this will be my last trip. Austin to Tokyo. Two adults — me, John Yeng, and my dad, Clement.”
1 Austin Stone Worship, “Jesus is Better.” http://www.austinstoneworship.com/music/king-of-love-2013/jesus-is-better/#lyrics