One of the problems that I always seem to revert to is the fact that I overfocus on tasks to the neglect of people. I get so consumed on the task at hand that I forget the common courtesies that you’re supposed to have with people. I fail to think of people as people.
Toward the end of our senior year, after Ellen finished working on the yearbook, she came to work at the office. Officially, her and Kim and I all worked for Mr. Kerbs but more practically speaking I was working for Mr. Kerbs and passing on what he wanted done to them. We were working hard everyday on Academy Days, a two day event in which people from all over the state came to check out the academy and the school presented various special programs for them. As was my usual custom, I wanted it to be over the top and better and bigger than it had ever been done before. Kim and Ellen were very efficient at making things happen so I’d run my ideas by Mr. Kerbs and we’d start implementing them. I was not then nor am I now very diplomatic and my approach to getting things done was for all intents and purposes barking orders. One morning, Ellen had enough and she loudly yelled at me and reprimanded me saying “you come in here every morning and tell everybody what to do and you never EVER say good morning.” It was one of those moments where a few people were around and they all had that uneasy look on their face; I didn’t know how to respond so all I said was, “good morning.” I’m not sure why that moment sticks so strongly in my head; it was not the first or last time anyone yelled at me about similar discourtesies but to this day every time I go into someone’s office I remember that and say good morning. I’ve not overcome it but that memory helps me try to remember that people are more than the sum of their roles.
Shortly after that happened, we headed back down to Mexico for another mission trip. This time we were not even taking another preacher along since I was going to be the lead batter. We had decided this time not to bill it as an evangelistic series but rather as a health series. Having a long history of encouraging healthful living, the Adventist church has for over a century endorsed things like keeping the levitical code of clean and unclean meats, abstinence from drugs including alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, encouragement of exercise etc. I was going to be preaching on what Ellen G. White, a prophet in the Adventist tradition, had labeled the eight natural remedies: nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest and trust in God. They would be divided into two categories per night and the last night I was going to present temperance (essentially absence from drugs) and trust in God. As a way to illustrate the old “this is your brain on drugs principle”, I had actually purchased tequila, knowing that an egg steeped in alcohol with a high enough proof appears to cook (it’s a chemical reaction). After having shown that, the plan was to continue about how there was a church that for over one hundred and fifty years had been proclaiming that the body and soul were connected, that the spirit lived in this vessel and both were part of who we were and that God cared about them as a unit. Keeping the temple of our bodies healthier was better for us personally both in health and how we were able to maintain relationships with each other and with God. The altar call would come after that, asking people to join the church that was listening to the entirety of God’s message to us, one that was trying to reach our mind, our body, our soul and restore the balance between them.
The week had gone much better than the previous year since I had received more time to prepare the talks. Shortly after I had shown the egg demonstration, I put the egg down on the floor and was attempting to begin the altar call. Someone in the aisle pointed at me and told me to look at my nose. I reached for it and it was beginning to bleed pretty badly. In surprise I stepped back rather suddenly and knocked the tequila with the egg in it and in moments, the room had a smell of tequila and raw egg. Shannon had come along with us on that trip and she went to get me tissue for both my nose and the floor.
Not really knowing when to quit, I held my nose and continued to the altar call. So in a moment that felt incredibly sacred, I was holding my bleeding nose in a room that smelled of alcohol and raw eggs asking people to come to Jesus. To my surprise and my quiet assurance that this had to do more with the message than the messenger, eight people responded, stepping forward to accept a life of better health with the Lord of the universe. It was one of the most humbling and faith building moments of my life, a keen awareness that Jesus was working through us even when we literally stumbled in his work.
We again gave them the crash course on Friday and that Saturday we baptized those eight people. Interestingly enough, one of the baptismal candidates was a girl not much older than me and she tried to very overtly flirt with me after after her baptism; it was an odd thing to me and after congratulating her, I quickly and quiet slipped away.
The day after the baptisms, we headed back to VGA and we arrived just in time for these famed academy days. I remember they ran without a hitch and it was the best attended academy days during my four years there. Perhaps, the happiest single memory I have from all of high school happened on that Sunday. Shannon and Leandro started to perform as part of the end of year talent show that was always scheduled for then. Leandro started to play something and Shannon timidly sang something. Having only gotten out a few words, the MC’s Josie and Ellen, cut them off and said that it wasn’t good enough. Josie memorably said, “this is for Iram, the VP, come on you have to do better.” In my mind, I thought she was going to just simply pipe up and pick it up but then Ellen suggested, “I know, you need to do it in Spanish.” They quickly dismissed the fact that she didn’t speak Spanish and moments later, she bolted out that song in beautiful Spanish. Moments later, I was simply weeping in the back, overwhelmed by the fact that I was completely in love with this girl all over again; I was wrong all those other times, this girl, she definitely was the one, my Destiny.
The school year ended a few weeks after that and the end was just a flood of activity. I graduated valedictorian and was given tons of scholarships at graduation, apparently having the choice between all the Adventist schools to essentially go for free (I’d also been accepted to Harvard with a decent financial need scholarship; however, since I was completely committed to being an Adventist pastor, an Adventist college was the only choice I had only applied to see if could get in).
The morning after graduation I hugged several friends goodbye and then it hit me. I had spent my entire high school rushing to grow up, trying to be a pastor, the vice principal. There was a keen awareness of the fact that I had missed my childhood and more significantly contact with all of these great friends that I’d had in high school. While crying into Shannon’s shoulder, I made a pledge to myself that I would stay in contact with my high school friends for the rest of my life. I vowed that this mistake of having taken this people for granted would be corrected no matter how long it took. In my typical fashion, it was a dramatic gesture which I fully intended to keep.