The Promise of the Second Wind: It's Never Too Late to Pursue God's Best
By Bill Butterworth, Dean Merrill
"Okay, guys, let's spend a little time looking at Philippians 2," says the brown-haired man with the glasses at the end of the table, pushing back his coffee mug to make room for his Bible. That's the signal of Charlie Spicer, moderator of our Friday morning men's group, that we need to transition from casual jokes and football talk to some spiritual food.
A successful sales executive with a men's apparel company, Charlie's the kind of guy whom friends and customers naturally trust. He doesn't badger, overpromise, or manipulate. He just shows the connection between his product and your need, allowing you to draw your own conclusion. It's a trait that runs deep in the Spicer genes; Charlie's father and grandfather before him were both salesmen in the paper industry, and it was only natural for the grandson to take up the same line of work.
His first employer, NCR, spotted his potential early on and tapped him for a management development program, eventually paying for his MBA degree. Awards and plaques began to collect around Charlie's desk. Salesman of the Year, among others. He sold for Mead Paper Company awhile, then moved into marketing high-tech software.
"I like selling," he says. "For one thing, you can make good money. I also like the flexibility of schedule; I'm not chained behind a desk all day. Instead, I'm out and about in a car, calling on customers, setting my own pace."
A third factor that has always meant something to Charlie is the chance to meet a lot of people and help them. The human contact is a reward of its own.
As a result, his wife, Denise, and their two daughters enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in the Orange County suburbs of Los Angeles. Life is good. Not spectacular, not dramatic. Just okay.
And that's the part that's been nagging at Charlie the last few years. He's been asking God if, here at age forty, there could be any way to find more meaning in his work.
"I first began to take God seriously as a result of the birth of our first daughter back in 1991," Charlie says. "Watching this new little life come into the world really spoke to me. I started to think, I have a family now. I need to be a leader in my home, and I don't know how to do that. I need to get my act together, don't I?
Soon Charlie and Denise discovered a church in their community with a Tuesday night family life group. They found themselves sitting around tables discussing how to be better parents and how God's strength could make a difference. "The whole idea of being 'born again-I took it very literally," says Charlie. "For me, it was a chance to grow up again. Only this time, I had the Holy Spirit to guide my steps."
What If ...?
As time went on, the Spicers progressed to become table leaders, and their spiritual knowledge deepened. Sitting and talking with a younger couple and showing them how to put the Lord at the center of their marriage and parenting brought more and more fulfillment. People seemed to flower under their mentoring.
The church asked them to work especially with engaged couples, getting them ready for a lifetime commitment. One evening in early 2002, after a dinner appointment with a couple that had gone especially well, they were driving home when Denise said with all seriousness, "Charlie, what if you did this for a living? You did so great tonight; you were gentle and kind, and yet you helped guide them and answer their questions." There were tears in her eyes as she looked across at her husband.
Charlie staled ahead at the traffic. It was not a brand-new thought; he had privately fantasized about being a pastor someday. But his wife's comment brought the whole crazy notion forward in a new way.
"Yes, I would really enjoy that," he answered. "But how in the world would we ever pull it off? I'd have to go back to school, that's for sure. I'm not qualified to be a counselor or whatever I don't know ..."
They were both pensive, drawn toward the new but reluctant to jettison the old. As they pulled into the driveway, Denise said, "Why don't you at least explore the possibilities?" Charlie nodded. It took both of them awhile to go to sleep that night.
In the weeks that followed, Charlie began making phone calls and checking Web sites to learn more about training options. What would it really take to become a credentialed MFT, as they called it-a marriage-and-family therapist? He studied the course offerings of several graduate schools. He calculated how much of the work could be done through night classes, after his day job was completed.
When he looked at the tuition costs, however, his pragmatic self took over. Who am I kidding? he said to himself. With the mortgage and all the other bills we already have, there's no way I can do this. Get real man.
The dream seemed hazy indeed. Starting a whole new career in midlife was fun to imagine, but it was also highly unrealistic.