Thursday, January 27, 2005

Finding Your Niche

“We are one body but all members do not have the same function. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”
~ Romans 12:4-6

The wind is moving
But I am standing still
A life of pages
Waiting to be filled
A heart that’s hopeful
A head that’s full of dreams
But this becoming
Is harder than it seems
Feels like I’m …

Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world

~Place in This World ~ by Michael W. Smith and Wayne Kirkpatrick

I’d like to dedicate this column to a dear friend of mine from my high school days, Scott Carson. I met Scott in 1974 when I was a sophomore at Singapore American School. Scott was a fellow member of the “Friday night Bible Study group” that Keen and I attended. In fact, he was the person who first invited me to join the group. Up until that point, my sister and I were very unhappy at SAS because we just hadn’t been able to make any friends. Our mom wisely assured us that if things didn’t improve, we could transfer to the International School. It brought us great comfort to know that we had other options, but I’m sure Mom knew that it was only a matter of time before we found a group of friends. As usual, Mom was right.

In this recent email, Scott reminisced about the “good old days.”

“Do you remember the day we met? I was wearing a "One Way" pin on my OVERALLS (ah, the '70s!) and as we passed in the stairwell you said, "Praise the Lord, brother!" Although we go for years at a time without contact, I count you amongst those treasured friends I was blessed with in Singapore. I don't believe I've had friendships with that same level of intensity and intimacy since then. We were truly blessed during those golden years, weren't we? And look at us now, 30+ years later and STILL benefiting from those marvelous blessings.”

It was a very special time in our lives and I also consider the friendships I made there some of my most cherished.

Now the idea of attending a weekly Bible study might not sound too exciting to most teenagers, but let me tell you, we laughed and had more fun in that group than you can imagine. After Bible study we would take a bus to the “pasam malam” (that’s Malay for night market) and sample the local foods. My personal favorite was fried bananas. On Saturdays we would often take boat rides to nearby islands such as Sentosa and Sisters Island and sometimes we went on weekend Bible retreats to Malaysia (Chendor and Port Dickson).

Scott was always the funny man in the group and we were convinced that he would become a famous comedian someday. He could light up a room with his smile and have us all in stitches with his antics and great sense of humor. Of course, he had his serious side, too. Everyone who knew Scott felt blessed by his energy and the love of God he exuded.

As Scott mentioned in his email, we haven’t stayed in close touch over the years, but we have managed to continue to exchange Christmas cards. (He’s one of those people who mails his cards out by December 1st.) A couple of years ago Scott moved to St. Louis, so I’m hoping that our paths will cross again one of these days.

This poem by F.C. (Fred) Appelhanz could have been written for Scott, as it seems to describe him perfectly. Fred, who is a new poet friend of mine from Holton, Kansas, has kindly permitted me to share his gift of poetry.

By F.C. Appelhanz

Let your laughter speak,
of the goodness in your heart.
Moving the world,
touching our core,
just with a smile.
See the impact you cause,
with the lightness of your presence
Reaching us all,
soothing our cares,
just being yourself.
All that you have to give,
is the only purpose you know.
Caring your meaning,
calling us home,
just with a wink.
For all the love you bring,
in the unconditional life you live.
Sharing your soul, giving from deep inside,
Just a pure joy.

Lately Scott and I have been getting caught up via email and he told me about the various side roads he traveled on the journey to finding his current profession, which he dearly loves. Scott has held many different jobs ranging from insurance salesman, to Naval Officer, to bartender, to casket delivery man.

In the book titled, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat,” author John Ortberg writes:

“A calling is something you discover, not something you choose. The word vocation comes from the Latin word for voice. Discovering it involves very careful listening. What brings you joy? For what do you have desire and passion – for these, too, are gifts from God. This is why giftedness is about more than just talents – it includes passion. As Arthur Miller says, ‘It’s the lifeblood of a person, the song that her heart longs to sing, the race that his legs were born to run.’”

Ortberg then shared the following quote from Michael Novak:

“We didn’t give ourselves the personalities, talents, or longings we were born with. When we fulfill these – these gifts from beyond ourselves – it is like fulfilling something we were meant to do . . .the Creator of all things knows the name of each of us – knows thoroughly, better than we do ourselves, what is in us, for he put it there and intends for us to do something with it – something that meshes with his intentions for many other people. Even if we do not always think of it that way, each of us was given a calling – by fate, by chance, by destiny, by God. Those who are lucky have found it.”

Last week, after reading my column about God-given gifts, Scott sent me a very moving letter which beautifully illustrates the long and winding road we often take on the journey to “finding our niche.” With Scott’s permission, I’d like to share it with you


Thanks for including me on your "Reflections" distribution list. Many times in my life I've looked with envy on people who can say, "...I knew I wanted to be a _______ since I was 8 years old..." since I am one of those people who made it to adulthood with no clue of what my vocation would be. I knew there were many things I liked to do, but they were not activities I wanted to turn to for profit since that would rob them of the joy and fun they provided me. Such callings as teacher, minister, writer and counselor tugged at my heart, but each time I ventured toward formalizing them into "my career," they vanished before my eyes and trickled between my fingers like so much sand. One day I answered a classified advertisement for a position at a health department and got the job. Many years later I realized that the callings from long ago had merged to create a vocation that is more precious than anything I could have deliberately chosen for myself. I help people learn about disease, I create training manuals for health care professionals, I've spent time on the street meeting people who live in abandoned crates on vacant lots, and I dialog with people about how to alter their behavior in order to stay well. It was then that God chuckled in my ear and said, "See, you ARE a teacher, a minister, a writer, a counselor...I just made sure you got to do those things in an extraordinary way so you won't get bored."

For many years I worked with people infected with, affected by, or who risked infection with HIV. A seminary classmate once criticized me for spending time with "those people," and I was stunned. What is the proper response to a statement like that? My reaction was to sit there with my mouth hanging open, and since, for once, I wasn't blabbering on and on, God took the opportunity to use my idle vocal apparatus and said to my friend, "I'll help them stay well long enough for you to get them into church and save their souls..."

I work in public health. It is my ministry, my classroom, my counseling office, and my great masterpiece. I love my coworkers and my clients, and I love lying down at night and thinking, "...I helped someone today..." I could not see this path at 8 years old, but now I am glad because God showed me some marvelous scenery along the way, and used each experience to shape me into what He needs me to be.

Love to you, old friend,


“Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'”

~Matthew 25:34-36 (NLT)

Scott Carson