While in Afghanistan, in October of 2016 I received this email from Sean, a great friend and mentor:
So if you can, explain the circumstances that took you to BAF. The last time we spoke things with your business and rentals were going well and you felt God had you where he wanted you and you were surrounded by godly men in that business. I can't imagine that you are there [in Afghanistan] giving landscaping quotes so I am just confused a bit. I thought you got out of the military on a medical so I wouldn't expect you to be there through the military. It just seemed so odd and contrary to our last discussion and so sudden so if you can shed light, it would be appreciated. Take care and God bless. Sean”
“Hey Sean, Great questions! So, to paint this picture vividly we must go back to Jun 27th, 2014.
You know most of this story, but let's recap. I was still working for you, and it was an early-out Friday that day. On the way out the door, Steve [fellow co-worker] invited me to Creation Fest for the weekend. I was reluctant, but I decided that if my youngest brother Andrew wanted to go with me, then I would go.
I called my brother shortly after, and he said he'd go. I packed up some firewood, a tent, and some food, and we were off. We arrived to the front gate and the gate attendant said, "That'll be $86 per person."
'Ouch!" we were both thinking the same thing as we looked at each other. "That is quite a price to pay for one night in a tent." So, I asked him if he gave military discounts.
'No sir," was his reply, but then he hesitated as if someone just said something to him, 'Hold on just a sec.' He walked over to an older lady who looked like she was in-charge.
All I could hear of the conversation was her saying, "Well you just mind the Lord and do what He is telling you to do."
The gentleman came back over to the truck and handed me two wrist bands and said, "Have a great time!"
I sat there for a sec waiting for the discounted price to be quoted, but none came so I asked, "How much do I owe you?"
"Have a great time!" was his reply the second time as he smiled, hoping that I got the clue. I did indeed get the clue, and I drove in with a smile.
My brother said with a smile, "God is so cool."
The next morning (Sat June 28, 2014) my brother and I woke up and built a fire to make some breakfast before going to listen to the first speaker for the day. I opened up my Bible and began reading the account of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. They were headed up a mountain. Perhaps a long steep mountain, rocky at the least, and Isaac asks his dad, "Pops, we have the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb that we are going to sacrifice?"
Abraham's words, "My son, God will provide a lamb."
Those words “God will provide,” kept ringing in my ears all day. Suddenly, this very clear and real dialogue in the corners of my mind began to take place. I got this overwhelming feeling in my soul, that things were going to change in my life very rapidly. Keep in mind this just prior to or about the same time that my Army Unit was notifying me of my E6 position going away.
I began to cry out in the quietness of my heart, "Lord, I don't feel like I am supposed to be stuck at this job for the rest of my life. I feel like I’m missing something, but I can’t quit this job. I just bought an investment property, a house, and a new truck. I have financial obligations now.”
I felt like I was miles from where I needed to be, with no map and no compass. The prayer of my heart was, “When God? When will you provide for me what I need and what I desire; the need of feeling fulfilled, in knowing that I am accomplishing your will and doing my mission here on earth? I’m tired of failing.”
The answer came in less time than it took for me to ask that question.
"Erick my son, Abraham did not get his provision until he got to where I told him to be. In order to get what you need; you need to go to where you are supposed to be."
I thought my next reply was relatively logical, “Where am I supposed to be?"
"Did Abraham know his destination before he left? [rhetorical question of course] Getting moving and I'll show you," came that still small voice.
“No this can't be happening right now,” I thought. “I don't have a big enough savings account to quit my job right now. This is crazy. If this is you speaking to me Lord, and not some crazy notion in my head, then You’ve got to make this clear. Quitting my job, a good job, with no direction and no clue what I’m supposed to be doing? This is ridiculous."
Excitement mixed with anxiety ebbed and flowed inside my head. I started thinking in this moment that perhaps a second attempt at Ranger School and a Special Forces Career was in the making.
My brother and I finished eating breakfast and we headed over to hear the morning speaker. I still remember his topic. It was on 2Kings 4. This is what he read:
“One of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, ‘My husband, has died. You know that my husband honored Yahweh our God, but now the lender of my husband is coming to take my two children as his slaves for failing to pay the debt that my husband had with him.’
“Elisha asked her, ‘What do you want me to do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’
“She said, ‘I have nothing in the house except a jar of oil.’
“Then he said, ‘Go and borrow empty containers from everyone—from all your neighbors. Do not get just a few. Then go in and shut the door behind you with your sons, and pour oil into all these containers. Set the full ones to one side.’
“She left, and did as Elisha said. She kept pouring that jar into the empty containers. The empty containers kept filling up from this one jar of oil. When they were all full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another container.’
“But he replied, ‘There are no more containers.’ Then the oil from the jar was gone.
“She went and told the man of God about the miracle that had happened, and Elisha said, ‘Go sell enough of the oil and pay your debt, then you and your sons can live on the rest.’”
I don’t think it was a coincidence that the whole theme of this story was, God will provide. Especially in light of this new reality that I was facing; namely quitting my job. After this first speaker was finished telling about the miraculous provisions of God in his life, the next speaker took the stage. It was just as vivid now as it was then. His topic was on 2Kings 6. This is what he read:
“The sons of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘Please notice that the place where we live under your supervision is too small for us. Please let us go to down by the Jordan River where we can get some timber and build ourselves a place to live there.’
“’Go,’ Elisha said.
“Then one said to Elisha, ‘Please come with your servants.’
“’I’ll come,’ he answered.
“So, he went with them down near the river to cut down some trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head flew off the ax he was using and fell into the water, and he cried out, ‘Oh, dag-nabbit! Elisha! This axe was borrowed!’
“Then Elisha, the man of God asked, ‘Where did it fall into the river?’ When the young man showed him the place, the man of God cut a stick, threw it there, and the iron floated. Then he said, ‘Pick it up.’ The young man reached out and took it.”
For me, this is almost that kind of story that you “have to be there to believe it” but none-the-less the application was still very relevant. Again, not only was it God will provide but another interesting correlation to this passage of scripture was a question the preacher asked, “Have you ever felt like you have lost your edge?”
“Yup sure have,” I thought.
“You need recall where it was you lost it. Then you need to reach out, or maybe in your case, step out. Do whatever it takes to get your axe head back,” was the preachers reply; as if he could hear my thoughts.
As I heard his words, quitting my job immediately came to the forefront of my mind again, “Father in heaven, I don’t know about this. Again, Lord, if this is You speaking to me, then please just make it clear. This seems so crazy.”
As I sat there contemplating the illogic of it all. God spoke to me again very clearly, “Erick I want you to go find Hannah. She has something I want you to hear.”
Hannah was a gal I met earlier that day. “Where do I find her?” I thought.
Once again I heard very clearly in my head, “Get moving and I’ll show you.” Ok at this point I’m getting concerned, like, “Do I need to check into a mental ward. Where are these voices in my head coming from?”
I started heading up the hill to where I saw her last. There are at least twenty thousand or more people at this festival, and hundreds currently surrounding me. How in the world am I going to find this girl? Just then she literally brushed by me in the mosh posh of people. It didn’t take long for the crowd of people to separate us, but I yelled her name, “Hannah!”
She turned around, we made eye contact and she smiled and waited. I caught up to her and the only thing I could think to say was, “So umm...what is God doing in your life?”
“Well,” she started, “Two weeks ago God told me to quit my job. I’m from Texas, and a week ago I had no idea I would be here in Pennsylvania.”
“What!” I exclaimed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Our conversation continued as she told me the very crazy and awesome story of stepping out and trusting God.
I then took a few brief moments to tell her what I thought God was leading me to do. Her reply was something like, “Just do it. You won’t regret it.”
A few hours later as we were enjoying some live bands, I asked my bro, “Hey man you wana go get some ice-cream dots?”
“Sure brah! Let’s go!” he agreed.
We got about half way there and I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Clark,” I said to my old Army buddy who was walking towards me. “What are you doing here?” We embraced and he started catching me up on what had been happening the last year or so (Now that I think about it, I don’t think we ever got those ice-cream dots. Sorry Andrew). He was Hoss of a man. His arms were as big as my legs. He made great money working in the Natural Gas industry.
He began by saying, “The craziest thing happened recently. About a month ago God told me to quit my job.” When I heard this you can imagine how I was freaking out at this point. He continued, “It made absolutely no sense to me, so I didn’t listen. Then about two weeks ago I was on the ground below the crane, and the retention nut came off the hook on the load above me. The 40lb retention nut came down and scuffed the brim of my hard hat causing me to look up just in time and see the load coming down at me. I jumped out of the way just in time. After that I was like, ‘ok God you got my attention. I quit!’”
“No way man!” I exclaimed with goose bumps. “This is crazy dude.”
“So what’s up with you?” he asked.
“You are the second person in the time span of approximately two hours to tell me the same thing about their job. What are the odds? It would not be so crazy if I didn’t think that God was telling me to quit my job.”
A few days later on July 1st, 2014, I was headed into back into work after this exciting, but sobering weekend. I walked up the steps that led to the front door of the Aviation Facility, and thought to myself, “Okay, maybe I can wait for about six months and get some savings built up.” But then I remembered Clark’s story of what happened when he didn’t quit his job right away when he was supposed to.
I walk in and the digital clock hanging on the wall said 7:21. I always looked at that clock when I walked in, but for whatever reason that day I couldn’t shake those numbers “721”. It didn’t mean anything to me other than the fact that it was twenty-one after seven. I proceeded to the locker room and changed for my morning workout.
After my workout, I distinctly remember standing in the shower contemplating, and praying, “Lord when is this going down? When am I supposed to hang up this job? Please make it clear. Just give me a clear sign.”
After I showered up and changed into my work clothes I headed out on the shop floor and found you, "Hey Sean got a minute?" I asked
"Sure Erick what's up?" you replied.
"Well, I feel like umm…I feel like God is ahh… telling me to hang this job up,” I said.
I remember you saying, “I will be praying for you that you make the right decision.”
After that conversation I left for my morning break, and you went to the locker-room to prepare for your workout. During my break, I opened up my yogurt cup. For some odd reason "best if used by 7/21/2014" really stuck out to me on that yogurt lid. It was as if it jumped right off the lid at me. But I didn’t pay much attention to it after that.
You came back from your workout and said, "Hey Erick, I was praying for you during my run and something came to mind, and I think I am supposed to share it with you. It was Gideon when he laid out a fleece, and asked God for a clear sign to confirm what God was asking him to do." (Read account in Judges 6:36-40).
That really connected with me, especially since I was kind of praying the same thing. So, I prayed once again a prayer similar to the one Gideon had prayed, “Lord please make it unmistakably clear.”
Later that day I went over to the computer and noticed that my Military ID card [has a chip that we use to unlock the computer] was going to expire on July 21, 2014. “Oh I need to update my ID,” I thought. Then suddenly it hit me. In that moment the digital clock, the yogurt lid, and that expiration date on my ID card all came flooding into my mind at the same time, and they all had the same thing in common, 721.
I left the computer and quickly calculated my leave that I had accumulated for the year. If I were to use all my leave it would take me right out to and cover Friday July 18, 2014. I had already been scheduled to work two weeks of youth camps coming up (the last one ending on Friday the 18th). In that moment I knew what God was asking me to do. Not long after all of this started becoming a reality my mind I began thinking about Matthew 7:21 where Jesus said, “…Only those that do what my Father has planned for their life will get to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
My biggest question during this whole process was, “What in the world do you have planned, Lord? Because none of this is making any sense.” But I knew His plan was this first step. And taking that leap was the most difficult thing to do.
I found you and said, “Well Sean! I got my fleece. Here’s my three-week notice.”
While all of this was going down, a wonderful and talented young lady by the name of Ashley who lived in Virginia at the time was strongly encouraging me to do something with my music. She recognized my talent for song writing as something more than just a hobby that I intended it to be. She insisted that I should audition with an agency with which she was familiar. I didn't think I wanted to do it but after much persistence, I finally agreed. She sent me the information, and I filled out the paperwork. My audition date ironically enough was Monday 7/21/2014.
A lot happened between that audition date and this past summer 2016, but one thing remained constant since the 21st of July 2014. The need to focus on my music has been relentless, but how does one pay the bills with music? Especially when you are a nobody? That’s where the landscaping business comes in, but the more I focused on this the more my guitar collected dust.
The business this past summer was doing great as we discussed, (if one associates busy-ness with great-ness). Pretty sure the two are not synonyms. I don’t know if you noticed that there was a bit of despondency being portrayed the last time we spoke. Perhaps it was covered up by my optimism. I do recall mentioning to you the challenge of retaining profits. After payroll for my office manager and field workers, insurance, and business expenses, I was barely making seven dollars an hour for myself, and the pain in my back was too much to not have workers.
The sacrifices I was making to keep my team busy and paid was emotionally taxing. Small business is tough, especially that of the contracting world with the winters of Pennsylvania where I had to make a 12-month salary in approximately 9 months, meanwhile competing with others for the same work.
In order to compete with other contractors, and survive the winters, we (Splendid Acres LLC) were in desperate need of equipment upgrades so that we could obtain bigger contracts. In the light of this, I knew I need another source of income. I did not want to go into debt to get these upgrades, especially with the fluctuating and uncertain income of contracting. I couldn’t go into debt even if I wanted to. My credit upon leaving the full-time position two years ago at the flight facility plummeted from the 700s to the lower 500s. So, getting a small business loan was out of the question.
This past winter (2015-2016), after returning from Alaska (a job I thought would turn things around for me) my house was about to go into foreclosure, my truck repossessed, and it was the middle of winter so the landscaping business was not producing any income. Prior to all of this I went back to school (UPJ) during the fall of 2015 in hopes of earning some military school money that would hopefully carry me through the winter. I learned after enrolling that the state of PA had yet to pass their budget. This affected my school money. It was past the drop date when I learned of this, so the only choice was to finish the semester. I ended up further behind on bills with more debt.
I felt despondent, rejected, and hopeless. I was complete failure in my mind. I know that God had showed me to step away from my full-time job as a helicopter mechanic, but in these moments I felt abandoned in a wilderness to die a thousand deaths? February 14, 2016, I hit an all-time low, but through it all I was reminded of that day (7/21/14).
The spring of 2016 the business really started picking up, and I had wind in my sails. I also decided to put to rest the nagging desire for Special Forces by giving it one last, all in, effort. Throughout the summer the SF tryouts went very well, and the business was in good hands; however, when I looked at my personal finances coupled with the anxiety of winter approaching, the reality was grim. I needed something else.
I was earning some income from the Special Forces, but that pursuit eventually ended in an epic fail – you can read about that in my book I’m writing, (7 Keys to Facing and Overcoming Failure); so, here I am in Afghanistan. I applied for this job and was given an offer letter shortly after. The originally plan was to do this alongside my Special Forces career. The SF group I was going through was a National Guard Group and this contracting gig in Afghan typically runs two months on and two month off. When I talked it over with my SF cadre they said it sounded like a good fit, very parallel jobs. But as mentioned before, I made it through the entire summer of tryouts only to have my lower back lock up on me right before my last assessment.
I can honestly say this job here in Afghanistan has been a financial answer to prayer. I’m making $625 a day with full benefits and I really enjoy the work. I’m getting caught up on the $10,000 worth of monthly bills that I was behind on, and I would love to do this job for the next six years. I’m excited to use this money to potentially grow the business back home and take care of my crew. I project (if invested wisely) I could give this job up in six years, and have enough real-estate cash flow and liquid to keep me busy for the rest of my life. Plus, I will have a lot more time to dedicate to my music, which clearly has been the priority that God seems to be placing on my heart.
I’ll have to share the “FOCUS” story with you sometime.
Thanks for your questions Sean. Keep me in your prayers here. Talk to you soon!