I am a Philly guy.
To be honest, I don’t even really know what that means. I wasn’t even born here, something I rarely admit. I grew up in the suburbs. I went to college elsewhere. But when I think about where home is, it’s always been here.
The truth is, I love this city. I don’t ever remember that being a conscious decision. But the reality is that its been part of my identity for as long as I can remember, so much so that I wrote about it in my college application essay. Here’s a quote:
“I suppose my fascination with Philadelphia began when I was six years old. My family was moving to the city from New York, and my life was about to change. I had no way of knowing how at the time, but as we drove over the Walt Whitman Bridge, I distinctly recall catching a glimpse of Veterans Stadium looming off to the left. Behind the Vet was the Spectrum, and behind that, JFK Stadium… For some reason, I have a vivid memory of the thought that crossed my mind at that moment: ‘I think I’m going to like this place.’”
When something like civic pride is a part of your identity, it seems natural to seek validation in it. As a kid, the most logical place for that was in sports teams. I went to every game I could. My AOL screen name was CrazyFan25. Needless to say, I was obsessed. But I never remember thinking there was anything wrong with that – everyone else, it seemed, was the same way!
When I left for college in Boston, I brought with me an even stronger sense of civic pride. So imagine my delight when on February 6, 2005, on my 21st birthday, the Eagles made the Super Bowl to face the New England Patriots – Boston’s team. This would be my ultimate validation.
The problem is, they lost. Having come home to Philadelphia for the weekend to watch the game with my dad, I now had to drive back to Boston in crushing defeat. I didn’t stop crying until Connecticut.
The experience left me bitter and home sick. Seeking any opportunity I could find to reconnect with Philadelphia, I turned to academics. I decided to write an honors thesis my senior year and read the Inquirer online every day searching for a topic. I found one in SEPTA. And so a new obsession, a new search for validation began.
Fast forward five years and I got a job at SEPTA. This was my dream job. In fact, it quickly became more of a mission than a job, and to it I brought my own notions of what should change, and how things should be done.
Quite predictably, in retrospect, I was almost instantly despised there. Veterans would cut me out of meetings because they could. Peers would, as I would find out later, derisively call me “the chosen one” behind my back. Even the best ideas, as I quickly realized, mean nothing if no one else wants them to succeed.
It was at this point that I became quite depressed. Having sought validation as proud Philadelphian, both through sports and through professional service, had produced little lasting joy. Having established my identity in the inherently fallen institutions of this world had left me bitter and disillusioned. I felt like the circumstances of my life were completely out of my control.
I believe that its times like this in our lives that God does his best work. And slowly but surely, God began working on me. I had called myself a Christian for my entire life, raised in a church-going household and living a so-called moral life. But the relationship was more like a consultant than a CEO – I called on God when I needed him.
And at this point, I needed Him. And he was there, as he always had been. But this time, it wasn’t the instant gratification I thought it would be – many more months of suffering were in store. But it was during this time that God was promoted from consultant to CEO of my life.
There really is not a dramatic turning point in my story – instead, a series of moments where God showed he was in complete control. And truly, a big part of this was being led to Vineyard, a community full of people who love this great city and want to see it become even better. Here, he even introduced me to my wife, Katy, who has shown me that even Oklahoma girls can love Philadelphia.
In fact, a lot of my life is still the same as it always was. I’m still a Philly guy. I still love Philadelphia sports teams as much as ever, and I still really, really love SEPTA.
But more and more, what’s changed is that I no longer seek validation in these things. True, I probably still take it too personally when I hear people complain about the Phillies or a train being late. I believe that God is using these little pangs of disappointment as reminders that He, not me, is in complete control – little opportunities to continue rebuilding a new identity in Him.
In Colossians 3, Paul writes: “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
We have a passionate God who wants us to live passionate lives. But he wants us to live our lives for Him. For me, what’s changed isn’t so much what I do, but why I do it. And what’s amazing about this change in perspective is that it’s completely opened my eyes to all of the great things that God is already doing around us.
It’s as if He’s constantly telling me, stop trying to fix everything yourself – I’ve got this. I think I’m finally starting to listen. And I’m very grateful for the sense of peace and contentment this has brought to my life. I believe now more than ever that greater things really are yet to come in this city.
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