Forty years ago I sat across the table from an imposing man 20 years my senior.  He was taller than I and had a deep, baritone voice.  He was cordial, he smiled with his eyes as well as his mouth, he shook my hand with a firm grip, and then we sat down to business.  I was being interviewed for a summer job.  I was within weeks of my college graduation.  It was likely I would be drafted into the military sometime that summer, so I wasn’t sure how much of a plan I needed, but I figured I should at least get a summer job.

Jack was looking for a summer youth minister for the church he pastored.  He’d flown from Carlsbad, New Mexico to Abilene, Texas to spend a day interviewing. Each of us to be interviewed had filled out a one-page form with biographical information and something about our approach to youth ministry.

I was already nervous for all the obvious reasons, but just prior to my interview time I had run into my former roommate, Cliff.  He was a big, blustery guy, a former high school football lineman who was not intimidated by much.  He was coming from his interview with Jack.  His eyes widened as he saw me.

“God, Roomy, he’s tough.”  That was all.

Those words and the look in Cliff’s eyes were what I took into the room.  But I was determined to give it my best shot.  I wanted to impress him, but I also wanted to be as genuine as I could.  If I was to be hired, I didn’t want to create an image I couldn’t live up to.

I got a phone call a few days later with an offer to come to Carlsbad for the summer.  Jack assured me we’d deal with the draft issue as it came up.  I accepted.

That summer changed my life’s trajectory.  I did not get drafted and got to spend the whole summer on the job.  That experience was a roaring success for me.  I ended the summer with a clear sense of “Hey, I can do this!”  I learned some capabilities I didn’t know I had, I discovered some things I didn’t know and needed to learn, and I made plans to attend seminary that fall.

Fast forward.  I was invited back to Carlsbad the next summer, which paved the way for a full-time position in a large church in Austin, Texas at the end of seminary.  That 4-year position was an exhilarating and humbling experience, teaching me a great deal about my capabilities and my limitations, and providing the perspective that ultimately led to my decision to leave church work and pursue a doctorate in psychology.  I then spent a quarter century in a university counseling center.

Of course there were thousands of decisions that led up to the brief meeting in 1971 and thousands of decisions afterward that shaped my life and direction.  But upon reflection, it appears to me that the simple interview was an important fork in the road for me.


It was only a few weeks ago, in a phone conversation with Jack, now 80 years old, he told me of his side of that interview day.

He told me that at the end of that interview day, Elwin Skiles (the president of the university) walked into the room, sat across the table from him and asked, “How did it go today?”

“I talked to a number of good men today.”

“Let me take a look at the applications.”

Jack told me that Dr. Skiles spread the applications out in front of him and surveyed them briefly.  “He put his finger on your application and without saying a word pushed it across the table toward me.  He then got up and walked out of the room.”


Sometimes we make “big decisions” that change our lives.  More often, we make some small decision or we respond to some small event, and we then discover that the trajectory of our life has changed.  We rarely see those changes at the moment.  We can only see the bend in the road when we look back.  And we rarely find out whose finger pushed the paper across the table that made the difference.