What a Difference a Year Makes! by: Jennifer Acker

As I laid on the bottom bunk by the door at “lights out” at 3rd grade Bible Camp, I began thinking “look at what a difference a year makes.” A year ago, I was so unsettled. For the first time in my career, I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to go professionally. I had made small moves in my career in the past. Always moving to something with a wider reach or a wider impact, however, I also always knew where I was headed and why. I always had a plan.

A year ago, that wasn’t the case. A year ago, I didn’t have a plan. I was waiting to see if the big, federal grant I had written would be awarded. I was waiting to see if my job as well as the jobs of everyone in my department at the non-profit would be saved. I was also trying to decide if I even still wanted my job, even if it were saved.

I enjoyed my job and felt that I should stay and lead the charge on the big grant, and at the same time I was feeling this incredible pull leading me back to working with children. I was determined not to jump ship during the decision time of the feds. I felt that my team needed me. I was not going to leave while things were tough. And I didn’t. I stayed through the tough decision time. However, once things were stable, once the team members knew their jobs were secure for another 5 years, and once the agency knew the funding was secure for another 5 years, I began to listen to that voice again, that pull.

At this point, it was December and three months had passed since I first started feeling that pull toward working with children again. I was heading out to Washington DC for a business trip and I remember searching through my things for my pocket cross so I could take it with me. Throughout my life I have carried my pocket cross with me during times of struggle or uncertainty. It’s a small cross that I’ve had since I was a child. It helps remind me that I am not alone in making big decisions or wrestling with struggles. However, I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t remember where I’d last left my pocket cross. I couldn’t even remember where I got my pocket cross all those years ago. That wasn’t good, because I felt that this was a pocket cross kind of struggle!

Once I was in Washington DC, I stopped at the National Cathedral and bought a new pocket cross. I prayed about the decision I was struggling with: stay with the big project or go and work in ministry with children. I wasn’t sure I was ready to walk away from such a big project after investing that amount of blood, sweat, and tears. I was praying about the decision as I sat in professional conferences and meetings in Washington DC and then in Oklahoma City. I wrestled with the fact that I had longed for years to sit in these seats at these elite tables in my profession and now that I was here, all I could think of was returning to my work with children. I still found value in my work. I still enjoyed the people I worked with. What was happening? I just didn’t understand.

Later that week, a very special family friend passed away. He was the patriarch of the family that was so instrumental in my faith journey as a child. As I sat at his funeral, the pastor mentioned “pocket crosses” in the eulogy. A flood of incredible emotion came over me. This was my burning bush moment! It was THIS friend! It happened so many years ago that I had forgotten. THIS was the man who gave me the pocket cross years ago. My best friend’s grandfather, who was known as Papaw to me my entire life, and his entire family is who always invited me to church as a child. This man and his family is who is responsible for teaching me about Jesus’ love. This man’s greatest love, besides his wife and Jesus, was children. He believed that the spiritual development of children was one of the most important things we could be a part of. He and his wife were incredible supporters of the children’s ministry at their Methodist church. I finally got it! I truly believe that God had been working through this man to prepare me to work with children in this way and in this place. I believe God was working through this man in life and through his death. As I drove back into town after his funeral service, I drove straight to see Rev. Philip to let him know that I finally got it! I finally understood the pull and the call to work in ministry with children, and I was ready to follow that call. I was all in.

So, here I lay on the bottom bunk by the door at 3rd grade Bible Camp. It is now a year after that very first tug on my heart last September to work with children again. Yes, I lay here exhausted from the day and also I lay here settled, grateful, at peace, and I feel at home. Starting in February of this year, I traded the king size bed in the fancy DC conference hotel for a twin size bunk bed in a cabin with bugs, grass-burs, a window A/C unit, and eleven 3rd graders and I wouldn’t trade it back for anything in this world!

Here on the bottom bunk, I know I’m right where I want to be and right where I’m supposed to be. I am so thankful that I finally listened to God’s call and for His patience as I discerned it. I continue to feel honored and thrilled each day that God has placed amazing people in my life who have been such a strong and positive influence. I also feel blessed each day that God allows me to support the spiritual development and growth of an amazing group of children. In closing, I ask you this: in what way do you feel God pulling on your heart? As you discern that pull, maybe soon you’ll be saying, “Look at what a difference a year makes”!

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