This September, I’m moving to Franklin, Tennessee. It’s impossible to tell this story without talking about Jesus, so fair warning. This is the journey that led here…
I’ve always “believed in God.” Ask my friends through the years and they’ll tell you how they endured long intellectual conversations on God, faith and philosophy… some boring, some thoughtful, some just too intense. But during the summer of 2009 something happened. A woman who I’d never met or spoken to, who knew nothing about me, told me exactly who I was and God’s calling on my life… at rapid speed for ten minutes straight. I found out that day God profoundly believed in me and it lit something in my heart.
I needed to act. I said goodbye to a life playing music and moved to Northern California to join Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. It sounds weird and it probably was. With a name like that most people have no idea how to respond. But there I spent three years growing up, coming alive, having indecent amounts of fun and all the while God did things beyond my wildest imagination. Some have a hard time believing in miracles. I have no trouble. A blind eye opening, severe pain gone in an instant, terminal cancer disappearing without a trace, even a thick gold-like cloud appearing indoors from out of no where (I’ve got video for that one). It was insanity. Yet faith became experience the moment the impossible happened in front of me.
In 2012, I moved back to Winchester a changed person. I was home and ready to build life here again. I got a job, got stuck in with my local church, spent time on the road with friends and recently bought a house. God continues to do amazing things. Four weeks ago, a woman with carpel tunnel felt pain disappear from her wrist as I prayed. That’s not normal.
Those are the hits. Many more experience nothing when I pray for them. That’s not the point. The point is I’ve seen something impossible with my eyes and there’s no going back. I don’t have many answers but I know my father in heaven is with us, for us and loves us. He’s ridiculously better than you think.
It took a while to get back the rhythm of life in England again but today I’m deeply thankful to be here and, until recently, had no plans to leave. My family, work, friends, community, my house, my dog, the teams I’m involved with… all of that’s here. And I’m pretty invested. But there may be something more.
Last July, I traveled Stateside to see friends. It was a serious road trip with stays in over seven states on two coasts. On my travels I felt an incredible sense of community each place I went. I experienced conversations that cut to the heart. Connections that felt effortless. Something about that holiday made my heart come alive. And it called into question life in England. Why was I where I was when a more meaningful life was out there? But the normal pace of work and life back home quickly washed over that feeling.
In November last year a friend recommended a podcast by their church leaders, Alyn & AJ Jones. They’re based out of Franklin, just south of Nashville. I checked it out. Each week I listened, I noticed a change… I felt more myself. For context, I’m a very head-driven person, so when I notice something in my heart, it’s often significant. This was a voice I didn’t have in my life. They were down to earth, told stories of God’s kindness and believed in people. I needed that. [Disclaimer: my church and it’s pastors actually do an incredible job of believing in people too, so it’s a little hard to explain.]
A couple of months ago my friends, Blake & Alaina, got engaged and invited me to their wedding in Nashville. Around the same time I sent in some feedback to the Jones’s podcast. Apparently it gave Alyn a good laugh. So much so that when Blake invited me to the wedding, he told me Alyn wanted me to stay at his home while in town. This felt unusual. Consider this: you listen to a podcast for a year and grow to adore it. You discover a great deal about the hosts of the show through the sheer volume of hours spent listening to them. But you have zero relationship with them. Then, out the blue, they enthusiastically invite you to stay at their house for two weeks. Odd.
A FaceTime call was setup between myself and Alyn a few weeks later. First, yes, the invitation was real and I could stay. But then came the stinger, just one more thing… Alyn felt he pictured me sad in my heart when leaving Nashville. So, he concocted a harebrained solution. How about I flew out a month earlier and stayed 9 months by joining their two-day-a-week ministry school? Just a thought. Pray about it.
I didn’t expect that. It came out of nowhere and had a slight overtone of crazy to it. Because, guess what? I’d still need to leave at the end of it! But I was flattered, so I said I’d consider it. I already spent time at a brilliant ministry school. I loved it and learned so much. Did I really need another school like that? Probably not, but I said I’d think about it.
So I did. Fors, againsts, pros, cons, checked my dream list, read all the stuff I felt God spoke to me through the years, reviewed practicalities, prayed constantly, got reams of advice from friends, family and trusted people. And it came down to this: I felt God say, “expect a sign.” Cool. So to keep the ball rolling, I applied and waited for God to show me the way.
There’s this concept in psychology called ‘conformational bias.’ It means people look for signs to validate what they already want. I knew I should be wary of my own enchantment with a new adventure. Of course, jetting off to America sounded like fun. But life at home was solid and this decision would affect people I love. In looking for a sign, I needed it to be clear and obvious. I wasn’t going to put up with fuzzy and abstract.
In the proceeding two weeks I had no small amount of coincidences, including coming across an article that emphatically encouraged “the need to relocate to other places for the strengths of their community” by a guy based out of Nashville. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the crystal clear angelic herald I was looking for. At this point I knew I wanted to go and this could just be hearing what I wanted to hear.
So my application goes through and I get accepted to the school. Alyn is helping me through the process, but not nudging me in either direction. It gets to the final day to pay the deposit. Now or never. On that day, I was on holiday with my friend Ash in Oslo, Norway. It was a warm, sunny day. I took some time to myself and wandered up to the top of the Opera House. Standing in the corner, I looked out over the fjords and start talking to God. The conversation went something like this…
“I felt you say, look for a sign. Or expect a sign. I’ve been expecting one. Have you given a sign yet?”
“What was it?”
- The leading of your heart. This season is about your heart. I want to see you embrace your heart that I love.
“So, I guess I expected something different.”
- That’s how I lead you.
“Follow your heart, then? Sounds like advice from a greeting card.”
The thing is, I was waiting for an external sign. I completely discounted God could be stirring the way from within. But it makes sense. That feeling I had when I got home from my holiday in America last year. The off-the-cuff thought Alyn had when suggesting the idea to me, about my heart feeling sad when if I left. No one ever told me to “go to California,” but I absolutely knew what I had to do back in 2009. God had been leading me by the heart and I was too cautious of my own biases to let my heart point the direction. My head has always been such a dominant force, but maybe in this next season of life that will start to look a little different.
Coincidently, one of my favourite Bible verses of all time is John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I actually don’t know what life in Franklin is going to look like. There’s still a lot of unknowns. Thankfully the work situation is covered now but I’ve still got a visa to get approved and rent my house out. I talk about community but I know less than a handful of people there. I’ve had the ‘ministry school’ experience, but how will this be different? And what on earth will I actually do there the other five days of the week? Maybe it doesn’t make any sense.
Remember that lady back in 2009 that got me in this whole mess? She said to me, “when you’re at a crossroads, follow the unknown path. It’ll add in ways of adventure and life. It won’t be boring for you.” She kept on about the unknown way. That’s the road I find myself on now. A lot of people might ask me, what are your goals in doing this? What do you hope to get out of it? What’s it leading you to do afterwards? Good questions, but they’re not the right ones.