Don’t despise small beginnings Part II- The danger of hiding yourself in the dark

The trip began in darkness in the middle of the night.  It also ended in darkness in the wee hours of the morning.  This fact is a good representation of the subpar choice to take the trip in the first place.  It was a dark time in my life that could’ve ended very badly.  When you walk in ignorance, making decisions based upon how you feel & refuse to seek wise counsel from people in your life who have wisdom & experience, your journey is bound to be shrouded in darkness & danger.  It’s the danger of hiding yourself in the dark, and not sharing with someone what’s going on internally.  Despite what so called “experts” may tell you, you are not your own best teacher!  Can you learn from decisions you make?  Absolutely!  But this posits the thought that you made a bad decision/ not so good one in order to have learned from the decision in the first place.  This is what happened in my case.  My pastor used to tell me all the time, “It’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes rather than your own.”  After this wayward trip to Franklin, TN, I learned this loud & clear.  Oh, how I wish I would’ve learned from someone else’s mistake in this instance!
I might’ve found a better route had GPS been readily available at the time.  Remember, cell phones still weren’t widespread either.  Most people did not have them.  My charted trip consisted of me drawing a straight line from Latrobe, PA, to Franklin, TN.  That had to be the quickest way right?  Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  In the dark I was off for a destination that was bound to have all the answers once I got there.
How did I decide Franklin, TN, of all places?  It may sound funny but I had this desire since I was 12 years old up until that particular time.  I’d like to think I had become the original aficionado of a popular band at the time named “DC Talk”.  When I heard their music for the first time, the music engaged my soul in a way that opened up creative parts of my imagination that I had never experienced up until that moment in my life at 12 years old.  In fact, their’s was the first CD I had ever purchased.  I just got a portable CD player for Christmas that year that replaced my worn out walkman.  The album “NU Thang” was just released shortly after.  Back in the day, when people still bought CDs as new albums were released, I was one of the first in line to purchase their album.  I had their album on repeat for the entire year.  No joke.  I didn’t know you could wear out CDs.  Turns out you can & the reflective silver stuff that’s on the plastic disc actually comes off.  These guys were it!  I wanted to meet them in the worst way & I determined that I would find a way to work with them somehow in my life.  Remember how I was an artist?  I thought, “That’s it!  I could create artwork for them to be used in their promotions, CD covers, T-shirt designs, you name it!”  I started drawing furiously.  A couple years later, I would be old enough to join the youth group at our church & we took a lot of fun adventures together.  One of those trips was called “Creation Festival”.  It was located in Mt. Union, PA, a few hours away from where we attended church when I was younger. The venue was called “Agape Farms”.  DC Talk was playing the festival that year.  I was going to meet these guys & give them my pitch!  What was going to be my “in”?  I had been creating a sketch all year long that I was going to present in order to ask them if I could be hired as an artist working for them!  The week of the festival was upon us.  We pitched our tents & each night we lined up after the headliners show in order to get their autographs.  The night of DC Talk’s performance came.  I was in line to meet Kevin, Michael & everyone’s favorite, Toby McKeehan.  The only thing though, is I chickened out.  I left my artwork at home because I was too afraid they wouldn’t like it. Instead, I got to the front of the line, got their autographs, & in my squeaky 14 year old half-man voice asked Michael, “Do you ever consider hiring artists to do artwork for your promotions & stuff?”  He actually engaged me & said, “Ya man! Why are you an artist?”  I said “YES!”  He said, “Come here a second.”   He pulled me aside & wrote down on a paper his number to the office at Forefront records.  He graciously said, “Call me & send me something so we can look at your work & consider it.”  My feet didn’t touch the ground the whole way back to our campsite & no one in our group actually believed what I had just done!  Which was really nothing yet, but to me felt like my whole life just changed!
Shortly after “Creation Festival” that summer at 14 years old, I called the number Michael gave me a dozen times but chickened out every time someone answered.  I made up stories of why I was calling Forefront records.  Wrong number, asked about hiring, & sometimes just hung up.  This desire to accomplish the dream I had set out to do came back in the late hours of the night years later when I couldn’t find a new dream.  I resorted to an old one because I didn’t know where I was headed or where I should be headed.  I felt desperate.   “Let’s do this once & for all”, I thought.  I was in the hills of Kentucky when the light began to dawn.  I had already been up for 24 hours at this point.  I was tired but undaunted in my excitement for what I had just done.  I was running on pure adrenaline.  That adrenaline would soon morph into a 2 liter of Mt. Dew.  I had my trusty wood paneled station wagon, a Toyota Cressida, which was affectionately called the “shaggin’ wagon” by all my friends.  When you’ re sleep deprived to begin with, with having bad habits as a college student does, & then you decide to take a 600 plus mile trip through the hills of West Virginia, Kentucky & Tennessee, things are bound to get a little weird.  Like how I began to see dinosaurs in the rock faces I was driving past.  Thankfully I had the “guts” (stupidity) to keep going & shake it off.  Less brave (stubborn) people would’ve pulled off the road & taken a nap.  But I had a destination & nothing was going to stop me.  I took a few stops along the way to fill up on gas & the Dew in some scary towns through Kentucky that you only see in horror movies or thrillers.  Yes they really do exist, but I didn’t let it slow me down for long and for obvious reasons.  A trip that should’ve ended up only taking about 10 hours ended up taking at least 13.  Maybe because I had never navigated anything by myself before this.  I was using the ruler method on the map. I quickly learned how you have to travel slower on smaller roads- ones I’m not sure why they are even considered roads.  The kind that travel on steep drop offs, with no guard rails, & literally have signs that say “danger explosives being used”.  Ya that’s real!  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.  Especially after driving through miles of shacks that were considered homes, built under bridges.  Can we say “Deliverance” anyone?
Nashville.  I was close!  I decided maybe it would be a good idea if I called someone to let them know where I was.  I pulled off at the first payphone I saw.  Thankfully I had the whole Coke bottle change bank full of coins (well, half full).  I knew the friend I was talking to the night before would be in school, knowing it was their lunch time.  They answered & with great excitement I let them know what I had done & what I was in the process of doing!  For some reason they didn’t seem quite as excited as I was.  I let them know the plan & that I would contact them later once I figured things out.  Once I hung up the phone I had no idea the firestorm that was about to ensue.  My friend thought it would be a good idea to let some people know what was happening.  I can’t imagine why.  By people, I mean everyone we knew including my parents & youth pastor & his wife.
Franklin.  Only about 30 more minutes to go.  Specifically, I had looked up Forefront records in the phone book & got my next destination.  I had arrived.  I pulled up to a very underwhelming building.  It was obvious that this was a rented out space for an operation that was a lot smaller in size than I had ever imagined.  In fact, Forefront was just a fraction of the conglomerate that was EMI Records (Now Capitol CMG).  I had always pictured a colossal building to house the colossal names in music artists that this label represented.  My eyes were surely opened to how things work in the music industry that day.  I talked to the receptionist & told her why I was there.  Someone from the offices above came down to meet me.  I told them my pitch & my desire to design covers for albums, artist promotions etc.  He asked if I had a resume.   Missed opportunity #1.  I did not prepare for that question to be asked.  He still excitedly took me on a 30 minute tour of the entire building.  I got to see where the design room was.  This consisted of one graphic designer on a computer surrounded by cool covers & original designs on the walls.  “Yikes, it doesn’t seem like they hire a lot of graphic artists,” I thought to myself.  Missed opportunity #2.  I probably could’ve asked ahead of time if they were hiring & what they were looking for?  Nah.  We continued the tour.  I got to see a lot of neat things they were working on & my guide was super friendly & hospitable.  I think he saw a 18 year old kid that was lost & searching.  I ended up with a lot of swag & free CDs. He even offered me to have lunch.  I declined because I realized at the end of the tour that this wasn’t a job interview but a courtesy to a kid someone felt really bad for.  I was heartbroken & just wanted to get out of there & get back home.  I felt so dumb.  My host quickly followed me out to the car after I had thanked him for his time.  He saw my artwork laying in the back seat along with lots of clothes & he deduced what was happening.  He said my work looked really cool but unfortunately they weren’t hiring graphic artists right now.  He actually almost pleaded with me to stay the night on the couch.  Out of more foolishness & emotion, I turned him down & started driving immediately back to Pennsylvania.
Someone once told me that if you go 3 days without sleeping you are considered legally insane.  I’m sure they didn’t have their facts straight, but if by chance that were true, it would explain a lot of things in my life after this point.  I definitely wasn’t thinking rationally in the least.  I’m not sure I was thinking at all.  Somewhere on the journey back through West Virginia I finally thought maybe I should call someone else.  I called my mom who was obviously very upset & concerned (but surprisingly not mad).  I called my youth pastor & his wife & discovered that a lot of people were praying for me.  They prayed for my safety especially.  I discovered I was loved by a lot of people that day.  Somehow I made it into my driveway at about 4am.  I know God was answering prayers & watching over me because I don’t remember the last 30 minutes of the trip.  My brain had shut down from sheer exhaustion from being awake almost 3 days straight.   
My mom wanted to talk to me immediately but I was out.  After awhile I came to consciousness again.  I had already begun to mentally prepare for the punishment that was coming.  My Dad came home from a business trip.  I heard him walking down the stairs.  There was only about 12 steps but it felt like an eternity for him to get to the bottom.  What I experienced that day was far different than what I expected.  I experienced love, grace, forgiveness & great mercy.  
I learned one lesson that stood out far above all the many truths & principles I discovered in this wayward trip.  My Dad wrote me a letter that day that I read.  It was a way we were able to communicate a lot easier in those turbulent times of my young adulthood.  One sentence seemed to jump off the page.  “David, you could’ve just asked for help & your mom & I would’ve helped you get there.”  “What?!  Someone could’ve helped me?” This was the most foreign concept to hit my underdeveloped brain up to this point!  Why had I not thought of this before?!  It was making a lot of sense that someone who has lived life, someone that was older that had made mistakes too, someone that also was a young man that had dreams & desires to fulfill might actually have something to offer that could help me.  I also discovered in life that sense isn’t common.  There are people that surround us but we are so closed off to our emotions, our thoughts, our inward selves that we never dare ask for help or even think that someone could help.  It’s ok & in fact the best thing we can ever do.  Ask for help!  
“Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisors bring success.” Proverbs 15:22
This is a big truth I learned that day & every day since.  You can’t, nor should you ever do things on your own.  We all need someone, and more than someones!  Many advisors is where the success comes.  Seek counsel, seek wisdom, & seek those in whom you can trust that have been there before.  Just like this dark trip that began in darkness & ended in darkness, I learned that it wouldn’t stay this way forever.  I got the help I needed by those around me that cared for me.  Many of us as individuals are experiencing these dark times we all find ourselves in just like in my story.  You may feel like there’s no way into the light.  The darkness just won’t let up.  It’s not true.  Dawn always comes after the darkest night.  There’s hope.  There are people around you who care for you & if you just let them into the secrets that are going on in your mind & heart you’ll see how much they care for you.  Know who you can trust.  Go to them & let them into your insider plans.  If you do, you’ll find you never could do it yourself in the first place & that success is waiting when you bring others into the equation.

Don’t despise small beginnings – Part I

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

I was 18 years old.  I had jumped jobs several times.  I was in the middle of my 1st move of many degree pursuits in college.  I remember feeling so frustrated not knowing where to unleash the dreams that were welling up inside me to do something more!  I remember having a very pointed conversation with my youth pastor’s wife Norma that would stick with me for the rest of my adult life.
Every day that I was coming home after my morning classes or work I would stop in at our church on the way to say hi to everyone which included my senior pastor, his wife, & our church secretary Norma.  The real reason I would stop in is because if I stayed long enough & volunteered to help out with things at the church, they would feed me lunch.  To a 19 year old always “starving” young man, that was like Christmas every day!  Being 19 & involved in college sports made a dangerous grocery budget situation for my parents!  Needless to say, they were thankful I was stopping in at the church to help out with projects that needed done.  One of those days we were having one of my favorite lunches over Ginos pizza with banana peppers.  Ginos is my second favorite pizza in the world!  Norma was a little Mexican lady from Brownsville, TX, that introduced me to all kinds of new flavor combinations, like banana peppers on pizza, & helped me develop my love for Mexican food.  If you are what you eat, I am Mexican.  Thanks to Norma!
One of those days of taking a break from the work that needed done, she looked at me & realized for some time the situation I was in.  She saw a young man with passion that needed to take helm of the ship that blew every direction with the wind.  She said to me, “David, don’t despise small beginnings.”  Here’s what I heard in my mind.  “Stop running all over the place trying to figure it out.  Buckle down where you find yourself & do the best with what you’ve been given.”  She elaborated, “Work hard right where you’re at & God will bless you with more when He sees you can be trusted with the little you have now.  Work hard & do your best, & when the time is right, the doors will open for you.”
Man, it was fresh life to my weary & wandering heart.  But oh how I wished I would have listened to her!  I heard what she said, but I didn’t really listen.  I knew what I should’ve done.  I knew God spoke to my heart & said “stay one more semester.”  I should’ve stayed.  I should’ve finished strong.  I should’ve stayed on my college soccer team.  I should’ve stayed at my job at the “Baby Gap”.  Yes I said the “Baby Gap”.  Don’t judge, they were hiring at the mall nearby & I needed money.  I should’ve finished working there through the next semester.  What did I do?
Typically, my routine was that I’d take the 1hr & 20 minute drive home from my dorm room at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh to stay at my parent’s house over the weekend.  I came home late one night while I was stewing.  I was thinking about how I needed to start my future.  I couldn’t wait for it & be patient anymore.  The whole 2 weeks that I had decided I was going to push through was over.  What did Norma know anyway?  If you were going to do something, you couldn’t wait for it.  You had to make it happen!  The semester was about over & it was about to be summer break.  If I was going to do something it had to be now!  I was talking with a friend late that night & told them, “I’m ready.  I need to get out of here.”  After I hung up the phone, that night at 11pm I began driving trying to figure out just what it was I should do.  I stopped at a gas station to fill my car.  I saw a US map in a rack of AAA atlases.  This was back in the day when cell phones were just gaining traction & GPS wasn’t even really a thing yet.  I bought the map & filled up my car.  While the car was filling I began leafing through & landed on Franklin, Tennessee. I decided I knew exactly what I should do.  I went back home.  When I started attending college I had moved to the basement where I essentially had my own apartment so my Dad could take over my bedroom as his office.  I had my own entrance to come & go as I please.   While my parents & sister were sleeping, I began packing my car with clothes (no suitcase), artwork that I had in my portfolio, & a giant plastic Coke bottle piggy bank full of money.   At midnight, I quietly pulled out of the driveway to begin my new adventure.  And boy was it an adventure…  Franklin, TN, right next to Nashville.  The place I thought my dreams were made of.

You can’t steer a stagnant ship

Do you know what it is you are supposed to do with your life?  Do you know what degree you’re supposed to pursue right out of high school in order to become who you were destined to become?  If you do, that’s great & I’m glad you have it figured out!  It’s freeing to know your sense of purpose & which direction you’re supposed to take with the many choices that lay before you.  For the other 99.9% of the population, purpose isn’t always that clear.  In fact, purpose has been fleeting in every generation.  I could list a bunch of stats right here from various educational studies, but I won’t.  Just do a quick search on the state of higher education.  You’ll be encouraged by the enrollment rates and then just as quickly be stunned by the lack of completion rates year after year.    Better yet, do an internal investigation & ask yourself, “Do I feel satisfied with where I am in life?  Do I have purpose that drives me each day?”  Most people have no idea what to do with their lives.  I know I sure didn’t for many years.
Since graduating from high school, I could have a doctorate with the amount of credits I have.  I’ve switched my major 5 different times.  I had a gifting or a leaning toward each of my studies I pursued, but as those semesters rolled by I realized, “This is not what I want to do with the rest of my life.”  I couldn’t picture myself stuck as a graphic designer and only being a graphic designer for the rest of my life.  I couldn’t picture being a nurse or a sports physical therapist the rest of my life.  Ya, I realize those are pretty diverse subjects.  When it boiled down, I didn’t know what I wanted.  Then I’d quit.  I’d quit school & I’d quit pursuing a degree.  I know I wanted more in life.  I was so frustrated not knowing what to do & what to pursue. I was spinning my wheels & wasting time & money.  Or so I thought.
I needed advice.  I needed direction.  Thank God He leads you to the right people in your life when you need it the most.  I was a freshman at LaRoche College on the North Side of Pittsburgh, PA.  I began my first semester as a Graphic Design student.  I was an artist.  I was good at art.  I won many art awards, inducted into the National Art Honor Society, & was named “Best in Show” in my graduating class. My mother, Barbara Grimm, was a freelance artist.  You can still see her artwork on display in many galleries.

Painting for Mother-in-laws bday
Mountain landscape by David Grimm

Example of Mom's paintings
Falls at Linn Run State Park by Barbara Grimm

So naturally I thought, “Well I guess I should pursue art.  It’s what I’m good at.”  I hated every minute of it.  I dreaded classes & I dreaded the thought that this is what I would have to do for a living.  “I already know how to do this?!  What am I doing here?”, were recurring thoughts.  After that first semester I came home & didn’t look back.  Frustrated, I decided to take a gap year.  I ended up in Garden Valley, TX, at an internship for missionaries wanting to make a positive impact on this world.  That’s what I wanted to do.  That’s what I felt passionate about.  I wanted to have a positive impact!  I discovered my motivation.  But I sure didn’t want to be a missionary.  I just thought I did.  What I was attracted to was this idea that there is a greater purpose beyond me.  I wanted to leave a positive lasting impact on people’s lives for eternity.  This is what I was drawn to.  Needless to say, I didn’t stay more than 8 months.  I left & moved back home, but I carried back with me a sense of a greater calling in my life that would influence others for good.
Many things happened here in this journey home that shaped me for the rest of my life & led me to where I am today running a successful, multi-million dollar business.  We’ll glean from telling these stories in the future.  (Like the time I ran away to Nashville, Tennessee.)  But for now, I reconnected with my most recent youth pastor at the time, Carl, & his wife, Norma.  They poured wisdom into me time & again over late night meals at Denny’s or even at their home when I’m sure they’d rather be in bed.  Sometimes I listened & other times I acted on my impulses only to wind up in the same position.  Frustrated.  They realized I needed direction.  The best thing they did for me was guide the ship that wouldn’t stop moving.  Sometimes you don’t know the direction you’re headed in life & that’s ok.  You don’t always have to have it all figured out.  The worst thing you can do is give up & stop moving.  You can’t steer a stagnant ship.  What good is a vessel if it doesn’t take you anywhere.  But I also learned quickly that all of life cannot be an unplanned adventure.  It’s careless, dangerous, wasteful, & hurts the ones you love the most.  I had to quickly learn how to take control of the helm instead of driving aimlessly.  I may not have had it all together.  I may not have had a 5 year plan.  But one thing I had was a passion for more in life.  I was willing to follow that desire to discover more.  I was born for something more & I was going to find it!
Every single one of us have that innate desire & longing for the possibilities of what could be in life.  Each one of us are born with a desire for something more that will leave a lasting legacy.  We want to know that our lives counted for something.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) says, “…He has planted eternity in the human heart…” Sometimes we just have to get the ship moving.  Make a decision.  Take the first step.  Do something, even if you can’t picture yourself doing that thing for the rest of your life.  Once you’ve got forward motion it’s time to steer the ship & chart the course to your next destination.  But how do we get there, & where is the next destination?  We’ll discover that together in our next pursuit…