From no to yes


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How John retired from Public Health

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From no to yes

  1. 1. From “No” to “Yes” in Six Easy Weeks By John R. WibleI am retiring after almost 37 years in Public Health. May 31, 2011 will be my last day at this job. I’m notgoing to travel or do a “honey-do” list or even take another job. God has privileged me to do someministry and then rewarded me with some teaching opportunities. That’s the bottom line, but how didHe get me here?Before Mardi Gras, had you asked me when I was going to retire, I would have told you honestly that Ididn’t know, sometime, but not now. In other words, I had no plans to retire, though I have planned forretirement. But God began to work – to do God-sized things in me, and for me when I do somethingGod-like it is always God that does it, because I assure you that I not capable of doing such things on myown. In fact, I am a coward, afraid of change and afraid to take “leaps of faith.”Mardi Gras came and went and Ash Wednesday came ushering in the Season of Lent. Now, I’m a Baptist(this is written under the by-line of “John the Baptist” after all.) Baptists don’t celebrate lent. However,the Sunday after Mardi Gras, my Pastor, Alan Cross (HTTP// preached asermon in which he challenged us to give up something for Lent. When we missed what we had givenup, we were to think not of what we missed, but rather, what God had given us and we were to givethanks for those things.“Fine,” I thought, sarcastically, “I’ll give up watermelon.” That’s what I always give up for Lent (it’s out ofseason and besides that, it gives me indigestion.) In other words, I completely and utterly blew this off.But God didn’t.Along about this time, Pastor Alan had been leading us in a Bible study on Wednesday nights in whichwe are studying the Christian life, what it really is and how it plays out – how you actually do it. We hadjust read a chapter on contemplative prayer in which one reads a small portion of scripture, bathing it inprayer and then concentrating on the words asking God to speak through that small passage to revealsomething of Himself, His purposes, or His ways to us. I had first rebelled at that idea also, as I havebeen a daily Bible reader for a long time and I know how to do this. Nevertheless, God lead me to try it –so I did.I began to cut down the morning Bible reading to a simple devotional thought as I sat in the Lotus Yogaposition on my kitchen floor. Then I would read and pray over the passage asking God to speak to methrough it – speak not in a “burning bush” experience like Moses, but in the “still small voice” like Elijahheard. Shortly after adopting this practice, one morning I read over a passage several times and prayedthat prayer. My practice then is to loosen up and go for a walk continuing in the spirit of prayer, usuallyfighting thoughts of what I’ll do today.1|Page
  2. 2. On this particular day, I was then walking and God spoke to me in the casual way that He sometimesdoes as though he were walking along side me – as He actually is. In fact, my name for God is “JehovahNike,” the God who is personal enough to walk beside me, yet is great enough to “Just do It.” God said,“so, what are you giving up for Lent?” I said, “watermelon, what do I usually give up for Lent? You knowI don’t give up stuff for Lent.” God said, “No, really, what are you giving up for Lent?” I replied, “You’reserious about this aren’t You?” He nodded, “Yes.”I walked a little further and said, “OK, if I were to give up something for Lent, what would you want it tobe?” He said, “Well, what’s the most precious thing in the world to you?” I immediately started feelingsick at my stomach, because the first thing that immediately sprang into my mind was my job at PublicHealth, where I am General Counsel – not my family, not my church, not anything else, but my job, it iswho I am, my identity, my escape – my life. I said to God, timidly, “My job.” “OK,” he said, “that’s what Iwant you to give up.” I thought about that some and then began to argue with Him. This argumentlasted for several blocks. God began to remind me what all He had done for me especially over the last 2and a half years since I fell out of my tree and cracked my head. And I began to feel that no matter what,God had a history with me of taking care of me. So, reluctantly, I stopped in my tracks, dropped myhead, gave out a long sigh and said, “OK, God, if that’s what you want, I will give it up – but You’ve got tohelp me. You know how important it is to me.” He said, “Yes, I know and I will help you. Look for a pushand a pull. Then the conversation was over.I mused over what He meant by the “push and the pull.” Later that week, I was reviewing someproposed legislation from the State Legislature – bad legislation. It seems that the Legislators think, atleast publically, that state employees like me are the reason our state’s economy is so bad. We are inthe public’s view, overpaid, over-benefitted and generally, as my Mother would say, “sorry.” The moreof such legislation I read and the more political rhetoric I heard, the more I began to sour on stateservice – not on my Department, the friends with whom I work or the work we do, which I still think is ofutmost importance – but on state service. Sour – like an already-sucked lemon.The coup-de-gras was when of my lawyers, Greg, who works six or seven days a week during thelegislative session, told me that one of the freshman legislators had remarked to him, “What do youknow, you’re just a bureaucrat.” I was heart-sick for Greg. I went back to my desk and said to myself,“You know, I could leave this job.” Then I heard the voice of God say, “That’s the push.”The pull came soon. That next Thursday night, we had a business meeting at church. Pastor Alanremarked that he had several ideas he’d like to implement and would like to hire an associate pastor,but that we needed to shelve the idea for the time being because we did not have the funds to take onadditional staff. I began to wonder, “is this what God is calling me to do?” God said, “Why don’t you askAlan?” So, I did.2|Page
  3. 3. I scheduled a lunch with Pastor Alan and told asked him, “What would you think if I retired andvolunteered to be your associate pastor full-time at no cost, just expenses? Alan’s reply shocked mebecause I expected he’d be doing back over flips at the idea of having someone like (self-important) MEas associate pastor and for free!But he wasn’t. He said, “Actually, John, I have someone else in mind who has the skill-set I’m looking forto fill that position.” Then he wisely said, “Why don’t you go back and pray and ask God what HE wantsyou to do, not what I want you to do.” Thus ended our discussion and I went back to the office feelingrejected, let down and unwanted.After a couple of hours, God asked me, “So, are you over your pity-party or do you need a little longer towallow in it?” I said, “No, I’m a big boy, I’m over it.” Then He said, “Good, then let’s get down to work onwhat I want you do. That night and by the time I finished my prayer time the next morning, God had ledme to write about seven different ministries I had either done before or wanted to be involved with, thesum of which would be more than a full-time job. I wrote notes on them in my journal and shared theideas with Pastor Alan.He said, “John, I’ve been thinking many of the same thoughts you’ve had. Why don’t you look into someof these ideas, talk with the people who are involved and see if they can confirm that this is of God. ( Ineed to always remember that just because I have an idea doesn’t necessarily mean it is of God. It canbe the voice of the “wild hare” that I’m hearing. So I began to talk to the people who were eitherinvolved in the ministries or who would be the subjects of them and received unanimous support for theideas. I reported this to Pastor Alan, and I came up with three main ideas or areas of ministry.One involves ministry with Latinos, since I speak Spanish. I don’t know how this will play out, but ourchurch has basically a one-man ministry with them and that one man has 3 regular jobs. He welcomedme to come along, so I will.Secondly, since I co-teach a senior adult Sunday School class and am an old music director, I have longheard that the Seniors really don’t care for our style of worship – contemporary, and they miss the oldhymns. Thus, I proposed to have a day a week that I’d meet with them at church in the middle of theday, have a brief music lesson, so they will be challenged to learn, sing some standard hymns –eventually working up to hymn choral arrangements, give a brief devotional thought at the end and thenhave a fellowship lunch. The Seniors loved that idea.Thirdly, I had thought of several ways to minister through education, teaching and tutoring. Alan and Idiscussed and he told me of a concept he’s had to take our home-school cover, Gateway Academy,which is already established and sanctioned, and marry it with 3 days a week of on-campus instructionin various subjects taught by people who know that subject. Also, take 2 days a week after school totutor some of the children in our neighborhood in their public school subjects. Lastly, do this in amissional format, wherein we find the funds to offer this to the children and students in ourneighborhood, many of whom would otherwise be school drop-outs, at minimal cost, perhaps $100 ayear plus “sweat equity” on the part of their parents, to keep them involved.3|Page
  4. 4. Alan asked me if I’d be willing to help put this together, to build it from the ground up. That excited andchallenged me. God will have to do it, but I’m ready to let Him use me to do it. In this framework, I’malso able to do some other teaching things I wanted to do: teach music and teach some history. I’d alsohave to recruit the other teachers and tutors. Then turn it over to someone who’s been a school head-master. Perhaps, this could also evolve into a mother’s day out ministry to our community.Underlying all this would be my “ministry database.” I collect the contact information on every personand their family involved and follow up with them on a periodic basis to see how they are doing and askthem frequently how I can pray for them. Since this need will get too big for one person, I would recruitthe Senior adults to come along side and help do this continuous follow up on an organized basis.The cherry on the top came the next week when I stopped by at the University of Alabama Birmingham,School of Public Health (UAB) to discuss some contracts my Department has with UAB for my services. Iwanted to tell them what my plans were and to assure them that I would fulfill the commitments madeon behalf of the Department even without pay. Dr. Andy Rucks, with whom I spoke, was verycomfortable with my commitment. I told him the rest of the story and how I had gotten to that point.Then, out of the blue, he asked me if I’d like to teach public health law at the UAB School of PublicHealth to graduate students. I was ecstatic at that thought and said, “yes.” He’s now working on that.Thus you see, God has brought me from “No” to “Yes” in 6 easy weeks. All glory be to Him, the Giver ofall good and perfect gifts.4|Page