Everyone has a unique gifting, purpose and calling in life; something that we, and only we do best. It burns within us. It makes us feel alive. It moves and draws us. It’s that one thing that is so obvious we might never see it and so big that we don’t even entertain the possibility. It’s that one thing, uniquely us.
This is my story about that ‘one thing,’ my unique purpose, and about how God called me to it. My hope is that it will help you tap into yours as well (if you haven’t already).
It’s the Summer of 2004. I had just finished the Visualization Sciences (Computer Animation) grad school program at Texas A&M, and life was finally beginning. At least that’s how I viewed it. Up to this point life had all been kinda laid out for me. You know, K through High School and then off to some affordable college with a good football team. I was just going with the flow, not giving life too much thought, simply doing what I was supposed to do.
But I had come to my crossroads. Life had finally caught and pinned me down; I couldn’t ignore it any more. I had finally reached that key intersection; that one decision off which hung my entire earthly future. My next step would literally shape the rest of my life. There would be no going back.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure what the next step was, not even a little bit. I could keep following the path I was currently taking and eventually land a fun job at a big-time studio like Pixar and Dreamworks; or I could find out what I was really created to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the massive, artistic outlet animation provided and the challenging technical side that went with it. I loved the people and the hardworking, yet laid-back atmosphere; but somehow I just couldn’t see myself doing it 80 hours a week for the next 40 years.
Grad School had been a blast! It was extremely demanding but totally fun. I learned so many skills (skills I still use today), but when I visualized my life down the road - nice job, hot wife :), white picket fence, 2.2 kids (that’s 2 kids and a rather large turtle), and a 40 inch projection flat-screen TV (hey, it was still 2004).. I wanted to turn and run, run, run.
I had always had this side dream of creating music, ever since I was a kid. From dancing like Michael Jackson and naming every song on the radio, to playing trumpet for 8 embarrassing years, music had always played a significant part in my life. I just loved music so much.
I can still remember the very first time I sat and played with the Pequea Elementary Band. It is as clear now as the day itself. It was fourth grade. I guarantee we weren’t very good, but when the bass drum kicked-in on that ‘rock‘n roll’ type orchestral tune, my heart leapt in my chest and I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
That love, that musical passion, is what kept me in band all the way through High School. Even though I wasn’t a big fan of Dinkles (marching shoes), suspenders or plumes, even though I was often embarrassed carrying a suitcase-sized trumpet that screamed ‘band nerd’ to and from school every day, and even though I more than hated the daily anxiety that came with playing in front of people, I never quit.
I would sit terrified through rehearsal each day, trying desperately to fly under the radar and praying that I would not be called out to play my part in front of everybody. Sometimes I think it was the fear of embarrassment that spurred my practice on as much as my love for music. But whenever performance time came, even on a piece I wasn’t fond of, my melody and my spirit soared.
Looking back I can totally see God’s hand all over it. From the trumpets that, no matter the cost, just kept showing up exactly when they were needed; to the perfectly-timed promotions, first-rate (yet half-priced) tutelage and free classical education. He always provided for me.
Even when I had decided that if I didn’t make Wind Ensemble (the top band) in 10th grade it would definitely be the end of the line for me, He gave me a stellar tryout performance and the Wind Ensemble uncharacteristically took two sophomore trumpets that year. Yes, He was definitely directing it all.
But then God threw in a twist. He ‘changed the game’ so to speak. Without any invitation, without any warning, He simply showed up and instilled ‘the bug.’
It was my sophomore year, I was walking across Camp Wisdom Road to my janitorial job at the Summer Institute of Linguistics. I was jamming on my Sony walkman to a brand new rock’n roll song (compliments of 97.1 the Eagle), my soul flying high to the fresh groove. Then suddenly, mid street, it hits me. The bug. The itch. I don’t know if there was a lost worship angel standing in the middle of the road or what, but somehow I got touched. In that instant, my passion sparked. A strange, intense desire suddenly arose. I so wanted to do that! I wanted to write music that made heart’s soar.
I tried to write a melody that day at work. It was terrible. I couldn’t, just didn’t have it in me. I needed a base, something to sing over, something to help get me where I wanted to go melodically. So I picked up the little Spanish guitar my sister put down and began to learn.
That began a long process; a passion which slowly turned into a hobby, which slowly turned into a talent. Not gonna lie. I wasn’t good. I wrote mediocre to bad songs for at least 3 years, maybe 4 before I was finally like ‘God, I haven’t written a good song in ..ever. If this is for me, let me write a great song.’
Less than three months later He gave me my first ‘hit,’ Second Row. It just popped out. It was better then I was. It landed me and my vocally talented roommate, Patrick, on stage in front of 1,200 Aggie Moms and Dads at the annual Parent’s Weekend Talent show. It’s still a good song to this day.
Again, looking back, I can see God’s hand all over my songwriting passion as well. There were a couple times I wanted to give up. One time, after an uncharacteristic 9 month dry spell, when I thought I had finally exhausted my ‘creative pool,’ I did totally quit. But within a week God sent some encouragement in the form of my brother and sister. They still probably have no clue the life they spoke into me in the gravel parking-lot that day at Koppe Bridge Bar & Grill. But I was back on track.
In hindsight, it’s mind-blowing how well God was orchestrating things. Those growing years were virtually littered with ‘parking-lot’ pick-me-ups. Pivotal points where God used key people to speak direction and life into me. From 2 am car ride conversations and perfectly timed, post-gig words of encouragement, to late night, alcohol-induced, destiny discussions; God guided my heart and my steps time and time again.
Even in grad school. When daily life consisted of 18 hours animating and 4-6 hours sleeping, I somehow found the time to record a full length acoustic CD. While all my classmates spent their spare time learning new CG (computer graphic) tricks, keeping up with the latest 3-D technology and downloading animated Shorts. I spent all my spare time learning new songs, keeping up with the latest bands and downloading music.
Now here I am, August 2004. I have just sold out, totally, to Jesus. I’m at my crossroads. This is where it really counts. I have to know. I can’t just take a gamble - either direction - and hope it all works out. I’m willing to do whatever it takes, but I have to know one thing. What was I created and designed to do?
I told God, “I’ll do whatever You want. You know what I was created for. If I was created to be a garbage man, I’ll do it. A school teacher, I’m all in. If I’m a blender, tell me I’m a blender. If I’m a microwave, tell me I’m a microwave. I just don’t want to end up a 90-year-old blender who wasted his entire life trying to be a microwave. I don’t care what my purpose is, I just wanna do what You created me to do. I understand that no matter what my purpose is, if I was truly created to do it, then I will be good at it and love doing it. I’m ready to put down this guitar forever, don’t let me waste my time with a silly dream. But if this is what you created me to do then you have to let me know. You have to let me know for sure.”
And that was it. I just trusted that He would tell me.
I asked in August and by that December, God gave me His answer. He brought to my mind a picture. A painting I had envisioned several years prior but had never gotten around to putting it down on canvas. It was kind of a ‘first-person’ painting (much like a ‘first-person’ shooter video game), but instead of seeing a hand with a gun on the screen, it was a hand with a guitar.
The full picture took place in a giant circular stadium filled with millions of people; a singer stage-front-right, drummer stage-back-right, and you the viewer, the guitarist, stage-center-left.
I was just thinking about the picture, how I could make it even more viewer inclusive. How I could really convey the idea of being literally ‘in the picture.’ Maybe instead of painting the guitar I would have a real guitar mounted, and angled, in front of the picture. Then I would cut part of the guitar neck off and paint the cut-off portion into the picture. Kinda like the 3-D ‘real world’ extending into the 2-D ‘snapshot’ painting.
I’m lost deep in thought, ideas tumbling in my head, when suddenly God cuts in, touches my heart and says, “That picture is for you.”
So many things happened in that same instant. I saw the picture, heard the word and got a heart revelation all in one moment. It wasn’t simply a new thought that came to mind, it was an entire experience. All at once I knew that the painting wasn’t necessarily ever to be painted, it was to be lived out! The 2-D was to become 3-D, just not in the way I was envisioning it. My heart exploded in gratitude as it dawned on me that God had given me this picture three undeserving years prior; not to be painted, but for this specific moment of spoken purpose, direction and destiny!
In that same instant, my heart just knew. It knew, that it knew, that it knew. I can’t explain it any other way, other then all doubt was erased completely. One second before I had no clue, and now I just knew. It was a simultaneous touch, word and picture from God of my future, my purpose, my calling. It was a revelation.
I was blown away. But I still wanted a confirmation. I mean, that word was huge but so is stepping out in life-long faith with a God who is still brand new to you. Now I had a passion, a dream and a direct word. It all lined up with the written word (the Bible). But I was still new to all this, so I wanted one more confirmation.
I told God, “I’m gonna continue to apply and interview for all the animation jobs I’m currently going after, as I don’t see You letting me go through seven years of college training for nothing. But if guitar, if music, if songwriting is what you are calling me to do; shut down every animation door.”
And that’s just what He did.
Over the next year and a half I interviewed with pretty much every major animation company except Pixar and Dreamworks. Nothing. I had phone interviews, personal interviews, call backs. Nothing. I even had ‘sure-thing’ interviews where I already knew the people I would be working with in the company. Nothing.
You might be thinking, “Hmmm maybe you just sucked at animation.” And that is fair enough, it is all subjective. However, I graduated with a 3.9 GPA from one of only three premier animation schools in America at the time. That one B is still disputable. ;) When PDI (Dreamworks) came and did our Summer Internship class I was the only student they took out to dinner to talk shop with. My third year I was hired as the sole TA, responsible for two first-year classes. I even got selected to work on a special government grant project and got paid to do my Thesis.
I’m not saying I was the best, but what I am saying is that God clearly gave me my confirmation. He had followed through and simply confirmed to my mind what my heart already knew; from that point on, I was all in.
Oh and what about that year and a half I was looking for work? Well, besides teaching me about trusting Him with finances and giving me odd jobs. I had time to practice between 4-8 hours a day. I grew as a guitarist like crazy. In January of 2005, only one month after speaking my calling, God gave me the song, Sometimes. That song caught the attention of one, Ms Cara Young, and by March of that year we had started our first serious band, Inner Frequency.
He also provided me with an alternative, urban job where I could still use my hard-earned college skills and yet not have to work the crazy hours of a typical production house. Leaving me with plenty of extra-curricular time (time I definitely needed) to grow as a musician and gig with a band.
From there, He gave me a four year, real-world, musical education through Inner Frequency. During my short tenure, God’s grace put us up on stage with the likes of Lighthouse, Daughtry, and Eddie Money, headlined us at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, gave us generous cameos and guest-appearances on the CW 33 and Good Morning Texas, arranged interviews with the Dallas Observer, Pegasus News and more. He even opened doors for us to record our first serious EP with Will Hunt, a talented producer working with Shane & Shane, Odis and Amy Lee (of Evanesance).
In more recent years, He transitioned me out of the band and into full-time production, which at its core is simply identifying and arranging ‘living’ sounds and beats, my most natural gifting all along. Even today, as I continue walking in faith and following His outline, I’m still not totally sure of the exact musical path He is moving me into. But I watch in awe as along the way He sells my songs to world-wide, multi-million dollar companies, places my tracks in front of big name artists and producers, and lands my beats on shows like America’s Next Top Model and All About Aubrey.
These are only the best, God-given ‘highlights’ of it all. Behind each one of those divine opportunities is a massive back-story, a ton of work, thought, trust, relationship and big learning curve; which – when it is all said and done – is the true evidence of growth and success.
And guess what, He’s calling you too!
There is something He is leading you towards, drawing you into; something big, too big for you. Getting there will require Him. Your whole life points to it. Your whole being screams it. Just ask Him, He really will tell you. You too can know your divine purpose!
Some things that may help you hear and trust Him.
One is completely sell out. I asked Him my whole life what my purpose was, and although He gave me tons of signs and direction along the way, I couldn’t see or hear it. Not until I was totally free of my care or my agenda could I tap clearly into His.
Now that I know, I look back and it’s like ‘duh!’ My whole life screams music. But it took God to give me a direct word and focus my heart to finally tap in.
Two, don’t fret. Just ask and then trust. Even if He stays quiet, just keep doing what you are doing. That usually means you are on the right path. He is a big God, if your heart is truly 100% His, He will move heaven and earth to speak clearly to you in a way you will understand. He won’t let you stray. Often His silence is an indication of approval or that He wants you to experience more than just your calling.
For example, I’ve come to realize that drums and rhythms are really what move me. I can play drums easily, without much thought involved. Remember my first day of 4th grade band? It was the bass drum that sparked my heart to leap for joy. Yet instead of some easily-affordable $10 dollar drums sticks God provided a $60 trumpet. Why?
Because if I had started on drums I never would have branched out any farther! Trumpet, guitar, bass guitar – those instruments are way harder to play (for me) then drums. Not to mention the classical training and music theory I picked up along the way. If I had started with drums, I would have been really good but I probably never would have gone anywhere else.
That means I probably never would have gone to animation school either. So I never would have gotten good at programming, or web design, photography or higher level math. Or know how to shoot film, use After Effects, Photoshop and so much more.
See how God used all that silence and ‘confusion’ for my good? Knowing all these ‘extra’ things makes me a ‘one stop shop’ when it comes to music. I can write the piece, record the piece, perform the piece, finalize the piece, take the pictures, make the graphics, design the flyers, build the websites, shoot/edit the videos and more. Even my animation skills come in handy with today’s increasingly automated music production techniques. It’s all been training that’s led up to my purpose.
The same is true for you as well. Yes, sell out. Yes ask. But don’t worry while you wait for the answer. God will give it to you exactly when you need it.
I can’t wait for you to step out in your calling too! Remember, (in Jesus) if you just keep getting up and keep going, doing your best each time, even if only a little at a time, you are unstoppable. You will run your race. You will reach your destiny. You will fulfill your purpose!