Many years ago someone told me, “If you want to know what God thinks of you, look at the kind of pastor He gives to you!” In my 40+ years of living, I have to say that I have had the honor and privilege to have some pretty awesome pastors who have played a huge role in who I am today!
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know that I honor and revere Bishop Noel Jones as my father in faith, because he is part of a defining moment in my life that changed and charted a new path for me in 1994, when I was a young girl, trying to figure out who I was and certainly “dating” a path that could have been detrimental to my very purpose! But God!
When it comes to my career, there is another pastor (who my husband and I revere as our my Spiritual father) who poured into me at a pivotal time when I was on the brink of giving up but gaining ground after a huge loss, that is none other than Bishop Gary Hawkins, Sr. At this time, I had authored my first book, Why Should I Hire You?, was a frequent contributor on SGN The Light (nationally syndicated radio) and the Employment Expert for the Reggie Gay Gospel Show on 91.9 FM in Atlanta. While things were looking up for me professionally, on the Spiritual side, I felt stifled.
The church I was attending (working, tithing, serving) had a book store, but my book wasn’t in the store. Our church needed an employment ministry and even though I submitted a proposal to start one, no one ever got back to me about putting the proposal into motion. I had started writing a career column for Greater Diversity News and Onyx Woman Magazine, but it seemed that no one cared. I remember as plain as day. One Sunday, the pastor got up and acknowledged two ladies who had driven from Atlanta to DC (I believe) to support him preaching and work his product table. I sat in the pew like…forreal…?????? But in reality, I was hurt. It wasn’t so much that I “needed” my pastor to call my name, it was more that I “needed” my pastor to validate my path – – and he didn’t.
This hurt me to the core. I shared my feelings with a friend, who said to me, “I can’t have this conversation with you. When I see that you are hurting, it hurts me. I’m going to click in a pastor friend of mine and let you talk to him!” Guess who he called? Bishop Gary Hawkins, Sr.! We talked by 3-way and Bishop Hawkins has been taking my calls every since. I shared with Bishop Hawkins that every Sunday when I walked into church I felt like everyone was excited for me except my pastor and that bothered me. For a period of two years, Bishop Hawkins took my calls, counseled and encouraged me. Not once did he ever say, “when are you going to come join my church?” He wasn’t concerned about “membership”. He was concerned about a broken vessel…me!
During one of our many conversations, I shared with Bishop Hawkins that I really had a desire to help the people at my church. Many who know my background approached me constantly with employment questions and it was starting to affect my worship experience. Bishop Hawkins asked me, “what’s stopping you from helping people?” I told him, “I wanted to help, but my pastor wasn’t supporting my efforts”. Hawkins said, “that’s an excuse, find a way to do it – – it doesn’t have to be done at the church!” He then shared some Scripture with me about “a prophet not being welcome in his own home” and “the only place the word success is found in the Bible is in Joshua where it says, YOU WILL MAKE YOUR WAY PROSPEROUS!” He continued, “real ministry happens outside of these for walls, use your gift!” I was encouraged to go forth.
In retrospect, I have to acknowledge that sometimes we try to chart our path, we can venture down the wrong road. See, if I had left the church, the moment I felt hurt (instead of 2 years later), I may have missed an opportunity that was divinely inspired – – just for me! So I stayed and served….wounded. But it turns out, it was for my good. There was a gentleman at the church name Dan, who had met a few young ladies who had just opened a coffee bar. They were looking for people who wanted to hold events. Dan approached me and asked if I wanted to hold any events at the coffee bar. This was unconventional, and new unchartered territory. My response to Dan was, “Ummmm nooooooo……I’m not interested in having career events at a coffee bar!”. Little did I know I was standing in my own way.
A few weeks later, I was reading my Bible and came across this Scripture, “they all ate the same Spiritual food. And they all drank the same Spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock, that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:3-4. It was at that moment, the vision for “Careers and Coffee” became crystal clear. Bishop Hawkins words of “real ministry happens outside of the walls of the church”, hit me like a ton of bricks. I distinctly remember Bishop Hawkins telling me, “what God wants to do with your gift is bigger than your church!” But when you’re looking for validation from man and not following God. Things can be a little cloudy.
I could not wait until decent business hours to connect with Dan and tell him about the idea of “Careers and Coffee”. When I called him, he was elated and wanted to set up a meeting later that day to talk with the owners of the coffee bar. They loved the idea…and Careers and Coffee was official. Just like that….
It was perfect! Tuesday nights, 2 blocks from the Marta station, a radio show to advertise the venue and every event I would hold there, and the owners had confidence that I would bring in a crowd so they never charged me to use the space….NEVER! For years, this “coffee bar” was my official “event venue”. I held everything there from Careers and Coffee, Get Checking Trainings, and even my book release party when I released my second book, A Kingdom Built Career!
As I come to a close, I want to go back to something that Bishop Hawkins said to me when I said, “I can’t help others because my pastor isn’t supporting me!” Bishop’s response of “that is an excuse!”, was absolutely true. See, it wasn’t that my pastor didn’t support me. It just wasn’t his role to nurture the path that was being prepared for me. The reason, he could not be a part of it was because God was sending to me a new location (new church home) where Bishop Hawkins would water the seed of the harvest that God was placing in me for the next leg of my journey. One of the first things I did at my new church was take a year long discipleship class. It was in this class, that a new level of discovery was made about “Stephanie”. This class challenged me to new heights and responsibilities. It also gave me a glimpse in how to write content/curriculum (writing books and writing content/curriculum are two different animals). Interestingly enough, this discipleship class also began the preparation stage for the next big “event” in my life….marriage.
A story my husband tells all the time is when I took him to meet Bishop Hawkins. It was during Vacation Bible School and the camp director had some graham crackers in her office. Bishop Hawkins was laughing and talking with us and eating graham crackers. At some point in the conversation, Bishop Hawkins got a straight face, stopped laughing, turned his chair all the way around and sat toe to toe and asked him point blank, “what are you intentions for Stephanie, because she is special!” My husband said “he fell in love” with Bishop Hawkins at that very moment because he knew that Bishop Hawkins genuinely cared about someone that he also loved – – me! A year later, LeVon and I were married and it was my husband who INSISTED that Bishop Hawkins perform our wedding….I agreed.
While this story is almost 10 year old, I shared this story because this past Sunday, my pastor told me “Stephanie, it’s time to forgive everyone who ever hurt you”. Likewise, someone came into 2015 blaming someone else for not reaching a goal. Someone came into 2015 feeling like someone could have done more to help them out in a situation (boy, I could have written a book on that one – – and I might), Someone came into 2015 holding a grudge against someone who felt they had not been celebrated properly. I just want to encourage that person to keep believing and make a choice to fish in other ponds. The pond in your backyard may be barren. The very person you think is suppose to launch your legacy is in fact, the least likely person to lead and guide you. See, it wasn’t that my former pastor didn’t support me, it was just simply NOT his assignment to be a part of where God was taking me. Bishop Hawkins was right, what God was doing with me, “was bigger than my church!”
Lesson: It’s not always what/who we see, sometimes it what/who we don’t see that is important to our journey. Learn to move forward without the validation of others. Live your life unapologetically with no resolutions (just results) and no regrets!