What I learned from saying “yes” to something that I had been avoiding

I wasn’t expecting to receive a phone call from him. Only a few weeks had passed since my friend had introduced us. All I knew is that he was pastor who had been commissioned to plant a church in Rocky Point, Sonora. My friend and I had traveled to his hometown, to vacation, as our wives attend a conference that the pastor’s church was hosting. As we planned our travel, we shamelessly planned a beach takeover that included surf, sun, fresh piña coladas, mariscos (Mexican seafood), and the possibility of overdosing on street tacos. However, the plans were quickly thwarted as rainstorms destroyed and washed away my hopes and dreams (at least that’s what it felt like.) Confined to the condo we had rented, we settled to make some coffee and feast on some pan dulce that we had bought earlier. Making the best of the situation, my friend called the pastor, asked him to join us, and he did. Although I knew of many who held him in high esteem, I kept a guarded front as he approached me with conversation. The last thing that I wanted was for him, or anyone else, to question me about my life. Although I’m known for the permanent smile that was plastered on my face at birth, the truth is that I have used this smile to mask the shame and pain that I carried throughout most of my life. However, there was no hiding from this man, with a single glance, my exodus from ministry and my life as a “modern day Jonah” was exposed … So, I did as most would do in my position, I was friendly, I allowed him to speak, but I didn’t delve into any details that I didn’t feel comfortable to speak about.

The next day the pastor invited my friend and I to attend his Sunday service. My friend, who himself is a pastor, was asked to lead in worship that morning. Although it had been over 10 years since we had shared the same stage, he asked me to accompany him on piano. Despite my nervousness, the experience was amazing. I felt like I reconnected with something that I had buried along with my pastoral calling years before. Basking in the beautiful presence that filled that room, I took a breath and savored the moment. However, once we dismissed from church, I said a quick good-bye, jumped in my car, and drove back to Arizona.

Hearing the pastor’s voice, on the other end of the line, had me on pins and needles. It wasn’t that he made me feel the least bit uncomfortable. On the contrary, he had a great sense of humor, and was a joy to be around. Nevertheless, there was a huge barrier between us…..language. Although, I frequently boast of being bilingual, the truth is I’d much rather communicate in English. For some reason, I can speak in Spanish, but I never stop thinking in “English.” Because of this, many times I have fallen flat on my face when trying to communicate simple concepts… For example: I once meant to tell a former-girlfriend’s mom that I liked her hairdo, but instead told her that I liked the “very-few-hairs” that she had on her head…. or the time that I attempted to teach an ESL class and told the students to “use-the-bathroom” on the verb, when I intended to ask them to “underline” the verb…. Needless to say, the last thing I wanted was to sound like a fool.

The pastor’s greeting was very direct, “John Garay. Good day. I have an invitation for you.” …

It’s not uncommon for me to get calls from pastor’s that need musicians for events, so I initially thought that the call was purposed to solicit my talent. However, I was wrong and completely blindsided by his actual intent. “I need for you to come to Rocky Point and teach our youth group and I need you to come soon,” he said. I wasn’t sure how to react. To say that I was unprepared for his invitation is an understatement. Had he not read my body language when we sat at the table? Had he not caught on to the decision that I made to close that chapter of my life years ago? To make matters worse, I didn’t even have a clue how I was to communicate what I felt in Spanish. In that moment I felt so helpless. In the matter of seconds, I went from a from having a peaceful afternoon to fighting a hand-to-hand combat with my worst enemy; shame…

I have a history of giving into shame. She’s a beast and my natural tendency is to let her have her way without putting up much of a fight. However, in that moment I felt something that I had not felt in a very long time…. I felt the desire to teach. I felt the desire to share the gospel…. and oddly enough I felt empowered to do so…. Yet, my track record was not smooth. When I went AWOL from ministry, I also fell, nose-deep, into a depression. Instead of running to God to help me, I developed unhealthy habits in attempt to ease the pain. Unfortunately, those habits caused me, and the ones that I love, a multitude of pain. At that point in time, the habits no longer controlled me. Nevertheless, shame still did.

I quick review of my senses let me know that, I had no other choice, but to come clean to the Pastor, “I appreciate your invitation, but unfortunately, I come with baggage. I walked away from ministry 7 years ago and ran far from God. I’m back on track, but I’m not anywhere near where I’d like to be….. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to say no.”

My refusal was followed by a pause of silence that seemed to last an eternity. Then he gently spoke again, “John, I don’t think you understand…. I’ve been talking to God about this. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I should invite you to speak to my youth group either…. But God told me to invite you… and He told me that He is going to use the youth group to build you up and restore your ministry.”

Still unsure of how to respond, I told him that I needed time to think and pray about it. However, I eventually accepted his invitation. Although I was shaking in my boots, God used the pastor’s heart, my willingness, and a group of young people, who spoke a foreign language, to restore what I had thought to be irreparable.

This week marks a year that I met the pastor from Mexico. Since then, I have made a trip across the border once a month to share the gospel with this beautiful group of people. I’m still in shock of how God chose to call me, despite my rebellion, to once again partner with Him in his mission … Furthermore, I’m in shock of how God called me to move out of my comfort zone, into a different country, and communicate in a language that I wasn’t used to speaking in.

Here are three things that God has shown me through this process.

Just because I “give up” on myself, doesn’t mean that God does.

I thought that ministry for me was over. I thought that I was marred and unusable. However, I forgot that clay does not have the right to tell the potter how to form it. I had yet to learn that, despite my rebellion, God was still shaping me into the vessel that he desired me to be. The simple truth is that God will always complete the work that he begins. It’s not over until He says it’s over.

Critics will always judge. Friends will always love.

For years, I told myself, that I couldn’t share my story with many because they wouldn’t be able to handle it. In fact, I created a false narrative that I was trying to protect them from pain. The truth is, I created a faulty excuse to selfishly protect myself. Much, to my surprise, people did not respond the way that I had expected them too. As I came clean with many people, God chose to love me through many of them. I ended up having a support team that I never dreamed of having. Yes, some judged me… but those that love me, loved me like I had never known love before.

Life lived outside of your calling is miserable.

I’m going to leave this speak for itself. I walked away from ministry in 2010 and didn’t return until 2017. I lived 7 years knowing that I was not living out the reason and purpose for my existence. This created a void in my life. Nothing I tried could fill this void. It was miserable. I never want to feel that way again.

Unapologetically yours,

John Eli Garay


Here’s a pic of the youth group at a conference that we held over the memorial day weekend.

groupo

This is a picture of Pastor Cesar Rascon with two of my friends who are youth pastors from my home town. (Left to right: Jose, Ruben, Cesar, & I)

4 guys two

Here is a the youth group leading worship on a Sunday morning.alabanza

Here is a picture of the friends that I traveled with the weekend that I met Pastor Cesar.

4 guys


P.S. Hey friend! If you find this blog to be of value, please take the time to leave a comment or share it on your newsfeed. It is my desire that my story will bring hope, healing, and encouragement to those who need it. Blessings! 🙂

Please stop by and visit our Facebook group page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/johneli/

Categories: Feelings, grace, Life Lessons, ministry, shameTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

John Eli

John Eli has spent over 15 years mentoring and coaching individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. He has worked in behavioral health, pastoral care, and higher-education. He has found that he is most satisfied in life when he is helping people recognize their potential and assisting them to reach their goals.

He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”

38 Comments

  1. I can relate to your post to a certain extend and God qualifies the unqualified always! You had a purpose in the first place and like myself I also carry a ministry and it’s tough at times but then I’m reminded as to why God chose me in the first place. Well wishes on your journey ahead.

    Renaldo – South Africa

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a great testimony to the faithfulness of God. Man, we all mess up sometimes, and some of those “messes” are bigger than others. But I am reminded of Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” I know the roaring lion would love for you to believe that you’re finished, you’re no good for God’s work, you’re all washed up, but the best days of your ministry may still be ahead of you! The truth is, it’s not over until God says it’s over! Thank you for a great testimony.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s funny how I shared Philippians 1:6 with so many people, but yet didn’t have the faith to claim it over my life. So thankful that God didn’t give up on me when I gave up on myself. God is good. Blessings bro.

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  3. He is speaking to me through this post today…I’m not at all clear on exactly what I even mean by that but things are happening in my life that feel like a new direction again. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I look forward to reading more from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. God works in mysterious ways. What we might think won’t work for us or can’t, God sees it differently. And puts people in our path for us to acknowledge ‘with Him nothing is impossible’. Stepping out in faith is extremely difficult in a world that wants you to fail, but once you let go of its hang-ups, we find its worth the step forward.
    Hope is a powerful assurance, God instills in us!

    Thank you for an edifying post. May our awesome God continue to nurture your endeavors. Blessing always.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John — Thank you for sharing this spiritual struggle. I readily identify with the “void” you felt when you “walked away from ministry in 2010” until returning seven years later. You probably walked away about the same time I entered! I surrendered my life to the Lord in November 2010. The rebirth in His hands has been amazing. In comparison, the years for me before 2010 are a black hole. Thanks so much for this! Que Dios te bendiga! Ward

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ward. I dont know how I missed seeing your comment earlier. Thank you for sharing your story here. I’m so grateful for the grace of God that heals and restores. I pray that you will continue to find yourself right where God desires you to be. Bendiciones hermano!

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