Each new year makes me think about renewal. Some people will make resolutions to change their appearance or behavior. Some just take stock of what has happened in the past year. Some reorganize their goals. But we shouldn’t treat our spiritual renewal like just another resolution we’ll work on for a few weeks in January. Spiritual renewal is more than just resolutions or reflections.
The most significant renewal in my life came unexpectedly when I was still coaching and teaching high school. I was looking to see where God wanted me. I tried different directions in my career, but each new direction failed to fulfill its promise. When my principal sent me to a conference, I thought it might be a nice getaway. Maybe I’d even pick up some useful knowledge.
It was October 1982. Mid-fall is the best time of year in Texas. The temperatures are moderate, the sun shines brightly, and everything is still green. The conference was in a most remote area. As I traveled down the highway, I saw overgrazed pastures covered with rocks. The terrain had some roll and pitch to it, but appeared fairly flat for this part of the state.
Things began to change as I turned off the highway. I was now surrounded by trees—not the towering pines I’d known in East Texas, but small, gnarled trees whose growth seemed stunted. I wound down a dirt road that twisted through this stunted forest and dropped sharply before coming to an abrupt halt at a shallow but wide river—about sixty feet across. I hit the brakes and slid to a stop just above the water’s edge. On my right was a signpost pointing to where I needed to go. Above that read these words, “Yes, You Drive in the River.”
I thought of the sandy banks and bottoms of Caney Creek and the San Jacinto River. I had played in these streams for four years. No one drove in them or even near them. Slowly I eased my car into the water, staying as close to the edge as I could in case I encountered problems that required an immediate exit. After driving little more than a quarter mile in the river, I exited at the site of the conference. I continued to the registration point and noticed how the river had cut into the hillside. Looking up at a four hundred foot bluff, I began to change.
Our accommodations served as a youth camp in the summer. These rustic cabins seemed appropriate for an Outdoor Education conference. The first morning I woke early and walked to the water’s edge. I looked up at that magnificent bluff and prayed, “Lord, I don’t know why you brought me here, but I thank you that you have.”
In that canyon I found a strong sense of God’s presence and determined to join that presence. I could hear him calling me, nudging me in some new direction. There was something here for me, and I needed to pay close attention. My life changed and so did the lives of my wife and our future children.
When I drove out of the camp back through the river, I was aware of the water’s cleansing. When I exited the river, the grit of the road threw clouds of dust behind my car, but I was clean and renewed and resolved. I’ve been following that call ever since.