As I was driving home, after having spent Christmas with Jaime’s mom, Felicity was asleep in the car (finally!) and I just started talking out loud to God. While driving the endless roads that make up North and South Carolina, I said, “Anywhere! Put me anywhere you want! You know what I need to do. You know where we need to be. Open the doors for us.” The next morning, I made contact with several mentors, who then sent out my resume to their contacts. Within a couple weeks, my resume and a few applications were in the inboxes of schools literally in every region of the country. I was/am so blessed to have a group of mentors who would let me call and email them to ask their advice about a school, and then have Skype sessions to prep for interviews and school visits. I know their constructive criticism helped me become better with the panel interviews and the need to share who I really am and my equipping for such a time as this. Most importantly, I appreciate my “gang of 4” who would send me encouraging text messages or just call and ask if I was ok or if I wanted them to pray with me.
By early January 2013, I ended up with forty-five prospective job opportunities – again in every region of the USA. I interviewed (via Skype) with schools in Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, California, and (obviously) Pennsylvania. Then, the “thanks but no thanks” letters began to arrive. Receiving those letters became a somewhat exciting experience for me. Yes, really! Each time I would open a letter and read the canned response, I would know 100% that was not where God wanted Fee and I to go. The same was true when I would finish up a Skype interview that didn’t go well – it was just a visible sign that perhaps that school wouldn’t be a good fit. The list of forty-five narrowed to three within a couple weeks – a school in Loveland, CO, Clinton, NJ, and Mt. Lebanon, PA. After working through the “God why are there no tropical locations?” complaint, I focused in on these three believing that one of them was the place. Something didn’t feel right about the school in New Jersey. They persisted in asking if I would come up for a second interview and I prayed long and hard and told them I didn’t believe it was a good fit. Conventional wisdom would have said “James, you need a job…take this one!” I didn’t feel God leading that way and I was willing to lose the attractive financial offer. When I interviewed with the principal search committee in Pennsylvania, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation (they had no idea I was wearing shorts!). I signed out of that session and said, “I think that went very well.” Enjoying my “Maybe this is the one” moment, I received a call that Friday from the school in Colorado asking if I would participate in an initial phone interview. Fee was home sick from school that day and so I participated in the phone interview with a sick little girl on my lap. The superintendent ended the call with, “I am narrowing down my list of who to bring to the school. I will call you back if I am interested.” Well, he called me back that night and invited me up for a panel interview for the elementary principal position. I was now in a very exciting yet tricky position. I had told two schools I was interested in their open position and the school in Pennsylvania wanted to see me the following week for an on-campus visit…right around the same time I would be going to Colorado for an…yeah, you guessed it…an on-campus visit. I immediately called my mentors and a dear friend and said, “What do I do?” They shared their thoughts and I thought and prayed about it and God continually reminded me of the word, “Truth.” By faith, I shared with the school in Pennsylvania that I was in the interview process with the school in Colorado and that I would like to go and finish it out and see what God had planned for me. To my surprise, they agreed! They told me to contact them when I had returned to set up the on-campus visit.
Although I made it to the final three, I was not chosen for the position in Colorado. What a beautiful place, though! I remember I was sitting in a restaurant at Disney with Felicity when I called the chairwoman of the principal search committee, of Jubilee, to let her know the Colorado position was no longer a go. She attempted to hide her excitement, but I could sense she was glad that I was now focused on them. She shared with me, “We have been interviewing for this position for about a year and you are our number one candidate.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Just a short time before that, I was being told that someone else was “their candidate” in Colorado and now I was being told from Pennsylvania, “You are our choice.”
In December of 2012, after such a huge loss – the loss of my wife – I had a huge choice in front of me. I still do, really. I could have just stopped and chosen to stand still in my grief. And my pain is real – just not always public. I do not take credit for choosing to move forward and jumping into the deep waters of faith. When I was driving that car on I-95, surrendering my plans to God, I looked back and saw the beautiful face of my little girl. It’s the same face I saw the Sunday after Jaime slipped away. Felicity needs me to continue moving forward because she also must move forward. She will one day sit with her children and talk about the amazing, brave woman her mother was. Felicity will also tell them about how grandpa walked into the darkness of grief, boarded airplanes by faith, and firmly believed that if God could bring him through the loss of his wife, and the loss of all worldly possessions, and yet still provide for his every need, He was more than able to narrow a list of forty-five and lead he and his beautiful daughter to the one that was always “the one.” I travel this bend in the road continually amazed and blessed by the One who blazed the trail.