New Place, Same Promise

Every time I questioned anything about my life, thinking about those words would bring complete peace.

Jimmy Phillips

I moped to my mailbox, downtrodden and drained. It was Labor Day, a time for family, outdoor cookouts, and celebrating summer turning to fall. But the most exciting part of my evening was getting a week’s worth of mail after housesitting. Bills, junk, and more bills. Then something different: a thick envelope, from a prison . . .

I moved to Bakersfield, California, in June 2008, three weeks after graduating from Union College. I knew one person, my new boss, the vice president of marketing at San Joaquin Community Hospital, where I’d accepted a job in marketing.

Every time I questioned anything about my life, thinking about those words would bring complete peace.

By September I was lonely and contemplating if I was cut out for the health-care business. At that point in my career I fashioned myself as a writer, having interned at Adventist Review and begun writing this monthly column.

Bakersfield? Why here, God?

There are a handful of moments in life that you never forget. I’m not talking about major events such as graduating from college, getting married, or having your first child. I’m talking about those seemingly nondescript everyday occurrences that seem trivial. But in that time and place, it’s as if God reaches down from heaven, puts His arms around you, and says, “Don’t worry, kiddo. I’ve got you.”

This letter was one of those times.

Onward and Upward

I detailed the full story in a 2009 article for the Review, “Snail Mail From Jail.” Here’s an excerpt:

“As I opened the envelope and began reading the four-page letter, the writer identified himself as, sure enough, a prisoner in a California penitentiary. . . . The man, we’ll call him Ryan, had grown up in the church and attended Adventist schools. But somewhere in his volatile young-adult years, he’d fallen away from God and, thereafter, been sentenced to a term in prison.”

In prison Ryan had found hope through a relationship with Jesus and began reading copies of the Review that were brought to the prison. He stumbled across one of my articles and decided to reach out. I have to admit that while I enjoyed reading his story, by page 4 I still wasn’t sure why he’d decided to write me. Then he closed with these words:

“Jimmy, God has sent you to Bakersfield for a reason. You may not know what it is yet, but you don’t need to know right now. When it is time, you’ll know.”

It’s hard to explain how much that letter has meant to me. Every time I questioned anything about my life, thinking about those words would bring complete peace.

I’m reflecting because after 11 years, God has called me out of Bakersfield. This spring I accepted a role with Kettering Health Network as director of marketing.

The past few months have been an insane whirlwind. To summarize, I took the job within the same hour that my wife went into labor with our third child. I have to admit, the general craziness of it all has at times caused me to question this decision.

In these moments I take a deep breath and go back to that Labor Day night in 2008, hanging out in my dingy east Bakersfield apartment. I think about opening that letter and reading the climactic paragraph. Then I remember.

Jimmy, God here. Don’t worry, kiddo. I’ve got you.

Jimmy Phillips is network marketing director of Kettering Health Network.