This post is the second in a series of five parts that explains our transformation to a family on mission, written from the perspective of my husband, David. This tale also touches on why we moved to Houston and the origins of RighTrak.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
A Greek Tragedy
The temptation of Jesus is a really interesting passage. (You can read Luke’s account here.) Author and Christian thought-leader Mike Breen gave a really interesting talk on it, but here’s the gist of his interpretation. Jesus was both fully God and fully man, and in His temptation the devil is appealing to the humanity of Jesus. In asking the starving Jesus to turn stones to bread, the devil was appealing to His appetite, our selfish desire for earthly satisfaction of one form or another. In offering to Jesus all the kingdoms of the known world, the devil was appealing to His ambition, our desire to be the best and for authority and dominance. In asking Jesus to throw himself down from the temple in a self-destructive test of God the Father’s willingness to save Him, the devil was appealing to Jesus’ need for approval, our desire for acceptance by other people and fear of their rejection. If you think hard enough, most all our flaws, failures and sins fall into one of those three categories. Christ died as the atoning sacrifice for all of mankind who have faith in Him, and part of His conquering death and the devil was to experience and defeat all temptation—appetite, ambition and approval.
Breen has a fascinating theory about temptation, and I’m hard-pressed to disprove it. His theory is that, at our core, we all have a base temptation, one of the three a’s that we are more susceptible to than the others. Take a guess which one is mine.
The Hero’s Fatal Flaw
As it turned out, the “emerging company” that I relocated my family for was not emerging; it was a startup, and not a well-organized or effectively managed one. Though they didn’t know it until I pointed it out soon after arriving in Houston, their finances were in ruins, no thanks to the inability of one of the majority owners to keep his hands out of the proverbial cookie jar. For a higher education services company with $4 million in revenue and a staff of only 30, the company had three aircraft: one eight-seater, pressurized turboprop airplane and two four-seater piston planes, most of which were leveraged in excess of their fair market value. It took only about a month of exposure to the company’s operations and finances (even with what little I had as general counsel) to find out that the only way the company was making good on its existing teaching obligations was to enroll new students and require payment upfront. In other words, it needed new money to fulfill old orders—a figurative, if not literal, Ponzi scheme.
I also learned that this wasn’t just a family business; it was the friends-and-family retirement plan. Seemingly half the town of Abilene, Texas was on the payroll for doing nothing at all or had promises of equity ownership. Other people had small percentages of equity ownership for no apparent reason other than their blood relationships to one of the owners. It turned out the two owners of the company were little more than slick salesmen, and we had been sold a bill of goods.
I would not come to know the full extent of their fraud until I moved to Houston and really got into the gritty details of the books, but in all honesty I cannot say I was completely clueless before relocating my family. I knew the company’s primary source of revenue—a single contract with a college in Abilene—was going to eventually dry up. After I made the announcement to my law firm but before we had left Kansas City I learned that the owner in Abilene had used company money to buy expensive trucks for himself and the company’s chief operating officer, who happened to be this owner’s neighbor. I made a stink with the chief financial officer about it, but I did not do what I probably should have done and back out of the employment deal.
There were other bits and pieces of information I had that, in hindsight, should have tipped me off. So why didn’t I do anything about it? Why didn’t I realize the scam? Why didn’t I save my family the stress of selling a house in a down market and of moving 800 miles away from everything we knew? Easy. Greed and vanity, but probably not in that order—or in a word: ambition. I chose to blind myself to what was really happening because at all of 27 years old I was going to be given the grand title of “general counsel” and eventually “president,” allegedly with all the authority and power behind those titles, and I would be the first in my law school class to be given either of them. I was going to be making more money than my parents ever did. I was going to be high on the hog.
So when the company’s house of cards fell, imagine what I thought of my original thesis that God was leading us to Houston. It wasn’t God working at all; it was I who was at work. It was temptation, plain and simple. I had read the signs all wrong, or rather convinced myself and my wife that there were “signs” when there weren’t, and instead of following God I led myself right into a trap of my own making. Having screwed up royally, how could I trust my ability to see what God is doing? How could my wife trust me? Even if I did have a plan for getting my family out of this mess, I would have had little confidence in it being the right thing to do and zero credibility in asking Kindra to follow me. I felt crushed and helpless.
Being a halfway decent lawyer, I can make a good argument. I convinced the one owner who had not fled like a rat from a sinking ship to continue paying on my employment contract. I didn’t need to work because there was no work to be done, and yet I still collected a fat paycheck. Now, you’d think I would have recognized my grievous error, repented and devoted all my energies to fixing things, but I didn’t. Instead, I got lazy, shamefully lazy. (I played a lot of World of Warcraft at work, I’m sad to say. All while my wife was working full-time and working on her MBA in the evenings.)
Now, I knew this life of comfort and, frankly, luxury would not last, but my employment contract was supposed to last another year, and I did not expect it to end as soon as it did. Relying on the express representation of the owner with whom I had made this cushy deal that he would not renege on my employment contract, we went ahead and bought a house in Houston that October. Not but a few months later, though, he called me on Valentine’s Day to tell me the company was broke and could no longer make payroll. Imagine how that Valentine’s Day dinner went. Like the hero in a Greek tragedy my fatal flaw led to my downfall. My hubris, my ambition, would be the cause of considerable strife and embarrassment that not only I had to bear, but my wife also. I had failed as a spiritual leader of my family. I had failed as a provider. I had failed as a husband. All in all, I had failed as a man of God.
Though I wouldn’t fully understand it for some time, I wasn’t being punished for my sins. I was being remade.
Up Next: My Big, Fat Kairos Moment | Part 3 of 5
Missed a Post? Part 1