He sat across the table at a mid-east restaurant in Philadelphia. It was way long ago, about the time I was 50. Two remarkable things happened that fateful night. First was insignificant, but, boy do I remember. The second changed my life. There was still plenty of that ahead of me.
Burned on the retina of my mind, which now has forgotten lots of stuff, but not this, is the belly dancer. It's not why you think. After all, I was sitting across from a now world-honored missionary leader and class and football team comrade. Oh, and best friend.
Why is Captain Taylor eating a Strawberry sundae in Indonesia signficant?
While we concentrated on the Humus and Pita Bread and changing the world of missions--honestly, much of what is true in missions today all began there--this young gal in veils with an appropriate middle-east pulchritude bee-lined for our table. The Devil made her do it. I was a Navy captain in dress blues straight from the Amtrak station, from the Pentagon, from the Admiral Nimitz "War Room," now a congressional lobbying office.
Circling our table twice with her veil screaming, "Come hither, sailor," the Devil and the Belly Dance slithered onward, trying one more time just before Souvlaki. Now that was memorable. It was not significant.
Which brings me to fateful item two. Maybe you'd best read on
Greg was setting me up. It started with his call to a phone in this well-preserved senior officers strategy room--from where Admiral Nimitz directed the war in the Pacific on paper charts and chalk boards (now covered with "white boards" fed by computer screens). Why my friend rang in on what was once a red phone, I knew it was either him or my wife...or another admiral upset by a misplaced colon in a congressional letter.
"Taylor (in O'Reilly Pennsylvania style, best friends are call be last names), I'm calling our fellowship into red alert." Did he know this was an erstwhile red alert phone?! Spooky. Maybe significant. "How soon can you be up here. Have to talk to you." Few words, like most orders issues in wartime crises. "Gimmie four hours. I'll have to come dressed up." Few words needed to say, "Aye, aye sir." Not to Greg, to the Lord.
Four wintery cold, fast hours full of wondering had me at this table. Still not aware of the set up, I heard Greg moan on about his frustrations in leading a very traditional, very old, very rigid mission group. Maybe he should start fresh with a non-traditional agency to the Muslims so few were then concerned about reaching. I was poised for advice.
Remember, "set up". Quickly, out from the tall grass leaped a question as surprising, as riveting as a belly dancer in Philly. I was prepared for neither. The next 30 seconds changed my life.
"Taylor, (we were still friends at that point...until he finished his question with a long, painful pause waiting for a reply), you've been successful at many things." He pauses. I acknowledge his insight. How well he knew me, and I scrolled quickly through the list of successes, including the bright gold Navy captain’s sleeve I was flashing at an early age. "Now join me and become significant in seeing the Muslim world birth millions to follow Jesus."
The next pause was mine. Today they would call it PTSD. Did I tell you we were in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis? "Saving Arabs?!" was one of the stupidest of the multitudes of words that have left my lips in haste and error (most then thought every Muslim country was Arab).
The story does not stop there. It began there. In a short span of ten minutes I was transformed from the blanch of an unexpected challenge to the flush of excitement. A fast 16 months later the Interstates of America saw Carolyn and I jammed in a donated van with two young children and a dog heading to Pasadena, California, and the US Center for World Mission, our home for nine more years.
Oh, the topic: "Significance." You probably picked it up from the story. In all of my quintessential American success, no one, never, no how, challenged me to be "SIGNIFICANT!". Success is more an outward frame of reference for inward satisfaction. Not a bad thing. But, alone, it is a lonely, empty, short-lived thing. "Success" will not be a marker on anyone's yardstick past Heaven's gates. I suspect your challenge of this will help you define those terms. My bet is that the "successes" of a life of walking with God and serving those He assigns you to will fall somewhere on Heaven's "Significance" scale.
Dad, raise 'em to be significant. Success will be a byproduct. The standard qualities of character the books and the sermons insist on as part of "success" will, indeed, be present in every significant impact you make in life.
Too much more to go. Let's talk more on this. Meantime, think of these things and ask, "What can a I say, what can I demonstrate with my life, to make clear the importance of signficance to my children, to my grandchildren."