my 1 year anniversary of leaving ys

today is my 1 year anniversary of getting laid off from my role as president of youth specialties.

before i reflect on that in writing, allow me to make a few things very clear:

first, i have nothing against youth specialties. just the opposite: i love ys. always have, always will. i remain close friends with the remaining staff, am speaking at their conventions this fall, and hold onto nothing but hope for them as they continue to move forward with integrity and a missional passion to serve youth workers.

second, ys didn’t really lay me off. zondervan, our then-parent company, laid me off. while i might not have agreed with the choice at the time, there’s nothing about the decision itself (particularly from the distance of a year) that doesn’t make sense. ys was being sold, and there was no longer a role for me. i have lots of dear friends at zondervan also (who i miss, since i don’t get to spend time with them anymore), and my next book will still be released with them.

third, youthworks! (the new-ish owners of ys) are good people. really. and i’ve been so deeply pleased to hear from tic and others how supported they’re feeling during this convention season.

now, let’s talk about me!

leading up to my lay-off, i was riddled with anxiety. as i wrote in an earlier post, i had a zombie soul. the work of trying to re-make ys into a profit machine was not my calling, and — really — beyond my ability or desire. but the two months after the lay-off put that anxiety and hear into hyper-drive. when i spent a bunch of days in silence, giving presence and space to the various emotions i’d been frozen in, i journalled about my fears. i wrote things like (these are straight out of that journal):

I’m afraid I won’t find a meaningful job.

I’m afraid whatever job I find – meaningful or not – will be such a dramatic lowering of income that our family will suffer (which will, as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, totally feel like “my fault”).

I’m afraid I’ll lose my voice.

I’m afraid I’ll lose interest in the things I’ve been passionate about, especially if I’m in a role that doesn’t give me cause to think on them and speak about them.

I’m afraid my kids won’t be proud of me, and think my job is cool.

I’m afraid I’ll have a cool opportunity that will require a move, and a boring opportunity that allows us to stay in San Diego, and that I’ll have to choose, knowing that one seems selfish, and the other feels like death.

I’m afraid of losing our house.

I’m afraid of losing what little retirement we have saved.

I’m afraid of losing my dreams, whatever they may be!

I’m afraid of becoming a shell of myself. I’m afraid that I’ve “peaked”, and nothing else – work wise – will come close to providing the meaning and fun that I’ve experienced.

I’m afraid I’ll have to wear a suit and tie, or at least “business casual”, and give up some of my individuality in order to get work.

I’m afraid I’ll be bored, and even boring.

and here i am, a year later; and i can honestly say that not one single thing on that list has even remotely been realized. not one. in fact, just the opposite has been the experience of my year. i’m more fulfilled than ever in my work; i have more time for my family; i have more space for rest; i get to exercise my gifts (and not spend a large chunk of my time on stuff i’m not passionate, like profitability spreadsheets); i get to speak into the lives of youth workers and churches and ministries; and i still get to wear shorts and t-shirts to work!

even in the early months of 2010, when my new plans started to take shape (oblique as it was at that point), i still wondered if i could make it work. what has become imminently clear to me, especially as i look back, is that i didn’t make this take shape. god did it. god provided for me, met me in my anxiety and fear, and brought a freshness to my life and calling that i would never have been bold enough to “claim”.

this past weekend, the pastor leading a time of communion at a junior high event i was speaking at led the students in that slightly cliche response: god is good, all the time; all the time, god is good. but it struck a chord in me; and the vibration of god’s goodness in my life is the hum of my days.

i look back on a horrible firing i experienced early in my youth ministry career, and i can say with complete truthfulness that i wouldn’t trade it for the world. it’s part of who i’ve become in a way that i cannot separate from the goodness of god. i’m almost there with this current reality. i’m grateful for where god has taken me, how god has protected my heart from bitterness, and all the other blessings in my day-to-day life. and, soon, i expect — very soon — i’ll even be grateful for being laid off. i’m already there cognitively, and expect i’ll be able to say it and mean it soon enough.

(photo ripped from adam walker cleaveland, who got it from april)

10 thoughts on “my 1 year anniversary of leaving ys”

  1. Hey Marko,
    How very strangely does our God work some days. Yesterday I had lunch with my priest (Episcopal) and we talked about my concerns about my job. In some ways the base reasons for change are similar but what struck me is that the concerns you wrote about a year ago are the very same concerns I’m facing. As I read down the list my smile got wider and wider as I though “Yep. Yep. Yep.”

    So I will try to use your experience as a touchstone on my own journey. Be open to God’s work in my life and try to let him “meet me in my anxiety and fear”.


  2. I just wrote about you briefly in my blog last night. Focused on risk-taking and what it looks like…feels like…and how God can use us in our most fearful situations.

    As I mentioned in your blog last week, God is using you.

    Here’s all I can say for now. He is using you.

    HE is using you.
    He IS using you.
    He is USING you.
    He is using YOU.

    Isn’t that amazing?

  3. Thanks for sharing. It took me a while to look back at a firing from a volunteer position and be thankful, Wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t happened.

  4. I really admire how you’ve walked through this season. I can’t lie, I still miss working with you. But its really cool to see what God is doing right now in your life too. So, still miss you in the office– but I’m pretty jealous of all that you’re getting to do!

  5. Hey Marko, we love you. Just to honor you though, i am not going to YS this year after about 30 years of it. As gracious as you are about being let go, it was handled poorly (especially the table that was set out in Atlanta to leave you and Tic a note of well wishes–wow!)

    Anyway, to echo some of your thoughts, if anyone hasn’t been fired in their lifetime, they have missed an interesting life experience. One does grow from it if self-evaluation occurs (sometimes that may be the only way some of us stop to evaluate). In the middle and end of it all, God is faithful.


  6. This speaks to me because I’ve been wanting to leave my current job for several years now. The main thing holding me back is fear, and my fears bear a close resemblance to your list of fears. It’s helpful to know that none of your fears came true. I hope someday soon I will work up the courage to leave a position that makes me feel dead inside, and find something new.

  7. Mark,
    My life has been so impacted by you and what you accomplished at YS! I to appreciate very much your candor about your experience. Though it was a tough road for you, I am encouraged in my own walk that I’m not alone with these thoughts and that there is hope when hope can’t be seen. God is there with us. Thank you.

  8. I still thinik it’s fascinating the response in the youth ministry community to you being let go – I know it triggered anger and emotion in me. And I saw my thoughts, reactions, emotions mirrored in so many of the youth ministry community – in a way that doesn’t normally happen in similar circumstances. The only conclusion I could come up with is that you were the guy that so many of us went to, cried to and spilled our hearts to when we were hurt, let go, abused or whatever in our different ministry contexts, and it was so upsetting to see it happen to the guy that supported so many of us. I know I’ve certainly been moved and blown away by how you have handled all of it from the beginning until now.

  9. Thanks for sharing this Marko.

    I’ve followed your story with keen interest as I have experienced my own “reversal of fortune” over the past year or so. While there have been many, many, high points to belay from, unfortunately I don’t feel as if I have hit an appreciable plateau yet. A year and half later, I still find myself struggling with the same list of questions that you were asking at the beginning.

    Aside from God’s perceivable hand in your situation. If you were a self-help guru, based on your experience, what changes, disciplines, steps did you employ that may have assisted or enabled you to be where you are now? What practical advice would you give to those who feel the past is closer than the future? Now I realize you may be disinclined to administer one size fits all kinds of answers. But your words may help to provide a hand-hold for fellow climbers like myself.


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