I closed out my twenties over Taco Bell with a Cheesy Gordita Crunch and a Mexican Pizza. When that was finished, I went with my life long friend, Kellen, to Sonic where we reminisced about high school, college, and seminary. We laughed about getting detention for ditching school to watch The Two Towers. We talked about our love for enigmatic Bob Jones University—its oddities and its stellar faculty. Then I went home and spent my final minutes being twenty nine watching Bob’s Burgers with Cherayah. Great night.
This morning I drove to PVHS (Si Señor breakfast burrito in hand) listening to my new favorite song, “Don’t Take the Money” by the Bleachers and an old favorite, Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” Taylor Swift, celebrating the beginning of my third decade, released her new album, “Lover.” That was very thoughtful of her. Thank you, Taylor! During second hour, my office filled wall to wall with students who wished me a happy birthday. I was met with Al Hurricane’s Feliz Cumpleaños and students screaming "Happy birthday, Josh!" They were loud and the crowds in the hallway looked to see what all the commotion was about (super embarrassing). My office is always teeming with students. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My being at Piedra Vista High School was entirely unexpected. It was one of those joyful surprises along life’s path.
I’m thirty years old. That’s hard to believe. It got here faster that I thought possible. Thirty is one of those birthdays that makes you reflect. Surprisingly, I'm not as depressed about it as I thought I would be. Thirty is a milestone.
Each of these birthdays represent definitive stages in our life—teens, twenties, and thirties. Each has its own challenges, its own celebrations. Formative all.
My teenage years were filled with confidence. I had direction, I knew the next step. It was always going to be Bob Jones University. It was training for the ministry. Everything mostly went according to plan. I look back at that time of life with fondness. Life revolved around Grace Baptist Church—the academy, the youth group, the Sunday service, and the incredible people there. Most weeks, I was at Grace six out seven days, some weeks I was there every day.
My twenties were filled with turbulence. I didn’t have direction. I didn’t know the next step. My twenties is where my idealism died. It was during this decade that I experienced pain and watched as aspirations and goals withered away. I expected to close out my twenties with a wife and maybe a few niños, but that didn’t happen. I lost my Grandpa, Juan Valdez, when I was 19. But his death still weighed heavily on me six months later when I turned 20, and even now when I think about him, I hurt. I miss him terribly. It didn’t stop with my Papa Juan, I would lose my Great Grandma, Marie and my Great Uncle Andy. Tragically, I would lose my older cousins Shane and Micah.
There were many highs and lows during the twenties-- a decade of extremes, really. I survived getting an MDiv. I landed a job at a church where I ministered to people I loved with my whole heart. High. I was removed from that church and also lost many relationships. Low. In 2014, Tony Romo finally received the recognition he deserved as an elite NFL QB (and the greatest QB in Dallas Cowboys history). High. Then in 2016, an injury forced him into retirement and he was replaced by a scrub who wasn’t worthy to succeed him. Low. I’m still salty about it, so don’t bring it up. Ever.
Lest we give way to depression, we must pause and celebrate the twenties as well. Half of my twenties were spent at Bob Jones University. There, I received a robust education—classically refined, broadly humanitarian, and unflinchingly biblical. There, I forged friendships with quality people that will last a lifetime.
In my twenties, I became a homeowner. For years, I dreamed of having a place for my theological library, and I finally have it. I’m enjoying having friends and family over. I love having Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite showings. In my twenties, I finally attended Together for the Gospel and Shepherds’ Conference. For years, John MacArthur has shepherded me from afar— teaching me the Bible, and modeling faithful ministry for me. It was a joy to meet him and express to him my appreciation for his ministry.
As I reflect upon three decades of life, the only word I can use to describe the path thus far is providence. I’ve learned God’s providence, seen God’s providence, and experienced God’s providence. Providence is God’s governance of this world, it is his orchestration of all things to bring about his will. God, we read, “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). All things, both good and bad, fall under his governance. Even evil is redeemed in providence. While Joseph’s brothers tried to murder him, and only intended him harm, God’s purpose in it was redemptive and preserved an entire nation. Joseph would confess, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20).
And here, with facing pain, suffering, and unfulfilled expectation we wrestle with providence and doubt his goodness. What is going on in my life? What are you doing God? Do you care? Why? And as we wrestle and as we cling to God, we eventually come to affirm the truth of Romans 8:30, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
“Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option.” ~ John Flavel
Most recently and prominently in my life, I've seen providence in the church I pastor, Higher Ground Church. I never expected to plant and pastor a church plant, but that was God’s plan. His direction was clear, and he singlehandedly brought about everything with Higher Ground. He brought me to Grace Hill Church, a church that is passionate about Gospel spreading and Kingdom work. The elders at Grace Hill cared for me during a difficult time, and the church helped me in the process of planting, even sending over some of their people. God provided me with an incredibly supportive network for church planting (SEND Network). He provided a church building for us out of nowhere. Through SEND, he provided us with funding. He provided us with people who are theologically unified, who are passionate about the Gospel, and who are hungry for expository preaching. He gave us a full band. He gave us a children’s ministry director and another elder in training. He even supplied a specific community for us to invest our Gospel efforts in, and they sought us out!
It’s better than what I could have done. It’s better than even the desires I had. It's better than what I pictured for my life at this stage.
God has guided my life along every step of this journey. Most of the time it didn’t seem clear, and nothing felt definitive. I’ve learned that this is God’s way of doing things. He leads us, we trust and follow, even when things don't make sense. Providence is appreciated in retrospect.
The story of my thirties isn’t written yet. But I’m looking forward to what it holds for me. I’ve experienced God’s providential hand. I’ve learned to trust him, to hold his hand as I step out into the unknown. Psalm 16:11 changed my life as a freshman in college, and it is a verse I cling to now and think on every single day.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
~ Psalm 16:11
After three decades, I look to God as he makes known to me life’s path. I experience joy in his presence and bask in the satisfying pleasure that relationship with him brings. For the past, I thank him. For the future, I trust him.
“There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~ C.S. Lewis