Choices

Every life is filled with choices. In school, we decide whether to study, whether to watch TV or whether to play outside with our friends. We decide whether to expend more energy on our homework for algebra or whether to study for history.

We decide whether to buy grape soda or lemon lime. We decide on the blue shirt or the red when we got dressed this morning. We chose to get up right away or we chose to hit the snooze button for another ten minutes of slumber.

Most of our choices have limited consequences, but a few can be life altering.

My parents tell me I’ve had an interesting life. It’s based on some of the choices I’ve made. Some choices were good, some bad, and some that seemed to be mistakes ended up being right after all. The problem with choices is that we never know where they will send us.

I have artistic talent, I’m fascinated by astronomy, and I love reading. When I was four I thought I’d become an astronomer. Later, I thought I might become an artist. In school, I took art classes and once, in high school I got runner up in a contest to design a billboard for the American bicentennial. Meanwhile, my algebra teacher told me that I could have a great future as a mathematician.

My senior year of high school I won first prize in a short story writing contest and saw it appear in the high school newspaper. The same year I won third prize in a patriotic speech contest for the American Legion, while my English teacher had me teach all six periods of his classes once.

I developed a great fondness for history in high school and wound up majoring in history in college.

In junior high I took typing because I had decided that I’d like to be a writer. By the time I was sixteen, I’d finished writing my first novel and from then until I turned twenty-one, I pounded out my ten pages of prose five days a week.

But during my senior year of college, I decided that actually becoming a writer was impossible. I had sent my short stories and my novels to dozens of publishers, only to receive universal rejection. So I decided to quit and turn my energies to the Old Testament and learning Hebrew and other Semitic languages. I’d become a college professor. Several of my friends expressed disappointment over my choice to stop writing.

My faculty advisor thought I should go to the University of Chicago for my graduate work. He wanted me to major in history there. But instead, I chose to go to UCLA and major in Semitic languages.

When I finished my graduate work, I started teaching part time at a small Christian college in El Cajon. Soon, I ended up at my own alma mater teaching Old Testament and Hebrew. After two years, I became a full time instructor and imagined that I had a career.

But then the college decided they didn’t want to continue offering upper division Old Testament and Hebrew courses. With the elimination of the classes I taught, I too was eliminated.

Meanwhile, my wife decided that she couldn’t take teaching at the poorly managed private school she was at for another year, so she declined their offer for another year.

Suddenly my wife and I were both out of work.

Over that summer, we sought new positions, but without success. Without anything else to do, I decided to write a novel. My wife loved the novel and she suggested that I should try to become an author full time. So that’s what I chose to do.

The loss of a job kicked me back toward my original choice, almost as if the years of effort to become a college professor had been a distraction.

Two days later we made our choice, my wife was offered a third grade teaching position in the Lancaster School district. Her starting salary was more than what our combined salaries had been before we found ourselves unemployed. Meanwhile, I wrote ten or more pages every day, five days a week, for many years.

When the small church we attended decided to start a seminary, they asked me to run it. I chose to do so, but this time I also chose to keep on writing.

One day, an editor in London noticed our seminary’s website. She emailed me and asked me to write a book for them, which Reader’s Digest subsequently published in 2008 as The Bible’s Most Fascinating People. It’s being reissued in February by Chartwell Books.

After all those years, the choice I’d first made when I was sixteen years old, the choice my wife and I made when we were both without work, finally paid off.

Over the last twelve months, I have had three new books hit the bookstore shelves. My agent is currently busy selling my latest creation. And oddly, the books I’m writing and selling now are possible only because of my choice to study Semitic languages at UCLA so I could become a Bible professor.

Rather than being a distraction, my years of Bible study, my years of language learning, and my years of writing and writing all worked together to create my current pleasant situation.

Choices matter. And they don’t always take us exactly where we expect.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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