What if…

One of my students recently noted a “what if?” scenario, that fork in the road that created a mess that resonates to this day. And wouldn’t you know it, I found myself reading an article about my buddies at Goldman Sachs and their distressed mortgage business, and went down my own rabbit hole of “what if?”

Back in 2001 I was working for a company that was created for trading non-performing assets – delinquent mortgages or defaulted credit cards, and feeling very frustrated about how the boss wanted to go about things. He was a “flipper” or more nicely stated an arbitrageur, taking a thin margin between a seller and a buyer. I found this practice to be disingenuous at best and deeply dishonest at worst. What I envisioned and actually created was a true “principal buyer” structure where we would buy the assets and then manage them in a positive way. We had everything in place: a nationally licensed mortgage broker, a pricing algorithm (I wrote that one!), a servicing platform structure, even a bank! And I had found a collection agency to acquire – even setting an agreement in place to purchase it. Everything was in place except one thing. The money to actually do it. And I was lied to. Right to my face by the banker and the “finance guy.” My boss wanted to continue with business as usual, which to my mind was equally dishonest. Even after leaving that company, permanently tainted by the dishonesty, I tried again to find the money. But it was not to be.

So what if we had actually found the money? If all those pieces I had arranged had fallen into place? Well, I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I am now! I would likely be playing golf right now instead of musing on what if. Or having brunch at the club or going out on the boat. Lots of material things. Success. I remember when Bank of America bought Countrywide (knowing from the inside what a bad deal it was) and then all those loans went south. I thought “I could fix this for them! I know how!”

But God had another plan in mind, a different path. One that served Him and not me. The funny thing is that His plan serves me in a way that I could never have created for myself and the rewards are so far beyond the material.

The same holds true for the even bigger what if. What if my dad had not died when I was 14? I have played that one out over and over, or at least I used to. What if I had never started smoking, or at least seen early on how stupid it is?

No matter how you parse the what ifs you are left with what is. And if you can find value in what is then everything that created it, no matter how sorrowful or shameful, now has value because you do.

It is only when we serve something greater than ourselves do we begin to see our value, and by extension the value of what has contributed to our value. Perspective changes, condemnation, sorrow, regret, remorse, bitterness; they all fall away when seen through the lenses of service not to self but others.

My mom had a small poster on her wall, simply saying “But God…” Sit on that one a while and consider the what ifs, not in terms of loss but of gain, not of condemnation but hope. Find the true value of yourself in spite of or even in the full expression of your brokenness, and remember that when the course and outcome of your life is no longer your concern but His, amazing things will happen, experiences you could never have created by your own design.

2 thoughts on “What if…

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  1. Stephen and I have been discussing my nephew who does not believe… consciously says he will not believe and that he does not think God should let him into His heaven and claims to be okay with that. My question is along the same lines of what my nephew (and many others believe) and why would I claim (to them or even just to me) it is not enough. My nephew would say he does not need a God to serve to feel valuable. He knows he is valuable to his fiancé (especially) and to his family and friends and he is working toward being valuable in his career. He would ask, why is that not enough?


    1. My answer will not satisfy him. He is speaking from a religious perspective whereas I speak from a Christian one. Religion is all about “do”, an attempt to tip the scales in our favor through our works. Christianity is about “done”, Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in my place, paying the penalty I cannot pay. I can’t, you can’t, no one can. Why? Because it is like trying to undo something that is already done. Humanity’s “crime”, the error, the fault, can’t be undone. Imagine a glass of the purest water – nothing but H2O. Then an atom of black ink is added. The water is no longer pure and can’t be made pure as it has been tainted. It can’t go back. Much like the path I discussed before – once choice B was made there is not return to A. Except through faith in Christ. But your nephew will not see that. Probably. His logic, his reasoning, is done through the lens of his best thinking. All you can do is pray for him, that he will somehow come to his own realization of faith (ooh, that will upset some…) Calvinists, Armenianists, I make everyone mad.


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