How many times have you heard or read this quote? “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” More times than I can count for sure. And the funny thing is, its so true. I can imagine, God in all his heavenly glory, shaking his head and giggling at the stuff we plan for our lives or the stuff we get upset about because it didn’t go the way we intended. I know I probably make Him laugh out loud on a regular basis. If God is having a down day, He just finds me in order to get a good ol’ laugh. Yes. The Lord does give us free will AND He also has a divine purpose set for each one of us. Navigating the “both and” of free will and divine purpose or calling can be challenging. You know I’ve got a story for you — lets dive in.

In December of 2012, I enrolled in a leadership certification program. My hope was to gain skills to become a better leader in my various roles at Penn State Fayette. Two months later, in February 2013, I traveled to Orlando, Florida, to attend my first International Maxwell Certification. Over three days, I attended intense leadership development training led by John C. Maxwell and the John Maxwell Team faculty. It was truly an emotional experience for me. I had not anticipated “feeling” as much as I did that week. I intended to go to Florida, learn some new skills, meet some new people, and maybe buy some new resources. What actually happened changed my life forever. I learned a whole new way of thinking, doing, and being.

Leaving the hotel, I realized that I wanted to serve with this new team. In typical Gina fashion, I even said it out loud. In the shuttle, full of newly certified John Maxwell Team members, I told someone, I just met, that one day I would be a faculty member of the John Maxwell Team. Who does that? Seriously. I can be so obnoxious. Anyway, at the time, I’m not sure I knew what I was saying. I knew that my experience there changed me. I also knew that I wanted to be a part of the “movement.” And I knew that through this team, God had gifted me some things I needed to fulfill my calling. But I’m not sure that I knew what I was asking God to do. Have you ever done that? Have you ever asked God for something that you felt in your soul was what you wanted, needed, and was ready for?

Fast forward to December of 2015 — Paul Martinelli, president of the John Maxwell Team, interviews me for his JMT member spotlight call. While facilitating our very first “Night Owls” event in the Student Success Center at Penn State Fayette, I step out of the office to complete the call. Paul asks me to share with the several hundred team members on the call, my passion for serving youth and how I’ve used the John Maxwell Team curriculum to add value to young people in my community. While on the call, he texts me and says after the call I’d like to speak with you about an opportunity. Unaware of what I was about to be asked, I couldn’t help but be excited about the potential of what I was about to be offered. During the second call, Paul asks me to take the next month, write curriculum for a new youth course, and fly me to Los Angeles to film the content with Nick Vujcic.

Exactly one year later to the day, Paul calls me again and asks me to lead the Global Youth Initiative, a challenge to John Maxwell Team members to host a free youth leadership event in their communities. In April of 2017, we launched GYI and have since facilitated leadership events for nearly 700,000 young people during the months of April and October annually. Another 12 months after the “GYI” phone call, Paul asks me formally lead the team and serve as the Youth Development Director and first youth faculty member for the John Maxwell Team.

Now, I don’t share the history of my experience with JMT to highlight my success or shine a spotlight on my experience. Truth be told, these are only the highlights. A lot has happened since that first training in 2013. In that time, my eldest graduated high school, moved to college, earned All-American honors for NCAA Division 2 indoor high-jump. I sold my home in Pa, left my job at Penn State (still one of the hardest things I ever did), moved to Ohio, got married and had another baby. Speaking of which, he just rolled over on his play mat as I type this. Talk about not knowing God’s plans — ha! If I would’ve had it my way, I would’ve stayed in Pa, kept my job at Penn State, grew my influence in the John Maxwell Team, and traveled the world. The cool thing is, I am still in contact with my PSU family, I grew my influence in JMT, I have a great job leading ministries in Ohio, I am in a blessed marriage, and I am raising two beautiful boys (yes — I am still raising Christian — no matter how old he gets).

I’m glad I submitted to God’s plans for my life. He’s given me way more than I deserve. Proverbs says, “In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) For such a time as this (Esther 4:14), God has called me to this place, this time, these roles. What has God called you to do, to be? Are you seeking His plans or making Him laugh at your own?

Gina Watts is a former resident of Fayette County, now living in Columbus, Ohio. She serves multiple communities as an advocate, educator, and leader. Follow Gina on Twitter @professorgmarie.

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