The first time I met James Robert, he asked me if I had tiny arms.
I was in line to check out at Walmart, and among other things, I picked up one of those travel-size deodorants for an upcoming trip. James was the cashier.
As he scanned my items and came across the travel-size deodorant, he swiftly looked up and asked, “Tiny arms?”
You never know what your cashier is going to be like when you get in a checkout line. It could be a good day or a bad day; you could be checking out at the beginning of his or her shift or at the end of it; he or she could love the job or, well, not love it.
But for James, it doesn’t matter. Every moment of his shift is another opportunity to make someone smile.
He hasn’t always been like this, though.
Faith and Big Dreams
James says he fell in love with Jesus when he was 7 years old. Partly because he knew his parents loved him — a lot.
“I thought, ‘If God’s love was bigger (than my parents’), where could I go wrong?’” James said.
By 16, James knew he wanted to be in ministry, so he started right out of the gate. He attended Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, a college recommended by the Church of God denomination. He majored in intercultural studies, spent four months in Guatemala and joined Youth With A Mission (YWAM). After four years with YWAM — where he says God “drilled religion out” of him — he met his wife, Michelle. They had both been at Lee University at the same time for a year, but even though they had mutual friends, they never met.
James and Michelle married and had three sons. During that time, James worked as a youth pastor in a local church. Things were going well. He even began chasing his dream of writing and making music and traveled to lead worship in various churches.
But then, 10 years into their marriage, Michelle contracted a chronic pain disease called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (also known as complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS). And that’s when James’ wheels began to wobble.
Before the Wheels Fall Off
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to be the sole caretaker of someone you dearly love. That’s an understatement. And it wears on a marriage in some incredibly difficult ways.
James felt the pressure, and he realized he was doing some things that, if he kept doing them, would lead him down a road on which he knew he didn’t want to be. Festering insecurities, emotional distance from his wife, exhaustion and concerning temptations — he just didn’t like where it was going.
So he did what he would advise anyone else to do: He went to his church leaders with honesty and humility, looking for hope and help. But he found none. Instead, he was met with criticism and doom.
“And they beat me up so bad,” James said. “I felt the worse than I ever have in my entire life.”
Dejected, he spent some time away from the Assembly of God denomination and continued traveling as a solo Christian artist. James tried to go back to his denominational roots, but some ugly church drama got in the way. James decided it was time for his ministry life to look a little bit different.
Don’t worry — the wheels didn’t completely come off for James. He’s back on track now, and after a few bumps in both the ministry and career roads, James is doing what he loves: worshiping God through music and helping others do the same.
His sons — who are in training to be ministers, too — also join him in helping other churches with worship. They work with faith-based organizations like their local homeless shelter and Love, Inc. with their music ministry called Risen.
James leads a small group of Christians in Lapeer, Michigan, at the Hub Fellowship at 3pm on Sunday afternoons. It’s not a big, fancy church with all the lights and programs and all the coolest technology, but James knows that’s not what makes a church.
And he knows a job isn’t what makes a man, either.
In case you’re wondering, I did confirm I have tiny arms, hence the tiny deodorant. Now I always find James’ aisle, because it’s always more fun when your cashier says he’s “fantabalistic” and uses the opportunity to make you smile.
Like many of us, James’ dreams and goals don’t necessarily include working at Walmart. It’s a fine place to work, but when it comes to establishing a career and providing for your family, let’s be honest — Walmart isn’t on your short list. But sometimes life happens, and it becomes a viable option.
James didn’t love working at Walmart at first. But eventually, he realized the only life he was making miserable by hating his job was his own. So, in a true feat of mind over matter, James decided it was up to him to make his job at Walmart something that would not only pay the bills, but make other peoples’ lives better, too.
Isn’t that what all our jobs are for?