It was never supposed to be Charlotte where I began the journey of becoming a professional actor. But there I was, serving suburbanites coffee at Starbucks in the southeast side of Charlotte. A failed-actor-turned-barista struggling to make sense of things.
In 2005 I graduated from college, took a job at the university for one year as a college recruiter, and during that time decided that I would relocate to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of becoming an actor in film. My time in LA was filled with multiple retail jobs, working as an extra in TV/film to survive, and wresting with an anxiety disorder that had been developing prior to moving to LA. The writer strike did me in when the extras jobs were gone and I was left scrounging for anything to keep me alive. Thousands of dollars of debt, thousands of dollars given to me by my father, my counselor moving out of the LA area, and 10 months of working a couple of jobs I was completely running on empty. I had nothing and couldn’t keep my head above water.
I returned to Charlotte with an unfulfilled dream, a broken heart, a dysfunctional psyche, 100,000 questions, and a bitterness towards God that was wondering why He would call me out to LA only to fail and look like a fool in front of everyone. Life had let me down and more importantly, I had let myself down. As my dad used to say to me, “Andrew, you are sometimes your own worst enemy.” That was never more true than the self-destruction that took place the two years I lived in LA and the two years that followed upon returning to Charlotte.
The first week back in Charlotte I was able to find a job at a nearby Starbucks, I moved back in with my parents, started overeating (gaining 50 pounds), and spent most of my time alone outside of work. RedBox, DiGiorno Pizza, and Blockbuster (yes, when they were going out of business) were my only friends.
My sister attended a church in Charlotte and I would attend with her as I still had a desire to know God, even though I was still bitter for what I considered to be Him “letting me down”. It wasn’t immediate, but about a year and a half into going to this church I connected with a guy who would become one of my closest friends, Hunter Wright (now lead pastor of Ignition Church in Knoxville, TN). At the time he was working on his masters degree and interning at the church, where I met him at a connection table one Sunday morning.
Over the course of the next year to year-and-a-half, I had become an active part in a men’s group (lead by Hunter) at church, was getting counseling from a brilliant counselor specialized in dealing with my dysfunctions, was taking acting classes at a local studio, began leading a student group at church for aspiring actors/filmmakers, and even met my wife while serving coffee at Starbucks. I wasn’t living the dream I thought I would be living in Los Angeles, but God was making something beautiful in the absolute mess that was (and still is) my life.
My disorder didn’t miraculously go away, even though I believe in miracles. The bank account didn’t suddenly multiply and provide a way for me to return to LA. But what did happen is hope began to grow in knowing that Jesus could redeem even the worst of me and that He was creating a future for me that I couldn’t even see at the time.
I eventually left Starbucks and from 2011 – 2014 I worked as a technical recruiter, which afforded me the ability to marry my wife Beth, save up some cash, and return to pursuing my acting career. It was not where I wanted to be and I knew that I needed to work hard to get another shot at becoming an actor, so my wife and I saved and strategized for over a year to make it into a reality.
By January 2014 I had obtained talent agency representation in NC with a modeling/acting agent, we had saved up a little money, and I stepped aside from my full-time job to commit my time to acting. Life was good and I was at an all-time high with the possibilities.
I had returned to training at the Film Actors’ Studio, was staying in great shape, and was full of optimism about where we were headed. That’s when life struck again. My agent at the time only setup two auditions in the course of two and a half months. I then learned that I needed to work with an “acting specific” agent, not one that was primarily for modeling and just minoring in acting. Ultimately, that agency and I parted ways and I ended up spending the next two and a half months building a demo reel, working on my acting resume, memorizing a monologue, getting professional headshots, and creating enough marketing material for me to land the best acting agent I could get.
Life was clicking.
One of the most reputable agents in NC that I had been hearing about signed me to a representation contract. I suddenly began auditioning twice a week, on average, for commercials, films, and TV shows. I was able to book some small jobs and felt a steady progression forward as an actor for the first time since leaving LA.
But life isn’t fair and will often throw complications into our plans at the worst times.
Shortly after beginning a great run of auditions, we ran out of our savings from my previous job. I recently was forced to get a part-time retail job…again. And now we are left in limbo as to whether the state of NC will remove the tax incentives for film/TV productions that are expiring at the end of the year.
Even now as I write this the questions in my head are swirling. Do we move to another film market? Moving can be an expensive venture; where’s that dough coming from?
But there’s one thing I know now that I didn’t know several years ago: there is always hope with God, even when we don’t understand the path.
I was recently sharing these questions with a friend of mine named Joel who recently saw his first book become published after spending YEARS writing, planning, editing, strategizing, and dreaming. After I shared a few doubts I’m having about the next steps, he said something that was very powerful and is still marinating in my mind. Joel looked and me and said with conviction (paraphrasing), “You can’t predict the path; you can set your sights on the desired end result, but you won’t know the path.” He went on to clarify that our path will be filled with unexpected highs and lows, but that we must not give up. Ironically, I’m currently reading a book written by Jon Acuff titled “Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average & Do Work that Matters” that echoes many of these same truths about the “path” presented by my friend Joel just a few weeks prior.
Someone, somewhere is trying to tell me something.
I believe that “something” is this: we won’t be able to predict the different circumstances that life will throw at us and sometimes those circumstances will leave us broken, bleeding, and bruised. However, I truly believe in the depths of my soul that the hope that comes in knowing Jesus and the grace that He freely gives is more than enough to give us a hope and a future that is not dependent upon our dysfunctions, disorders, failures, mistakes, shortcomings, and lack.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
No matter what chapter you are writing in your personal story in this time and place, the call from Jesus is the same. There is no other hope I have found that offers more life, truth, and grace than the open, scarred, and loving arms of Jesus.
There’s always hope, even in the darkest places. Your life is a work of art created by God that He desires to use to share a story of hope, life, and grace to the world around you.
Acts 17:27 says, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
If there is an ultimate purpose for the human spirit as we journey through life telling our unique stories I believe that it is ultimately that we would seek God, find hope, share life, and change the world one life at a time. A large task for humanity, but ever possible with God on our side.