I’m superstitious, and I have my rituals.
When I write, I take several minutes to think about what I want to put on the literary canvas — and what to leave out.
When I talk on the lecture circuit, before I’m introduced I go to the restroom and splash cold water on my face.
When I host radio shows, before I utter a word I perform the sign of the cross and ask God to let me speak clearly.
When I go on television, if I’m in New York, I’ll duck into the quiet and stillness of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’ll sit in a pew and pray that, when the red light goes on, I’ll be able to communicate what I think and feel — in four minutes.
And when I need help with the big things — love, life, faith, family — I call a preacher.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the leader of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which he founded in 2000 and which now represents more than 40,000 Evangelical Hispanic churches in the United States. The son of Puerto Rican parents is a former high school teacher who taught government and civics in the same Pennsylvania city in which he grew up, a place appropriately named Bethlehem.
Rodriguez is also my go-to-guy for personal growth and spiritual coaching. He started in that role a couple of years ago when, after interviewing him for a column, I meandered into a confession. I told him that — as a Catholic — I was trying to find my way back to God. Pastor Sam — as he is called — listened so passionately that I could feel the intensity coming through the phone line. Then he gave me some advice that helped.
Now I needed his advice again. What weighed on my mind was the task of making a living, and supporting one’s family, while using God’s gifts.
Last year, I turned 50. And I’m clear about what the ledger looks like. God didn’t give me musical, artistic or athletic ability. But he gave me this: the ability to communicate, in written or spoken form.
For that, I’m grateful. From that, I’ve built — from scratch — a good career as a national columnist and media commentator, becoming one of the few Latinos in the country who can lay claim to those titles. Not bad for the son of a cop, and the grandson of farm workers.
Now, my main industry — newspapers — is contracting, and newsrooms are shrinking. In nearly 30 years of writing for newspapers, hosting radio shows, offering TV commentary and the like, I’ve had more than two dozen jobs; I’ve lost six of them.
Almost eight years ago, I lost the highest paying job I’d ever had; two-thirds of my family’s income went out the window. But I hustled, picking up other part-time jobs to add to the ones I had. My wife went back to work. We pulled through.
But it hasn’t been easy. I often feel like that guy in the circus, spinning a dozen plates at the ends of sticks.
I could make a nice living in a cushy corporate job, where I could use my skills to sell soft drinks. I don’t want to do that.
Which led me to my question for Pastor Sam. If these things are my gifts, I asked him, then why isn’t it easier to get the most out of them.Shouldn’t I be able to follow the path that God has laid out, I asked, and still support my family?
First, Rodriguez reassured me that I wasn’t alone, that many people struggle with the same question. He also agreed that I was doing what God wanted me to do, and that my voice was unique and valuable — even if it did make some people feel uncomfortable at times.
Next, he said, we’ll confront, in life, open doors and closed ones, too. God leaves open the doors he wants you to go through, but closes the ones that lead you astray. You can stubbornly push on the closed doors, but they won’t open. The trick is to listen to, and trust in God — and follow your path.
Finally, Rodriguez said, looking back on his own life, he was grateful for the open doors but also for the closed ones.
It was just what I needed to hear, and I thanked him for his counsel. Then I asked him to pray for me, so that I might be a better listener, a good provider and a more faithful servant.
“I will say a special prayer for you,” he said, “so that you will know your path. God bless you.”
Thank you, Reverend. He already has — abundantly so.