High-achieving, ambitious students are routinely encouraged to map out their lives in advance — to create the perfect plan. But even the best five-year plans have a way of going sideways as life hurls its barrage of unknowns and surprises. When asked for his take on the moments when things don’t quite go as planned, Philip Everett (Grace College, BS 10) gives a knowing laugh.
“I think that’s all of life.”
His consistently positive attitude and ability to roll with the punches allowed Everett to recognize the fact that when God closes off the path we’ve planned, He always has a new direction in store.
Ever since middle school, Everett’s dream had been to attend a military service academy and train as a combat trauma surgeon. But despite a stellar GPA and great SAT scores, he wasn’t accepted to the service academies where he applied. He was, however, accepted to attend Grace, where his father had attended college. “I went out there a little bit begrudgingly at the start,” he admits, “but truly fell in love almost instantly. I loved the college and found that it was honestly the best fit for me. I’d always envisioned myself at a bigger school, but Grace really felt like home.” Everett had a very specific heart behind his dream of being a combat surgeon: “I always had this passion in my heart for being there for somebody on their worst day. I thought, what’s a worse day than getting blown up on a battlefield a couple thousand miles from home?”
While studying biology, chemistry and international missions, Everett invested himself heavily in campus life. Despite the intensity of his major (he still suffers from the occasional nightmare of showing up unprepared for Dr. Richard Jeffreys’ class), Everett’s impressive grades led to his being in an honor society. Along with two years as a resident assistant, he also helped create a ministry that raised awareness and funding to fight for children who are exploited as soldiers and as a part of the sex-trade. “My time at Grace? I absolutely loved it. It was awesome. It was big enough that it had a bunch of the things I wanted — sports teams and intramurals, a robust enough biology program to get me into med school — but it was small enough that I felt known, familiar to others. These were incredible people who really poured into me — they had a deep influence and impact.”
RETHINKING THE PATH
After graduating cum laude, earning an above-average score on the MCAT, and having a great first interview with the medical school of his choice, Everett again had his future all planned out. “Honestly, it seemed like med school was a slam dunk.” But instead, he found himself waitlisted — the first sign that his perfectly planned medical school pursuits might be changing. Newly married and apartment hunting, he started looking for an interim job. His siblings spoke highly of their experience working for Chick-fil-A, and a new location just happened to be opening in his neighborhood. Everett applied and, to his surprise, was immediately hired as a team leader. He was further surprised by how much he liked the job. He immediately bonded with the store owner, Ryan. He enjoyed helping build the business. “I always had this passion in my heart for being there for somebody on their worst day.” Most of all, he valued the opportunity to mentor the young people under his leadership. “I was only a couple years older than them, but they looked up to me. So many of them didn’t have a strong role model. It was just awesome being able to be a light in their lives.”
HIS WORST DAY
Six months later, Everett finally got the letter he’d been waiting for. However, it didn’t have the answer he expected. The medical school had turned down his application. “It was a crushing moment,” he remembers. “I knew it was the end — God clearly and definitively closing the door on my dream. But it was also the end of my identity.” Even though radically changing plans can lead to disorientation and dismay, Everett didn’t stay down for long, as God provided guidance and insight on his new future in a timely conversation with his boss, Ryan. “Honestly, that was the pivotal moment because right then, I realized I’m having my worst day. And who’s right here? Ryan. I didn’t just get blown up on a battlefield, I’m not a thousand miles from home. But I’m having my personal worst day, and Ryan is right there for me.” Though the revelation of change was incredibly difficult, it became the epiphany of a future Everett never expected.
THE WORK OF RESTORATION
When Everett was finally selected to run a franchise location in Rockford, Ill., things were looking up. After years of travel and living out of hotel rooms during Chickfil-A training, he would finally have a home base and the job he was after. But yet again, his path veered off into the unexpected. His marriage ended suddenly, leaving Everett to acclimate to the rigors of life as a new business leader while going through a very difficult personal ordeal. “I had incredible support from family and friends, and I was able to move through that season. It’s certainly still a healing process, but I’m doing a lot better. And still all the more feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.” As Everett points out, “The word ‘restaurant’ comes from a Latin/French word that means to restore or to fill. At my restaurant, we talk about wanting to restore people physically through great food, emotionally through engaging relationships and, if given the chance, spiritually through prayer or sharing the Gospel. Every one of my team members has permission from me to give any amount of food away, as long as they have a good reason why that person needed to be restored.”
He has used his leadership role to serve Rockford on various community restoration projects and to counsel his staff, many of whom are young people with a deep need for an authority figure they can trust. “Kids [are] so young, so impressionable,” he muses. “I’ve been there with them through family members dying, boyfriends and girlfriends breaking up with them, talking about abuse in their past. We’ve dealt with some really heavy things. Again, it’s their worst day.” He pauses. “It’s crazy — I never thought I would be a pastor, but I feel like to a great degree, that is what I do.” When you think about it, pastors are a lot like trauma surgeons. They are binding up wounds, first-responders when the explosions in this life hit hard, and a face of the familiar when people feel lost and far from home. Over the course of his life, Everett’s plans may have moved him from suturing wounds to offering leadership and loving advice over chicken nuggets and sweet tea, but we’d say God’s plan to prepare him was really perfect. — from grace.edu, Written by Bryan and Chelsea Thompson, first published in the summer 2017 edition of Two Eight & Nine Magazine.