THE ECONOMY OF GRACE
“I was a walking, empty, dead man. Completely self-absorbed, living in an economy of performance.” These words tumble from James Anderson as he tells his story. But it’s not the end of the story.
To hear James say these words today, in the context of the humble and transformed life he now lives, serves as a spotlight pointing to the power of grace. Full disclosure: James is a close friend of mine. I was beyond excited to be asked to interview him.
It is impossible to not enjoy being around James. Whip-smart and hilarious, James is quick with a joke and even quicker with a laugh. His jovial personality belies a life lived in the trenches of mankind’s oldest war: The Battle of Self. His journey is one of identity, loss, redemption and freedom, a cautionary tale we can all relate to with the beautiful thread of grace running throughout.
Moving to Colorado with his family at the age of five, James grew up in Woodland Park in a Christian home and even attended youth group at Woodmen a few times. Colorado could not hold him, though, and he was drawn west to California after high school. In 1992, he moved to Los Angeles to attend Biola University. It was there he met his wife, Carrie, and they were married in 1997.
His love for story, as well as big dreams, drew him to the film industry and he soon began film school at the University of Southern California. In 1996, James began working with Lakeshore Entertainment in production. He was involved with films such as Arlington Road, Runaway Bride and the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby. James’ relentless drive paved the way to a very unique opportunity. In 2002, he was tapped to direct the motion picture Hometown Legend. James was swimming in the big pool and he loved it. But his desire for more was driving him into new territory.
After the success of Hometown Legend, James set his sights on new horizons: the lucrative business of high-end real estate. He quickly became a major player in the game, selling homes to the stars in Malibu, Pacific Palisades and other luxury locales sought after by status-seekers. This big-time career success set the stage for a dangerous cocktail of affluence, self-indulgence, and lack of accountability that sent James spiraling into an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle. He was measuring himself by his own actions and accomplishments rather than his position as a child of God.
Things had gotten dark by the time 2010 rolled around. Looking back now, James sees how his enormous arrogance and unchecked ego led to almost losing his family. His lifestyle and choices led to a separation from his wife and daughters. James calls it an “almost terminal situation.”
“The height of my professional success was coinciding with a complete falling-apart of my personal life. It was a really dangerous time.” He had taken liberties in his life and would not be held accountable for his actions. Carrie saw no other option but to move out. It was only after she was gone that James woke up to the severity of the situation. This began a six-month separation for James and Carrie.
In the fall of 2010, James walked away from his million-dollar-a-year business. He and his family moved into Carrie’s parents’ vacation home in Oregon. For the first time he asked God, “What do You want for me and my life?” He tells of his previous strategy with a regretful chuckle: “Letting God know the plan and encouraging Him to bless it because it would be a good move for Him.”
God was about to do some major work in James’ life and he had no idea how far the Lord would take him. What James thought would be 30 to 45 days of “quiet reflection” at a vacation home in Oregon actually turned into 11 months of serious spiritual realignment.
James fully disconnected from his life in Los Angeles and focused solely on his spiritual health and his role as a husband and father. He had gone from a multi-platinum broker to living in his in-law’s basement in the course of a year. He describes this as a humbling, yet necessary situation. During this time the Andersons saw God provide for them financially in ways that were unexplainable. It was a time of deep healing and restoration.
The Road Back
God was calling the Andersons back to Colorado. They were praying for a work situation that would value James as a father and husband as much as an employee. Even though his previous work experiences were antithetical to this philosophy, James was confident God would show him a place where he could thrive both at work and at home.
In 2012, he accepted a job with Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. He would spearhead their West Coast donor development program using his gifts to share the Focus story with high capacity, Kingdom-minded givers. He describes his time in this role as an incredible recovery period.
He and Carrie had spent a “small fortune” on counselors to figure out why he was so driven for the wrong reasons. His opportunity at Focus on the Family opened his eyes in a couple important ways. He began to realize that he was working with donors who were essentially the same people he sold homes to in California, yet these people were trying to give their money away. He says he went from “working with wealthy, unhappy people to working with wealthy, Kingdom-minded people who were trying to use their resources to fund the movement of God.”
Focus forced him to be balanced between work and home. They encouraged James to work hard in the office, but when he was home to be present with his family. This was counter to his previous life and was just the motivation he needed to prioritize becoming a good husband and father.
Their move to Colorado led the Andersons to search for a church. Between the strong biblical teaching, and quality children’s ministry, Woodmen became the clear choice for the Andersons. James says that finding Woodmen was the first piece that made Colorado Springs feel like home. They’ve forged lifelong friendships and found community in the church that they had been missing for years. James says he’s hearing something fresh and important each week in the teaching and experiencing worship in deep and meaningful ways.
James and Carrie were in the congregation on December 15, 2013, when Josh Lindstrom was a first-time guest teacher at Woodmen. They recall how excited they were several months later to find out that Pastor Josh had accepted the role as Lead Pastor of Teaching and Vision at Woodmen.
Soon after Pastor Josh arrived at Woodmen, James accepted a position as President of New Canaan Society (NCS), a national men’s organization for marketplace professionals seeking Christian community and friendship. Across the country, 25,000 NCS men come together each week to hear each other’s stories and be encouraged in their faith. This new role allowed James to stay in place in Colorado Springs even though the organization was founded on the East Coast.
A Place for Compassion
As the Andersons continue to live out the story God has placed them in, they appreciate the mission and biblical grounding of Woodmen. They’ve found a place of grace and encouragement, along with a call to love well and change lives through Christ. Contributing through serving is integral to Woodmen’s DNA, so James and Carrie began looking for an area to dive in. The 1CaniCan food drive was a good starting point. This allowed their girls to be involved in something, too.
They soon connected with Woodmen’s ACTS ministry and began to serve by feeding under-resourced people in our city. This proved to be the spot Carrie would thrive, and after an extended season as a faithful volunteer she joined the ACTS staff in 2016. Carrie and James serve regularly with ACTS and their girls join in the fun.
James’ story, while unique, is not unfamiliar. It has the ring of truth for many of us today, and it echoes the lives of men and women whose accounts inspire us in the Bible — stories of rebellion and loss, surrender and freedom. This is the often-painful, yet fullling and beautiful journey from self and ego to reliance and grace. It is the path we find ourselves on when we surrender our lives to Jesus — the journey that leads us home.