When I tell you that planning an event or writing a communications plan is at the very core of what I was designed to do for a living, I’m being completely sincere.
Of course, the way that has presented itself has changed over the years. But, that deep-seated desire to plan and promote is why I declared my major in public relations early-early on at Southern Miss. And by early, I mean before I even walked through the doors.
I had a plan to plan, y’all! And my nerdiness and drive to succeed in this industry was just enough to put me in the front row of every class. That strategy worked pretty well for my GPA, but it’s also where some of my greatest friendships were formed… including the one I have with one-half of this month’s featured duo.
I’ve had the greatest pleasure of calling Nicole Ruhnke an industry colleague for the last 12 years. But more importantly, I’ve been fortunate to call her a friend.
Twelve years is a long time to know and work alongside someone, and this month’s pages could have easily been filled with old stories and “Can you believe we’re here?” moments. But to really know Nicole, you must also know her husband Timmy and the journey they are on together.
In 2005, their individual stories collided. Nicole’s parents say Timmy blew in with Hurricane Katrina and never left! And for more than a decade, their dedication to each other and their obedience for a calling to serve the Kingdom of God through ministry has presented them with a journey that neither would have predicted.
When I looked at the scope of how long I’ve known Nicole, our careers, ministry work with Timmy, and more, the focus of this column shifted.
The story I wanted to tell transcended into a story that needed to be told - a story about how our own plans aren’t always the best. A story about grace. And a story about how hope comes from staying the course and trusting that there is a greater plan.
If I am being honest? That’s not always an easy pill to swallow for anyone who crafts promotional plans and campaigns for a living. In theory, we’re the ones who make the plans and account for every single detail.
Relinquishing the idea of what our grand plans might look like is hard. Sometimes, it’s downright impossible. But if any two people have adapted and moved with the ebb and flow of plans “changing,” it’s been Nicole and Timmy.
I’m very fortunate that my friendship with Nicole has provided me with a third party view to see how a much bigger plan for their lives has unfolded. And this month, I’d like to spend some time introducing you to this column’s first double feature - Real Talk with Real People: The Ruhnke’s.
But You’ve Gotta Have Faith
Throughout our undergraduate career, Nicole and I continued to share front-row status for every public relations course in our degree-plan. It wasn’t long before a friendship formed out of similar desires to plan and achieve goals, but also out of the most random of conversations about life before and after class.
When we graduated, Timmy was working in the medical field and Nicole went to work for a utility company. With a few stops in different positions and with different companies along the way, their careers and lives look a little different than those initial days.
Now, Nicole serves as the Assistant Director for Communications at the Southern Miss Alumni Association and Timmy serves full-time as the Student and College Pastor at Venture Church.
“Shortly after beginning my career in the medical field, I knew there was a calling on my life for ministry,” said Timmy. “So, we began juggling both full-time work in the hospital with part-time ministry. It was messy and difficult at best because I thoroughly enjoyed what I did at the hospital. I knew I wasn't running from a career, but to a calling. And my calling trumped my career. In 2014, we shifted to full-time ministry.”
You’ll notice Timmy said “we.” This is something I picked up throughout our interview. They both used the plural personal pronoun interchangeably where you or I might just say “I.”
When I said earlier that to know Nicole, you must also know Timmy, this is what I meant. It’s simple in nature, but so suggestive of how in sync these two are and how they answer the calling on their lives.
They’ll tell you the shift to full-time ministry was anything but easy, but imperative for both of them to be on board. The years between then and now were full of lessons learned, experiences had, and the end-goal that continued to push and motivate them both.
Timmy noted, “With the call to ministry, came the need to go back to school. I completed my bachelor's degree while being the coordinator of a cath lab and serving in ministry, and then I completed my master's degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.”
He continued, “Being in school full-time, working full-time at the hospital, while being a full-time husband and part-time student pastor made for some very exhausting years!”
For many years, I saw Nicole every third Tuesday for a lunch meeting. Each time we talked about Timmy and school, she was always positive and never doubtful about the experience.
She’ll admit that there were frustrations, because let’s be honest - going back to school is never easy! But, her faith in the notion that this plan was uniquely and specifically written for them and the trust she had in both Timmy and God is awe-inspiring.
Even though she knew how hard the mountain would be to climb, how time would be stretched thin and how exhausted they would both be - she always presented a picture of faith and grace that I believe it would take me years to find.
A Foundation of Perspective & Priorities
While Nicole and Timmy’s career paths may have changed since our initial meeting so many years ago, their drive to do a good job has not and it’s affirmation for why they are so successful at doing what they do.
Nicole stated, “Over the years, I have come to appreciate the value of doing a job well. Rather than juggling too many responsibilities at once, or trying to be an expert on everything, I have found myself acknowledging what my gifts really are and spending more energy on making those even stronger.”
I also asked Nicole how she manages the day-to-day demands of a very big job with the Alumni Association, while also serving in the capacity of a minister’s wife.
Very simply, she exclaimed, “Timmy serves full-time as a student and college pastor and I serve full-time as his wife, while also working full-time in a job I love.”
She continued, “My main role is to be Timmy's wife and to ensure he is able to grow, succeed and faithfully serve in all the ways the Lord calls him. Sometimes that looks like having a clean house and a home-cooked meal, and other times that looks like spending each night of the week supporting students at sporting events or school activities. But on the other side of ministry, Timmy acknowledges and supports my desire and need to work hard.”
Her response took me a moment to process. Not because it was earth shattering, but because her perspective is fervently grounded by her commitments to being Timmy’s wife and as a Christ-follower. She also draws a very vivid line in the sand for what she is called to do daily and what it means to have a job and to do a good job.
I asked Timmy the same question in regards to his job and managing a career that doesn’t necessarily have an “off-duty” button.
“The paradox of ministry is that the best parts and the hardest parts involve being in the trenches with people. Also, the time management tension of being in the trenches while carving out time to lead and shepherd the ministry God has entrusted to us at Venture Church. There are truly never enough hours in a day, or days in the week.”
He continued, “For Nicole and me, it goes back to establishing and maintaining a healthy rhythm both personally and in ministry. We push really hard in ministry, and Nicole works so hard at her job. But we've been able to identify triggers that lead to burnout, as well as ways we can keep ourselves healthy and focused.”
When Timmy said, “maintaining a healthy rhythm,” my heart darn near exploded. Their story of rolling with the punches as they answered a call to ministry comes with a strong need for understanding grace and how the world can shift very quickly.
Their commitment to each other and their obedience to the call is rooted deeply in their love for one another and for Christ. The gamechanger is how they’ve kept each other and that calling as a priority. That has provided an unbelievable foundation for understanding as this plan for their lives has unfolded.
Nicole stated, “Our call to the nations has changed our lives, literally. And with it, it has changed our perspectives on real-life issues like the reasons we work so hard in our jobs, they way we spend our money and time, and the constant awareness of the kindness of God to send His Son as the Savior of the World.”
Regardless if answering the call means they work all day every day with students while tackling other projects or if it means they visit the far corners of our world that desperately need a message, these two will go and do with assurance that they’ll be taken care of. And, their support for one another and trust in THE greater plan will drive them there.
What Would You Say?
Knowing what they know now and how their paths have been changed, I asked what they thought the 18-year-old versions of who they were would say.
Timmy noted with laughter and complete sincerity, “Eighteen-year-old Timmy would say, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ I did not become a follower of Jesus until I was 19, so the life I live now would not have made sense to my 18-year-old self. At that point in my life, the idea of me serving as a minister would have been the joke of a lifetime!”
Nicole stated, “I hope 18-year-old Nicole would be encouraged by the simplicity of 30-year-old Nicole.”
She reflected, “In college, I knew more about who I wanted be in life rather than what I wanted to do with my life. That’s still true for me today. Lofty goals and dreams of being an important component of a company and wishing to take the world by storm are all healthy and good, but thankfully I have learned to be truly happy with the simple.”
Hindsight, of course, is always 20/20. Nicole and Timmy will openly and honestly tell you that this life place is different than they ever anticipated. But that it’s a good, good life. One they have been blessed by immensely.
Since I asked them a question about hindsight, I felt like it was only fair to also ask about what the next 10 years might bring.
Timmy answered, “It’s always hard to imagine what the next 10 years will bring, but what we do know for certain is that we’re committed to the local church and we truly believe the best is yet to come!”
Nicole agreed, but also added, “There’s no way of knowing for sure, but we can’t wait to see how His Kingdom advances in unprecedented ways. We are humbled to have a seat at the table and to play our role obediently, however his plan is orchestrated.”
As a married couple, they hope to spend copious amounts of good quality time, and throw in a vacation here or there.
Nicole added, “We've learned to slow down and truly enjoy life -- time together and with family and friends, walks in the evening, and traveling to faraway places. It took us a few years to loosen the grip we had on the idea of perfection, and instead learn to value and appreciate the abundance God has given us in our everyday lives.”
Timmy also noted, “We’ll be the first to admit that ministry is messy and transformation of what our lives looks like is a process. When you step into a career and/or ministry, your initial desire is to conquer the world. But in that quest, the world just may conquer you. Being faithful in the ordinary leads to ultimate satisfaction.”
Sometimes, the best-laid plans of our own can go awry. But the journey of understanding, the journey of faithfulness, and the journey of grace have a strong way of unfolding in the most exceptional of ways, creating a path we might not ever expect.
Timmy and Nicole’s journey is their own. It’s special and it’s riddled with moments of identifiable opportunity to learn and grow in our lives. But more importantly, it’s very, very real; and, I hope you’ve been inspired by their story as much as they’ve inspired me.