My relaunch story will most likely be unique, in that it’s framed in the plural; it will be told through the lens of my family—my incredible wife, our two amazing sons, and our incredible daughter. It’s framed through the lens of extended family that selflessly cared for us and loved us when we were at our highest, and when we were crushed and at our lowest. It’s about our church family that surrounded us in some of our best hours, and in some of our darkest hours. So, it’s not a story about me. It’s a story about “we.”
Our story is one of overcoming—more specifically, it’s a story of our daughter’s strength in overcoming incredible odds. It’s a story of answered prayer. It’s a story of doors that were not opened by me. It’s a story of joy and of sorrow. But most of all, it’s a story that—even as I write this—still humbles me beyond measure. Because I didn’t do this. The One greater than me did.
To understand our story, it probably makes the most sense to pull the curtain back and share a bit more of who I am and what makes me as an individual—and us as a family—“tick.” First and foremost, I am a Christian. My faith in Jesus Christ is at the core of who I am as an individual, and who we are as a family. It frames my worldview, and it gives purpose to what I do every day…as a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, and a scientist. Yes, even a scientist!! So when you read a bit further on in our story, you’ll understand more of the “why” behind my career pivot, and my relaunch.
I started my career at Merck as a college intern in the summer of 1999. I spent those three months learning about an incredible company doing amazing work. And, simply put, I fell in love with vaccine research and manufacturing…and doing those things at Merck, because I sensed that Merck did it the right way, the best way. The people I worked with every day—their gifts, talents, capabilities, intellect, creativity, ability to solve problems—challenged and stretched me. It was a summer unlike any other that I had. And I knew I wanted more. I was blessed to receive an offer to return to Merck, full-time, after I graduated from college. So, with wide eyes, a willing heart, and knowing practically nothing, I entered into the corporate world as a 22 year old college graduate.
I worked within Merck’s manufacturing division for the first 6 years of my career. I was able to support (in a very, very small way) bringing some of our stalwart vaccines to market—some of these vaccines would even be administered to my children one day! After six years in manufacturing, I pivoted into Research and supported vaccine manufacturing for clinical trials in our Sterile Pilot Plant. This was a new challenge—and one that I wouldn’t have traded for the world. I got to be on the front lines, filling drug product that would ultimately go into clinical trials, trying to solve some of the world’s most pressing medical needs, working with a team of some of Merck’s best and brightest…what an opportunity!
With all of the challenges and joys that were happening inside Merck’s four walls, there was also growth—beautiful growth—outside of my job. I married the love of my life in 2004. In 2007, we welcomed our first son into the world; in 2009, our son got to welcome his baby brother into the world. Our family was growing. And, our church family—one that we loved being a part of—was growing, too. In 2006, my wife and I got to be a part of a new church launch. It was an exciting time, seeing new people come, growing in grace, and getting to know new families that would become lifelong friends. In fact, there was so much growth that our church needed additional help. Specifically, it was time for us to hire an assistant pastor, to help with the daily work of ministry in the lives of our church family. And that position was absolutely needed. But what I didn’t expect was that I would be the one who would be approached to fill that need.
As I said earlier, our faith is at the core of who we are as a family. It’s what makes me, me. It’s the most important relationship in my life. So, if it’s the most important thing, and there was a need that related to the most important thing, and I was asked to fill that need…what do I do? After a lot of conversation with people that I loved and trusted, after a lot of prayer, after a lot of wrestling with the decision, I knew I was being called to leave Merck. It was time to step away. It didn’t “make sense” to everyone (even to me, on some days), but I knew it was what I was being called to do.
After my wife and I came to the conclusion that I would leave Merck and enter full-time vocational ministry, we had a bit of an unexpected surprise. We found out that we were pregnant with our third child! And as the pregnancy progressed and we went to the 20 week ultrasound, we found out that we’d be having a daughter. And we also found out that night at that appointment that things were not normal with her development. There wasn’t any joy from the ultrasound tech who was taking the in utero images of our daughter…just silent concern. The room was quiet. Too quiet. We knew something was wrong.
What happened over the next few weeks and months blur together. The phone call from my wife’s doctor, telling us something was wrong. Visits to perinatologists. News that there were unexplained abnormalities in our daughter’s body and brain. Referrals to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. More tests. More news. Words like, “We’ve never seen anything like this before. We do not expect your daughter to live, and if—on chance—she makes it to term and through delivery, she will have little to no quality of life.” Our world was turned upside down. We were crushed.
Although the option was offered to us, we did not terminate the pregnancy. We were resolved that we would keep our daughter for as long as God allowed. So, we asked the doctors what to do next. They suggested that my wife should get an amniocentesis, to help us find the “smoking gun” that would tie all of these unknown abnormalities together. So, we decided to do that. And the test results that came back shocked us. We were told that our daughter was diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV)…the leading infectious cause of birth defects in the United States—and something that we had never heard of before. Except…
I had heard about it before. In the Pilot Plant. My last project I was working on at Merck before I resigned from the company was for a vaccine for cCMV that we’d be bringing to clinical trials. The very thing I had been working on had now impacted our unborn daughter. The “why” of what we do at Merck every day hit in the most painful place imaginable—the mother’s womb. My wife’s womb. Our beautiful daughter.
After learning the news, we went to the perinatologist every week, simply to see if our daughter’s heart was still beating. And it was. Every week. She was fighting.
I left Merck, for what I thought was the final time, in March 2012. Our daughter was born 12 days later. In what our doctors called an absolute miracle, our daughter made it through labor and delivery. We held her, alive, in our arms; we were able to introduce her to her brothers and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Tears and gratitude marked that day—and every day since.
But, the battle wasn’t over. Our daughter needed significant medical help, as the CMV had quietly, consistently, and evilly done its damage to her little body. She needed brain surgery to relieve pressure on her cerebellum and brain stem. She had her first neurosurgery at 7 days old, and in her life has been sustained through 14 more. Fifteen brain surgeries. Hundreds of days in the ICU. Countless doctors’ visits. Thousands of hours of therapy. And yet, she fights and overcomes. And my incredible wife fights and overcomes. And our daughter’s brothers fight and overcome. All with strength that is not our own.
All the while, I was working at church, and seeing what God was building there. People were coming, more volunteers were stepping in and serving, growth was happening. We were able to find a permanent home/building for our church. I was able to help oversee building and renovation projects. I helped people find the best fit for how to plug in and volunteer and serve. I learned to care and listen to hurting and broken people. I understood what it truly meant “to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” Those years were so good, so hard, and taught me (and us) so very much. I learned—first hand—what it meant to suffer, and what it meant to lead by serving others first.
While all of this was happening, a small flame was still burning deep in my heart: it was a passion for the work that we were doing at Merck; for meeting unmet medical need; for serving others; for giving patients hope; for eradicating disease. My wife saw it too, and one day encouraged me to do what I was afraid to do on my own. After six years, I realized that I wanted to go back to Merck. I felt like there was unfinished business there...
So, without knowing the term, I actually RELAUNCHED into my career at Merck. What started as a simple “putting out the feelers” email to a trusted friend, mentor, and colleague quickly turned into something more. A conversation. Talking about the company and its work. Learning that the company was growing…and hiring! A posting on the job board. Bidding on that job. An interview offer.
And then the interview day came—the nerves that I hadn’t felt in years were there. Butterflies. Anxious thoughts and doubts: “Had the industry passed me by? Could I really do this again? Did my years of previous experience still mean anything? What about the 6.5 years I spent away from the company, the things that I learned there…did THEY translate and count for anything?” But I was blown away to know that Merck actually welcomed me sharing about those years, and about our family’s story. They wanted to know the “why” of our story, and how I thought I’d fit within the culture of Merck today. They welcomed me sharing not only my previous experiences within the company, but also our family’s story at that interview day…and so I did.
What happened next is almost too overwhelming to recount. First, I was offered an opportunity to return to Merck. What a blessing! What’s more, once I started back, word of our family’s story started to circulate within the company…and my colleagues wanted to hear more about us, and more specifically about our daughter. I was invited to share with our department, and then our Division, and ultimately I was invited to share the stage with our CEO and recount our family’s story to the entire global Merck family. All within 8 months of me relaunching at Merck! I was so humbled and overwhelmed…and still am to this day.
Today, I am again blessed to be a part of Merck’s mission: “Inventing for Life.” I’m a part of a greater, global team that is doing incredible work to bring hope to so many. What’s more, the Merck family has rallied around us and taken up the cause of fighting disease in the name of our daughter. And as her daddy, I couldn’t be prouder, or more grateful. She’s an overcomer!
Today, I am also blessed to still serve our church family as an assistant pastor. And, I’m glad to report that our daughter is doing well. She very much has “quality of life!” She is daily growing and learning and fighting and overcoming, through her strength and by God’s grace. Her mom and her brothers are the biggest blessing to her—and to me—and we’re in it together, as a family. It’s still a daily battle, but there is strength for today.
To all of you potential relaunchers (who have made it through reading our crazy story to this point), I say this: be brave. I know what it feels like to think about and then enter back into the ring. I know what it feels like to have those quiet, anxious, doubting thoughts about the time you’ve spent away from “the workforce.” I felt it, too. But you have lived your life and have experiences that translate beautifully into the corporate space. In most cases, the lessons learned OUTSIDE of your time in the workplace will bring about more lasting and beneficial fruit in your career. Those experiences will equip you to lead well, to work diligently, and to care more compassionately about others. And who wouldn’t want to hire a person like that? Your time prior to your break, and your time during your break, are all so valuable and worthwhile. You can do it. Be brave!!
All my best to you,
Click here to view a profile on Tim's career and additional advice he has for fellow relaunchers.