Today is a new beginning. But it kinda hurts.
Early in December, 2004, a 19-year-old college sophomore and her fiancé walked into a new church. (Okay, it was me, so we can drop the third person speak now.) We were looking for a church home to call “ours” as we transitioned into our new life together. We had heard that an old family friend had recently become pastor of this church, so we stopped in to visit.
That morning service included a drummer with 80’s hair and 80’s rocker gloves, a worship parody of a secular song, some awkward moments and imperfections. It also included a hug and kiss from an elderly woman who immediately treated us like her grandkids, a brief conversation with a man who told us how much he loved this church, an apology from the girl sitting behind us regarding that worship parody, an immediate invitation to get plugged in to serving, and lunch with that new pastor and his goofy 8-year-old son who immediately won our hearts.
We were home.
A few months later we were married on that stage. We were invited to start a brand new ministry for pre-teens, and to be honest, I didn’t want to do it. That age is so… Okay, do you remember being 11? Yeah, THAT. But God immediately gave us a heart for those kids, and one extra special kid to make every Sunday with them worth it. Then we were invited to join the staff part-time as Children’s Pastors, another role I didn’t think we were quite suited for, but God knew what he was doing. We fell in love with those kids and our time with them. Some of my favorite ministry moments involve grape juice boxes and Ritz crackers, teaching K-4th graders about communion.
Then the Lord and our pastor invited us on what has proven to be the most remarkable journey of our lives when, in February of 2007, my husband left his job to enter full-time ministry as the youth pastor at “our” church. I’ll never forget that first Wednesday when we introduced ourselves and overhearing a couple of students talking about me, saying, “I think she’ll be AWFUL.” I smiled and stepped into the conversation, assuring them I would only be as awful as they forced me to be. Those students captured my heart and became some of the closest, most valuable relationships we have had in our ministry.
Jeremy and I have been through a lot with this church body. We have seen probably hundreds of students filter through our doors over the years, some flitting in and out for lock-ins and retreats while others endured the blessings and curses of a small-ish youth group. Those enduring ones worked alongside us to grow and develop the group. They welcomed accountability and discipleship and “became their own evangelists,” a phrase I recently heard as a scoffing remark at the impossibility of getting students to do so. Some were overwhelmed by the challenges and gave up. Some wrestled with their faith and came through stronger. Some graduated, moved away, and lost touch. Some are my best friends today.
We have spent countless hours with teenagers on mission trips, service projects, retreats, conferences, Wednesday services, driving for 956,324 hours to the beach, playing basketball at the Civic Center, drinking coffee at Panera Bread with my baby in tow, and spending off-campus lunches at the church. I do not regret one single hour.
Our teens were hungry for the Word and begged Jeremy to start an extra Bible study outside the usual church times. They were the biggest supporters of an off-campus community outreach we started to “adopt a block” in our city and love on that neighborhood. Some of them continued that ministry when other obligations forced us to step out of it. Teenage girls have knitted scarves and made jewelry and stuffed goody bags for me to deliver to my friends in the strip clubs, and they have done so with such love and tenderness and never an ounce of judgment. Our teens started their own Bible studies and outreach projects we have been honored to support. They have made us so proud.
Our pastor trusted us completely with the students in his church, including his own son. He allowed us to try things that were out of the box – some worked, others didn’t – and he had our backs when criticism inevitably arose. He is an incredibly rare type of leader who is exactly the same person on stage and in the office and in his own home. We always knew who we were talking to, even when we disagreed. He didn’t fire us for the time(s) my husband punched (and dented) a metal door or the time our super fun and exciting event landed 3 kids in the emergency room, although he probably thought about it. Thanks for that, man. (However, that super fun and exciting event was henceforth forever banned…)
This church body has raised us from literal teenagers (well, for a few months anyway) to actual capable adults. They have prayed with and for us. I have been honored to serve in the nursery with women who chatted and shot the breeze and didn’t realize they were mentoring me as a mother. They poured in their honest and vulnerable stories of raising their own children, imparting their wisdom of hindsight while encouraging me that it’s okay to not have it all together. The church has supported us spiritually, emotionally, and financially. They welcomed with us the births of our 3 children… and the few who knew mourned with us when we lost two children in 2014. We were all eager to celebrate the healthy pregnancy I am currently carrying, but as one student said, “I wish this baby was OUR church baby.”
Because today is a new beginning as my husband walks through the doors of a different church, to a different office, with a different flock to shepherd. This is a wonderful opportunity for a new beginning, but it comes with a painful ending. Yesterday we were honored by “our” cherished church family as we said goodbye to that home of the last decade. God has called us into a new season of ministry, one which honestly has been difficult for me to accept.
Sometimes a new beginning really feels like a painful ending. But the pain does not negate the beauty of the promise. I have learned that sometimes we need to sit in that pain and allow ourselves to feel it in order to move past it. The last few weeks have been so difficult to wrap my head around starting over, but God’s grace has been so overwhelmingly great that I have never been so sure in my life that we are right in step with God’s purpose and plan. And sometimes the beauty of the promise doesn’t wipe away the pain of the moment. But it is worth the struggle.
To all who have been on this journey with us over the last decade, thank you – with everything that is in me, thank you. To my beloved students – from the redheaded duo of terror (who became the joy of my heart) to the SnapChatting, hashtag-creating, inside-joking loves in my group today – If I could put you inside my heart, I would just squish you with my incredible love for you! To the students and families coming in the next season of our lives, I cannot wait for the beauty of this promise. I love you already…
Now let’s do this.
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. I always pray for you, and I make my requests with a heart full of joy because you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus comes back again.
“It is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a very special place in my heart. We have shared together in the blessings of God [in the good times and the bad]… God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”