Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reality has a lot of buts

by Steven

The last several months have been really challenging to us in a number of ways, but...
(reality has lots of buts, and so does this post.)

After I wrote my last post, it dawned on me that during this season Sarah and I have written several posts that have a rather glum tone about them.  True, they are honest, transparent and reflect our feelings and circumstances well.  Also true is the fact that we've gotten comments that indicate our vulnerability is refreshing.  Many of you can identify with our doubts and disappointments, and somehow our expression has brought encouragement to you.  We are grateful for this.

...But this blog isn't meant to be a whining station.

Somewhere outside the boundaries of Grief, Honest Self-assessment, and Humble Prayers of Sorrow, there lie uglier plains of Despair, Self-pity, and Bitter Pleas of Woe-is-me.  Though family, friends and even casual observers may travel with a person through the former, they will quickly abandon the caravan if they feel they are being led to the latter.  It is certainly not our intent to drift toward or drag anyone else across that line.

...But we are in a transitional season that, up to this point, has prompted more doleful feelings than cheerful ones.

What is it about us humans that cause us to be interested in and even attracted to a story that is full of struggle and heartache.  Every book and movie has some sort of conflict and without one, you don't have a story at all.  So for Sarah and me, this blog is our reflections on our current personal struggles.  And even though I know that observers can only handle so much,... (Please pardon the use of this over-used phrase.) It is what it is.

...But there are a lot of blessings going on too.  (Thank GOD!)

Since April of 2011, here are some of the really cool things that we've experienced.  I earned a long-awaited for Bachelor's degree. (Did I mention I graduated Cum Laude?)  Sarah completed a year of teaching High School Geometry with a lot of success and favor from co-workers.  We moved out of the small apartment to a big house, from the hood to a quaint community.  Moreover, our landlords have been extremely gracious and understanding during this season.  We were given, yes GIVEN, hundreds of dollars worth of nice furniture, as well as a refrigerator, washer and dryer - all from different sources.  Sarah has lost nearly 30 lbs.  Granted, the birth of Levi was the primary dietary action, but still, weight loss is weight loss.  And Oh yeah, Levi was born.  The joy and blessings of having another life in our family far outweighs the trials of having a newborn. 

I know that our story is far from over,

...But this season will eventually give way to a different one.  In the meantime, we will anchor ourselves to the Rock on tethers of His word.  Here is one such tether found in Philippians 4

"Rejoice in the Lord always... The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  ...For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have leaned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

May we all keep growing and going until this is true for us personally.  To God be the glory.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

But like the fickle Israelites of old...

by Steven

Let's face it: sometimes this journey sucks.  For me, it is tempting to associate the cause of the difficult seasons with God.  Nevertheless, when I think of it like a father leading his family across the U.S. frontier in the 19th century, it helps give me some perspective.  The wife and children must have at times resented Dad for the trials they were dealing with.  After all, it's his fault for bringing them west.  "Why couldn't we have stayed in Virginia like all the normal people," the family whines.  But the father knows (at least, our Father knows) what joys, riches, and beauties lie ahead.  He knows that rest will come, along with the security and peace the family longs for.  He also knows what they are leaving behind and how, in the long run, those things will not serve them best.

There are a lot of reasons why the journey is downright unpleasant at times; for some folks it is unpleasant most of the time.  Here again is why we need to be reminded that God never promised an easy path; He only promised that He would lead us and be with us.  I wonder if so many of the disappointments we endure come about because of having wrong expectations and not being satisfied with His presence.  We so quickly doubt that His presence is near and then blame Him for leaving us.  

However, one of the foundational and paramount claims of the Christian faith is the truth that God is near -- "God with us."  Of course, this reality is always easier to grasp when we sense or feel His presence, or when we can see some sort of manifestation of it.  There's nothing like a miracle or an internal wave of holy bliss washing over our soul to assure us that God is indeed nearby.  But like the fickle Israelites of old, we panic and doubt not only His presence, but sometimes His very existence, when our journey becomes seemingly unbearable.  Meanwhile, He just keeps loving us and sticking around in spite of our doubts.

Honestly, back in the Spring I thought for sure that by now, October 2011, I would be happily employed, serving in a vocational ministry position.  I would verbally assure Sarah that by Summer's end, we would have a steady income and be settled in a house and location that we'd call home for a while.  I was confident that God had good things ahead of us and that those good things would be materialized by now.  It saddens me that my assurances to Sarah have not yet become reality.  I am sad for her sake.  I hate how hard this is for her.  I'd be lying if I said I don't feel like I have failed her.

All the predictable questions have gone through my head many times.  Where did I go wrong?  Is this happening because of sin in my life?  Which sin? Am I over-spiritualizing this whole thing?  Have I prayed and fasted enough?  Am I waiting on God or is He waiting on me?  Is this just our lot in life and cross to bear?  Will things ever really change?  Would things be better if I had been born with a monkey tail? (A little comic relief was needed.)

But our current circumstances and status is not the end.  Heck! It isn't even real - not compared to the reality of His presence and Kingdom.  Sure, it feels real and I'm not suggesting that our debts are only in our heads.  Certainly, our lenders and utility companies don't think it's just in our heads.  But there is a greater reality, a greater "circumstance" that encompasses us -- GOD, our Heavenly Father.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

However, what I do know is...

by Steven

Father, we have prayed that if in your wisdom and perspective you see a particular opportunity as not being what is best for me, that you would close that door.  Moreover, we believe that you are able to open any door that would be in accord with your will for this season of our lives.  We know and have confessed to you that our sight is limited and our understanding is shallow regarding the future and what is best for our family in light of eternity.   You alone have perfect knowledge of the future and of us.  Therefore, you alone are qualified to lead my family and me.

But now that a couple of “promising” doors have closed and none have opened, it feels that you are not leading us at all.  It feels that our needs aren’t being met and that I am left floundering – wondering at what point I steered wrong.  And though I know you are trustworthy and have proven yourself so many times, I wonder if we trust you anymore – if we can trust you anymore.

Even so, I know enough to know that you see everything.  You see what’s coming ahead, and what we’re leaving behind.  You see what our needs are and what things we need to “need” less.   You see the circumstances and what’s behind the circumstances.  You know when to act and you know what you’re planning to do.  You see our fears, and though you are not cavalier about our concerns, our fears don’t intimidate or manipulate you to act in a manner other than what you know is in our best interest and more importantly, the interest of your kingdom.  You are good.  You are good.  You are good, and everything you do is right.  You don’t make mistakes and you love us.

Therefore, though we do not understand the delays and what seems to be a lack of action.  And though we feel like sinking into despair, we will trust in you.  Where else can we go?  You are our hope.

You are not a God of My Expectations.  You said that you would never abandon me, not that I would never feel abandoned.  You never promised a struggle-free life.  You never said that if I follow you and trust you that I will never be disappointed, surprised, or discouraged.  But you did say that I would find life.

Father, I don’t know if our hope and trust is truly in you or if it is in something else – you know.  However, what I do know is that I want to please you and honor you, even in this season.  Help us, Lord.  Place our feet upon that Rock that is unshakable and may our faith remain steady.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Blessing of Unemployment

Dear God,

I know I've been asking you for awhile now to give Steven a job.  I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for NOT answering my prayer.

If Steven had started a new job, he might not have been able to stay with me at the hospital when our baby was born.  He might have had to work rather than staying with me at the NICU as we waited for our son to come home.

With the pressure of employment, Steven would not have been able to put in all the hours necessary to work on the house so we could move in.  Our move certainly would have been delayed, and the unpacking and settling-in would not yet be done.

Yes, I can see how it has been best that he has been unemployed.  You had it worked out all along.

Usually I associate unemployment with lack and despair.  But not now.  You have met our every need, and then some we weren't even asking for.  Thanks for the house that is big enough for our family to spread out a bit.  Thanks for giving us a refrigerator and a washer and dryer before we even moved in.  Thanks for providing for movers to get all our stuff moved on one of the hottest days of the year.   Thanks for giving us a whole new living room full of furniture so we can offer people a place to sit when they come over to visit.  You have blessed us in so many ways; I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. 

Now that the baby is home and healthy and the home improvement projects are done enough for us to live comfortably, I'm tempted to worry and fret, thinking that now would be a good time for a paycheck to start.  But I've learned that I don't always have the best perspective and that you don't need a paycheck to provide for your children.  We're committed to follow wherever you lead.  You are always faithful. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Waiting Again

by Sarah

In case this is your first time reading our blog, let me catch you up to speed. We are facing changes in three areas:
  • New job
  • New home
  • New baby
We've been living in a constant state of flux, wondering which of these three areas would unfold first.  Would we find a job, move and have a baby?  Would we move, have a baby and find a job?  and so on.  (Take note that the math teacher in me is being held in check,  not divulging all of the different permutations this situation provides.)

So all summer we've been waiting.  Waiting for a job.  Waiting for direction.  Waiting for August 3rd when our baby would be born.  Waiting... waiting...waiting.

After the disappointing news of not getting a job we had hoped for, we regrouped and moved forward.  We decided to stay in the area and to pursue moving into a house some good friends of ours had offered.  Suddenly, we had focus.  THIS was something we could pour our energy into.  We had packing and painting to do.  We were eager to get things in order before the baby's arrival, and we thought we had plenty of time.

We were wrong.

Tuesday morning, July 19th, (yes, that is 15 days before my August 3rd due date) my water broke.  I had not even packed a bag.  After so many days of Steven and I being together all the time,on this day, he was about 30 minutes away, working on the house.  I was a little panicked, but it all worked out.  A few hours later, we were thrilled that, at least in one area, our wait was finally was over.  Levi James had arrived!

We are flexible people.  The early arrival of our son did not throw us off.  It is inconvenient that the hospital is 35 minutes from our home, but we expected the inconvenience to only last a couple of days until I came home with the baby.  We could handle a couple of days of driving back and forth and solving the puzzle of where the children should go and when.

Everything changed when Levi had to be admitted in the NICU on July 21st, the day we were scheduled to come home.  I was discharged; he was not.

Now our situation is not as dire as some other families; we did not leave wondering if our son would live or die.  His condition was relatively routine; he just needed more time to be ready to go home.  Even still, leaving that hospital empty-handed was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.  As I was wheeled to the front doors, I literally struggled to breathe.

Levi has now been in the NICU four days.  And again I'm back to waiting.

We've spent the last four days making multiple trips to the hospital (which hasn't moved any closer to our home) each day.  Everyday we have to figure out the questions of when should we go and what should we do with the other kids.  There's other stuff in life that needs to be done (laundry, grocery shopping, packing to move), but nothing seems as important as being at the hospital with Levi, waiting by his bed, watching him sleep.

And so we wait.  We're waiting to hear that his bilirubin has come down.  We're waiting to hear that he is digesting food like he's supposed to.  We're waiting to hear that he can come home.

When I examine how I'm walking this one out, I see that I have not learned my lesson of how to wait peacefully yet. This is much worse than waiting to hear about a job or about where we might live.  And some days, I'm certainly not the picture of faith.  But, what else can I do?  I cry and I pray.  I trust God and tell him how much I want my baby to come home.  And then I just wait.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Married Up

by Steven

Did you see the movie, Meet The Parents?  Remember Greg Focker's (Ben Stiller) nervous attempts to overcome all his insecurities in the face of his potential in-laws?  Though I found the movie to be hilarious, it was painful and frustrating to watch Greg be so misunderstood and unfairly measured.  However, this post has very little connection with that movie, but I needed an opening paragraph.

Let's try again.

You know the expression, "married up"?  It implies that one partner married a person who is better than they are.  "Better" might mean further up the line in the realm of good looks, money, intelligence, social standing, or simply in an overall sense - better.  Well, I believe that my wife, Sarah, definitely married up when she married me.

At least, that's how she makes me feel.  In reality, everyone else knows (including me) that I'm the one who married up.  Sarah has the beauty and grace of a princess, the intelligence of a genius, and the wealth of a...  Okay, I'll admit that we both were pretty even in the area of financial assets; lower middle class sums up both our histories.  The point is, my girl is downright stinkin' great.

When Sarah and I went to Missouri last weekend for my interview, it was a very unique circumstance.  For other types of jobs, the spouse isn't part of the sizing up process.  Microsoft and Toyota do not care if the executive's spouses get along with your spouse.  What does it matter to Bell Corporation if your wife is amiable and favorable toward the company?  But when a local church hires a pastor, they care very deeply about such things, and should.  So when Sarah was invited by the church to join me last weekend, it wasn't just so that I would have a cuddle buddy at night.  They wanted to interview her as well, even though they would only be hiring me.

During the process, something wonderful shone - something that I was already well aware of, but don't always get to see with such clarity.  Last weekend I got a great view of how good Sarah makes me look.  And that made me appreciate her as my spouse in a fresh, new way.

Some may not like to think this is true, but our spouses reflect us.  The way they interact socially with others, their sense of humor, the manner in which they dress, eat, walk and speak - to some extent it all says something about who we are.  Being aware of this, I had no hesitation or the slightest apprehension about Sarah being with me on my interview.  In fact, I figured that she would make me look better than I really am.  What confidence she gave me, knowing that nothing about her would be embarrassing to me.  Moreover, I knew that however she represented me, it would be true to who I am - who we are.

Perhaps that is the number one reason why, in spite of not getting the job, I can walk with my head high.  That is, I know that I was represented by the two people on earth who know me best- me and my lovely wife, and we represented myself with authenticity and integrity.  The fact that the church didn't hire me is really beside the point.  Knowing the high quality and character of Sarah makes me feel like I married up, all the while she keeps treating me like she's the one who married up.

And that's one of the very cool parts of our marriage.  Both of us function under the illusion that we married up.  She found a stud beyond her pedigree and I found a babe way out of my league.  And 'til death do us part, we have each other.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Killed By Anticipation

I was never fanatic about paintball, as some are.  But I did enjoy playing it when I could - years ago.  I loved the thrill of hunting down my enemies and the satisfaction of "killing" them before being shot myself.  In this game of Hide and Seek that my friends and I would engage in, there was one aspect I never got accustomed to, one part of the game that racked my nerves.  That is, I hated waiting.  Sure, I enjoyed searching for opposing combatants.  I even enjoyed finding and maneuvering into the perfect hiding place.  But once I was in position, I couldn't stand the wait.  No matter how hidden or covered, I always felt so vulnerable.  After mere seconds I would get antsy and restless.  I thought for sure that the enemies knew my spot and were just messing with my head for a while before they would sneak up and splatter me with paint.  Yep, that was my downfall.  I would usually end up stirring and eventually leaving my place, only then making myself a real target.  Oh well, it was only a game.

Of course, in real life I don't like waiting much either.  Especially when I feel that I'm just waiting for something bad to happen - like being shot.  Game Over. 

Most recently, however, I haven't been waiting for something bad to happen.  I've been anticipating something great to happen.  This job that my wife and I interviewed for last weekend was a very exciting prospect.  For us, this potential opportunity has been so much more than just a steady source of income (although that was a part of it).  I have never seen a church like this one.  The staff culture, the values and vision, the high caliber of excellence mixed with mercy were just a few of the qualities that appealed to my wife and I.  We thought we were a good fit for this small-group pastoral position.  Moreover, it was in the St. Louis area of Missouri (close to much-loved family) and the timing couldn't have been more perfect.  But lo, it was not meant to be.  I received a phone call this morning from the Executive Pastor expressing his gratitude for our willingness to go through the extensive interview process, "but we've decided to go in a different direction," he said.  And with those words, I knew that what seemed to be a God-door had just closed on our noses.

This news is very fresh and still stings so I will spare everyone from rants and useless venting.  Nevertheless, I wanted to inform those who have been tracking our blog of the results of our weekend, but also express some thoughts and feelings that I hope transcend the initial letdown.

First, we know that God is good and faithful.  We are still His children and He is still our Heavenly Father who is in control; He is the Lord of our path. 

Second, we still admire the church that happens to be the source of our immediate disappointment.  We said all along that we were learning stuff from them and that with or without a job offer we have no regrets.

Last (for now), we know that we have so many great family members and friends that have been praying for us and are walking through this season with us - even feeling our sorrow today in light of this morning's news.  For you, we are so grateful to God.  Thanks for your love and friendship.

So here we are again- waiting.  And though it certainly doesn't always seem or feel like it, we know that God is waiting with us; He is near.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Weekend Interview

When we first moved to Dallas two years ago, neither Steven nor I had a job. Since Steven was busy with school, I began applying for all sorts of part-time jobs.

The first job I applied for was an editing position that would utilize my education as an English major. I was surprised that at the first interview I was required to take a three-hour test over word usage, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. When they called me for a second interview, I could only imagine the level of testing and writing that might be required and decided that job was not for me.

About the same time I applied to be an online website researcher. This interview process entailed several weeks of testing. I would complete one testing module and then receive an email that said, "Congratulations!  Please click on the following links for the next tests we would like for you to complete." I would complete those modules only to be asked to do some more. After about 4-6 weeks of testing, I finally got the job.

Since the online researcher position only required about 10 hours a week, I also applied to be a tutor. It was only 3-5 hours a week, but it paid well, and it gave me a chance to teach. The application process, however, turned out to be extremely long. Some parts of the process were expensive: for example, I had to get a Texas driver's license which required us to re-title our car. Other parts of the process were tedious: I needed a back-ground check which was simply a matter of filling out a form and getting fingerprinted. However, I inadvertently wrote my social security number incorrectly, so my 1-week wait time on my background check took six weeks.  In the midst of it I wondered, "Is this 3-5 hour a week job worth all of this?"  Finally, however, after two months of processing, I was finally able to start tutoring.

So, I'm not really unfamiliar with long hiring processes. However, all of those experiences are dwarfed by the process we have gone through more recently.

As you may have read in previous posts, we first applied for a pastoral job a couple of months ago, I think in April. It started out with familiar steps: application, a few follow-up questions. Those were stages one and two. Then Steven was asked a series of important "churchy" questions (stage three). Next he had a phone interview (stage four). And finally we were invited to come for a face-to-face interview (stage five). Of course the church is sifting through many applicants, trying to find the one who is the best fit for the job and the church family, so it takes some time. And it's not something anyone wants to rush into, so I understand that taking your time is important. My patience has been tested with the volume of stress in our lives right now, but I get it.

So last weekend Steven and I drove 630 miles for the interview (we just didn't tell the doctor). Through this whole process, we knew that this church does EVERYTHING with excellence, so we expected no less with the weekend interview. We were not disappointed.

This interview was different than any other interview I've ever been on or even heard of. First of all, the other two candidates for the job were there as well. You might think that there would be lots of competition and tension between the three couples vying for the job, but there wasn't. We found that we all get along quite well. They are great couples. In fact, we're now Facebook friends so we can keep up with each other. But still... you have to admit, that's a little different, right?

We were all put up in a wonderful hotel, and we were given the royal treatment all weekend. Every need we may have had was met before we needed it, and even our personal preferences were catered to. The attention to detail was remarkable.

I think it's really hard to interview for a church because when you're part of a church, it's not just a job. It affects every part of your life and your family's life. It's more important in church staffing to make sure it's a good fit than in any other occupation, I think. So I've often wondered how you can do that when you haven't had a relationship in the past, when you don't know each other at all. Now I know because this church did it so well.

Steven was given a list of assignments to prepare about a week before we arrived. These assignments were an opportunity for them to "see him in action." He had to prepare a message and speak in front of a group, lead a small group discussion, teach a basic doctrine class and lead a brainstorming session. We also were put in several interview settings where eight different people were given a chance to ask us interview questions one-on-one. We also ate and spent time with different church leaders, and they even provided social times for us to just hang-out. And finally we were able to serve in different areas of the church during service times. After all of that, I think they know us pretty well!

We don't yet know if we are the ones who are the best fit for the job or not. We hope we are, but we met the other candidates, and we know what high-caliber people they are. But there are a few things we do know.

We know:
  1. Whoever the church chooses for this job is high-quality.  The other applicants are fantastic.
  2. We were completely transparent and real. If they choose us, we know that they got as real of a glimpse into who we are as we could give.
  3. Steven gave his best. In every assignment, he gave his all, and we're happy with his preformance. We don't look back with regret on any answers that we gave or any comments that we made.
  4. If we're not offered the job, it's because we weren't the right ones for it. There are no regrets or second-guessing. If this isn't for us, God must have something different in mind that's an even better fit. If we don't get it, I'll admit, I'll probably cry; we would love to have this job. But at the end of the day, I know that God has a purpose for having us go through the process, and we'll be okay.

So, now we go back to waiting, but only until tomorrow. We're praying for the pastors and staff as they make their decision, knowing that God will certainly direct their thoughts, discussions and final choice. Our fate isn't in their hands, though. We know who's got our backs... and our fronts... and our every side.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Our transition can be summed up in one word:  WAIT.  Next week, things will pick up dramatically.  I'll go to the doctor to check my progress (I'll be 36 weeks).  As long as there's no head peaking out or anything, we're planning on driving north for an interview on Thursday.  The weekend will be packed full of ... something (we haven't been told exactly what yet, but we've been told we'll be busy).  Then we'll know if the job is a fit or not, and we'll come home.  When we return we should have a plan of what we're doing or at least one thing that we are not doing. 

So, I just have one more week to wait.  What should I do while I wait?

Option One:  Pack

We want to move, so as an act of faith that we will be moving at some point in the near future, I could start packing.  But... it sure does seem like a lot of work.  It's really hard to bend over and pick things up; I probably shouldn't be lifting anything very heavy.  It's just easier to sit with my feet up and try to remember what my ankles used to look like.  The packing can wait.

Option Two:  Find good deals on the baby stuff we need.

Yes, even though this is our fifth child, there are some baby things we still need (thanks to some sticky-fingered renters who cleaned out our attic when they moved).  But... we kind of want to wait to see how this interview goes.  You see, if we stay in the area, we might be able to just borrow some stuff from generous friends.  If we move, we'll probably need to buy that stuff, but depending on when we move, we may want to wait until we're in a new place.  I don't know.  Baby's not here yet.  The baby stuff can wait.

Option Three:  Relax and wait. 

This is one I've been going with.  I've been spending my days helping my kids reach their summer goals, assigning cleaning detail, laughing at their antics.  I've been reading a little, praying a lot.  Then I'll sleep a bit, pray a bit more.  I'll cook some, pray some more.  Some days I'm not mastering the relaxing part because I get myself stressed out by all of my questions.

But, like it or not, I'm getting this waiting thing down.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Major Life Decisions

by Steven

When it comes to making major life decisions (MLDs), how do you determine the best course of action? For the purposes of this writing I define a "major life decision" as a decision that will impact more than just yourself and that once done, will be costly, difficult, or impossible to completely undo. Some examples are: relocating to a new city, changing jobs, offering (or saying yes to) a marriage proposal, deciding to try to get pregnant or adopt, or taking a sizable financial risk.

Do you ask others for input?  Do you write a list of pros and cons?  Do you let circumstances decide for you.  Do you talk it out with your spouse and make a decision together?  Do you seek for the influence of a "higher power"?

I have observed that many people in the Christian community tend to spiritualize decisions, especially big ones, and make them more difficult than they need to be.  I include myself in that lot.  I sometimes wish that I viewed life as merely pragmatic.  Making decisions would be easier if they all boiled down to the practical and economic realities in play. 

For me, however, there's always been more to it than simply weighing the pros against the cons.  There's been a deeply-rooted belief in me that tells me that my choices aren't totally my own to make.  I have been governed by a conviction that says not every good opportunity is the best or even the right opportunity.  I have believed that God, Himself, has a say in my journey, and I need to voluntarily acknowledge His right to direct me.  Even still, I probably make it much harder than it needs to be. 

Did Jesus ever wonder what the will of His Father was?  Did He go through times of waiting, just waiting, with no clear direction from Heaven?

I remember my dad long ago pointing me to a verse in Colossians.  The verse tells us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.  My dad said that to let the peace of Christ rule means to let God's peace act like an umpire in my life.  In other words, if you don't have internal peace about something, don't go that way. 

So that is how I have made my decisions; I've searched internally, long and hard at times, until I can determine if God's peace is in the matter or not.  And I have no regrets regarding who I married, or my geographic relocations from FL to TX to MO to TX to ???, or my decision to shave my chest.  Indeed, the peace of God has led me well; and it will continue to do so, I'm sure.

What about you?

The Call

Today we got THE call.  Well, maybe not THE call, but The call.  This is the call in which we were invited to come to the church for a face-to-face interview.  They'll fly us up and put Steven and I up in a hotel!  (Can anyone say, "Romantic Getaway?!")

Well, maybe.  The weekend we've been invited, I'll be 36 weeks (plus a few days) pregnant.  Apparently, that's "full-term."  Also APPARENTLY, I'm not supposed to travel.  And as a third apparently, I will not likely be allowed to travel without a doctor's note, which he's not super-excited to give.

Now, none of my other children came early, but you never know with my advanced maternal age and all.

We're very excited with the prospect and are currently trying to adjust interview plans and dates without being too difficult to work with.  Surely they'll understand, right?

I can't help but point out a few things to God, though.

"You know, God, this wouldn't have been an issue if You had let this process move a bit faster.  A couple of months ago, I would have been a good traveler... nay an EXCEPTIONAL traveler.  We wouldn't have had issues with summer camp schedules and such.  Not to mention all the stress this long process has caused.  Not that I'm not grateful, because I am.  I'm so thankful that we have this opportunity and that we'll know soon if this is a good fit or not!  I'm just saying, we could have avoided a lot of frustration, stress and tears if the timetable could have been moved just 8 short weeks earlier.  I know You're never late, but You sure do like to make for some last-minute excitement."

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, though.  Throughout the Bible, our God is a God who has a flair for the dramatic.  And maybe the journey, including all the frustration, stress and tears, was the point all along.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Please Be My Strength

Sometimes there is just a song that pretty much sums it up.  This is one of those times.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Worst Part

Waiting is the worst part.  Or maybe not knowing is the worst part.  Either way, this stinks.

Still no change on the securing a job thing or on the moving thing or on the naming the baby thing that I discussed in a previous post.  However, things are progressing, and it appears we will have a bit more clarity soon.  We believe we may even have some answers within the next two weeks (not on the baby name, but on the other two).

A few days ago, we learned that Steven has advanced to what seems to be the final stages of the hiring process at a church.  We started down this path months ago, and it is exciting that it's finally winding down.  As this end approaches, however, I have mixed emotions.

The competitive part of me wants to win.  I want Steven to rise to the top of all the applicants and get the prize, be the champ.  (I'm not claiming this is a righteous part of me; I'm just being honest.)  Additionally, there's a part of me that wants the security this job seems to offer.  We would have a steady income and know what part of the country we would be moving to.  A job and an narrowed area for us to live.  Sounds ideal!

Of course, I have to think everything through.  I have to ask, "I wonder how soon they would want us?"  "Would we move before the baby is born or wait until after?"  "When would we look for a house?" "Which would be worse:  moving across the country while 9 months pregnant or moving across the country with a newborn?"  Understandably, Steven tires of my questions.

Then there's the other part of me.  The part that wonders, what if we don't get it?  What if there's another applicant who is just as perfect for the job as Steven, and they decide to go with him instead?  What if they tell us, "No."?  Then what?

I've been putting this one job as THE possibility that is in front of us.  What will I do if this door closes?  Suddenly, our backup plan looks a bit anemic.  It actually looks a little scary.  I know I will still hope in the Lord, but what does that look like?  Do we keep looking for a ministry job or just settle for whatever we can get?  Should we move into a rental house in the Dallas area and assume we'll be here for a bit longer, or do we continue to be in this transitional mindset we've been enduring for the past months/years?  I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.

Yeah, waiting AND not knowing are definitely the worst parts.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Gate

By Steven

Within the last week I had two very different reactions to an everyday type of situation.  One reaction I believe was perfect, the other was far from it.    I'm not one to over-spiritualize things; honestly, I tend to look down on those that do.  Nevertheless, I do believe that sometimes an everyday, common occurrence reflects a bigger, more significant thing.  Here, in my opinion, is one such story.
The Setting

We currently live in a gated community.  What do you think of when someone uses the term "Gated Community"?  THIS isn't it.  Our present abode is a 2nd-story apartment in south Dallas where iron bars surround the 10-building complex to keep out the thugs.  Moreover, there is one usable entrance and exit that happens to have an iron-bar gate that slides open ever-so slowly when someone punches the correct 5 digit code.  Off to one side of the vehicle gate is a smaller gate for tenants who might be walking (or running) in or out.  This ped gate does not open by a key pad, but rather, by an old fashion key.

Episode One: The response of perfect patience

The other day I had left the protection of the fence for a jog.  I was wearing some really cool Nike running shorts - the kind that has a lining on the inside which allows me to be "free", if you know what I mean.  Anyway, I didn't want to carry a set of bulky, pokey keys with me so I took the chance that upon my return I'd be able to follow a car through the open gate.  Alas, after my 25 kilometer jog, ahem, I found myself locked outside.  At those moments I was aware of my thoughts and emotions.  To my delight I had no anxiety, no impatience, no fear and no frustration.  I knew it was only a matter of time before someone in a car wanted in or out.  I honestly didn't care if I had to wait 15 seconds or 15 minutes; I was not doomed to be shut out.  I was at peace with where I was because I knew that I would eventually get to where I wanted to be.

Episode Two: The response of a perfect jerk

Just a couple days after episode one I had a totally different reaction to that stupid gate.  (Notice how the gate that was there for my family's protection is now that STUPID gate.)  This time I'm in a car with my kids trying to leave the complex.  Usually exiting goes off without a hitch.  One can easily pull straight up to the key pad, enter the numbers and Open Sesame! The gate maneuvers to the right making for a smooth leave.  This time, however, the poor damsel in the compact car ahead of me was not able on her own to open the gate.  No problem.  She thoughtfully pulled up so that I could have access to the key pad.  To my dismay, although I punched in all the right numbers, no gate response.  Uhgg!  Come on people, don't you know that I have the right to leave at my whim and I should not be hampered by malfunctions.  It took me all of 3 seconds to call the campus security department which I have on speed dial.  (btw, our apartment complex is part of a college campus.)

The conversation went something like this:
Me - "Hi, I'm trying to leave my apartment complex but the gate won't open.  Can you send someone to help?"  Said with great annoyance.
Security guy - "Are you sure you've pulled up close enough for the sensor.."
Me, interrupting him - "I know what I'm doing, I've entered the right code and I'm on the sensor.  It's just not working."  Said with even more annoyance.
Security guy - "Okay, we'll send someone over."
Me - "Thanks."  {Click} (Do cell phones actually click?)

Now this exchange might strike you as pretty benign.  I didn't yell, curse, or  use insults.  I'm pretty much only guilty of being slightly rude and impatient, right?  Here's the deal.  About 2 seconds after I hung up, I noticed something different on the key pad - the tiny red and yellow lights at the top were no longer lit.  So I tried my code again and wham-mo! The gate began to yield to my will.  Another fact that may or may not be relevant is that after hearing the security guy say his second line, I think I recognized him as a friend of mine, but it felt too late to change my tone.  Here I am, impatiently talking to guy, perhaps a friend, as if I've been tremendously wronged, just to find out that there was no problem, only a negligible delay of say... 30 seconds, tops. *

The contrast to my attitude and response a few days earlier is huge.  Why the difference?  Too much MSG in my diet?  I don't know.  I'm actually not so concerned with why at this point; we all have our moments.  What strikes me is how relevant the whole scene seems to be to the bigger picture of my life right now.  

My family is in transition.  We are waiting for a gate to open.  Until it does, we feel stuck.  But what can seem like a major inconvenience in the moment, might really only be a brief postponement, perhaps even a respite.

I know that the gate that seems now to shut us in will soon open.  I truly believe that.  In the meantime, I pray that I'm not a jerk to those around me, including my wife and kids.  I pray that I can wait patiently without anxiety and stress.  I know this is how the Father would have me wait.  I know this is how my family would have me wait.  Now it's only a matter of getting some perspective and being confident in the Gatekeeper.

* I was thoughtful enough to immediately call the security guy back and tell him that the gate opened.  To my chagrin, I didn't include the apology that was due him.  Perhaps he'll read this and forgive me anyway.

Monday, June 13, 2011


A few days ago, I had the following thought going through my head: "Those whose hope is in the Lord will not be put to shame."

I'm no Bible scholar, but I thought it seemed like something that was probably in the Bible. (Those of you who ARE Bible scholars have permission to roll your eyes and shake your head in dismay.) The thought wouldn't go away, so I decided to look it up and see if it was in there. Sure enough. There it was:

"No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame." (Psalm 25:3)

It wasn't worded exactly the way it was going through my brain, but it was close enough to make me think that maybe the Lord was giving me something to hold on to, a promise that He wants me to remember in this time.

I've continued to mull this over in such a way that a Bible scholar might say I'm actually meditating on it. I asked myself, "Is my hope REALLY in the Lord?"

There are lots of things that I can say I hope for. I hope this baby comes early and in one push. I hope our next house is the perfect size, one where we can open the dishwasher and the refrigerator at the same time if we want. I hope our next vehicle has air conditioning so cold, we get goose bumps and have to turn it down. But I don't really have my hope IN those things. They're just things I'm hoping for, almost like a wish list.

That's different than my hope for our future, and this is where it gets trickier.

Steven is currently in the application process with a couple of different churches, one we are particularly hopeful about. The danger I face is putting my hope in that job or in that church, thinking that they are the ones who are determining our future, rather than remembering that the Lord is the one in charge of our destiny.

I know it may seem like it's just semantics, but it's a real issue to me. It's hard to remember in tough times that no job or individual is my provider.  I may have to keep reminding myself of that, especially as seemingly bad news comes or setbacks occur. When disappointments come, I may have to refocus that hope; it's easy to let hope in something else uproot my hope in the Lord.

But, as of today, anyway, my hope is in the Lord.  He's not going to let us be put to shame.

By the way, if you are in a situation similar to ours, the rest of Psalm 25 is loaded with good stuff.  You should take a look at it... maybe even meditate a bit.


Steven here.

As a husband and father, the issue of trusting the Lord for provision strikes me a little differently than it does Sarah.  (Pardon my dangling modifier)  I view myself as the one who bares responsibility to provide for my family.  After all, I'm the man of the house, and it is my God-given duty to do whatever I need to do to make sure my wife and kids have the shelter, food, clothing and chocolate they need. 

Now with this last point, some may disagree.  You may have issue with the whole man-of-the-house thing, or you may have issue with the God-given duty thing.  If so, let me put it in a way I believe even the most "progressive" person will understand my view, if not agree with it.

I am a (fairly) healthy, (somewhat) intelligent, socially-adjusted man, who has recently acquired a Bachelors degree (cum laude, I might add).  Moreover, many years ago I vowed before God to love, and provide for my wife.  Therefore, if I were to sit around ignoring our bills and tummy grumblings, would not even the most socialist minded person consider me worthless.  Even if one's ideology said this behavior is acceptable, their personal opinion of me would be some degree of scorn.

So the issue to me is not a question of my sense of responsibility nor is it a lack of desire.  Believe me, after staying at home with four kids for the last 10 months, I'm ready to get out and work.  I mean easy work like roofing, digging ditches, managing teenagers at McDonalds, running a multi-billion dollar international business, anything easier than being a stay-at-home dad.  The issue for me is finding that place of balance between me doing my part and trusting God to do His.  Yes, I'm provider for my family. But wait!  Isn't God the provider for my family?  Of course He is.  So does that mean I'm not the provider?  No.  Well... yes and no.  Yes, God is the provider and No, that doesn't mean I'm not the one who should provide.  Am I making this too complicated?  Of course I am.

There are nuances to my particular situation that most men probably don't deal with, but in general I suppose that most unemployed family men struggle with the same dilemma.  I.e., should I apply for and accept a job that I know I'll hate and that won't pay enough to make ends meet or should I stay unemployed and hold out for a position that actually suits me?  It's a tough place and I know that men with faith in God as well as those without faith in God are both experiencing this.  Personally, I can't imagine going through this without faith.  For it is God who is my hope, and with or without a job, I will not be put to shame.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My To-Do List

The setting of our story is Dallas, Texas. Our family is currently living in a 1200 square foot apartment in Oak Cliff (which, for those of you not familiar with the area, would be considered "the wrong side of the tracks"). Our four children share one room, Steven and I share another, and we use the third room for homeschooling. Two bodies can fit in our kitchen if we position ourselves correctly, and we all scrunch together on one couch to watch TV. Needless to say, it's a little cramped. We would really like to move soon. Especially since there's a baby on the way.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. This is one thing we are sure of: in about 7 weeks, we will add another baby to our family, and we couldn't be happier. Unfortunately, his arrival is the only thing we are certain of. We don't know his name; we don't know where he will sleep (recall aforementioned sleeping arrangements); we don't even know where he will sit on the way home from the hospital (I assume he will sit in a car seat, but we don't yet have said car seat). I guess I should add those to my to-do list.

     To-Do List:

  1. Name the baby.
  2. Find a crib.
  3. Find a place to put a crib.
  4. Get a car seat.
So, we would like to move. When we should move is an unknown. Should we move before the baby arrives? (Remember that will be in the next seven weeks.) Or should we wait and move with a newborn in-tow? If it were that simple of a decision, that wouldn't be so bad. But there are other factors weighing into this move, the most prominent being where Steven will be working. You see, he doesn't currently have a job.

Again, a slight detail I may have left out. Steven has been going to school for the last couple of years in order to finish his degree. I have been teaching high school geometry in the meantime. We are really not that progressive of a family, though, to have me bring home the bacon and have Steven fry it up in a pan (in addition to homeschooling our three school-aged children). So, now that he's graduated, we're ready to switch back. I will change from being a full-time teacher to a stay-at-home mom. Steven will change from being a stay-at-home dad to a full-time... yet to be determined. We have a few prospects, but nothing sure yet. A few more items for my list...

      5. Find a job for Steven.
      6. Pack up all of our belongings.
      7. Move (possibly across the country or just across town -- be ready for anything)

That pretty much sums it up. A simple 7-step process. What have I been worrying about, anyway?