It is good to give thanks
This is the story of our giving thanks, which opens our eyes to how it all turns into a thousand gifts…
We married the summer before our Senior year of college and I marched across the stage newly pregnant with our firstborn. I was 21. Then, we bought our first home and I became a pastor’s wife for the very first time at a brand new Church plant filled with people who were much older than us. In fact, while we found ourselves saying hello to a whole new world of cribs and spit rags, they were so much past the new to us “baby stage” that they forgot what a hot meal delivered to a home, or a hospital visit meant. Thanks to mom, she came and cooked dinner for us while I sat on a donut on the couch with a banged up bottom and a newly wrinkled babe in my arms. Not much later, we held each others hands with our first baby in tow, leaving all of our family behind, and packed up all of our belongings to go to off to seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The years we spent there were beautiful and hard. My husband worked three part time jobs to keep us afloat while he attended seminary full time and I babysat other seminary families children along with caring for my own baby. Then, there were the endless nights in the Louisville children’s hospital that slapped us right upside the face. We spent months trying to figure out why our baby was having seizures. There was no family nearby to offer helping hands and anxiety kept me awake at night for fear that my baby would have another seizure and stop breathing before I got to her. I remember flipping through paper 3 by 5 cards with scripture on them, clinging to the hope that God knew and cared and was in control.
A year later, we gave birth to our “surprise” seminary baby and second born daughter. We gave her the middle name “Love” because it was as if God was shouting to us amidst the crazy – that He, indeed loved us so deeply that we could not even comprehend it if we tried. He knew I needed an abundance of that love for the future that lay ahead. The girls and I would watch bunnies outside of our dew stained fifteen pain door and we would visit our neighboring seminary friends and shared hoards of playdates together. Sometimes, I could walk to the little mailbox and find an anonymous check written to us. I could never doubt Gods love. Many an evening I attended Seminary wives classes where I was taught how to prepare my home for un-expected guests and prepare freezer meals in a jiffy for when we would invite future parishioners over to our home. We even got to practice with an assignment where I received a phone call one evening and had to have a clean house and dessert and coffee ready for my unexpected guests. I learned how to publicly speak and how to be the “well-rounded ministry wife.”
Then, reality hit and we had a calling back to the city our family was in to be apart of our home-church’s newly revived mission to serve the inner-city in which it existed. Mom and her friends scoped out a little inner-city 1940’s bungalow for us and I remember how big it felt after living in a 900 square foot apartment. I couldn’t wait to decorate it and step on its’ gleaming hardwood floors and the day we moved in, was the first time I ever stepped foot in it. That night, we were awakened to gun shots. And the next morning, our bicycles were stolen. A few weeks later, our neighbor stole the box of checks delivered to our mailbox and she stole my identity too. A huge hassle later, we settled in and woke up to the reality in which we lived. A hard, beautiful reality that the Gospel wasn’t too proud for our drug dealing, prostituting, murdering(yes, we once lived next to a man who was a suspect for murdering his live-in girlfriend) homeless neighbors. We learned alot of hard lessons about loving and weekly we were given the chance to live out that love with 50 neighbors in our front yard breaking bread together and studying the Scriptures. One time, I sat next to a frequent neighborhood prositute and her new-found pimp. We never saw them again but I watched her body wither to drugs and the streets and I felt the darkness when I looked in her eyes. Those years changed us forever. We never knew sorrow and joy could be such dear companions. But then we remembered that Jesus showed us they were.
We had our third daughter and we watched our children grow up to accept and love the broken beautiful of the city. We taught them to trust God when scary things happened and showed them how to fight for justice. One time they watched justice hand-cuff a man on their backyard play set. They watched their daddy mow their neighbor’s lawn and shared their cinnamon buns and presents on Christmas mornings every year with our homeless friend. They listened in as we tutored neighborhood children, rescued a teenage run-away and taught another neighbor friend how to come up with a budget and give up her hair wigs and cable t.v. in order to buy groceries and pay rent. They loved their neighborhood and often begged us to visit neighbor friends who would chat with them for an hour and give them treats. We became a true part of that neighborhood that changed us forever and gave us abundantly more experience than any seminary student could ever attain. We weren’t there to be the family who could take everyones problems away. We lived and dwelled as a family who were fighting for many of the same things our neighbors were fighting for. Most often, the lessons were more for us than for those we were called to live amongst. We learned that change doesn’t come easy to the person who has only known the hard things of life – the single moms and fatherless children who would come knocking in need of diapers for their baby brother or a banana because their mom never bought them such a treat. One day, as I was putting the trash out in the trash bin on the side of our house, I noticed that a neighboring flop house was on fire. I could feel the heat, that’s how close it was to me. I called 911 and later learned that Bobby , who lived in the home had caught it on fire intentionally. He was having hallucinations and thought someone was using the bathroom on the floor. I was speechless. Six years were spent loving and living and learning in the depth of urban ministry and when we walked away from it all, we knew we would be changed forever. We were. Amidst our last years there, my husband became a pastor of local church who served in our same radius. We loved our time there – a young body of believers eager to grow and learn community in all its’ messy, broken beautiful. Years later, we walked away with stronger convictions about the church and a deeper sense of how the Gospel, authentic community and humility should grace her and another door for ministry was opened.
These experiences only scratch the surface of the winding road we have plodded. We’ve gone on to be apart of campus ministry at a prestigious University that prided itself in transvestite parades and marble parking garages and we’ve trekked alongside various church plants, giving and serving and eventually landed full-circle right outside where it all began thirteen years ago when we said “for better or worse” and made our vows to one another that, whatever life brought our way and whatever passed through the very hands of God, we would embrace it together. The twists and turns and struggles and heartache have been no strangers, yet we are not surprised at our enemy who prowls around like a lion seeking whom he can devour. In giving thanks, satan has no power! God almost always births new and beautiful masterpieces out of broken and lifeless things. And we march on with an even deeper passion for the beautiful bride of Christ that too often forgets the cross from which she came.
The real and only solution to it all is when we lift these laden eyes to the heavens and give thanks, it is then and only then that the wrong and hard and unjust and unfair and ordinary things of life turn to sacred gifts. And gifts, they are.
For more info on our Church , visit our website at ctkaugusta.org