Building Bridges

We saw several more houses over the weekend. We have seen many houses. It’s reinforced over and over again that this town is entirely out of price range-that it will take a miracle to find a place that we can afford and will be sustainable. 

And in our shopping for homes, we are learning more about the town and it’s different neighborhoods. While West Hartford is considered a suburb of Hartford – it has quite the urban feel. It’s densely populated with a variety of neighborhood communities within it’s lines. One neighborhood such as Elmwood has a completely different demographic than that if it’s neighbor, Bishops Corner. There are clear boundary lines between these neighborhoods and we find that we must be quite sensitive to where God would have us start this work.

We have felt in our hearts for sometime that part of God’s mission for us in West Hartford would include bridge building. Bridging the gap between those of different ethnicities, faiths, and socioeconomic statuses. This would be the overflow of the internal life change when one discovers who they are at the essence outside of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family placement, career position, and more. As a person finds their identity in Christ, made in the image of their Creator, boundary lines fall and all that remains is a child of God loved by God and worthy of love from others. The overflow of this work is a bridge between you and I. Love now seems possible. Love now is necessary. Love becomes desired. It’s a love that has hands and feet. It’s a love that is not just spoken, but it’s lived out loud. 

I thought the bridge building would rise out of the lines between Hartford and West Hartford. And while I believe this will still be the case, the first bridges will be built within West Hartford itself. For a community who stands as the example for the fight of love and equality for all, it seems that there are limits to this between it’s neighborhoods. 

I don’t dare pretend to understand it fully as we have only done research, and have only learned a little. But it is clear that there are some dividing lines between the neighborhoods and that they may not be pleasant. 

We looked at two different houses yesterday in two very different neighborhoods of West Hartford. Our realtor has given us great information on the different areas and their demographics. We both agreed that we needed to be intentional about the neighborhood and that depending on where we landed would depend on how receptive people would be. 

There are normally some dividing lines between cities and suburbs, between towns, but it surprised me that within the town itself there would be people that would not be receptive to us if we chose one neighborhood over the other. They are down the street from one another. They have the same address. This breaks my heart, because it seems it is primarily due to socioeconomic status. 

Are we all equally deserving of love, belonging, and community? Or are their invisible lines we may cross depending on where we live or how much we make? We desire community and we fight for equality, but are there limits? We desire to GIVE out of our pocket to those with less, but do we give reaching over lines rather than stepping fully across the line to sit down and stay awhile – maybe even setting up camp. I do it. You do it. We all do it. Both sides do it. 

We stopped at Starbucks on our way out from seeing the few homes. I decided to ask the barista, a young man who was probably in his late 20’s and early 30’s, about the present neighborhood. It is called Bishop’s corner. It’s clear by environment, median income from census data, and home prices that it is an upper middle class neighborhood. We were looking at a house that honestly looks like it was accidentally placed in the wrong neighborhood. It’s a ranch, it’s small. And it’s half the price of most in that area. Which is why we were able to even consider it. 

I asked the man if the neighborhood was family friendly. Did he enjoy living there, etc? He smiled and was very kind to answer my questions. He responded positively. He thought highly of Bishop’s corner, its schools and people. He lives and works in the area, so he was qualified. He states there were no problems and the biggest complaint was the carriages that bumped into cars in the shopping centers.

I, then, asked him about a house that we saw located in the Elmwood neighborhood and I named the street. His face immediately changed, and he shook his head. He said he didn’t know if that could even be considered West Hartford anymore and that if there was a low income area in WH that would be it. 

We got our answer and he confirmed what we suspected and our realtor explained to us. I don’t know if I can put this into words. What this does to our spirit, our soul. It’s a killer. Because we have a burden for both people groups – those with money and those with not much. We know that God has called us to reach both. We know that we are supposed to bridge the gap. We know that they both need Jesus. We know it’s possible. 

But where do we start? We are those low income people. We are looking at a house there because that is all we can afford. In fact, that is the only area we have looked besides the one that looks accidentally placed in the higher income area. To think that it’s not enough to be in West Hartford alone, that for most to be receptive-we can’t be in that neighborhood? These are the questions and thoughts we must consider.

I feel an angst within me, an urgency to hear from God on this. When we saw the house in Elmwood, it felt so right. There were families out walking. It was a beautifully diverse group of people. We would much prefer to live there. The house in Bishops Corner was quiet, and the neighborhood didn’t seem diverse. It breaks my heart to think that if we were to land in Elmwood, those from Bishop Corner may not consider us even part of West Hartford. What a risk that would be if we mean to reach both groups of people. Bridge the gap. 

To bridge the gap, we must fill the gap. Whether we live in the lower income neighborhood and insist on reaching into the higher income – building relationships with both…or we live in the higher income and reach into the lower income – we will be the gap. God will have to direct us. He has the strategy, the relationships, the resources. He will guide us. Where our home will be is even more strategic than we thought.

This mission of God is not always simple. We can’t just choose what we think seems right, feels right, or is logical. God’s purposes and plans are not always straightforward and logical. Erratic, difficult, and crazy often define God’s ways. Yet, will we move slowly, sensitively? 

Fight the gap. Bridge the gap. Fill the gap. God will show us what that looks like. 

Chic-fil-a and Cash Buyers

I am writing so much in regards to our church planting journey, but I can’t help but share. God is doing an amazing work through this process, and it is my prayer that it will encourage and challenge others to step out into all that God has for them!

The above picture speaks to my soul. It is a vivid picture of what this journey feels like. The depths of valleys, and yet the heights of the greatest mountains. We ride between them both. The valleys are quite dark and difficult, and yet worth it to reach the height of the mountain when we, for a brief moment, experience the breathtaking vast magnificence of our God. He is surely taking our breath away with His miraculous work.

I am sitting here in the stillness of the early morning dim light. Havyn woke us up predawn as she most often does and I wasn’t able to go back to sleep. The fire is going, I have a warm cup of tea and all seems actually quite peaceful. I look up and see this pillow sitting across from me. Peace in bright, glittery bronze letters. I kept it out from Christmas simply because it’s too pretty to put away, and well, I need the daily reminder. Christ offers peace.

The question is, will I receive it and live in it?

As I sit here drinking my cup of tea, I am processing the current cash offer for our home sitting on our desk. Did you read that right? YES. Crazy, huh?

Through this entire church planting process, there have been these little moments here and there that could only truly be described as God moments. God intended, appointed, and planned moments. Which are amazing, they bring peace and a soft reminder that whispers, “I am faithful, I am with you”.

There have also been loud moments when you literally feel like God sat in front of you and with your life like a puzzle, He made certain things and certain timing all fit nicely together.

For example, anyone who knows us knows our love for Chic-fil-a. We were quite disappointed to find that there was not one located in West Hartford, the closest was 30 minutes away. But when God calls, you know…

Despite our deep love for chicken and fries and playgrounds, ultimately our disappointment came because they are a supportive, Christian partnering organization. There are ways they could have supported or even invested in this mission of building a church. Furthermore, it would have been a great job possibility since we plan to be bi-vocational for a little while.

There were a couple of other crazy dreams we had like hosting services in the restaurant, because why not? They are closed on Sundays. Or just, you know, contacting the corporate office to submit our dream project. They catch the vision, God moves, and they partner. Or, hey, we could start a Chic-fil-a first, and then the rest is history. We have awesome, crazy ideas when know one is looking.

BUT, alas, there was no Chic-fil-a and we have no business trying to open a restaurant. This has been an 8 month conversation, and I looked a thousand times to make sure there was, in fact, no Chic-fil-a. I don’t know why, but we just felt there would be some sort of connection to Chic-Fil-a through the church. But how without one there?

I am talking to a sweet lady I met at a ministry training event last weekend. And, lo and behold, she hears where we are planting and states: “Hey, my nephew is opening a Chic-fil-a there in West Hartford on February 9.”

Holy cow. I got so excited. I can’t fully tell you why or what influence they will have other than a place to help us feel better when we have a rough week, but God is in it somehow. I am certain. The timing of discovery alone felt like a God ordained moment.

And, then, this house. In a crazy, completely uncharacteristic way – I threw our house out there on Zillow. Just to see…

In reality, I felt God lead me to take a leap of faith without having it all ready and just see what would happen. By ready, I mean we had nothing ready. There was no decluttering or cleaning done. Our house wasn’t nicely staged. I didn’t even have pictures to put up. I posted it For Sale By Owner. We started getting contacted 24 hours later, and we busted our tail ends to get it somewhat clean, slightly decluttered, and presentable.

This entire time, I am doing this because I feel led by God. Prior to this I had had two family friends offer generous helps if we got caught in a transition. One offered to let us stay with them (yeah, our crazy). And the other offered a garage for storage. Both felt an answer to prayer, and we put the options aside for safekeeping.

If you know me, you understand this. I am realist. When I say realist, sometimes I mean fatalist. I don’t mean to be that way. It’s my temperament, it’s my life experiences, it’s my thorn in the flesh…either way I deeply struggle with hope. I have faith, but I tend to qualify it or hold it loosely. I trust God, but I also know He allows difficulty. That sort of thing…it’s a real struggle I am always working on.

This time, my faith was built. There had been too many things that just seemed to be put together by God himself. I was hopeful that God would work miraculously through our house situation. In fact, it had been a prayer of mine since last year and I truly felt He was going to respond.

10 days went by, and we had one showing pan out and it was the very first contact we had. They had positive feedback, but gave us nothing else. That was Tuesday of this week. My hope began waning by Friday, and by this morning, I was frustrated. That’s putting it lightly. Granted, I had been very sick earlier in the week which threw the week and its schedule for me. There were other circumstances contributing, but my main stress this morning was the house. I had really been hopeful, and I felt like many times before, God in the end was doing something differently than what I had thought or prayed for. Now, I know He is sovereign. He has a plan that is trustworthy. He is always looking out for our best interest. I get it. But I was disappointed, and well, I am a hot mess that God regularly has to deal with. Whatever.

I am in the middle of crying out to God, literally crying. I am angry at the world, I feel like everything is falling apart (only slight exaggeration). I am working out my anger and frustration. I am in the middle of trying to process this disappointment and get to the other side of trust no matter what.

Then I get an email notification, and to distract myself from my misery-I look at it.

It’s the realtor sending a cash offer from his buyer. (In the end, it became a bidding war between two cash buyers)

This.is.miraculous. 

We are still in the process of this. We have no long term solution in front of us. There are many things to figure out. (Don’t worry, Evangel folks, we are not leaving any earlier) Yet, there is peace that God is guiding this whole thing. And none of it makes sense or even seems practical. We are practical with a capital P. This messes up all kinds of original plans. This is crazy. And, yet, there is peace.

I have known God my entire life. I have followed Christ passionately since I understood anything about a relationship with Christ. But I will never truly understand His purposes and how He works them out. I can’t wrap my mind around His plan for us, His plan for this world. The catch, though, is He is faithful. And He is bigger and better than me. His purposes are greater than my eye can see or my mind can comprehend. And even when He has disappointed me, His good was accomplished. Maybe not my good, but His good.

To obey is to surrender. To surrender is to trust. To trust is to love God wholeheartedly and to accept His unreserved, wholehearted love for me. Which ensures my best interest whether or not I like what is in front of me.

Could we have lost our minds and be making the biggest mistake of our lives? Possibly, but I know my God and I know how to hear His voice and in the end I choose to walk in obedient trust understanding to the best of my ability what He is leading us to do. If I misstep or I fail, it won’t be for lack of trying or for lack of seeking all things His Kingdom.

There is a lot that happens around us and to us that regularly speaks to the unfaithfulness of people and even of our own unfaithfulness. Nonetheless, as followers of Christ, we must first trust in the faithfulness of our God. (Romans 3:3)

My desire is to grow in my trust and faith, so that I may live in peace always. To be able to say as Abraham – against all hope, I believe. Even when it seems or even actually looks hopeless, I will still believe in the promises and goodness of my God.

That I May Die

I recently reread the below written words of my father. They were found shortly after he passed in 2007 in a Christmas letter that was never completed, but was addressed to us – his family. I read it every year at Christmas, and every year it challenges me in a different way.

“To live is Christ, to die is gain. While I live the greatest gift I can give to anyone, including my own family, is to carry my cross He gave me upon the surrender of my life to Him – with consistent humility, self-sacrificing my own desires for the love of my Lord. The greatest gift to be given by frail humanity, even by our own family, is to live as true examples of Christ.”

It causes me to catch my breath. As I sit here in the stillness of the night, after a day filled with church planting difficulty. I found myself for probably the millionth time saying, “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS”. Yelling at God, let’s be honest, I was cursing and yelling – “I don’t have what it takes. I am not strong enough. I don’t want to sacrifice in these ways. I am already tired and we have barely started. I am calling it quits. I AM OUT.” 

And, yet, I know. I know, I know, I know. All I want is to surrender. All that I deeply desire is to obey. In the midst of the hard. When chaos ensues, and the questions are going unanswered…I just want to obey. BUT, the sacrifice. The risks we are taking…sometimes it seems too much.

Obedience was never meant to be easy. And I’ll admit after having various conversations with well-meaning individuals who are simply curious – I wonder. I wonder what do we expect of this life called faith? Are we really willing to consider what it may mean for us to “take up our cross and follow him”? I have been slightly surprised at the incredulous questions and responses we have gotten from brothers and sisters of the faith. Why? What? How? And the shock that we would leave it all and go to a place with no location and no present faith community. 

Why? He said go. Well, it should be that simple, but I find myself in my own insecurity and need to answer with something profound grasping for something tangible to give to people. I don’t know why – that maybe a profound answer will cause them to be proud of me, to think well of me -rather than to think that we may be crazy. And we may be – in fact – crazy.

But, really, He said go. Because “Christ love compels us”…to go. Because this…

“To live is Christ, to die is gain. While I live the greatest gift I can give to anyone, including my own family, is to carry my cross He gave me upon the surrender of my life to Him – with consistent humility, self-sacrificing my own desires for the love of my Lord. The greatest gift to be given by frail humanity, even by our own family, is to live as true examples of Christ.”

This is what I want for my own family, for my church family, for my friends – for those that know me well and those that don’t know me at all. 

“While I live the greatest gift I can give to anyone, including my own family, is to carry my cross He gave me upon the surrender of my life to Him – with consistent humility, self-sacrificing my own desires for the love of my Lord.”

Acts 20:22-24: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

This right here. It’s the beat of my heart. And, yet, in my own frail humanity – I have to ask. Am I enough? Do I have what it takes? Can I persevere? Nonetheless, I will go to bed tonight and I will wake up again in the morning – picking up my cross and following him. My hope is joyful surrender, not resisted obedience. However, I know I must work through the pain of the resistance. There is life and freedom in full abandonment. 

Everyday there are hard choices in front us. Choices and paths that will require sacrifice. What are the hard steps of faith he asks of you? In what ways, do you need to surrender to the full work of Christ in you? What path of dying to self do you need to take, so that you might indeed find true life?

Vulnerability Exposed

Have you ever had that horrible, awful dream where you are on stage or standing in the middle of a room and you look down and realize, “Dear God, help me. I forgot to put clothes on”?

I liken my current state of existence like that dream. We have recently made a lot of declaration of dreams and calling, and all the things we are going to change. I have taken on new leadership responsibility and expectations. Top it all off with not knowing how 2017 will turn out other than things are going to change in a big way. The pressure’s on.

And as excited as I was a few months back whenever we sat in the stillness and chatted quietly of all the dreams, hopes, and what-ifs…as it has been taken from the quiet of our home and hearts and made public for all the world to see, the glaring feeling now is that of being fully exposed.

Yeah, I know. I’m weird and too melancholy. And I wish I could say I feel all giddy, excited. I mean, I am excited. But it’s like a reserved, quiet excitement. As we turn to a new year, I wish I could say I am popping confetti, dancing with celebration of dreams yet to come true in 2017. BUT, alas, I’m not.

I felt panicked on December 31 and I secretly wished I could stop and freeze time. And sometimes I want to run the opposite direction, and let God know He messed up big time when He called this kid to do these things. I’m just being real, here. 

So, yes, I wish my melancholy self could respond differently and don’t get me wrong I try. But I’m weak. Weak when it comes to change. Weak when it means being vulnerable to failure. Weak when others might get to see that potential failure. Weak in worry, concern, or fear. Weak because I am angry that I am weak. And, yet, I read this passage this last week. 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And I was reminded of this thought, 

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. Ecclesiastes‬ ‭11:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And, I repented for my unbelief and I asked my gracious God to be just that…gracious. Patient with me in my unbelief. Understanding in my reservations. And I call to mind the hope that I have in Him. I will not always know or understand how He will provide or work it out, but He is good and He is working on my behalf and on yours. So, what if the New Year holds complete unknown and scary uncertainty-I know who holds the New Year. (as I say this with a bit of a queasy stomach)

I have learned much about vulnerability in the last 3-4 years. I have come to believe wholly and completely in living with vulnerability. And, while, I focused on living vulnerably in how I express myself, sharing my soul with others, and how I allow myself to invest in community-I am recently discovering there is another level of vulnerability that I have yet to discover. Vulnerability not just in expression, but in action as well.

Stepping out to follow a dream, taking that whisper of a hope in our soul and turning it into a loud shout off the rooftop. That’s a vulnerability that I haven’t experienced. Taking risks and chances that might turn to failure. Naming a calling that others may not understand. These are it for me. Maybe for you it’s doing something you have never done before, dealing with a relationship you have ignored, reaching out to build a friendship, starting a diet, etc. But it’s vulnerable and it makes you feel naked for all the world to see. 

I love all things stable and safe, but I don’t actually want to live my life that way. I want what God wants for me, and I am willing to pursue it wholeheartedly even if it means standing in the arena naked for all to see. 

I am reading a book that is challenging me on this right now. It’s perfect timing, and it’s confirming what God is already teaching me. In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown states this…

“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be-a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation-with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgement and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability.”

Weak, yes. But in Christ, weak is strong. Vulnerability may seem weak, but it’s boldness, courage, and strength all wrapped up in an unexpected package. And with Christ in me, I know I am not alone. Even if it all goes badly, it’s worth it to walk in obedience. And if does all go badly, there are promises of “all things working for good” when we are walking in surrender and obedience.

I guess call me “melancholy weird”, but this is where I get excited. Acknowledging my weaknesses, boldly naming them, and then waiting to see how God works in and through them.

I am scared half out of mind of a new year of the unknown. What could happen, what could change? There will be failures and disappointments along the way in 2017. Yet, I know deep in my heart there will also be big displays of God’s faithfulness, miraculous provisions along the way, deep abiding joy in doing what I’m called to do, and celebrations of dreams pursued. 

Some of you stand back and admire my vulnerability, and yet you sit on the sidelines refusing to participate in what will make you vulnerable. Others are not too concerned with this concept…saying good for you, but not for me. Some of you want to feel empathetic and even maybe feel compassionate towards my fear. Please don’t. I don’t like my fear, yet I know it’s part of living a real life in a real big way-being all in and wholeheartedly committed. And some of you, some of you know exactly what I am talking about and you stand on the precipice, waiting-deciding. Think about it. What if you jumped all in? What if you did all the things you thought you could never do-small and big? What causes you to fear? What quiet hope are you holding onto? What ways is He calling you to step out into the unknown and to brave uncertainty-asking only for dependence and surrender?

Our determination can best be found in Paul’s admonishment of “…forgetting (yet valuing) what lies behind and pressing on toward the mark”-running hard and wholeheartedly into the purposes to which God has called me. So, yes, if there is a choice between safe in my comfortable home or walking out into the middle of the arena completely vulnerable. I will take the latter. 

When Christmas Gives Way to Grief…

I find myself slightly angry every Christmas. It’s frustrating, because although I do everything within my power to counteract it-it stills boils up slightly. 

Throw in three crazy, strong-willed children, massive changes and transitions, being a bit hormonal…well, this season there are moments I am verging on crazy woman. 

Although the anger is slightly fueled by the above mentioned chaos, it primarily comes from loss. And every year, I fail to pay heed to its need to be recognized. Grief never leaves after the loss of a dear loved one. In my case, it’s my parents. In yours, maybe it was a spouse, a child, a sibling…Grief is ALWAYS there. It fades with time, the pain eases and you move forward. Yet, the sting of the loss will remain present. And it’s at these times, the holidays, where it springs from its dormant state and with its full force, knocks you off your feet.

Years after a loss, it surprises you that it can affect you the way it does. And it does affect you, every single time.

It comes out in those short tempered moments, when you feel blue but you can’t figure out why, when you look on at others with resentment. You catch yourself and think, man, what is my problem? You over-spiritualize it by thinking you need to pray more, read more scripture. You need to be grateful for what God has given you. Count your blessings, that sort of thing. We are supposed to have joy at Christmas. And while all of those things may be true, you find yourself still blue at Christmas.

The Psalmist, David, is our greatest example in scripture of one who knew how to grieve and how to rejoice. And through, Paul, we learn that it is indeed possible to be sorrowful while rejoicing.
Rejoicing through buried sorrow is not rejoicing at all. Rejoicing comes slowly, but certainly through tears streaming down your face as you miss and grieve the one now not with you, anger given words and pain given a name – all laid in the precious hands of our Emmanuel. You see, when you actually stop long enough, giving yourself permission to feel what you feel, say what you need to say…sorrow and rejoicing begin it’s collide in the arms of a Savior who loves you so deeply. You give yourself the freedom to release, and find a grace and love so tender that it takes your breath away. 

Whether it is a loss through death, a loss through a broken relationship, the missing of a loved one that just simply can’t be home at Christmas-give yourself the greatest gift this Christmas. Give yourself the gift of God’s comfort and presence. Take 5 minutes or 10, however long you need. Remember, reflect-grieve deeply. Then rejoice as you walk confidently knowing that your Savior is with you and for you. 

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