Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chapter Eight: Right at Home

Moving to Charlotte, Shane and I felt like we were on a mission, working for a clear purpose given by the Lord. Called away from the hometown I had known for so long, away from my family and close friends, yet I was confident we were on the right path for our lives. God provided the purpose, the way, and even provided a couch when we got there, but I was away from family and out of my comfort zone.

Several people had suggested that we find a home close to Uptown; if we didn't, the joke was, no one would come visit us. It had been a joke, but it was true and we were glad that suggestion had led us to an apartment complex less than ten miles from Uptown Charlotte. Many of our apartment neighbors were young couples enrolled in seminary and we were in proximity to many new friends. We were beginning to feel belonging in this new community.

The church members seemed excited to have Shane leading them in worship and Shane seemed so fulfilled. Watching him in action made my heart so proud, not to mention the sheer number of new songs he was writing for the church that were biblical, deep and thoughtful, "user friendly" songs for musically impaired folks like myself.

The children loved being around their new church friends (at the time there were over 150 children under 5 years old) and I was slowly getting to know the other women in the church.

For the first time I was far from home in a permanent sense. Growing up, my family wasn't always close emotionally, but always close in proximity. If I had a ballgame or pageant or other special event, my family and often extended family showed up. Their physical presence said they loved me. (Even on my wedding day, when they were not happy about my marriage, they came.) For the first time really, I couldn't be with them, and they couldn't be present with me on any regular basis. I have to say we missed free babysitters too; on our dependable ministry budget, it was still hard to afford a babysitter so Shane and I rarely had dates. God used that time to further draw Shane and I into a dependence on Him and on one another. Even so, I still dealt with guilt over denying grandparents and great-grandparents the privilege of seeing their grandchildren and because of distance, my not being able to see family for every birthday or life event.

My parents came a couple of times within our first six months being in Charlotte, but my three living grandparents couldn't come on their own. I missed them. We made it back to Tennessee for a late Christmas with our families and excitedly announced the coming of our third child.

We traveled back to Charlotte and began the new year. As my baby belly grew, so did our excitement for expanding our family. We had a scare early on in the pregnancy when I bled for fifteen days. Even though my doctor saw nothing alarming on the ultrasound, we were driven to our knees. By God's grace, the bleeding stopped and we anxiously awaited the arrival of our newborn child. In May, we traveled back to Tennessee for my sister's college graduation knowing the next time we came, our family would be bigger.

As my due date approached, I began to feel homesick. I knew most of my family couldn't travel to see me when the baby arrived because of other obligations at home. A welcomed distraction came when Shane said some college missionaries who had been working on the hurricane Katrina recovery would be traveling through Charlotte and needed a place to stop and shower before they lodged for the night. Shane spoke of one of the students who was reportedly disfigured and sensitive, so we prepared our children for how to respond. The day of their arrival came and as always when guests are coming, I cleaned our home from top to bottom. While I was in the kitchen making a batch of cookies, Shane called to tell me they had arrived, and I should make the children go to the back bedroom for a moment to prepare them. I told the kids to go back to my room. While I was quickly finishing up the cookies, Shane came in with the people, I walked into the living room and there stood.......two of my grandparents with my parents!

I was literally speechless. Then I began weeping. I had known Shane long enough to see through his lying jokes, but never saw this one coming. Shane had concocted the whole plan right down to the disfigured guy (so the kids wouldn't spoil the surprise when they saw everyone enter). My parents were in on it too, and my mom, knowing I'd panic if they showed up and I hadn't cleaned, told Shane to say something that would get me to clean up before they arrived. Shane cannot keep a surprise to himself; that showed an exorbitant amount of restraint on his part. What a gift!

That was one of those moments I really, deeply felt loved. In those kind of moments I get a glimpse of the real love of my Heavenly Father and know that He is my true home.

"There are no 'if's' in God's world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety - let us pray that we may always know it!"
— Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place)

"If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. If you look at God you'll be at rest." Corrie Ten Boom, Nazi camp survivor

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
— C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chapter Seven: Couches

When Shane and I had come home from our honeymoon back in the summer of 1999, he immediately had to catch a bus or plane - I can't remember- to New York to play guitar for a country group. We weren't used to living together, so it didn't bother us being apart for a few days. I was excited to set up our little apartment. Always looking for a good deal, I went to a few yard sales that Saturday and was so excited to find a clean little loveseat that fit perfectly in our living room, never mind the country blue plaid fabric that had obviously adorned it for many years. I managed to find a slipcover for it on clearance and as most slipcovers go, it looked nice when no one had been sitting on it.

Four years later in anticipation of our move to Charlotte, we had sold many of our belongings including our full size couch, but decided to keep our little loveseat. Anticipating Shane's final commission check from Dell, we thought we might purchase a new couch when we settled into our new home, a very beige two bedroom apartment.

We arrived on a rainy July day, greeted by our new neighbor and another church family who brought us pizza. Much later, the movers arrived with our belongings and we began to arrange what little furniture we had. I have a flare for interior design - though never have the budget to do what's in my imagination - and could only laugh at our little blue plaid loveseat that sat in our new living room.

I was disappointed when I learned that because of the timing of leaving Dell, we would not receive that final commission check and that meant - no new couch. Our little loveseat was cozy for Shane and I with the two children on our laps, but when new friends came to visit, seating was limited. Our new church had a website with classified listings so I took a chance and posted a "gently used couch wanted for purchase" ad, hoping to find more seating for us at a bargain price.

Working with a meager budget for the past ten years, I've become even more thrifty, shopping at tag sales and thrift stores, finding deals on ebay and even attempting to sew my own curtains. I usually get new clothes around my birthday and Christmas and don't have time or the budget to shop very often. I am in the habit of identifying real "needs" verses wants and I'm usually okay with this lifestyle; it makes finding bargains a game. Yet, so often I have my secret little internal list of material things I want. Most of the time I don't even realize I have a list until my mom calls wanting to know what I would like for Christmas. In my life I've always prayed for the big picture things: health, financial provision, food, etc., but the little things, especially material things that aren't truly "needs" I tend to not submit those requests to the Lord in prayer. I always thought those requests were petty and a waste of time.

About five months had passed into our Charlotte adventure and I wasn't thinking about a couch and had forgotten about my classified listing when the phone rang. A woman from church was calling to ask if we'd like her couch; she had new ones arriving that day and wanted to give us her old one! Her husband delivered it to us later that night. It looked brand new and was gorgeous; I was elated.

As silly as it seems, I know God used that gift of a new couch to show me that He knows me intimately. He knows my thoughts and the desires of my heart....even the material ones that I don't think matter and am too stubborn to ask Him to provide. I am His child and I do matter to my Lord. How often I forget!

Once again, He had provided for us in a real, tangible way by a seemingly "random" phone call. Nowadays, I never know what to expect when the phone rings!

And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:30-31

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chapter Six: "God Move Me"

For old times' sake, the other day I chose to drive my husband's car, the 1998 Honda Civic that was my college car. The engine stutters, the axles creak and even after several years have past, it still smells of Shane's pizza delivery days...

Back then, confident that I needed to be home with my two children, Maddie, two and a half, and Jonathan, ten months old, we were surviving. I longed to contribute to our financial stability. Shane was making a meager eight dollars an hour delivering radiators during the day and pizza at night, and I began babysitting a little boy a couple days a week in our home. There were days we literally scrounged around for change to buy a loaf of bread while we awaited the next payday. We were struggling, but happy to be together.

Shane was always coming home telling me about the interesting people he had met in a car shop or at their front door: immigrants, cancer patients, loners, the elderly, and young families like us. Spending so much time in the car, Shane was listening to radio shows and tapes that strengthened his fervor for the gospel, for people (and for politics too, I might add). Though happy he was working hard to provide for us, I knew he didn't feel fulfilled. Internally creating a secret list of possible solutions to get us out of this poverty occupied my thoughts constantly.

Trying to see the big picture of our life together and God's plan in our mess of debt and our struggle to make it through each month, I felt unsettled and Shane was feeling it too. Our pastor encouraged Shane to explore the possibility of becoming a worship director by looking into open positions and learning what qualifications they required. He contacted a few churches; some were encouraging and some blew him off. Eventually, he decided not just to put music on the back burner, but scrap it all together and search for a "real" job that would provide well for our family. He got hired through a temp agency that employed at Dell computer and within a couple of months he had been officially hired by Dell. Quickly he became one of their top four salesmen. Commission checks were finally trickling in and we were feeling hopeful about getting back on track, moving away from the struggle and being secure financially.

I had every reason to be hopeful, but I was sad. I couldn't understand why God would have given Shane the gift of music and let it go to waste. In college, I had struggled to pick a major because I've always been able to do well in different areas, but no one "gift" or calling ever stood out for me. I have always admired Shane for recognizing his God-given gifts and trying to use them. He is an excellent guitar player, singer, and writer. He can pick up almost any instrument and play it well and he literally hears music in his head. Those gifts are not man made or learned.

I felt unsettled. I didn't think God wanted us to stay in my hometown and I was afraid Shane would grow to resent me and the children for giving up his musicianship. One night, finally giving up on my attempts to come up with a plan of action on my own, I prayed. I simply prayed, "God, move me, settle us down where you want us to be and please use Shane's music to bring glory to your name."

Early the next morning while we were still in bed, the phone rang. Shane stumbled to kitchen to answer. A few minutes later he returned to our room. With a smile on his face, he said "Would you want to move to Charlotte, North Carolina?" What?! He explained to me that the person on the phone was someone to whom he'd briefly spoken about a worship director position months before. It turned out to be the church that had blown him off, telling him that they had two other candidates lined up and were certain that one of them would work out. The elder who had called had written our number from his caller i.d. on a post-it note. A couple months passed, the other candidates did not work out, and he found the note stuck to a tennis racket when he was cleaning out his car. He was calling to ask if Shane was still interested in the position. Of course!

I was astounded and knew immediately that God was working to actually "move" us! When I had prayed the evening before, I was thinking "move us to Nashville, Franklin, Bellevue, ...", never out of state, out of my comfort zone!

After several long phone interviews, the church in Charlotte flew both of us out for formal interviews. We returned home excited and feeling called to Charlotte. A couple weeks later they flew Shane back out for one final interview and offered him the job.

"Why would we move away from a profitable job with great benefits, the promises of prize money and commissions, and the soon to be realized potential of a six figure job?" our families and common sense would challenge. Why? Because we had no doubt that God was leading us there!

Twice now, God had used what seemed to be "random" phone calls to give us a clear, tangible, answers to prayers. On our own, we wouldn't have followed Him. But God, is sovereign over all and HE had given us the faith, the confidence to follow through with His perfect plan.

By July, Shane had moved to Charlotte and was coming back for us a couple weeks later. Heavy hearted leaving friends and family, on that steamy July day, we set out to Charlotte in the old Lumina my parents had given us a year or so before. By that summer in 2005, the air conditioning didn't work and the car often over-heated, but that day on the way to Charlotte a cloud followed over us keeping Shane and I and our two little ones comfortable. God hadn't given us a ticket out of our struggles, but a ticket to His plan of redemption and sanctification for our lives, keeping us dependent on Himself.

God has continued to -what I like to call- "wink" at us with His specific answers to prayers. In big, life-changing ways, and in small everyday ways He is there reminding me to trust Him. He is always faithful to me even when my heart, my thoughts, my works stray.

Today, I encourage you to listen to the song "He's Always Been Faithful" by Sara Groves in the video below. Reflect on and ponder the lyrics; it is a favorite of mine and has spoken true in my life.

Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps and connect the dots for His perfect story of my life....