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Bookends of Beauty

I love the bride of Christ.

I know that many of you reading this have seen the ugly, the broken, the spiteful.  It has been aimed at you or someone you love and the hurt has caused so much pain that you ran.  Maybe you are still physically present, but your heart is not fully in.  I understand.  We've been in full time ministry for 23 years now.  You can't be in this type of life without experiencing some of that ugliness - or handing it our yourself. 

However, I have been reminded again recently how beautiful it can be when it is done as a picture of Him. 

In the last few churches that we have been at where Shawn has pastored we have had a point in our time there where we had to admit that we couldn't do it anymore.  These churches in the States were ones that were under redevelopment - meaning on the brink of closing for one reason or another - and we were brought in to see if there was any health left and to push it in that direction if the answer was yes.  That means that we've seen a lot of crazy things!  But we also saw things that were profound and life-giving when we were put in a position where there was nothing to do except allow ourselves to be loved.

When RJ was born with two holes in his heart, our next 6 months were a blur of weekly drives of almost 2 hours to the doctor, figuring out plans, and making sure he stayed healthy and alive.  We had 3 other kids - ages 8, 6, and 3.  Two of them were being homeschooled.  We lived in an amazing farming community and we loved these people fiercely.  We always knew they loved us - they showed us by keeping our freezer full and serving us in many ways, but never so wonderfully as during this time.  Suddenly we had people stepping in to care for the three older ones with no questions asked.  They were aunts and uncles and grandparents to them and loved them.  One time when we were gone for a good portion of the day we came back to find a huge garden planted for us!  We had decided not to do it that year because our time was so chaotic already.  Not only did they plant the garden, but they took care of it and helped with canning the harvest as it came. 

This was the same church that a year later stepped in again and paid for us to go to a marriage counseling retreat center and take some time to get ourselves healthy again.  They also surprised us when we got back from a trip once with a home makeover - painting the walls all the colors they knew I would love and giving us a few new pieces of furniture.  I felt very known and deeply loved.

The church we were at when my mom got sick and spent the summer in chemo before passing away also stepped up during this time of grief when we couldn't think straight.  It was a church of young people, and many didn't quite know how to react to me, but they loved the kids, played games with them, included them in fun things to help them not feel so confused with me gone a lot.  Loving my kids is loving me the best you possibly can. One family gave us an extra car so that I could travel to and from without leaving Shawn stranded.  It was really after this time of us being completely vulnerable to them that we started to see the church really grow. 

It left me wondering - have we often swooped in to "save the day" and allowed ourselves to be indispensable?  We started to do things differently after realizing that the church would step in when we allowed them to love us and see sometimes we were not so capable.  It is a hard thing for a pastor sometimes - to let his guard down and show that there are true weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  Shawn is really good at that - I tend to fight it a lot more when it comes to my reputation.  The truth is, these weaknesses can be a real strength.

So here we are - 4 years into time in Kenya and having this crazy kidney stone saga that has bookended our time here.  We came as evacuees to have surgery done in this crazy city knowing no one and being afraid to venture out into the place we had heard called "Nairobbery." We had zero community when we landed.  But now...

Food, meals, prayers, visitors, love in so many ways.  We just said goodnight to a family that has become our family here and came to pray over us and remind us they are here with whatever we need.  And I believe it.  Maybe by being so weak and vulnerable here at the end we have been given a beautiful gift to see God's people in action again.  Because I have not felt alone even once in all of this.  I have so many - so many- people that I can call on for big or little things and I know it will happen.  Apparently it takes a village to defeat a kidney stone!

As I look forward to our next community and the getting to know the people that will be our family and lifeline, I feel excited.  Yet I also have apprehension - everything will be new again.  It will be starting from scratch. I will have to learn the area, the people, know their lives, find their passions.  And I know that we will - we love relationships too much to not push into them deeply.  But it will take time.  I pray that our next community is one that we can get to know and be a part of for many years to come. 

For now I am just sitting here grateful and humbled.  Because you people are amazing and beautiful.  Thank you for showing us a glimpse of the face of Jesus. 


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