Sandi and I met at Bethesda Baptist Church (near Detroit) just before Christmas in 1981 (almost 33 years ago now, how is that even possible?) I was 14 and she was 12. A romance began the following spring that swept us both off our feet. We saw each other at church and youth group every week. We talked on the phone almost every day.
By the time I graduated high school in 1985 we viewed ourselves as leaders and shepherds for the other students in our youth ministry. In fact, we believed that God had brought us together for that purpose. A vision was birthed in our hearts that someday God would use us as a team to strengthen Christians and share the good news of Jesus with spiritual explorers in a compelling way.
Fast forward to 1989. I graduated college in May and we were married on August 19th. The following year we began investing in middle school and high school students. For the next 8 years we served in youth ministry while Sandi finished college, I completed seminary, and we started a family. These were incredibly fruitful years for us – we were actually experiencing the fulfillment of that youthful vision.
In 1998 we moved to a new town and planted a church. More fruit. More vision alignment. Lots of people growing in their faith and meeting Jesus for the first time in a personal way.
And then, in 2002 it all came crashing down. I experienced burn out as a pastor of this young church, and an extended period of depression followed. Those were some very dark days for us. The beautiful vision that had propelled us for over 15 years simply died, and we were hanging on for dear life.
We limped along for the next 5 years. I started a painting business to pay the bills, Sandi went to work in technology sales, and we focused on survival. We couldn’t talk about ministry, or church, or anything that reminded us of the calling we thought God had placed on our lives as teenagers. It was too painful. Our grief was too profound.
But God, in time, brought healing. Through counseling, hundreds of miles walking through our neighborhood, and a few older mentors speaking into our lives, we began to believe again. Maybe God wasn’t through with us after all. Maybe he still wanted to use us – just in a different way than we imagined. Our faith and courage began to grow and deepen, and by the spring of 2013 we were ready to jump back into the deep end with both feet. We packed up our family, said a very painful goodbye to our oldest daughter and my sick father, and moved to South Carolina to pursue an opportunity that we believed would get us back on track.
Our first year in Pawleys Island held so much promise that we purchased a home and began putting down roots. This felt like a second chance for us, and we didn’t want to miss it (in spite of the high price we were paying relationally and emotionally living over 800 miles from family). As we began year two the ministry organization that we both worked for started to unravel, and soon we were both out of a job.
I went back to my long standing relationship with the Missionary Church, began coaching Christian leaders, and revived my painting business. 2 weeks ago Sandi took a full time job locally in sales. And, while we feel incredibly grateful for God’s provision, we are incredibly saddened by what feels like a second death of the vision. Once again I am mostly on my own in ministry while Sandi works full time. By the time dinner dishes are put away and we do our best to parent two teenagers and one college student, there isn’t much time or energy left over.
- “What does this mean?”
- “What are we going to do?”
- “Why did God bring us all the way down to South Carolina?”
- “Is it time to just accept reality and forget about the vision?”
These are the questions we have wrestled with in recent weeks. And, I will be honest, I’ve had moments of deep despair. There have been days I have doubted God’s love and wisdom. There have been days I have felt like such a fool for leading my family on this rabbit trail south to what appears to be a dead end.
But, last night Sandi and I took an hour long walk in the rain. And, as we splashed through the muddy streets of Hagley, God opened my eyes to a few things. These few things will be game changers for us. And I will write about them very soon…