Digging new roots and creating a new home

In 10 days it will have been 3 months since our mini van with smudged windows filled with dinosaur stickers and sticky cup holders rolled into town. Into Twin Falls, Idaho. A place my feet had never once walked before. And as the van doors opened, out fell stiff and sore and excited and frazzled and cranky and relieved new residents. Soon to be Idahoans whose Indianan license plate exposed just how far they’d come and just how foreign they were.

To jump right in I’ll just say our entry into town was far from perfect. My (saint of a) mom was driving and I was in the back seat seeking to console a “been over this driving thing for 3 days already” baby. It was like I barely blinked after hearing we made it to town, looked up, and we were at our new house. Wait, did we cross over that huge bridge already? Where was the canyon? What did our street look like? Oh, here we are. There’s our house. A house that did not give a very warm welcome. But it didn’t take long to realize that being on the brink of breakdown was about much more than just the house. Granted, it was a house that I had no earthly idea how it was ever going to feel like my own, but it really was just the tip of the iceberg. It was the culmination of a major life transition. Of leaving a life we had grown to love. It was the physical and emotional and mental fatigue all catching up with me. The disappointment (and the dirt) of a house exposed how much was stuffed inside me during the whirlwind of a 1,752 mile move.

Looking back at those first days I’m reminded of a couple things. One is that downplaying the initial struggles and emotions of life in a new place isn’t helpful or necessary. A newer friend who had also moved out here responded to my hesitation to the question “what did you think of your house?” with an “it’s okay to say you hated it.” He happened to say exactly what I needed to hear. It was okay to simply say that something was hard. Admitting the struggles didn’t mean I did not or would not like it here. And even more importantly, it didn’t mean we weren’t supposed to be here.

The other thing I’m reminded of is that first feelings aren’t everything. I think so often we give moments of life pass or fail grades based off of the expectation our mind had preassigned to it. We think these not-lived-up-to “grand moments” are either a sign that we took a wrong turn or an indicator that the rest of what follows is going to go a certain way. But initial instances aren’t always punishments for the past or predictors for the future. We can acknowledge the ugly parts and call them what they are without assigning to them the final say. Big moments that give birth to something new may not hold the immediate magic we hoped for. But, the millions of small moments that flow out of it just might bring a kind of beauty we never could have imagined. Here is a sort of recap of the moments-of-beauty that have followed. Of the struggles and the sweetness. Or the sweetness in the struggles. Or the struggles in the sweetness. However you look at it, as is often the case, they have been inextricably linked.

The struggles

Our first months here have been woven with sickness. Our very first Sunday was one of those built up “moments of magic.” It was a day to rightly be excited for. To finally meet everyone from the Bible study that would soon become our church, and we would even get to kick it all off by celebrating Easter Sunday with them. Instead, our family was sick in bed. From there it was like every bug known to mankind took us all (including our new community) out in ruthless rounds. It was non stop for weeks at a time. Then Mother’s Day weekend I was extremely sick with what I thought was the last bout of the bug but but ended up needing gallbladder surgery.

We were so ready to hit the ground running with house work and relationship building and town exploring, but it was as if every time our feet hit the ground another sickness stepped in and blocked our way. It felt like set back after set back in some senses.

But if I’m being honest these times of being sick over our new toilet (ew sorry) or hospitalized in our new town weren’t really the biggest struggles. As a wise friend put it, sometimes it can be easier to trace Gods hand in the big moments. And it was. Even in the midst of the accompanying weariness and exhaustion, we were able to really and deeply rest in God’s unshakable plans which flow out of His gentle and good heart. We were guarded in His peace and protection and aware of his very evident provision.

The harder place to trace His steady hand linked to His kind heart has actually been within the walls of our home. Not because of the house itself, but because of the hearts that now live within it. Changing physical location doesn’t actually change our inward station. No doubt it can be an opportunity to start fresh and establish new patterns. But our failing and fickle human hearts follow us wherever we go. So we are still battling the same daily struggles and sins. We are still figuring out how to function as a family of 5 and prioritize our marriage of 2. We are seeing how clunky it can feel to incorporate old traditions while also seeking to introduce new ones. We are relearning for the 100th time how disciplines don’t just wedge their way into our lives but how we wedge our lives around them. And we’re discovering how long it can take to find daily routines and rhythms and to settle into a new sense of normalcy.

I have witnessed yet again that this is where God meets us. Not just in the dire moments laying in the hospital bed (which I’m so glad He meets us here too!) but in the tantrums (toddler ones or our own) and the nights of tossing and turning and the body aches no one else can see and the marital tension that know one else knows you both feel and the “not so sure this too shall pass” phase that your child is going through. He breaks into the moments where the meal was thankless and the milk was spilt. Again. He dwells in the highest heights yet reaches into the lowest lows. He led us here and will not leave us here. He goes before us and He will stay beside us. Come what may this is what we can bank our lives on- our deeply established or totally uprooted- lives. He stoops low to dwell among us.

The sweetness

The point of following after Jesus isn’t to get the good. Well, we are promised that all things will work out for our true good, but that good can look so far from our human idea of it that we might not recognize it at all. Obedience does not always, or maybe often, result in ease. Walking in faith does not guarantee momentary satisfaction. Not physical health and wealth and not even relational or emotional health and wealth. So while walking in faith led us to Twin Falls, we knew the promise wasn’t that we’d just “love it here” or that it would “be the best fit for us.”But oh how we really do and oh how it really has been. The sweetness has undeniably shown through these months. It has shined so brightly.

We saw it in the familiar faces of friends that had been waiting for us to join them here. In their comforting hugs and their warm house to sleep in that felt like home. We saw it in the hands that were reaching out to meet us for the first time and the same hands that turned around to unload our truckload of moving boxes. We saw it in the soup and flowers and saltines and sprites left at our door step. We saw it in our kids secure smiles and excited eyes. We saw it when we drove around town and it instantly somehow all just made sense for our family. We saw it on our first hike when we breathed in fresh air and breathed out sighs of relief. We saw it from the bottom of the canyon and the top of the waterfall. We saw it, I mean really saw it, in the hospital stay and recovery days. In our genuinely caring nurses. In a really nice and new facility. In pain meds. In amazing surgeons. In our new pastor who came to pray with me in my hospital bed. In text messages checking on us and meals being brought to us and childcare being provided for us. In relationships that were founded uniquely on the opportunity for others to help and us to be helped. We’ve seen it by how naturally we love this place, but mostly by how quickly we feel a part of these people. These people who are both seeking and creating a really special community.

We have seen it in the sweetness of a baby church. A brand new, 16 member, was a Bible study now a constituted and covenanted, church. And by sweetness I don’t mean in an “oh how cute” kind of way but a “wow how powerful” kind of way. Because a church is a church no matter how small. This little church we get to be a part of is an earthly embassy of a heavenly kingdom. A beautiful bride. A bound together, blood bought, body learning to function together as one. A people bearing up each other’s burdens, cheering on each other’s celebrations, and endeavoring together to live and love and share the gospel. An unlikely group gathered around the same Savior, sitting under the same Word, and living in the same Spirit.

All in all, we have seen the sweetness of Christ building His own church. It’s His church and not any of our own. And it’s been sweet, so very sweet, to see it being built from the ground up. Witnessing the church’s very first baptism, partaking of the church’s very first Lords Supper, and reciting our covenant to one another for the very first time.

In both the struggles and the sweetness we are confident that we are right where we’re supposed to be.

Saying goodbye to the church I’ve grown to love

Eight and a half years ago I moved to Louisville KY as a bright eyed college student ready to find the church of my own choosing. I hadn’t thought about the specifics, but I knew I wanted something fresh. I was leery of what I thought “traditional” meant: stale and cold and rote. To put it plainly and honestly, I set out to find a really “cool” church. But as God would have it, I walked in the doors of Third Avenue Baptist Church.

At the time the carpet was red and the baptistery had matching curtains. There were pews and suits and lots of ESV Bibles. There was standing up and sitting down. There were hymns. There was somberness. There were 4 singers lined up off to the side of the stage and hidden behind them was instruments and their players. Everyone, including those singers up front, were looking down at the words of their bulletins as they sang. The pastor wore a suit and a tie. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the rockin’ church I expected. I wasn’t blown away. I wasn’t immediately wowed. It wasn’t love at first sight. But for some reason, I kept going back. And at the time I couldn’t even tell you why; especially when my 3am Saturday night paper writing self kept nodding off during the longest sermons I had ever sat through in my life.

But now I see it more clearly. It wasn’t about stylistic preferences or aesthetics or the fuzzy feelings I left with. I think ever so slowly and subtly it was the people. They are what kept bringing me back. The people who saw the invisible line I was drawing between me and the exit door and who stood in the middle of it. The people who held out a hand and introduced themselves. The people who invited me to Sunday lunch down the road. The people whose lives were so clearly intertwined with one another already, yet still welcomed me, a mere stranger. They were like a family. But not the closed off kind. So as cliche as it sounds, their love won me over. And I wanted in on it. So I kept going back.

And now, hundreds of introductions and invites and (wakeful) sermons later, I am saying goodbye as my family and I move out of state. And in the bittersweet process of leaving I’m reflecting on what this place, no really these people, have forever impressed upon my understanding of what a healthy church is.

Intentionality doesn’t have to mean originality

While the family like feel of this church slowly started to warm my heart, the evident intentionality behind why they did what they did quickly eased my mind. It also corrected it. It exposed the equation my mind had made that repetition and liturgy meant disingenuous. I quickly saw that nothing at Third Avenue was done a certain way just because “it’s the way it’s always been.” Everything, from the singers on the side of the stage to the timing of each pause between transitions, was done with a purpose. Actions that were born out of purposes and purposes that were born out core values and commitments and covenants. Overall, it was all done in order to lift up feeble and weary and longing eyes to the reigning King of Kings.

The body is broken and beautiful

It didn’t take long for me to become proud to call this church my own. The intentionality, the solid teaching, the intellectual depth, the out-working of love for each other and for neighbors and for the nations. But it took many years for me to see that I was still referring to this church in terms of “they” and not so much in terms of “we.” I felt a little more like an admirer from afar and not a family member from within. But then. It was then that I decided to dig in deep. To be close enough to really find out and really be found out. To know and be known. Turns out, this really extraordinary place was made up of pretty ordinary people. Flawed and quirky and struggling and sinful human beings all fumbling to the cross, together. But it was more beautiful than I ever could have seen from staying on the outside. The exterior was polished and pretty but the interior was full of a kind of beauty and wonder that was other-worldly. It was rich and messy and hard, and so very glorious.

Worship isn’t only personal

Something seemingly very strange that stood out to me from the beginning was that if people were not looking down at their bulletins while singing, they were looking around at one another. I came to find out that these people weren’t looking around because they were distracted or because they were trying to find the person who they were saving a seat for or because they were just plain strange. They were looking around as if to say “come on church, sing it with me.” As if to declare that we are in the waiting and working and worshipping, together. As if to scan the room and catch a glorious glimpse and tiny taste of the kind of diversity that will all be gathered around the throne some day with unhindered voices. I’ve grown in understanding that while the Christian life is intimately personal it is also intensely corporate. Whether on a Sunday morning gathered or a weekday evening scattered, we sing songs loudly and we fight sin seriously and we pursue spiritual disciplines gladly, both with one another and for one another. Because one single ligament affects the whole body.

The Word speaks for itself

Matt Smethurst says “I don’t remember 99% of the meals I’ve eaten, but they’ve kept me alive. God uses faithful, forgettable sermons to beautify his bride.” While so many of pastor Greg’s abrupt motions and rich realities and simple sub points will not be easily forgotten, this statement by Matt expresses so well what I believe has happened inside of me as I’ve sat under the preached Word of God. What may have been momentarily forgettable in my mind has made an eternal impact in my soul. In my most unbiased opinion, Greg Gilbert is an exceptionally gifted preacher. But my time at Third hasn’t left me more reliant on him. It’s left me more reliant on Gods Word. Because that’s all he’s done time and time and time again: open up ancient and active Words and let them do their job. The job of convicting and comforting and saving and sustaining. I’ve witnessed how the gospel being preached from the pulpit brings a dead heart to life. My pastors haven’t done anything fancy but they’ve done something that is faithful. And by the grace of God, I have once again been a recipient of this powerful and precious thing called faithful preaching. And I will never be the same because of it.

Unity is a gift that is graciously given and fiercely fought for

I will not quickly forget the picture my pastor once laid out about the enemy planting grumbling and gossiping bombs all around us and among us. All it takes is a slanderous whisper, a biting comeback, an unchecked assumption, or an intentionally exclusive invite for little explosions to lie in wait. Slowly cracking and corroding and corrupting Jesus’ blood bought unity. So we pray for God to grant it and we work hard to protect it. I’ve witnessed firsthand how unity doesn’t mean we check all the same political or theological or life station boxes but it means that we all set aside our preferences and differences to bow down before the cross of Christ. And it is there, at the foot of the cross, that our unity is created and found and kept.

Serving is not for me

My once needed-and-noticed pastors daughter self sat in a Third Avenue members interview being asked if I, along with all other men and women in the church, would volunteer in the nursery and join a home group. Uhh. That’s it? That’s your serving opportunities? Yet it was through this process I learned the valuable distinction between being important and being indispensable. I learned that I could freely love those in my circle while also knowing that the whole of my church would carry on without a slight hinge when I left it. I became painfully aware that far too often I wanted to give with the subtle desire to gain. Be it public recognition or personal satisfaction. This drove me to see the beauty in serving quietly and averagely and ordinarily in a church that didn’t really “need” me. At least not in all the ways I wanted to be needed. Because the reality is that where there are people, there are needs. There are kids to be watched and meals to be delivered and houses to practice hospitality in and sufferers to sit with. It was so very good for me to learn how to serve in the shadows by simply showing up.

Love welcomes in and sends out

When I joined Third Avenue eight years ago I had no intention of sticking around for so long. Yet many years later when we settled in and started raising a family I had no idea we would leave so quickly. So much has happened in these eight years yet it feels like we’ve just barely gotten started. We never thought we’d stay, but once we stayed, we never really thought we’d leave. And now here we are. Along with so many others in this uniquely transient church. In a church where people are stayers longer than planned and goers more quickly than expected. Along with missionaries and pastors and planters being flung out all around the globe. Along with those moving back to be closer to family. Along with those joining up with other churches. It can be hard to love by letting people in. It can be even harder to love by letting them leave. This church, my church, has taught me how to embrace the coming and the going. How to latch on and how to let go.

And now, the hands that brought us in gently are the same hands that send us out gladly. So we go. With this piece of Third Avenue DNA that we will always carry with us. That we will always seek to insert and implant where we can.

Not because she is a flawless bride but because she clings to a faithful Christ.

6 years, 6 lessons

1. Protect each other’s limits

Something Kyle and I have been learning over the years is that we have different limits than others, including one another. This year particularly we have grown in applying that knowledge of each other’s limits. In not only acknowledging them but moving into an acceptance of them and then acting in a way that promotes and protects them. In letting our spouse draw their own boundaries and then helping to keep them.

More personally, for me to lovingly respect Kyle’s limits often means gladly and graciously cutting off a show to make sure he gets the sleep he needs. Or recognizing his signs of word fatigue and being willing to cut off a conversation and pick it up again later. For Kyle to loving respect my limits it often means gladly and graciously cutting work hours to make sure I get the rest and reprieve I need from home life. Or recognizing my signs of social fatigue and being willing to say no to a get together with friends and planning one for another time. We all have different capacities. And they matter. We have grown in seeing how failing to respect and protect those capacities can produce burn out and break down. Yet on the other hand, how fighting to respect and protect those capacities can produce health and wholeness.

2. Push each other’s limits

While we have seen the necessity of protecting limits we have also seen the benefit of pushing them. Like in all of marriage, promoting and protecting can create the kind of trust that is required for pushing. We are more likely to allow those who selflessly serve us to also stretch us. Serving does not shove. It does not obtrude or insist. It sees what is good for the other and it gently nudges and urges towards that end. It even reaches out a hand and walks to it together. We are finding, often by failure, that there is a way to serve your spouse based off the knowledge of how they are naturally wired to be yet also a way to push them based off who you know they can be and are still becoming.

Practically put, based off of my above examples, I sometimes stay at things longer than I want to and Kyle sometimes sleeps less than he prefers to. I’m in go-go mode more than is comfortable and he listens for longer than is natural. Sometimes we ask this limit pushing of one another with our words and other times we require it of one another with our actions. This kind of stretching and strengthening is being produced in us slowly and subtly. It is kindly and carefully pushing the line of our limit outward. It is increasing our capacity. It is helping us to flex a weak muscle. It is changing us and challenging us in ways we wouldn’t have been. And we are better because of it.

3. Don’t forget to look

I wrote a whole blog on this a few years ago so I’m just going to quote a part of it because after this year with more work hours, more commitments, and more kids this has never been more pertinent —

“There are three words that have the potential and power to bring some meaning in the mundane and some calm in the chaos. And mostly they have a way of re-connecting two people who are already one, but may feel miles apart… I see you. Behind the work clothes you put on every morning and behind that spit up filled t-shirt. I see you. Underneath loads of laundry and stacked up dishes. I see you. With a greeting at the door after a long day. I see you. When you watch with pride or cower in fear. I see you. Having a dance party in the kitchen or disciplining in the back room. I see you. With tired or tear filled eyes. With stretched or scarred skin. With a heavy or happy heart. I see you. Not just the ways you give and the things you do. But you. A person. My person.”

We are ever learning that marriage is about making the choice to re-see each other again and again and again.

4. Put it plainly

Even after many years with a person, it can feel uncomfortable to point blank say what we want. To quite literally spell it out. As in “I really want to spend intentional time with you tonight,” or “it would mean a lot if you would comment on my appearance more” or “it seems like you’re not pulling your weight around the house as much.” I may or may not have been known to even say “THE NOTE (you know that theoretical one that will be real some day) CAN LITERALLY SAY ‘I LOVE YOU, HAVE A GOOD DAY.’ THATS IT. THATS ALL.”

Sometimes spelling it out makes us feel pathetic. Pathetic that we care so much about seven actual words being written to us on a page and left before work but also pathetic that at this point I might as well have just done it for you and pretended it was from you. But the truth is that sometimes the best way to get from where we are to where we want to be is just to lay out the path plainly. Vague hint dropping doesn’t tend to build the best bridges. That doesn’t mean our spouse didn’t care enough to see what was on the other side, it just might mean that they didn’t quite know how to get you there on their own. Prompting and planning do not have to make things disingenuous. Therefore we can still gratefully and graciously receive them for what they are.

5. Schedule the things that matter

Kyle and I both tend to balk at the idea of being planners. As if being described as one is somehow an insult. But we’ve learned the hard way that whether it’s a date night out or a game night in, life doesn’t tend to do us the courtesy of interrupting itself to present a magical moment of deep marital connection. Moments, ones of investing and enjoying and resting, mostly seem to come from carving out time and then committing to it. From sinking calendars together and setting reminders. This boring and rigid thing called planning actually ends up producing an eager anticipation for the weekly routines and the monthly rhythms and the yearly traditions. For the late Friday nights and the slow Saturday mornings. For the folding of laundry together and the texts that say “let’s sit down tonight and check in with each other.” This year particularly it has looked like sitting down every Sunday night to talk about each day of the upcoming week. To try and pencil plans in according to priorities. And oh how I’ve come to look forward to those beautifully boring Sunday nights of planning and praying with my husband.

I think overall what I’m trying to say is that we’re still learning that relationships are just not as glamorous or spontaneous or romanticized as we like to think they are or should be. That it really takes ordinary people doing ordinary things. It’s mundane and adultish and slightly disappointing. But maybe extraordinary marriages are really just made up of lots of little ordinaries through the years. The little ordinaries that become extra ordinaries.

6. Time really is a good teacher

Recently a quote was shared with Kyle that says, “in marriage there are good years and bad years. This was a very good year.” As I’ve been thinking about the tension of time, particularly as it collides with marriage, I thought there really wasn’t an easier or better way to state it. Marriage is up and down, back and forth, round and round. It is not so much a steady climb or upward trajectory. After all, nothing in life is always and only moving in one set direction.

Yet I think there is another element to time that comes into play. It’s the reality that, in general, time really does change things. And us. I’ve always found it a bit disheartening when people offer advice and encouragement in the form of “it just takes time.” But I get. Because it’s true. Time does have its own unique way of helping and healing and strengthening. Time takes… time. We cannot speed it up. But on our 6th Anniversary I can say that Kyle and I have already been married for long enough to at least begin seeing that life together is full of reoccurrences. Reoccurrences that allow us to keep revising and keep messing up and then keep trying again.

Whether it’s painting a room, hosting a guest, having a baby, or planning for a birthday party… the more times we do something the easier it typically becomes. The twentieth time may not seem as exhilarating as the first, but it usually seems to feel richer and go smoother. Because time teaches some tricks of the trade. It allows us to see where we can bend and where they might break. It shows us how to come out next time and play better as a team. It reminds us what really matters. It allows us to step back and see how much we’ve grown and how far we’ve come. And then it gives us hope for how far we have yet to go.

Because time really does change things.