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.

Year 29: mottos and mantras

For my birthday this year I decided to jot down some mottos and mantras that I want to mark, at least in part, year 29. This is not intended to be a list of the deepest or truest things about me. Rather it is a small sampling of go-to phrases that I have or do seek to speak into existence in my own life. Some are old, some are new, some are borrowed… and none are really blue. But maybe they will resonate with you too. Or spur you on to come up with your own.

Thanks, friends, for another year of journeying with me and for counting the words I write as valuable of your time and brain space. There are so many voices.. thank you for listening to mine. It’s a humbling gift so many of you have chosen to give me through the years. And I don’t take it lightly.

YEAR 29 HERE WE GOOO.

I do not have to bow down to my feelings nor kick them to the side

It’s true that sometimes emotions need a reset. A walk, a talk, or simply a really good night of sleep. It’s a wonder how emotions can look so different on the other side of them. Often, momentary emotion does not have the best depth perception or offer the most accurate vantage point. But, on the flip side, I’ve realized the harmful mentality of I am/you are “just being emotional.” As if emotions are categorically irrational or misguided. Sure they can result in irrationality or misguidance, but they themselves, are not. Therefore they are not to be discarded as inferiority or weakness.

29 year old Natalie wants to do better about saying things to myself and to others like “yes I’m feeling really emotional about this, but it doesn’t mean what I’m saying isn’t accurate or valid or necessary.” Boiling blood can lead to battle. Sorrow can lead to empathy. Grief can lead to depth. Exuberant happiness can lead to lifting and lightening spirits.

My emotions aren’t “too much.” They are dreadful masters, but they are powerful guides. And they should know their place, and then take it.

I am a joyful wife and mom

I heard this mantra recently and it resonated with me immediately. Not because I always am, but because I want to be. Because I want to change some deeply rooted projections and perceptions of myself as a sort of “kill joy” mom or wife. And rewrite them. I all too often see myself as an uptight and impatient mom. Or a nagging and neglectful wife. I want to be a wife and a mom who spreads smiles. Who is playful. Who laughs without fear of the future. Who enjoys. Who embraces. Who is simply a pleasant presence. Who is grateful. Who is deeply rooted in peace which finds its expression in joy. I am these things, and want to become them more.

My 29 year old self will continue to speak into who I want to be “Nat, you are a joyful wife and mom.” To write it in my journal every morning. To pep talk it to myself in the mirror. To sticky note it above my sink. To ask the presence of Jesus and his unshakable joy to permeate all I am and all I do. Won’t He do it.

Good for her, not for me

I also heard this one a while ago and am claiming it as my own. This isn’t a snarky “good for her” or an ashamed “not for me.” It is a realization that some things work for others that don’t work the same for us. It is a reckoning with the reality that their good isn’t always the same as my good. It is being able to genuinely cheer others on while simultaneously having security in the way we ourselves choose to do something. It’s a claim that declares that self worth is not decreased or elevated by comparison to another person.

29 year old me is striving to look at another woman’s life, choices, successes and set up and humbly yet confidently say “good for her, not for me.”

Jesus cares about them, or that, more than I do

Although I would never flat out say that I’m “better” than God at anything, I sure can live like it and think like it. I can let myself believe that I am somehow filling in the gaps of His own lack. Maybe I proclaim that holistically he is “more than” me, but in the day to day I can live like justice will not prevail, mercy will not win, and compassion will not be extended, if I myself do not do it. But I’ve been humbly reminded again and again this past year that His heart is the pure original and mine is but a pale reflection. He is all good things in their fullest form. He made good things have their form and he himself is their form.

My 29 year old self will fight to remember that I am called to carry out the heart of God. To be hands and feet. But by no means do I myself make up the heart of God. His heart, in pale and part, is made up in me. And I will preach the gospel to myself that the very heart of God is what sent his innocent son and the savior king to be crucified on a cross as a criminal. I can never weep more longingly, exact justice more perfectly, be moved more sacrificially, or love more fully, than the one who died for me. And for the whole world.

No matter what happens today, a tall frosted glass of milk and a beautiful piece of chocolate will congratulate you on the other side of it

Milk and chocolate do not talk back. They change not. They fail not. They judge not. Most beautifully put, “chocolate is comfort without words.” And dang it sometimes we’re worded out. But never comforted-out.

So me as a 29 year old will wisely listen to the words of Tom and Donna on Parks and Rec to TREAT YO SELF. And for every single day that makes up another year of this life that I have been given- before my head hits the pillow to pray or to plan or to cry or to crash- I will indeed TREAT MYSELF. Because the days are too long, and our life is too short, not to. My heart needs unshakable truth and my soul needs unchanging chocolate.