preacher and writer in Chicago

God Met Us

We fed the kids and put them in bed. My wife and I exchanged a few words and then I laid face down on the bed and fell asleep. It was about 7:45 pm. Now I’m an early to bed kind of guy, but this was extreme even for me. I was done. I was exhausted. And I didn’t get out of bet until 7:00 am the next day.

To be sure there are days we’re just tired. We extend ourselves well beyond our ability and energy. However my particular weariness on that night was not merely caused by a lack of sleep—it was caused by a lack of rest.

Tiredness is a bodily depletion that requires multiple REM cycles to renew physical vitality and brain function. Restlessness is caused by a lack of trust.

My heart-level fatigue resulted from months of emotional and spiritual hustle. The last six months of 2018 were incredibly trying…overwhelming at times…and deeply sorrowful near the end. Through this season my marriage, fatherhood, pastoral acumen, friendships, as well as personal care and leadership abilities were all stretched to new limits.

Now, many people go through many challenges every day and every year, but this was our recent journey. And through it all God met us in the joy and sorrow.

1.

We planted a church. After four years of being in Chicago and on the staff of a church, we transitioned a multi-site church location into an autonomous church. That means all the things required of organizational independence—bylaws, policies, doctrinal statements, vision, budgets, etc—needed to be drafted. Not only so but the true work was in the countless conversations and stories of people walking through this process considering God’s direction and desire for their lives.

God met us in church planting. He brought Matthew 28:19-20 to mind countless times. In it Jesus says, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always.” When stepping into a fresh ministry season you are tempted to get creative. I know I am. The temptation is to build a community unto myself that reflects my uniquenesses and desires and personal biases. The words of Jesus to his disciples were both a safeguard and comfort to me in this planting phase of church. It was a safeguard from myself—it’s about making disciples of Jesus (not Jason). It was a comfort to my soul—Jesus’ vows his presence with his church and to empower us through obedience.

2.

We had a baby. Levi Christopher showed up in the middle of the night on October 13th. He has been a true gift. In the middle of planting a church, life is a hustle. Having three kids is a hustle. Honestly, I questioned my ability to care and love Levi well and celebrate him rightly in the middle of such a season. Fear crept in and whispered I wasn’t enough. Which is true. But that’s what was so good about God meeting us in this too.

God met us in the delivery room. It’s cliche but there is nothing like being in that room and seeing life show up. Through Levi’s arrival the Lord renewed my amazement in his faithfulness. He brings life out of nothing. Especially in a season of fresh ministry seeing God’s power and providence in birth gave me great hope. Because his character is not momentary and situational, it is enduring. He is powerful to give us all we will need to care for Levi, everyday of his life. “He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it” (Philippians 1:6).

3.

We lost my sister-in-law. After a six-month battle with cancer, we lost my wife’s sister. Becky filled her life with tons of life. Through her work in adoption advocacy scores of families and children around the world are living proof of her efforts to mend isolation and brokenness. However her life’s effect in my world, now leaves the sharpest sting. Watching my wife hope … pray … mourn … let go … question … and grieve shattered many of my familiar comforts. Among many lessons the degree weakness was freshly discovered. Learning to admit I can’t protect my wife from all the pains and evils of this world is easy. Experiencing the end of my power and the beginning of my inability and weakness was unsettling.

God met us in the graveyard. Grief is never welcomed. But it is always necessary. Wearing the uncomfortable cloak of grief these past few months has been both frustrating and healing. Grieving is inconvenient. Tears show up without invitation and force the simplest of joys—date nights, Christmas plays, birthdays—into dark corners of the heart. Regularly it seemed we couldn’t give ourselves fully to joy because someone who brought great joy is no more. In fact to celebrate felt disregarding of my sister-in-law. Grieving reveals a lot. Sitting in the darkness of death feels wholly unproductive. Yet in this too, God showed up and produced gladness. God’s Word, specifically 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, pierced through weary evenings of pain with a truer reality than death. The grave yard has no hope … that is, unless there is one whom the grave couldn’t hold captive.

4.

We remodeled our house. While we were starting of a new church, welcoming of a new child, and saying goodbye to my sister-in-law, we were not home. We were next door—a family of five, then six, in a one bedroom basement apartment. It was tight.

God met us in cultivating home. Home is meant to be a place where sleep and rest refresh us. It’s the environment where we’re able to press meaning into our lives and drink deeply of pause as we remember our purpose and identity. Yet, away from our physical home—albeit a few feet—Laura and I were invited to seek refreshment without our common physical context. I didn’t have a chair. We didn’t have space. And yet God taught me much about home, away from home. There were lessons about my affection for convenience and excess; for habits and rhythms. But more than anything he taught me how to see my wife. Watching her flourish in the discomfort, through the grief, without the sleep helped me to see her heart for home; for welcoming those who experience the worst and best life has to offer with tons of grace and no pretense.

The next day I woke up and felt embarrassed. Remember I pride myself on being early to bed, early to rise. And this experience was showing me I’m not who I want to be nor who I think I am. Church does that. Parenting does that. Grief does that. Being away from home does that. And yet while all these pressures and experiences revealed difficult truth, God was faithful to met us in the truth and spark joy in the middle of the struggle.

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