This past year has seen many changes for our little family not the least of which is our oldest son, Sawyer, graduating high school and moving away to college. Granted, he is only 1 1/2 hours away but that feels like a million miles when he isn’t at home for good night hugs and washing my dishes.
Obsessive is a strong word but not entirely an incorrect one when talking about my stress over his dorm decor because BABY LEAVING HOME and I wanted to pack as much awesome as would fit into a 10×10-ish room. That’s when my buzz was killed with the reality that 1. Boys have no emotional investment in the texture or color scheme of their bedding, 2. They do, however, prefer their room not look like Pinterest went there to cough, choke, and die. So basically no burlap, chevron, monograms, Christmas lights run along the ceiling, gallery walls, or pallet wood projects allowed. Seriously, what is left?
With that in the front of my deeply disappointed mind I hunted and gathered using pictures like these for inspiration. Obviously the architecture (hello brick wall and windows, I see you there) of a staged studio photo shoot lends a little more to the room than the tile floors and boring beige walls of a Real Dorm but they did give me a general direction.
As moving day approached I pulled the goods I had collected out of all the closets and boxes to get some sense of what we had and what we still needed. Our living room looked something like this for more days than I would like to confess. No, this is not even a fraction but this is the last time I was emotionally stable enough to look at the pile without bawling.
The emotions went downhill.
This is the last picture of Sawyer with Luke as a full time resident of our home. (Contrary to this picture and my checkbook this is not a sponsored endorsement of Under Armour.)
This is the last picture of him driving away as a full time resident of our road.
(Someone hold me.)
We arrived on campus bright and early expecting a zoo but gratefully we were able to check out a cart and get straight to the room within minutes. Sawyer’s scholarship upgraded him to an upperclassmen’s building and my guess is the older kids are jaded enough by now to stay home until the overzealous Freshmen are out of the way. It’s a wise move especially if you don’t want to share an awkward moment in an elevator with a crying 40+year-old woman holding a bonsai tree.
And now for some of my favorite things:
1. Framed Album Covers:
Okay, it’s confession time. Luke said it repeatedly and now I’m admitting these album covers are all about me and nothing about my son. (Who am I kidding. Very little of it was about him. It was my therapy. When I can’t control my emotions, I control my environment. Or yours. Whatever.) We were at a yard sale where we happened upon a stack of 70′s and 80′s records for 50 cents. 50 CENTS. I had no idea what I would do with them so I picked up a few that delighted me mostly because I owned the majority of them at one time. I passed over Rick Springfield for Hotel California. (Don’t judge me…it’s classic) As iconic as Purple Rain is (I played the grooves off that one in the day which begs the question, “Where was my mother?”) it wouldn’t have been the best choice when trying to establish one’s manhood in a new environment. So, I picked up Men at Work because Men at Work = Manly. I really bought this one because the better part of my teenage years I would sing about vegemite sandwiches and to this day have no clue what those are exactly. I also picked up another that didn’t make it to the wall by Blood, Sweat, and Tears. I didn’t know a single song on the album but the cover art was great. I had Sawyer pick a couple he liked best and that one didn’t make the cut even though I tried hard to make the case for the analogy to the next four years of his life. (Blood, Sweat, and Tears…get it?) He didn’t get it. I’m just glad he liked the Eagles and Land Down Under Enough not to kill the one crafty project that didn’t break the No Pinterest rule.
2. The Bonsai Tree:
I mentioned toting a bonsai tree in the elevator which I watered with my tears. Sawyer is a meticulous boy who likes serenity. I’ve always joked him about his need for zen which prompted my buying him a rock garden as a kind of gag gift for Christmas last year. He loved it with an unexpected intensity. He’s told me for the last few months that he wanted a bonsai and it just happened that I found one when shopping for some last minute things before he left. Luke asked me if it came with instructions on how to care for it and I assured him Sawyer would have a pair of Mr. Miyagi scissors and complete instructions Googled before we could get back to the mountain. I was right. I think bonsai care is even more detailed than even he anticipated so for now the tree will live in the window so Sawyer can stare at it when life gets too chaotic aka when we come to visit. (I feel like I’m going to get letters about all the Eastern Mysticism. It’s a joke, y’all. Worry about us when he joins a yoga class.) It also allowed me to sneak in the green plant that every room needs to feel alive without letting him know I read it on a home decor blog.
3. The things he chose to bring from home:
* Star Wars figures. You have no clue the grief these have caused over the years when the brothers rearranged them in Sawyer’s room just to hear him freak out. And then there is the book of blueprints for all the star ships just in case in his spare time he decides to construct the Millennium Falcon on the front lawn.
* Not one but TWO copies of The Simarillion. When I asked why he brought them both he said, “Just in case any of my friends want to borrow a copy.” Because every college kid wants to study the history of Middle Earth and the genealogy of Aragorn. He’s so thoughtful.
* A picture of him and his favorite high school teacher. Please note there are no pictures of his mother on the shelf.
* A Josh Garrels poster. He will be devastated if you recognize the name because apparently it’s awesome to have a playlist filled with artists no one else knows.
And here is a pan of the finished thing. Not quite the Pottery Barn photo but comfortable all the same. There is a living room that I’m dying to get my hands on but at this point I’m trying not to frighten the roommates. I’ve thrown a rug on the floor and hopefully over the next couple of months and with enough brownies, they will let me continue my work.
Poor baby, can you see the homesickness in his face?
Luke and I drove separately which worked well because I needed to have one last cathartic cry unhindered by a husband who is trying to tell you it’s going to be okay when you’ve just left part of your heart somewhere you are not and NOTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY EVER AGAIN. But thankfully Luke called to comfort me by repeatedly saying what a bad move it was to leave Sawyer’s bed so high because he was sure he would roll out of it in the night because he wasn’t used to a twin size. “And Lis, if he rolls out of that he’s dead or at the very least severely injured.”
So there are the anxieties of moving your son to college and worrying whether or not he will roll out of a smallish bed and die before he wakes or if you are lucky, he’ll just turn into a stoner and flunk out.
Where’s a good rock garden and bonsai tree when you need one?
“How do we know when it is time to leave our church?”
It always breaks my heart to hear this question come from a ministry wife because she doesn’t ask it unless she and her family are feeling they are no longer effective in their current position or worse – the idea is being forced upon them in the form of attacks, accusations, and/or flat other rejection from people they hoped would always love them.
It’s an unfortunate reality that it is hard to fight one’s way back from this place of doubt and so often times we don’t even try. We assume if we are feeling this despair it must be God telling us it is time to move on. Notice how many times I am repeating ‘feeling’? Feeling, feeling, feeling. There may be times when we can trust our emotions as a confirmation of the Spirit’s leading but after a lot of years living the life, I can confidently tell you our feelings are the last things we can trust.
Are you feelin’ me?
So if we can’t trust that way our stomach sinks when we walk into our church, that anger that rises in us when our husband is maligned, that insecurity that says that circle of church women in the foyer are whispering about you, then what can you trust? Well, girls. The answer isn’t in a what but a Who. Though certainly not an exhaustive list, I’m going to share some principles with you that Luke and I have followed on when NOT to leave.
1. Don’t leave unless every biblical solution to conflict has been followed.
The church on earth is an imperfect entity filled with sinners and led by them. Scripture tells us we war with one another because we do not get what we want. (James 4:1) Relationally, we can either have our way or we can have our relationship but one of those always has to give to make room for the other. If we burn down the town to get our way with our specificities in tact then also let us remember that the bridges most often burn with it. The firestorm may not be of our making but heaven help us if we don’t leave room for being wrong or at the very least the maturity to stand on another side of an argument from a brother or sister and keep our matches (and our pastor’s wife cards) in our pockets.
2. Don’t leave over a perceived lack of influence.
One of the greatest joys of ministry life is watching those people in our care blossom under the equipping of the Word and rise to assume their God-ordained place of service within the Body of Christ. One of the greatest discouragements of ministry is watching the others keep their seats Sunday after Sunday after yet another Sunday if they bother to come at all. It is very easy to get caught up in gauging effectiveness by response and when that doesn’t come – well – maybe it is time to move on. Maybe the next pastor’s family will be what they need to compel them from complacency to calling.
While we have our eyes on the masses is it possible we are overlooking the baby steps of the ‘ones’? That one quiet family who has been visiting for months and just requested a meeting for membership? That one man who has been devouring the Word and now volunteered to fill an open teaching position? That woman who has been stuck for a very long time and made the first step in connecting by jumping into the car on a Girls’ Night Out? That one young couple who listens intently to every sermon and in the ways relevant to them are putting in to practice those principles of wisdom that will change the entire course of their family? They are out there but we have to focus to see them.
3. Don’t leave without clear scriptural leading and/or confirmation from prayer or other trusted confidants OUTSIDE the church.
If your family is like mine, you remain in a constant state of evaluating your ministry and this question we are addressing of leaving is the one that dances on the edge of our hearts and minds more than any of us want to admit. In those times when we HAVE left – and they have been few thank the Lord – it has not been on a whim or impulse. It was because over the course of time and not just one page-flipping, finger-pointing session of Scripture reading that we both strongly sensed that God was moving us on for both our sake and that of the church. As if that weren’t enough, in all of those circumstances there was also another opportunity for ministry that had presented itself (i.e., we weren’t just quitting) and therefore we found ourselves discerning God’s will in that decision. We also sought wise counsel from trusted friends in ministry who were not connected with our current church and could give us objective advice and encouragement.
And can I insert a little practical advice here? It is NOT ungodly or greedy to consider the provisions of a future ministry for your family in helping make that decision. Please don’t misunderstand, Luke and I have taken on ministry assignments that we were completely compelled by the Spirit to accept with no understanding whatsoever how we would survive financially. (And I will add high praises here for our current church who is beyond generous and more than provides for our every need.) But there is also nothing wrong at all with knowing your family’s needs and letting that be a consideration as you weigh options. Sometimes it is more a matter of the church exercising faith in providing for the minister than it is the minister agreeing to work for the salary that can not possibly support your family.
4. Don’t leave in haste.
Luke has been teaching an excellent sermon series on Sundays out of Ephesians 4 and one of his expressions in expositing (is that a word?) being angry and yet not sinning is to avoid “flying hot”. It’s a thing easier said than done. Who among us has ever made a rash decision in the heat of conflict and said or done something you just can’t take back? I’ve known of ministers to resign like that – in fact we did once. Sort of. (We weren’t actually on staff. It’s long and complicated.) But the fact remains much can be resolved if we count to 10 or 4023, take a step back instead of a stomp in, and respond with a cool head instead of react with a hot one. Don’t fly hot. Don’t fly in haste. This may just be one of those things you wrestle through as a Body that will grow you closer than ever if you see the thing through to it’s end.
5. Don’t leave until you do leave.
This one is huge because it is the place where I am the most tempted. We have entrusted our hearts to people we consider a second family and in return have had it spliced, diced, and handed back to us on a platter by the ones you thought would guard it. And so we wrap it up and take it home and resolve to not give it back. Ever. We show up Sunday after Wednesday after Sunday and we are doing the ministry with all the affection of a robot. In fact, Siri would come across as more friendly.
Can I be your big sister here? Until the Lord has physically moved your family to the next place of service then your heart belongs in your now place of service. You can not be forwardly faithful. Faithfulness happens right where we are, not where we want to be. Unwrap that heart – that seat of feeling and emotion and fire - bloody and wounded as it may be, and give it back. And if you can’t give it back to the people just yet then at least give it back to God and ask Him to rekindle the passion to serve His Bride once again. The feeling will come back. I promise.
I am a terrible blogger but have been compelled for quite some time now to put these few thoughts to screen. I pray they find their home in just the heart who needed them. Whether present or absent, writing daily or scarcely at all, those of you serving in ministry have my heart and I only ask the Lord to make yours mighty and strong and able for the great work to which you have been entrusted.
April 7th, 2014 is the 24th anniversary of the day Luke and I said, “I do.” It is just ridiculous to believe that many years have passed considering he and I had just started dating as his parents were about to celebrate their own 25th year together. So basically, they were the age we are now as they planned a party to celebrate what seemed an impossible milestone in a life together. And yet, here we sit on opposite sofas in a home God gave us enjoying the simplicity of Sunday’s postlude after serving a church that was no where on our radar when we walked the red-carpeted aisle and promised each other our forever’s.
The marriage that began in unchartered waters now has the safety of much exploration. Because of this there are some things I can now count on as known points on the map. Our lives are rich with friends but if that were not the case and every person on this earth failed me, this one would not. Luke is steady. To some a certain amount of predictability may translate “boring”. To me it spells faithful, trustworthy, and true. Aside from God, this man is north to me when I feel confused, lost, and vulnerable. He is an amazing father who teaches me daily what it looks like to be a student of our children and to learn their ways so we can love them and connect best to their unique personalities. He is a selfless pastor whose mind is on the people he serves day and night. He is a friend to the friendless and takes the time to see straight into the hearts of people who stopped believing long ago they deserved to have anyone care that deeply.
I am one of those people.
I do not know what I did to merit a love like that. The more I think of it, my marriage is grace. God knew what I needed, who I needed, and gave him to me as protector, provider, and friend. I am humbled for the privilege of being a helpmate to him.
I love you, Luke McKay. Here’s to 24 more.
(And maybe one of these years we will get to make that trip out Route 66. Or Jerusalem. Surprise me.)