Friday, December 20, 2019

Never Once Did We Ever Walk Alone

When I finished writing my previous post about God proving Himself faithful yet again by providing community for us here in Louisville, I mentioned that God was doing something new and exciting in our family! I'm finally back to share a little bit about this new direction that God is leading our family in! 

To recap, we moved to Louisville in the fall of 2018 during a chaotic and difficult year for our whole extended family. The move was very difficult, every edge was rubbed raw, and we had to wait and watch God heal our hearts. In the midst of this hurting and healing, we found out in March of 2019 that Joel's LifeWay store here in Louisville would be closing, along with the rest of the chain. Around this time, we were contacted by a church in New York that we had attended when we lived in the area previously, and we were asked if we knew of anyone who was looking for a pastoral position, as they were looking for a pastor. We told them no, but that we would keep them in mind, and went on our way.

A few weeks later, Joel received a call in which someone from the search committee let him know that his name had been mentioned as a possible candidate for the pastoral position. He was asked, "Would you please pray about this position, and let us know?" His response was, "I'm not going to say no to praying about it, but I can already pretty much tell you what the answer's going to be." So we prayed. For two weeks, we prayed about Panama Baptist Church and whether God wanted us to go through the application process. By the end of those two weeks, Joel and I had each individually come to the conclusion that it would be disobedient not to agree to proceed down this path of interviewing and moving forward in the process.

Over the next few weeks, Joel had some interviews, and it came to the point that the search committee had narrowed down their search to Joel and one other person who we knew personally. We thought this other person would be a perfect fit, and maybe we should just bow out and let them have the position, and maybe this isn't going to be what God has for us after all. However, unbeknownst to us, this other man was asking God to provide him with a position where he could be a part of a team of pastors rather than the solo pastor at a church. The next thing we knew, the search committee was asking Joel if he would consider working together to be co-pastors with Andy Cook! Joel and Andy had several meetings to discern whether this would be a good fit, we all did lots of praying, they met with the search committee, discussed many details, and both Joel and Andy were asked to come and candidate at Panama in August!

At this point, I should mention that, though I could see how God was working and was amazed at how He was knitting all of the details together, I had some serious hesitations and fears about moving back to New York. It snows there, y'all. It snows a lot there, and I hate driving in snow. We lived there for nine years and I have driven in snow, but during my last few months in NY, I had a couple of very scary snow-driving experiences that have caused me to be anxious about driving in snow again, especially after several years of being out of practice- and I so enjoyed the snow-free climate of Georgia! In fact, I may have been overheard saying things like, "I'll never move back to snow country again!!" (Don't ever say things like that or God might just test you on it!) New York's homeschooling laws are much more stringent than Georgia's or Kentucky's have been, so that would also take some learning and getting used to.

While waiting for our candidating Sunday to arrive, I watched the announcement that was given before the church, outlining the fact that Joel and Andy were the candidates and that God was providing two men to serve as pastors at the church. Hearing the excitement in these church leaders' voices as they talked about God working a master plan behind the scenes of a tough, pastor-less time for this church got me excited and I was awed to think that our family could be a part of God's provision for Panama Baptist Church! Another thing that really excited me was hearing story after story of church members stepping up, leading ministries, reaching their communities for Christ and serving others well, even during the months that they have been without pastoral leadership. This showed me that the members at Panama aren't just there to be consumers, but really to actively be the body of Christ!

In August, our family headed up to New York, enjoyed a couple of family days with Joel's parents (who live about an hour and a half from Panama), and then drove over to attend a fun picnic, stay overnight with friends, and attend (me and the kids)/speak (Joel) at church the next morning! It was great to see old friends, meet new friends, and see how God has been growing this church in the years since we attended there! The kids swept right up with old and new friends and all had a great weekend there!

Here is a video of our August candidating service. Joel preached that morning on Daniel chapter 3. He spoke about things he has learned over these last years of watching God work in ways that are sometimes very hard and painful, but God IS still good, through it all. In talking about how God chose to miraculously rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Joel says, "What if there is no verse 24? Some of you have been through things where you didn't have a verse 24 in your story. If we had the time, you could come down here. We could put a microphone right down front, and you could share the trials that you had been through, and there would be times that you would say, "I knew that God would rescue me, and He did." There would be others of you that would stand down here and say, "I thought God would rescue me. I knew that He could, but He didn't," not in the earthly sense ... Could you say, "Even if God doesn't rescue me, He is still good?"" Joel goes on to Hebrews 6:13-20 to talk about the Cross being our anchor of HOPE in this broken world.

To hear my husband stand in front of that church and share the words that had been laid on his heart, the lessons that that have not just been intellectually stamped into our minds, but painfully seared onto our hearts through months of struggle, and to hear God using those words to teach and encourage others was very powerful to me. As soon as he finished and stepped down into the pew in front of me, the closing song began. The song was "Never Once Did We Ever Walk Alone" by Matt Redman.

"Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say,
Never once did we ever walk alone.
Carried by Your constant grace,
Held within Your perfect peace,
Never once, no, we never walked alone.

Never once did we ever walk alone.
Never once did You leave us on our own.
You are faithful. God, You are faithful.

Every step, we are breathing in Your grace.
Evermore, we'll be breathing out Your praise.
You are faithful. God, You are faithful." 

I began sobbing, internalizing the deep truth of the words that my husband had spoken, the HOPE in Christ that is our only anchor through the painful, sorrowful times of grief and loss and also our anchor through times of chaos and confusion, when we are wondering what God is doing. Wondering why He would tear us away from our incredible Georgia community to bring us to Louisville just to lead us away again. Yet through each of these circumstances, never once did we ever walk alone, and He is faithful. 

After the service, we enjoyed a wonderful church dinner, the guys answered questions (and Mara and I answered a couple, too), and ultimately the church asked both Joel and Andy to come and be the pastors at Panama Baptist Church in Panama, NY! We are planning to move to New York in the end of December (awesome timing to move to snow country, I know!) and Joel will start in January! God has provided a house for our family in Jamestown, NY, and He has worked through each of those details in His perfect timing so far! 

Through the last weeks of co-op and church and packing up and having last playdates with friends in Louisville, there have been sad, hard moments. We will all miss the friends that God has given us here, even in just this one year! We have reminded the kids of this truth often- that God is still faithful, and He will provide friends for us in New York, just as He provided them here. Though we are sad to leave this beautiful city that has brought us so much joy and so many fun opportunities, we know God is also bringing us TO a wonderful community in Panama and this is another exciting opportunity to lead our kids in trusting Him to provide for all of our needs as we follow Him!

What stage of the ebb and flow of life are you in right now, friend? Are you on a mountaintop, looking back and so clearly able to see each spot where God has provided, then looking forward to the future with joy and HOPE that comes easily, rooted in Christ, ready for whatever He may send your way? Or are you in an uncertain, difficult place where it's hard to understand why God is allowing you to experience this time of grief, loss, and heartbreak- is it hard to see any clear path forward? Is just putting one foot in front of the other each day difficult, let alone any deep feeling of joy or hope? I can't promise you that life will be easy, but what God does promise us is that we will NEVER walk alone. We have this HOPE- Jesus Christ sacrificing Himself in our place- as an anchor for our souls in the storms of our lives, and I would love to have the privilege to pray for you each as you cling desperately onto that HOPE in the midst of your storm. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Do It Again

"Walking around these walls, I thought by now they'd fall, but You have never failed me yet. Waiting for change to come, knowing the battle's won, for You have never failed me yet. Your promise still stands. Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness. I'm still in Your hands. This is my confidence, You've never failed me yet. I know the night won't last. Your Word will come to pass. My heart will sing Your praise again. Jesus, You're still enough. Keep me within Your love. My heart will sing Your praise again."

Over a year ago, my mother-in-law lay in a coma in a hospital bed in Buffalo, New York. The day before Mother's Day 2018, my husband and his brothers flew to be with her for Mother's Day. I spent the weekend with my kids and my New City Macon church family, bawling my eyes out, being held and prayed with, supported and loved on as I grieved and waited on God. The rest of May brought more waiting on God, more trusting, more grieving and more suffering for our Hart family as my sister-in-law was rushed to the hospital and had to have emergency surgery after her second loss of a child in 16 months. June 2018 was a frenzied month, with Joel traveling back and forth to see his mom and help his dad as often as he could, packing all our belongings in boxes to move one neighborhood over in an effort to reach some financial goals, and a trip to Baltimore to stay with sister-in-law Emily while she recovered and experienced still another setback with an injury that had happened during her surgery.

With many of our things still yet unpacked in our new little house, we began to receive an inkling that God, through a LifeWay opportunity, could be moving us away from Macon in the future. My immediate reaction, as usual, was "Nope. No way. Let's not even bring this up right now. I can't even think about it." Throughout July, I unpacked in a hurry, enjoyed summer fun with the kids, we vacationed with friends, and we ended the month with a trip to NY to see Joel's parents. While we were there, Joel's mom had to go into the hospital in Olean, and we were able to spend the week supporting her and Joel's dad while the older two kids went to Bethany Camp.

August 2018 brought a diagnosis that we were all hoping we would not hear. Joel's mom was finally able to be transferred to Cleveland Clinic, where we learned that she had ALS. Although it was heart-crushing to find out this news, the diagnosis enabled her to finally receive the support and home medical equipment she needed in order to leave the hospital. I started another year of homeschool with the kids, and signed up for a fall semester of co-op. Just a couple of weeks later, Joel was promoted to manage the Louisville, KY LifeWay store, starting on September 1st. We made a quick trip to Louisville to find a house to rent (God provided such a perfect one on the first day of hunting!) Joel packed up a few things and drove to Louisville on September 4th, the day after my birthday, to start at his new store.

During this tumultuous summer, I spent a lot of time crying out to God. For those of you who are moms, you know how hard it is to find time and space to be alone, needing time to grieve and pray and process without scaring or upsetting the kids. Don't get me wrong, it's okay to cry in front of your kids and they have seen me cry many, many times over these months, but sometimes, you just need to lose it all by yourself. The master bathroom of that little house that we lived in for only three months was my place to lose it. The day we heard of Mom Hart's diagnosis, I sobbed on the edge of the bathtub. When I took my morning shower, I would listen to music, and my favorite song that God gave me during this time was Do It Again, by Elevation Worship. So many days, I said to God, "God, if You want to move us to Louisville, You're going to have to do it. I don't want this. I have not one ounce of excitement or joy to give to this move, so if You want us there, if You truly want us to do this again, You will have to change me and make me willing."

"I've seen You move, You move the mountains And I believe, I'll see You do it again You made a way, where there was no way And I believe, I'll see You do it again."

Through the month of September, the boys and I (and Joel!) battled through a week-long bout with food poisoning, then a difficult month of separation, with the kids and I finishing out our responsibilities at church and enjoying a few weeks of our Georgia co-op, and Joel getting settled into his role in the Louisville store. October brought a few days away as a family and then our move, with the craziness of unpacking and learning the area, finding new doctors and dentists, changing our address on everything, and beginning to visit churches in the area.

Finding a church here in Louisville was an extremely emotional and difficult process for me. Our New City Church in Macon had been such a place of growth and support for us, learning what the Gospel really means and what it looks like in practical application in community. I wanted my old church (or one exactly like it) here. One Saturday night, I cried until I finally fell asleep, filled with anxiety and sadness that centered around visiting a new church. When that next morning came, I cried for hours, and I could not stop. I had to stay home and cry. Joel took the kids to church, and I spent time crying and praying and searching God's Word that day, and God helped me.

In January, we started attending a homeschool co-op in the area and also attending some homeschooling/unschooling meetups with a very supportive and welcoming group of people. God began to give us community through these groups. We found a 'Bible Fellowship Group' at Ninth and O Baptist Church and we began to have a community surrounding us there. We are really enjoying this city that has so much to offer, and we are thankful for the friends that God has already given us here.

Slowly, God began to heal my heart. During the months of February and March, there were days here and there that I didn't cry. I began to feel real joy and to laugh more with my family. I began to realize that God is doing it! He is doing it again! He is opening my heart to love Louisville. Joel's mom was able to write an update and a powerful testimony to God's faithfulness to her in the last year as well, and you can read it here. My sister-in-law has a blog where she shares deeply and personally what God is doing in her life and heart, and you can read it here.

In March of this year, we found out that LifeWay will be closing all of their stores by the end of 2019. Joel's time with the company will be coming to an end. So many of our friends checked on us as soon as they heard the news. We are so thankful for all of the support and love and help that all have shown us, especially in the middle of what has been an extremely tough year for our family. Of course we have all wondered, "God, why would You do this? Why now? Why allow us to move to Louisville just to take away the job we moved here for?" We might never know the answer to that question, but of course we trust that God knows, better than we do, what we really need. Maybe we just needed to know, one more time, that He is able, and He really will be faithful to do it again (again).

Is there an area in your life where you are waiting on God to show up and faithfully 'do it again'? Please leave a comment or send me a message - I would love to know how to pray for you!

"Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert." -Isaiah 43:19 CSB

****This post has been in the works for months, and I am just now finally posting it. God is, in fact, doing something new, exciting, and scary in our family! Stay tuned for my next post, detailing what God is doing now!****