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. 

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