Thursday, December 29, 2016

From Tragedy, to Hardship, to Change, to New Beginnings - 2016 a Year in Review

As I type this, scenes from this past year flash through my mind and I can't help and say "Wow, look what God did". Each year I have a word that I ask the Lord to give me - a word that would be my focus and my center point for the year. For 2016 - the words were primarily Missional and Flexibility. God did those and so much more in the life of our family.

January was brought in by celebrating the New Year with Joel's parents in Colorado and then we traveled home to Texas. We had enjoyed having Hannah home for the Christmas break and then...we had to take her back to Dallas Baptist University for her second semester. While in Dallas, we were able to spend some special time with my sister and her family as well as with my parents who were living in the area at the time...we would later come to cherish these special few days even more.

January 29th - after a short battle with cancer, my Mom went home to be with Jesus. This hit our family hard as it truly was unexpected and shook us all up. I am forever grateful that Mom was surrounded by both of us girls, my Dad, and her sisters as she left and was welcomed by her Savior. After any loss, everyone tends to tell you cherish the ones you love, savor every moment, etc. I can honestly say - I did not have any regrets in this regard with my Mom. I loved her, she knew it. She loved me, I knew it and felt it. My kids all cherished the time they had with her and they always will have special memories!

February brought my Mom's memorial service in Texas and then a return to what the "new normal" would be. It was painful, it was hard. She was missed and it was felt - yet, through it all the Lord was GOOD. He brought many to love on all of our family and we were blessed. Of course, the Broncos winning the Super Bowl was a DEFINITE bonus to the month for this Bronco loving girl!

March would bring more unexpected and unplanned hardship as we would come face to face with deep depression affecting our family. Our oldest daughter Hannah, struggled with the stress of college, homesickness, and the added grief of losing her Mimi. She was smart enough to realize that she needed some serious help and needed her family to lean on for a time. So, at spring break Joel picked her up from DBU, she withdrew from classes and moved home with us. I have always known other people who were affected by depression but it hadn't hit our own family. This was a painful time for all of us. A time of trying to understand and help her but as parents not enable her to the point where she didn't have to work to overcome her was a time of growth and a definite balancing act. If you or someone you know is facing this - I can say, it is real, it is hard but GOD...Only through Him can we overcome. Hannah has come so far - she has some to go BUT GOD...has been there and is there and is working in her each and every moment!

April Joel and I were able to go on a MUCH needed minister and wives retreat in Arkansas. We had been planning to go since October 2015 and had asked my parents to come and stay with the kids. Graciously, my Dad agreed to still come and stay with the kids; however Satan would try to thwart that plan as well because just days before we were to leave, my Dad became ill and wasn't able to come right away as planned (he did come later). BUT GOD had a plan for even that because Hannah was home she was able to take care of the kids as was our adopted daughter who lived in Plainview - she came for a few days as well. Joel and I were able to rest, refresh, renew and pray for direction in our ministry and it was needed!!!! Also in April - Joel, Malachi, Tyler and I made a "Site Visit" to Delta Colorado in preparation to potentially move to Delta and begin a church there (more on that later).

May was crazy! We had the end of school activities and chaos and then as soon as school let out, we packed up and headed to Pagosa Springs for my Mom's Celebration of Life Service with our Colorado friends and family. Such a sweet time to celebrate and rejoice on her life and the memories we had with her. We are forever grateful for our Pagosa family who loved and continue to love on us well!

June brought new beginnings! After serving for three years at First Baptist Church Levelland as Children's Pastor - Joel resigned and became a Missionary with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our placement - Delta Colorado. So after finishing up with VBS in Levelland, we packed up and Joel, Hannah, Tyler and I headed to Delta while Malachi and Kestra stayed behind to go to church camp with the youth from Levelland. Once again, Grandad helped out and was able to pick them up from camp for us!

July brought more adjustment and hardship. We began to adjust to life in our new community. Joel got a job at Wal-Mart in the stocking department. The kids and I enjoyed slow mornings, time at the local rec center and just exploring our new town. Once again we would be rocked by hardship. On July 17 Joel came home from work just not feeling well at all. He was feverish and weak. Chalking it up to fatigue and adjusting to a night job and harder duties neither one of us thought much of it. However Monday night he was still ill and missed work - by Tuesday morning, I and he, knew something major was wrong. I took him to the Urgent Care Clinic and eventually to the hospital ER where he was later admitted. He was dehydrated, had pneumonia, and had a significantly un-explainable low white blood cell count. As a friend who is also a head nurse at the hospital said...he was one sick man! After 3 days and 2 nights in the hospital on some heavy antibiotics Joel was released to come home. His blood count literally TRIPLED over night... BUT GOD! Bonus blessing was that my Dad had already planned a visit for this week and was able to come and be with the kids and I through it all. As a result of this illness, Joel could no longer physically handle his current position at Wal-Mart. After talking to the managers and because he found favor with them - he was moved to a Sales Associate position with higher pay and better hours...BUT GOD!

August would bring change. The kids would all begin school at Delta High School; which starting a new school is always an adjustment. For Tyler, it was his first time in High School and back in public school after being home schooled for 2 years. He did and continues to do very well with the change! Hannah also experienced change as she was hired at McDonald's. Toward the end of August, I would be hired at Vision Charter Academy as a paraprofessional for the Special Education Department. Such a huge blessing as I love education and special needs students!!!

September we would be able to just "settle". We were all into our new normal including having a fall softball season instead of spring season and was a much needed time to just "Be still and know that I am God".

October we were able to go to Silverton for a day and meet up with my Mom's two sisters and my Dad for lunch and exploring. My Dad then traveled back with us and enjoyed some quality time here! Kestra finished up her first softball season with Delta High School and did well! She learned and grew tremendously in her game - can't wait to see her Senior year!

November brought a time of more change and a time to reflect and be thankful. Although he enjoyed his job at Wal-Mart and God definitely used it to open ministry doors; the hours were hard in terms of family time and ministry work. We had began praying that God might open up a different position that would still be part time and enable Joel to have more time for ministry. Open up He did! Joel was hired as a part time IT Assistant at Vision Charter Academy where I work and was able to quit his position with Wal-Mart, leaving on good terms, and it was a pay increase to boot! At the same time, I was offered and accepted the opportunity to move from part-time to full-time and increased responsibility! We celebrated Thanksgiving here as a family with part of our church family joining us!

December has been a time to just breathe and reflect! With both Joel and I working at a school, we have enjoyed a full two weeks off with the kids for the first time EVER! My Dad flew in late the night of Dec. 18th and has been with us ever since - it has been a GREAT time with him. He will fly back to my sister's house in Louisiana tomorrow - we are going to miss having him around!!!

The take aways from this year - are many!

1.) Even in the sorrow, the tragedy, the unexpected, the hard - God is still moving and working! I have seen and felt Him in so many many ways! I miss my Mom each and every day and though maybe the tears aren't as frequent - the hole is still there - yet, God has been my comfort, he has blessed me with an amazing friend who is a little farther down this grief road than I am and she has been so special and sweet and insightful!

2.) Watching your child struggle with something as hard as HARD! A part of me wanted to shake her and say get over it; and a bigger part of me - wanted to shelter her and wrap her up and protect her and take away all the hardship and pain. BUT GOD...He has helped me grow in areas of compassion and tough love and He has brought her through in maturity, healing, and grace!

3.) Hardship and Change - they are part of all of our lives; you can't escape them BUT you can learn to overcome and adjust to them with Christ! As we have faced what both Joel and I have referred to as our hardest year in marriage yet; we have been so blessed to know that God has already gone before us and knows what is coming ahead and we can trust Him in that! Casting Crowns has always been one of my favorite bands - they sing a song called "Already There" that sums up this idea. God is ALREADY THERE...He knows the future, the unknown, the unexpected, the tragedy, the hard, and He is working it for HIS glory and HIS good!

4.) When the hard comes...your family can grow stronger. This has been HUGE for us as a family this year. Our kids have grown from being just siblings to truly being friends this year. They are each other's strength and encouragement and we have enjoyed so many many moments of family time the past few months - blesses this mom's heart!

As I begin to look ahead to 2017...I don't know what it will bring, I know there will be some hard moments -like sending Hannah off to Australia for 6 months to be a nanny at the end of January, I know there will be some moments of change - like my son graduating from High School in May and I know there could be tragedy and new beginnings BUT most of all....I know that GOD IS ALREADY THERE and I can rest in that!

My prayer for you is matter what curve balls life is tossing you, no matter what you think may or may not happen, no matter how hard your circumstances; there is a Savior, there is ONE who wants to carry you and hold you through it all and He is already there at the end of the journey!!!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Church Planting Wife - Journal Log: Six months in

It is hard to believe that it has been six months (well, it will be on Dec. 24) since we pulled into Delta, Colorado and began this journey of church planting. In some ways, we are overwhelmed by all that God has done and how He is moving and some ways, we find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering what's next?

I wanted to share with you from the perspective of a church planters wife...which, is the same and yet different from that of Joel, the official "church planter". Of course, this journey - as have all our ministry journeys - is both of ours, and even our kids. As I look back over the past 6 months - I see moments of joy and success - I see moments of discouragement and disappointment - and I see many many moments of learning!

Let's begin with a brief run down of where we were, where we have been, and where we are.

June found us finishing up our time of ministry at FBC Levelland Texas with Vacation Bible School, completing the last of the packing, and preparing for Joel, Hannah, Tyler and I to head with the moving truck to Colorado while Kestra and Malachi went with the youth from Levelland to camp. It was a whirlwind to say the least! The goodbyes were hard, the unknown lurked before us, and the excitement and anticipation kept us moving forward! We arrived in Delta on June 24th and unloaded some mattresses and the basics for the night - the following day, we would unload the remainder of the truck into our home and the journey would begin!

July found Joel beginning as a night stocker at Wal-Mart, meeting my extended family in Silverton for the fourth of July, and officially getting settled into our new home. Also, in July we would begin forming some key relationships with our now sending church, Calvary Baptist Church here in Delta. Probably the biggest thing for July would be Joel coming down with pneumonia and unexplainable severely low blood cell counts that resulted in two nights in the hospital, a week off of work, and lots of prayer from so many everywhere! This was a definite low for us - a time where we had to sit back and wonder "God, what ARE you doing here?" Yet, through it all God WAS moving and working! As a result of his illness, Joel was able to go to the management at Wal-Mart and ask for a different position that was less physically straining, had better hours and would be better all the way around - he was granted a Sales Associate position in the Sporting Goods Department! Go God!!!

With August, we found Joel beginning to build some very key relationships with the employees at Wal-Mart that would then lead to members of our new church plant! August was also when we made a presentation to Calvary Baptist Church in regards to being our sending church - that presentation would fall on the very Sunday that a single mom who had not been in church for awhile would decide to come to church - she would also become a key member of our church plant! Also in August - I, Ronnie, would be offered and accept a position at Vision Charter Academy here in Delta as a Special Education Paraprofessional - working with kids with special needs - couldn't be happier!!! The end of August would bring our three youngest beginning at Delta High School and Hannah beginning work at McDonald's. It would also ring in the beginning of softball season!!! We also would do our very first outreach project which was to provide school supplies to 35 elementary students in the community!

September found all six of us adjusting to our new "normal", building friendships and relationships, enjoying Kestra playing softball, and would also be the first "official" month of being North American Missionaries meaning that all paperwork was in and we had a sending church!!! Joel continued to build and develop relationships at Wal-Mart, I continued to adjust to going back to work, the kids acclimated to their new school and Hannah settled into working full-time! Another high point in September would be the official start of regular weekly meeting times for Church Without Walls - our church plant!!!

In October we enjoyed a week of Fall Break where we met with my mom's sisters in Silverton and my Dad came to visit for a few days! Kestra finished her softball season as a swing player between JV and Varsity! I enjoyed getting to know my co-workers and students even more resulting in the decision to pursue the possibility of an alternate teaching certificate - which I am still in the process of pursuing!

With November came several big changes. Joel was offered and accepted a part-time position with Vision Charter Academy as IT Assistant and resigned from Wal-Mart. He enjoyed the work and relationships at Wal-Mart but the hours were not conducive to ministry and made family time difficult. I was offered, and accepted, the opportunity to move from part-time with Vision to full-time bringing an increase financially and more responsibility! Hannah was able to finalize plans for going to Australia as an Au Pair/Nanny with a family and will leave January 31. In addition, our church plant did their second outreach project in providing meals to families in the area for Thanksgiving! We celebrated Thanksgiving Day with a mom and daughter from our church plant and just enjoyed the quietness of the day - which was a welcome time as it was our first without my Mom.

December finds us sitting back and reflecting on the first six months of this journey.

We have seen incredible highs: having a weekly meeting time just 2 months in when the average church plant doesn't do this for a year or more, a high attendance of 23 on one Sunday night service, the beginning of marriage mentoring meetings with a fantastic couple, the financial ability to provide Thanksgiving meals to four local families here in the area through the church plant, and more and more meaningful conversations being started with potential members of our church plant. We have seen our kids adjust and complete their first semester at a new school, our Tyler is reading more and more each week, and Hannah has overcome so much to find favor at McDonald's and even got a raise!

We have also experienced some lows or times of discouragement: families that we believed would be leaders with us in the church plant have backed out for various reasons, others have come only once and not come again, we have been working on building a team of 300 prayer and/or financial supporters and are only at approximately 40, we have had some meeting times where no one showed up, times where we desperately missed friends and the comfort of the "known" of traditional church ministry, times of sadness wishing we could share this experience with Mom/Mimi, etc.

For me personally - I have had to revisit and remind myself of the calling to this church planting journey multiple times. To be honest - it is hard. When you don't know from week to week who, if anyone will show up, when your home is also the church and so this often means cleaning on a Sunday afternoon rather than relaxing, when you don't have those friends you can call for a "night out", when you and your daughter have to plan for the child care and yet have limited resources and funds, adjusting to a different kind of church that most likely means noisy children in the middle of the floor while you meet, etc.

Yet - I wouldn't go back, I wouldn't change it, I LOVE IT!!! I love that the people that walk into my home each Sunday night are here because they WANT to be, not because it is expected, I love that they are hungry and are seeking and asking and growing, I love their GIVING hearts - when they give to others even when they don't have themselves! I love the sound of children in every part of my home because this means young families are being reached and ministered to. THIS is what makes the hard - so so worth it!!!

I have learned some important things these past six months:

1.) LOVE goes a long way! Simply by loving on people, they will come and hear and grow.

2.) FLEXIBILITY is a must! Plans change, what's normal isn't any more, the unexpected happens, and you have to learn to go with it...those little ones tromping through the middle of church - they are the source of energy and excitement!

3.) MISSIONAL MINDSET! Of course, as believers we are supposed to always live a life that reflects Christ but when you are in a community to start a church and people hear and know this - everything you do is a reflection of ministry! You begin to look at the cashier at the grocery store different and become intentional about reaching out to them, his name is Dennis by the way! That person at the gas station - could be the next person you need to share the Gospel with!

4.) JOY IN THE JOURNEY! You have to find the joy - even in the hard! The joy that you are on the ground level experiencing something NEW. The joy found when those you reached out to are now coming to you asking how to reach out to others. The joy found when no one shows up to church and you get to spend time in prayer instead.

5.) PERSEVERANCE because it is worth it! Yes - there are times that I have wanted to give up, throw in the towel and go back to that known paycheck, those guaranteed volunteers and leaders BUT when you see even just ONE person begin to grow in Christ and "get it" or you see that one person who wouldn't come to a traditional church come to your church - then you KNOW it is worth it to keep on even when it's hard!!!

So - as we look at where we have been, where I have been, where I have grown and been stretched; the most logical thing is to look ahead to where we are going!

For me personally, I am looking at being stretched in the area of evangelism! I have been reading "The Un-churched Next Door" by Thom Rainer and it has me being challenged BIG! In the next several months, I am praying and seeking opportunities to meet and invite and invest in those around me!

For the church plant, we are looking for double the growth - bringing our regular attendance to 20, we are looking for a regular meeting place outside of our home, we are looking for other leaders to join us in ministry, we continue to look for our team of 300, we are looking forward to Joel officially preaching sermons.

I believe God has BIG things in store over the next 6 months for myself personally and for Church Without Walls! I eagerly anticipate all that He will do!