The cargo we carried was light— two babies and enough furniture to fill a 1000 square feet space. Driving through the small town that we would now call home we sighted one grocery store to the right of us, McDonalds and a couple of gas stations. This reminded me of the town I grew up in. I was not particularly excited about small town life. Although, it mattered very little to me as Kris and I were convinced this was where God had led us. Faith in His will fueled us past any preferences we might have had at first. After staying with a member from our church for a few weeks as we waited to close on our new house ( we appreciate you more than you will ever know, Ms. Sue!), we settled into our new place.
We came here with two small children, two and under. Eyes fresh with hope and a little oblivious to life. We now are saying goodbye after 6 years of living here and I look back with many emotions. It is overwhelming to think about how much living six years has held. Life-defining moments have happened here more than in any other place. We leave here as different people than when we first came. I leave here as a different person than when we first arrived.
I remember the process of getting to know those here in the Midwest. As a southerner who was brought up in a loud and boisterous family and culture, coming here felt like a calm and quiet reception. Expressive reactions, over-sharing and loud gasps to every comment that required it was my normal. And, if I am honest, it still is! Yet, I began to welcome the relationships that at first rubbed against that. I began to see the beauty of genuineness from those that surrounded me. I began to desire more of that in my life. Just a presence that brings with it no fluff or facade. To me, that is the beauty of the Midwest’s culture.
Ohio’s summer stole my heart away. I was used to field’s of cattle… but corn and soy beans? This was new to me. A “hot day” here felt like a spring day in Texas. The words “everything is so green” slipped from my lips frequently. Early on there was a season when homesickness sunk in, wanting to settle in and cause resentment in me. Encouragement from my grandmother reminded me that no matter where we are, if God has led us there, it is our greener pasture. I thought to myself, “Has God led us here? Then this is the place, as my Good Shepherd, He sees best to teach me how to love Him.” Ohio was, in The Lord’s providence, where green pasture was. From that moment forward God began blessing me with a fullness of His presence. Through people, ministry, and life experiences.
Some have asked what I will miss most about Ohio. What I believe to be of most importance and what I will look back with appreciation for is anything that has conformed me into the image of my crucified Savior— anything that has bent my knees to stoop underneath the cross He has for me to carry. That may seem morbid to most.
Quickly into my time here I began clinging to this particular verse. A verse that foretold the ministry of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. A verse that reminded me that this same ministry will be reflected in all of His children.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.John 12:24
All those who have been rescued from death have now been given, in a way, a life-long ministry of crucifixion and resurrection. Death to ourselves, wayward desires, preferences, and sin. Death to the flesh, life in the Spirit. These many deaths we experience within us are not isolated, only affecting us as individuals. Just as the death of Christ produced life in us, so too does the gospel—working deep within us— produce a life-giving effect on the lives God has put around us. I believe one (of the countless) reasons the Lord brought me to Ohio was to set me free and deliver me from so much sin and selfish tendencies. Looking back over the years—if God sweats— He probably did as He tilled the soil of my heart. I return to a quote I clung to many times over the years and it is a testament to much of my time in Ohio.
“Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, many letting goes.”Elisabeth elliot
Now has come another “letting go”. It is much harder to let go of what is sinful then what is good. But even good things must be let go of when the Lord tells us to. If not, those good things quickly turn into bitter ends.
I will miss long walks with my friends in the evenings. Stopping by Bayer’s Melon Farm on a hot summer day. Gathering with my small group every Friday night until they heard the bath water running. Stopping to talk with our elderly friend, Ron, as he rode past on his bike. The many coffee dates where listening to the one across the table tell me about what is weighing heavy on their heart brought me a sense of fullness and joy I can’t express. Teaching ESL every Wednesday to a host of nationalities, being challenged in my faith as I sought to love them and speak to them of the glory of Christ whenever I could. Remembering God’s goodness during the easy seasons and the hard with my church family on Sunday mornings. Meals with church staff and friends. Discipleship and counseling. Watching my girls realize the necessity of God’s people in our lives and the blood-bought bond we share with them. And now, it is time to step away and trust that the Lord is worthy of our lives once more. And He will do it all again, I know. He gives and He takes away. Blessed be the name of our God.
Times change, circumstances and feelings fade, and through it all God teaches us that He is the stability of our times. He alone is to be our security. Holding the sacrament of the Lord’s supper yesterday, I found this to be the truth I rejoiced most strongly in. Christ our Lord has secured for us, with the offering of His sinless life and His holy blood, a way to live forever with the One we were made to never leave. These frequent and uncomfortable circumstances usher in longings that can only be truly satiated with the love of our Father. As we began praying about moving back home, Psalm 16 was a chapter I relied heavily upon.
“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord! I have no good apart from you.”
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”
“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”Psalm 16:2,5,8
Before us, behind us, and all around us… He is. He is this for me and He will be this for all those we have left. All those we love and carry with us. Because he is before us, we will not be shaken.
I praise God for every moment we had with those in Ohio. I praise Him for the good days and the hard days. I praise Him because I have seen more than ever how He takes what seems to be ashes and turns them for beauty. How God uses the parts of our stories we want to run from, conceal, and say never happened. How He is ever- faithful to use us, despite us. How our God blesses the humble and the weak with His strength. I praise my Lord for His steadfast love that has held me in tact, even when it felt as if life was breaking me. And I praise God that He lead us to Ohio and taught us to lie down and find green pasture. I rejoice in what He has done. I hold onto hope that He will do it again. And I weep because I know it is the end of such a meaningful chapter.
To all those we have left behind, we are praying for you. Call to mind His promises and hold them closely. Never resent where He leads but be all there. This death, in submission to His Lordship, will produce life within us and around us. And my prayer is that we would learn to embrace this ministry for the sake of the lost and the saints who need the life that comes from the death He works within us. Let’s keep going, keep dying, and keep watching what our God will do with it all.
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.John 12:25-26