Thursday, April 21, 2011

More than Able

Since I have been open to and aware of it, I found that very often God orchestrates multiple areas of my life to coincide. I say "very often" instead of "always" because I believe I interfere, resist or try to orchestrate this myself and end up missing His beautiful invitation to come and be Mary at his feet instead of Martha in the kitchen. I also say "since I've been aware of it" because I think our self-awareness is so great until about 20 that we cannot even hear other flesh and blood people when they talk to us over the incessant self-chatter going on in our souls and brains. But, maybe that's just me.

At any rate, I remember first being acutely aware of the aligning of what had previously seemed incongruous pieces of my life into a beautiful "whole picture" my sophomore year of college (okay, I wasn't quite 20, but I also didn't acknowledge that the revelation wasn't all about me for years either). I was taking British Lit, World History and Old Testament that semester (along with other non-relevant classes). One week, my world history class ended up discussing the exact same time frame that pertained the book of the Bible we were covering in Old Testament and the over arching themes from both of those related to the essay assignment from Brit Lit. It was like waking up and realizing that the whole world had an order and I was just beginning to catch on. It was intoxicating! I began looking for interrelations between all of my classes every semester, and usually they did pertain to each other. Besides helping my be more witty and poignant on my essays in each class (I'm sure my Bible Prof is still confused about me quoting Beowulf in relation to Daniel facing Lions), I'm not sure I learned a lot of deep spiritual truths from creating my own "classical education model" of my classes. However, the trend has held true as God has spoken to me (not out-loud! for Heaven's sake! I would pass out) over the years since then.

This jaunt down memory lane does have a point.

God has done it again.

But this time He's coordinating efforts between Jonathan and I to save time. I came back from our Madison visit 3 days before Jonathan. Partly because I couldn't bear to be away from my babies any more and partly because he needed to be able to focus at the conference he was attending. He went to Basic Training for Church Planters put on by the SWBA (I think...or maybe some other acronym I haven't learned yet). At the conference he had to develop and present a Vision and Core Values Statement for our church planting effort to Madison. We've been working on Mission Statement and Vision Statement over the last year, so I didn't expect a huge flux from those basic tenets. However, he came back all jazzed up about his class and vision statement and core values and the process by which he wants to plant get the idea. (I know some reading this have never and will never meet Jonathan, but take my word for it, I married the one man on the planet who talks more than I do! He uses up his alotted word quota for the day and launches into mine!)

This was exciting and inspirational and I wanted to take notes and make a slide show for him. The problem was that he flew in at 10:00 Wednesday night and left for a 76 hour shift at work at 8:00 Thursday morning. So, between kissing his boys goodnight, unpacking and re-packing his bag and letting him get a few hours of sleep, he didn't really get the time to sell me on the vision God gave him. He left with, "Tell you everything when I get back..." floating back to me from the receding Jeep.

But God knows that we need to be on the same page. From (nearly) the start, we have been equally excited about and committed to this calling on our family. For that's what it is: a calling to our whole family. There is no such thing as the solitary church planter (unless he's single). The whole family plants. We all give til it hurts when it comes to Jesus. And that's how we want to be as a family. But there's only so many hours in a week and we run out of them before we run out things to do to reunite and revamp and re-energize (Mark Driscoll at Re:Surgence would be so proud of all my "re"s). So, God took matters into His own hands (where they should have been all along) and gave me my own crash course in vision.

While we were in Wisconsin, Mark Millman had given us Transformational Church by Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer. I flew home with it and started reading it on the plane. Immediately I was gripped by the ideas presented and the passion displayed through their research of churches that are actually out there living the Gospel. Their emphasis on "heart for the community" really echoed with me. They talked about "relational intentionality" that had already been circling in my head. And their chapter on transformational leaders convicted and inspired me. I was so excited to share with Jonathan when we had a minute (haha).

Well, we finally got that 15 minute window between sending the boys to play and someone crying and we sat down to talk. Jonathan launched into his pitch and it was eerie to me as I began hearing all the things that had stirred my heart over the last week. He showed me the diagram and shared the core values and they resonated with what all God had led me too from reading Transformational Church. I felt such peace from knowing that we were already on the same track, already sharing the same brokenness and vision for Madison.

On top of the book, my ladies Bible study has been going through 1 Peter and it landed squarely with what we are experiencing and praying for. We are being dispersed to go and spread the Gospel to the outer areas, way out of the Bible belt. And there will be trials and hardships and persecutions. But when we truly love Jesus and live out of that love, our love for the city of Madison will explode and our prayerful dependence on Him will lead us on the adventure of a lifetime. I'm so excited to walk with my husband, chasing Jesus down this path.

Now, if we could just sell our house...Actually, it makes all the mundane stuff fall into perspective too. If I believe that "He who has called [us] is faithful" enough to implant the identical vision in Jonathan and I from 1700 miles apart, then I believe "he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion".

"He makes my feet like hinds feet and makes me walk on my high places"

Monday, April 18, 2011


Waves of Mercy
Waves of Grace...
Doing the Wave...
Turns out lots of things come in waves.


Keeps hitting me between the eyes that we are moving. Soon. 1700 miles away. I get overwhelmed and exhausted thinking about it. And silly us, we think we can plant a church! What if no one comes? What if we screw up royally? What if we fail? What if we make fools of ourselves? What if we make fools of God?

The what if game sucks. And is futile.

But you know what also comes in waves?


That keeps hitting me in the spirit. As the whatifs are washing over me getting higher and higher and I start thinking that it all depends on me and someone made a huge mistake... here comes the faith. Not from me! ha! I don't have the faith of a mustard seed. But the "author and perfecter of my faith" sends out another wave and it lifts me up instead of drowning me. Or maybe it's that I let go and drown in it? I'm not sure which. I'll readily admit that "surrender" is not on my list of spiritual gifts. "Stubbornness" or maybe it was "mule-headed" came up at the top though.

So, if you can wade through all my analogies, I'm experiencing the back-and-forth of freak-out vs. faith. I start thinking that I am the least likely person for this job. And God reminds me that He is the most likely person for the job, and He's doing it, not me. I realize that we are not independently wealthy and cannot afford to run off to Madison, WI to plant a church. God reminds me that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and is funding this operation. I start thinking that no one in Madison will listen, no one will come. God reminds me that His sheep hear His voice.

So, everyday I'm seeking Him. I'm learning that painful art of surrender and trust. I'm failing a lot and flailing a lot, and He keeps whispering, "My Grace is Sufficient for you, too Jennifer."

So, bring on the waves!

The Glory of it all is He came here
For the rescue of us all that we may live
For the Glory of it all!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mad about Madison!

Well, it finally happened: I went to Madison.

I know, I know. I've already packed my house and put it on the market; told all my friends, family and supporters we are going. We have already had one fund-raising campaign and are working on a second and I had NEVER EVEN SEEN THE PLACE!!!

For one thing, I needed to wait til the snow melted! Didn't want to psyche myself out by going in 10 degree (or colder) weather for my first visit when I am definitely not prepared for that yet. Secondly, and I know this sounds Christian cheesy, but I really am following God on this one and not hunting for "America's Best Town to Live In". I went through a "God wants us to plant in New Zealand" stage. I was going to hike the road to Mordor for Jesus ;), but at this point, I was totally willing to move without ever visiting. But, alas, Jonathan said "No!" to that. Good husband.

I fell in love the minute we stepped off the plane. It helped that it was 90 in Texas and 53 in Madison! Ha! However, Madison felt like coming home. It is this great mix of Boulder and Denver with a side of Golden thrown in. It's granola crunchy and high-end; it's University and Government; it's crunched housing and wide-open spaces; crazy traffic and Botanical Gardens. If you're a Texan it must sound just like Austin to you, but cooler (degree wise, not popularity--don't pull out your revolvers). But to be fair, it's totally it's own place. It's all Wisconsin and completely not Wisconsin (which we learned from the hard-working people of everywhere else in Wisconsin who said, "Madison, that's where the fruits and flakes live!").

We landed at noon on Wednesday and got to have lunch at the Church Key Pub off State Street. To translate: We had lunch at a bar on 6th Street in Austin. Then we tooled around State street, went farther out on the Peninsula and looked at the city, drove up on campus and admired the architecture (to 2 grads of ACU that was pretty amazing. our Alma mater thought that architecture consisted of stacking several blocks on top of each other with a roof and calling it good). The stateliness of UW was breathtaking. However, on campus we ran into the Madison Welcoming Committee, aka the horn-honking sophomore in Daddy's graduation present for whom we were driving entirely too slow, and he introduced us to what appeared to be the state word, yelling it from his window at the top is his lungs. Later we saw it written on bumper stickers on the back of all the cars near the University! ;)

Thursday we got to see more of Madison. We walked the Botanical Gardens, chatted with mom's on Willy Street near the co-op (think Vitamin Cottage or Sprouts or Trader Joe's), and visited the East Town Lake Mall. Out that far, you wouldn't know you weren't in Temple. Middle class is middle class pretty much everywhere. The difference being that "beg" here in Texas is when you ask for money and there it's something to put your groceries in ;)

Friday we met with the Elders of River of Life and discussed our internship and got to view Portage a little more. That night I got to go to the ROL chicks retreat. I finally got to meet my Facebook friends face-to-face. It was great. Those women are wonderful and I am so excited and blessed to be getting to be a part of their lives soon!

Saturday we had a SWBA meeting. If you don't know what that means, it's really just code for "other Jesus followers in Wisconsin". I met some wonderful men and women who are truly passionate about spreading the Gospel and equipping pastors to reach Wisconsin for Jesus. It was such a blessing to network there, not politically but passionately. We are NOT lone wolves in trying to plant the Gospel in Madison. We need support, supporters and a support network. Church planting is a team sport! And we are blessed!

Then we got to party for Bob's birthday Saturday night! Cookout and family fun with some of ROL and the Turners. They are so warm and loving. I have to admit, this was when it was nearly physically painful for me to be away from my boys. I missed them so badly. Everyone else at the party had kids and I only had to fix a plate for me! It was surreal! ha!

Sunday was breath-taking. We worshipped with ROL. When I say that I mean it in all it's glory. The people at that church know what it means to "glorify God and enjoy Him". They sang with all their hearts, some songs I had never heard and some I hadn't sung since college. The children danced for joy and participated in worship. Bob spoke the Gospel in a way that really connected with my heart and it was so nurturing to be a part of that body of Christ.

Returning home was bittersweet. I really have begun to love Wisconsin. I am entranced with the idea of beginning to meet people and build relationships there. I can't wait to visit story-time at their library, take my kids to the Botanical Gardens, join a good homeschooling co-op and begin to do life with the people of Madison. But I also realized the reality of leaving. I am truly going to be 1700 miles away from all I've ever known. I'm going to be leaving my best friends (all by my very bestest, Jonathan). I'm going to be out of my comfort zone. I don't even know what the major grocery chain is there! But God really placed Romans 12:1-2 on my heart.
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
I realize that living out this calling IS offering my body as a living sacrifice. I am sacrificing what I WANT for what I NEED, which is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever". Even when it doesn't feel very enjoyable at times. Even when I know I'm going to be horribly lonely for awhile. Even when I know my kiddos are going to cry and mourn for their far-away family and friends. Even though I have no idea if/when my house will sell, we will raise enough support or Jonathan will get a good bi-vocational job. I am letting my mind be renewed by the truth that this is God's calling, God's planing, God's watering, and God's growth. He will do His good and perfect will. His heart is for Madison. He is calling His sheep there.

Please pray for us and for Madison on this journey. And pray for the other pastors already there fighting the good fight, enduring suffering, doing the work of evangelists and fulfilling their ministry. It's not sexy and glorious. It's "living sacrifice". And it's totally worth it!

PS. Big shout out thanks to Bob and Alisha (but especially Alisha) Turner for hosting us in their home. They were amazing and generous and their girls are AWESOME!! Can't wait to see them every week and do life together!