Our broken hearts were very much like freshly tilled soil as we left the first church we had served in together. We next came on staff at a church that highly emphasized grace. They were as imperfect as we were, but they were safe. They were honest. They loved God’s Word and His people. The seeds of wisdom and healing that place planted in our lives have changed the trajectory of our ministry and our marriage.
I can see why so many letters to churches in Scripture begin with the words, “grace and peace.” One is not achievable without the other. Growing in grace led us to grow in peace. What had at one point been striving and defensiveness in our ministry slowly began to shift into release and forgiveness. We were able to recognize our wounds and our own failings. We could own our shortcomings and move forward in grace. We could entrust God with the pain of the past, self-inflicted or otherwise. And He is faithful to bring about healing as well as purpose.
2 Corinthians 1:8 says, “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” When we walk through painful experiences, we have the opportunity to grow in wisdom and compassion so that we are able to walk that road with someone else later on. We are able to give the gift of “I’ve been there” to someone who may feel utterly alone.
I used to have bitterness about the inevitability of church hurt, but now I see it as a reminder to find my hope and identity in God, not men. I see it as a mirror to my own depravity lest I begin to think I’m above inflicting pain on someone else. Church is a good idea, God says so. That doesn’t mean it will be without pain, effort, and imperfection.
As Aaron and I healed and began to learn new habits of grace in our ministry, our marriage was growing too. I was learning that my worth did not come from how great I was at being a wife or mother or church leader, but from what God said about me. It was hard to believe He really thought of me as a beloved daughter. My identity was so easily wrapped up in “am I enough” instead of “God is enough.”
Recognizing that I didn’t need to be enough for my husband, my kids, or my church was like finding the key to freedom. It was the difference between living in legalism (I can earn my righteousness) to living in grace (Jesus has made me righteous). Living in grace meant no longer living in fear of letting others down, messing up, or falling short. “If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses.” 2 Corinthians 11:30
Of course I would disappoint someone! Of course I would make mistakes! That was why I needed a Savior! I could fail and still flourish.
The pressure to please was off my shoulders and that opened up a whole world of being able to love others the way God had called me to. Aaron and I became more synchronized in our steps. In the five years since our move to the new church, we had three babies and Aaron earned two degrees. We were settled and thriving and ready to be with this body of believers for the long haul. It’s in those moments of comfortable predictability that we should be looking for where God might shake things up, am I right?
Over the summer an almost imperceptible shift began in both our hearts. We felt God was calling us to move. This was not our plan. This was not what we wanted. We were content with how life was going now, why would we want to change anything? But God had other plans. Through a series of conversations and confirmations from people we trusted, we ended up taking a lead pastor role in Flagstaff, Arizona, 12 hours from wonderful Wy-home-ing and all things familiar.
The church in Flagstaff couldn’t have been more different than the one we left behind, but somehow it instantly felt like home. Over the last four years God has been faithful to bring revitalization to what had been a dying church. It has been a beautiful privilege to see the steadfast few from the beginning grow into a blossoming church body.
Where I had once been so insecure about my role as wife to the pastor, I now hold that responsibility with gratitude. I know I serve an audience of One, first and foremost, and that mindset allows me to serve others with thick skin and a soft heart. Paul’s words at the end of my favorite letter capture my intentions for our ministry, “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice. Become mature, be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you…The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Grace and peace.
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