I keep wanting to write stuff on here, but things have been crazy. Heather is in the final stages of her MCAT preparation - the big test is Saturday. The kids are all growing up so fast and acting like insane maniacs. It seems like every time I sit down to write something, immediately something happens that requires me shut down the computer. Such is life. This week, though, is Spring Break. Josiah is with my mom. Natalie is with Heather's mom. We have Gabe, and Heather is doing her final studying push. But it actually has been easier than I expected so far. Which is how I have actually ended up being able to post.
Those of you who follow this blog regularly and know us kind of have an idea of what I do. You also probably have heard how things are going. But I want to share some things that God has been showing me this past week or so. My apologies if this is repetitive or boring to you. Just bear with me and I promise I'll get back to writing inane drivel soon.
Our pastor was preaching this past Sunday on Matthew 14. It made me think about some things - and I'll work my way around to those things. You see, I firmly believe in gathering stones along your way in life. The movie With Honors had Joe Pesci playing a homeless guy at Harvard. He would pick up rocks and stones at the various places he traveled. He kept them in a bag, and would look at them and remember his journey. This is biblical, too. God had the Israelites built altars at the sites of major victories. So, I have made it a habit of doing this. It helps because, when things get hard, you can look back at those rocks and know that you are doing the right thing.
So, back in March/April of 2005, my friend Charles Wise asked me to go to lunch with him and another friend, Jonathan Pearson. Charles is a therapist, JP was a Middle School minister, and I was a designer/writer/college minister type person. Charles had just been through almost a year of vocal paralysis (kind of difficult for a therapist). And he wanted to share with us what God had been showing him. He said that he was realizing that the biggest problem in today's churches and families was a break in intimacy. Intimacy, at its simplest definition, means closeness. And this closeness was being broken between man and God, and between spouses. And the biggest wedge doing this was sexual sin and pornography. This came from session after session with families that were sharing this problem.
JP and I both knew he was right - since we had been hearing this same thing from our students. As we talked, we began to see a ministry opportunity form. We would talk on those topics - the ones that other people would not talk about. We would go to churches and families and try to help them fight that destruction. The ministry was named Defender Ministries in the car on the way back from lunch. And it all began. We worked on coming up with promotional material, logos, and a general idea of what we wanted to do. God confirmed this calling time and again in those early days - and gave us the message to speak based on verses like Isaiah 61:1 and Ephesians 5:3 and 1 Corinthians 7. We were honored to be a part and could not wait to see things get going.
God opened some amazing doors for us - places we did not have the experiences, clout, or connections to be a part of. We had dinner with several "big shots" to present our ministry. We got asked to run workshops at regional and national events. And we were ready for things to go. The problem was that we all had jobs. JP quit in August of that first year, but things did not pick up like we thought - so he ended up getting a different church job (that ended up being a wonderful experience for him). We had opportunities, but were having a severely hard time getting the time to develop what we needed. In June of 2006, we had a benefit dinner. We expected it to be a huge launching point for us. It helped a bit, but was far from what we really needed. We all decided the only way this could get going was for me to leave my church job and work full time.
In July of 2006, I resigned and started to work on getting things ready for our upcoming appearances. We had National College Week in August, and ten other bookings between August and February. There was a lot to do. Money was going to be tight, but we knew it was what we should do - something confirmed by our prayer partners and families. God again showed us Scripture - Matthew 14 in fact. The message to "get out of the boat" was heard again and again through books (Chip Ingrim, John Ortberg) and sermons. So we took the step.
That was when things went haywire. The August conferences were great. But in the next few weeks, we watched as eight of those ten events were canceled or re-scheduled. In addition, we began to realize that several of our board members were not on the same page as us. By the end of the year, we were pretty much broke, had maybe three board members left, and one booking left on the calendar. I was so confused. Thanksgiving of 2006 was one of the hardest times for me. I kept trying to figure out what had happened. What had we done wrong? How could things be so bad? Time and again we are taught in church that if you are following God right, He blesses you. And if you are doing things wrong, you get corrected. It is natural to take that and think that if things are rough, you are wrong. (I have since really come to be aware of just how flawed that entire line of teaching is.)
We started getting new Scripture pounded into our heads - the story of Gideon. This was where God delivered Israel from a far superior force - but with only 300 men, some pitchers, torches, and horns. I mean, we read books about this - sermons were constantly being spoken on this that we heard. When we started going to Waypoint in January of 2007, Byron preached on this. We got the point. God was going to do this in HIS manner - without the benefit of the people who would try to take credit for it. It was going to be with a small and faithful group.
Thanksgiving 2006 also gave me a chance to sit down with Heather's brother Andy. He was on staff of one of the churches that canceled an appearance. He explained that they needed more guidance from us. We were so desperate to have opportunities that we wanted to do whatever a church wanted. But these churches wanted us to TELL them what to do - because they didn't know and had never dealt with these issues before. That gave us a new direction - we needed to provide resources to churches and families. It was the same plan, but actually putting the message on paper. In December, I started writing lessons based on the topics we taught.
Over the next six months, I wrote thirteen lessons (it has since expanded to sixteen, one additional book, and a line of superhero based lessons for kids). These became Bible study series for churches - and then also were repurposed for a line of Disciple Now curriculum for youth pastors. So far, the Operation Isaiah D-Now materials have been used at nearly a dozen churches in its first year. The lessons themselves have been ordered and used all over the country - and we have taught them at numerous locations.
But.... Through it all the financial struggle continued. 2007 was a trying year because we alternated between having very generous donations from a few people and having nothing. My family felt that stress every month - wondering if we would have anything to pay rent. Most months we had to wait until the day rent was due before one of our strong supporters would AGAIN give to help us survive. Some months nothing came in. The messages we kept hearing were always, "Stay strong. Don't give up. Have faith." So we kept on meeting and booking and re-scheduling and promoting - believing God would provide. And He did, but never in the manner that would allow us or the ministry to relax. In the Fall, we all finally decided I needed to get another job to help bring in some steady money - while still doing Defender at night and on weekends.
Conveniently enough, that was when the economy started to suffer. I couldn't find a job. To date, I have sent out well over 100 resumes for graphic artist positions, communication directors, writers, teachers, and pastors. I'm lucky if I even hear anything. 2007 ended with the knowledge that there was nothing in the bank for 2008. And that has stayed true. Our amazing supporters still love us and support us, but cannot (and should not have to) carry us the way they were. So, I went unpaid for the first three months of 2008. Any money we made from our steady flow of appearances went to pay insurance premiums and to pay off the very late bills to our printer, copier lease, shirt company, etc. I still have not found a job - although I probably will have a teaching position come August. Uncle Sam was very generous with a tax return that covered two months for us. And one of our supporters paid for April to keep us going.
So why say all of that? One, it is to document the journey. Two, it is to lead up to that sermon from Sunday. I read through the Matthew 14:22-33 passage as Pastor Byron preached. Jesus had just finished with a large crowd and he sent the Disciples off ahead of Him. He stayed to pray. They ran into a monstrous, terrifying storm on the lake. At 3 am, Jesus walked on the water to them. They were skerred. He tried to calm them. Peter asks to walk on the water, which Jesus tells him to do (the 2006 message). Peter loses his faith, falls into the water, Jesus saves him. Viola. Except two things hit me this time. JESUS KNEW THE STORM WAS COMING WHEN HE SENT THE DISCIPLES and HE NEVER CALMED THE STORM DURING THAT WHOLE TIME.
He sent the guys INTO the storm. He knew it was coming and he told them to go. Why? Probably so they could see Him walk across the water and calm the waves. It was to build their faith and understanding of Who He was. In addition, when he showed up and the whole thing with Peter happened, the storm was still raging. Peter walked on the water during the storm. He was doing it, until he SAW THE WIND. The amazing thing is how bad this storm must have been to be able to see the wind. I'm thinking about the hurricanes that came through here a few years back. That kind of ugly. So Peter got distracted by the swirling circumstances and fell. And Jesus saved him. Then he calmed the storm.
For me, I began to understand that God knew what He was doing. He knew there was no money, that churches would have a hard time letting us talk about these topics, that the economy would go bad. He knew those things. He sent us out knowing all of that. And He has not calmed the storm yet, as far as we know. We still are wondering how to make it each month. We still have those constant concerns. But we are learning that this is not about us. Yes, Peter learned that his faith wasn't as strong as he thought. But he also learned a lot about Jesus that night. He learned that Jesus is unaffected by the swirling wind, that He can stop it at any time, that He will save us. That doesn't mean that we won't have to deal with getting beat up first. The Disciples got beat up for hours in the boat. Peter fell into the churning water. Jesus moved, but on His time. And it helped to show how mighty HE is.
So the rock I got to pick up the other day was that God knew exactly what we were getting into - even though we didn't. We aren't doing anything wrong to be punished with this storm. In fact, we are doing it right by still staying in the storm instead of running away. God is going to bring deliverance to us - as well as to others - when He sees fit and when He will be glorified. As I explained to Charles the other day, I am a lot more compassionate to the poor and homeless in our area now. I understand what would drive a person to stand on a street corner. I'm not so quick to judge. That helps me to understand the "good news to the poor" part of Isaiah 61:1. Also, Defender is not beholden to any person or group. God is the one who started it, maintained it, and grew it - in His way and His time. And that is pretty neat.
When God calls you, He will complete His work in you. That is what He does. It is not going to look how you expect, but at the end it will be beautiful. I'm sorry if this went long. I hope it didn't cause anyone to fall asleep. I just needed to be able to get this out of me and share it. I hope that it will help someone who is getting storm-battered.