Throughout the month of May, Houston was our home base for a couple of reasons. Being new to the RV world, investing a ton of money in long-term memberships wouldn’t be wise. So we opted for a basic membership to Thousand Trails, a network of RV parks located throughout the country. That basic membership was an investment of roughly $600, but it gives us “free” stays at their campgrounds for the year. (The key here is availability, because most members reserve their sites months in advance and often times we have no clue where we’re doing until that day, which means limited, or no, availability.)
In the state of Texas, hands down, the best Thousand Trails was Lake Conroe, just north of Houston. They have mini-golf, tennis and basketball courts, a pool and the lake. Yeah… this was a great place for home base. But, also it was close to Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast & Louisiana. (Our goal for this summer adventure was to raise $9,700 for this organization, which is the average cost of granting a wish for a child in this area.)
Our plan was pretty simple: Recruit kids to participate while we traveled the state of Texas during the month of May, help them fundraise for the remainder of the summer, and have all the money raised by the beginning of August AT THE LATEST. We were so confident of this plan that we had a goal of raising one-third of the money (roughly $3,250) by the time we left Texas at the end of the month. But there was one HUGE problem: We only had one teenager signed up to help!
This was a first for us. Honestly, we’ve NEVER had a problem recruiting kids or raising money. Our last Fundraising Initiative only had four participants and those kids raised almost $1,300 in less than 10 days, surpassing our goal by $300. With a whole new group of kids, located in an entirely different part of the country, we expected to enlist participants in record time… but we weren’t.
We were really starting to wonder if the Lord was trying to tell us something.
Sydney was scheduled to speak and preform at the Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast & Louisiana Quarterly Meeting. She and Jamie arrived early to set up merchandise at the office. (At this point, all proceeds from merchandise sales were going towards the wish!) When they arrived at the office, they met a young man named Eric. Eric was from the Make-A-Wish American National Office and happened to be there for a meeting prior to the nights events. (Eric has nothing to do with THIS story, but he will enter back into our family’s story in the months ahead. I only bring it up now because it shows how much the LORD has been in EVERY detail, lining up things we could NEVER have done on our own. Not in a million years.
Sydney shared our story to a group of Board Members and volunteers that evening. She also sang two of the songs written for Make-A-Wish. After the show, she quietly moved to the merchandise table with no real expectation of selling much merchandise that evening. Before she and Jamie left for the event, Sydney was pretty discouraged… and rightfully so. We were three weeks into the month of May and we had only raised $200. But, we told her that, no matter what, she has to always show up and do her best. At the end of the day, that’s all ANY of us can do. The Lord has shown us time and time again that this is all He asks of us. When we do this, often times, He shows up and totally shows off.
And He was about to show off BIG TIME.
Shortly after the meeting was over, a man came over to talk to Sydney. He asked her for the least expensive item on the table and she handed him one of our leather keychains from Haiti. Sydney told him it was $5.00 and he responded, “Great, I’ll take one, but I’m paying $2,000 for it.”
I don’t have to tell you the response he received from Sydney… and everyone else within ear shot. And just like that… one person showing an inexplicable amount of generosity… we were almost one-fourth of the way to granting this wish. But, more than that, Sydney saw how quickly things can change. She saw how much of this actually wasn’t dependent on her.
For our girl, that night was a HUGE turning point.
The following weekend, our family headed back to Austin. The church Sydney and Brayden spoke at that first weekend in Texas had invited them back to attend a worship night while the rest of us had dinner at my friend Katie’s house. (Surprise! Another Noonday friend.) Katie and I went to Uganda together a few years ago.
If there’s anything to know about our family it’s this: the way to our hearts is through food and conversation. And we most definitely got our fill of both at Katie’s. Also, not immune to church hurt, we talked to Katie and her husband about past pain, but unlike a lot of the other conversations on the road, this one moved past the pain. Maybe it’s because they hadn’t closed the door on church. They fought to stay in it. Sometimes people have a hard time moving past the pain, which is understandable. It took our family a while. It took me even longer. And sometimes people never move past the pain, allowing resentment and bitterness to gain a foothold. But, Katie and her husband were still fighting for unity. It’s a common thread in their life story, so it doesn’t surprise me.
Our weekend in Austin would be capped off with a Sunday morning service before heading back to Houston. Our family has really tried to be intentional when it comes to visiting churches on the road. We’ve tried to visit places all across the theological spectrum, and interestingly enough, the one city where people felt the incessant need to make an unsolicited suggestion on our Sunday Service (Sorry, Kanye. But your trademark request hasn’t been approved yet) was Austin.
Everyone wanted us to go to Jen Hatmaker’s church, Austin New Church.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t want to go. I have nothing against Jen Hatmaker personally. Her book, Interrupted, profoundly impacted my life. But, I don’t agree with her on a lot of theological points. And I most definitely don’t like the celebrity culture of some churches, so I didn’t want to “waste” my Sunday morning going to her church when there were so many others I actually wanted to visit. Here’s my confession: The above sentences are filled with arrogance and ignorance, which I’ve had to repent of on several occasions. To several people. (None of those people are Jen Hatmaker, but if I ever see her, I’ll probably apologize to her as well.)
At some point over the weekend, the conviction, or maybe the curiosity, got the best of me and our family decided to attend a worship service at Austin New Church. Here’s another confession: I went in ready to tear it apart. Very Christ-like, right? (Seriously, the Lord has done a CRAZY work on me over the past seven months.) At the first sign of bad theology or false teaching, I was ready to bolt. Honestly, I was just waiting for it to happen. Counting the minutes. All 60 of them. Because we sat through the ENTIRE service. The whole sinking thing.
Their pastor, Jason Morriss, was starting a summer sermon series focused on “hot button” issues in the church. His first sermon was about legalism. I was prepared for him to go after the conservative evangelical fundamentalists, specifically those who often times confuse their national identity with their kingdom identity… or marry their religion and their politics. And, to a certain point he did. And rightfully so. But, he also gave a grave warning to his congregation. Acknowledging that several members found a home at ANC after being ostracized in those conservative congregations, he warned them of the temptation of building up their own walls after being kicked out of those.
I remember the moment he said it. Sydney and I immediately whipped our heads around to each other. Jamie pathetically tried to hide a snicker. Jason’s wife, Ashley, also got up and talked about the church’s immigration ministry, both at the border and in Austin. As she talked, I saw my whole family intently listening to every word. We didn’t know anyone who had actually been to the boarder to see firsthand what was going on there. (But we knew a TON of people who had an opinion about it.)
And then there was Mark.
Mark was one of the worship leaders that Sunday. It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, we’ll visit a church and almost immediately, Sydney knows she wants to work with someone. After the service she approached Mark, shared about Be The Change Collective and asked if he would be interested in writing with her. So far, she’s batting 100% with these requests and that didn’t change with Mark. (And, if I’m really honest, Jamie and I are never 100% sure about the process.) It seems so random, but by now, we know it’s the Holy Spirit! Come to find out, Mark and his wife lived in a RV for two years and just so happened to have a place for us to park our RV at their house because their RV was in the shop.
Just so happened.
So, I guess Sydney’s going to write a song with someone from Jen Hatmaker’s church. I see what You’re doing God. (Actually, I had NO CLUE what He was about to do. And I wasn’t prepared for it either.)
But you’ll have to wait for the conclusion of this story because a lot happened in between our trips to Austin.
The following weekend, the kids had another show at Dallas Bible Church. This contact came from one of our Board Members, Taylor, who also happened to be a former classmate of mine at Dallas Theological Seminary. (He was the one who asked that fateful question: Do you guys ever come to Texas? This was when we were praying about whether to continue on with Be The Change. We ended up going to Texas and Be The Change Collective was created because of that one question!)
Given the feedback from the show in Austin, Sydney wanted to change the program for the Dallas show. She decided to continue sharing about doubting God, focusing on how the disciples even doubted Jesus (Matthew 28:17). Brayden also shared his testimony and his song, Conscience. Again, the response was the same. Even with a smaller crowd, the message resonated. I was able to capture a few photos of Sydney praying with some of the girls there. Our Board Member came to the show and brought his girlfriend (now fiancé) with him. I remember her saying that she felt like we were turning a corner, a new chapter was beginning. She was right.
Sydney was also scheduled to speak at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. If you know anything about our family, you know our love for Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and David Platt. Our kids were raised on their sermons, bible studies, and books. Sydney also wrote and performed Empty Hands with Grant McCurdy, one of worship pastors at The Village Church.
Unfortunately, Grant wasn’t in town that weekend, but he made a few phone calls and connections for us. One of those connections was spending time with Lauren Chandler and sitting in on a worship practice. Lauren spent about 30 minutes with our family, listening to our story and then praying over us. Sydney and Brayden then spent the next couple of hours with the worship team, while one of my friends (you guessed it… Noonday!) took me out for gelato.
Leah is another one of those Facebook friends that I’d never met in person. (This trip has made me increasingly more appreciative of people who are game for forging unconventional friendships. And for meeting with complete strangers, in some cases inviting them into their homes, when we could, quite honestly, be insane.) Leah picked me up at The Village Church, which happens to be her church, and took me to a local gelato shop for a short, but needed processing session.
One of the things I’ve really needed on this trip is a safe place to process. It seems like many in the church are quick to point out where your theology is lacking…. or out-right false… without taking a few minutes to hear you out, let alone engage in a healthy debate. I’m thankful for the few friends back home who have volunteered for the job. It’s not for the faint of heart! Especially when you move away from the echo chamber of your own community, or inner-circle. But, I also need people on the road. That’s part of the process. Leah was definitely a safe place to unpack all the craziness of my life, but my time with her, I truly feel, was about something else.
Leah shared her own spiritual journey and giftings with me. It was something that challenged me. I was learning more and more about the various ways the Holy Spirit reveals itself to people. God was constantly showing me where I was putting Him in a box. I’ve already acknowledged that I’m not charismatic… at all. We’ve been to a few churches that have been heavy on emotionalism and light on biblical truth. But, Leah was also different from a lot of the other people I had met on the trip. Maybe it was because our theology was similar. Maybe it was because her experiences were so specific and not based on emotional responses. I honestly don’t know. But, listening to her share her story of faith challenged me to push into that box I created for God a little more.
I asked God to show me where I put Him in a box, but I couldn’t just stop there. I needed to be willing to tear the walls of the box down. But how?
It would take me a little while to figure that out. But, in the meantime, Sydney was asked to speak to a group of creative art students at The Village Church. THIS was her element. Surrounded by students who want to use their creative gifts to edify the church and glorify the Lord. For a couple of hours, she was in a place that oddly felt like home, surrounded by teens who spoke her language. In all the ups and downs and constant inconsistencies of our life, there was a moment of peace… and Chick-fil-A nuggets.
This group of students and leaders prayed over our family. Something I will never forget. The moments of encouragement on this journey have been few and far between, but this weekend was a gift. Yet, at the same time, something weirdly unexpected was happening: We had only been able to recruit one teen to help us with fundraising.
To date, seven months into the cross-country adventure, there have been two moments that have forever changed our lives. Today, I’m going to share the first one with you. The month of May was dedicated to our fundraising partnership with Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana. Our first event was on May 5th at a church in Austin. Sydney and Brayden would perform their regular show and then try to recruit some of the students to participate in the Fundraising Initiative.
In preparation for these events, we always jump on a call with the Youth Pastor or Event Coordinator prior to a performance. (This is the best way to know a church’s expectations and how we can best pray over the day in preparation for the event.) On this occasion, the church was wanting the performance to run about 30 minutes longer than a typical show. Sydney was more than happy to oblige and gave the youth pastor a few topics she felt comfortable discussing in front of a group of teens: doubting the existence of God despite being raised in the church, the pressures of social media, the dangers of placing your identity in your relationships, anxiety and depression, as well as the importance of using your gifts and talents to help others.
Without taking any time to think about it, he said that doubting God and depression were the topics his youth group needed. He then went on to explain that one of their students had attempted suicide a few weeks earlier and that many other students were going through some difficult stuff. He really didn’t have to say anything else.
Sydney knows what it’s like to grow up in the church, to be known as the “good Christian kid.” She hated it, for a lot of reasons. There was this unspoken pressure to not make a mistake, and sometimes it was spoken… or self-imposed. But a few years ago, a young lady who helped me with the kids while I was in seminary, articulated her own uneasiness so perfectly and it resonated with Sydney. She talked about a pivotal point in her own life where she had to decide between working with teens inside the church (professed believers from Christian homes) and those on the outside with little to no knowledge of the Christian faith.
This young lady talked about the earnest desire for those teens outside the church to pursue truth by asking hard questions. In comparison, almost all of those inside the church had all the “right” answers when asked a question, but those answers just seemed to be surface level. Sydney would repeatedly say that knowing how to say the right answers with your lips doesn’t mean your heart believes them.
Sometimes you’re told to “fake it ‘till you make it.” But what happens when you fake it for so long that you begin questioning your reality?
Sydney’s heart is for her generation to see that following Jesus is so much more than seeing how fast you can chug a Happy Meal that’s been pulverized in a blender. That knowing the right answers means little, if anything, if you’re not willing to live out those answers.
Sydney shared her heart with those kids and her desire for them to know that God IS real and that they need to push into their doubt because He will meet them there. Then, for the first time, Brayden shared his testimony to a group of his peers. He shared his struggles with depression and not being able to control the thoughts of suicide that flooded his mind. (This was during the time that a Netflix show centered around the issue of teen suicide seemed to be everywhere. Our kids didn’t see it, but they still couldn’t escape it. Even at youth group. Once the thought was planted, Brayden, who struggles with OCD, couldn’t stop thinking about it.)
Afterwards he shared a song he wrote about his struggles. The video below explains some of that story:
The show ended with this song and Sydney’s invitation for the students to come talk to them afterwards. It was during that time that the young teen the youth pastor had told us about came up to Sydney and shared her story. She shared how she almost committed suicide… and that moment changed everything.
But we didn’t know it at the time. Hindsight makes things so much clearer, which is one of the reasons there’s a six month lapse in the blog. (If I wrote this stuff down as it happened… I don’t think it would make sense. Maybe it still doesn’t six months removed!)
Jamie and I sat back and watched two lines form, one for Brayden and one for Sydney. We watched our kids listen to these students, pray for them. We looked around and saw the youth pastor and volunteers watching their students connect with our kids. None of us had any idea how impactful this night would be.
The following morning, I woke up to a message from the youth pastor. He knew what happened the previous night was outside the norm. But, his words still echo in our lives… especially when we want to give up: Whatever this is, keep doing it.
He told us how parents had been texting and calling asking who the church brought in to speak to the kids. These kids were talking to their parents, some for the first time, about their struggles. And this wasn’t an anomaly. Everywhere we’ve been, the stories are the same. And every youth pastor, or parent, we’ve spoken to has ALWAYS said the same thing:
Our message is no different than anything these adults have said countless times before. The difference… it’s coming from their peers. More importantly, it’s coming from kids their age who are still in the thick of it. Sydney and Brayden don’t pretend to have the answers. They don’t have polished “church” answers. You see their pain and they give Jesus glory in the midst of it.
Their message isn’t “Just sit tight because tomorrow’s a new day.” Their’s is something different:
Today might suck, but push into it. Fight for it. Fight for one another because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
Six months removed… that statement rings true now more than ever. Why are we STILL living in our RV, quite LITERALLY on the opposite side of the country? (We’re in San Diego today.) Because we’re not taking today for granted… or any other day. We have one life to live and we’re no longer living it for ourselves.
This was the first day in a hard and painful lesson the Lord would begin teaching us. (He’s still teaching it to us!) Up until this point, we really knew nothing about following Jesus. We just knew how to “do church” really well.
That was about to change.
Early on, in the planning stages, we decided to spend the entire month of May in Texas. Our goal was simple: Recruit kids in Texas to participate in a Be The Change Fundraising Initiative to help grant the wish of a child in their home state. Our stats show that our average participant will raise approximately $250. So, with the fundraising goal at $9,700 (the average cost of granting a wish for Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana), we would need about 39 kids to participate. We knew this would be pretty easy, because recruiting kids to help other kids had NEVER been an issue. (But, God would soon humble us in our thinking… and blow us away with His generosity and favor, probably because He didn’t want us to get discouraged.)
Our first official stop was at a church in Austin, but not before having one of our “unofficial” stops to talk about Jesus, church and all things controversial. It just so happens that one of Sydney’s friends lives outside of Austin. They met on our family missions trip to the Bahamas a few years ago and have stayed in contact through the years. We didn’t know much about her family except that they voted for President Trump. And I was really excited to dig into some of our questions.
We happened to be staying at another Harvest Host that evening as well, an organic orchard outside of Austin. Jamie needed to have the RV there before it closed, so he and the dog headed in one direction while the kids and I headed in another. This meant I would be flying solo on this conversation.
We see so many divisions in the church… especially along political lines. We also see a lot people who are quick to make assumptions about others without taking into consideration someone’s perspective, or life experiences. We wanted to sit down and talk to people about their faith and how they choose to make choices in the political arena based on that faith. (Is it possible for a Republican AND a Democrat to profess a belief is Jesus Christ? It seems like a rhetorical question… but my Facebook feed would beg to differ.) Then based on those answers we want to know if it’s even possible to find, or fight for, unity in the church given our current political climate? It sounds like a weird thing to do, right? Yeah… we know. But the opportunities keep coming up so we keep pushing in. And I’m SO glad we have.
But, here’s the thing… we never even got to the conversation. Because a completely different conversation took center stage:
Why aren’t we a Christian organization?
Sydney’s friend had wanted her youth group to participate in our Fundraising Initiative to build a daycare in Haiti with Hands & Feet Project in 2017. She and her family even approached their pastor to see if their church could get involved. But there was one problem: Be The Change Youth Initiative didn’t have a statement of faith. Therefore, in their eyes, they couldn’t participate because we weren’t a Christian organization.
I tried to explain our position… we believe only people can be Christians, not organizations. I also explained how some of the families who participate in Be The Change Youth Initiative aren’t Christians and how many of them would have never considered participating if they thought it meant supporting, or promoting, religious beliefs they don’t adhere to.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about denying our faith. It doesn’t take long for anyone to know what we’re about. Whether you come to a show, read through a fundraising packet, or just spend time talking to Sydney… Jesus is there. Usually front and center. It’s in our DNA to talk about our faith. And maybe this is why her friend’s dad felt the need to push back and tell us that we needed to reconsider our position on having a statement of faith for our organization because, in his words, “We can’t be afraid of the gospel. You have to boldly proclaim it.”
And to be fair, I absolutely agree with the substance of his comments, but not the personal directive. Sharing the gospel isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” script. I can meet a complete stranger at the store and then 15 minutes later I’m buying them coffee and talking about Jesus. Sydney is COMPLETELY different and Be The Change is her organization. She’s walking it out in her time. In her way. Based on her convictions. Are there things we could do to garner mass appeal? OF COURSE! Suggestions have been made by so many professionals on how to “grow” this ministry. And 100% of the time, Sydney’s answer has been the same, “That doesn’t sound like something Jesus would do.”
At the beginning of this journey, she would then look at me or Jamie for approval, wanting to make sure it was okay to push back. But, she doesn’t do that anymore.
But, it was more than that.
We’ve been told on more than one occasion that churches won’t even consider partnering with us if we don’t have a statement of faith. Without even talking to us to hear our reasoning. The Lord was starting to show us something in this conversation. People have VERY strong opinions when it comes to stuff like this. Sometimes, based on their opinions, they will draw definitive lines in the sand… about who you are, what you believe, and, in some cases, if you’re a “true” Christian. (That’s not the case with this family at all! But, we have met some of those people on the road.)
Our convictions could be different for a multitude of reasons. It could be due to a lack of wisdom and discernment. It could be due to unrepented sin in our lives. Or, it could be because our calling is different… who we’re called to serve and share our testimony with is different. Everyone has a opinion. Just jump on social media and see all the posts about Kanye West… which is another great example. (And for the record, there are FAR TOO MANY other important things to spend our time on! FAR TOO MANY!)
About 15 minutes before we were about to leave, Jamie called to tell me that the kids and I needed to spend the night because a bad storm was headed our way… complete with tornado warnings. (A tornado actually landed about 15 minutes from us.) So, instead of leaving, we would be staying the night… with no clothes, no toothbrush, no Jamie…. with people we just met. (This was also a first for us… and would NOT be the last!) And I’m really thankful because we spent the next couple of hours eating Blue Bell ice cream and playing games. Any tension I felt in the earlier conversation disappeared. I was able to see past any perceived criticism. I’m not sure that would have happened had we not spent the night, had we not spent hours together enjoying one another’s company. Something I would tuck away for later. Unity is easier to achieve when there’s some degree of relationship, no matter how minuscule the degree.
The next morning we met Jamie at the orchard to see how he weathered the storm… and he was just fine. He made a new friend. One that kills rattlesnakes with a shot gun… and has the pictures to prove it. They spent the evening sharing a beer and talking about the nomad life. This really is such a surreal existence. We’ve made the most unlikely friends in the most unlikely places.
God’s provision for our family has been humbling, to say the least. Especially when it comes to financial provision. Thanks to a fundraising event a few days before we began this adventure, we started the trip with $3,000. But, traveling in a gas-guzzling RV with four kids that seem to be constantly eating, we knew money was going to be an issue. But, we also didn’t feel comfortable asking people to financially support us. While we are a registered non-profit organization, we aren’t a 501(c)3. This is intentional. If people want to support us, it has to be from the goodness of their hearts, or a prompting from the Holy Spirit, not because they get a tax write-off. (Yes, we are aware of the benefits of being a 501(c)3. But, we strongly feel like this is the road we’re supposed to walk. And, we know that it doesn’t make sense from a “business perspective” but, this isn’t a business. It’s our lives… and the Lord has taught us SO MUCH through this one decision alone.) Yet, despite our reluctance to ask for help, the Lord still provided it. And I want to share this story with you.
It all started the end of April, as I was sitting in a RV park in Louisiana. I received a FaceTime call from a young woman in Rhode Island who had been in my discipleship group years ago. She began telling me how the Lord put it on her heart, and her husband’s, to financially support, on a regular basis, what our family was being called to. So many questions were filling my head: How did they know we needed money? Why would they want to support us long-term? Do they even know what they’re supporting?!?! I mean, at this point WE had a hard time articulating a coherent mission statement or objectives.
I will always remember her response to my awkward questions of “Why?” (I mean, seriously, just say thank you, Deirdre!) She talked about watching our family walking out this crazy faith journey and how they wanted to support it, how they wanted to support us… because we had always been there for them. And just like that, God began sowing into this ministry. (And through this family’s generosity, they have single-handedly helped us create a suicide prevention PSA, purchase fundraising shirts for TWLOHA and shirts to help support our ministry.) Honestly, they have made it possible for us to continue helping others while on the road, which is the heart behind Be The Change Youth Initiative.
Jamie and I were both floored by how the Lord was using this couple to speak to us. We had fought asking people for financial support, but He was bringing it to us anyway. And then, two weeks later, I received another call from young lady that was also in my discipleship group… telling me the Lord had put it on her heart to also financially support our family. I remember this call like it was yesterday. We were packing up the RV, heading out to Austin for a show. I had to walk out of the vehicle because I didn’t want the kids to see me cry. Why were people doing this? I was, yet again, humbled by the generosity of others, but also ashamed by my unwillingness to ask for help. God had put it on our hearts to ask for financial support, but we just couldn’t do it. Yes, there was definitely pride involved. But it was more than that. We didn’t have a business plan. We didn’t have ANY plan. (And the laughable thing is that we still don’t!) We were CONSTANTLY told that we needed these things to legitimize this ministry. And, on paper, we totally understood that argument… and our “old” selves would have probably added our voices to that worldly-thinking choir. But, here’s the truth: We didn’t see that example set in scripture, so we weren’t going to follow it.
A few weeks after this, our family made the decision to stay on the road for the remainder of 2019, followed by the decision to return home to Maine to regroup… and fundraise. Jamie didn’t want to go back north. We were in Georgia by this point and were headed to the Midwest. Going back to Maine would cost us about $1000 and then another $1000 to get to the Midwest from New England. So, we made the goal of raising $3,000 during our time in Maine and came up with a plan. We would ask our church for 5 minutes to share about our ministry with the congregation, asking them to prayerfully consider supporting our family and then we would meet with five families (outside of our church) to see if they would consider supporting us for the remainder of the year.
It was a good, reasonable plan and we walked it out pretty well… at first. I had the opportunity to share with our church family, specifically how the Lord had opened up this huge door for our kids to speak to their peers about the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. After church, our youth pastor gave us a check for almost $1,200, which was taken in from the offering that morning… and was WAY more than we were even hoping for. We were off to a great start, but as the week went on and we began meeting with families, something began to change. For one reason or another, every time we sat down for a one-on-one conversation with a family, either Jamie or I would be overcome with this feeling that we weren’t supposed to ask. When it came to the fifth and final meeting, it was actually quite comical. Jamie was the one to make the call that night and he pulled the plug only seconds before. I remember pulling him aside and saying, “You know this is our last meeting, right?”
He acknowledged it and then said he was okay with not raising the $3,000. Achieving our arbitrary goal wasn’t worth the uneasiness he was feeling… and I was feeling it to. Several people have asked us to articulate the uneasiness and I’m not quite sure I can. But, I will say this: Standing before a group of people, testifying to the work the Lord is doing, and then asking them to prayerfully consider partnering with you is different from sitting across the table from someone and asking them the same question. With the former, there’s no pressure. If people choose to give, chances are they’re being obedient to the Holy Spirit. With the latter, the same could be true, but there’s more pressure, intentional or not, for people to respond to the personal appeal. And, PLEASE, hear me out… I’ve nothing against the personal ask. But, the Lord was teaching us to sit and wait on Him.
And we weren’t expecting what came next.
A few hours after that final meeting that didn’t really happen, Jamie and I went to the church to start packing up the RV for the second leg of our trip. While there, our youth pastor comes over and hands us another check. After hearing our story the following week, people brought in donations to help our family continue on in our journey. They gave us $1,700! All we could do is laugh. In our obedience of NOT asking, He provided. And to make this story all the better, that night we received a text from one of the families we met with… but didn’t ask for financial support. The text said the Lord had put it on their heart to give our family $150 a month for the rest of the year. A few weeks later, that last family we were supposed to ask… they emailed us to let us know they were giving us $500 a month until the end of the year!
We’ve never asked for support the way people told us too. But, He was still faithful. His people have been faithful. These stories only scratch the surface. In the months to follow, I would get sick, and His people would step up to provide for our family. I need surgery in a couple of weeks, which means a prolonged stay in the great (and expensive) state of California… and His people are providing for our family. The future isn’t really clear for us right now. But it is for Him and we trust Him. Now more than ever… because He has shown His provision for us in ways that are inexplicable.
Our family is forever changed because we learned how to wait on the Lord. There’s so much we can manufacture on our own and then give praise to the Lord for our success. I think back to a friend of mine who shared the story of missionaries visiting from China. They visited some of the biggest and “best” churches in New England. When asked what they thought about the churches here in the United States, they looked at each other and coyly snickered before one of them replied, “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish without the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Whether we knew it or not, that was our life before this trip.
That is no longer our life.
I talk about my Noonday Collection sisterhood a lot… and for good reason. These women pretty much funded half of Sydney’s Kickstarter campaign for her first EP two years ago and they’re quite literally the main reasons we’ve been able to stay on the road for this long. During our devotional time the other morning, Jamie said, “Your Noonday friends have truly been our church.” It’s a beautiful reflection of what this community has been for our family. Most of the homes and churches we’ve been invited to on the road have been through my connections with women I’ve either traveled with to Peru or Uganda, but some of these connections have been strictly through Facebook friendships. That’s the case with my friend Amy.
When I mentioned our family would be traveling through the great state of Mississippi, Amy reached out and offered us a place to stay. It really does go to show you how much the Lord was stretching us. The thought of spending the night at someone’s house we didn’t actually know was NOT something Jamie would have done before this trip. Never. But, the Lord was stripping away a lot of pretenses and pride. We were also longing for a real shower… one where you didn’t need flip-flops when you got in.
One of the things I love about the Stackler family is how genuine they are. From the moment we pulled in and their kids ran out to greet us, we knew they were “our people.” Our prayer from the very beginning was for the Lord to connect us with like-minded people and the Stackler’s have been one of the many families He would connect us with as He began weaving this beautiful tapestry.
And here’s something you should know when it comes to being “like-minded.” It doesn’t mean we agree on everything, or even anything. For our family, like-minded means we understand the need to push into our differences with respect and an honest desire to draw closer to Jesus as we seek out unity, wherever we can find it. We believe in civil discourse (and civil disobedience) and we love a spirited debate, as long as it’s based in truth. But, not everyone is interested in those things. Some people just want to fight and some people, no matter what facts you bring to the table, will always insist they are right. Humility isn’t really in their vocabulary. We wouldn’t consider those people to be like-minded.
But, we still try to love them… as difficult as that might be.
Our visit with the Stackler family happened to fall on a Sunday, which meant we joined them for church. It was our first Presbyterian church (Redeemer Church) and we loved it. The community they have at this church is amazing… and, honestly, I’m not sure too many others have compared over the past six months. After first service, we went to a class on cultivating intentional community. Jamie and I were jumping in at the tail end, but given where we were as a family and how the Lord was putting this idea of exploring genuine, Acts church community… maybe it was the Lord’s way of confirming we were on the right path, with the right people.
After church, the Stackler’s took us out to lunch. One of the other areas the Lord has REALLY stretched us: accepting generosity. I hate to admit this. Seriously. But, it’s true and it’s totally, 100% pride…. which makes it all the more GROSS. There was a season in our life where we could barely make ends meet. We had to choose between paying for groceries and for oil during the winter and people in our church community would step in to help. Their generosity forever changed us.
Years later, Jamie would get his “dream job” as a prosecutor with the Department of Justice. (It was really a nightmare, but that’s a different story for a different time.) And with that dream job came a paycheck that would allow us to give to others in a way we always longed for. But, now there was no job. There was no paycheck. There still isn’t… almost seven months in. We’re living off of our savings. (Dave Ramsey would most definitely not approve… and, for that reason alone, I’m okay with doing it.) But, we’re also receiving financial support from others. (This will be the topic for the next post… and it’s a good one!) Sometimes it’s still hard to accept the generosity of others… ESPECIALLY radical generosity, which we have been so humbled to receive… but gratitude wins out every single time.
After lunch, the Stackler’s invited us to their small group. This truly was a turning point for us. I’m not sure we knew it at the time though. Over the next six months, what was about to take place in this small group would be replicated in homes across the country…. literally. We’re at 38 states and counting. We would talk about real problems facing our country, facing the church in America. We talk about abortion, racial equality, gender equality, politics… that’s always a fun one… along with gun laws and immigration.
The premise is always the same: Can we create a place for healthy dialogue that allows us to push into scripture, and our relationships with one another, for the purpose of creating a witness to the world that underscores our unity, despite our differences.
But, don’t misunderstand me… there’s also a secondary (and tertiary) purpose. Can we look at these issue facing our country and filter our positions and opinions through the Word of God? Are we looking for our government to step in when the church should be stepping up? (I bet you can imagine how “spirited” these conversations can get when it comes to the topics of abortion, gay marriage, and gun reform!)
Thankfully, the Lord was so gracious with us our first time out. This small group was ready to dive in and so humble in their pursuit of grace-filled conversation. We talked about the very real possibility that many professed Christians in the American church might not actually be saved. Many have literally been told they should choose Jesus, even if they aren’t 100% sure, just to hedge their bets. (I’ve heard a pastor even call it fire insurance. I mean, if hell IS real, you don’t want to spend eternity there, right?!?)
As one of the men in their small group noted, “We’ve made the promises of Christ so irresistible, without underscoring the cost of actually following Jesus.”
He went on to say, “Our belief in him is only enough if that belief produces fruit.” (I think James would agree with that assessment.)
These two statements would become the catalyst for so much over the next few months. Our family would be forced to weigh that cost of following Jesus twice: once with a complete change in direction for the ministry of Be The Change Youth Initiative and then again with an unexpected health scare.
Both have had a profound impact on our lives.