A lot has happened since last week (Seriously, it feels like a lifetime of craziness has taken place in just a few, short days!). Therefore, I feel the need to post another update on how the Sturgeons are doing in Iola. The rollercoaster ride we’ve been on has left us a bit dizzy, but God has been good in both the highs and the lows. Sometimes you have to get better glasses to see His faithfulness when you’re stuck in the mud of a valley, but He’s always there, working through the bad, as much as, if not more than, the good.
October 5th & 6th, my husband and I were given the opportunity through Dirt Roads Network to attend boot camp for church planters at Lamont Wesleyan Church. It was an intense couple of days of learning with a room full of amazing, potential, current, and future church planters. John and Danielle Freed are such great encouragers for people who are ready to take steps of faith to do what God has called ALL of us to do. You should totally check out their ministry at Waterline Church. David and I walked away from the weekend feeling encouraged and challenged to dig deep and remain faithful to the call God has placed on our lives, which was good timing. (I’ll get to the why of that soon.)
In the middle of boot camp, David and I both celebrated our birthdays and attended the homecoming football game, where we ironically, with torn emotions, watched our new home town beat our old home town, all while trying to maintain some sense of where all our kids were and what they were doing. It was a crazy weekend, and that does not include Sunday. Whew!
Our group of young adults met in our home Sunday evening, and it was a breakthrough night. We talked about officially making Sundays our regular meeting day, with one day dedicated to mission out in the community, one dedicated to feasting together, and two nights for gathering and developing a community of people committed to loving and encouraging one another. God broke down some walls during our time together, which created space for genuine, meaningful conversation. It’s hard to describe, but it was powerful. Our family went to bed that evening happy and excited about sensing a movement of God amongst our little tribe. Then, we woke up…
I believe it was David’s alarm going off sometime in the 5AM hour that initially interrupted my sleep. David was pretty tired, so he wasn’t responding to his alarm as promptly as usual. I fumbled around for my phone to see what time it was and couldn’t find it in its usual place on my nightstand. Remembering that I had fallen asleep while reading, I felt around the bed and eventually reached my hand down to see if it had been knocked to the floor. Water, two inches of it, met my hand as it plunged into what felt like a pool. “That’s strange,” I thought, “Did I accidentally spill my bottled water?” Again, it was somewhere around 5AM, and I am not a morning person, so I was delirious. I found my phone and turned on its flashlight to see if I could figure out what had caused the watery mess…water everywhere, with clothes, shoes, and stuffed animals floating all along the basement floor. That’s when I said, “Um, Dave, the basement is flooded.”
“What?!” he cried as he jumped out of bed. Slosh, slosh was the sound I heard as he rushed to turn on the lights. Yep, our entire 1500 square foot basement floor was covered in two inches of water. To give you an even better idea of the gravity of this situation, the basement is where our family has been living and sleeping while we renovate the upstairs bedrooms of the house. This means we have six family members with six beds, six dressers, and six people’s belongings all down in the basement…not good. The kids began to be alerted to what was going on. Kylen was immediately concerned about her pointe shoes (dancer); they were safe. Elanie was concerned about her school computer, not safe, fully submerged in water as it was charging. David hurried to pull it out of the water and was very nearly electrocuted, along with anyone else who happened to be standing in the water with him. Thank goodness he and all of us were spared! There were several extension chords in various places around the basement floor with a variety of things plugged into them, lamps, phones, a TV, a fridge. We are extremely thankful that a fire wasn’t started by any of these items shorting, and we are all even more grateful that Dave is alive. He had a few close calls while unplugging things. During all of this, Caleb slept peacefully (lucky), while Samuel just appeared dazed and confused.
The rest of the day was spent clearing out as much water as we possibly could, doing as much laundry as we possibly could, and salvaging as many belongings of ours that we possibly could. Fortunately, we had excellent help from my parents, our pastors, and our fellow Iola church planter, Seth. Seth also introduced us to his friend and co-worker, Donald, who owns the local laundromat. He was so gracious in allowing us to wash and dry several loads of laundry for free. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Donald as we sat waiting for our blankets, clothing, and other soft, waterlogged items to dry. When we thanked him, he said, “When God tells you to be a blessing, you’re supposed to do what He says, that simple.” Donald was without a doubt a huge blessing to our family that day. So, if you are in Iola and need to do a few loads of laundry, I highly recommend Iola Soap and Suds Laundromat. You’ll be supporting one of the nicest gentlemen in town.
We all went to bed…Exhausted? Yes! A little sad? Yes! Somewhat discouraged? Maybe. Defeated? NO! My dad asked me a question earlier in the day, “Are you sure God called you to Iola with all of this stuff happening?” My response was, “Dad, this confirms it!”
One of the principles we already knew and were reminded of that weekend during bootcamp is that whenever you seek to follow God’s call on your life, especially in the area of church planting and growing His kingdom, bad circumstances happen. Difficulty isn’t an if; it’s a when. In fact, a month into Lamont’s church plant in New Strawn, now Radiant Life, a fire broke out in our building, rendering our brand new baby church without a consistent place to meet for several months. Our congregation shrank and so did our excitement. However, without that fire, we would not have witnessed the amazing miracles God was going to do in the aftermath, and our faith would not have grown as much as it did.
Remember this and keep it in your back pocket for later: God is ALWAYS faithful, always, even when it seems He isn’t, even when life does not go our way, even when disaster pummels us. He is always at work amidst the crazy, and He WILL build His church. He promised in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell would not be able to overcome His followers, His people. The church is not a building. It’s not a denomination. It’s not a religion of people committed to obeying certain rules. The church is a body; the body of Christ (Romans 12:5). It is a people who are relentlessly committed to loving God and loving one another with all that we have and all that we are. It’s a community so set on fire by the good news that Jesus offers freedom, forgiveness, and redemption from sin, that they cannot help but share that message in real, tangible ways with as many people as they possibly can (Acts 4:20).
Something we found floating amidst the chaos that was our basement yesterday was a little 4T t-shirt that said, “Why?” By the way, we had never seen this shirt before. Caleb later found it as I was folding the clean clothes and wanted to wear it this morning. At first we thought it was funny because the shirt represented the question our family was asking as we waded through our soggy stuff. “Why?” In other words, the question all of us asks when difficulty occurs, “Why? Why did this happen? Why God? Why does life so very often make no sense at all?” As I watched Caleb run around the house this morning in his “Why?” shirt, God reminded me of another principle we learned at bootcamp: “Remember your why.” God didn’t promise us that following Him would be easy, but He promised to never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). He said, “In this world, you will have trouble,” (John 16:33). However, He also said, “But take heart, I have overcome the world,” (same verse).
When following God and trusting Him becomes difficult, when you love others faithfully who are tough to love, and they leave you, when life’s dark seasons become almost too difficult to endure, remember your why. Why do you follow God? Why do you love Him? Why do you love others? Why did you uproot your family and move, making life even more inconvenient, only to have your basement flood, and why keep going? Because, we are not here to follow God into an easy life. We are here to love others so lavishly that they would actually see the person of Jesus in us, no matter the cost, because that’s how much Jesus loves us. He left paradise for us, lived a human life full of pain, hunger, sorrow, thirst, and difficult people for us, and died for us, so we could know and love Him. How could we offer Him anything less? Jesus is our why. His love is our why, and loving the people of Iola is my family’s why. We came for the people who met in our home Sunday evening, people who just want to be loved. That’s our why.