Jan 1, 2010

covering a decade in one post

It's wild how much happens in a decade, and how certain themes stand out to different people. Be it good times or tough times, God uses so many things shape a person.

In 2000...
  • I bought a kerosene heater and filled our bathtub up with water just in case Y2k went down. It was the first house we owned together.
  • My wife and I welcomed in the New Year together by counting down with folks from our church. Just a few seconds before midnight, I gave her a pair of diamond earrings.
  • I got my first writing assignment from someone... and I gave it away to them for free.
  • I went to my first National Youth Worker's Convention.
  • My wife was a teacher in the public schools, and I was a youth pastor in a great church.
  • It was just Katie and I... and our dog.
In 2001...
  • My son, Joshua, was born to us... what an incredible blessing. His life helped save two others within just months of his birth.
  • My dad responded to an invitation to receive Jesus into His life in a new way.
  • I went to my second National Youth Worker's Convention. While I was gone, my wife became ill.
  • A group of guys and I coordinated a huge weekend in Chicago for thousands of teens.
  • Our senior pastor left to start another church, and so I started doing a lot of the preaching in addition to the youth ministry. It was still a great church, though.
In 2002...
  • My son took his first steps... and I saw them.
  • I went to my third National Youth Worker's Convention... this time as a speaker. While I was gone, bees infested my home.
  • I ate the best steak in my life... probably the best meal in my life. Some place in Sacramento that I never caught the name of but could find if given the chance.
  • Our church hired a new senior pastor.
  • I was unjustly let go from my position at the church. I had to work as a waiter to help my family get by, in addition to anything else I could find. I also had to decide if I wanted anything to do with "church world" anymore... which meant a huge crisis in my faith. Instead of hitting auto-pilot, I entered into some deep soul digging... and came out on the other side more in love with the Lord and His Church ("on it's good days and it's bad days") than ever before.
  • I entered a new church and took on the youth ministry role there.
  • My family and I sold our old home and took on a new home.
In 2003...
  • My son, Daniel, was born to us... another incredible blessing. His life filled added to our hearts in so many ways, including an understanding that life is fragile.
  • We invested into our new home... painted walls, landscaped the front yard and back yard, put up borders and themed rooms around our boys... added a banister... you get the idea.
  • I went to my fourth National Youth Worker's Convention... with a dream team accompanying me. While I was gone, my kids became incredibly sick.
  • Our new church began to plan for a new youth building. I began coordinating and brainstorming ideas for this with key leaders, as well as with staff in the church on what this might look like. A lot of enthusiasm.
  • The youth group grew in size and in depth... teenagers were giving their lives to Jesus all over the place. One night, 40 kids came to place their faith in the Lord. It was amazing!
  • After conversations with my senior pastor and hearing his definition of success... I started to worry for my job.
In 2004...
  • I began to become someone I wasn't... to keep my job.
  • Katie and I started to work on our garage... these birds used to come into them because the roof wasn't sealed. So we sealed it (with the help of family).
  • I spent the spring and summer packing up our old youth building, having high school ministry meet in my backyard, middle school ministry meet under a tent, and desperate to get into the youth building our church was putting up. I wore myself out.
  • My bride and I celebrated ten years of marriage together.
  • In September, we met for the first time in this new building.
  • In October, I was unjustly asked to step out of my role as a youth worker and reassigned to another role in the church that had a four-month timeline to its longevity. I went home during lunch... and told my wife the news. We sat around the table in one of the rooms we'd invested time into painting and prettying up since owning it. I remember looking at the green carpet in the next room... we'd put that in, too. Funny how you remember certain things like that. That night I showed up to my first responsibility the new job required... with a chosen smile on my face.
  • I got the lights. Some of the kids whom I'd impacted TP'd my office. Funny how you remember certain things like that.
  • I went to my fifth National Youth Worker's Convention. For the first time... not as a youth worker. During that week, the Lord again challenged me with what I would do with people who give Him a bad name. When I realized I was one of them, and He still loved me, I again fell in love with His church and its potential. ("The church is a whore, and she is my mother." - Augustine)
  • I started looking for other job options... but knew that I still needed to give my best where I was... so I did.
In 2005...
  • I was told I was doing an amazing job in my new role... my job was extended another four months. I kept doing my job as best as I can... and I kept looking.
  • My wife got to watch a neighbor girl she'd connected with and brought to church get baptized. We call that simple act of loving people around us and seeing what God does with that "The Nikala Factor."
  • We sold our house. We had to repaint a few of the rooms... tear down some of the borders that we'd chosen to personalize it... that was difficult.
  • My job ended. I sort of slipped out under the radar... not a lot of fanfare.
  • We moved into my wife's parents' house... "just for a few months." After all I was sure I was going to get hired somewhere where I was in the final running. They were on vacation... the house was small, but empty. We weren't complaining.
  • I didn't get the job. Oh.
  • I was offered another job. But it wasn't the right fit on my end. And then I wanted another job, but it wasn't the right fit on their end. (you can copy and paste this statement several, several, several, several times)
  • I started blogging... not like I had anything to say that anyone would want to read, but I needed a way to try to stay sane.
  • I was offered my "dream" job - the one I'd always wanted. But God wasn't in it... and I turned it down. Which made me ask, "If that's not my dream job, what is?"
  • We were running out of money. Still living at my in-laws modular home, and they'd now returned from vacation. Shared space... one roof... two households.
  • I started writing professionally... someone actually asked me to write for them and they offered me money. And then someone else read that, and offered me money to write for them, too.
  • The church I was let go from in 2001? They lost their senior pastor... and asked me to come back and start teaching there while they searched for a new one. That became a regular job for almost nine months... and I had the chance to reconcile loose ends from the past while making an eternal impact.
  • I went to my sixth National Youth Workers Convention - because a buddy of mine let me mooch off of him and another buddy on the top leg of the convention spotted me a registration.
In 2006...
  • We were still in my in-law's home.
  • My son Joshua started asking questions on his own that inspired him to ask Jesus to be His Lord and Savior. Wow!
  • My wife and I began to ponder and imagine planting a church. And so we started... and moved to the town we thought it would be best to plant in. We began the process... and then we stopped. And started again. And then stopped.
  • We were again running out of money... my wife started working at Panera. I took on a part-time job at a Boys and Girls Club... and as a freelance writer for the Kalamazoo Gazette... and still as a Sunday speaker for that former church... and still looking for the "right fit" with a church... job hunting every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
  • My oldest son began Kindergarten - homeschooled by the best teacher I've ever known (my wife).
  • I was offered another writing job... this time one that paid regular money every week. My wife was able to quit Panera. That was a really, really great conversation. That company also offered me a full-time role... which I really pondered taking. "Was this supposed to be my new job?"
  • The Kalamazoo Gazette began to groom me for a staff role. I had several front page articles... which was weird since I'd never taken a journalism class in my life. "Was this supposed to my new job?"
  • A church we'd started attending was taking steps to bring me in as a staff member... I might eventually lead a satellite church they would start in a year. "Was this supposed to be my new job?"
  • I started talking with this church in Ohio. I think it was literally after having spoken with 400 other churches on some level... and I really wish I was exaggerating. So to me the conversation was quite routine. The guy on the other end tells me some stuff, I tell him some stuff, and it ends up being another "non-fit" one way or the other.
  • I kept talking to this church. One phone call had members of their staff asking me questions. I was tired of interviewing the "right" way, so I just said what I thought. No masks. No desire to impress. Full disclosure. And strangely... they kept talking with me.
  • We were invited for a visit. I came with my family... I knew I'd turn the job down. We got off the highway and suddenly... my heart started to break for the people of this town.
  • Two weeks later, I went to my seventh National Youth Worker's Convention. And in the middle of it knew I needed to accept the job that had been offered to me by that church.
  • My wife flew over, and in 36 hours found our house. We came back a couple weeks later to sign the papers (and for me to preach the Christmas Eve service). We then moved in a week later (and were helped on the Michigan end by everyday people whose lives we'd touched simply by loving them as our neighbor).
In 2007...
  • I began serving Connection Church as its Lead Pastor. That was and still is so completely humbling. I determined to never become someone I wasn't to tell people who God is.
  • My youngest son - Daniel - place his faith in Jesus as His Lord and Savior... and we celebrated!
  • My wife and I decided that we would hold everything in our life - our house, vehicles, yards, and so forth - very simply and loosely... just in case wanted to use it for something awesome.
  • I realized that part of being a lead pastor means cleaning up after people's carelessness... sometimes my own, and sometimes other leaders - past and present. But that's part of the gig, and I won't hide it.
  • Since our church met in a movie theater, I kept the main projector at home throughout the week. I had a crazy idea to use it on the side of our house and show movies to the neighbors... and we did, and it was a ton of fun.
  • After many days and weeks of helping and coaching him, Katie and I watched Joshua ride his bike without training wheels!
  • My first book (with my name on it - not someone else I was ghost-writing for) was published.
  • My mom lost her husband... and four days later was served notice that she couldn't sell her house to the only person who was interested in it. She soon began to fight for her house when the city got quite silly and self-seeking. So I called the press and the grassroots fight began. She eventually moved to Ohio near us.
  • Our church moved out of the movie theater and into a rent-free building (while the next building was being built).
  • I went to my eighth National Youth Worker's Convention... again as a speaker. My family was sick while I was gone, and of course... I got sick - pink eye, sore throat, stuffy nose - you name it. And my electronics failed in my presentation. I bombed it bad.
In 2008...
In 2009...
  • I finished writing a book... and used the income from that to take my family on an amazing vacation.
  • I found out the book I finished was going to be published by a "big dog" in the publishing world.
  • My boys did the sports thing some more... and showed me more of how amazing they are in character. (Not to mention, Joshua scored his first touchdown, and Daniel had a great soccer season.)
  • My wife and I were floored by God one night.
  • Somehow... fifteen years of marriage went by. And by that I mean they were absolutely amazing... which is why my bride and I celebrated it by renewing our vows together and going away on a special trip "just the two of us."
  • Daniel started Kindergarten... also under the greatest teacher in the world.
  • Our church blessed our socks off... fun cards and cakes... a great dinner filled with all the trimmings. What a great group of people!
  • I went to my tenth National Youth Workers Convention - this time as someone behind the scenes who helped support things for the people I've grown to become great friends with.
  • We became pregnant with our third child. Totally joyful... totally on purpose... totally a God thing.

I know I started out this post simply and ended up doing some dumping along the way. I apologize if that bothered you, but I felt the need to just be honest... a couple of times I pondered deleting some things I wrote, but I'm tired of playing that game. If something is wrong, I'm not going to dance around it.

On the other hand, the reason I went there is because so much of life right now feels "right." Not because it's "good and happy and nice" but because we've been sandpapered by life and backward choices people have made in our direction... and we've sort of learned to recognize what really matters and what doesn't. Like how we need to spend more time in relationships and less on our stuff... and how there is a much larger Story to live in than "how much money?" and "how many did you count?" and "me, me, me."

I think it's why last night Katie and I talked a bit after we put the boys to bed (after the countdown to the New Year). We're so exceedingly grateful to God where we are at, thankful that He's taught us so much about ourselves and people and what it means to serve Him. So again - if it seems like I have some unresolved issues with anything above, it's not... it's more than I've not let those things define me as much as I continue to let them refine me.

Maybe that's the best any of us can hope for from where we've come. Because if you reverse that... you're always stuck in the past.

Me? It's a new day, and a new decade.
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:13-14)

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