Since my bride was honest in her last post, I figured I might as well be honest, too: this has not been easy on me. It’s been 3 months now since I’ve gotten up and gone to work in the morning, 3 months since I’ve had the privilege of standing before our church and leading them in worship, 3 months since I’ve had to do anything. Now, let me tell you, that sounds great when you’re in the midst of the craziness of everyday life, family and ministry. And, again to be honest, it has been great in so many ways: I’ve had a ton of time with my family, some time to just rest, room to breathe, time to think.
One of the things people have said to us as we’ve walked out the path before us is “Man, you guys have such faith!” I often wonder if what’s being said out loud hides what they’re really thinking: “You guys are absolutely nuts!” Either way, when I hear that, I cringe. Faith? Us? My faith is so small! I doubt constantly. I wonder if I heard wrong, if all this was just bad pizza. I get scared. I feel like a loser. I feel like a failure.
It’s hard. And when, over and over and over, we keep hearing God say “wait”, well, it’s enough to make you lose your mind. To me, waiting is an action that’s really the absence of action; it’s the complete opposite of action! What, Lord? Do nothing? Just sit here? Just wait? We’ve had every tie that bound us to our community severed: our home, our church, my job, daily contact with friends….and we’re just supposed to wait???
And as we’ve waited, trying to keep an ever shrinking ember of hope alive, one word has kept popping up: Bethel. House of God. Bethel in our devotions. Bethel in our kid’s school work. Bethel on road signs. Bethel on church signs. Now, I’m not usually given to seeking meaning in every little thing, but Bethel was coming up so frequently, we’d have been crazy to ignore it.
One of the few constants on our journey, actually the only constant, has been the Holy Spirit’s use of the Word of God to guide, direct, and confirm. As we’ve navigated the waters He’s placed us in, we’ve gotten directions to stay, directions to wait , and at times, the push to go.
So when Bethel kept coming up in the most unlikely of ways, we did what anyone in our situation would do: we Googled it. If you’ve never done that, let me assure you, there are a lot of places named Bethel.
Yet I knew a Google search wasn’t where we were going to find the answer. Like always, it was in prayer and going back to the Scriptures that we’d find the next step.
Bethel was the first place that the Lord God met Jacob and spoke to him. It was at Bethel that Jacob slept on a rock pillow and dreamed a little dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth. At Bethel, God promised Jake the land of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. It was during this first encounter at Bethel that Jacob set his heart to follow the Lord.
Then sometime later, Jacob goes back to Bethel (Genesis 35). This time, the Lord told him to go. He told him to go there, to dwell there (that means to abide, to remain), and to build an altar there (to worship). And Jacob went, and the Lord appeared to him again (Gen 35:9-12), changed his name from Jacob to Israel, and reaffirmed the promise He made to give the land to Jake’s descendants.
You know, sometimes, in order to go forward, you have to go back.
Sometimes in order to find the thing we’ve lost, we have to return to where we last remembered having it. After praying about it, talking about it, thinking about it, we realized we were to go “back to Bethel”, back to where all the stirrings and unsettledness kicked into high gear, back to where the Lord really started preparing our hearts for this move. We were going back to Oklahoma.
So we packed up the car and we headed west on I-40. We took our time, wanting to enjoy the trip across the country with our kids, to take in the sights. We climbed on boulders in the river below Chimney Rock. We gawked at the neon lights of Nashvegas. We drove along the breathtaking beauty of the Natchez Trace parkway. We rode and elevator to the top of the Pyramid and gazed on the Mighty Mississippi in Memphis. And finally, after 1200 miles and two full days, we arrived back where it all began: Oklahoma City.
Thanks to the kindness of my sister and brother-in-law, we’ve had a place to unpack our bags and rest for a bit. They have made us feel completely at home, and have given us the unrepayable blessing of time to pray and seek the Lord. For the first time since October, we have worshipped at the same church for 3 consecutive Sundays. If that sounds insignificant to you, I’ll pray for you. I can’t explain how HUGE that is for me, for us. I’ve been able to show my kids around the land I grew up in, the land I left 3 decades ago.
It’s been great, but it hasn’t been easy. We had hoped for a quick word once we got here, something that would give us clarity about the next step. Is it here? Is this where we’re supposed to be long-term? This was not what we had planned. And each time we seek an answer we get the one we’ve gotten for so long now: wait.
Funny thing to close this chapter: on the way out west, as we were driving in Western North Carolina, I texted a close friend and pastor that I served with at our church. I let him know we were heading west to seek the Lord. Immediately, he called me back and said we had been on his heart a lot lately. That very morning, the Lord had spoken to him in prayer that we needed to go, to get out of NC, to take the next step. He said he was going to call and talk to me but got into the office and got busy. It was so awesome to hear that, to receive that confirmation that we were on the right path. I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes.
Then we passed an exit sign that caused me to throw on my hazards, pull off the side of the highway, and slam the car in reverse to read it again:
Ok Lord…we’re listening…while we wait.