The Gospel in Unlikely Places

You know the old saying, “You never appreciate how many great mentors you have in your life until you ask them to write blog posts for your marriage blog?” No? No one? Well we’ll call it a new phrase then.

Walk into the Hebrews coffee shop in tiny Perry, Oklahoma and it’ll feel less like a small town and more like an uptown cafe in a much larger city. With towering front windows that look out onto the courthouse lawn, massive ceilings, and local artwork covering the exposed brick walls, I sometimes giggle to think that this little town barely knows what hit it. I (Jen) had the great pleasure of working with Tina at our church in Oklahoma until she and her husband followed God’s calling to an unlikely and often forgotten place: small town Oklahoma. Three cheers for their courage and all they’re doing to advance the gospel in small places. Try not to smell the coffee and muffins as you read. I dare you.

Someone asked us at the counter last week if opening up a coffee shop had been our lifelong dream. Brian and I just looked at each other and smiled a secret smile that 28 1/2 years of marriage lets us do. The short answer was, “No, it wasn’t our dream. It was God’s plan for us.” Our education background is education and psychology. We’ve taught school, worked in career services at Oklahoma State University, and most recently, LifeChurch.tv. Our restaurant experience together totals 1-2 years tops–mine at Hardee’s the summer after high school, and Brian’s at Eskimo Joe’s.

For the first 21 years of our marriage, Brian and I did not follow Christ. We re-committed our lives in 2005, and since we were such late bloomers, we both prayed boldly that God would use us however He saw fit. We acknowledged that our lives no longer belonged to us and we were willing to answer His call, whatever that might be. God answered our prayer by putting us on the fast track to living a life for Him. We started attending LifeChurch.tv in Stillwater, began volunteering after 6 months, joined a lifegroup for 5 months, then led one the next fall. During this time, God was working behind the scenes, and before we knew it we became employeess at LifeChurch.tv in jobs that neither one of us applied for.

Several months after starting his job in Edmond, Brian felt God calling him to plant a church. He was commuting back and forth from Stillwater every day–a forty-five minute drive each way. Brian and God had many conversations during his commute. It took a handful of months, and many conversations for Brian to accept this calling from God. You must know that he is introverted by nature and he’s also a high “thinker” on the Myers-Briggs personality scale, so while all this was going on, he was keeping it between himself and God. In my little world, I was just getting used to joining the workforce after 11 years of homeschooling the kids and working from home. This change was a major adjustment for me and for our family as a whole.

Needless to say, when Brian finally decided to share what God had put on his heart 6 months earlier, the timing was not great and the declaration was met with tears…many tears on my part (By the way, I’m a high “feeler” on the personality scale–yes, opposites do attract and marriages can work!) However, God knew what he was doing and he had put us right where He wanted us. We continued to work and grow in our relationship with God and in our positions at LC.tv, literally soaking up all we could from the amazing environment we found ourselves in 7 days a week.

Fast forward 2 years. I got over the tears for the most part. God helped me get on board when he gave me a double SOS during a fast–Surrender, Obey & Submit and Serve Others Sacrificially. He let us know that planting a coffee shop along with the church would be our passport into the community. We discovered that He brought us to Perry to build relationships (through HeBrews, the coffee shop we now operate), change lives (which we have seen and continue to see over and over), unite churches (we have a growing relationship with a local church and share distribution in their food ministry), and transform the community (this one is on the horizon, and is multi-faceted; God is moving and stirring us with His work and plans at present).

Looking back we feel like God was preparing us all along to work side by side, even when we weren’t following Him. We taught school together, worked at OSU together, worked at LifeChurch.tv together, and now spend nearly all of our waking hours working side by side at HeBrews doing the work God has called us to do.

Our days are long, but fulfilling. We get along without tension or irritation 97% of the time. (The other 3% might be a different blog post altogether!!) In the year HeBrews has been open, we have shared in life-change stories told at the counter, at a table over a cup of coffee, or in the experience room during one of our two weekly church services. Whenever we wonder if making mochas, baking blueberry muffins, or mopping floors is really what God wants us to do, all we have to do is reflect on stories told, or listen to people right in front of us, and anticipate the stories that have yet to be told.

Build relationships, change lives, unite churches, and transform the community. That’s the vision God has given us here. Staying laser-focused on His plan for us requires us to remember Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light for my path.” One step of obedience at a time while he reveals each step through His word, His people, circumstances and prayer.

No, we didn’t have a lifelong dream to open a coffee shop or plant a church, but God had that dream for us. He knew long before we gave our lives to Him what He had in store for us. Now it is our privilege to carry out those plans each morning at 6am as we make our way down to HeBrews to serve the people in Perry…the people He has called us to serve.

Guest Post- In Sickness and in Health

This post is from Jen’s friend Debbie. She has been blessed in marriage twice, and has been an example to so many on what it means to live out and support a husband in sickness and in health. We asked her to share a little about what that has meant for her and hope it blesses some of you today!

Have you ever made a promise to someone you knew was going to be difficult to keep? Did you pinky swear? That always makes things official, you know? It has been quoted multiple times, “Promises are made to be broken.” I must tell you, this is a myth. Promises are best when kept, no matter how difficult the task. Our story…

I met him, fell in love with him, and promised to love, honor, cherish and commit to him in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, for better, for worse, in poverty or in prosperity, till death do us part. I vowed these things before God and the well-dressed witnesses smiling in bow-laden church pews, candles glowing with my groom in a very uncomfortable dark navy tuxedo. My heart was full. My happiness overflowed on this my long awaited wedding day. I meant every recited word as I pledged my love to him. I promised.

Fast forward 10 plus years, two sons later. My husband was suddenly sick, hurting badly. He knew something was wrong. We sought help immediately. The doctors told us the battle would be long and would be hard to fight. The doctor was extremely accurate in his prediction. The battle raged.

As the illness grew stronger and he grew weaker, the idea of multiple medications, physical therapy, an amputated limb, wheelchairs, hospital beds, and sleepless nights all weighed heavy as I began to question my ability to transform from wife to nurse/care-taker as rapidly as his needs presented. I asked myself in numerous silent conversations, “Did I sign up for this?” “I thought I was to be the blushing, beautiful bride forever, not do ‘this’ for him.” “Why God? Why?” I was selfish. I was mad at the illness that was stealing him away from me. I continued to question my ability to take care of his needs. I cried, whined, but also prayed. My prayers were varied. Some days I prayed for his healing, some days I prayed for my own health and well-being. My sons prayed for their father. A lot of tears were shed. I would guess there were as many fallen tears as prayers offered up.

His pain worsened. His hope for a long life waned. He first asked and then begged for me to take his life, withhold his medication or give him more than was needed. He cried. I cried. We prayed.
We were thankful for days where his strength was good, especially if they fell on Sunday so that we could worship together, as a family. It was a very important part of our lives, but we missed many services due to his illness and healthcare needs. That week, we were welcomed into the church with hugs and handshakes from people we had not seen in quite some time. The minister was preaching a sermon series on The Ten Commandments, familiar material I assumed and then I heard HIM loud and clear, “Thou shalt not kill.” As my body shuddered from the impact of God’s Word, I heard another voice in my ears, my own words were echoing “In sickness and in health, in good times and bad, for better, for worse…” My vow, promise and commitment to him was written on the blackboard of my mind’s eye and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not ever help him end his life and that it was my honor to serve my husband in the capacity of care-taker until God choose to heal him. My frame of mind changed that day. I had a renewed sense of purpose and a spirit of thanksgiving. I continued to pray.

Time and illness continued to take its toll on his body and his mind. I began to pray for an answer in the form of divine healing, “please take him home Lord” I was not sure if this was okay to pray, but these were the words coming from my mouth. It was one of the most difficult prayers I had ever prayed. I wanted his earthly suffering to end. That same evening, he asked me to sit by the bedside as he talked, his voice unusually strong. We had not had a deep conversation like this in a very long time.

It was a cold December day, winds howling as a reminder of a new season blowing in. I remember his words well. I held onto his hand as he spoke about his heart-change that had taken place that day as he prayed. He spoke of a forgiveness that he had never felt before from his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I was surprised when he asked me to help him with the phone, dialing multiple numbers across state lines. He was telling friends and family of his relationship with Jesus. He asked for forgiveness from past wrongs he wanted to make right immediately. He made amends with people he once held very strong grudges against. I was dumbfounded at the change in him. I had no idea these deep issues even existed. I was feeling something new at that moment too; I was falling in love all over again, fresh love, for my husband; not a sick man in need of care and attention, but the man I loved greatly, the man I made a promise to many years before.

“Till death do us part.” It happened sooner than I had expected, but I held onto the Word, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” It was my hope and God’s promise. The Word brought comfort during the difficult days ahead. I tried to be strong for our sons, but they offered me strength. We got through the next few days sitting with the many people that visited with baked hams and scalloped potatoes running over. We were numb at some moments, crying with sadness of his passing, and at other times, laughing at a funny memory of silliness, and the good days gone by.

Sympathy cards and phone calls came in large numbers those first few days after the announcement came of his death. The number of visits drew less and less as the world kept living at their normal pace. My new normal was foreign to me. I cherished a friend’s call or visit as days grew into weeks and months.
During those first few months after he was gone, I reflected on how God answered the prayers of healing in His perfect time. He waited until reconciliation was made and all was well in his heart before calling him home. I often remember with joy, that moment when I fell in love with him all over again because I saw before me my groom, not a sick body in need of care, but a man that I made a promise to.

As I looked through the envelopes the mail man had just delivered, I wondered who would be sending me a card. It was not my birthday nor any holiday where a card might be expected. I was full of anticipation, a card, I love cards! As I read the words, tears began to fall. The handwritten note from one of his many doctors read, “I have never known anyone to keep their marriage vows the way you did. You were an example to many…in sickness and in health, till death do you part.”

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Guest Post – A Letter to Marriage

The post today is from our good friend Lindsay who, on her blog, has written a letter to a different person, place, or thing every day for the last 109 in a row. We asked her to write one to marriage for us to get the perspective of someone who isn’t eight months deep in their wedding vows. Goodness ensued…enjoy:

Dear marriage,

Hmmm…interesting letter to write considering you are nowhere near a possibility in my life currently. Nonetheless, my dear friends from @marriageproject asked me to discuss what I expect marriage to be like and how it fits in with God’s plan for my life. Well, let’s just cut to the chase!

You scare me. I think you have to be the most difficult endeavor. You require two very selfish idiots to come together as one. This is a combination for disaster. You’re not like work…there’s no 5 o’clock. You never end. You require constantly being engaged, communicating and interacting even when you don’t feel like it. I think you’re a daily choice that must include effort and hard work.

Now that I’ve stripped you of all goodness, I also expect you to be one of the neatest endeavors. You provide a person to do life with, laugh with, encourage, challenge, love, process with and a steadfast friend. You are the closest picture this side of heaven of Christ and the Church. You are, at least supposed to be, unconditional love, an example of unselfishness, service of others and maybe my favorite, willing to take on ALL of somebody else’s junk just like Christ takes on our sin.

So, I guess my expectations are very lopsided. I would describe them as realistic. Who knows if they’re anywhere close to reality, but in the meantime, I’m waiting. Waiting for the right guy. The guy I can serve the Lord better with because he’s standing by my side. I’m waiting for what God intended. I’m waiting for intimacy. In reality, I’m not waiting. I’m actively running to the Lord.

Our society seems to tell us life doesn’t begin until we find the man of our dreams (woman for the fellas) and do life with him. Senior year of college is filled with candlelights, summers are jam packed with weddings, marriage blogs are read enviously and pity parties for singleness occur because family and friends constantly ask for the dating update. We’re set up for failure. We long for you and miss out on what is right in front of us. I refuse to let this happen in my life.

Single, married, old, young, black, white, Christian or non-believer, we’re all looking for our purpose in life. What career should I pursue? Who should I date? What city should I move to? The list goes on, but we want to know our purpose, what I would call the will of God. Biblically, I don’t think these things really worry God too much. I think we’ve created this need for specifics. At the end of the day, the Lord just wants me. He wants you. I honestly believe He could care less what college and career path we choose. This sounds heartless, but I’m thankful the Lord is bigger than my choices. If I’m pursuing the Lord and becoming more like Christ, then the Lord will honor that. He will provide direction. We will be in God’s will.

I hope to marry one day. In Kyle and Jen’s words, I hope you ‘fit in with God’s plan for my life,’ but what I’ve realized is you are not the pinnacle of life. You don’t define us. We aren’t defined by marital status. I’m defined by Christ and the fact He saved a worthless, wretched soul from hell. So, I choose to look to the day I get to spend eternity with God as life’s pinnacle rather than my wedding day. Sure I get sidetracked with you at times, but thinking eternally puts perspective on the ‘smallness’ of you. Until then or death (we’re not promised marriage), I’m striving for what I believe is biblically the will of God: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; (1 Thess. 4:3).”

Well heck, what does sanctification mean? Simply, to be made holy or to become more like Christ. I’m convinced this is what God wants from us. I fail in it incessantly, but I will continue to let this define me rather than my relationship status.

Defined by Christ, but would love to experience you eventually,

Prayerfully finding contentment in singleness through the Lord

Love, Lindsay

If you liked this post you can follow Lindsay on twitter here or read her blog here.

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Also here are a few posts you might have missed this weekend:
The Man I Married (by Jen)
A Sunday Letter (by Kyle)
An Amy Seeley interview
My Manhattan Project (by Kyle)

Some of Our Faves

This post was written by our sweet friends Chad and Rebecca Ward. You can read more of their lives over here and be sure to leave plenty of comments to let them you know how much you loved the post, it’s a good one…..

We’ve been in each other’s lives for the past 7 years and are pretty comfortable with the version of ourselves we know each other to be today. The problem is that neither of us is the same that we were at 16 and 18, and it isn’t likely that we will be the same at 28 and 30, and so on. Which makes it that much more important that we don’t talk past each other. By that we mean we want to learn together and actively listen to and pursue each other in the present.

Sometimes we talk about things that are serious (Will China stop devaluing it’s currency?) and other times it’s a little more light hearted (Jockeying for the better side of the bed!). Regardless, what’s important is that we are better together. Here are a few of the questions we’ve asked each other lately.

On His mind

I start the day… Wishing I had thirty more minutes before I have to start the day. Then I walk around the house half asleep until I realize I’m running late.

Daily essential… Laughter, encouragement, affection, and playtime with the pups.

Dreaming about… Adventure! My heart longs for it. The world is much bigger than my cubicle and I want to see it, no, experience it.

Can’t stop… Drinking green tea. It has replaced my morning coffee and I’m hooked, I have it everyday. And also it’s healthy, who or what am I becoming?

You won’t find me… Complaining, making excuses, placing blame, or resenting because attitude is a choice and I choose to smile.

My heart… Is strong but tender, content but not complacent, thirsty for life and full of love, likes my diet way more than my taste buds, and wishes I was more physically active.

Somewhere in my childhood… I learned how to run when I was supposed to walk, talk when I was supposed to be quiet, play when I was supposed to rest, look innocent when I was guilty, and break bones when I wasn’t supervised. How have I lived this long?

Marriage is… Amazing! What’s not to love? I get to live with my best friend. The only person in the world that I want to share my whole life with wakes up next to me everyday. I thank God everyday for that blessing.

One Her mind

I start the day… Hoping Chad let’s the dogs out first, hitting the snooze, drinking black coffee, & jumping on-line.

Daily essential… The trumpets of “All Things Considered”. For the world, this is Rebecca Ward!

Dreaming about… Staring a non-profit to promote the development of women as entrepreneurs and community leaders. I’m thinking locally (local = stateside)

Can’t stop… Thinking about renting a projector, hanging a sheet in the trees, and watching an outdoor movie. Bonus points for black & white. Double bonus points for Cary Grant.

You won’t find me… listening to rap voluntarily, bored by politics or the stock market, eating cooked carrots or icing – certain exceptions will be made for cream cheese and the pioneer woman.

My heart…Is fully known by my savior Jesus Christ. Which gives me peace and leaves me breathless with his grace and faithfulness.

Somewhere in my childhood… Was a car of Hinds coming home from Tulsa in the snow, on Christmas Eve. Singing songs about wooden legs, shanties in a town, the things a young girl should know, and McNamara’s band.

Marriage is… Best when approached with a sense of humor


What are your answers?

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