I’m not a big fan of change, never have been. Like a horse, if I do something twice, it’s a habit. I think it’s just human nature - and particularly ingrained in my nature - to find a measure of security and comfort in the familiar.
The Church can be like that, too. After all, it’s made up of people - people who get comfortable with certain patterns or established formulas for doing Kingdom work. Deviating from what we know can throw us off balance. As I consider what First Baptist’s future may look like, I am reminded of the myriad ways God has guided me through
Long ago, my children disabused me of any notion that I would live a life of comfortable predictability. If I have learned anything from raising children, it is this: change is inevitable, frequent, and sometimes difficult.
Before our firstborn arrived, I read lots of parenting and childcare books, observed my friends who were first-time parents, and listened patiently to the unsolicited advice of older relatives. Despite that bounty of knowledge, I was not adequately prepared for Laura Beth’s first year of life. Those 12 months were nothing BUT change, a veritable whirlwind of rapid-fire growth. Just when I got the slightest bit comfortable, just when I imagined I knew what I was doing, that little rascal would gleefully throw a wrench in the works. She did things like learn how to roll over. She gave up that precious morning nap. She started crawling, making a beeline for the cat food. She produced a few incisors. She suddenly found green peas offensive and pitched them off the table. She mastered grabbing stuff, including the cats, with those adorable little hands. Every time she did something new, there I was, back at the drawing board, recalculating how to adjust to the latest development. It was incredibly fun and exciting, albeit exhausting.
If only all transitions in life were that joyful, that eagerly anticipated. Sometimes they evoke far more anxiety than excitement. I recall the jolt we received one year, a few weeks before Christmas. After months of medications, lab work, pH probes, and endoscopies, we learned that our four-year-old son had celiac disease. It was a relief to have a name for David’s illness, even if we didn’t understand exactly what celiac was. We had little to guide us in developing a gluten-free lifestyle for him, a little boy who was even more resistant to change than his mother. I went through a period of mourning, where I grieved the loss of normalcy for him. I realized that his life in our society, where every gathering tends to center around food, would henceforth be fraught with scrutiny, suspicion and a lot of abstinence. But this was also tempered with a measure of gratitude, because I’d seen far worse diagnoses for a child, and at least this one was an “easy” fix that didn’t involve drugs or surgery.
Our children continued their business of growing up and gaining independence; meanwhile, my parents grew older and frailer, and consequently more dependent. By the time our children were teenagers, I was making frequent trips to Chattanooga to lend a hand to my parents. My role as daughter had shifted to that of caretaker, and it was new territory for both me and them. Neither of us especially wanted these new roles, but we navigated them with as much grace as we could muster.
This September marks six years since my father died. I have moved my mother three times since then, as dementia inexorably robs her of mobility, speech, and rational thought. With each
As I’ve reflected on the variety of curve balls that have interrupted my peace over the years, I keep circling back to an Old Testament passage. In 2 Chronicles 20, the Israelites learn that a huge army of their enemies is coming to wage war. King Jehoshaphat calls everyone to gather at the temple to pray. Then he himself very frankly addresses God, outlining the problem and concluding “...For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
God’s response? He chooses a guy named Jahaziel to deliver this message: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march down against them....Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you...Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”
I know that as long as I draw breath, changes await me. I also know that God is faithful, my constant companion through all of them. There have been times when, like Jehoshaphat, I faced a great army that threatened everything I held dear, and recognizing my impotence, I cried, “[I ] do not know what to do, but [my] eyes are on you.” In retrospect, away from the heat of battle, I am able to see God’s response to my cry: He was at work! He sent people like Jahaziel to speak words of practical help and encouragement to me. When I was weary of the journey, He provided the determination to go out and face the next day. When I had no clue what to do or where to turn, He helped me use the tools at my disposal to figure out a path forward. Even in the times when I felt utterly alone, I had a strong sense of His abiding presence.
Our First Baptist family is currently in a season of transition, and it has not been without pain. We have experienced loss over the past months, and we still have challenges ahead of us. Nevertheless, I am full of hope. God has been in our midst for 175 years, and He hasn’t left. Taking our cue from Jahaziel’s admonition, we each need to do our part: take up our positions, put away fear and discouragement, and keep our eyes on God. Our God is with us, working to deliver us into a new season of ministry. He is faithful. Thanks be to God!