Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hidden Tangerine Sky

Last week, I was sitting on the back porch. With the wind in my face and the smell of rain in the air, I looked up into the sky and watched the charcoal grey clouds roll in. Indian summer was allowing me to wear shorts in this Michigan October, but the turning of the leaves don't let me forget the ticking of time. In three short weeks, our family's ministry of nearly two decades will be ending at the congregation that welcomed us as new college grads.

We are now wrapping that season up; choosing to resign and step back from ministry for a while. We are tired. We have given much. We've invested some of the best parts of ourselves for the sake of a hurting city and a people we love. 

But do anything for 18 years and you see the best and worst of that career. We've cried tears of joy as we have helped others encounter Jesus and be changed. We've had the privilege of leading a team in developing a God-honoring vision. We equipped a core of individuals to work toward that vision. We've seen people bravely keep in step with the Holy Spirit, even when it didn't line up with popular opinion.

But that close-up look at the good, also bought us box seats to the darker edges of humanity too. The spaces where people of faith fight for control instead of trust. Where those you've forged relationship with begin to think the worst of you. Where lips are a concealed weapon to spread untruth.

In so many ways, pastoring has broken me down. It's not for the faint of heart and it has exposed my own weaknesses and flaws. While I have cherished the partnership in ministry that Paul and I have shared this last 2.5 years, I have also come to recognize my own limitations. And so we have made an unusual, renegade kind of decision - to enter into a season of rest from the pastorate.

Sometimes, you just know it's time. And for us, it's time. Time to circle the wagons around our family. Time to make one another an utmost priority. Time to be singularly focused for a bit. Time to remember that a congregation's success doesn't rise or fall on our shoulders. It is, therefore, both safe and preferred to place them in the hands of God, even when the questions about the future can't be answered.

And then I consider our family's own uncertain future. At the end of this month, the paychecks will cease, and as of yet there's no job to step into. Until there's a job to step into, we won't know where to move. Until we know where to move, we can't fully settle into this season. Until we fully settle into this season, we will feel a strain. And over and over, the opaque nature of our tomorrows weighs on me.

Those clouds that rolled in last week were like a haze of ash concealing all that lay beyond.  Just like my own personal horizon - obscured, dim, and dark. 

And God knew. He'd heard me cry out for clarity, for help, for peace. 

And that's when I came face to face with this scene.

From one corner of that sky to the other were gathered clouds of steel, but straight ahead, the clouds had parted. A window to the heavens. Front and center in my view was a reprieve from the pewter lining that sealed up everything else in the atmosphere. And the glimpse I was given was beautiful. The opening revealed a bright, gauzy eye of coral glowing through. 

Color is never so striking as when it shows up in the middle of monochromatic gray. And here I was, all alone outside, in awe of the God who imagines this kind of beauty. How could God waste a perfectly brilliant sunset made invisible behind the clouds? And why, when He offers a view, it seems only a single person is witness to it? Is this not a careless and extravagant sculpting of creation? Does He not need to spare expense in this beauty? I could almost see God throwing His head back in delight at my wonder and then answer, "This is for you, child. I will make more tomorrow."

Just when the sky seemed a never-ending canvas of nebulousness, God peeked through in piercing beauty. And I saw my future in that tangerine-shaded aperture. A gentle reminder that even when all seems dark and indistinguishable, I don't know what God is doing behind the curtain of gray. 

The God who would dare to indulge me with a breathtaking sunset, can certainly be trusted with my uncertain future. I live in the mighty and unshakeable Kingdom, so I do not have to be in control. I am one in whom Christ dwells, and can be assured that God can redeem anything and use all things for my good, so I will not be afraid. I have nothing to fear from the One who loves me most.

In three weeks, we make our final step into the unknown. From here, the sky may look ominous, but I can't see everything. From my vantage point, the cloud cover may seem unending, but that's only one perspective. My future may be unclear, but I have nothing about which to worry. When I least expect it, God will show up in radiant colors of faithfulness and provision to remind me of His exorbitant, lavish, and excessive goodness and mercy. I have everything I need and more.