Never. Never is a word I’ve used too much and that I’m learning to strip from my vocabulary. When I was a child, I said I would “never” lick my finger and wipe my children’s faces while meowing like a cat. I do that all the time. As a tweener, I said I would “never” be as strict as my parents concerning the movie content my children would be allowed to watch. But my eight year old daughter just graduated to PG movies and, then, only after I have spoken with trusted sources and poured over the review on pluggedin.com. As a college student, I said I would “never” be a stay-at-home mom. Well, that I may never be, but it is one of my heart’s deepest desires. And in the years leading up to the day I met my husband, I’m sure I said (or at least I thought), I would “never” marry a pastor.
So when I met the love of my life 19 years ago and learned that he was a youth pastor, I was taken aback. It was a stretch for me. While I grew up in a Christian home, my church attendance during college was sporadic at best and suffice it to say, I had a number of wild fraternity parties under my belt. Faith in Jesus Christ was part of my heritage and identity, but my spiritual muscles were a bit out of shape.
Kory and I met on a blind date in 1994. My cousin and one of his close friends were dating at the time and thought it would be fun to set us up so we could all hang out over the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college. Kory had just finished his first year of seminary and had recently broken up with a girlfriend. I would only be home for three months. Neither of us was expecting anything serious.
When we met, however, I was smitten! After several group dates, and at the end of my patience, I took matters into my own hands and asked him if we could ditch the friends and spend some time one-on-one. My birthday was the following weekend, and my family was out of town, so Kory took it upon himself to honor my 20th birthday with a celebration. He packed an evening picnic, surprised me with my favorite dessert (a recipe of my grandmother’s), and took me on a long walk at sunset. I knew I had stumbled onto something special.
At the end of the summer, I returned to college, and Kory returned to seminary. During the three months we had spent together, I had gotten more comfortable with Kory’s job as a youth pastor — after all, he had no plans to be a preacher, and youth ministry sounded like a lot of fun! Thus, we continued to date separated by 180 miles. There was plenty of snickering from my sorority sisters when they found out I was dating a youth pastor, but unbeknownst to any of us, God was preparing my heart for ministry as a pastor’s spouse. Of course there was a lot of work to do…but, as they say, all things are possible with God!
After a year of driving back and forth to college almost every weekend, I transfered to a school in Dallas to finish my undergraduate studies. Kory began an internship in the youth department at one of the largest Methodist churches in the nation, and our ministry together was born. For the next five years, we served in youth ministry together. He was a part of the staff, and I was a dedicated volunteer. It was during this season of ministry that I began to live out the faith I had been taught as a child. I led my first Bible study. I mentored high school girls. I went on my first mission trip. And it was in Juarez, Mexico, that my heart broke for the first time over the impoverished people that live there. It was a beautiful season of spiritual growth for me, individually, and for Kory and I as a couple.
During my first semester of law school, Kory proposed! I’m pretty sure our engagement will go down as the longest in history because we had to work around clerkships, law review, and my school schedule. As a result, we didn’t say “I do” until 19 months later…just before I began my third year. This length of engagement should be outlawed! Nonetheless, we survived all of the planning and preparation, and on August 7, 1999, we finally tied the knot.
After a wonderful honeymoon to Spain and moving into our first home together, Kory returned to work at the church, and I returned to law school. We were madly in love, passionate about what we were doing, and thrilled to be living life together.
In the years that followed, Kory was asked to move from youth ministry into college and singles ministry — a request that we met with much internal resistance because of our love for the youth and their families. These changes brought with them feelings of loss and sadness. Even so, God’s providence was at work in our lives. For the next two years, we spent our time loving on the men and women that God brought into our lives. We facilitated Bible studies, taught Sunday School classes, and led several mission trips. The church also launched a modern worship service, and Kory was asked to be the preacher. Much to his surprise (and mine), he loved preaching and began to get the “itch” for something more in ministry.
In the spring of 2002, Kory received a call from the Bishop of his Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Bishop was looking for a pastor to lead a small town and country church. Somehow, he honed in on my husband as the pastor for the job despite the fact that Kory was not yet credentialed as an Elder and had never pastored a church.
I will never forget the day he got that call as long as I live. Kory showed up in my office with about 7 shopping bags in his arms. He had spent the day shopping (which I have since learned is what he often does when he is trying to avoid something), and had bought me everything from new pajamas to a pair of cowboy boots. I thought he was just thinking of me and wanted to brighten my day. But NO. He had come to deliver the NEWS, and I guess he felt safer with an armor of shopping bags around him!
He sat down in front of my desk, took a deep breath, and explained what the Bishop wanted him to do. Talk about a bait and switch! The man who said (before we were married) that he wasn’t interested in being a senior pastor was now telling me (after we were married) that he was going to become one. In my line of work, people get sued for things like this!
This news was significant on many levels. But at the time, the one that stood out most in my mind was itineracy. Because Kory would now be on track for ordination as an Elder, it was conceivable that the Bishop might choose to move us to any one of the 300+ churches in the conference. If the honeymoon hadn’t ended before now…the feelings of euphoria were beginning to fade!
I don’t remember much about the next few minutes except that the room felt unbelievably hot, my palms were sweating, and my heart was pounding. I was speechless…which is rare. After a few very uncomfortable moments of silence, all I could say was, “Where’s this church?” To which Kory pulled out a map (because he’s an Eagle Scout and always prepared)…but that didn’t help because at the time, the town was too small to be identified!!!!
After much prayer, many tears, and a few sleepless nights, we decided to take the leap of faith and accept the new “opportunity.” The “opportunity” to leave our church of 7 years to go to a place we couldn’t even find on a map; the “opportunity” to relinquish the relationships and resources of a 70 person ministry team, and embrace a staff of one; the “opportunity” to move from the conveniences of city life to a small country church where the nearest grocery store was more than 20 minutes away. What an amazing “opportunity”. What were we thinking???
On our last Sunday before the move, the church held a reception in our honor. We were standing in the garden between the chapel and the sanctuary with a line of people waiting to say goodbye. The very garden my bridal portrait was taken in. I was a mess. The ugly cry was in full force, and I couldn’t speak. And for someone who doesn’t like to cry in front of people, it was just too much!
After the reception, we went home emotionally exhausted and began to prepare for the transition. As I prayed that night in bed, I told God that I thought He’d lost His mind. I had no idea why we would be called away from such a beloved ministry, I was scared to death, and my heart was broken. So I prayed this prayer:
“God, I have no idea what you have up your sleeve. All I ask, is that whatever it is, will you please bless our ministry in such a way that if we are ever called away from this new place, my heart will break as much as it’s breaking now?”
11 years and 3 kids later, God has called. And, yes, my heart breaks. But it doesn’t break as much as it broke for leaving our first church. It breaks more. More because when we arrived in this small town, we didn’t know it, but we were babies in ministry, and the congregation tolerated and embraced all of the pains of our growing up. More because we have witnessed a church grow from one that had to pay for an HVAC repair with a sack of tomatoes to one that now has a beautiful new building and a staff and lay leadership team of countless talented individuals. More because our church started with less than 200 members and now nearly 1000 people call this church home. More because out of a desire to grow the ministries and hire more people, the staff went without pay raises for almost 5 years. More because our oldest child came to know Jesus as a result of the tireless efforts of those involved in children’s ministry and VBS. Our first-born son is well on his way. More because this church has watched our family go through difficult seasons and transitions without judgment and with much love and support.
Now, we are embarking on a new chapter in our ministry as Kory prepares to begin serving as Senior Minister to a new congregation. It is a tremendous opportunity. But it means moving our children from the only home they’ve ever known. It means taking them out of a school they have been attending for five years where they’ve been nurtured in their faith, and we have been supported in our calling. It means leaving dear friends and neighbors who have provided shelter during the storms of our ministry. It means leaving behind an amazing staff and congregation who have embraced a mighty vision for ministry. But God has called us to this, so we know that great things are in store.
These last few months as we have prepared for this transition, I have prayed the same prayer that I prayed in the garden 11 years ago. But this time, I have prayed it with tremendous faith, knowing that God answered my prayer then and will answer it now. I have 11 years of God’s kindness to reflect upon, and I know that God will provide many more years of fruitful and meaningful ministry in this new place. I also know that our church family will carry on the ministry we began together and will continue to do great things for the Kingdom.
We are eager to begin this new season in ministry. We are anxious to forge new friendships and partnerships in service to The Lord. And we know that God has something tremendous in mind. Indeed, this will be a journey that will challenge, strengthen, and prune us along the way. And at the end of the day, we pray that the love of Jesus Christ will be made known to many and that lives will be transformed.
We appreciate your prayers.