March 23, 2013

And So It Is

Spring break let me off from lessons last week. So Jo’s folks came north to transport both her and Everly south to Colorado Springs, where I would meet them after a bleak 1,000-mile haul to the far side of Kansas to fetch our car; fixed after our wreck on New Years Eve and awaiting pickup. Great excuse for a few days visit.

Visiting family is good. Not easy, but maybe not supposed to be. We’re always pulled two directions, with both her parents and mine in the same town. Our time was further complicated by my Grandfather’s failing health, and recent admittance into a high-care facility.

Wrightson Tongue Sr. was born in 1916 and served the Methodist Church for 50 years or so, and raised 4 boys across nearly 20 of them. The two older boys followed suit in profession, the third in heart – my father. He’s traveled around the world several times, and I’ve lost track of the number of churches he pastored in Virginia; my mother’s family came to faith (and my parents met) because Granddad was sent to a small church called “Wesley UMC” at just the right time.

And as we sat in his room together, his body losing heart (quite literally) after years of use and abuse I couldn’t help seeing some kind of grand rhythm to it all. Everly was working to play ball with him, I was making simple conversation and my Dad was manning the camera. 4 generations in one room. I saw myself in him somehow; saw Jo and I there, sitting together 60 years from now, nearly used up – Everly and her grandkids in the room working to connect.

“Granddad, were you ever that small?” I asked, pointing to Everly.
“Yeah-” he said with a quick grin, shrugging his shoulders.

He doesn’t say as much as he used to; the shrug said it all. Almost as if he was adding, “and so it is.” ‘So it will be with your Dad, so it will be with you, and we can all expect this rhythm – until the end.’

I couldn’t help but walk away a little sad that day, though grateful my folks are quite close and can still be a support to him. Old and fatigued as he is, Granddad believes in Jesus and so I will see him again – on our next visit or otherwise. So there is hope still. But humbled by the moment, I felt the urge to protest, “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”

And yet – so it is. We are born, we live, and we die.

We drove back to Fort Collins the next day, back to ‘normal’ life where we’re working hard, paying bills, weeks fly past and Everly continues her brisk climb into toddlerhood. We don’t have any ailing friends, and our church family is mostly too young to have any near death. It’s a side of life I’ve managed to avoid, if I’m honest.

So I wonder, is there a way – in the midst of our overarching protest – to embrace a life that knows an end will come? While our culture fights it with everything it’s got, how do those with hope beyond this world live with that hope on display? How would that begin to shape and change us if we did?

February 07, 2013

Common Language

As Jo and I prepared to wed, and were neck deep in a period of premarital counseling there seemed to be no end to the advice that people gave to us. “Marriage is the greatest journey of your lives,” “oh you’ll have hard days,” [but] “just keep being open about your expectations,” and the like.  And though we cared to improve our chances and welcomed most of the advice, much of it fell on deaf ears all the same.  Almost that it was a vocabulary we couldn’t yet fully understand.

We were caught up in the euphoria; drenched in optimism and so preoccupied with the last minute details of the ceremony that we had little time to really give all what seemed distant concerns a second thought.  As Will Rogers put it so aptly, “There are three kinds of men.  The one that learns by reading, [the] few who learn by observation, [while] the rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” It didn’t matter how prepared we thought we were - saying “I do” was about to give us the greatest jolt of our lives.  So much so that at times, each of us would look back and think, “wow, life before marriage was so easy.”

And so it has been with kids.

Having been Everly’s parents for the last 17 months, and having delighted in her the entire time, we nevertheless looked back on our year or so of marriage pre-kids with this “wow, just being married was amazing; we were so free…” Yet no amount of advice or encouragement as we expected our first child could have prepared us for it.  Again we learned by doing, for the common language we were straining to understand wouldn’t come without experience.  We had to take the leap ourselves. 

Perhaps much of life is this way, surprising us with busyness or stress or consuming our time with things we never imagined would.  If that’s more normal than I realize, then I only hope that the backwards-looking, “life was so _______” moments won’t be.  Perhaps the only common language we should hope for is “depend on God, and see what he does.”  Though change is certain, he longs to surprise us with mercy that is new with the dawn. 

And dawn never ceases to come.

August 29, 2012

Turn... Pt. 3

... was to call Aaron Stern.

There are marked, specific times in my life when I can tell that God was reaching into space and time and giving me a loving 'prod.'  For me, this goes beyond an "I love you" (although those are my favorites).  I talking about times when there has been a specific, undeniable, simple instruction to do something. "Pick up that old woman who is hitch-hiking in winter, you have an empty seat." or "Go talk to that man crying in the bookstore."  Sometimes I agree and do - other times it's a struggle to overcome fear, and I shrink back.

I don't have many regrets in life, but those missed opportunities are on the list.

Driving home from Castle Rock - after yet another encouragement to get in touch with Aaron - was one of those times.  I thought it was silly, "surely he already has someone - how do I just suggest myself to be his leader?!" and I fought it for another 10.65 miles.  Then I called, trembling, if I'm being honest.

"Aaron, this is uhmm -Wes.  Tongue.  And we'll-uh, I'm calling to --- talk to you a little. --About your church and umm-well, what's happening in me recently... soo, ahh, give me a call sometime and we can chat about what's happening... recently-" and on I rambled - but I did it! 

There's not space to detail what followed, and it didn't happen all at once.  I continued on at New Life, and started a slow, methodical process of doubt and trepidation - all the while knowing now that I was on the right path.  That unction carried us through it.  And there continued to simple, loving confirmations along the way.  It was our choice to jump, no doubt.  But God continued to stand alongside, whispering to our hearts, "I'll catch you."

During the latter parts of December 2011, I had led several times at the Mill City Church LiFT meetings and was riding home with Aaron when I told him we had decided to 'jump.'  He nearly drove us off the road.  It was exciting!  It was a season of celebration for what God was doing in each of us - and in Fort Collins.  But then reality started to settle in too.  We would be mobile - indefinitely.  And of course there was no salary.  Churches pay their pastors, but we didn't have a church yet!!  New Life surrounded us with joy and appreciation, and supported Jo and I very generously in the transition but I began to discover something else...

The 'jump' was only the beginning.

One of the things that had prompted us in the beginning was volunteering for the uneasy discomfort, the seeming uncertainty of last minute provision, new friends and leaving the home we'd grown to love.  We couldn't fathom what that would all mean - thank God!  If we'd known the extent of future stretching at the start, who knows if we would have jumped at all.

God knew.  He knew what we could bear, and what the bearing would grow in us. Dependency, grounded trust, and faith.  It has been hard, but worth every nervous step, every leap into thin air because we're becoming who we wouldn't have been otherwise.  That's God working in us - and in Fort Collins.

Mill City is the perfect, God-appointed place for our family.  It is full of genuine, Jesus seeking people - somtimes more people than chairs it seems.  We're 6 months old, 6 months younger than Everly.  If anything, we've learned the best way to plant a church - the best way to live -

Keep on jumping.

June 26, 2012

Turn... Pt. 2

There's this thing about going on a missions trip, or going on vacation, or telling what you think is an amazing story (and getting blank stares 11 minutes in)... no one will identify with your experience the way you can. In fact it takes an amazing story, and an amazing storyteller to get and keep someones attention. Fact.

But since you're obviously here...
New parenthood, combined with a near-death experience puts a different lens onto the circumstance of life.  I had a trip planned less than a week after the accident to Des Moines, IA and didn't want to miss it.  The worst of my injury was a severely sprained ankle that couldn't take weight for days, but I bit the bullet and took a cane with me (through TSA security; that's a separate story).  Hope Lutheran needed lots of trained worship pastors and was considering starting their own school of worship - and wanted to talk to me about it!

Talking at length with their worship pastor Perry, I began to remember a dream from years back, the reason I went to school: to one day be the worship pastor at a church myself.  Watching him work with his team and craft fresh ways of demonstrating the gospel through song and elements in the service was inspiring to me.  As I flew home, now walking without the cane, I found myself thinking, "if not now, when?" as well as, "but where and HOW?"

When I got home something had shifted in me, and talking with Jo we decided to begin a period of directed prayer about the idea of transition along with many late night discussions to discover if we were on the same page.  Mostly, I tucked these things away in my heart - after all I was still working full time at the NLSW, and life was busy already with a two month-old!  Still, I also began to seek the wisdom (combined with coffee) of close friends.  My friend Gregg was excited for us but cautioned after working at many churches that he'd never again go somewhere in an absence of relationship.  Glenn quickly said something to the effect of "GO for it!"  Glenn is close friends with Aaron Stern, who had recently announced he was planting a church - and said "Wes, you know you should call Aaron, here's his number..."

I tucked that all away until I talked with my predecessor at the NLSW, Austin Pyle.  He had moved on from New Life in similar fashion and now was the worship pastor at Denver United.  As we talked, he encouraged me that church planting was the best thing he's ever done - and that it had even benefited his marriage!  I slowly began to better understand these lurking feeling in my heart - and he too said, "Wes, you have to call Aaron!"  Driving back from Castle Rock that day, I didn't know the end result, but I knew the next step...

The journey concludes in Part 3...