August 18, 2015
Exactly one year ago today, I walked into St. John’s for my first day on the job. It was a day of firsts for every member of my family. My wife, Shelley, was also starting a new position at Crystal Spring Elementary, where our daughters, Abigail and Madalene, were beginning their first day in a new grade and school. So much in our lives was different. So much before us was unknown.
When we went to bed the night before, we were all quite anxious. We didn’t sleep well. Mostly because none of it felt normal. How could it? We feared the unknown. We were apprehensive of certain things that lay before us, like cold weather, which did not naturally pair with our thin Florida blood. “Winter is coming” was as ominous a saying in our household as it has ever been for any “Game of Thrones” fan. The oddness was exaggerated by being in someone else’s home. As nice a home as it was, and as gracious the invitation that allowed us to live in it, it was nonetheless not our home. So too, nothing in it, including the beds on which we were lying, belonged to us. All of which conspired together so that our lives did not quite feel like our own either, if that makes sense. Yet we said our prayers, finally closed our eyes, and after much tossing about, sleep came. Then, a year ago today, we woke up, went out, and faced the day, and the year, and a new life.
This morning, one year later, I walked into a familiar office on what felt like a normal Tuesday at work. For Shelley, Abigail, and Madalene, there were more firsts, as this is the start of another year of school for all of them. Yet last night, we went to sleep in our own beds, in our own home, and other than some anxiety over Abigail starting middle school, our lives felt like ours.
God is the giver of peculiar gifts this way. Sometimes, God simply gives you back what was never really lost all along. Things like your life, which despite your worst fears, was never really gone, because no matter where you laid your head to sleep, you were unceasingly nestled in his hands. Again, I don’t know if that totally makes sense to all of you, but I bet it does to some. And it certainly does for the Long family.
It has been an eventful year at St. John’s too. All is not the same. Which I’m surprised surprises us, as though a Living God would ever allow it to be. Erin Hensley left our clergy team for her new calling. David Olson thankfully decided that he was called to stay, despite his many opportunities to go and do some really big things. Mary Mackin remained a rock throughout, which is of no surprise to any who know her even a little. While I still miss Erin every day, I thank God for David and Mary just as often, even as I wonder who God will send our way next. Yet, with this I do not fear the unknown for once. Perhaps I am learning.
We found some new areas of focus over the last year to accompany the vast array of existing excellence long enjoyed at St. John’s. Children and Youth Ministries are right at the top of this list. Ensuring that God’s visitors to our church are received as such is right there, too. Meredith Harper’s willingness to offer her seemingly limitless gifts as our new Minister to Children and Families, and the work she has done in her brief time in that position, prove to me God has not quit the miracle business. Meredith has assembled over 50 volunteers thus far (!!!!!) who have committed themselves to ensuring that St. John’s children will have faith, and our parish, a future. Mike Milam and our newest addition, Gretchen Jensen, are launching St. John’s Music Academy – a bold, new, after-school program which will open our doors even wider to the Roanoke community. John Simpson and his faithful youth volunteers have been diligently building upon their existing programs to offer our young adults impactful ministries for their lives. These, along with a slew of new opportunities for fellowship with one another and those God sends through our doors, promise that this fall will see many new inroads for grace and growth at St. John’s. If you are not paying attention to all that God is doing through our church, please do. And then, get excited. And then, be grateful. And then, get involved.
Year one is past, and now, moving into year two, my main intention is to continue to help St. John’s live into our potential of being evangelists for the Gospel of Jesus. We have a message of joy, love, reconciliation, embrace, acceptance, and healing that this fragmented, lonely, polarized culture needs to hear. This is a message we must live and share. Because undoubtedly somewhere tonight there will be others lying down to sleep, uncertain about their lives, perhaps wondering if their lives are even theirs anymore. If so, I hope they, too, will walk through our doors for the first time, and in doing so, like me, find themselves walking into a whole new life of grace.
Through our efforts, partnered with God, we can be that sort of grace for them.
Dream God-sized dreams for what’s next!