Finding a Family when Yours isn't Near




Dear Future Family,

“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth 1:16

When we were planning our wedding ceremony, my soon-to-be husband wanted this to be one of the verses we read aloud. Some others in my family thought it was a random choice. “It’s not really about love,” I remember one saying. I was torn, as I often was in the early days of my relationship with Nathan. As I tried to peel away from my family and cleave to him, there was debris that was left behind. With pieces of my family on me, pieces of me on them—my situation was messy and unfinished looking rather than the polished reality I had envisioned getting married to be.

I didn’t know what I thought of the verse. I wasn’t familiar with my Bible the way a foot wears an imprint into a leather sole. I wanted Nathan to be happy. I wanted my parents to be happy with Nathan. I wanted my parents to be happy with me. Happiness cubed was the formula I was going through, except the problem is that in that equation I had mathematized myself out of existence.

There wasn’t room for who I was in this formula.

There wasn’t much room for who God saw me as either.

As I contemplate uprooting our family and going to a new place, almost ten years later, this verse from Ruth has become one that makes my heart beat faster. It is love with hands and feet—a living sacrifice. By God’s grace I have cleaved to my husband. I am discovering that hope is better than happiness, and in hope, there is more than enough room for who I am—for others too.

By God’s grace, the Bible has become a hot drip in my heart like the mug of coffee that is always in my hand. Neither of these things have happened by my choice but by God’s gentle shoves through life’s struggles.

But it’s not a happy ending here. It never is when there is still life ahead of us. You see, I accepted that my husband would be a pastor, and so, our honeymoon was us driving across the country from San Diego to St. Louis where he would spend the next six months completing seminary. I knew we’d get a call after that, to wherever God and the seminary saw fit. I was relieved to find that our first call was to Sedona, AZ, which meant my entire family would be reachable in an 8 hour drive with 2 pit stops.

Our last year in Sedona was very isolating as I struggled through perinatal depression. As a new pastor’s wife I didn’t know how to navigate hard conversations with church members that wanted to see me as a put together, and Godly wife. Maybe they didn’t feel this way, but I never felt the courage to invite them into this messy space.

After four years in Sedona, we got the call that blew our minds.

Side note: I say “we,” because I see a call as something that impacts and involves our entire family.

I was going home. St. John’s in Orange CA was the church we went to Easter every year when we visited my sisters at Concordia. My sister had been married at the church down the street. When I was in college, my parents had relocated an hour away from Orange in North San Diego County.

This call was a dream in more than one way. Nathan and I would get to focus on being the church to our community, through relationships, in his position that was titled: pastor of outreach and evangelism. Over the moon would be a trite way of putting how we felt. Relieved and revived would better describe it.

My sister lives 20 minutes away. Before our girls were in school, I would come to her house and camp out entire days. I’d drink her coffee pods like they were free hand outs and when I was surviving on little sleep when Elyse was a baby, and when she was sick, I’d nap in my sister’s bed. My kids have their own set of pajamas at my sister’shouse (who is affectionately called “TeeTee”), and a shelf with Elyse’s special gluten-free snacks.

It has only been with my sister that I have felt comfortable enough to enter and move in her home as if it were my own, as she and I, and our daughters live life together.

So this is where the happy ending cracks into a question mark.

God has been slowly showing Nathan and I that he wants us somewhere else. That’s the place where a big question mark could be placed with perhaps an emphatic “WHY!” WHY GOD?”

Pieces of my heart are attached to my family, their heart attached to mine in a way that can never be severed.

Then I had a dream.

I dreamt that my entire family was loaded in one van. My kids were in there, hooked into their car seats, and I was getting ready to jump in. But then I saw Nathan, my husband, standing beside two strangers. I couldn’t describe what the strangers looked like, but only how they made me feel. They frightened me because they were different, they compelled me because I knew they wanted to know me, they broke me because I knew that they were hurting and in need.

Nathan said, “Lindsay, if we go with your family these strangers will not fit. I need to take a new car.”

There was a choice there, and I felt rushed. My family was in a hurry to leave.

“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth 1:16

The dream ended without a decision. But though it involves a messy tearing away, I know that I will unbuckle my children and we will go in Nathan’s car. If I don’t invite strangers in, then they will never know that by the blood of Jesus, we are already family.

But my heart hurts. Understatement of the century.

My question, my challenge to you is this: if God calls my family to this church, will you be my people?

Don’t answer yet.

I mean will you be my people in your messy living room with my feet propped up on the table? I’ll take off my shoes! Okay, maybe feet on tables isn’t your thing. But I promise I’d always use a coaster!

Will you give coffee and hugs and grace like it doesn’t cost you anything? Is there one of you who will have room in your drawer for a set of my girls jammies for a surprise overnight stay when daddy is rushing mommy to the hospital for a migraine?

Will there be a place at one of your tables for a family of four to have Thanksgiving dinner? With family, you know it goes both ways. We bend and stretch ourselves sometimes in uncomfortable ways to fill the needs of our people. In the process our hearts begin to look more like Jesus.

Then there’s the strangers. As a church we become a family, but we always have to have more room in our vans.

If my family was called to your church, as we become one people, I pray that God would always leave room for a question of where he is calling us to make more room in our hearts and lives for the people who are different, who want to know us, who are hurting and in need.

Friends, forgive my boldness, but I’m no longer the girl that looks for happiness in pleasing everyone around me. But I will hold up HOPE like a driver with a sign at the airport. Wherever my car is going I don’t just want to wait on Jesus to have him hop in, I want him driving.

I don’t know where we’re going, but I know the evidence of where he is.

FAITH, HOPE, PEACE, UNITY, LOVE…maybe these things can be summed up in a word? Family.