The Bluest Skies and the Smoothest Sails

By Ashley Chapman

THE FOLLOWING IS THE THIRD IN A SERIES OF BLOGS, EACH WRITTEN BY A DIFFERENT MEMBER OF OUR LIVE OAK CHURCH FAMILY.

 Ashley (holding Ani) & Ren (holding Cape) Chapman

Ashley (holding Ani) & Ren (holding Cape) Chapman

God has never chosen such an unlikely couple of non believers for his kingdom. Well, that’s not completely true. Just channel the story of Paul to know that God takes particular pleasure in transforming some of his most broken into something he can recognize, something he can use.  That’s what happened to us.  

My husband, Ren, and I love to sail. Actually we love to travel and it turns out sailing is a cheap way to do that. We’ve been sailing for several years, living aboard our boat and traveling throughout the Caribbean. Literally going where the wind takes us.  We sail from island to island searching for deep water. Not in the figurative, philosophical sense but actual deep water to freedive in. That’s our livelihood. That’s how we pay the bills and put food on the table.  Teaching people to hold their breath. It’s pretty bizarre but a heck of a conversation starter.  

For the longest time this way of life was absolutely enough. Then again, when you’re only worried about yourself and accountability ends at the tip of your nose you feel like you have it all. I was certain we had things figured out. That was the case right up to the point where God interrupted our blissful ignorance. Cruising through the Bahamian islands, perched on the bow of our gently heeling boat I was switching between admiring the clarity of the shallow waters and the reflection of the water against the clouds. Out on the water, the clouds can actually turn the color of whatever water is being reflected off of them. It was the turquoise colored clouds that ruined everything. Out of nowhere, from my limited perspective, it hit me. The picture I was looking at was art and art always requires an artist. None of this beauty is possible without a creator. This thought, planted at the most perfect moment, was so foreign that it took me months to tell Ren about it.  

But when I did tell Ren he threatened to leave me. He wasn’t ready for that kind of reality check and neither was I but we know now that it was never our choice. Not fully anyway. Of course once the realization hit me on the water that day the choice I did have was to ignore it or dive in. I choose the latter.  My parents bought me a Bible and I was off to the races. Afraid to pray and without direction I stumbled around until friends of ours, DJ and Kate Struntz, invited us to church with them. We were not close to DJ and Kate at the time but quickly became so. They were the ones God planted in our path here in Wilmington to keep the seed growing. Trust me, it took an army of people and constant confirmations at first to get us moving in the right direction but here at home, it was the Struntzes that brought us to church. They led us to Live Oak when it was over in the business park across from Mayfaire. The music was folksy, in a good way I think.  Pastor Brian took a long time to get his wheels moving during the sermons but somehow, it felt good. It felt small (because it was) and safe. A place where I might find answers and where people might notice if I was missing. Accountability is huge.  

I’m grateful every day for the timing of God’s revelation to us. Our once “free” life immediately found itself weighted in the gravity of our newly found knowledge of the truth of God's existence. I would later learn that our faith would bring real freedom to our lives, but also responsibility. Instead of being consumed with our next freediving exploit, reveling in empty gratification, we now had purpose. We had work to do. Freediving with people from all over the world turned from party time to an opportunity to shed light on darkness. To mirror God’s love through our own lives and interactions with others. We also had to ask the question, “Why are we sailing and diving? What happened in our lives to afford us these opportunities?” The answer is clearly, “Nothing.” Nothing happened. Our life is simply where we have been placed. Where our mission field lies. 

Am I sympathetic to people whose mission fields aren’t as seemingly glamorous? Sometimes. But then again, God puts us all where he wants us. Sometimes I think we’re just too weak to work a “real” mission. You know, starving Africans, war torn Middle East, the real tear jerkers. But then I get over myself and focus on the work at hand. There are people hurting everywhere. There are the homeless, widows, orphans, and Godless at all four corners of the world. Our job isn’t to determine who is most needing of help, just to do the best job where we’ve been placed. Trust me, there’s nothing quite as sad as some of the people we dive with.  People who are constantly searching but for all the wrong things. It’s like watching a person with dementia search for her glasses, the ones that were on her face the whole time. It’s maddening to listen to people worshipping the natural world.  Worshipping the ocean in complete disbelief of its Creator. All of a sudden I’ve become intolerant of the person I used to be.

I’m mostly thankful that God presented himself to me in a way that I could understand just in time for Ren and I to start our family. I never have to look back and wish we raised our children in the church, with God. He made sure of that. Ani and Cape are at the center of our most exciting adventure, parenthood. I’m grateful that this adventure began when it did, after letting God into our lives. Now we are really free. Free to enjoy the bluest skies and the smoothest sails in the right perspective, following the best compass.  

It feels good to have a home church to come back to every six months after our travels. It feels good to have a strong church family to put flame back to our road weary fires. I love how safe Ani feels running around the church with her friends. I even love how it takes a whole hour after service just to leave church because we’re all eager to talk to each other and share a little of the loads we carry. I also love seeing our pastor and leaders grow. They get better and better and I like where this is heading.

Happy Birthday, Live Oak!

Written by Lindsay Few 

“We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” Romans 12:4

Yesterday we celebrated Live Oak Church’s 6th birthday. Tomorrow we celebrate my daughter’s 13th birthday. Two hugely momentous occasions in my world. It’s impossible for me to separate the two.

In ministry, as in parenting, one cannot do the job perfectly. That’s just not in the realm of possibility for any long-term human task or calling. No one will finish the entire thing regret-free. If you don’t believe this, please get at least six years into a job and get back to me then. Best I can tell, it’s all a matter of doing the best you know how, while continually asking the Lord for gracious portions of wisdom and humility.

And this is not a bad thing -- in fact, it’s God’s own good purpose. It will never cease to amaze me that a church made of human beings is His Plan A for spreading His love across this world. Christ himself imparted the message, brought the Kingdom near and sent His Spirit, saying, “In fact, it is best for you that I go away…”, (John 16), charging his remaining 11 disciples, blessed and blundering, “Go, and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28) The mission has not changed, though at times it is hard to find the beauty Christ sees in His Church through all the mess we’ve got it twisted up in.  

You can hardly believe how nervous we were 13 years ago, bringing that little joy nugget home. We had no idea how to be parents. Parenting called to a deeper place in each of us; required us to love and to give selflessly, endlessly. And it called out deep joy; the joy of seeing someone you love that much grow; memories and milestones.

Turns out watching Live Oak grow from the ground up is not too different. There is the call (for all believers) to love, serve, and give to the church body. There is disappointment; but then there are so many moments of joy. Memories, milestones, lives changed by Jesus. And in both cases, life bigger than just myself may be harder, but is truly so much better.

In all things, we are promised, “I am with you always. Even to the end of the age.” This is the energy in all we do: Christ with us. His presence and power -- glorious news! Because in all of my best attempts I still wish I could do the job perfectly. I cannot. Yet in my weakness He is strong. (1 Corinthians 12) Jesus knows every shortcoming of my faulty self, and He promises that the good work -- the refining process He began in me -- will eventually be completed. (Philippians 1:6)

He calls this naturally grouchy, disorganized, peace-and-quiet & comfort-loving introvert into a home filled with family; a church filled with family. Gently, God has led me from a teeny-tiny comfort zone into wider places. From this vantage point, I look at His beloved Church. I see so many lives woven together into this community. For this, the body of believers, He gave His life. From this vantage point, six years into the mission of Live Oak Church, I see her brokenness and beauty, and I just love her.

A Place to Land

THE FOLLOWING IS THE SECOND INSTALLMENT IN A SERIES OF BLOGS, EACH WRITTEN BY A DIFFERENT MEMBER OF OUR LIVE OAK CHURCH FAMILY.

 Joel and Grace Brookshire 

Joel and Grace Brookshire 

From Grace Brookshire

Joel and I sat together in the small room just off the cabin gear shed. The rest of the cabin was communal, shared by Joel, myself, our boss and his daughter. But this room, with our bed, the deep freezer and a few spiders, had become our little home in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. It was nearing midnight and after a full day of running the crab gear, we had finally stepped off the boat, slipped out of our rain gear and eaten a meal. Joel and I were cold, we were tired and we were longing to come home.

The irony, though, was that Joel and I weren’t really sure where our home would be. In our two years of marriage, we had never stopped long enough to collectively call a place home. He and I grew up in separate states and since our wedding day, we’d been traveling. Alaska was our last destination, but before Alaska we were living aboard our sailboat traveling down the East Coast.

In the excitement of new adventures, it wasn’t immediately evident what we had left behind. Joel and I had both spent much of our college careers volunteering as Young Life leaders. Our lives before marriage had been saturated with ministry, community and Christ-centered friendships. All of which aren’t easily acquired through full time travel. Of course, we met some amazing people, but we slowly began to recognize that nothing would be the same as the community we had left behind. Still, our thirst for adventure blinded us to our longing for Christ-centered community.

For some reason, it took the exhaustion of commercial fishing and the loneliness of remote Kodiak, Alaska to make us realize we wanted that Christ-centered community back. So, that night in our little room, we started praying about a place to “land;” a place to immerse ourselves in community. After a couple of weeks, we both agreed that God was leading our hearts towards Wilmington.

In October, once the last salmon had been caught and the crab gear had all been hauled out of the water, we eagerly boarded a plane - East Coast-bound. With some searching, we found a place to rent and moved our lives here, to the Port City. We spent a few Sundays church hopping, until one morning we wandered into Live Oak’s gathering. Joel’s sister, who previously lived in Wilmington, had suggested Live Oak to us, describing it as “hipster.” We had laughed, but understood what she meant - Live Oak Church was down to earth. And, we found it to be true as we stood amongst Live Oak’s smaller crowd, singing worship. We saw it through the worship leaders and in Brian’s message. There was no fine-tuned machine performing in front of us, this was a collection of raw hearts, presenting themselves to God and doing their best to let Him work through them. Joel and I respected that and left church discussing how comfortable and relatable we found Live Oak to be.

This particular Sunday happened to have been the day that the church deacons introduced themselves on stage. So, when we saw Don and Laurel Senick out after church, I recognized Don from his debut on stage. Joel and I intruded on their meal to introduce ourselves. They both greeted us with that same down to earth demeanor we had encountered at Live Oak earlier that morning. Laurel and I exchanged contact information and she immediately started inviting me to all kinds of things. If you don’t know Laurel, she’s great at that - welcoming people into her life and connecting them in any way she can.

Thirsty for community, Joel and I knew we wanted to connect with a small group. When I asked Laurel how to find one, she jumped right into inviting us to the group meeting at her house that Tuesday night. So, we went and met a group of people who we quickly loved. It’s been a little over a month and though we are new to the group and to Live Oak as a whole, the Christ-centered community we’ve experienced has been an answer to prayers. After running ourselves dry through two years of travel, the friendships we have found at Live Oak are exactly what our hearts needed. We could not be more thankful to find ourselves here, nor more stoked to grow with this Body of Christ at Live Oak Church.

From The Senicks, With Love

The following is the first installment in a series of blogs, each written by a different member of our Live Oak Church family.

IMG_20171130_090922_642.jpg

Don and Laurel Senick

 

Don, my husband, is a maintenance man. I work in mental health. Both jobs can be exciting in entirely different ways. Picture going to battle with a 7-year-old who's swearing like a sailor, and a mucked-up toilet. You get the picture. Not glamorous, but our jobs provide us a nice life.

Don didn't have to work the day after Christmas. Since I wasn’t as lucky, he planned dinner. I know most of you know by now that the man can cook, so here’s the menu. For starters: a ginger-soy tuna tartare with sesame rice crackers, followed by miso soup (my fav), and finally chicken fried rice done right, in a wok.

Don worked most of the day clearing out the garden. Tasked with the grocery list, (my small contribution to the meal), I picked up the needed items including a stop at the local fish market. By the time I arrived home a roaring fire overflowed out of the firepit. The pit disappeared beneath the garden debris. As I walked out he shoveled another load on top.

Flames licked the tree limbs above as Fiona, our pup, raced up with her toy donut for me to throw. I immediately voiced my concern for Fiona, afraid she’d catch a spark from the out-of-control fire. God knows she’s so fast, she’d be toast before we could catch her.

But Don said, “It’s fine.” And with a nonchalant shrug, he continued to toss even more dead twigs and leaves with glee into the five-alarm fire.

I couldn’t watch. A little annoyed, I walked away, doubting his wisdom. It happens you know, me doubting him. More frequently than I like to admit. To make it worse, it’s not like I can hide it. My feelings wear on me like an ugly Christmas sweater, obvious and unbecoming.

Later, as the fire and my annoyance died back, Don started the appetizer. He chopped scallions, ginger and garlic. He mixed the marinade as I watched, but as he sliced into the tuna he made a face – it was borderline. We both sniffed it a few times and determined we probably wouldn’t die. And since it was all we had, he used it. Luckily, it turned out delicious.

After the yummy appetizer I wandered out by the now more reasonable fire. Fiona joined me as Don worked his mojo in the kitchen. Forever obsessed, Fiona brought over her donut. As I threw the toy over and over, I listened to a sermon online. When the flickering amber light dimmed I picked up the pitch fork. Shoveling another pile of debris into the fire, the dry limbs and leaves crackled and hissed.

As if drawn by the fire, Fiona stood in the narrow space between my chair and the pit, her tail waving as if fanning the fire. I quickly threw the donut. As I did, the preacher said something that piqued my interest. He said he felt like God challenged him to be “joyfully inconvenienced.”

What was that? I’ve been joyful, and I’ve been inconvenienced, but never the two together.

Usually when I’m inconvenienced I look annoyed. Even if I say I’m fine, anyone with two eyes would know different. Is it possible to have joy while being inconvenienced? I hardly can muster up patience. It would have to be a God thing. Maybe a New Year’s resolution…

Just as I was pondering this, the sliding back door opened, and Don put his Bluetooth speaker- the one I bought him a few Christmases ago- on the deck. He stepped back inside and closed the door. My ears perked up when I recognized the song by Ed Sheeran. The lyrics rolled off my tongue as the song played, “Baby, we’ve found love right where we are.”

This sweet gesture provoked tears to my eyes. Liquid gratitude rolled down my cheeks for this husband of mine. My heart spilled over like Don’s fire had earlier. I thanked the God of Love for giving me Don. I am so blessed. Blessed by God. Blessed with a wonderful husband who I know is blessed by our Church. By his male friends, brothers in Christ, Brian, Hunter, Richard and others. They give him the courage to be vulnerable and accept love, God’s love, my love and their love. I am blessed by Live Oak Church more and more each day. It is our family where we can make mistakes and learn to love God’s way together.

I don’t know if it’s possible this year to be joyfully inconvenienced, but I believe thankfulness may be the key. And I know with God’s help and the love and truth from my brothers and sisters in Christ I might just make some strides.

Prayer requests for the Senick family:

  1. We take our yearly PR trip end of Jan. Please pray for opportunities to share the love of Christ, especially in the wake of Hurricane Maria. (We did hear most of Rincon just got power!)

  2. Just got word back from my editor about my surf novel. He gave it a thumbs-up and feels it’s publishable, after I work a few kinks out that he (for a large sum of money) pointed out. Prayer for supernatural stamina and success.

Pure and Genuine Religion...

From the desk of Laurel Senick:
I’m humbled to have a moment to share a bit of our fostering journey. It all started for us with a little boy from Belarus named Sergei. We hosted Sergei every summer for six years and despite his lack of English and our lack of Russian we made a precious bond.
Admittedly, the first year was the hardest, but after building a language of mime and shared experiences we looked forward each year to his return. It was his coming and the little sadness mixed with relief when he went home that first prodded my heart to foster. “I think we could foster,” an innocent, if not naïve, statement to Don one night after Sergei left.
It’s been almost four years since that night and eight foster children have come and gone. Some stayed only a few days, some for a year. But it wouldn’t have been possible without our church community because honestly, it’s tough.
Our small group made being foster parents possible by encouraging us, praying for us and the kids, loving us without judgement and being ready with the truth when we needed it. A huge shout out to Amy and Nick who babysat the twins and teen­sat our 12­year­old. Whew she was a toughy! Also, Sydney and Brittany who each babysat the twins so we could have a date night.
My favorite things about fostering? Watching a child grow in a nurturing environment. Most kids come into care with such major deficits that even a few months of stability makes a visible difference. Also, sharing the love of Christ in a concrete way deepened our understanding of God’s love.
The hardest things about fostering? The beginning, the middle and the end. Which brings me to the purpose of this blog: What can YOU do for abused and neglected children? Can you foster? Maybe not, but you can do something with the love of Christ. You could be a foster parent’s most valuable asset, the Respite Foster Parent. This is a licensed foster parent who provides a needed break for foster parents for a date night or a weekend away, etc.
A six­week class that meets once a week for a couple of hours, a background check and a fire marshal to check out your home could make the difference for a child remaining stable in a foster home. Since our church is partnering with the Bair Foundation talking with a member of their team could be a first step. Maybe this will be the beginning of your fostering journey...
“Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt 25:34­40 (NIV)