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.
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.