christian community

Devoted: Serve Others

Left to Right: Ryan Ivey, Jason Miles, Dana Hebert & Natalyn Bachek

Left to Right: Ryan Ivey, Jason Miles, Dana Hebert & Natalyn Bachek

Google says it perfectly. Quoted from Merriam-Webster, of course: “The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Hospitality. To be hospitable.

Hopefully if you are reading this, you’ve walked through our doors at Live Oak and experienced our Hospitality Team greeters. Whether rain or shine, a team of bright, shining faces will welcome and open the door for you before our service begins. If you’ve missed us, then chances are you are late 😊 but no need to worry, we’ll catch you at the end of service! The goal of our Hospitality Team is to be the first welcoming face of Live Oak to usher you into our family. Not only will you catch us at the front doors, but behind the coffee bar, helping you find your seat or just generally showing you around the place.

Of course, we have the PERFECT example of hospitality in Jesus Christ. He is and was the end-all, be-all in hospitality and welcoming those around Him. He was friendly and generous to everyone he came across, no matter their beliefs, background or way of life. In Acts 2:42-47 we enter a scene of exuberant excitement for what is going on. When I read these verses, my heart jumps a little and my mind is set at ease. We find a large group of people who are following Jesus and are literally dropping everything they’ve ever worked for to follow this amazing Teacher.

“That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.” – Acts 2:42-47 (The Message).

Can’t you feel the high energy of this group just from these few verses? They are utterly enthralled by their new-found way of life and want to shout it from the rooftops. Recently at Live Oak, we’ve been focusing on a sermon series called “Devoted,” all revolving around this passage of scripture and focusing our gaze on being like this ecstatic group of followers. We want our love for Jesus to ooze from us like it does for these people, not just on Sundays, but every day. To be so consumed with Jesus’ love that it naturally radiates from us and invites others to investigate.

With our hospitality team, this is a way we can naturally serve others and welcome them into our Live Oak family. To share our love for Jesus and people on a regular basis to all who walk through the doors. From that first hand shake to the second cup of hot coffee or an empty chair beside us in service, our mission is to connect and truly create relationships that allow us to do life together and not alone. We really do believe that God made us to do life together and these relationships not only bring us closer together, but closer to Him.

Our hospitality team usually consists of eight to ten people who serve regularly, anywhere from every week to once a month – whatever works in their stage of life. Each Sunday we meet for fifteen minutes to go over the day and pray for the service ahead. From there we go to our spots and prepare to greet people or assist them in finding their way around Live Oak. A natural, organic feeling can be felt when serving on our hospitality team, as if you are just hanging out with friends you haven’t seen all week. A lot of times our team consists of people who serve regularly and many deep relationships start from serving the same day each month with someone else, allowing comfortability and a family atmosphere to form.

We hope that each Sunday we represent a culture that supports a “friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers,” and pray that strangers will cease to exist as soon as you walk into our doors.

Pictured above are a few of our hospitality leaders that are willing to help in any way to make your time at Live Oak as natural and comfortable as possible.


The Interview Series | Sam Marsh

By Natalyn Bachek

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You’ve seen her on stage either wailing away on the drums, playing guitar or singing her heart out leading the praise band. She’s got a powerful musical gift and a heart for ministry, but what is behind that shining, welcoming face?

I had the pleasure of recently having lunch with Samantha “Sam” Marsh, surrounded by the Thanksgiving hustle and bustle of Whole Foods. We scarfed down our ultra-spicy brussel sprouts, of which neither of us could leave a crumb behind, and I got to really take a peek into Sam’s life and see how the Lord has shaped her path and led her right to Live Oak.

Sam was born in England, moved to New Jersey at the age of two then swiftly moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Sam grew up riding horses, working at a horse barn and ultimately falling in love with music by learning to play the trombone at an early age. 

Sam got accepted to Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and continued her love of music by being a music major until, in Sam’s own words, “God decided to close a door.” She ended up finding out that a sharp pain in her jaw was not just a quick fix, but after a winding road of doctor’s evaluations and inevitably a surgery, the diagnosis was a broken jaw. This may have stopped many in their tracks, leaving them wondering what to do next, but with Sam, the Lord allowed this instance to mold and shape her. This is where her relationship with the Lord really started to grow and was ultimately the beginning of her relationship with Him.  

From there on out, she switched her major to religion studies and was introduced to an amazing campus ministry at App State called Campus Christian Fellowship. It was there that she began an internship with CCF. After graduation, she accepted an internship with CCF and moved to Missouri to work on the campus of Missouri University of Science and Technology. There Sam led three hundred students (wow!) and a thirty-member worship band regularly, but she missed her “home state,” and moved back to Charlotte to enroll at Gordon Conwell University for Seminary. 

It wasn’t until she was settled in Charlotte that she was offered a full-time position as the Women’s Minister for CCF at a little-known school called UNCW in Wilmington, NC. Although this was a full-time gig, Sam accepted and was able to still remotely complete her seminary schooling on the side (She is still powering through her seminary classes with graduation in the future!). Although a much smaller ministry than the one she previously ran in Missouri, Sam says that this is more her pace, as she leads fifteen UNCW students weekly. This allows for her to individually engage in each of their lives. Most of these students are international students and one of the perks is that Sam is involved with taking them shopping every Friday in the big CCF van. They all load up and head to our local Walmart to get necessities and form relationships off campus.

All in all, CCF and UNCW brought Sam to us at Live Oak through an invitation from her roommate one random Sunday. (THANK YOU FOR BEING THAT VESSEL ROOMMATE!) We are so very thankful the Lord led Sam our way and that her God-given talents can be used to engage more people each week. She is part of a much bigger picture that we only can see a hint of, but we know that God has it all planned out for his glory.

Fun facts about Sam:

- All of her extended family still lives in England

- Loves to skate & longboard

- Self-taught drummer!

How we can pray for Sam:

- Several months ago, Sam tragically lost her mom. Please be praying for healing and peace for her and her family. That she would lean on God daily for strength during this grief process.

- CCF Ministry at UNCW and all the students Sam encounters 

The Interview Series | The Heberts

By Ashley Chapman

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At the lowest point in my life “Jesus Freak” had a negative connotation. I’m grateful to know better now because it’s the thought that popped into my head when I first saw Dana Hebert during Live Oak’s praise and worship. Yeah, I know we’re supposed to be focused upward, allowing the music to open our hearts to the word of God. But how was I supposed to do that when Dana was over in the corner, arms raised, not moving to the music exactly like the rest of us were trying to do, but hovering somewhere above it? His eyes raised to God, oblivious of the mini-concert going on in front of him completely raptured in the presence of God. It was unusual for me, especially at the time, to see such unashamed oblivious reverence to the Lord. The whole scene reminiscent of 2 Sam. 6:20-22. Yes, this servant girl thought that Jesus Freak looked quite distinguished, if not completely crazy, among the sea of more tempered worshipers.

That first impression stuck with me. Unknowingly, Dana is one of the first people I look for when we return from our annual pilgrimage. He’s evidence that the Spirit is still there, right where I left it. When Laurel told me I was responsible for the interview of one of our church members my choice came pouring out without thought. Maybe God knew I needed to meet the Heberts. Slightly uncomfortable, I meandered through the crowd of Live Oak parishioners to look for the rain dancer. Dana smiled and accepted my request to sit down with his family. His willingness should have been an indicator that he had plenty to share.  

Sitting down at the dining table of their temporary apartment, their house all but destroyed during Florence, I fed my son Cape bits of chicken, trying to keep food scraps from embedding themselves in the carpet while waiting for the Heberts to settle in. I noticed Jer. 29:11 on the wall, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” I would refer to the wall hanging often throughout our talk as I imagine Dana and Tami must also daily having been displaced by the storm and after what I was about to hear.  

I opened up the conversation with the usual questions to get things moving. “Where are you from?” “How long have you been married?” Blah, blah, blah. Turns out Dana and Tami needed little priming before the flood gates opened, divulging their story to me. Their story, like any good tale of love, loss and redemption, is one of sadness and hope. It’s a testimony mostly of encouragement, teaching us how to lean into God when it feels like he’s stepping away from us. Ultimately of turning the “pain of trusting into the joy of trusting,” as Tami most eloquently imparted to me when talking about the difference between her and her husband’s approach to God’s most difficult challenges.

Our church is no stranger to pain. Each person has their own story of unbelievable heartache and disappointment. The Heberts are no different. Dana comes from Vermont, as evidenced by the tattoo on his arm. A daily reminder of his northern roots and the high priced living he left behind in exchange for a more equitable future. He grew up with a faith-filled mother who was also his best friend. She was charismatic in her worship which is where he, no doubt, acquired his flair. Dana’s learning disability required his mother to coach him through his formative years creating a strong bond between them. Because of the disability he was estranged from the Bible. The Good News muddled in his brain unable to make the same impression on him that worship music made. Another reason he gets up to dance.


During his teenage years, Dana’s mother took him to a revival in Toronto. It was there that his life was irrevocably changed. Having never felt that much power under one roof, he became intimately aware of God’s presence. It was at this revival that he would see miracles performed. Worshipping for days alongside people from all over the world he was imprinted with a drive for mission work that he would later use in Haiti and even later, introduce to his young family.


Tami is a home girl. She grew up here in Wilmington in Covenant Church, where she now teaches preschool. This is also where a lot of Live Oak families send their children for pre-school, including us. Tami is one of four children, all of whom grew up in the word. Her young adult life culminated in a degree from a Christian college and two mission trips to Belize. After this service she met Dana, fell in love and set off into the sunset to forge a life. Hopeful for the future, the Heberts were not prepared for the hardships they would soon face.


I grew up just outside of Richlands, NC in a place called Back Swamp. My parents’ property backs up to an agricultural field that is separated from the Albert J. Ellis Airport by a thin line of trees. I remember the sound of a plane approaching, nothing unusual living so close to the runway. But this plane kept getting closer and lower. The engine grew louder until the cacophony was replaced with the sound of metal crunching. The kind of sound you don’t forget. The kind where you understand everything before you know anything. The plane had crashed behind my parents’ house. It turns out that this plane was the same one that would claim the life of Dana’s sister. She died on impact; so did his mother’s faith in God.  


The year following the death of his sister was riddled with hard questions and no answers. The mother that had molded Dana into the man of God he had become abandoned her own faith, leaving him and Tami orphaned in their own shaken belief system. In their search for answers, the Heberts’ friends, Joseph and Brittany, hit them with some much needed truth: “God owes you nothing.” Armed with this hard, cold reality the couple set out to rebuild their faith, just in time for the second, very literal, blow. Playing softball for Life Community Church, a stray ball hit Dana in the head. The ball fractured Dana’s skull. The brain bleed he suffered affected his speech and memory. He forgot how to read. Out of work for six months, Tami took care of everything. She was his primary caregiver alongside working, taking care of their farm and family. The ill-fated softball struck just one year almost to the very day of his sister’s death.


The Lord grew them through the process. Tami, through the Job-like tragedies maintained her Job-like faithfulness to God. “Using the pain of the past to pave the way for the future,” she allowed prayer, not to change their circumstances but to change them. The above almost a direct quote. Tami has a gift with her words. Now when faced with hardships, the Heberts have a different perspective. When questioning whether or not to leave Live Oak Church during some tough times they respond not by running away but by digging in deeper. Immersing themselves further into the fold through service in the children’s ministry, feeding the homeless and plotting their own family mission trip to Haiti (including their two girls, Lux and Braelee). Although the Heberts are no stranger to suffering they still exude the kind of Christian confidence and light that piques my interest and makes me ask, “Can I stop by and talk to y’all for a while?” I hope their work in our church is just beginning. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”


Notes
1. Dana and Tami are receiving help from insurance for their losses during Florence, but it never hurts to stop by and ask if they need help with anything. She’s the one working in the kids’ ministry and he’s the Jesus freak in the back of the church.

2. Dana mentioned a book that made a big impact on his relationship with the church. He credits Ashley Einwaechter with introducing him to Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen.

3. The Heberts also mentioned the Christian song “Different,” by Micah Tyler, as being instrumental (pun intended).


The Interview Series | The Herrings

By Laurel Senick

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Aubrey, how did you and Jonathan meet?

Jonathan and I were introduced by friends through Overflow at Port City Church. He was in the band, and I was very hesitant because I wanted to be single forever. He talked me into it, and here we are.

How did you know Jonathan was the one?

I knew Jonathan was the one because I knew if I got married it would be to someone named Samuel. He told me after dinner on our first date that his name was actually Samuel, and that was pretty much that.

Is there a place you’ve always wanted to travel?

We both have a desire to visit New Zealand next I think. Aubrey has traveled to Germany and England, which were high on her list, and she would love to go back, but it’s always nice to go somewhere together that neither of you have seen before.

In what unexpected ways has Harrison your fourteen-month-old son changed your life?

Aubrey: I’m a completely different parent than I thought I would be. I’m learning a lot about discipline and responding to Harrison by looking at the way God corrects us and comforts us. He’s gentle and responsive, and that’s the sort of mom I want to be. God doesn’t necessarily punish us for our mistakes. He shows us what’s right and redirects us.

Jonathan: As cliché as this sounds, I have a new understanding of unconditional love. You always hear people say that when they have their own kid, but it’s really true.

Was there a dramatic beginning in your life with Christ?

We were both raised in the church, and while we have had our ups and downs, Jesus has always been there as a constant.

Your small group recently did a spiritual gift study. Can you share a little about your Holy Spirit gifts?

Aubrey: My spiritual gift was giving. It made sense when the bible study explained this gift brings the ability to see through money schemes, and that someone with this gift is good with budgeting. I also have the desire to help others financially, whether it be through a gift or through teaching.

Jonathan: My spiritual gifts were prophecy and teaching. I enjoy learning the ins and outs of things on a theological and philosophical level and sharing that information with others. Also, any practical skills or hobbies that I find entertaining, I also love to share that with people (If they are willing to listen).

You’ve brought Financial Peace to Live Oak. In what ways do you see this program helping people and glorifying God?

Living in debt is stressful and not the way God intended it. This program can help us all move away from being slaves to our money and teach us to live with financial freedom. Having a plan seems like it will hold you back, but it has been the thing that has always made us feel more secure in actually spending our money, because we know we have planned for every expense, so it won’t throw something else off.  

What do you believe about tithing and how has it impacted your lives?

We strongly believe that tithing is an exercise for us to remember God gives us what we need and cares that we are taken care of. He tells us to remember the lilies of the field and that they are clothed better than Solomon in his temple. We are saying, “I know this isn’t mine and I don’t need it.” Knowing that gives you the ultimate sense of freedom from anxiety with finances.

How can Live Oak family pray for your family?

Please pray for our future. We each have new jobs which are relocating us to Raleigh.

- We will miss this sweet family that is moving to Raleigh. Please hug and kiss them good bye when you see them. Laurel Senick


A Wedding, A Funeral

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

Abbey and Brian Nobles 

Abbey and Brian Nobles 

By Abbey Nobles 

If anyone knows my husband Brian and me, they know we love to travel, meet people, eat delicious foods, and tell our experiences through fun and engaging stories. So when we told our friends that we saw, felt, and embraced the glory of God, I’m sure at first they pictured us experiencing this while walking on a crazy Icelandic glacier, or relaxing under the Balinese sunset, or even enjoying the delights of a French vineyard, but that was not the case. In July of 2017 we witnessed one of the most powerful displays of the glory of God either of us had ever experienced.

Recently, Pastor Brian Few did a “Jesus Is” series which defined the different aspects of who Jesus is: the Glory of God, the Creator, Sustainer, Humility, Wisdom, Love, Savior, King, Freedom, and Judge. It is still crazy to me to think that in this one single event, once we saw the glory of God, we stood witness all of the aspects of Jesus Brian talked about. Every. Single. One.

In July 2017, my brother and his fiancee asked Brian, my Brian, to play the guitar and me to sing the song, “Your Glory” by All Sons and Daughters, at their wedding during a moment of worship. Brian and I had a hard time practicing and needed inspiration, so for the weeks leading up to the wedding we would drive to Pender Memorial Hospital where my grandmother was a resident on the nursing home floor and practice for her.

My paternal grandmother, Nannie, suffered from dementia from 1999 to 2017. She went through the traditional phases of progression, from babbling speech and nonsensical talk to only smiles and high fives. She was always enchanted by music, so captivated, her spirit would speak the Psalms when she could not speak herself.

She would do what Psalm 100:1-2 says, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”

It was the day of the rehearsal dinner and Brian and I went to practice our song one last time for my grandmother before the wedding the following day. On this particular day she was almost unwakeable. This wasn’t unusual. I can remember my dad multiple times weeping at her bedside, thinking it was the end, yet something inside of her pulled through, she still had purpose.

She still had meaning. She still had things to teach us. This new lesson, her last lesson, was about the glory of God. Psalm 101:1 “I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music.”

As I brushed her soft white hair and kissed her pale and wrinkled skin, I tried to rouse her. She would not budge. Brian said, “Let’s go on and practice, she will hear us.” He started playing the guitar while I stared hard at the words on my phone to distract myself. My voice cracked as I sang the first verse:

“My life is Yours

And my hope is in You only

And my heart You hold

'Cause You made this sinner holy

And holy, holy”

My voice cracked more, she was still in a deep slumber, tears came to my eyes as I stared at my grandmother’s peaceful body slumped in her wheelchair. I stroked her soft hand and tried to push through. Other family entered the room and I tried not to look in fear of a total breakdown. I felt their warm presence, I felt the peace of God in this moment, I felt comfort, but the coming words I could barely sing:

“Cause Your glory is so beautiful

I fall onto my knees in awe

And the heartbeat of my life

Is to worship in Your light

'Cause Your glory is so beautiful

'Cause Your glory is so beautiful”

Getting to the chorus I had to stop. I had to weep. An RN I never knew and will never forget came in the room and gave me the biggest hug, she completely embraced me and said, “Baby girl you sing your heart out, you sing for your grandmother, you will do great, I know you will.”

That evening after the rehearsal dinner with so much unity and joy among the bride and groom, we got the call that Nannie had passed. The last song I sang to her would be the last song she heard on this Earth.

And I felt the glory of God in that moment.

I embraced my family, I prayed in the Spirit feeling like God had called me to be a leader in that moment. We knew her death was timely and perfect. Part of God’s glorious perfect plan.

The next day I sang for all the angels to hear. I sang, and I knew she was there singing too. The wedding continued, and joy abounded. More joy filled my heart knowing Nannie’s purpose on this earth had come to an end, she was now singing in the fullness of His glory.

That is how the glory of God works: untimely for our flesh but perfect in the spirit. It is often fraught with earthly misunderstanding, our minds not fully comprehending the Spirit.

But Jesus holds all things together, He is the Glory of God, the Creator, Sustainer, Humility, Wisdom, Love, Savior, King, Freedom, and Judge.


 

God’s Grace Remains

By Natalyn Bachek 

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

Kenny and Natalyn Bachek 

Kenny and Natalyn Bachek 

The year was 2013. A warm day, but a cool night. The excitement was felt in the air as if it was almost tangible. I in white, he in gray, and others wore their casual best. With Edison lights swinging in the background, we shared our love publicly and vowed each other our forevers.

Who would have ever thought that those naive twenty-somethings would turn out to be the best love story I could have ever dreamt of or prayed for? I never thought it could happen to me nor did I know something like that existed. You always read about love in a mushy gushy novel (as if this isn’t mushy gushy, I know) and never think about it actually being reality. The nerd that I am considers marriage our own little “club” that only Kenny and I are members of and with our secret handshake and inside jokes, I finally feel like a cool kid at the lunch table.

Insert the sappy love music… I promise I’ll stop.

Walking down the aisle, I knew what we had was special, but I didn’t fully understand it until entering into something so sacred. It was as if a veil was pulled away from my eyes. I finally saw how extremely blessed I was that my husband was the one I was made for and him for me. Not to say that I have ever described marriage as easy, but it has been a privilege to figure it out together.

Needless to say, no one ever sat me down and really given me the details about marriage. The “ins and outs” as you would say. I mean, how could they? Marriage is completely distinctive and varies from couple to couple. What Kenny and I experience can be completely different than the couple sitting beside us on Sunday. What we did find out through premarital counseling and spending time with some really wise people, is that marriage truly has wings when it is centered around God. And we soon learned that the hard way.

When I say the hard way, I mean God graciously nudged us and continued to do so for several years after we made a really big decision without Him. This decision had to do with buying a new house and gutting it to the bones. Those naive twenty-somethings I mentioned earlier, thought they had it all figured out and jumped into something without seeking God first.

Whoops.

It wasn’t until almost three years later of arguments, deadlines, and strained relationships that we started to see a clear view of what went wrong. While sitting in a Live Oak service one Sunday, the series was centered on vision and what a life without vision is like. It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room and I was the only one that had noticed. That was it: No vision meant no God and that was exactly what we did.

The initial step towards our future should have been with God leading us, not us dragging God behind us on a leash. We truly believe that through prayer and wise counsel, God would have lead us a different way, but oh the amazing journey He has brought us on! Though the renovation may have been the hardest thing we have gone through as a couple, this obstacle has matured us as individuals but also a team. The fact that God’s grace remains at the end of every day and renews every morning, is just enough for us. No matter how far we may stray, we are firm in the belief that He will make all things new according to HIS plan, not ours. Without this rocky time in our lives, we never would have seen it or grasped it in the unique way that we do.

God is just that way though. He is never pushy and always approaches us with a gentle spirit even after we’ve forgotten Him with naive minds. Even after we run from His spirit or His word. Even then. He’s still there.

 

Bio on Kenny & Natalyn Bachek

  • Married for five years

  • Attending Live Oak for six years

  • Have a dog-son named Nash

  • Kenny works in clinical trial research

  • Natalyn is a Dental Hygienist

  • Kenny is a two handicap in golf

  • Natalyn is an avid runner

  • Both are die-hard NC State fans

  • Both love Seinfeld & Friends

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.