family life

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 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.