A number of months ago, I reflected on the intricate steps that led to my family’s first cross-country move. At that time, I was incredibly thankful, encouraged that while I had connected with a strong, mission-oriented church in San Francisco, Kaile was accepted at a very selective master’s program in clinical counseling. She would study and learn, I would lead and shepherd students, and we would together collaborate in raising our two tiny boys, Silas and Maelin. For a year, this is exactly what we did. We slowly learned about our new child, our new church, our new community, our new city; and having just passed our one-year anniversary of living in San Francisco [April 23rd], we both celebrate God’s goodness and God’s presence with us at every step of the journey.
On Monday, May 8th, I learned that my job will not continue into the Fall. I am laid off. It was hard news, overwhelming news, news that I will surely still be processing for months to come. City Church is restructuring its staff roles, and after some serious discernment, my former pastoral role is becoming a part-time position. With the expenses of a family living in a major urban center, a part-time position simply doesn’t provide enough income to exist-or subsist.
As I sat face-to-face hearing the bad news from Fred Harrell, the pastor who planted City Church in 1997 and who presently guides the community as its senior leader, I was shocked. But it wasn’t the news about my role as a youth pastor that shocked me, as difficult as this was to hear. Instead, I was shocked-surprised and taken in with a deep sense of peace that permeated my soul, my mind, even my body. The conversation was tangibly gracious; my heart rate was no quicker; my palms were dry; my words were slow and measured-and equally gracious as Fred’s, I hope.
During our conversation, this moment that neither of us discovered to be easy or natural, I was pervaded by the same sense of peace that I sensed God giving me on October 15th, 2015 [read that story here if you haven’t]. Then, it was a 3am divine intervention, a wakeup call from God that quelled my burning anxieties that stemmed from facing an unknown future. This past Monday, it was a morning conversation with a trusted leader and coworker which featured some very tough news. But the same peace pervaded me, a peace that comes from God’s Spirit. I even mentioned this peace to Fred. I told him I was surprised by it, perplexed but thankful for the sense of centeredness that I was experiencing.
Going forward, the same realities exist: when severance pay ends, I need new employment, and I don’t want to just do the next thing in front of me, to simply find something that works. Instead, I want to serve God using the very best of my abilities. During the challenge of transition, we need stability and support, and as we look forward, we require equal parts wisdom, courage, and perseverance. I’ve never been let go from a job before, and it’s a new feeling. Though my situation stemmed from budget changes and restructuring, it’s still difficult for me to sit with the reality of the leadership’s conclusion.
Sunday night I drove with my family to the home where our community group meets. After only a few minutes, the conversation turned to our situation. One of our church’s leaders was there, and she was closely involved with the difficult decisions that City Church has been forced to make over the past few months. Listening happened that night, and some really honest sharing of our burden. Hard as it is, I was reminded that evening how everyone in our group has challenges. One family is looking for more stable employment; another has a child with very pressing medical needs; yet another is recognizing the nuances of parenting are more difficult than they had imagined.
During our time with our community group, reflected on Psalm 31, especially the first five verses:
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
After reflecting on this Scripture, our group prayed for us. Hands were laid on; the scene reminded me of what I picture of the early church’s meetings in Asia minor. These people know us, at least as much as they are able to know us, and they are praying for us still.
All of this reminds me of how God has always been faithful to us, and we trust that this will continue to be the case as we plunge into whatever is next for our family and our livelihood. I say this to be true not as one who has found a new and meaningful job, as one a weary traveler wading through the muddy waters of unknowing.
During our transition, the same challenges that existed for us before the loss of my job continue in the present. Our two tiny boys are as energetic as ever, with just as many needs. They are sensing our stress, and we can see how it is affecting them. It hurts Kaile and me to know that the stresses that we are doing our best to hide from Maelin and Silas are having their effects on our infant and toddler.
Through these challenges, we are leaning into God’s direction for our life journey together. My days have turned to searching for employment, awaiting answers to email inquiries, and grooming my LinkedIn profile. Instead of commuting on my bike to an office, I work from my home office, investing the time I used to spend fostering direction for a ministry into something new: seeking a new place to serve. Since we have grown so deeply attached to our church community, this is especially difficult; it is not only my place of employment, it’s our people.
As we walk on, our prayers are just as much with City Church as we perceive their prayers are with us. I lost my job, not my long-term call to pastoral ministry. And now, the elders and pastors are doing their very best to continue in the mission they sense God has directed them into, and I respect them immensely, even though things didn’t go my way. If I could resume my former work, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And yet, this is not how the story is unfolding, and it is time to allow space for the community to proceed in the next chapter.
When it’s hard and when it’s easy, we are resolved to take refuge in God, just like the Psalm says.
After all, we’ve been here all along.