There and Back Again: Reflections from Afar

I’m back in Dayton for two weeks to celebrate with my family the birth of Christ and the end of my first semester in Charlotte. And as I hang out with old friends and visit my church family, I see with greater clarity the themes of my first semester away from this wonderful town. I can’t attempt in one blog post to refresh all the memories and share all the highlights of these past four months, so you can expect several blog posts in the next few weeks. Today’s post is a time for general reflections.

It has been really good to hear my dad’s sermons again. Having visited many churches in my first month in Charlotte, I now recognize the uniqueness of his preaching style and the power of his practical, life-challenging messages. And while many in seminary will criticize his style as “teaching” rather than “preaching,” to be relegated to Sunday school rather than Sunday morning worship, I find myself worshiping and confessing more with his sermons than with some of the best the internet or Charlotte has to offer.

I’ve also really enjoyed seeing old friends and dear members of Westminster, catching up on life, celebrating new jobs and new babies, new opportunities and new engagements. There’s a deep feeling of peace and relaxation when you reconnect with people who really know you–people who know the important stuff to talk about and know what will make you laugh. And reconnecting with my old youth kids has been so good, too.

And who wouldn’t enjoy the luxury of eating my mom’s home cooking for two weeks? My rice and beans pale in comparison to her roasted lamb, buche de noel, and homemade waffles. I’m living like a king here…she even does the dishes.

In all this reveling, I may find myself tempted to wish for the old days, living back in Dayton, serving at Westminster, enjoying the company of dear friends and feeding off meaty sermons. But instead, all this goodness highlights for me what a blessing my life in Charlotte has been these past four months.

It’s a temptation when you move to a new city to look for the familiar: to find friends like your old friends, a church like your old church, a coffee shop like your favorite one back home. But if you try, you’ll soon discover that the grass is never the same color on the other side. You can’t ever replace what you’ve left behind.  So I’ve seen my time in Charlotte not as an opportunity to restock with the same things I had in the past, but as an opportunity to discover things completely new, enjoy people totally different, participate in a unique worship service with a pastor who “preaches” rather than “teaches.” And while it can be uncomfortable sometimes, scary sometimes, and disappointing sometimes, it’s also exactly what I need to help me grow, change, and enjoy things I never would be able to if I sought out the familiar.

I really miss my youth kids at Westminster. How could you not want to spend time with and minister to a group of kids who you spent close to 700 hours with over 3 years? They even sent me a superman card in the mail this semester to encourage me! Yet I see that God has blessed me with thirteen 9th graders to minister to as I teach history and literature. I miss the old, but God has given me a new and different opportunity.

I miss Westminster, too–the teaching, the community, the opportunities to serve. But God has given me a new church family to worship with. They aren’t just like Westminster, but why should they be? And I am so excited to embrace this new community, full of people who love our Lord and love each other. The teaching and worship is different, and wrestling through those differences is exactly what I need to do. The opportunities to serve are different too, but who’s to say I need to be doing the same thing I used to do? And I’m excited to learn new things as I try embrace these new service roles.

Dayton will always be my hometown, and I will always look forward to coming back. Yet Charlotte is my new city, and as I drive back on Saturday, I rejoice in these opportunities to continue what I’ve started there, building a new community, loving a new church, and embracing new opportunities.

Life is full of cycles and seasons, transitions and turns. And the worst thing we can do is try to hold onto the old, refusing to let go of God’s past grace as He’s placing new gifts right in front of us. For through these transitions and seasons, God shows us so clearly that it was never those people, that church, those opportunities that really gave us what we needed. It was Himself.  And in the midst of change we can hold onto what the hymn writer tell us: “thy Jesus can repay with His own fullness all He takes away.”

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