Yesterday I stood in front of our church family and tried to speak through my sobs as I announced that our family would be moving at the end of this month. Doug and I have accepted calls to serve my home church in Shoreline, Washington and we begin there on January first of the coming year. This decision was slow and in many ways brutal to make: we do not want to leave our life here. But we also recognize the need for a pretty major shift in how our family functions so that Doug can be freed up to finish his MDiv in the next three years, and the job opportunities in Seattle provide that for us in the midst of a wonderful faith community we know and love.
I could write volumes here about this decision. We are leaving people and a place we dearly love and nothing about that is easy. And it is painful to us when the well-intentioned say things about being happy or glad for us because we will be “getting out” of our community here.
I wish that I could somehow do justice in describing the beauty and overwhelming joy we have known here in this place. While I do not wish to glamorize our life here in any way (and certainly my writing here has been honest about the struggles and pains), I am saddened by the very quick conclusion that life among the poor is one to be despised, avoided, or shunned. Over the years, people have been quick to challenge our decision to be here on account of our responsibility to our children, and yet we have found the opposite inclination in our own hearts: we are currently mourning for our kids the things they, and we, will soon leave behind.
I am reminded of Doug’s response a few years back to a Fuller student asking us about raising our kids in South Central. Doug spoke for us both when he answered that they are the first thing to cause us to want to leave. But they are also the thing that makes us stay. In Doug’s words, “I want my kids to grow up not thinking twice about giving away a car.”
Just the other day, Mercy and I sat on the floor by the coffee table and had an extended conversation about why we have peach skin and why other people have light brown skin and dark brown skin. We got to talking about how the mommy’s and daddy’s skins blend to become the color of their babies, so then we had to talk through all the different color combinations that could be made with different colors of skin. Mercy has four years of a worldview under her belt that I think would be the envy of any parent.The handful of “Mercy stories” I have shared here perhaps give a small glimpse of this.
While we feel great heartache over our leaving, we do rejoice at “the new thing” that God is doing in our life, and we are enthusiastic and eager about our new roles of service in our new faith family up north. I am already looking forward to the teaching and preaching opportunities I will have there, as well as the challenge of discerning with that community what it looks like to be “in the community and for the community” (to shamelessly steal from our Church of the Redeemer mission statement).
It is humbling as well to consider returning to the church that raised me to serve as a pastor there. I have preached, given lectures, and spoken for retreats there already, and at every step have been overjoyed at the response of my older and wiser faith companions in that body. It is pure privilege to consider leading the same people who nurtured my faith from childhood, and I rejoice at the relationships we will enjoy as a family. As Mercy and Aaron and Elijah have thrived here in the midst of a community committed to caring for them, so too will they be surrounded there by a community that knows well how to nurture and serve and guide even the very young.
Doug will begin studies immediately at Fuller’s regional campus in Seattle. Doug has one of the sharpest minds I know and I am so thrilled that he will finally have space to deeply engage his studies with both time and focus: Doug’s schooling has so often taken the backseat to our family’s other needs these last few years, and he has been exceptionally slow to complain about or resent this. Doug has also been increasingly pressed by all of the demands of his commitments outside of our family, and in this new season of our life together, we will fully share the role of primary caregiver for our kids. I am certain the he will be a better fort-building adviser, train-track constructor (his tracks always connect while I can never get them to join in the end!), and soccer coach than I have been (though Lauren’s football and basketball coaching will be sorely missed!).
One significant factor for us as well throughout this decision-making process was our desire to be near the rest of our families for at least a season of our children’s childhoods. From our home in Seattle, there will be six grandparents within three driving hours, and we are thrilled to give that gift of proximity to our parents and to our children (and to ourselves–apparently when you have small kids and live near grandparents you can actually go out on dates once in a while!).
Doug and I moved to Los Angeles right after we got married six and a half years ago (today!), and as I prepared to speak to our congregation yesterday, I was reminded of the blessing our pastor gave to us at the end of our wedding. After serving communion, Pastor Henry looked at us and gave us this charge:
“So now I release you, Doug and Erika. I release you to service, for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. And I also release you to struggle, for he also said in this world we will have trouble but be of good cheer, for I will come. And I release you to satisfaction, for he said “If any man come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross” and anyone who follows after Christ willfully, obediently, will receive satisfaction and joy. And so now in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I dedicate you and release you to dance…dance…dance. Amen.”
As I stood in front of our congregation yesterday, Pastor Henry’s words came flooding back through my mind. How true his dedication of us was: how rightly he spoke to us on that day. For we have served, and been served more powerfully than we could have anticipated or even desired; we have struggled, reaching points of pain and despair and fear and sadness that I have never before known; and we leave here as people who have been so deeply satisfied by our God. And throughout the serving and struggling, in the midst of the satisfaction, (and at some cost to our landlord living beneath us!), we have danced.
Another line from our wedding stands out to me today, and this one came from the sweet voice of our beloved songwriter friend, Annemarie Russel. Her words made me cry that June afternoon as I stood next to Doug in a white dress with our future in Los Angeles spread before us as the great unknown. They feel as true now as they did then as I sit here surrounded by the marks of a family of five.
“So walk with me tenderly out from this place and into the stretches of sky. Trusting that he who began a good work will carry us home by and by…”