“Here I raise my Ebenezer, Here by Thy great help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.”
I can’t think of any better words to begin this story.
This morning I was thinking about that old hymn while I was getting ready for work, about raising an Ebenezer to remember the work of our “meticulously patient and gracious God“.
It’s been almost two years now since we left Minneapolis and followed the pillar of cloud to the hills of the Ozarks. Here by Thy great help we come, and we felt the whisper of God calling us to live and work here and preach the Gospel. So we did.
We bought a little brick house in a quiet neighborhood. We painted the walls and picked the peaches and last summer a little brother was born. I bought a motorcycle and rode it to work at a place where I got paid to play with cameras and talk about Jesus, and what could be better than that?
But when the pillar of cloud moves, you have to follow.
We have this saying where I work: “Restlessness always precedes a great work of God.”
Like the breeze that blows cool and strong before a summer thunderstorm, I felt the restlessness stirring in the wind before the pillar of cloud began to move. It started as a whisper, a maybe-someday-it’d-be-nice-to dream. That was early springtime.
We talked and prayed and talked some more, and over the course of weeks “what if?” became “we must” and I fell asleep whispering in her ear “Come away with me.”
Then if became when and how and I sat hunched over my laptop at the coffee table one night in May and wrote an email to some people I hadn’t even met:
Tonight there was a thunderstorm here in Arkansas. It rolled in over the Ozark hills and the sky got dark early. For the better part of an hour, my wife and I sat on the front steps of our house watching the clouds gather, talking about Arkansas and North Carolina and the spaces in between.
It’s been a few weeks, maybe a few months now since I voiced this crazy thought. Since then, the crazy thought has grown from a little idea in the back of my head to a big idea that takes up all the space in our little house these days.
The best way I know to describe it is that the pillar of cloud that led Sarah and I to Arkansas almost two years ago has moved on, headed east. And we must follow.
Do you know what it is to feel like you’re a part of a church you’ve never seen, except in sermons on the internet and pages of a book and words on Twitter and the Liturgy & the Shout?
If you told me last summer that I’d sell my house and quit my job and move across the country because I randomly followed @renovatuspastor on Twitter, I’d look at you sideways with eyebrows raised. But you’d have been right. I guess sometimes simply retweeting good words isn’t quite emphatic enough, so there’s this.
There’s God meeting you in the words of a stranger who feels more and more like a friend – first in 140 characters, then a book, then sermons in the living room every Sunday morning with coffee and pajamas while the boys take early naps.
There’s falling in love with a church you’ve never seen and the strange feeling that you belong to this band of liars, dreamers, and misfits.
There’s tears in your eyes when you watch a stupid tourism video for a city you’ve never visited, because some irrational voice in your heart is whispering that it is home.
After that email, the pastor-friends invited us to visit. It wasn’t really a scouting trip, because we had already decided.
I think it was a homecoming. And in a thousand ways that I won’t even venture to explain with inadequate words, God met us there.
In stories told late into the night with new faces that felt like old friends. In humid East Coast air. In city lights and the Apostles’ Creed and the liturgy & the shout.
Then He looked me in the eye that Sunday morning and the voice was a guest preacher’s but the words were His:
“For some of you, this is the moment that God wants to set you free… He’s going to heal you. He is healing you. That’s what He wants to do.”
I am one of an entire generation with the broken pieces of our religion scattered on the floor around us. But in the preaching and the music and the bread and the wine, the heavy doors of the Church swung open again and He whispered to come back inside.
Sitting in wooden pews at the church with a Latin name I first heard on Twitter last summer, we were home.
A few days later, we flew back to Arkansas. Tomorrow I’m going to go to Home Depot and buy a “For Sale By Owner” sign and stick it in front of this brick house in the Ozarks. When winter rolls around, we’ll load a truck and follow the cloud to the East.
And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
[ image: Craig Tucker ]
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