I've been talking about being done with my degree with Ashley a little over the last week or so and what has amazed me has been different from what has amazed her. She has been impressed with the progress I have made over this time as I have really stretched and challenged myself over these last four years. I can see things in scripture and in the world in ways that I never would have had I not taken on this endeavor. I'm so glad I took this on because I needed the challenge. In the spring of 2015, I was spiritually bored. I was working in youth ministry with a lot of students who, while being terrific kids, knew a pretty small amount of the story of scripture. (Fun fact: I have found that most of the people who know the Bible fairly well can tell me who Elijah is. This is usually the question I ask people when gaining a grasp of people's biblical literacy). While I loved working with this great group of students, I wasn't really stretching or challenging myself in teaching them because most of what I taught them were things that I had already mostly memorized. I needed a challenge and would soon realize that seminary was my best bet at gaining a better understanding of God and the Bible. I had a lot of respect for the professors at Lipscomb and knew they could help me in a number of ways so I enrolled there. I would begin my first semester in late August of 2015.
|Addy playing in the sandbox. Apparently there are some things you're not too old for...|
What amazed me in comparison to what amazed Ashley was not what I learned but how much has changed since I started. You see Ashley was pregnant with my 3 year old son, Gatlin, at the time that I enrolled at Lipscomb. He was born about three weeks before my first classes began. We were prepared for this and my schedule changing drastically to accommodate a newborn and extra studying but we'd had about 5 or 6 months to prepare for all of this. What we weren't prepared for was what happened at our church at the same time that my grad school started. Our church had parted ways with the children's minister on staff at the end of July. Our college minister at the time had left at the end of the school year to take on a preaching job in the Corpus Christi area. A few days after my son was born, the preaching minister at Huntsville and my good friend, Matt Springfield, told me that he had accepted the preaching job at the church he had grown up at and he and his family would be moving there within the month. In about four months time, I went from being on a staff of 4 to being the lone minister on staff in Huntsville..... right when my son was born and I started grad school. I wanted a challenge so God clearly gave me one. Since beginning grad school, we have gone from being a family of 4 to a family of 6, my wife and me have both taken on new jobs, our family has moved to a big city and a larger church where we both work on staff together as ministers, we have a new house, the big girls are in new schools, and the two little ones have begin "school" (daycare).
|Sweet girl catching a nap during lunch|
Even with so much transition over the last couple of years for us mentally and physically, I have personally gone through a ton of transition spiritually. I went through a season where I felt distant from the heart of God. While saying this sounds simply, it was a devastating blow for me and took some time to move past. I owe a ton of gratitude to Kris Miller and John Mark Hicks as they taught me the work and movement of the Spirit and the heart of God. That season was tough for me in a lot of ways that very few people actually know about for a variety of reasons. Dr. Miller introduced me to spiritual direction, something that I am very thankful for. I'm very grateful for Karen Wood, my spiritual director and the mom of one of my old high school buddies, Burton. She helped me to engage the Spirit of God who helped guide me during a really tough season. Dr. Hicks showed me how to question God in healthy ways that led me to a healthy struggle with His heart. I never questioned God's existence, but I did question His purpose and motives during all this time. Dr Hicks showed me how to do this in a way that would lead to blessing, which it did. There are other professors that I am extremely thankful for having learned under such as Rubel Shelly and Earl Lavender. Their classes have changed my approach to ministry forever. However, the timing of when I took the courses from Miller and Hicks were divine. I only told a couple of people this, but I probably would've left church ministry altogether had I not had those courses when I did.
|Little man's first swim lesson!|
Overall, it's incredible to look at everything that has happened in our family's life. What I have discovered about healthy relationships though is that what is important isn't the events you end up experiencing, it's the people whom you experience these events with. I can't imagine doing everything I have done over the last four years without having the kids and Ashley there with me to experience them together. I think it was a natural thing for Jesus's apostles to continue His work after He left when you look at everything they experienced together. I think this is a major reason the global church continues to grow. It hasn't been incredible preaching or amazing global outreach programs (don't get me wrong, those are important). It is because we find a common bond in Christ and we're willing to share life together with one another because of that bond.
I don't want this to look like everything has been miserable by any stretch of the imagination. While there have been some tough times here or there, we have gotten to experience some wonderful things all together as well. Hopefully the pictures in this post are an example of that. We've been blessed with two more beautiful and incredible children, new jobs and a new home. Everything is so much more local for us now. We live within about two miles of everything that we need (Ashley never wants to leave the house now so there's that...) We now have season passes to SeaWorld and the zoo! There's food truck park about 5 miles from our house (Ashley and I are foodies so it's heaven on earth for us). We are blessed with a home that provides a lot of fun things to do too. While I have enjoyed my seminary experience, I am also glad it is over. I haven't ruled out continuing my education even further down the road, but I have definitely ruled out continuing it anytime soon.
|At SeaWorld waiting for Shamu|
|At the Texas Open with my oldest baby|
I am very thankful for the men who have served most of their lives in the church and are now giving of their time to teaching other ministers like me the road that we travel and showing us how to navigate life and ministry. I would be fortunate to one day have anything close to the wisdom and guidance they share with so many other ministers on a regular basis. I am thankful for two parents who have financially and mentally supported over these four years and have always provided a place to stay during my weekend intensive courses. Of course I can't say enough about Ashley during these four years. She was finishing her masters degree during the first year of our marriage and while I pitched in to help with the girls as she finished things up, she has been infinitely more instrumental in watching kids longer and giving me space so that I can read, write, and research. Her support continues to be the second most vital of my motivational factors behind only the last one I want to thank. Most of all, I am thankful to my Creator God who loves each of us beyond imagination and reveals to us His divine plan through the life He has poured out through His Spirit that is moving in is, through us, and with us. May I never lose the wonder of His mercy or the desire to continuing following His heart. Praise God.