In 1995 he was asked to take a University minister position at University Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater, OK. There, Robert was able to work alongside his former college minister, Tom Westbrook, who had become the pastor of that church after his ministry to college students at the University of Texas. We spent another 4 years there, bought our first home, made special, lifelong friends, and had baby #2. Some of those students and friends are also now with us here in Massachusetts or have come to serve at various times over the years. (Ryan, Christie, Curtis, Brandy!) It was a trip to Student Week in Glorietta, NM in those Oklahoma years during which Robert heard a church planter speak, and was moved to tears. He knew that the Lord was showing him in that moment that church planting was a possibility for the future.
Well, that possibility came WAY sooner than either of us expected it would (thanks to Curtis C. and John R.), and so in 1999 we loaded up our little white Stanza with a four year old Kory, and a 2 year old Cooper and headed to New England. (The blue truck and our other worldly belongings followed 2 weeks behind.)
We've been here twelve and a half years now.
Baby #3 was born in that first year here, (that makes one Texan, one Okie, and one Yankee!) and she is a definite highlight of those years, but the other highlight for me has been the twice-a-year baptism services we've had every year since we arrived to start our church here. What a privilege and honor to hear so many stories, see so many lives changed by the gospel of Christ ~ "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes."
And so it was time to celebrate this honor and privilege ~ and this man whom I have watched passionately serve, teach, preach, pastor, and lead with humility and with the Spirit-enabled pure motive of seeing people come to know Christ and churches planted in a part of our country where The Great Awakenings happened, but have have long since been put to sleep.
So we had a BIG party in my LITTLE house! Thankfully, it was a lovely fall day and not too cold. The house was full and so was the yard. There were lots of faces, pulled pork sandwiches by Bill C. topping the day's menu, notes of encouragement written to the pastor, hugs, and laughter ~ ALL of the exact things I prayed for. I also LOVED having everyone at my house. That was a big part of how we started the church, and it was so wonderful to have old and new faces all together here again.
The down side, though, of having a front row seat in the individual and personal lives of so many, of being so intimately involved with countless people is watching them suffer, and saying goodbyes ~ goodbyes that are temporary (summers, graduations, moves...) and goodbyes that are forever.
Forever in the here and now, anyway.
We were devastated to hear about Josh's (with the knit cap) death last week. He's been a dear one almost ever since we arrived in Massachusetts. An incredibly gifted musician, a chef extraordinaire, and a faithful servant in and outside of the church, Josh was loved by all. My favorite personal memories of Josh are watching him teach my boys to cook a delicious salmon dinner in my kitchen (aprons and fingers curled away from the knife!) and the amazing gourmet meals he used to cook for our spring church banquets. (Butter, anyone?) I'll also miss passing his smiling face walking to work on my early morning runs through town.
Josh left our church to be a part of the first church our church planted. He ministered there for the last three years and was also ministered to in his struggles. If you skip to the 9 minute mark in this video made by fellow church member, Tommy, you can hear it in Josh's own words...
Oh, it is the end we sometimes feared, but not the end any of us were hoping and praying for, and so we look forward to our reunion with Josh in the not yet. He was buried yesterday. We will celebrate his life in a special service tomorrow morning. It will be a celebration amidst the sadness.
Praising the Lord for 20 years of the joys and even the heartaches of walking with and serving Him and His church ~ an honor and a privilege. Thanking the Lord for a husband who never wavers in his devotion to this call.