Not the most appetizing of titles, and yet we find ourselves describing our first two weeks in New York City by this. We arrived in the city as a family of four on July 2 pretty tired already. Sam had packed up our storage unit into a moving truck, driven in through 7 states to get it to the city and loaded it into our apartment getting it ready for the girls’ arrival. Kimberly had been sleep deprived for the last two weeks (or if we are being extremely truthful for the last year…) with Eloise and Evelyn being dropped into new beds what it felt like every week. And yet, God in His goodness was with us as we began this new chapter together as a family in New York City for the foreseeable future.
So how have the first two weeks gone? Well…I think the best way to summarize it would be to say that God is graciously drawing us to a deeper faith in Him and not in our circumstances. Even as I write those words, I am thinking in the back of my mind, “God, we have already moved overseas, learned a new language, been through the painful process of cultural immersion in a foreign culture and re-immersion in our home culture, and moved our family of four with two little girls across an ocean and the country, all because we love You and feel like You have called us to this. Do we really need to learn deeper trust?” And God, as a loving Father, with a purer heart than I have as we parent our little girls, trying to patiently teach them to share their toys, communicate with gracious hearts, and teaching them boundaries to keep them safe in life, responds to my inquiries with a patient “yes, Sam, you do need to learn a deeper trust, because as you have casted vision, packed, are settling, and starting a new ministry, there is a part of you that is trying to pull up your boot straps and do this on your own. You have learned dependance on me, but humans’ brokenness will always try to substitute Me with something else: comforts, entitlement and security apart from Me. So, yes, you still need to learn more dependance on Me.”
I don’t know if it was an omen of what was to come or not, but in the first 24 hours, as we were walking around the city, Kimberly and Evie got torpedoed by pigeon excrement. God hath provided through wet wipes, and yet we were soberly reminded of what city life can sometimes be about. When you hit the first bump in the road, and this one was very trivial mind you, it is very easy for me to return to a mentality of” just gotta keep going”. For me this means, “not a big deal” type of thoughts and a pulling up my boot-straps kind of mentality to get the job done. I don’t think that is always a bad thing, as I think God can use it to help people persevere through challenges, but the really question is, are your trusting in your psychological mindset to get you through something, or a person, the God of the universe to get you through it? Or, to put it another way, if Jesus makes all the difference in life, would how you confront challenges look any different from an atheist?
Ok so bird poop happens, and can happen anywhere, Kimberly and I are thinking “we got this.” Then, as Sam is sitting on the couch giving Evie her bottle before bedtime, he sees a little friend coming out from the wall to share in some of our crumbs from underneath the table from dinner. At this point we have been in our place for 4 days maybe, and typically mice become a problem in the colder months, so mice in July!?!? “Not a big deal”, it’s just one mouse…yeah right, there is never just one mouse. While the rest of the world seems to be embarking on a journey to catch all of the Pokemon out there (seriously someone explain this phenomenon to me…) Sam began a journey to catch all of the mice in our apartment: “Gotta catch them all”. Four victims later and we are still not able to say we don’t have anymore roommates. Battling mice is also not a quick fix house problem. It takes time to clean up the damage, catch the perpetrators, and try to prevent further invasions. Annoying, disgusting at moments, and bothersome with two little children getting into everything around the house, the mice thing is doable after you at least see some progress in getting the problem fixed. Our landlord has been very responsive in trying to get us some help, so that has been a grace from God as well.
Then, in the middle of week two, Sam woke up early Wednesday morning with some intense lower back pain. For about 10 minutes we thought, “This new queen size mattress we bought sucks! Already giving us back pain!”, but then the pain began to feel excruciating, and couldn’t merely be muscle or bone pain. Then came the nausea and chills…this was something serious. Sparing you the horrific details, Kimberly remembers sitting on the couch, hearing horrific sounds coming from the bathroom as Sam is suffering, Eloise sitting on her lap wondering what is going on, trying to come up with a plan of what needs to happen and then seeing a little mouse friend scurry across the floor. How did we find ourselves here? After a quick WebMD search, Kimberly realized Sam had to go to the Emergency Room. Aww, in a city we don’t know, where we are still trying to make friends, Sam needs to go to the ER in severe pain and by himself mind you, because Kimberly can’t bring or leave the girls. Sam’s Uber driver ended up not knowing where the ER was, so three blocks later, Sam found himself not knowing what was trying to escape from his body, and trying to figure out a way to deal with this intense pain.
All drama and kidding aside, this was an intense moment for us. Probably more traumatic for Kimberly in some ways, she just wanted to be able to take care of her husband and kids, and found herself helpless. She was furiously texting and calling anyone who had given her their number in the last week, frantically asking if anyone could come help by watching the girls for a few hours so she could come to the hospital. She felt overwhelmed and alone.
Even as I, Sam, write this, I want to take a quick pause and thank God for all that He had provided for us in this traumatic experience: wisdom to know that a kidney stone was coming, and with some of the other symptoms that going to the ER was necessary, health insurance and provision from generous ministry partners to be able to go to the hospital when needed, access to healthcare, a teammate, Kelsey, who left her house five minutes after hearing what was going on to be at our house, a landlord who is willing to help with the mouse situation, a house that is within walking distance to the nearest hospital, praying family and friends who were in it with us from a distance and praying immediately for my pain and for medical care, and just the inner working of everything that allowed us to be taken care of in the end.
Two hours after arriving at the hospital the doctors were able to get me some pain medication. While I don’t have the accurate words to describe what the pain was like, I honestly feel the worst for my roommate, who I never even saw his face, who had to hear all of my groaning pre-pain medicine. I have no idea what he was thinking, as sometimes the only thing I could do was cry out to Father God, Jesus and Holy Spirit for mercy. Who knows, God may have used my cryings out to bring Him glory in the life of this man suffering from shortness of breath. They were able to detect my x-ray the presence of a relatively small kidney stone (how the heck does such a small stone cause so much pain!!!) that would eventually pass on its own. Within a couple of hours they were able to send me home with some medications and instructions to just let is pass on its own. Later that day, I caught two mice….
God is His graciousness brought us to the ends of our ropes. The thought “This is not a big deal” was not really an option for us anymore, because we very much felt in the middle of a really crummy situation. And then God lead me to why “This is not a big deal” philosophy on crisis management took Christ out of the situation for me: you don’t count the cost of what it means to follow Jesus. Pulling up one’s bootstraps, is a very individualistic approach to facing challenges, and even denies the sacrifices that everyone who follows Jesus needs to make to do so with full integrity. This line of thinking ultimately leads someone to ask the question “Is it really worth it?” and most of the time, if we are talking about earthly things, or even religious service void of a relationship with the Creator of the universe, the answer is no.
Counting the cost of what it means to follow Jesus, not with a heart of complaining, but rather in honest reflection, allows Jesus to be more glorified. Is Jesus more glorified if people chose to follow Him when it was always easy, or when people need to give up something in order to do so? Jesus himself gave up fellowship (the most intense feeling of intimacy this is possible, and more intimate than we can even imaging) with the Father in order to come to Earth as a human and to save the world from sin, death and Satan’s gain. The cross was a very lonely place, and this sacrifice makes what our last two weeks in life look like child’s play. That doesn't mean that it didn't hurt for us (physically and emotionally), but counting the cost should always bring us to the question, “Is Jesus worth it?”. This question doesn’t negate our sacrifice, pain, and challenges, but rather puts it in the right perspective. And we have found this week, that Jesus is always beckoning us to this place in a gentle, loving, patient and compelling way. He leads us beside still waters and makes us lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23) and He takes us to a broad place (Psalm 18) where we can in freedom and safety experience the grace of God.
God is graciously still working on us, working on us to negate our flesh in entitlement to certain things, to trust ourselves before trusting God, and to want to love without sacrifice. In our short experience of disciples of Christ these sort of lies can form a life of inauthentic discipleship and faith in Jesus Christ, who sacrificially gave up His life for the glory of the Father and for the love of the world.