The Story of a Church, Pt. 2: Discovering a Fairly “New” Thing!
When our Pillar family began this journey back in 2011, congregational resources related to spiritual formation and soul-care were scarce. Further, communities attempting to practice a similar way of life were few and far between.
I searched high and low for resources of all types – both people and places – that I could rely on or to whom I could turn for companionship. Now and then someone or someplace caught my eye.
I excitedly jumped on the web, read the book, or made a call to the church, only to find that spiritual formation was just another program they were offering as one option among many. In short, it was an extracurricular activity but not part of the DNA of the congregation.
And, while, that was appropriate for those congregations, Pillar Community began with Spiritual Formation as the singular focus and heartbeat of our mission and strategy.
Thankfully, the couple who founded the church with us introduced us to a teacher named Ruth Haley Barton and something called Transforming Communities. And, though, Melissa and I had never heard of The Transforming Center, we had heard of Ruth before. We discovered her on the back-side of the most grueling season of our lives together.
When Physical Dis-ease Disrupted and Delivered
The season in which Melissa endured a year of chemo to combat lymphoma.
We discovered Melissa’s lymphoma when she was only thirty-two years old. Thankfully, her particular diagnosis was – when compared to others – favorable. The lymphoma that was infecting her system was slow-growing and non-metastasizing.
Her young age also provided confidence that she would endure the treatment well and live a healthy routine – to the degree that healthy living is possible – while battling this beast.
With three children, ages 5, 7 and 9, and a growing and active ministry, we drove to the Florida Cancer Institute in Orlando to begin her journey. We were now a family with cancer. While the details of her journey are not as vital to this story, the metanarrative is vastly important and – in all honestly – understanding it will help you know how we got here and why we do what we do today.
The treatments took a tremendous toll on Melissa’s body.
Salvation Wrapped in A Shawl
During the eight months of steady chemotherapy Melissa’s health slowly, but surely, began to falter. She spent days-on-end in a recliner, wrapped in a shawl, meekly curled up in the corner of our bedroom. She spent endless nights awake and in pain and countless mornings both weary and restless.
Our children struggled to understand why mommy had no hair and why they weren’t able to run and jump in her lap whenever they wanted to do so.
Melissa’s mother was a godsend at this time. My family, though hundreds of miles away, kept in touch and brought relief in short visits and some weekend trips for the children. Our church – that beautiful body of believers nestled in the corner of Apopka – was an absolute joy. They watched, served, waited, and hoped for the best as they witnessed this vibrant young woman transform into an emaciated version of her once energetic self.
Outer Decay, Inner Renewal
Through it all, the Spirit inside of my wife – the life-giving presence of Christ within her – grew exponentially during this time. Her body betrayed her, but her soul never did! Her countenance – every single time we entered that damnable treatment center – glowed with grace and confidence.
And, while, my countenance revealed fear and worry, hers displayed only hope and grace. It was clear beyond measure that she was experiencing Christ within her and around her like she never had before.
Months after the experience, while reflecting on the trial of chemo, she commented,
“Even in the midst of my pain, I felt as though Jesus was right there with me. It was as if he had pulled up a chair beside me and said, “Let’s do this together, my child.” I spoke to Him as if he was there – like you are now – and he paid attention to me, loved on me, and encouraged me to surrender to Him and trust in His presence.”
The Birthing of a Vision
I knew what she was talking about. I remember multiple times in which I just wouldn’t go into our bedroom because I sensed that she was captivated by and caught up in worshipping her Savior, intimately sharing her life with Him.
After some time of reflection, she asked,
“Why is that life – that joyful life with Jesus – so hard to experience now? What is it about the way we are living life that makes such moments exceptional and, why on earth can they not be normative?”
She had me at “why.”
She was right. In my heart, I sensed that something had to change.
More to come!
Disrupting to Renew
I’d Love to Hear From You!