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Names Matter

Names Matter

Part I

There are 704,352 people in Seattle, WA. I stood among throngs of them just a few weeks ago—exchanged glances, made way for passersby, bumped shoulders, watched, smelled, listened.

It was my very first time on the West Coast. In all my 24 years, the furthest I’d ever been across the country was a family trip to the Grand Canyon when I was a child. I had planned my visit months ago when my parents suggested I go visit their friends Stuart and Lisa Bell who had moved to downtown Seattle last October as church planters.

After visiting the city and hearing God’s call to relocate about a year and a half prior, the couple sold and gave away most of their personal belongings, packed what remained in a storage unit, piled their clothes and essentials in their jeep, and made their way to Seattle, WA from Bentonville, AR.

The Bells met me at baggage claim with a hug and a smile. Apart from a brief interaction when I was very small, I had never met these folks, but I immediately felt at home.

Throughout my visit, I walked all over downtown Seattle. For 20,000 steps, I followed closely behind Stuart and Lisa, watching all the way at how they interacted with their city.

Periodically, we would stop on a corner or glance out the bus window at a landmark or site, and Lisa would educate me on the history or significance it carried. It was clear every time that the couple had already fallen head over heels for their new city and had taken great care to learn its story.

When I arrived to my room in their Queen Anne apartment, there was a document for me to keep with stats and facts about Seattle and maps on the wall with markers indicating the locations of other church plants. There were only a handful.

Stuart and Lisa filled me in on the challenges of planting a church in a city like Seattle and on the challenges they’ve had personally in relocating to a place so very far away from all that was loved and familiar to them. But more than their challenges, they told me with great excitement of all the victories the Lord has shown them in less than a year. While seemingly small to those who aren’t really looking, they are nothing short of miraculous to Stuart and Lisa, who know full well that God is a God of careful detail. Every victory is an advancement of the Gospel.

Part II

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA.

On our way from the airport to their apartment, we saw only a handful of that number. We took a quiet, scenic route, and as we walked, Stuart and Lisa began to pour out all they’d learned from their city. They rattled off names of connections they’d made, where they’d met them, when they last saw or interacted with them, and what each person thought about Jesus and Stuart and Lisa’s ministry here.

We walked past a coffee shop, and Stuart stopped and peered through the window. His face lit up when he saw his friend Ben, a barista there. He waved and made a goofy face at Ben, who smiled with recognition and waved back.

We rounded the corner and made a stop at a neighborhood bookstore. When we walked in, the two greeted the owner, Erin, by name, and she acknowledged them with a smile. I browsed briefly while the Bells conversed with Erin, talking about landmarks she suggested for my visit, their upcoming trip to China to meet their first grandchild, Erin’s husband Pete, etc. They introduced me, and she chatted with me kindly as a friend of her friends.

While Stuart met to read Scripture with a believer he met recently, Lisa and I stopped in a recommended coffee shop. As we walked in, Lisa called out to the girl behind the counter. Hearing her name, the girl looked up and smiled as Lisa introduced us.

We visited a Danish bakery a few blocks over for breakfast one morning, and the owner, a young woman named Isabelle, smiled when Lisa said hello and recognized her regular customer.

“Did you hear her call my name?” Lisa asked Stuart. “She remembered me.” Another advancement on the battleground. Another stake in the earth.

On our way to the bus stop Saturday morning, a man in a neon vest exited the CVS on the corner behind us, and Stuart called out.

“Nate! Hey, man!! How’s your morning been?”

Nate smiled broadly and shook Stuart’s outstretched hand. His vest was issued by the city as a uniform to wear when he patrolled his area on the corner of Mercer and Queen Anne. When Stuart complimented him and acknowledged the great work Nate was doing to keep the area clean, his head bowed slightly, a little bashful at the encouragement, but grateful to someone for noticing.

Turns out, noticing is something the Bells are great at.

Part III

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA.

And there are 2.5 coffee shops for every thousand of them. One of my requests when I arrived in the city was for the Bells to help me find a really great cup of coffee. We ended up finding several, but the first came from a quirky place a few blocks from their apartment: KEXP, which functions as a radio station, record store, music venue, and coffee shop.

As I sipped on my mocha in my first Seattle coffee shop experience, I had a chance to pull out my current read and spend a little time in *Middle Earth.

*I’d like to take this time to forewarn you that there may be several other references to LOTR in my future writings, because it’s wonderful and poignant and I make no apologies about my love for Tolkien’s writing.

I opened the page to where I’d last left Aragorn and his captains. In Tolkien’s The Return of the King, there is a moment right before the Last Battle that stopped me in my tracks. The armies of Rohan and Gondor have ridden right up to the Black Gate of Mordor with every ally they could muster riding alongside them. Before the monstrous barrier, the captains of each unit shouted forth their challenge and, after an eerie silence, an ambassador of the enemy came riding out to meet them.

As my eyes moved over this descriptive passage, I was struck by how Tolkien identified the foe.

“The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: ‘I am the Mouth of Sauron.’”

In his service and slavery to Sauron, he had forgotten his own name. His master, the enemy of all that was good and free and true, cared not even for a moment about his identity.

And I was suddenly aware of how true that rang across the pages of fiction into the realms of reality.

For we also have an enemy, a master liar and deceiver, adamantly opposed to all that is good and right and true. He fights to fill human hearts with lies about identity and worth.

“You’re not valuable.”

“You’re not noticed.”

“You’re not worth saving.”

“You’re not loved.”

“You’re alone.”

“No one knows your name.”

It’s all a trick. A lie disguised as truth designed to trap its victims in a pit of hopelessness and loneliness.

But here’s what’s true: Jesus knows every name.

He knows every name, and He values those to whom they belong. He loves each heart personally, deeply, intimately, fiercely. He died for every name and rose again so that every name might be freed from sin.

Individuals in the masses are not lost on Jesus. He sees everyone, and he calls people by name.

“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”

-Genesis 17:4-5

“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.’”

-Matthew 16:16-18

“He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means “Teacher”).”

-John 20:15-16

“Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”

-John 11:43-44

Names are important to Jesus.

Part IV

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA.

Jesus knows every one of them. Personally. Intimately. He looks on each face with great compassion and love. He formed them. They are His creation, after all.

And one by one, He is introducing them to Stuart and Lisa.

They know the importance of names.

They understand the value in valuing someone else. They know what it means to be loved deeply by the One who gives worth and identity to His creation.

They are in Seattle, far from home and familiarity, because He called them there.

By name.

And every time the Bells call out to a new friend, every time they remember a hometown or a favorite coffee haunt, every time they lock eyes with hurting hearts and call them by name, a thread in the enemy’s cord of lies is severed.

“You are valuable.”

I notice you.”

“The Savior of the world came to rescue you.”

“You are loved.”

“You are not alone.”

I know your name.”

Jesus sees you and loves you.”

“The Creator of all the world knows you and calls you by name.”

Part V

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA and this Sunday, seven of them met in a conference room downtown for Stuart and Lisa’s very first worship service.

The Lord is not just calling Stuart and Lisa to plant a church, but to be the church. From the moment they heard the call, and every moment since, they have been all in. Every time they leave the house, they bow their heads at the door and ask the Lord to guide their steps and orchestrate their encounters and conversations. They pause in front of buildings with “For Lease” signs in the window and ask the Lord to open their eyes for plant locations. Out loud, without making a show or drawing attention to themselves, they speak to the Lord like He is standing with them, shoulder to shoulder in the crowd. And streams of people bustle past, moving unknowingly under the sound of intercession.

Intercession on their behalf.

Stuart and Lisa have a heart for downtown Seattle, but they know no calling can be answered without prayer. It is the foundation of their ministry. And they asked me to ask you for it.

If you’re reading this and would like to support the Bell’s ministry, please consider committing to pray for them faithfully and intentionally. If you feel led to give financially, you can do so by following this link >> http://nwbaptistplanting.com/give. Simply create an account, click “Make A Donation,” and select “Pike Place Church” to give.

The Lord is moving in downtown Seattle. He is calling hearts that are far from Him–calling them to draw near and be filled. And He is calling Stuart and Lisa and the believers who met in that conference room this Sunday, to be His hands and feet. To look on the faces of 704,352 people with the love and compassion of Jesus. To take the lost around them to the foot of the cross so they can find hope. So they can find peace. So they can find redemption.

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Hey, Nashville-I Just Called To Say I’m Sorry

Hey, Nashville-I Just Called To Say I’m Sorry

In 2016, I spent a significant portion of my time fighting a love for my new home. I had arrived in January with a steel resolve to be brave in the face of all the new. I was happy to be at my job, but that was about it. Though Nashville did all it could to reach out and extend a welcoming hand, I flat refused to speak. I spent the whole first year of our relationship pining over my ex. No wonder we had issues.

I stepped into a new city still hopelessly and madly in love with Florence, AL. Nashville was a fine place for some folks to live, but it just wasn’t my type. It was merely a holding spot for me. A waiting room for me to park in while I waited for the Lord to tell me I could go home.

If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.

-Malala Yousafzai

Home. Florence. One hundred and thirty-three miles southwest where all my people were.

I had no people in Nashville, and to be honest, I did a poor job of looking for them. I held my heart so far behind me that no one could come close. At best, I planted weedy roots that were violently ripped up once or twice a month when I pointed my car toward the Alabama state line and hit the gas. My mouth complained about my lack of ties to the city, but truthfully, my heart fiercely fought any connections. I didn’t want them, and somewhere deep inside my brain, I felt like I didn’t have room for them.

If I loved Florence with my whole heart, I had no more room for a new city to love. There wasn’t space for both.

But an affection for Tennessee was rising, quiet and strong and steady in the space beneath my chest.

I saw it first in April of last year. Green was coming back into the world again, arriving in brilliance after its hiatus. It sprung from the trees with all the energy of new hope and new life. My Cruze would come to the top of a hill on my way to work, and I’d catch a glimpse of rolling hills rising like a deep breath coming straight from the earth. And I would catch mine. In the cool stickiness of summer evenings, I watched the maple leaves from my patio flutter bashfully in the breeze. On Saturday hikes, the light would cut through the wall of trees so sharply I knew it was looking for my attention.

I stretched out on grassy lawns or scrunched in age-old pews and heard the city’s wild and brilliant heartbeat through guitar strings and voices loosed. I put my hand on the pulse of music that makes this city feel alive, like the soil beneath our feet is breathing the music from its own unseen lungs. Those of us who have to obey the laws of gravity get, for a brief moment, the chance to know what it feels like to defy it.

I’ve spent much of this new year trying to quietly apologize to Nashville. And Nashville, in all her generosity, is forgiving. Through all my foot stamping and tantrum tears last year, she never stopped singing. She never let her voice get too small for me to hear. And I’m grateful for another year to hear it and another chance to really listen.

You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.

-Henning Mankell

There’s room for both, I’ve learned. There’s love enough for more than one piece of geography.

And I need them both, Florence & Nashville. I need every mile.

Florence is home. Safe. Still so very needed. Always will be. When I cross the city lines, it refills my tank with courage. Tells me with its slow drawl that it’s glad to see me. Tells me it’ll be here waiting when I come again.

Nashville is growth. Smothering with its enormity. Terrifying. Luminous. Gleaming. So welcoming and warm. It pushes me to be brave. Demands more of me than I thought I could give. Asks me to climb to new heights, but promises a great view. And it delivers.

There are a thousand ways to go home.

-Rumi

So, Nashville, I just called to tell you I’m sorry. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad you welcomed me and gave me a new place to call home. I’m glad you didn’t give up on me.

And Nashville—the view really is amazing.

 

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Sundays

Sundays

Nashville life has been an adventure. I’m learning how to adult and so far, it’s going well. Here’s a brief list of the things I am most proud of:

  1. Without using my GPS, I can navigate my way to my job, my house, my church, my gym, and my favorite pizza place. Though most of these are on the same road, it’s still a pretty huge accomplishment.

**Those of you who know how long it took for me learn how to get to Florence Boulevard should be especially impressed.

  1. I’m no master chef, yet, but I did (fairly) successfully use my George Foreman the other night.
  2. My socks match. Everyday. (To be honest, this is my crowning achievement thus far.)

Yes, things are going very well here. During the week, the days go by quietly, systematically, gently allowing me to adjust and settle down into this new life. Saturdays might have been more difficult had I not had a fairly steady stream of visitors from home.

But then there are Sundays.

Sundays have proven themselves to be the most difficult of all.

I cried the first time I visited a church here. The first time, I looked up at the pulpit and saw someone other than my dad addressing the congregation. I looked out into the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces and used my fingers to push back in the tears that were trying to escape. For the first time, it occurred to me how alone I was. There were no hugs from long-time friends, no familiar laughs in Sunday School, no choir light on my face, no sweet grandmother’s voice singing beside me, no dad to teach the Word from a familiar pulpit. There was family in that room, but it wasn’t mine. I suddenly felt Highland’s absence painfully, like a tightening band around my heart squeezing until I thought I’d have to reach in and rip it out myself.

Sundays are hard, and this week was no different.

Except this time, it was hard to be home. I held my breath from the moment I arrived to the moment I left, trying to cage my emotions. My trembling hands again caught tears before they could spill conspicuously over my cheeks. I didn’t want anyone to see, to know how much I hurt with the ache of missing this church family. I didn’t want anyone to think I was lying when I answered the constant stream of “How’s it going?” and “How’s Nashville life treating you?” with a resounding, “Great!”

Because I wasn’t lying. It really is great. The Lord has continued to prove Himself faithful, and I am still certain I was being obedient to His call on my life when I moved here. No question.

But the truth is, I miss home. And never more than on Sundays, when I’m missing my church family.

I wish I could articulate how much I love Highland and its people. I wish I could put words together to adequately explain how my life has been formed and shaped through the ministry of this church. Maybe someday I’ll be able to express it fully.

But until then, Highland family, know that I love you dearly. And miss you fiercely. But because you have shown me what it means to love and serve Christ’s bride and the lost community around her, I am equipped to do the same in a new location.

For that, and countless other blessings you’ve given me, I’ll be forever grateful.

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Adventures at the Lawrenceburg Fair

Adventures at the Lawrenceburg Fair

Fall is here, bursting through our doors with over-enthusiastic promises of cooler weather, pumpkin-flavored everything, and a glorious vanishing of the mosquito population.

Though, in Northwest Alabama, the weather is never as crisp as it should be, thus leaving a few lingering summer fiends behind. And making a gourd into a dessert is never quite as thrilling as I remember it. But, even so, I am grateful fall has arrived.

One of my favorite gifts fall brings along is the fair. You know, the excessive number of bright lights and carnival workers calling out for you to stop and play their games. And the clanging, metal contraptions meant to sling you around in the most terrifying and exhilarating fashion.

And the smells. Oh, the smells. The caramel, the kettle corn, the animals in the stables nearby, the fresh scent of mud and grass twisting together beneath hoofs and boots.

I went to the Lawrenceburg fair a few weeks ago with some friends of mine. When they invited me to tag along, I was so excited. I’d never been to the Lawrenceburg fair before, but had always heard stories of its superiority to the Florence production. It had become a sort of legend in my mind.

And I must admit, it lived up to its reputation. The Lawrenceburg fair was indeed a marvel.

Though most fairs have some sort of animal display, I had never seen one as large as this one. There were sheep and cows and horses and rabbits and goats, and I wanted to stop and pet every one. Talk to every one. And my kind and patient friends sweetly indulged me.

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As we walked toward the stables, I caught a glimpse of two men standing in the doorway, heads bent over something curious held by the man on the right. The back of the man on the left was obscuring my view, but I was determined to see what was so interesting. As I stepped around, the man on the right caught my eye and quickly tucked his prize back into his jacket pocket. But not before I saw a flash of squirming fur.

So, naturally, I had to ask.

“What’s in your pocket?”

The guy looked back at me with no expression of response and a tinge of suspicion in his eye, which to be honest, I found kind of ironic. I mean he’s the one who is carrying a tiny animal in his windbreaker. I just want to know what it is.

I realized he was trying to make me believe he had nothing to hide. That his jacket was just naturally a little squirmy. And I guess that should’ve been a warning sign, an indicator that this man might not be sitting squarely on his own rocker. But still I pressed.

“C’mon, man. I just saw you put that thing in your pocket. I know you’ve got something in there. What is it?”

Another moment of him staring at me, no response, just carefully considering his options. My friends stood behind me, trying to suppress snorts of laughter, glancing back and forth to each other in confusion.

Finally, realizing I wasn’t stupid enough to believe he had nothing to show, he pulled out his treasure to show us. As his left hand emerged, a trembling squirrel came with it, tucked firmly in the guy’s fist.

A squirrel. Garden-variety yard rodent. Immediately, a dozen questions filled my brain.

Does he carry it with him everywhere? Was it captured for this specific occasion, or had it been transformed into a kind of domestic pet? How did he come to acquire this little creature? Did he chase it down? (That image I found comical considering his age and build.) I had to know.

So, naturally, I asked.

Still I got no real response. I gave up with my questions, content with just ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ over the tiny thing. I figured his squirrel, his business. As my friends and I leaned in to look closer at the shaking captive, the man spoke.

“You can pet him for a dollar,” he said in a low voice, his eyebrows lifted, seeming to suggest that he was offering us a real deal.

Unfortunately for him, we were all pretty uninterested in petting his contraband rodent.

It turns out that characters aren’t always fictional. Some are as real as the squirrels in their pockets and are oftentimes far more interesting than any invented personality.

 

**P.s. Stay tuned for Adventures at the Lawrenceburg Fair: Part 2 . Apparently, the fair’s got more to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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