Every so often life has a rhythm which brings a sweetness to the soul. Not every day is like this, in fact the good days can be followed by some that remind you that the foul stench of the fall still dominates our reality. Yet this weekend was filled with sweet echoes of a golden goodness which exists far beyond the shores of the earth. My weekend was simple yet full of simple graces which make me smile even in writing.
I enjoyed seeing my kids on Saturday morning and then packing up my bags for a two day visit to the state of North Carolina. Carolina is a special place for me. Though it is not my home, in many ways it has a homelike ring to it for me. I grew up in Virginia Beach; a great military and tourist town where I have many treasured youthful memories. Yet it was in North Carolina that many signposts guiding me to the life I pursue today. It was at UNC Chapel Hill that I met Jesus while studying Applied Science and Physics and competing for the tarheel wrestling team. It was at UNC where I met a captivating young woman named Kasey Monroe; smart as a whip, gorgeous, fiercely interesting and tough as nails as an athlete. Man, I am still so whipped in love with that girl. She is sleeping now and I just thank God for her. It was also in North Carolina that we connected with a new church in the mid nineties. This weekend I spent time with this family of faith once again.
Grace Community Church was started in 1994 by a group of families that consisted of professors from Campbell University, Moms, business men and a cool group of their high school kids. Kasey had transferred to Campell and connected with some of these folks as she was renting an apartment from one of the members of the new church. During our last few years of college we were asked to do several events with their youth group; one of which was a weekend beach retreat where we encouraged the crew towards a radical commitment to Jesus. The year we graduated and went on staff with Athletes in Action we had a six month season where we were raising money and actually being youth pastors with the high school kids. One thing the youth group produced was Rhett and Link - we claim them on Tuesdays and Saturdays...and their new song on the Oscars is funny. We'll never forget Eric Woodruff, Rhett McClaughlin, Link Neal, Rebecca McKinney, Maria Mathews, Heather Wilson, The Enzor brothers, Chris Lanier and many others. Grace was one of the churches that launched our family into ministry in 1997 so we are grateful for their friendship over the years. So it was a sweet time to visit them this weekend.
I stayed in the home of Jim and Joy Aycock - Jim is a retired preacher who is gracious and spirited. Joy is a wonderful host who showed so much southern hospitality that I rethought our call to Jersey for a couple moments. It was sweet to be among people who still value spending time together, taking time to talk and bringing a word of friendship to others. I met a new friend in pastor KJ Hill - who is actually FROM New Jersey but made it south to coach soccer...then became a pastor. I love KJ and his family though my time with them was brief. His wife Liz has a great mind and we had some great theological banter around the dinner table. I caught up with Rhett and his wife Jesse - he is a young man I am really quite proud of. Rhett spun a little comedy in introducing me on Sunday morning as a guy who could kill them with my bare hands as well as beat them in Jeopardy...funny - you can hear it in the sermon audio here. I preached twice on Sunday morning and then spent time at a pot luck dinner and shared the ministry of Jacob's Well with my old friends. It could not have been more encouraging. Having such a good time made getting up at 3:45am CST to drive to the airport, fly home, drive to class and immediately take an exam feel all the more worth it. I think I did OK on the test too - smile.
Finally, I was able to spend just a few moments with their pastor Brad Talley. Brad is watching his beloved wife Linda struggle for life in the midst of aggressive brain cancer. Oh, how it aches to see life ebb away. I love pastors and hanging with them. Brad has many challenges in these days but I was so encouraged by the way he talked about his Lord, his wife and marriage. Pray for the Talleys as they walk so close the valley of the shadow of death. Linda could very much be in her last few days of life. Our hope is with them and with them it is in Jesus.
Grace Community has grown beyond meeting in a living room, small buildings, the ruritan club, a school auditorium and cafeteria to having their own facility and a small staff. Yet they face some challenges and are moving forward in the gospel. I kept thinking to myself "he who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it..." I pray to stay in partnership with our friends at Grace for as long as God permits. I love the people there, and they continue to love our family so well. I would do anything for the people at Grace and thankful for this sweet echo over the weekend...which brought past, present and future together for me in the work of Christ.