There’s this fascinating story in Genesis where a man wrestles God to a standstill. Jacob, the night before he would be confronted by the brother he had constantly cheated, is left alone. While alone Jacob wrestles a stranger until dawn. This is conjecture but I think Jacob had this unmanagable anxiety about the looming confrontation with his brother and takes out his aggression on this man who just appears. The text doesn’t say how the match begins, one moment Jacob is alone with his thoughts the next he’s wrestling.
Just as startling, they wrestle until dawn. Seeing he would not prevail the stranger touches Jacob’s hipsocket, dislocating the joint, and demands he be let go. But Jacob wouldn’t relent. Jacob would be blessed. Only then would he let go.
The stranger asks for his adversary’s name, “Jacob.” And the man, this our first clue to who he may be, renames Jacob, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Israel now asks the right question, “What is your name?” The stranger doesn’t answer but there blesses Israel who goes on to build an altar and name the place Peniel saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
Jacob, who’s name literally means “Cheater”, fights God to a stalemate and is not destroyed, though he does walk away limping. Jacob fights God and demands a blessing.
In his struggle Jacob is transformed and Israel is blessed.
When I got the call to move to California and join the New Song staff I was single, childless, and basically a Hobbit. I had travelled some but my preference was to stay put in my cozy apartment with its books and close proximity to the 24 Hour burrito joint – El Faro’s, my favorite watering hole – Elgin Public House, and my family who only a comfortable drive from my apartment lived in the farm town where I grew up -Hampshire. Affectionately: The Shire.
Thanks to an overdeveloped sense of metaphor and purpose as I weighed my decision to move to California, feeling like I’d rather stay in Illinois, the Spirit brought the story of Abraham to mind. Single and childless I thought, “How can I teach my children to trust God’s promises if I don’t go when Abram left the safety and comfort of his father’s home?”
So I left.
Sam: This is it.
Frodo: This is what?
Sam: If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.
Frodo: Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I packed my car on Holy Saturday with my books, a box of clothes, a few dishes, and some food for the road. Sunday, after singing Jesus Christ is Risen Today, drove westward, quite literally into the sunset, not knowing where I might be swept off to. Again, an overdeveloped sense of metaphor. I arrived alone in San Diego smelling like I’d been driving for a week with only the direction to “Make Sundays AWESOME!“
Like He is, God has been good to me. And it has been AWESOME! It took no time at all to meet the loveliest woman in heart, mind, soul, and spirit there is and fall in love with her. While engaged Alyssa and I dreamed, as those who are engaged are wont to do, of our future together. Within a year of meeting we were married. Planning that after five years or so of marriage we would begin the adoption process. Within a year of our wedding God gifted us a son, Atticus Mac.
I have known the great blessing: me became We.
Our family has been fruitful at New Song beyond what we could have expected. We’ve been blessed to weather some storms with Inland Hills and still see God prosper our little community. We’ve been blessed to help build a culture of grace with the children and in our singing. We’ve seen lives changed through the ministry the Spirit has done through us.
We’ve been extraordinarily blessed by the community of Inland Hills. We’ve been bouyed by the prayers and kindness of God’s people in Bonsall and Fallbrook, California. Alyssa and I are well loved, Atticus all the more. We’ve been supported emotionally, spiritually, financially by Alyssa’s near-by parents and by Christ’s family at New Song. I’ve been awarded the grace to grow as a worship pastor, in preaching and teaching, leadership of events like Oasis. And Alyssa the grace to lead our children – particularly the pre-school students – to a better understanding of the always and forever love of Christ.
And so it’s been a long evening wrestling with God that has brought us to our decision to move back to Illinois with my parents.
When I was a young child at a church camp, maybe seven or nine, kneeling at an altar Pastor Bill prayed for me. He told my mom when we came home he sensed I was called to be a pastor. Since then I’ve participated in ministry in some age-appropriate fashion or other. Youth groups, multiple college groups, internships. Worship directing was something I stumbled into, almost always by necessity. When you’re the guy who sings you’re the guy who helps others sing, I guess.
Preaching and writing this past year has confirmed Pastor Bill’s sense of calling on me and my family. Though I enjoy musical leadership I’ve never felt comfortable in that position. I’ve always felt, and still do, that I’m in the role accidentally. Preaching, writing, counselling seem to be a more right fit but there are obvious gaps in my understanding of both theology and pastoral care. So, with confirmation from trusted counsel, we believe God is calling us to pastor.
To begin pursuing the pastorate we believe that we must first pay off what debt we have and have been unable to overcome these past few years. God willing, after paying down our debt we’ll be able to attend seminary and begin the adoption process.
Though we’re sad to leave Inland Hills and New Song, we’re excited for this next chapter in our story. We’re looking forward to the year and some change we’ll get to be with family who we’ve not been able to spend enough time with these past four years. When I was a child we lived with my grandma and grandpa for a season so I’m expectant and excited for Atticus to have a similar relationship with my parents that I have with my grandparents. We’re excited to find a church where we can volunteer with the same excellence we’ve been taught by the volunteers we’ve led these past few years at New Song. We’re excited to have something of a Sabbath year where we can rest, recharge, and refocus on God’s goodness, kindness, and direction. We’re excited to see which school God will bring us to and all that we’ll learn there of His blessing.
I moved to California confident that God would bless me. He has. We are moving to Illinois confident that God will bless us. He will.