Courage Required #75

On Christmas afternoon we took down our Christmas tree. With the help of my sister Pat, brother David and their spouses we began to pack. On December 26 the professional packers arrived. That afternoon my parents took 17 of our family see the Nutcracker Ballet in Chicago. On December 27 the moving van came. We spent the night with Sally Jo’s brother and family. The next morning, after saying good bye to Sally Jo’s parents, we headed for Dallas. Thankfully my brother David was going with us.

At 9:00 pm on December 29 we arrived at our cold house, crawled into our sleeping bags, and were soon asleep. The next morning we were up early, working to clean up the house before the movers came…at 9:00 am. Unexpectedly four young men associated with Sky Ranch came to help us get settled. As boxes and furniture came in through the front door, we told the movers where to put them, while we unpacked as fast as we could. The next noon Clayton and Peggy Bell arrived with lunch. Clayton was the Senior Minister of Highland Park Presbyterian Church – I had served as Clayton’s assistant in Dothan, Alabama eleven years previously. We worked late into the night trying to bring order out of chaos.

On January 1 we took my brother David to his plane. Suddenly, we were alone. As a family we had gone from Christmas celebrations, our extended families and our wonderful church family, nice home, good school, and familiar surroundings – to being just Sally Jo and me with our children, Carla, Jenna and Dirk, ages 9, 6, and 3. Reality: a new house in a new neighborhood in a place where we did not even know where the grocery store was, much less a doctor. It was tough!

The next morning I found my new office and spent the day trying to understand Sky Ranch’s situation, complicated by the fact that it had been without a director for several months. I was no longer a pastor, but the “Executive Director” of a non-profit organization which had one employee, a rented office and a couple hundred acres. On June 1, in five months, we needed to have built a lake, put in the roads and utilities, built and furnished essential buildings – including a barn, stalls and pens for 40 horses, built fences and a rodeo corral, bought 30 or 40 low cost horses in good health and safe for campers to ride, bought the necessary saddles, bridles and other program equipment for the operation of a camp, hired 4 year around staff and 40 summer staff – and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars – while getting the word out: Sky Ranch was starting over again in East Texas. Oh Lord, what have you gotten me into? Our family into? Yet, we believed this assignment was from God: it would get done…on time.

Sally Jo was busy meeting the needs of our children, for if the kids did not have a reasonably good day, it would have made future days much more difficult. They, like we, did not know anyone, nor did they know where many of their things were – including the games and creative craft materials they enjoyed. The kids had no patterns and there were no places where the house was in order. Sally Jo worked at cleaning, laundry and putting what had been unpacked by five people into the right places. When the games were finally found, our children asked their mom to play with them…and she did.

Jenna’s seventh birthday was January 4th… We needed to be ready with wrapped presents (we brought some with us), a cake with candles – and whatever else could make a party – when there were no friends to invite. After cake and gifts we drove two hours to the new ranch location – then back to Dallas to the Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor where the staff sang “Happy Birthday” to our Jenna.

Our move was not very different than the move of any family to a totally new situation, apart from the fact that I was essentially changing vocations and starting up a new company – in a multi-building facility, which I was soon to learn, had to be redesigned before being built. At such times we must depend on our God given brains, the God given wisdom we pray for, and the fact that we need Him to go before, often in ways of which we are unaware. No wonder God said to Joshua when he took on the responsibility of leading a great nation: “Be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid, neither be though dismayed, for the Lord they God is with you, where ever you go”. As God was with Joshua, so God is with us. Courage is required!

When we become aware of new people in our neighborhood, our school, our church – we need to put ourselves in their shoes. What can we do that will make their transition easier? Cookies, flowers from our yard, information about the area, an invite for a meal – perhaps all of the above! It takes courage for any of us to reach out with open hearts and hands to our new neighbor – the family next door, down the street, at church or at school. When we, who live In Partnership With God, reach out with Christ like love and compassion, our love will not be forgotten.

(This Sunday morning I welcomed a person I did not know to church. It turned out this was his first time in the church. He had been born in Dothan, AL – where I served as Assistant Pastor of 1st Presbyterian Church. We had much to talk about – boiled peanuts anyone?)

To Dallas to Buy a House #74

We have the dates and other information through Sally Jo’s annual diaries.

October 3: Sally Jo and I made our first trip to Dallas, returning the next day. During this time we had dinner with the only two people in Dallas we knew, met with members of the Sky Ranch Board, visited the new Sky Ranch site, and very briefly drove by houses, particularly in the Richardson school district which was recommended by three Board members who lived in the area.

When we told Sally Jo’s parents that we would be moving to Texas, Sally Jo’s dad, a Realtor himself, recommended another real estate agent to handle the sale of our house – and suggested that we listen to the price recommendation of the real estate agent – the agent worked on commission and therefore wanted both the sale of the house – and as large a commission as possible.

October 15: our house was inspected and three days after we put the house on the market, we had a buyer.

October 16: I returned to Dallas with the specific of purpose of buying a house. It was a bit of a shock to have Mike and Glen now almost laugh at me when I said we would like to buy a house in the Richardson school district. These men lived in the area and knew how expensive it was. Never-the-less, they recommended a residential real estate agent from the area.

As she took me around the school district, I was convinced that this was where we should live – good schools, convenient to stores, minutes for where the Sky Ranch office would be, and an easy 30 minute drive to down town Dallas. The Realtor and I spent the day looking at houses. Mike and Glen were right. Even the most modest house was expensive. The next day I flew back to Illinois – no progress. The real estate agent agreed to send us the new listings. This was 1975, before fax machines, e-mail, and the ability to check real estate listings on line.

When we received the listings we would look carefully for a house we could afford. Nothing! Time was running out!

November 19: we saw a listing for a four bedroom home with 1 ½ bath rooms and the price had been reduced – again. It would be affordable!! We could easily live with 1 ½ bathrooms!! I called the agent and identified for her the house we had found in the listings. I asked if the reason it had not sold was because it only had 1 ½ bath rooms. She said the information was incorrect: she had been in the home – it had 2 ½ bathrooms and the house was in very good condition.

The next morning I was on a plane to Dallas. The house found in the listing was located a block from the grade school and 3 blocks from the junior high school. As the Realtor had told me over the telephone, the house had 2 ½ baths and was in excellent condition – with two pecan trees in the fence enclosed back yard. My offer was accepted immediately, and we had our house. Had God caused the error in the real estate listing so we could get a good home at an affordable price? How could we know? I do know that when we sold the house seven years later, we cleared $72,000

December 7: Sally Jo and I fly to Dallas for a dinner reception with Sky Ranch people, a second look at the new camp property, a meeting with the Sky Ranch Board of Directors – and so Sally Jo could see our new house and we could sign the necessary documents.

December 28: the moving van came, and with it the reality that our family was moving from the security of the Wheaton area, where Sally Jo and I had both grown up and we had extended family, to Texas, a place we had seldom seen and where we knew only two people. I was leaving my walnut desk in Oak Brook to become the Executive Director of Sky Ranch – a ministry represented only by a large piece of undeveloped land near Van, Texas.

Leaving right after Christmas made the move extra tough. This was a huge step of obedient faith, but God continued to confirm that He had guided our decision, that He was going before. We were living In Partnership With God.

Role Models: My Parents, Grand Parents, Aunt #73

It was not until this week that I realized Sally Jo and I are living demonstrations of what Jesus Christ asked people to do 12 times in the New Testament: “Follow Me” (i.e. Mt 4:10). Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). I never really thought about the fact that we are sheep of Jesus Christ – we know His voice and we follow Him.

Twice we left family, six times we left friends, a nice home, and financial security – and started completely over again in a different area of ministry, and in each case we went into a very challenging situation!! Georgia for seminary, Assistant Pastor in a city Presbyterian church in Alabama, Pastor of a country Methodist Church in Connecticut, Presbyterian Minister to students at Middle Tennessee State University in Tennessee, Associate Pastor of an independent church in IL, a camp director in Texas and New York. Frankly, we never gave much thought to what we were leaving – we focused on obeying the still small voice within us. We never did physically hear the voice of God, or see handwriting on the wall as did Belshazzar at his feast (Daniel 5:5), or have a fleece turn damp, and then dry, as did Gideon (Judges 6:37).

What triggered my thinking this through? A writing of C. S. Lewis quoted in _Devotional Classics_ edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith. “Christ says give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money or so much of your work: I want you… No half measures are any good.” And I asked myself “is this me?”

And this is our mind-set: we want God to have all of us. We want the peace that passes all understanding, the promise that God will supply all of our needs. For Christmas, 1959, three years before we got married, Sally Jo gave me a Bible (which I still use almost every week when I write these IPWG). In the front she wrote: “To Chuck – Love in Him – Sally Jo Eph 3:14-20 “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”.

This is our mind-set just as this had been our parent’s mind-set, their hearts desire. Here is my heritage: When my dad graduated from medical school, he and mom left all as they went to a 400 bed mission hospital in inland China. At the end of their first furlough, in spite of a cholera epidemic, not knowing that soon the Japanese would come and occupy the land, they returned to China, where I was born. Due to the war, our family was fortunate to get out alive. And what did my parents want to do? Return to the foreign mission field! Mom’s father left his successful lumber business in Kansas to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He became their dean and then the VP of finance at Wheaton College. My great Aunt left Germany as a missionary to the West Indies. We have the large wooden trunk into which she packed everything she would be able to take with her.

Both of our parents modeled obedience to the Lord – and encouraged us to do the same. When I was in seminary, still single, I remember walking into my dorm room and finding my dad asleep on my bed. He woke up and soon said to me: “Chuck, I want you to know how proud your mother and I are of you. Never forget that only what you do for Jesus Christ will last”. He and mom often said “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will”.

As Sally Jo and I have lived our lives, we have experienced the Lord going before us. God has met our specific needs over and over again. God has done for us and through us things that have been beyond what we could possibly imagine – everywhere we have served.

There is great joy of living In Partnership With God.