Tuesday, December 17, 2013

wrappin it up.

This past year was a big one for us, in ways that were new and unexpected. 

It's funny- this is the first year in five years that we didn't have any more kids, move to a new state,  change jobs, or buy a house. 

Which makes me think we're either super spazzy or horrible planners. Or we just really love change and transition. Huh.  

Anyhoo, I've never done a year-end wrap up kinda thing, but there's a first time for everything, right?

There's a hymn that I refer to as a "Ricky Bender Classic,"  one of my husband's go-to's when he leads worship, walks through Target, gives the kids a bath, waits in an elevator, washes the dishes, drives a semi-truck, and you get the idea: 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  

If there's one song that sums up our 2013 with Jesus, this is it.  

What a Friend we have in Jesus, 
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry 
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, 
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry 
everything to God in prayer. 

We started the year unsure of whether or not we were supposed to be planting a church out here in Colorado. The only thing we knew for certain in our mission here was that the LORD had called us here specifically to pray for this land. But (little soap-box moment)  being a couple who loves God's word and prays for your city doesn't make you a church-planter, pastor or worship leader. It makes you a Christian. 

There was one thing as January kicked off that we purposed to be very intentional in:  praying together every night after the kids were (gloriously) in bed. The kind of praying together that involves open Bibles and knees on the floor. We needed vision! And while we weren't getting the green light in planting a church, the friendship and nearness of the Holy Spirit in those night-time prayer meetings was (and is) a tremendous blessing. In the absence of a church family and pastor, we were desperately asking the Holy Spirit Himself to come and disciple us in the things and the places He was setting before us. Truly, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! 

Have we trials and temptations? 
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; 
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful 
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; 
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, 
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, 
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? 
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; 
you will find a solace there.

This is where some of the new (to us) stuff came in. Together, Ricky and I have weathered  trials common in the first years of marriage and kids- the empty bank accounts,  broken down cars, getting laid off, sleepless nights with puking kids, black widow bites, terrible work schedules, unexpected medical bills- you know, life as a grown-up. But I wouldn't say that we had ever sympathized with Jesus as the Man of sorrows- we've never had relational trials and hardships. Sorry if I sound like a real jerk right now, but we like people and people generally like us. Being despised, rejected and basically thought poorly of by friends isn't familiar territory. 

Until this year. 

We experienced the rejection of friends with whom we had shared meals, clothes, books, money and music. People who had at one time met us in tears in our living room asking for prayer now despised us, because we had shared a word from the LORD that was difficult to hear.  Our hearts were broken as we became the "bad guys" to people that we still deeply loved and prayed over; we were accused of silly things covered up with Bible terms and it hurt. It sounds kind of terrible, but the confirmation of God's word to us for a specific group of  people was thrilling, whether it was well-received or not.  When we allowed Jesus to meet us in that painful rejection we met our Crucified King as the Man of sorrows. 

The Man who was "despised and rejected by men and acquainted with grief," (Isaiah 53.3) and who was willing to "make Himself of no reputation… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross. " (Phil. 2.7) Jesus became a curse for us because it's written "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." (Gal.3.13) We learned this year that your reputation is an incredibly hard thing to lay down. 
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the LORD in prayer. In His arms He'll take and shield you, you will find a solace there. 

In the midst of what could have been such a lonely and crummy time, the comfort and solace of the LORD brought joy, peace and rest. We were blessed with a little weekend retreat filled with dear friends and precious time in California. There were many tender words from Jesus over the course of the weekend that came in so many ways and through so many people- again, the nearness of the Holy Spirit and His willingness to meet us with comfort and encouragement was a treasure.

As we prayed one night in Oxnard with some friends, there was a great word that cut straight to our hearts from I Kings 19 in the best way possible. In this chapter Elijah feels totally alone in Israel as the one and only man left who's zealous for the LORD, ("I alone am left; and they seek to take my life!") and the LORD lets Elijah know that he isn't alone- there are seven thousand people in Israel still worshipping the LORD. Those were words that made our souls sing. (Thank you, friends.)

And it's true- we weren't and we aren't alone at all! We had a summer that was filled with new and precious friendships, meeting on Sunday afternoons to pray at parks around the city of Denver. Our hearts were established and strengthened in God's grace as we waited on the LORD and sought Him together with a group of people that had heard so many of the very same and very specific words from our Father that we had heard over the years that we'd been here. Fellowship brought life, joy and excitement as we prayed for Denver together. 

Ricky had been working on a song for a few months (the first one that he wrote on the banjo) called Pilgrim Song. It's a song about faith, hope and ultimately heaven- all about how we're pilgrims and sojourners, looking to the city who's Builder and Maker is God (Heb. 11.10). How fitting that we ended up at Pilgrim City Church. 

Now we find ourselves at the start of a new year incredibly excited and blessed with a church and family that we love tremendously, with friends who are as transparent, real and honest as friends can be. The legit Bible teaching that we've been craving since we moved out here is a reality (huge sigh of relief) and there's a humble like-mindedness in ministry that's breath-taking. I've been praying Romans 12.9-16 for our church home out here for a couple of years, and the ways that the LORD has answered those prayers so personally. it's beautiful. 

The Divine Friendship with Jesus over the course of this year has been the truest and dearest gift that we could know on this side of heaven. And we have much to look forward to, amen? 

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised 
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to 
Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there 
will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship 
            will be our sweet portion there.    
Amen!We h

photo-cred the amazingly talented neighbor, friend and one of my favorite people in all of Colorado, Vanessa Kruse. http://vanessakruse.com/blog/