by Candy Tolbert, National Girls Ministries Director
The view from my kitchen window was breathtaking; so much so that after dinner I almost (notice I said almost) enjoyed scrubbing scorched food from a pan as I stood at the kitchen sink. Someday I will look back on this moment with fond memories of a house on a hill and majestic waves set against a beautiful sunset, I thought to myself. I will remember and I will be reminded of God's faithfulness. Today is one such day.
Michael and I are a most unlikely pair to pastor a church near the sea. We are both fair skinned and - with very little sun exposure and the best sun screen - we can burn to a deep crimson red. With tongue in cheek he often reminded me to take my raincoat when going for long walks on the beach in the heat of the day. Neither of us surf, and deep sea fishing holds no interest. Yet for 5½ years it was as though God kissed us on the cheek and said "Yes, this little town and church are a perfect place to raise your children. Oh, and by the way, here is a lovely house with a panoramic view of the ocean in nearly every room as an added bonus for as long as you need it. Enjoy."
During an early evening walk on the beach with my two daughters, then ages 12 and 9, I reminded them to take a good mental picture of the grandeur all around them and to store it in their memory because, I said "One day we will move on and memories of dear friends, this majestic ocean, and the little town of Cayucos will be all we have."
Amazing, isn't it? We can live next to something for an entire lifetime but unless we pause and take time to focus on it, it never really becomes a part of us. That's the life lesson I wanted my girls to learn that evening so that now - years later - as we reminisce we can smile and re-live stories of a church filled with godly people who became a part of us.
We remember Delbert and Iva who after 50 plus years of marriage were just as much in love as the day they married. I think of Granny Grace who lovingly baked a made-from-scratch chocolate cake for my husband every week because she knew he is a hopeless chocoholic. And there was Mel - sweet Mel - who stood faithfully at his post every Sunday morning to distribute the church bulletin along with hard candy to any child who entered our doors. Wonderful memories of these and other special people who lived in the neighborhood of our lives for 5 ½ years.
Yet, as idyllic as our lives and ministry appeared to be, there was a flip side to the months and years we lived by the sea. Days when I thought the coastal cloudy days and thick fog would never lift. Times of financial hardship, loneliness, discouragement and doubt. Times when I wondered if the Lord said "Connecticut" and we heard "Cayucos." Times of enormous discontent. After all, when you're young pastors burning with passion and vision to see a burgeoning church, your hopes plummet when it seems all your efforts fail and you're faced with the stark reality that people visit beach communities not to look for a church home, but to play golf and sightsee.
So much of ministry life is about being content in the place God calls us to be. Isn't it? The apostle Paul addresses this head on as he writes his letter to the Philippian believers (from his jail cell no less) in chapter 4:11,12. Unlike many of his letters, Philippians was not written because of a church squabble - although he did exhort two women, Euodia and Syntyche to get along. Rather, the teaching in his letter centers around joy, Christian humility, and the rich rewards of knowing Christ.
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need,and I know what it is have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want" (NIV).
In short, Paul's instruction for all believers is that we are to be content not with circumstances but in circumstances. He could say this with confidence because his own faith was painfully and tediously developed through a day-to-day relationship with Jesus Christ whether he was tent making, preaching the gospel, or writing from his jail cell. He learned contentment in the providence and provision of God and was unaffected by circumstances.
I've had the privilege of serving in ministry in some wonderful places through the years and along the way I am learning a few practical things about these two powerful Philippian verses:
- I must find joy in the little things of life - a tight hug from my children, pizza and Pepsi with the one I love, a spectacular sunset.
- I must stay busy without grumbling or complaining! Jesus could come at any moment and I want to be ready.
- I must talk to Jesus ... often. My friendship with Him is my stress reliever and my cure for a troubled heart.
May we rest in God's calm and freedom whether He calls us to a small beach community, the streets of New York City, or a foreign land. These are simply places after all, but it is the people in these places we make life with.
Maybe next summer my family and I will return to Cayucos, rent a big house, walk the pier, play in the sand, and enjoy steaming clam chowder while we watch a glorious sunset and share stories of God's provision and faithfulness. We will have forgotten our discontent. And this time, no scorched pots and pans. I'll leave the dish washing to someone else.