Cathy was whisked from our home one evening last week. A friend stopped by and said, "I have these cookies I made and I need to run them up to the church. Do you have your shoes on?" They jumped in the car and, upon arrival, the friend said, "I need to run these in; they are for the youth event. Why don't you come in with me and we'll see how it's going, then we can go back to your house and play cards. (You're taking your life in your hands if you get in a rapid-fire game of Pounce with these two ladies.)
A few minutes before their arrival, I was in an Elder meeting. One of our pastors asked, "Can we take a short break? My soda is running through me and I really need to go to the bathroom. We can look in on the Youth Event while we break." Another pastor uncharacteristically announced, "This meeting is over!" I knew something was up.
I stepped into the door of our auditorium to the shouts of "Surprise!" The media screens had old pics and Cathy and me. The chairs had been placed around the perimeter of the room and we were sat in the middle of it all on a couple of easy chairs next to a table piled high with cards...all congratulating us on our 25th Anniversary at Stone Ridge.
My mind raced that night as I looked into faces new and old. I thought about all that has changed over the past 25 years. Our church has gone through a change of styles, location and name. The Master we serve and the message we preach are the same. The methods have been tweaked to more effectively communicate to this generation. I looked into the faces and remembered the stories of people Jesus has rescued one at a time.
The party moved forward at full speed, with people munching on cookies and ice cream as we gathered in little huddles and shared life. We hugged, remembered, laughed and almost came to tears. Cathy and I drove home a couple of hours later, then sat in the middle of our bed reading cards. I'm still overwhelmed by the kindness we experienced.
I titled this post, "A Growing Debt Worth Owing." The apostle Paul wrote, "Owe nothing to anyone, except for your obligation to love one another." (Romans 13:8 New Living Translation) The love we have received for 25 years ever increases our debt to the people among whom we serve and the One who gave me this assignment. It brings me joy beyond words.
That night was full of highlights for us, but one stood out for me in particular. As we were speaking to a variety of people, I suddenly saw gathered around me a group of Elders and one of our pastors. Our church went through our darkest days about a dozen years ago and these men had all faithfully walked through it with me. I faltered more than once that year, wondering if the church would be better off without me as pastor. Each time I struggled, they were there to encourage me and help me keep going. I will never forget. "I want to thank you all for staying when many left," I told them. "It means more than you know that you stuck it out during our most difficult season."
It may have been painful at the time, but, as one of the guys said, "It was the best thing that ever happened to us." He was right!
To all of you who sent and said, "Thank you!", the privilege is all ours. You are exceptional in your love and we can't find words to fully express our gratitude for your kindness to us.