Count it all joy…

IMG_2179Victoria and I experienced a significant time of trial during our early 30’s when I received a “promotion” with The Navigators. After moving only 9 months earlier,  we were asked to move again with our three children under the age of 6 from Ft Collins, CO, to Tucson, AZ, so that I could lead the staff who made up our Collegiate, Community, and Military Ministries in the state.

(Remember in the early 80’s there were no cell phones.) We arrived at our new home on a weekend anticipating having a couple of days to get an account begun, etc before the movers came. Instead they were waiting on us in front of our house as we drove up. They needed to unload immediately, they needed cash to unload, and they couldn’t unload til they got it. It was 115 degrees and we were locked out of the house. It got more interesting from there. Over the next six years the opportunities for refining were in full process-some self-inflicted, but many very obviously beyond our control. We had moved from a small city where we were well known, to a sprawling city where we knew no one. We had come from one of the safest cities in the U.S. to the second leading city for violent crime due in part to two major Mafia families, the largest witch’s coven, the largest gathering of Satan worshippers in the U.S., a very large indigent population living on the streets, and a serial rapist.

My job required me to travel around the state and I was gone almost 50% of the time working with staff while Victoria home schooled our children and tried to keep them out of fights with the neighborhood kids. Fighting was a normal part of my growing up as a boy, but somehow it was different in this rough neighborhood with not only my boys, but my daughter involved.

We had a well used, drug dealer clone, full sized van we owned at the time, and it seemed to break down every time I left town, stranding Victoria and the kids at different places in town. It also broke down every time we went somewhere on the road as a family. No one seemed able to fix it. The children regularly ended up in the emergency room from what seemed like an inordinate number of “accidents” playing with the neighbors. I felt constantly aware, while I was on the road, that a rapist was still on the loose in our city. There is a nearly unlimited list of things that served to unravel our sense of security and well being in our work, family, and physical wellness.

In my work I ended up needing to ask three wonderful couples to leave Navigator staff because their gifts were not a fit for the labor required of them in the Navs. That broke my heart and lingered in my mind. Victoria learned during a routine check up that she had a lump that needed to be removed and biopsied to check for cancer. I developed raging allergies that wouldn’t respond to the current crop of allergy tablets, and I began a 25 year journey of sleeping fitfully every night.

I created another set of problems out of my neediness as well. Many young couples we had ministered to in Colorado began to come to Tucson for their vacations-naturally expecting to stay with us. In fact I probably encouraged them to stay with us. I welcomed them needing to feel like I was needed and helpful in their lives. This meant however, that Victoria ended up with the lion’s share of homeschooling, taking care of meals, and the house all while still helping host other bible studies we were leading in our home. I think we both believed this was just the lifestyle we were called to and that if we were spiritual we would gladly embrace it. We never considered confiding in someone that we were barely keeping our heads above water.

Without belaboring this too much more, it seemed that every minute of each day required herculean effort to work through. We became exhausted mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally.  We were unsure how to move forward. I had tears constantly resident just under the surface. Just having a normal conversation would bring me to tears-seemingly without cause.  As a man this was extraordinarily disconcerting. After nearly 10 years of uninterrupted success in each endeavor I had undertaken, in just a few years in AZ, every ounce of self-confidence was drained from me. While I was still able somehow to perform my job, I was utterly crushed internally. I avoided public teaching opportunities as often as I could, even though previously I had believed that to be a strength. Mostly what I wanted to do was run and hide from all this stress. I did spend many early mornings walking in the desert behind our home praying and, if I were honest, trying to keep Victoria and the kids from seeing what a mess I was.

By the end of 6 years we were questioning everything. Were we really called to vocational ministry? Were we ruining our children with this lifestyle? Do I really have any gifts that translate into useful ministry? What in the world am I doing to my wife with this lifestyle?

In the next blog I’ll try to relate some of the things we learned during this hard season in our lives and hopefully relate some of how we in retrospect have been able to see God’s hand of kindness and extraordinary blessings through those particular years of trials.