Finding the Invitation to the Rest of Your Life
There are a lot of places to start a story. I'm choosing to tell my story, our story, with a desire that had begun to well up in me, about 4 years ago, to plant a church. We had people asking us to plant a church. I had vision for what it might look like (they say vision is the thing you need). And, we felt drawn to the Pacific Northwest, particularly Portland and Eugene Oregon. We purchased plane tickets for both my wife and I to do a scouting trip to those cities. We were prepared to move our family to the other side of the country if God was in fact leading us there. It turns out he wasn't. Or at least not yet. Who knows what will become of the sense I had deep within me someplace that God had something for me in Eugene, Oregon, of all places.
I remember being in a grocery store during the season where we were asking God to speak — believing that he does in fact still speak— about what it was that we're supposed to do with these desires. I was at the store to pick up a half-gallon of ice cream. Of all the ice cream I could have chosen, I chose the one that was made in, you guessed it, Eugene, Oregon. I wondered then if this was some sort of sign. I was desperate to hear God's voice. A different version of myself would feel embarrassed even telling this story, but I'm not embarrassed to tell you now.
What does it mean to have a vocation? What does it take to get to the point to risk everything in order to live a life that you are somehow supposed to live?
"God, please say something!" I prayed.
During the summer of 2010 there was a conference in my city hosted by my particular tribe of church called The Vineyard. This was an ordinary conference for pastors and leaders and I was expectant that some of the questions I had in our upcoming discernment process about church planting, would be answered in the context of my friendship with other pastors and leaders. I was hoping that God would speak to someone else—that he would lead us—through something that someone else might say to us. A few days before the conference I had a sense that God was going to say something to us through my wife, Jaime. And so, I began to pray that my wife would have ears to hear something.
One evening during the conference, while I was attending to our kids (changing a diaper, I think), my wife Jaime was receiving prayer from someone. It wasn't very eventful. However, Jaime did have a particular picture come into her mind while someone was praying for her. She later told me that the picture she had in her mind was an image of me as a pastor-farmer, doing the work of leading others in their spiritual formation, while tending crops together, pulling weeds, and harvesting vegetables.
What I had yet to tell my wife, was that when I dreamed of planting a church, what I imagined was a group of people engaged in the work of agriculture, not only as a spiritual practice, but also as a way to engage the poor in our cities. The church I wanted to plant didn't center around anything that happened on Sunday morning. The church I wanted to plant looked like people with really dirty hands doing really hard work because of a vision to see not just people's lives be transformed, but for ALL creation to be renewed. Our life had been deeply touched by the practice of hospitality and everything that goes into cooking and eating and preparing great food for friends, and sometimes strangers. I was a year or so into starting a non-profit organization that I (and others) called Justice Gardens, which was trying to "promote the production, sharing, and proper use of food." The non-profit organization was failing, and, it failed. But it was the seed to something else.
The picture of me planting a "church" on a farm with people who were deeply committed to the land and to a rhythm of life that was informed by work and sabbath, by hospitality and a vision for new creation, this was a picture that I welcomed. The imagine of me getting to be both a pastor and farmer is an imagine that has felt to me to be the greatest invitation to the rest of my life. The picture that my wife had, and the way it meant something to me in a way that it could never mean to someone else, changed the trajectory of small plans. We cancelled our tickets to Portland and Eugene. There was still something yet to discern, but going to Oregon didn't feel like it was part of the process. We knew that we weren't going to plant a traditional "church plant." We also knew that whatever it was we were going to do was not going to happen quickly.
I had yet to really name the thing that I was envisioning. I sensed in me that the field was wide open—that there was something in me to cultivate. I hadn't yet read about the history of the Cistercians, and their work of agriculture in the middle ages. I had met with a spiritual director, but I was a novice contemplative. I hadn't read Thomas Merton. I didn't know Ignatius of Loyola.
All I had was a picture in my mind of what I wanted to do.