Friday, April 30, 2010

Variable Seasons, Variable Weather

It's springtime in Oregon. March came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. April has been it's usual erratic-weather self, with sun, hail, rain and wind -- back-to-back all in one day.

I'm in St. Louis, MO this morning as I type this. My uncle died and went to be with Jesus on Saturday. The weather here has been warm and breezy; feels like almost-summer. The forecast for tonight and over the weekend is for thunderstorms. I'm excited for a good Missouri thunder & lightning show.

Being with family as we mourn our loss together, and seeing the difference in weather patterns helped me realize: Seasons in life don't necessarily follow seasons in weather. It is highly variable depending on "where you are at", and the net realization I've had this week is this:
We're OK
Why wouldn't we be OK? To answer that you need a little back-story.

We uprooted ourselves from California and planted ourselves in Oregon in August 2007, about a month before my father died. The Orchard Community was sprouted (on paper anyway) in December 2008 when we became an "official" Vineyard Church Plant. According to our two-year plan there are goals to meet by the end of this year -- goals that center around numbers of people. Our official agreed-upon goal was to gather 36 people, in approx 3 separate house-church groups, by December 2010. It's almost May 2010 and currently we have Cathy & me, and one other person who's personal life's schedule just created a conflict so we have not been able to meet together for around a month.

Many eyes have been on us as this idea of a Vineyard House-Church Plant is sort of an R&D experiment for the Vineyard. We've had a warm welcome, encouraging support, and have felt loved and cared-for in many ways. But we've also felt somewhat awkward; misfits in the literal sense of the word.

The Vineyard pastors in our state with whom we relate all face very different challenges than we do. They speak of hiring new staff or needing to lay people off; of adding Sunday morning services or paring back. They send their youth groups to conferences and sponsor short-term trips to other countries to do humanitarian work and share God's love with people in other cultures. They relate the challenges of running ministry teams and managing the financial responsibilities of owning or renting (or losing a lease on) a building. Coming from the church culture we left behind in California, we know these challenges and joys very well. We understand them and can laugh and cry along with these other pastors. But there's one thing we no longer seem to be able to do: relate to them. Yes we still have relationship and are very thankful for that. But the challenges and joys they face are difficult for us to relate to since they are very different from our own and, for the most part, it will always be that way since we have no plans to ever have a building or a staff or ministry teams or Sunday morning meetings, etc.

It's like they are round pegs, neatly fitting their round holes. They have their niche, and we're glad for them. But we feel like we're pegs of an undetermined shape, trying to figure out what-shaped hole we fit. We catch glimpses of it now and again, and while we think we know the shape to be sort-of squarish, all we are very sure of is that the shape is simply "not round". There's a tension just from that -- from the still-not-knowing. But there's an added tension which comes from an extended time of hanging out with round pegs, hearing about the round-holed joys and challenges, and knowing more and more "That's not us."

So here we are 7 months away from our 36-people, 3-group, December 2010 deadline...with no real deep understanding of what our ultimate plan will look like or how we'll fit in with the greater group of round peg/round hole folks -- or even if we'll fit.

That's why we sometimes don't feel OK.

But to repeat what I wrote above, being with my Seckel family as we mourn our loss together, and seeing the differences in the weather patterns of mid-Spring Missouri compared to mid-Spring Oregon helped me realize that the seasons in our life don't necessarily follow seasons in the year and the expected weather patterns. It is all highly variable depending on "where you are at", and so the net realization I've had this week is this:
We're OK
I don't know what December will hold for us, but I'm comforted in the assurance that the love and welcome and encouragement will continue from the pastors here in Oregon. I'm also comforted to know that the growth we experience, both internal and external, is not our responsibility. Yes, there are efforts we are called to make, but the ultimate responsibility does not rest on our shoulders. We do not have to somehow make ourselves figure out who we're supposed to be, and we're certainly not responsible for making ourselves into something we're not!

Rather, like plants growing in season, we can rest in the love The Orchard Master has for us; in the dreams He has had for us all along: the dreams He has had not just for us, but for the world around us, through us -- and the plans He has in us through the world around us.

We're very much like the farmer Jesus spoke of, as recorded by His follower named Mark:
"The kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle because the harvest has come.”
We plant seeds in the soil around us. We allow seeds to be planted within us in the soil of our hearts. Watering happens as a collaborative effort. But the growth? That's His work, His labor of love, His dreams for the world coming true in and through us.

We're walking through The Orchard together with The Orchard Master; our hand in His. And although the weather up ahead looks like we might be in for a storm or two, we're OK.

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