The other day I asked Joel what he felt was the most challenging and difficult time in his ministry. Even with all we have been through, hands down it was when we were at St. John Lutheran in Zimmerman MN. It was there that a parishner, who was a violent unstable alcoholic, threatened Joel's life. We had been there only a few months when we received a phone call late at night from the police telling us a man was on his way to kill Joel and that they would get there as soon as possible to help us. We gathered the 5 kids we had at the time and put them on our bedroom floor while Joel moved around in the dark with a loaded rifle. I stood at the window keeping my eyes on anything that moved while periodically checking on the kids. And we prayed. We prayed hard for protection for our family.
When the police arrived it was like a "Cagney and Lacy" episode with several officers coming into our home with guns drawn. One officer took our oldest around the house to get clothing for each of the kids as we prepared them for leaving. They guarded us as we got into our car and they had the kids lay down. Five police and sheriff vehicles escorted us out of town as we headed to the Twin Cities to stay with my sister Janelle and family. It. was. scary.
It was a strange phone call I made to my sister. "Hi, can we come down and stay with you tonight? A man is coming to kill Joel and the police are here and going to escort us out of town."
Our children were ages 14, 13, 7, 6, and 4 at the time. Feeling safe in our home became a goal we worked towards after this event. We had moved a lot over the years and so we asked the two oldest if they wanted to move or stay and then with their desire to stay, Joel and I prayed and made a decision to stay, even though this man continued to make threats against Joel and our family from jail, from treatment, and from his home a few blocks away. He used to sit out on the road in his car and watch our home. It was a long season (over 6 years) of learning to trust God in the moment but it did take a toll on us. It also made us stronger and more dependent on God and each other.
I was not surprised by Joel's answer, but what did surprise me was his answer to the question, "And what place we lived was the best place during your ministry?" Without pausing he told me it was the same place. Say, what?
Of course we liked things and the people in every church he served, and we would both agree his year of Internship in Malta Montana was the most fun, challenging, educating, and memorable. We have been richly blessed at each church Joel served, but our years at St John Lutheran came to mind for him for other reasons.
Certainly, we loved the parsonage and surrounding 3 acres which held the church, parking lot, a field, woods, and plenty of places for the kids to roam. BUT the hours for Joel were long....often 65-70 hours a week average. The family had quality time with him but not much quantity time. It is where I became infected with Lyme Disease and began to be limited by sickness. And then there were the death threats.
And yet I understood what he was saying. It was here that we learned to rely on God. It was here that Joel's abilities in ministry grew and stretched us both. It was here where we felt God's guidance and protection. This season of our lives was both good and bad. Like most in life. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
It feels a bit like that again as we are in another challenging season of our lives. I am on this journey with breast cancer. Cancer gone, but radiation......preventive radiation still going on daily. A family member told me that I could do this. I have been through worst that this. And yet, it is another health issue. Our move put on hold or cancelled. Our beliefs on healing challenged. Yet, we have found a church that is feeding us, and where people actually get us. We are getting to fellowship as a couple with others more than we have in 20 years. God is showing up in powerful ways as we take every step forward, whether it is at the cancer center, the hospital, the church, unpacking, or more. And the blessings! So many blessings that at times it moves us to tears. It is again, the best of times and it is the worst of times.
During this season the scriptures are coming alive and it is the promises of God that we are seeing come to fruition, to life in us. During the worst of times, God is right there with us lighting the way, so we are able to also embrace the best in a bad situation. It is the best of times and it is the worst of times.