How did we get here? Greenville? South Carolina? The land of grits and slaw and monogramming and twang? Wait. What?
It's been almost two years since my last post, I loved blogging even though I didn't have a lot of time to write over the years. I blogged about why birds eat their young and our dear Abraham. I rambled about an exciting day when Josiah was a toddler. I wrote about feeling torn after we left a former ministry and I recorded thoughts and feelings while we waited. I wrote a post to my 21 year old self.
And then, I stopped writing. Partly, because it was too painful. I had nothing new to write and didn't really think recording the same things over and over again would benefit anyone. I composed scores of blog posts in my head - usually in the middle of the night and almost always when I was lacking sleep - but most of those never made it to the screen, either.
So here we are. In Greenville. Let me tell you how we ended up in this wonderful place.
In the spring of 2013, Joel was continuing his search for pastoral ministry. At that point he had been looking for several years (it seemed like forever). He had been interviewed by a church and we were thrilled at the prospect of being part of this particular church. We tried not to get our hopes up, but honestly, that's really hard to do! We'd been down this road so many times - interview after interview had come and gone. But this place...it was the type of ministry where we thought we could see ourselves for forever. It was a place that we wanted to raise our boys. The pastors there are good, godly men who want what God wants. We were so excited at the prospect.
And then they said no. How can two letters hurt so bad? I still remember the searing pain of being told that it was not going to work out. We had heard that little word so many times and yet this time it hurt so deeply that I was honestly ready to give up. I was so tired of it all that I just wanted to quit.
We were out of options. All other leads had dried up and we were back to square one. I cried. A lot. If you know me at all you know that I'm not a public crier. I'm not a frequent crier. There were several times at work when I would barely make it out of the office before the floodgates let loose. I could not see what God was doing or how He was working.
Joel and I had many, many conversations about what we should do. Go back to school? Stop pursuing ministry? Move to the woods and hide out forever? My sweet sister in law, Kristin, shared Romans 12 with me, and verse 12 in particular: "Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." I typed this verse and taped it right next to my keyboard at work to remind me throughout the each day that God was working.
In July, Joel sent out an update email to those who had been praying and watching for openings for us. He included his resume and let the men know that we had been pursuing a ministry but God had closed the door and we were ready to look again. I didn't hold my breath. After all - we'd walked down this road before and it was rocky and dusty and hard.
That same day, Joel received a response from a man who said he'd passed the resume to the chair of the search committee at his church, Hampton Park. I checked out the church's website (like I always did during this process) and promptly told Joel that it wouldn't work. It couldn't work. We didn't belong in Greenville, and besides, Hampton Park was far to big for us. We didn't belong in a huge ministry with a huge youth group and well, too bad that lead is dead.
Joel told me to keep an open mind. I assured him that I would be right and that we'd never hear from that search committee. They could choose from hundreds of BJU grads at their fingertips and certainly had connections to get someone far more qualified! We're Maranatha grads and we're from the Midwest and we just will never fit in and we certainly aren't ready for a ministry like that! We had a good laugh and thought it would end there. I honestly didn't even give Hampton Park much more thought.
Imagine my surprise when the search committee contacted Joel to let him know he was being considered! I laughed (again) and thought for sure that the next thing we got would be a "thanks...but no thanks" letter.
We didn't hear anything for a couple of weeks - which didn't surprise us, really. It happens a lot in the pastoral search. We went on vacation at the beginning of August to an amazing lodge in northern Michigan with all of the Gearharts before Nate and Kristin left for the mission field. One day I was sitting on the deck with Kristin and Tracy (my sisters in law) when my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but since my cell is our home phone I decided to take the call.
It was Hampton Park. More specifically, it was a lady (now my friend, Michelle) calling to set up a time to interview me.
Wait, what? Me? They want to talk to me? Why on earth? Are they nuts? They've got to be nuts. I thought they threw that resume out already! Why are they calling ME? I think I'm going to be sick. Surely they called the wrong number. There must be a mistake.
I didn't know what to think. Joel was out shooting guns with his dad and his brothers and when he got back I told him the news. He was in disbelief, too. We laughed it off, decided I would do the interview (via Skype, yikes) and then we would have at least done our part and could walk away knowing that we tried. I refused to think that this could actually happen. I mean, Greenville? Hampton Park? Once they got to know me a little bit, this would all be over and I could climb back under my rock.
Please don't misunderstand. I was in awe over the fact that they were still considering Joel. I was just sick over the fact that it would be the interview with me that would end it all! We headed home from vacation on Friday and the Skype interview was set for Saturday afternoon.
I survived the interview. I may or may not have stressed just a tad bit over what to wear and how to do my hair and whether I should use my "fake phone voice" (ask my sister) or just be myself. I opted to just be myself (awkward and all) and just grit through it. Michelle and Brittany were very kind and after a few minutes, my talkative (ahem, normal) self took over and I just shared my heart with them. I love my husband. I love ministry. I was willing to follow Joel anywhere (even Greenville). I love teenagers. Most of all - I love God and want to be where He wants me to be.
Joel had an interview scheduled for the following Monday with the search committee, also via Skype. The interview went well....then, they asked us to come visit. In disbelief, I told Joel (this may be a direct quote...), "I can't believe they're going to make us drive all the way down there to tell us no." I just knew that once they met us in person and spent a little time with us that they would have no problem letting us drive our weary selves back home. Not that I thought the people here were cruel, I just could not fathom that God would ever let us come to Hampton Park. I mean really - it was just too good to be true. A pipe dream!
We came. Joel and I came alone for a weekend in September and left the kids with his parents in Michigan. The weekend was an absolute whirlwind of meetings and tours and questions and answers. We toured the campus, and learned as much as we could about ministry here. Joel met with the search committee and the pastors. We met with those who had been serving with the teens and on Sunday we worshiped at Hampton Park for the first time. We loved Hampton Park! This was going to be a huge let down once they gave us the inevitable bad news.
On Monday we drove home, talking and thinking and praying and wondering the whole way. I tried so hard not to get my hopes up. I figured since they didn't tell us no before we left they must be waiting until we get home. After all, there was NO WAY God was going to let us move to Greenville. I felt a little guilty, too, because I still wanted to be at that other ministry in a big way.
The phone call came. I couldn't believe it when I overheard Joel talking through dates when we could go back to candidate. Candidate? They still want us to come? These people must be crazy. Don't they know that there are so many other people out there that can do a better job?
At the beginning of October, our family traveled to Greenville for the weekend. We hadn't involved the boys in the process much (trying to spare their hearts as much as possible) so this was a new venture for them. I prayed all weekend that bringing them wasn't a big mistake. How would they handle the rejection? What if this didn't work out? Then what? After the weekend we drove back home and waited. It was the longest week ever.
Hampton Park was voting on Sunday, October 14, so we left church that night in a hurry, wanting to be home when the call came so that we could handle the emotions alone. At this point, I was fully prepared to hear another "no". I was nervous, because I still didn't know how we were going to break it to the boys. When Bill and Shelley Moorehead called, I sat on our bed in disbelief. God had answered "yes" and we were moving to Greenville. Yeah, that Greenville!
The next month was a flurry of activity. Packing, planning, and working took up just about all of our time. We made plans to spend time with dear, dear friends before we left. We secured a moving truck. We notified the boys' school and filled out enrollment paperwork for HPCS.
Saying goodbye at my job was the hardest part of this move for me. I loved my job. On my last day, I cried the whole way home. I was so excited to move and to jump back into ministry life, but I was certain I would never find a job like that again. A few days later our friends came to help us load our truck. What dear friends they are! We missed them as soon as we said goodbye.
On November 11, 2013 the Gearhart family left Michigan and drove south to Greenville, SC. We stopped overnight in Tennessee, not wanting to tackle the mountains while we were tired. We moved into our home the next day, November 12th, amid a swarm of teens and adults from our new church. I could not believe how many people came to unload our truck, unpack our kitchen and put our beds together.
It has been 1 year today since we made Greenville our home. I tell people here that the only thing I miss about Michigan are the people. It really is true! Not a day goes by that I don't marvel at the fact that God could have sent us anywhere, but He chose Hampton Park Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.
Trust me, I know that no ministry is perfect and Hampton Park is not an exception to that. However, it is a perfect place for our family. We love, love, LOVE this place and these dear people. It was a long wait, but oh so worth it!
God has been so good to us - and we are so blessed! Every day when I go to work (I started working in the office in January), I look around and shake my head in disbelief. I love my job (remember when I thought I'd never have a job again that I loved??). I work with an incredible team that I have learned to respect and love. I get to see my husband and kids throughout the day (how awesome is THAT?!?).
I could go on and on (because this blog post isn't long enough already). Perhaps I'll keep blogging about lessons learned along the way. Maybe I'll blog about life here, our teens, or things my not-so-little boys say. I don't know yet. What I do know is this: This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. (Ps. 118:23)