About 15 minutes ago I had Jesus sing me a song. Here is the story.
Arriving in Atlanta has been…strange. Even though I had been to Atlanta on countless occasions and was very well acquainted with the sights and the sounds of the South, stepping off the plane on December 2nd was the beginning of a series of days I wasn’t quite ready for. Every other time Emily and I have come to Atlanta, it has been with the eyes of tourists and the delight of rest from very busy lives in Seattle (and Los Angeles before that).
You know that feeling. It’s that Disney Romantic Amaro Instagram Lens that you put over your eyes on the places and the memories you love. The houses are different, the streets are different, the smells are different and on vacation they all become magical. They become that place you can’t wait to show people and say over to your friends, “You just have to see it.” Atlanta has been that place for me. The home of Chick-Fil-A and Waffle House, of Sweet Tea and the craziest accents you have ever heard in your life. The fireflies glow with this Field of Dreams manner and the crickets add a soundtrack that just lets you know you’re somewhere special.
But on December 2nd, I must have misplaced those lenses, because they were nowhere to be found. All I had was my Seattle Hipster Mill Creek Spotted Cow Everyone I love is a Thousand Miles Away lenses. (They are Ray-Bans for everyone who is wondering.) And for the next several days my magical kingdom of the South has simply been everything that isn’t Seattle. And not just in the external ways, in the deep emotional and painful ways.
I’ve stared at my phone wanting to call hundreds of people and yet at the same time stared at every phone call that’s come in and let it go to voicemail knowing the lump in my throat wouldn’t make it through a conversation. Yesterday I went to the Starbucks in Vinings and just cried. I remember thinking, “This is probably the worst church planting tactic ever invented.” Could you imagine me talking with someone, “Hi, my name is Phil. I’m currently emotionally unstable. Can I be your pastor?”
It hasn’t all been bad, but it has all been hard. And I’m aware enough of what’s happening to keep speaking to my heart, “It’s only a season.” But like many of you understand, knowing that something is only a season doesn’t make the season easier. All it does is force you to answer the question of whether Jesus is enough or not. He isn’t enough because he always fills me the warm-fuzzy goodies…he’s good enough even in my hardest moments. No matter what my emotions say, Jesus is enough. He’s enough.
But getting that from my conviction to my heart takes time…and effort.
Today was a good day. Zoo’ed it up with my stud brother-in-law Chris (whose wife’s name is Jennifer for everyone feeling ironic). Had dinner with our family and watched Jake and his cousin Haven run around outside in the freezing Atlanta winter high 60s. Emily and I got our kids in the car and began to the drive to our home in Smyrna. I turned to Em and said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell myself today that everything’s going to be OK. Everything in my gut feels like I’m a mess.” From there we spent the rest of the car ride home talking about hard this has been and that we were sharing a mutual pain in the gut.
Shortly before arriving home I said to Emily, “I’m just scared it’s never going to feel like home.” A few seconds later Emily turned up the radio…and Jesus sang us a song.
You see, the night before we left Seattle we sat in a living room with a few of the people that I had the honor of discipling closely over our six years in Mill Creek. We talked and laughed but before it was time to say goodbye a couple of my closest people played us a song. Kat shared she had been praying for us and felt like she was supposed to sing us a song. So right before the goodbyes, Kat and Stephen sang us Home by Phil Phillips (great name).
Link to song so you can listen while you finish this blog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTI4ExONgFs
As I sat and listened to Kat and Stephen sing this song I was moved by two people I love who are remarkably talented and encouraged by their heart. I valued what they had done, but not because I believed I was sitting in a divine situation, but because I believed in them. You must understand that I’m not normally in a position of need. Maybe it’s arrogance, maybe it’s cluelessness, but I often see the value of moments as being for the people around me. I guess I have a hard time believing something is just for me. And that night as they sang this song I didn’t really understand what they were about to give me. And truthfully I don’t think they knew they were taking part in a promise that I needed to hear. Because tonight, I felt homeless in an irrevocable way.
But a few moments from our house Emily turned up the radio in response to my statement of doubt. And lo and behold this song was on the radio. A song wrought with understanding as if Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, like a man who doesn’t waste a thing. As this song reverberated through the car, all I could see was Jesus hearing my doubt and instead of rebuking me or rolling his eyes…he just sang me a song. A song that spoke to my deepest fear…can Atlanta ever really be home? This is what Jesus said…
Settle down. It will all be clear.
Don’t pay no mind to the demons that fill you with fear.
The trouble it might drag you down.
If you get lost you can always be found.
Just know you’re not alone.
Cause I’m going to make this place your home.
What came rushing back wasn’t just Kat and Stephen sitting among some of the closest people I’ve ever had in my life. It wasn’t just the emotion of the moment or the meaning of the song. It was the immense love of God that in the most insignificant of moments he cares for everything about me. It was the overwhelming presence of God that was inside and outside of me. It was that the Jesus I serve isn’t simply concerned with the crises facing Atlanta; he’s deeply concerned with me. He isn’t just the Savior of the world, he’s mine too. He’s mine.
And even though this has been the strangest, weirdest, hardest month of my life that included everything from a hospital scare with my Dad, the death of an close friend’s father and personal hero to the leaving of the greatest home Emily and I have every known…Jesus is with us. He’s here and listening to whispers of my heart. He loves me, and I know that tonight as much as I ever have.
So tonight the pit in my stomach is still there. Atlanta streets still look weird. This house still feels foreign. Every cup of coffee I hold isn’t spotted enough. And a lot of people I love are a long ways away, but I have a promise from Jesus. A promise from a God who doesn’t waste an opportunity and makes every single moment count. A promise that Jesus is going to make this place home. And tonight…that’s enough.
I know the feeling, friend. Welcome to the East!
Well said Phil! Praying for you family because I know that it will get harder before it gets easier! Phillipians 4:12-13 is what I felt pressed on my heart for you guys. Love you!
Beautiful thoughts, my friend. Thank you for being so transparent and sharing this with us. Our family is praying for yours and is encouraged by your and Emily’s raw faith in the midst of change that is hard. Isn’t God timely in giving us what we need in the moments we really need them? I love that song for you guys! Standing behind you in prayer!
_Amanda (formerly Karg) and the Styre family
Hey Pastor Phil,
We didn’t get the opportunity to spend any time together, my wife and I have just been at MC4 for the past year but I totally understand what you are feeling and going through. We moved here 10 years ago, and though I grew up here, I haven’t been here to live for 20+ years. It has not been easy but God has been faithful.
I truly have a heart for church planters, it was one of the things my wife and I always have been interested in and have help to start a couple of churches together. I am praying for you and your family and we will be supporting you financially after the new year.
Though you don’t know me well (btw, I was the guy who asked you to repeat the advice your father in-law gave you prior to your wedding, as my daughter was getting married last June and I wanted to give that same advice to my son in-law, which I did :)) I am praying for you and if there is anything that I can do for you, please let me know. As a former pastor, I can empathize with what you are and will go through. I am here to be of service if possible. Just let me know.
Keep your head up and knees down,
Today is the best day of the rest of your life. For you cannot have yesterday back, and there is no guaranty you will experience tomorrow. God gives you and I his best. That’s why He alone is enough and The moment we have right now is not to be wasted but to praise the one who gave it to us. Phil, continue to listen more, and talk less. It will be amazing how you will attract so many to lead and follow Him. Leslie and I love you and your family so much.
David and I think of you and Emily whenever that song is played. Be encouraged today, we are praying for your hearts to find rest in the unknown.
I’m not a teenager and I don’t have any, so I never really got a chance to know you guys when you were still at MC4S. I love the honesty with which you’re dealing with such a big change, though. Sometimes, I think we need a little reminder that God’s will doesn’t always equal smooth sailing with no confusing or difficult emotions. Thank you for providing that reminder! 🙂
My dear friend……………………….. 🙂