This past weekend Sikki and I went away — just the two of us — for the first time since we had our first daughter over 21 years ago. We stayed at a very charming bed and breakfast in Virginia Beach which was two blocks from the boardwalk and served gourmet breakfasts each morning. We’d traveled to attend a conference at Bethany Bible Training Center, an offshoot of the old Pinecrest BTC in upstate New York where I really met the Lord when I was 15, and which is now located in Chesapeake, VA. In between attending meetings, we took naps daily, wandered around Virginia Beach and generally ate too much. It was refreshing and restful, and Sikki thought it was funny that I found it good to know that we still enjoy each other’s company after all these years and that we can talk and connect about things unrelated to our parenting roles or issues of the household.
The conference started on a Friday, so we both worked long, hard days in order to open up space in our schedules to leave after lunchtime on Thursday. On Thursday morning, I called the owner of the company to let him know I would meet my quota of stops and ask a few questions, and informed him that I would be taking Friday off to get away with my wife. At that, he really lambasted me, indicating that he thought my performance on the job was insufficient and I didn’t deserve a day off. He said my paychecks were just “charity” as far as he was concerned. He thought my billings should be twice what they’ve been this year. I responded that I am open to constructive criticism and asked what I could do to improve. At this, he was very vague and just said I “need to make things happen.” He threatened to fire me soon. I was shocked, as I’ve been gaining new customers nearly every week. The territory where I’m working is new — the company had not really “broken in” to the area until I was on the job. I pressed him for details of how I could improve but he couldn’t or wouldn’t offer specifics.
I told him that no one wants to improve the numbers more than I, and that I really want his business to succeed. What I didn’t tell him is that I pray for him and his business every day, because I am seeking the “good of the land of my sojourning.” I ask God for wisdom and direction to the best places and connections where I can serve customers and help them with their problems. My service is not “charity,” because I do my best. In my heart I don’t work for any man — I am about my Father’s business. He directs my steps, He opened up the job to begin with, and He is the one I seek to please.
So the whole thing hurt. It really stung. And it was confusing. He said, “So you’re taking tomorrow off?” And I said, “Yes, it’s something I need to do.” I had the time to use, so after the flogging and bloodletting there wasn’t anything else to say. I hung up and asked the Lord, “Did You hear what he said? What do You think? What should I do?” Then I focused, smiling through the pain to finish my day. Then I went home to pack for the conference.
I don’t think there’s anything I could be doing differently that would change things. It’s quite possible that the market here is different than the market to which my boss is accustomed. People in my area dicker over money — they have a poverty mindset unlike more cosmopolitan regions. Even when they’re well-off they still think they’re poor.
So we went to the conference and it was an encouraging time in the Lord. There was a couple in attendance on Saturday morning who used to go to my parent’s church almost thirty years ago. They didn’t recognize me, probably because they hadn’t seen me since I was fifteen or sixteen. I introduced myself to them and they remembered me. She used to lead worship, and he was a Bible teacher. They’d been pastors themselves for fifteen years. “We used to feel so sorry for you, with your family being as crazy as it was,” the husband said. “It’s a miracle you or your brother and sister are in the Lord.”
I knew what he meant, though I think it’s always a miracle of grace anytime anyone is a believer — regardless of their past or situation. Usually when kids grow up in Christian homes where there is serious dysfunction and hypocrisy and wounding, they (quite naturally) revolt and end up far from God as possible. Religion is always the first enemy of true life and experience in Christ. Most Christians are religious enough to think they’re saved but unwilling to suffer the disturbance and bother of giving Jesus the entirety of their lives. That’s a very damaging thing, even though it’s probably “normal.” Religious parents who are self-absorbed, abusive and unloving will produce atheists faster than McDonald’s makes Big Macs. But the Lord had mercy on me and my siblings.
Anyway, I exchanged contact information with this couple as it was good to see them and they told me of other conferences in NC and elsewhere that they’re a part of which I might enjoy.
Joanne P was there, the prophetess who spoke to me at Pinecrest when I was fifteen and in just such a place of hardness of heart and questioning of God’s goodness because of what I witnessed in my childhood home. She’s heavily involved in the ministry there in Chesapeake. Before we left, she said, “This school needs you.” I asked what she meant and she was vague, telling me to pray for them. But I found myself wishing that I could be a part of such ministry to young people who are earnest about seeking God and establishing their lives on relating to Him. I told Sikki that I enjoyed the conference, but I think there needs to be more of an “immersive experience” where people can do as Jesus said and “Come away by themselves to a lonely place” to be refreshed and hear the voice of the Lord. Away from phones and civilization and normal life, I mean.
Now I am back home, focusing on work again and holding my life before the Lord, one day at a time, as that is all there is ever grace for. Sikki and I had an interesting conversation last night. When we moved to NC at the Lord’s direction, we didn’t want to buy a house because we didn’t know the area, and also because our house on the market in Delaware did not sell for over a year. So we rented. Then I got sick and my job situation was uncertain. So we continued renting. We’ve been renting the same house without a raise in rent for over five years now, here on this beautiful property on the ICW. She told me last night that she was praying one evening out by the salt marsh and felt like the Lord said, “I’m going to give you this property.” She couldn’t imagine where the words came from, as they would never have emanated from her own mind and her response was, “That’s crazy!”
I asked her, “When was this?”
“Why?” she said.
“Because I had a similar impression last summer while I was praying in the front yard,” I said. And that’s true. I didn’t say anything to anyone for the same reason she didn’t: because it was just a crazy thought that appeared out of nowhere — that this land right here where I’m sitting in a squeaky chair typing these words is where God wants to plant us. The owners listed the house for sale twice in the last two years, both times with an asking price of over half a million dollars. In all those months, only one realtor came to look at it. If this odd notion is confirmed somewhere by another source, I think I will have faith to believe it. Even Abraham needed a few assurances.