April 1, 2014

Engage (A Lesson in Contentment)

I live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States, and I should know because I've stepped foot in most of our states at one time or another in my life, thanks to generous grandparents and lots and lots of road trips.

Charlottesville is one of the East Coast's destinations for high-end weddings and, because of our native son Thomas Jefferson and his famous home, a magnet for tourists. We've got it all: mountains to hike, four seasons to enjoy, great music, art, and locally grown food to devour. Virginia is for Lovers precisely because we have whatever anyone loves, and Charlottesville typifies that more than most anywhere else in Virginia.
When we first moved here to plant a church, however, I was an outsider, so I noticed everything that was different than Texas, and each little difference got under my skin a little bit. And church planting was just plain hard, so I often entertained the idea of heading back home and setting up shop in a rocking chair on the wrap-around porch of my make-believe home in the Hill Country. Where I didn't have to do anything hard or uncomfortable. And the bluebonnets were perpetually in bloom. And the unfamiliarity of Charlottesville faded quietly (and quickly) into the past.

Sometimes the beauty of this place was the only thing I could point to as a reason to stay and plant roots. Every time I'd turn into our neighborhood and get a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I'd thank God for the simple grace of living in such a place that makes me think of Him. That view led me to choose this place and choose to embrace God's will for me again and again and again.

Slowly, Charlottesville became more than just a beautiful face. Her rhythms and seasons and cares became my own. By engaging the city and seeking to know her, I discovered her secrets, her history, her unique story. But most of all, I began to love the people. Her people became my people, and I settled in to a familiarity that has served me well.

Until this year.

This year I've become too familiar with Charlottesville, too familiar with her beauty and her rhythms and her beauty. I've become so familiar with her that I haven't seen her at all. Like I do with my children and my husband when I'm busy or distracted, I have forgotten to really look at her and take her in and enjoy her. Her people have become muted and almost like a backdrop, because I haven't engaged them as I used to.

I started noticing a discontent in myself about being here, and it didn't take long to connect the dots back to my disengagement. I had forgotten what I love about this place. I'd forgotten her secrets and her needs. I'd lost the fire-in-the-belly with which we moved here, to be honest. This has all taught me an important lesson about contentment in ministry: If I don't engage, I won't love, and I'll struggle to embrace where God has me.

Once I realized this, I started looking and actually seeing, just like I do when one of my boys crawls in my lap and actually sits still and I take in every breath of that moment. There is, of course, the view of the mountains that always reminds me of God's grace in bringing us here. But it's the people that I see most: the girl at the grocery store's register every time I come through, the parents of my children's classmates, the neighbors, the college students rushing around everywhere.

As I engage my heart and my eyes, I find myself much more open to engaging people and praying for God's kingdom to come in Charlottesville. Always, there is a residual effect in my heart. Joy wells up so high I think I might drown in it. I feel purposeful and as if I'm actually doing the gospel work the title "church planting wife" suggests. And, most of all, there is contentment, knowing that I'm exactly where God wants me.

What about you, dear reader? Wherever you are is where God has you, no doubt about it. Are you living with purpose and joy where God has you? If not, how might you engage the people and the place with new eyes? Perhaps that engagement in His name is the very key to your contentment.