Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dear Jim...

Thirteen years ago, Larry & I found our church home. About 9 months into our membership, the elders came to our Sunday School class to talk to the class briefly about the church's desire to hire a Lay Ministries pastor. To be quite honest, I didn't know what a lay ministry was or why we needed a pastor for it. I listened to their presentation & was still kind of lost, but a month or two later when they introduced us to the candidate for the position, I voted 'yes' for his hiring. I didn't immediately 'click' with Jim, but I did like him & everyone else seemed to be on board with hiring a pastor for the lay ministries. I know, I know...lame excuse for a church member, huh?

Fast forward a year. Larry & I had fallen in love with Jim. He was one of the most caring, encouraging souls you'll ever meet. We loved to hear him teach and his heart for missions was evident from day 1. Every time something fell apart in our life, Jim was there to pat us on the back & tell us that we'd be OK and then point us back toward God.

In the late 90s, Larry took a job at the church doing maintenance & janitorial work. He began having lunch with Jim on those days, talking with him about things beyond the typical pastor/church member conversations. The two of them shared their lives, prayed for each other, talked through tough things and became good friends. Don't get me wrong, Jim was still our pastor in every sense of that role, but he was also a friend. When Larry was hurt at work in 2002, Jim beat me to the ER & met me at the door to tell me what was going on when I got there. When Savannah asked Jesus into her heart, Jim talked to her to make sure she understood what she was doing. When Larry decided to go back to school & get his seminary degree, Jim mentored him and encouraged him to pursue his calling. And in late 2004 when Larry took the job at Rose Heights, Jim patted him on the back & told him how proud he was of him.

Throughout the 4 1/2 years we were at Rose Heights, Jim & Larry's friendship continued. Every time I saw him, he'd hug me & say things like "Hi Beautiful!" or "There's Larry's better half". Every conversation with Jim leaves you feeling like a million bucks. He's just one of those people that makes you smile & feel more confident because of who he is. And more than that, he's one of those people that makes you long seek the face of Jesus because of what you see in him.

In the Spring of 2009 when Larry & I faced the reality that our season at Rose Heights was over, we talked to Jim about how to go about leaving. He was such an instrument of love & compassion during that hard, hard time. He held our hands & hugged us & told us how much he'd missed seeing us on our first Sunday back at our old church last Easter. Just seeing that familiar face who met us with open arms was all we needed to feel 'at home'.

Throughout the past 12 years, Jim's been such a great influence on our family. Not just as a pastor, but as a great friend and confidante, a mentor & encourager.

A few weeks ago, we received a phone call from our senior pastor telling us that Jim would be leaving the church. There were no moral failures or sin issues or that sort of thing. The church is going in a different direction and Jim is moving elsewhere. We were way beyond stunned, but felt honored that our pastor took the time to call us personally & explain what was going on before we heard it second or third hand through the grapevine.

Today there was a reception at a church member's house to tell Jim goodbye. I couldn't bring myself to use those words though. I was really at a loss for what to say, as I'm sure many of the people there were. As always, Jim was a greater encourager & comforter to us on such a sad day than we were to him. He hugged us & talked about the future and reminisced about the past. There were no outward emotions of grief or loss, no matter what was going on inside his heart. I pray that this wasn't just a front he was putting on for all of us. If I know Jim, it wasn't. He doesn't get stressed about much. He smiles & trusts God and moves forward. And I love that about him. As he & Cheryl move forward in life, I pray that we will not lose contact with them. That would be a far greater loss than the one our church & our family is feeling now.

So Jim and Cheryl, God bless you. Thank you for your years of service, for the lives you've led before us, for the time you have invested in all of us at the church and especially our family. Thank you for the examples of "Jesus with skin on" you've been for us. Thank you for the hours spent talking & praying & mentoring. Thank you just doesn't seem like enough. You are precious people and we will not forget you as you move ahead with whatever God has in store for you next.

God bless you. We love ya!

Note: We had written much of this in a card & intended to give it to Jim & Cheryl today at the reception, but our dash 'ate' the card before we got there. One day when we take the dash off to change out the headlights or something (ha ha), we'll find it & give it to them, but til then....this blog post will have to suffice.

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