The Final Chapter

It’s funny how sometimes we pray so hard for something and then find ourselves surprised when God actually hears and answers us.

We had been praying for weeks that God would clearly guide us to the church where He wanted Charlie to serve.  We asked that He put that church on our hearts and no other – that there would be no doubt where He was leading us.  His answer came somewhere on I-95 South as we came home from Mississippi.

He was calling us to Camilla.

During that time in the car, we felt overwhelmed with peace at the thought of living and serving with the Camilla UMC family.  I told Charlie I felt like there was a deep well of joy waiting for us there that I didn’t think I could pass up.  We still weren’t sure where we’d live or where I might work, but we knew there were deep waters of community there that we couldn’t wait to dive into. A life there would be built around people rather than things, and for two people who spent the last 18 months gaining an acute appreciation for close relationships, that felt right.  We had to trust that God would work out the details.

As we we talked, the Lord led Charlie to the bottom line of His will.  Charlie was quiet for a minute and then said, “I feel like I could be happy ‘doing ministry’ in Hattiesburg.  But I have this feeling that we’d be ‘building the Kingdom’ with the people in Camilla.”

Done and done.

Hattiesburg made sense for us on paper – larger city with opportunities, close to family, good church – but Camilla made sense to the Lord.  And since we determined early in this process to follow Him wherever He led, it now made sense to our hearts too.

But the Lord didn’t stop there.  He called us to stretch our faith in a big way by removing Charlie’s name from the Hattiesburg position before we even knew if Camilla wanted us to come.  He asked us to trust Him that He wasn’t leading us to Mississippi, in the faith that He would provide for us in the direction we felt Him leading.

So we did what no sensible job-seeking person would do.  With no offers on the table, Charlie called the pastor in Hattiesburg and took his name out of the ring.  He explained that God was leading him somewhere else and he wanted to remove himself from their search to help them more easily find the person God had for that position.  That’s the great thing about ministry jobs – God has uniquely prepared someone to serve in each position, so if it’s just a matter of asking His will to be done to get all the right people to the right positions so that He can be glorified.  Charlie could have served in Hattiesburg – but someone else will serve them better because they’ll be within God’s will for themselves and that church.

After that conversation, Charlie hung up and we just kind of stared at each other.  We so clearly felt God calling us to Camilla that we’d now put all of our eggs in that basket.  We were literally living by faith of things promised yet still unseen.  We prayed He would make His will clear to that church family as well.

The next weekend, we went back to Camilla for Charlie’s last interview with the staff parish committee and so he could teach youth Sunday school and MYF.  We spent Saturday night at a cookout with several families from the church and we immediately felt like this was home.  Everyone was so genuinely warm.  We could tell this was the kind of community where neighbors truly care for each other however they can.  Throughout the weekend, people kept saying they hoped we liked Camilla while we kept thinking, “We hope you like us!”  It felt like we both wanted this to work and were trying to court the other one.  Looking back, I can see how God had been leading both of us towards each other before bringing us together that weekend.  Sidenote:  Ken, Camilla’s pastor, told us later that he felt Charlie was God’s choice for this position during their first conversation.  The Lord was leading us both just liked we prayed He would!

When they offered Charlie the position, we didn’t even discuss it with each other before he accepted.  When we were alone afterward, we just fell on the bed laughing in amazement at seeing this incredible journey with the Lord reach its destination.

It was almost two months to the day between God calling us to pursue youth ministry and Charlie accepting his new position at Camilla UMC.  With God’s will revealed to us now, I can look back and see how the path He led us down had a purpose at every step.  Some things didn’t make sense at the time, but now are revealed as tools that refined our hearts.

The Lord has led us down some narrow, winding paths in the last 18 months.  We couldn’t always see where we were headed, but the view from the end has always been more than worth it (and much, much more stunning than anywhere we could have reached ourselves).  From where we’re standing now in our last few days travel nursing, packing and preparing to move on Saturday, our view is of a beautiful church family that has already shown themselves to be generous, kind, servant-hearted people.  It’s a family of which we already feel a part and are so, so eager to join.

It doesn’t exactly feel like we’re moving to a new place on Saturday.  It feels like we’re coming home.

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One thing we’ve learned through travel nursing is that, whatever the options, God’s will is always the best.  There have been a few times in which we had our hearts set on a certain place and then struggled with disappointment when the Lord clearly led somewhere else.  Yet, where He sent us always ended up being perfect and nurturing, and we felt so silly for being reluctant to accept His will at first!  This lesson has been invaluable as we’ve gone through the search process for youth ministry jobs.  We determined to pray only for His will to be done and guarded our hearts from getting attached to any specific place.

I say it’s been invaluable because without that lesson firmly branded on our hearts, we might be packing up this week to head to the wrong city and the wrong church for us.

After moving on from Griffin, we heard back from two churches we had sent Charlie’s resume to a few weeks before.  One was in Camilla, GA, and the other in Hattiesburg, MS.  Since we heard from them at the same time, we felt ok pursuing them simultaneously while praying for the Lord to clearly show His will for each.

Charlie had a great phone conversation with Ken, the pastor in Camilla.  They discovered a mutual commitment to promoting discipleship within the church, and we could tell they would work well together.  Charlie’s work schedule allowed us to make the trip to Camilla the next day for an in-person interview with the search committee.  We could have done this via Skype, but we wanted to get a feel for the town since we weren’t familiar with south Georgia.

We felt good about the interview and especially enjoyed the kind, generous people we met.  The church has about 300 members with around 40 youth.  It’s very similar in size to the churches we’ve enjoyed while traveling, and we love the close sense of community that is fostered in a smaller church family.  The town is tiny compared to what we’re used to.  As we drove around the next day, we tried to picture what our life would look like in a town of 5,000 people in rural Georgia.  What would we do?  Where would I work?  We loved what we learned of the church, but is this just crazy?  Yet, everyone we’d met said they loved their town and would never leave because the people were just too wonderful.  We drove home knowing all we could do is pray that the Lord would guide us.  If He wanted us to go to Camilla, we wanted to be there and we trusted He would give us a rich life there as well.

The next weekend, we made the long trip to a church in Hattiesburg for a marathon day of interviews.  This was a slightly larger church that was structured very similar to Auburn UMC with the various ministry areas and location near the local university.  It has recently undergone a beautiful renovation in which everything flows from a central atrium, the youth and children’s rooms are extremely well designed and there are plenty of high-tech resources for each program.  We enjoyed worshipping there and had a great lunch with the staff.  They are a really warm and silly group of people, and we fit right in.  Charlie spent the afternoon in two more interviews before also attending MYF.  He came back to the hotel excited about everything he’d learned.  We had breakfast the next morning with the pastors and left feeling like this was a good fit for us.

Then, our hearts soared as we made the super fast trip down the highway and were at my parents’ house in an hour.  We kept thinking of how incredible it would be to live so close to family.  Our children would be near one set of grandparents, and I would get to spend a lot of time with my own grandmother.  Since Hattiesburg is a large town, we also knew it would be easy for me to find a job and there would be a lot of couples our age to do things with.  It was perfect.

We started the drive back to Florida the next morning asking the Lord to protect us from the temptation to compare the two churches.  Neither one had negatives that we could see – they were both so positive in their own ways that it was impossible to weigh them against each other in an attempt to determine where we should go.

We knew it was set up so that there was nothing on which we could make on our decision – we had to wait for the Lord to make it clear.

Yet in our humanness, we spent a little time on the drive back to Florida talking about how Hattiesburg made so much sense for us.  We felt like we would accept the job if they offered because we liked the church, we would be close to family (an idea my heart was having trouble not attaching itself to!), and I could easily find a job.  It was kind of settled.

Except for five hours later when, after a little while of not talking about this at all, I turned to Charlie and said, “I don’t think we can not go to Camilla.”

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The Journey Begins

Have you ever come home from a day at the beach and then decided to change everything you had planned for your immediate future?

No?  Well, let me tell you how that feels!

Two months ago, Charlie and I spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the beach soaking up the Florida sunshine.  But when we got home, my relaxed mood just turned sad.  I didn’t understand why I’d suddenly started crying, but I found myself saying, “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

We’ve had hard days over the last year and a half when we’ve missed our families and friends and being part of a community.  But those days are always made better when we remember all the incredible experiences we’re able to have because of travel nursing.  Yes, some days are hard, but they have been more than worth it.  Until that afternoon.

As scary as it was to admit to each other, we talked for awhile about how we were ready to give up all the places we might yet go to gain the community we’d sacrificed.  We had planned to stop traveling next year, but that suddenly seemed like way too long to wait.  The restlessness that prompted us to start traveling had been satisfied and now was longing for a place called home.  Charlie talked a lot about how he felt ready to go into full time ministry.  He’s missed teaching students and serving the Lord with his gifts.  As he talked it out, he felt the Lord telling him not to wait another year.  Now was the time.

So that is how we reached a tipping point one sunny afternoon and just threw the reigns to God once again.  He’s faithfully and capably led us down so many unchartered paths, and it’s getting easier to follow Him wherever He suddenly may lead.

We spent that night calling some friends who are in ministry to get advice on writing a ministry resume and the best places to start looking for positions.  Within a day, we had Charlie’s resume out to several churches and just started praying that the Lord would put it in the hands of the church He wanted for us and allow it to be tossed aside at all the others.  Two weeks later, we were driving up for Charlie’s first interview with a church in Griffin, GA.  It was the same day we thought we’d be starting our cross-country drive to our next assignment in California.

To prepare for his Griffin interview, we spent an afternoon at our favorite coffee shop thinking through Charlie’s ministry philosophy and what he wanted for a youth group he led.  It was an incredible blessing to me to be the sounding board for my sweet husband.  Youth ministry had been on the back burner since we started traveling, and I loved seeing him light up again as he worked through ideas for discipleship and teachings.  The Lord really guided his heart that afternoon and gave him a clear vision of how He wants Charlie to approach full time ministry.  We were heading to Griffin with a solid foundation.

We spent a great weekend in Georgia and walked out of the interview feeling like there’s nothing we would have changed.  As great as the interview was, I think the main blessing came as we were driving through the town late Saturday afternoon.  As we passed through neighborhoods of quaint, older homes, the idea that we’d soon be moving into a permanent home became more real.  No matter where we ended up, we’d be settling down soon in a town where we didn’t know anyone.  Just two weeks before, Charlie was about to start interviewing for nursing jobs in southern California.  Now we were driving down a county road in Georgia to see the sunset and wondering which house we might rent.

I’ll never forget looking at Charlie and saying, “Even if we don’t end up here specifically, I’m happier driving around this small town tonight than I would be driving out to California.”

He didn’t end up getting the Griffin job.  But I know the real reason we went up there that weekend was to confirm that this is what we wanted.  The Lord let us glimpse what it will be like to settle down so that our hearts could swell at the thought and be reassured that we made the right decision.

We also realized that weekend how blessed we are to have each other and to have fostered a strong marriage.  It was just the two of us driving around that unknown town. It was just the two of us who’d decided to change everything in an afternoon.  It’s been just the two of us on this amazing journey since we left Alabama.  I was almost in tears looking at my husband and thinking how blessed I am to be married to a man who will follow the Lord wherever He leads.  I am blessed to have a marriage partner who will grab my hand as we dive heart first into the deep end of God’s will, trusting that He will help us swim together.

We’ve always been taught God is faithful and able.  Our minds have known that and our hearts have experienced it in small ways.  But getting out of our comfort zone through travel nursing has made it real to us in a way that only experience can.  Without the last year and a half, I’m not sure we’d be so quick to say “yes” to Him all the time.  But He has given us countless testimonies of His goodness and provision.  Everything has been worth it to gain the type of faith in which we’ll continue to turn down unknown roads with Him.

As we drove around Griffin that night, we affirmed we never want to grow so comfortable in our lives that we’d be unwilling to let Him change its course in an afternoon if He wills.

So we came home from a great weekend hoping that the position would work out. A week later we learned the Lord had closed that door, and we started praying that He would lead us forward.  We extended Charlie’s contract here in Florida for another month and went back to the job boards…


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Calculating New Route

All has been quiet on the blog front lately, and it’s because we’ve needed every inch of ourselves focused on the Lord.  He’s been leading us in a totally new direction for the last two months, and we haven’t felt like we could talk much about it until He got us to our final destination.  If we had been writing about this all along, you would have thought we were schizophrenic with all the things we thought He was doing!

On January 13, we decided to stop travel nursing and pursue full-time youth ministry.  Yesterday, Charlie accepted the position of Youth Director at Camilla United Methodist Church in Georgia.  The journey between has been beautiful!  The Lord has led us into deeper waters, revealed His will step by step, given us peace about the things He has yet to show us, and blessed our marriage with a renewed bond that comes from gathering up your collective courage and running full speed ahead towards a target you can’t see.

Over the next few days, I want to record the sweet memories and lessons from the past two months.  It might be long (and it might be boring!), but I don’t want to lose a single detail of this experience.  I remember Charlie telling me he wanted to someday be a youth minister, back when we were just friends in Auburn.  Last Sunday, as his wife, I watched as he taught his new group of students for the first time.

I’ve learned enough in the last two years to know I can’t anticipate anything the Lord will do.  When we say “yes” to anything He wants to bring our way, I’m finding that the road becomes more narrow and suddenly includes some hair-raising turns.  Yet the scenery is infinitely more colorful, more lush, and more heavenly.  Best of all, Someone Else is in the driver’s seat, so we get to just look out the window and enjoy the view.  Our little “scenic route” has taken a very big, beautiful turn and I want to remember this stretch of road for a long time.

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When Parents Come to Play

To say my parents’ recent visit with us was pure Florida perfection may be an understatement.  They arrived just in time for one last perfect beach day and left just as a “cold” front came to cool us off while enjoying dinner outside listening to a fantastic band.  In between was a lot of lazy sightseeing, bird watching, music listening and seafood devouring.  There are a lot of (good!) things happening on my side of the family right now, and all of our minds have been on little hamster wheels lately.  Their visit came just in time to help us all take a mental break and enjoy being together.

Our visit began dark and early last Thursday morning when I picked my parents up from their hotel and headed to the beach to see the sun rise over the Atlantic.  It brought back memories of arriving at the beach well before dawn, our car loaded with surfboards, as we chowed down granola bars and hit the waves in the early light.  In fact, while we were there, two little girls raced into the water with their shortboards.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a board, but I don’t think I’ll ever look out at the water and not feel that itch somewhere in my heart.


Later that morning we visited the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge in Stuart.  This little beachfront home was one of nine homes built in the late 1800s as a safe-haven for sailors whose ships wrecked along this jagged part of the coast.  The home’s keeper would walk the beaches after bad storms and bring back anyone he found to give them shelter, food and what medical assistance he could before sending them north.


It was really interesting to think that it wasn’t too long ago that Florida was still a wilderness swamp which most thought uninhabitable.   I bet they couldn’t have imagined it would turn into a magnet for millions of retirees!

The weather was beautiful that day, so we moved down to Stuart Beach and had a belated birthday picnic for my mom whose big day was earlier that week.  We then changed into our bathing suits and spent a lazy afternoon soaking up the hot sun and warm breeze while watching the shorebirds.  It was definitely one of the best beach weather days we’ve had in awhile, and I was so grateful to share it with my parents.



That night we had dinner at our favorite restaurant in downtown Stuart, The Black Marlin.  Next, it was on to the Lyric Theatre’s Flagler Center for their monthly Jazz Jam.  If Charlie and I had not been there, my parents would have been the youngest people in the room!  I thought this type of open jam might draw a younger crowd, but we soon realized the older audience came prepared.  After an hour-long set from the band, they opened up their instruments to anyone who wanted to play a few songs.  One older lady, in white pants and a coral cardigan twinset, stood up and floored us with her deep, knowing voice that flowed out like water.  Another man in his eighties nearly broke his hip walking up to the drums but, once seated, played like he must have forty years ago.


You just didn’t know who was going to get up next!  We’ve been wanting to go this for awhile, and I really hope we have a chance to go back since we apparently have some real jazz talent in our little area.

The next day we drove south to do some birding at the Hobe Sound National Refuge.  Charlie and I hadn’t been to this beach before, and it was really fun to have access to the last uninhabited stretch of Jupiter Island.  It was colder that day, so we birders had the beach to ourselves minus the fishermen.  My parents saw a lot of interesting species while Charlie and I, pretty clueless in this area, enjoyed the view.



At the refuge’s education center, we walked around the exhibit for a few minutes before going to lunch.  We were almost out the door when the exhibit guide asked if anyone wanted to pet their displayed alligators or snakes.  I kept heading toward the door then heard Charlie behind me practically yell, “Of course!”  Should have known!


After lunch at the Dune Dog Cafe, we spent the afternoon wandering through the shops of downtown Stuart and then enjoying a nap before dinner.  The night turned out to be another hit as we settled into shrimp and grits, fish tacos, and pulled pork at the Kona Beach Cafe in Jensen Beach.  The band that evening was two guys cranking out the southern rock that we love so much.


All the tables are outside at Kona, the place is run by surfers, and we could have sat there listening to the music all night.  Charlie and I are definitely heading back on a Tuesday night when they pull down their projector screen and show old surf movies after dark.

On Saturday morning, we had a pretty drive by the river on the way to the Fort Pierce farmer’s market.  We stopped for breakfast at the PP Cobb General Store and then wandered through the maze of craft stalls and gourmet food booths.  Rain clouds were setting in, so we said goodbye mid-morning and my parents got on the road before any sprinkles began.

We all agreed it was a great few days to just enjoy everyone being together with no real agenda or schedule.  My dad said it best when he called the next night to report, “Well, we just don’t know what to do with ourselves.  We’re not going out for seafood and there’s no live music playing.”

Yep, I could get used to that routine too.

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Sand, sun and seafood

Sunday was one of our favorite Florida days so far.  We only have a couple of weeks left here, so we’re trying to soak up as much sun and fun as possible.  After a picnic lunch by the river in Stuart, we headed out for a river cruise on the Island Princess.


There are so many waterways around here that it’s pretty hard to keep it all straight.  We never know which river we’re crossing, which port the boats are docked in, etc., and it seemed even more complicated when we saw how they all came together in crazy water intersections.  It was a beautiful warm day with big puffy clouds, and we enjoyed putting our feet up and feeling the salty breeze.


We went past some barrier islands, tons of waterfront mansions and under the many bridges that connect the little towns around us.  While I was hoping for more of a nature-focused cruise, it was still just fantastic to be out on the water.


With our feet back on land, we headed back to downtown Stuart for the weekly “Rockin’ the River” concert.  Each Sunday a different band plays right on the riverwalk, and this week was an awesome country band cranking out Marshall Tucker tunes.


When the band finished up, we made our way to Port Salerno to the marina-side deck of the Manatee Grill.  We scored a table right by the water and had a blast listening to the band and enjoying a beer and yummy dinner while watching the sun go down.  I don’t think we could have been more relaxed!


With only a couple of weeks left, I’m hoping for some more sunny days in which we can enjoy the sun, sand, and seafood.  You know…before we head to southern California for more of the same.  Travel nursing has its unique challenges, but on days like this, I can’t really remember what they are!

See more pictures here.

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Hurting like a child

The other night I sat in our car, waiting for Charlie to get off work, and turned everything off.  I turned off the radio to silence the news anchor’s voice as he reminded us again that 20 children were dead inside a school.  I turned off my phone so I would stop reading through anxiety-riddled Facebook updates and messages about what should be done.  I turned everything off, closed my eyes, and for the first time since I learned of the Connecticut elementary school shooting, I started to really pray.

The only problem was, I was out of words after about 30 seconds.

I didn’t even know what to say to God.  I thought about the darkness our country is stumbling around in and didn’t know how exactly to talk to Him about it.  What words do I use to pray for a nation in which a young man takes weapons into a school and guns down small children?  What words do I use to lift up parents who were going to sleep that night knowing their little ones were lying in a classroom a few blocks away, dead where they fell? How do I pray for the problems I see in people’s faces at the food pantry, the other evil stories I hear on the news, Satan’s victories that He is triumphantly thrusting in my face every day?

What words, Lord?  What words do I pray that will be effective?

That’s when it hit me – God wasn’t waiting for me to ask Him to do specific things to help us.  He was just waiting for me to ask for help.

When a child falls down and hurts herself, what does she do?  She doesn’t turn to her father and say, “Dad, could you please come over here, then kneel down, then see my wound, then clean it with antiseptic, then put a band-aid on it, then help me to my feet?”  No. She doesn’t even use words.  A child will cry, turn in the direction of her father and raise her arms in a gesture that begs him to come pick her up out of her mess and help her.   And when he comes, he knows what to do without being asked specifically about each step.  He is moved by her cry for help, not by her detailed request for helpful actions.  As for the child, she is mainly seeking the comforting presence of her father because she trusts that when he is with her, he will know what to do.

I realized sitting in our car that God understood that I didn’t have the words to pray for the unspeakable things that continue to happen.  I don’t think He is waiting for our eloquent prayers asking just the right things before He comes to our rescue.  I think He wants our broken hearts and our outstretched arms that, as we sit covered in the dirt of the pit we’ve fallen into, search for our Father and cry out to Him for help, trusting He will come to us and already knows what to do.

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  Romans 8:26

We don’t have words Lord, but our spirits are groaning, crying, under the presence of evil in our world.  Hear our cries, see our humbled, outstretched arms and come work Your plan of rescue.


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