The ways in which God works never cease to amaze me. When Adam and I married and moved to Huntsville, Alabama, in 2005, we thought we were moving for a job. I never would have imagined that this was just the beginning of preparing our hearts for what God had in store. If, in 2005, you had asked me to move to the middle of Memphis, Tennessee, to help plant a church that reached those who were not necessarily interested in church, I am pretty sure the answer would have been a loud, erupting sound of laughter.
We needed Huntsville; I needed Huntsville. God used Huntsville, our home church and the people we love to help us grow, change us and completely transform our hearts. My community showed me what it meant to follow Jesus and live out the Gospel. It was where I learned the “no turning back, eyes on the Father, live and love without abandon” kind of following Jesus. Huntsville became the sacred ground where my Heavenly Father made me pliable enough to receive His direction. I became bendable, and that is when the work really began.
In March 2010, a crazy phone call that would change everything took place between my husband and me. I was visiting family in Mississippi for the weekend, and he had stayed in Huntsville to judge a CrossFit competition. I called on Sunday evening to see how church had been, and all he said was, “I think we are supposed to move to Memphis.”
I had longed for many years to move closer to family, and Memphis is a short 30-minute drive from my family as opposed to the three-and-a-half hour trek from Huntsville. But something in me had changed over time, and the longing had faded. I was happy and content where we were.
So, really? Now is when we are supposed to move?
He proceeded to tell me that a pastor who was planting a church in Memphis had spoken that evening, moving Adam to action. Adam asked that I take time over the next month or so and seriously pray over this apparent calling with him. So we began to pray and ask God what He wanted us to do. We felt led to contact Jonathan McIntosh, the pastor, and find out more about the church. Soon after, we decided to pay Memphis a visit and attend a launch team meeting. We met with Jonathan and his wife, drove around the city, and tried to imagine life there.
As Adam and I drove away from Memphis that night, we looked at each other and knew the city we were leaving behind was soon to be our home. God had captured our hearts. What was a slight tug had turned into a full-on assault, and we knew this was it. Memphis was the next chapter in our story, but we could not even fathom how it was true.
We are not church planters. I am a teacher-turned-stay-at-home- mom, and my husband is a software engineer. What could God possibly want with us when it comes to church planting? Everything in us knew that we were not just moving to Memphis to help plant a church, but we were moving to love Memphis — a city that so commonly gets painted as one of the worst cities to raise a family, attend public school or buy real estate.
Jonathan spoke in March 2010. We had our house on the market and were headed to Memphis by July of that same year. We stayed with my family from July 2010 until February 2011 while we sold one house and bought another. And, oh by the way, I was 4 months pregnant when we moved! As God would have it, we moved into our precious little midtown home on the very day our daughter turned two weeks old. Insanity would probably be an understatement for the whirlwind in which we lived. But normalcy and new life rhythms returned.
Our Hardest Year Yet
I thought that if we were moving in order to love this city because God had called us to, then it would be easy. Not so. Part of the calling, I have realized, is the molding and bending. Part of the calling is the heart transformation that was taking place as I white-knuckle gripped my own will. Control was being loosened so I could stand before my Father open-handed and ready to serve, holding nothing back.
You see, Memphis does not have the best reputation for schools and has one of the highest crime rates of US cities (depending on who you ask). There I was with a 2-year-old and a two- week-old, holding on to them for dear life, afraid of what this calling would cost our family. As we settled into our home, I looked to Adam for everything. It was his job to make me feel safe. It was his job to get us acclimated in our community. It was his job to help me make friends and to comfort my wounded heart when this proved to be more difficult that I had anticipated. It was his job to fix everything and make me as comfortable as I was in Alabama. It was he, after all, who had suggested we move. As you can see, I had put a lot of pressure on my husband and set standards that no one could live up to. I had allowed fear to sneak into my heart and replace trust in God with my white-knuckled grip once again.
Our first year in Memphis was a hard one, to say the least. I struggled to find friends. I missed my community in Alabama. I felt consumed with fear and taken over by anger. I felt like God had moved us to a city where nobody else wanted to be. Adam and I had the hardest year of our marriage to date. Instead of turning to God, I was making my husband my god. Adam is a great man, but he is not God. And it was unfair and sinful for me to put him in that place.
Over time, I opened my heart to hear the voice of God. As He reminded me that He is the one and only God, my Father and the One who brought my family to Memphis, the anger and fear dissipated. God replaced them with joy and love. I began to love Memphis. It became not the place we were forced to move but my city. It was my home. God grew a love in me for the people of Memphis, and I began to see the very people I was afraid of through His eyes.
Now Memphis is our home. I am proud to say that I am a Memphian. I am a part of the Comeback City, Bluff City and Grizz Nation. God is at work in Memphis. He is not at work because Adam and I moved here — He was moving and shaking things up in Memphis long before us!
Renewal is happening all around us: infamous Overton Square is being renovated, multiple Greenline expansions are happening, Memphis Teachers’ Residency is producing incredible educators and Project Greenfork is thriving — the list goes on and on. Gospel-sharing, people-loving, city- changing churches are being planted right in the heart of this place. God is mightily moving and restoring this racially diverse, artistically saturated, beautiful city. We are honored that He has called us to love Memphis alongside Him.
Too Sweet to Trade
A wise friend recently said to me, “When God calls you to do something, you don’t make a pros and cons list. That is just not how obedience works.” We were comfortable. Life was easy. We were zoned for good schools. We felt safe in our cul-de-sac culture.
And yet, I would not change a single step that has brought my family to Memphis. Not all the steps were pretty, and most of them, I have to admit, were more me digging my heels in while God was dragging me.
It has been four years since the phone call that changed everything for our little family. It has been hard. It has been wonderful. It has been scary. I have experienced great peace. And now, I can honestly say, as much as I liked our life before, I could never go back to my comfort zone.
Dependence on God is too sweet to trade for comfort.