Woodland Hollow - A Memoire of our Life and Years at Seminary

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I remember the exact spot along the main street of our town where my husband mentioned to me that he was thinking of going back to school to get his Master of Divinity degree. My eyes widened and I took a deep breath. It was 2014 and we had just had our fourth born child. My husband was already seasoned in church ministry and as a worship and missions pastor, and we were just starting to feel settled two years into our new life in Eastern Washington. The idea of a monumental move to seminary life was both exhilarating and overwhelming. We kept talking and dreaming, researching and praying. A year of preparation later, we were on the interstate driving to our new home, a place I had never been, in St Louis, Missouri. 

Three years later, this May, my husband graduated with his Mdiv from Covenant Theological Seminary with honors. He did it! We did it! God did it! These three years are so full of life, provision, friendship and growth... and Hebrew translations! I told someone that I could write a book on our time at seminary, because God did so much!

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Our little apartment on campus has been such a blessing. At only about 900 square feet of livable space, our family of 6 has lived life to the full. Birthday parties, holiday potlucks, men’s campfire nights, prayer nights with the ladies, and coffee with friends, our small kitchen and dining area has hosted over 15-20 children and 12 plus adults at once. We don’t believe in letting the size of our home dictate how many people we welcome into our home. The Lord provides the space and the food fills the tummies.

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Surrounded by a Viburnum "Korean Spice" flowering bush, we found delight in our  patio, a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of community life. A place to be still and quiet before the Lord and a place to watch the sun rise just over the hill as rays of light streamed in through the windows in the morning. The Lord knew exactly what we needed for our family of six. My husband constructed 5 garden boxes where we did a little gardening, although Ferdinand the Squirrel was caught red-handed with a cucumber in his mouth!

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We grew flowers, and grew our imaginations as little woodland friends (pet substitutes) joined us on our patio every day. Perhaps the critters felt that we needed to share the space, after all, Edith Schaeffer would have welcomed them with her hospitality! I remember one bold chipmunk running between my feet to scale the wall as I watched the birds and hummingbirds one summer afternoon! Lizzie the Lizard hasn't been seen for ages, but she made a comeback in our lives when my Kindergartner made a toilet paper roll replica of her reptile-likeness.

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The natural surroundings on campus have been a place of great imagination for the kids, making tree forts and pretending to be wolf children in the snow with their friends! One December turned out to be a lovely warmish day and the seminary kids congregated on our hill and played in the sprinkler like it was summer! At other times, it wasn’t unusual to see a seminary dad and his kids sledding past my window on an early winter morning.

God has provided for us in so many ways, financially, with our health, and in relationships. There were an abundance of trials that went along with this very sweet season of life for our family. We had to continue day by day in faith that God would provide the work and finances that we needed to get by. We were at times inundated with health issues and at other times, completely illness free for months. We watched the Lord provide as checks would come in the mail at just the right time, and we watched God work through our circumstances to push and prod us in certain directions.

There were times where we felt strong spiritual attacks and several times when I would wake up in the middle of the night speaking the name of Jesus aloud as I woke up and bolted upright. I would pray through the night and speak the Word of God aloud.

There were other times I felt the Lord's presence so strongly. And there were days I didn't know how I would make it through with all the responsibilities that were on my plate each day and the various needs of our young family. But like a gentle shepherd, Jesus cares for those with young and He carried me through this season that He called us to.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.
— Isaiah 40:11

When we first set out for seminary, there were many who had concerns if this was good for our family. What we found was, there were many families just like us who were doing just what we were doing, living by faith because of God's call, taking up our crosses to follow Him into the unknown and trusting that He would sustain and provide. We are eternally grateful for this season of life and that it is a part of our story.

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Woodland Hollow is what I named our little patio and home on the beautiful sprawling campus of Covenant Seminary. There was beauty and friendship, kindness and compassion, prayer and healing. There was sidewalk chalk and "science experiments", mud pits and basil-snatchers, fresh sweet tea and read alouds by the campfire, and conversations with expectant mothers as a birth doula. The ebb and flow of life, changing seasons, tornado warnings, summer storms, fireflies and spilled birdseed.

When I think about my favorite places in St Louis, I immediately come up with three:  the Missouri Botanical Gardens, my bedroom desk corner that looked out towards the pine tree along the path behind our building, and our living room couch where I gazed out the window to watch our children, the flowers and the birds as they grew from season to season and year to year in our special corner of St Louis.

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Finding Godspeed - Living Slow

Siestas in Mexico, teatime in the Swiss Alps, or foamed milk with honey in the Northwest. Taking time out of our days, to savor the flavors and relationships in our lives has taught me to slow down in different seasons of life. When my husband suggested I watch a recent short documentary called “Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known”, I found myself retreating into the rolling green fields and woodlands of Scotland as I listened to the story of a preacher who had to relearn what it meant to know and be known.

This film reminded me of the joys I experience when I intentionally live slowly, to sit in and smell the fresh cut green grass as winter fades into spring, to lay down in the middle of a mountain stream and immerse myself in its refreshing currents, to watch the birds bounce from branch to branch outside my window. Years ago, I was living in Scotland working at a church. It was common for me to walk down the main street of the village to the train station, jump on a train to visit a town just a few villages away along the west coast of Ayrshire. I didn’t have a phone to look at and scroll through, so I looked out the window and took in the beauty of the woodlands and the old stone flats. Perhaps I would listen in on the conversations of other passengers. Arriving into one of my favorite villages, I ordered a latte at the cozy coffee and gift shop, and wrote in my journal for a couple hours, took walks through the town’s shops or took a ferry to a nearby island. Life was slow.

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And in the years of starting a family, it was the walks in the pine forests with my husband and kids, or the walks along the boardwalk breathing in the ocean air, as they fell asleep in the stroller, or exploring a canyon, or sitting at the park while they excitedly climbed and chased and played. It was the afternoon feedings that brought stillness to my soul and caused me to slow down. As my children are now all in the school age years, I am noticing this phenomenon of how fast the years go by every time I stop to observe how tall my children are – they are growing up fast! Each one so precious, so loved, such a treasure! I want to take it all in. I want to observe every special moment and lock it into my memory. I want to walk slowly, read aloud, and drink tea. My kids are all tea drinkers… that makes my mama heart happy.

I’m taking a break from writing on my blog for a while. We are about to enter into another season of transition as a family and it is time to put this little writing space to rest for a while. But before I go, I want to share four resources that have really blessed me lately. I hope they bless you too!

First, this video called “Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known

Second, this little classic book I read when I was just 19 years old. Andrew Murray’s little book on Humility is a treasure and was part of our discipleship training that I was a part of when attending His Hill Bible School in Texas many, many moons ago. This is by far the most incredible teaching I have ever read/heard on the much needed topic of humility. (A paperback version can be found here).

Third, this podcast on Identity by Journey Woman. This is an episode I will go back to often as the struggle to put our identity in Christ and not the things of this world is a battle we face every day, and we need these truth reminders every day.

Fourth, the podcast Emotionally Healthy Leader is an excellent encouragement for anyone wanting to live an emotionally healthy life.

In Christ alone,
Jen

Good Friday & Gateway Hymns

The bare branches outside my window have waited a long winter for their spring dressing. It has been a cold winter and every day the cold lingers, we long for spring and we hope more deeply. Even though I can’t see all the evidence of spring yet, there are hopeful signs all around. The red cardinal and his brown feathered mate have been spotted by my kids as we’ve huddled inside from the rain, peering out the window. A little brown house finch has been perching on the branches from time to time and buds are growing on the trees. We wait for them to unfold their glory.

In a way, I am welcoming spring by faith, with a steadfast hope, knowing that this season will manifest itself in all its evidence soon enough, in time. I need the spring, and the beauty of new life. It has been a long winter.

In the span of several weeks, there has been great loss and sorrow. Supporting others in their losses, and now this past week, walking through the loss of a cherished friend, so dear to me. The Lord was so sweet in giving me one last moment with her several weeks ago. Special moments I treasure in my heart. Last week, I got to hold her hand one more time. Now she holds the hands of Jesus. We have walked a long winter.

This week, I am sharing the most recent album by Gateway Hymns as we celebrate Holy Week. We are desperately in need of life and hope! I will walk this Holy Week with these sorrows fresh in my heart, but with the joy that our Risen King has defeated death forever.

Gateway Hymns “is a project started by Craig Harris and Brent Johnson as a collaboration effort to supply music for the church.” Several other musicians and artists have contributed to this album. The most recent album, is simply called Good Friday. The five songs are written specifically in remembrance of Good Friday, the day Jesus, the Son of God was crucified, and on him was laid the sins of the world, as he paid the penalty for our sin, so that we don’t have to. The words are powerful, the melodies haunting, and the emotions reflective of the sorrow and pain of our Lord, crucified. The songs carry the listener through a journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to the anguish and lament after Christ’s crucifixion.

Serving Together in Marriage {Deeply Rooted Magazine)

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There are so many things I love about Valentine’s Day. Making our own Valentine’s cards and crafts, baking cupcakes or cookies with red hearts on top, sharing in our children’s joy and all their little Valentine’s cards and treats that they give and receive from friends, and just taking time to make the day a family and friends celebration of love, ultimately of God’s extravagant love for His people. These are some of the ways we love to celebrate.

As I think about Valentine’s Day, I also reflect on the love I share with my husband and how God has worked in and through our marriage. Today I am sharing some of my heart about marriage, ministry and serving together over on Deeply Rooted Magazine.

Marriage is a picture of Christ and His covenant relationship with the Church. It is an image of God’s intentions in His redemptive plan of salvation. The Church is Christ’s Bride here on Earth with a mission to go out into the world to share the gospel and disciple believers (Mark 16:15). Will not God who has designed marriage to reflect these things, strengthen our marriages when we serve in a way that portrays the function of this image? One way my husband and I have strengthened our marriage is by serving together. 
— -Deeply Rooted Magazine

As I look back over the years, the miles we’ve traveled and the opportunities we’ve had to serve alongside one another for God’s glory, my heart is content with joy. This is God’s work that He prepared for us to enjoy together. The picture above is one memory I have of a trip we took to Papalote, Mexico a few years ago. My husband was to be teaching at a Bible Institute and we had the wonderful opportunity of hearing about the work God is doing in that part of the world. This painting, hanging in the home of a missionary couple held a real life story of God’s faithfulness in reaching the lost in a nearby village. Hearing and experiencing these stories of the gospel reaching the nations is a treasure we share together.

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One of the great outcomes of serving together is the shared joy of seeing fruit produced from mutual service in others’ lives. A shared experience of storing up spiritual treasures in Heaven brings an eternal perspective to the purpose of your marriage. Some of the greatest fruit we have seen serving together in ministry has been to witness lives changed, hearts comforted and people discipled.
— Deeply Rooted Magazine

You can read the rest of this post at Deeply Rooted Magazine.

With the love of Christ,
Jen

The Year of the Red Sea Road

Its almost magical, that week between Christmas Day and New Years. The kids enjoying their new toys, winter hikes with the family, sledding on the back yard hill with friends, celebrating my husband’s and my wedding anniversary, twinkling lights and taking stock of the year behind, while setting our gaze on the year ahead. It is almost sacred as we take time to reflect, rejoice and celebrate what our good Father has done in our hearts, our minds, our family, our lives in the past year.

As I open the pages of my new monthly planner, and sketch out the timeline of events, work, schedules, studies that are on the list to work towards this year, my heart is grateful… and dependent. It is dependent on the “I AM”, the LORD, to sustain us, to move us forward in His will, in the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. It is always about Him, and never about me. It is always His work, and my joy to receive. As I commit these plans to the Lord, He leads me to a theme.

Over twenty years ago now, when I set off on my own, a young adult spreading her wings wide to land in the hills of a small town called Comfort in the rolling bluebonnet-laden hill country of Texas, the Lord began impressing on my heart different themes for the two semesters I was at a Discipleship Bible School. It was amazing to see how God used those themes in my life and to form me. Other years, I have had perhaps a word or theme. As we enter our final semester at seminary, I reflect on the themes God has laid on my heart and look forward to this year’s theme!

When we arrived here in 2015, the theme was that of The Good Shepherd. That theme actually rolled over into 2016 as well. 2017 has been the Year of Stepping Stones as we continued to take steps of faith in various directions to see where God is leading us. Some doors closed, others opened wide, and others are in waiting. I completed my first year of work as a Birth Doula attending 8 births and assisting women as their labor coach. I wrote a piece on Planting Seeds of Wisdom in our Children’s Hearts and a biographical piece called Soul Into Blossom: The Life and Work of Lilias Trotter, in the print issues of Deeply Rooted Magazine (Issues 11 & 12), as well as a piece on Building Intentional Friendships for Family Life Canada. My husband wrote and recorded a full length album with a collection of friends called Gateway Hymns. One of the songs won a song-writing competition and was recorded by The Porter’s Gate Worship Project featuring the voices of Josh Garrels and Liz Vice. Meanwhile, my husband has been continuing to work towards his Mdiv degree after a decade of pastoral ministry. Our children have been growing by leaps and bounds  in so many areas of their lives. It has truly been a year of Stepping Stones.

As I look toward 2018, the Lord has led me to a song this year. Red Sea Road, written by Ellie Holcomb, Christa Wells, and Nicole Witt, speaks of letting go, all to follow Christ in where He is leading us. In God’s Word, we are called to speak truth to our souls, and especially in the Psalms, to sing to our souls. This is what this song speaks to me in this season of transition. In five months, we will, Lord willing, be packing up our earthly possessions to be transplanted into our next location of God’s calling.

 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Exodus 13:17-18

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:13-14

 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them,20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Exodus 14:19-22

The Lord led His people along the Red Sea Road, the path He made before them, to lead them and give them victory. God calls us to follow Him, and that requires a cost, indeed the giving up of one’s own plans, desires, and expectations. But it is in the letting go of our lives that we find them, it is in saying with Jim Elliot, missionary to Equador, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”

So we’ll sing to our souls, we won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go, there’s a red sea road
When we can’t see the way, He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone down a red sea road – Red Sea Road, Ellie Holcomb

As we continually surrender our lives, we know our hope is not in the things of Earth, our hope is in Christ. With our hope in Christ, we are able to let go for we have found our true home, it is Christ Himself. May we always be willing to let go of things we were never meant to keep in our grasp, so that we may live free in the will of God and trust His perfect leading.

Our eyes are fixed, Oh Lord, on You. Our gaze is set directly forward (Proverbs 4:25). You have led us to the Year of the Red Sea Road.

Where He leads us to go, there’s a red sea road – Red Sea Road, Ellie Holcomb