Two weeks ago my wife and I announced to our church that come this Fall, we would be leaving so that I could attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
Last week we announced that we were also expecting our first child.
Never a dull moment in the Sims house! We feel like we need something really dramatic to announce this upcoming week.
If you would, allow me a moment to brag on my church. My church, North Platte Berean Church, is something special. It may never appear on the top lists of most influential anything or be hosting national conferences with celebrity pastor so-and-so, but I love it dearly. I’ve never felt so happy and so privileged to be a part of a local church. For the first time in our lives, my wife and I have felt excited to invite people to our church. That may have something to do with us simply maturing as Christians, but it definitely has something to do with this wonderful little community of Christ-followers here in Nebraska.
Christ is weekly preached and lifted up as the hero of every sermon. The Body loves, respects, and eagerly follows the leadership. The people are remarkably generous, charitable, and giving with their money, time, talents, and energy. The community is warm and inclusive – my wife and I are very much not the typical “Nebraskan” type, but we have been received and loved as if we were. The elders have a genuine heart for the Lord and our community. Our ministries seek to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, not just create fanciful programs that woo people. Our lead pastor (A man that I could not love or respect more dearly) is a man who embodies the persona of a Christ-like servant-leader, and has invested more into my life than I could recount here.
And on, and on, and on I could go. Though I am very young and very inexperienced, this church has humbly welcomed me, given me space to grow in my gifting, nurtured me, corrected and confronted me when I needed it, given me grace, and entrusted me with preaching the gospel to our families. I feel like the JV kid who has been called up to play with the Varsity team.
So Why Would We Leave?
If we have been welcomed into such a fantastic place, why on earth would we ever leave it? That’s a question I was asking myself for a long time. In short, both my wife and I believe that the Lord is leading us to make this decision – this isn’t a choice we are making out of comfort, convenience or flippancy. We have no problems with where we are at, we love our church, we love our jobs, we love our friends – if anything, leaving feels like a painful thing to be doing. There is nothing that is incentivizing us to move away from all of that. Only the Lord.
After my wife and I firmly decided that we did not want to pursue seminary online while I was still working in ministry full-time, we began to pray what the Lord might have us do. And since then, He has been abundantly clear that we are to pursue moving away from North Platte to attend a seminary. We came to this decision last Fall (2015), and I immediately spoke with John (our pastor) and asked for the elders to be praying for us. Our original plan was to shoot for the Fall of 2017 for starting seminary, so we began doing campus visits of potential seminaries we might attend, and in April we visited Southern in Louisville, KY and it blew us away.
Everything about the school impressed me. From its high commitment to Scripture, to its partnership with the local church, to its rigorous academics, to helping provide support for families on campus. It was incredible. At some point during their preview day we both looked at each other and said, “I kind of wish we were going here this Fall, not later.” By the end of the day we both were thoroughly wooed.
But we also knew that its shininess would wear off, and we shouldn’t make a rash decision after seeing it for one day. Plus, us going this Fall seemed fairly unpractical – this was April, and classes started in August. That would mean that in a very short amount of time we would need to make a transition plan for the student ministry, sell our house, quit our jobs, say goodbye to all of our dear friends, and find jobs, a church, and somewhere else to live in Louisville. Not very feasible. But we came home and began praying about it, asked the elders to be joining us in prayer as well, and asked for them to give guidance on what they thought would be wise and best for the church. In this whole process, Hillary and I have strove to by entirely forthright with the elders and submit to their leadership, even in considering us leaving.
Eventually the elders told us that they felt like we had their blessing to stay for another year here, and we also had their blessing to go to seminary this Fall. And after much prayer, discussions, and wrestling through fears, we felt like the Lord was saying “Go” and decided that we would take a step of faith, and head to Louisville this Fall.
“Oh my gosh! Marc, I’m Pregnant!…..Marc?….”
There’s one big part of the story that’s missing thus far. At our church, the staff each gets one day a month to take off from work and spend that day in prayer. It just so happened, by the sweet providence of God, that my day of prayer was the week following our return from preview day at Southern. So I spent the day praying, thinking, and writing, asking the Lord to give us clarity. I felt such a desire to go and begin my schooling, but couldn’t sift through my emotions in any kind of objective way. So, I just began praying that the Lord would speak clearly, that He would give us a sign. In fact, as I was writing that very sentence down in my journal, Hillary came running towards me with tears in her eyes and a pregnancy test in her hand.
“Marc, I’m pregnant! We’re having a baby!! I can’t believe it, we’re having a baby!!”
…God, I think you misunderstood me…
I don’t know how to really describe my reaction to this. I literally was dumbfounded, I couldn’t speak for nearly ten minutes. The closest I can get to accurately describing my thought process is like this: in my mind, Hillary and I were on our little sailboat and I could look through the telescope and see Baby Island in the distance, far, far away. And from far away, it looked fairly big, but certainly by the time it would take us to get there, we would be prepared to climb the mountains of responsibility and learn how to hack through the dense jungles of sleepless frustration. We had plenty of time to get ready for all of that. But, in what seemed like a minute later, after tying my shoe I look through the telescope again and realize that I can see nothing but Baby Island, and not only is it ten times bigger than I thought, but we have actually run our little boat right up on its shore! How the heck did that happen?!
You have to know, that nobody gets as excited about babies the way I do – whenever a friend or family member tells me that they are expecting, I almost explode with happiness. Nothing is better than new life! What a miraculous gift from the Lord!
So, when Hillary saw me stare back at her like a flashbang grenade had just gone off, she was shocked, and I think worried. We had previously joked about how I would probably set something on fire or run down the streets screaming from joy when Hillary told me she was pregnant. But much to both of our surprise, I just sat there, mouth hanging open, blinking in disbelief.
We had talked about trying to get pregnant for a few months back in the Winter time, and after a few months of praying, felt like we should start trying to start a family. But, after only one week, we found out that Hillary had some pain in her leg that could possibly require surgery, so we decided to stop. About a month later, after we had visited Southern, I was thinking to myself, “It’s a good thing we didn’t go through with having a baby right now, because trying to have a baby and move to start seminary would be crazy!” Certainly, after being on birth control for years, it would take much more than one week! But, in the Lord’s divine sense of humor and sovereign will, it only took us four days of no birth control to get pregnant. This was why I was so shocked when Hillary told me – it was the farthest thing from my mind. In time the shellshock wore off (after I had Hillary take three more pregnancy tests, just to make sure) and we both laughed and cried and hugged and prayed, thanking God for His good, good plan and this new blessing. At some point that night, as we laid on the couch together, I finally said, “Well, this is probably going to change things…”
A Hard Decision
At the end of my day of prayer I was feeling fairly confident that the Lord was saying “Go” to seminary this Fall, but after finding out Hillary was pregnant, we began seriously doubting that. We began thinking that since the Lord seemed to line up my day of prayer (which consisted of me asking Him for a clear sign) with the pregnancy announcement, maybe that meant that the Lord was saying “Stay.” Again, I went to the elders of our church and told them the news and asked for more prayer and guidance. When we were thinking about it being just Hillary and I moving to this new city, not having any jobs lined up, figuring out how we would make ends meet, it felt doable – we could wing it. But now add a baby into the mix? Well, it seemed almost irresponsible.
But even with that being as obvious as it is, I still felt unsettled in my spirit about the whole thing. Something that John has always pressed on me is that God’s people have not been given a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7) or anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34) because perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). So any time we make a decision that is motivated by fear, we are not making a decision that is of the Lord. Our children’s ministry director used to have a quote that hung outside of her door that said, “All fear is the belief that God’s love ends.”
If you could read a transcript of our (Hillary and I) prayers over the month that followed from the pregnancy announcement, we would probably look schizophrenic. There would be days were we felt very certain that we should stay, and other days where we felt like we should go. It was honestly a very difficult month to stand between these two choices, uncertain about which would be best for our family, the church, and the Kingdom. It was towards the end of this month that the elders came back to Hillary and I and said that we had a green light to either stay or go – and honestly, we both would have preferred them to just say one way or another so we wouldn’t have to agonize over this decision any longer.
In the end, my pastor, our elders, and my wife encouraged me that they would support me and be behind whatever decision I made and that the Lord would take care of us no matter what. And as I thought it over, my primary reasons for wanting to stay were all fear-motivated, “How are we going to make ends meet? How am I going to do school with a newborn? What if we can’t sell our house? What if we can’t find jobs?…” So, we decided that we would bank on God’s willingness and ability to provide for us, and move forward in what we sensed to be God’s call. God has been nothing but good and gracious to us, why would He stop now?
The Faithfulness of God
The day we had our 8-week ultrasound our Bible reading plan just so happened to have us pray through Ps. 139, which was such a precious gift from the Lord; both the comfort that God is the one who is sovereignly knitting together our child in Hillary’s womb (139:13), but also verses 7-12,
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
There is no place that we can go where God’s hand shall not lead us, and uphold us. Even when the path looks murky and dark and we cannot see the way, it is not dark to God. He will see us through. So, everything we need we know He will provide (Phil. 4:19), even if this is way harder than we think its going to be, He won’t fail on His promises. I just went back and looked over what I had written after Hillary and I decided we were moving to Nebraska, and it was heartening,
“So, after getting back home, Hillary and I spent a night wrestling in prayer together. And amidst a massive cloud of fear and uncertainty, we felt our feet touch the solid ground of God’s promises. We realized that everything that terrified us most, were things that were promised to us in Christ. So, feebly and imperfectly, we laid our anxieties down and decided that we were moving to The Good Life” (Nebraska’s state motto).
It seems funny now to look back at how terrifying it seemed to be moving here when we now know how sweet it has truly been. Sure, there have been many tough days, and at first it felt very hard to adjust, but the Lord faithfully sustained us and connected us into the community here – so much so that the thought of leaving is painful to imagine! So too, now we feel even more afraid at the prospect of moving away from community, taking on new responsibilities, and wading into waters that seem way over our heads. And yet, Christ calls us out further still, trusting Him more and more. So, with a mixture of fear, excitement, and a quiet confidence that the Lord is in control, we are stepping out, further still.
We would appreciate much prayer in this new season.
- The Lord has gracious sold our house here in North Platte (Praise God!), but we still need to find jobs in Louisville and a home to live in. We are hoping that we would be able to financially ‘make it’ without me having to work full-time so I can focus primarily on school.
- The Lord has also graciously provided someone to take my role in student ministry here at NPBC, someone who has been serving in the student ministry here for over a year, which is fantastic. You could be praying for him, his family, and for our church and this transition.
- Prayers for Hillary and the Baby’s health and a safe, uncomplicated delivery.
- Prayers for protection of our marriage while we embark on new difficulties of starting school and having a baby.
- Prayers that I would put my family before work, school, or ministry.
- Prayers that I will be kept free from a cold-hearted intellectualism while in school, but will grow in my love for the Lord.
- Prayers that we will find a gospel-centered church, and in that develop relationships that will hold us accountable and encourage us.
- Prayers that we would raise our child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, that the Lord would save our child, and that the Lord would protect our child from our own patterns of sin.
- Prayers that the Lord would use this season to prepare both Hillary and I for whatever future ministry the Lord has for us.
Your prayers and support are deeply appreciated,
Thank you, friends