I did something yesterday that I thought—and many times vowed—I would never do. I announced to my church that I was resigning as a pastor and elder and my family would be leaving Chicago, effective this summer.
When I moved here in 2002 right after college, it was in my mind a decision for life. This was a church plant and the work to be done would not be done overnight, so I wasn’t going anywhere. And with time, God overflowed my life with purpose and meaning from this volunteer, bi-vocational role in this church. So leaving seemed impossible. When I started dating my wife in 2014, I was upfront that I was in Chicago for good and there was no reason to pursue a relationship if she wasn’t willing to move. She joyfully consented, we married a year later and in 2017 we even bought a house with the intention of being here for decades. We wanted to use it to serve our church and community and not just to grow a family. We often called it our “forever home.” “Home” has been such a significant word to me in Chicago, and specifically at Northwest Community Church. When I see my family at Christmas and then leave to come back, they know that is where I am going–home. Finding out last summer that our son Liam would be added all this just made our lives beyond fulfilled.
But several things have happened in the last few months that changed everything. The details would be boring and aren’t essential for this article. But the gist of it is that both my wife and I began to feel weighed down by the heaviness of the very things we were in Chicago to do. My wife has dealt with unrelenting, overwhelming stress the entire four years she’s been here and new trials have been thrown at her no matter how hard she has tried to find relief. I changed jobs to teach from home and to make more money to provide, but my new job required more overnight hours, taking a lot out of me. I could minister to my wife more effectively before. Now, it was becoming harder.
Around November, it was becoming obvious to me that trying to balance my ministry as a volunteer pastor-elder, my job as an English teacher and my role as a husband and soon-to-be-father was taking more out of me than I probably could stand longterm. On a particularly stressful day where my wife was beyond frayed, and I had zero left in my tank after a weekend full of overnight teaching and church ministry and meetings, I just blurted out, “Maybe we should move.” The weight of that statement was stunning because we had never seriously considered it. It was not a rational statement. It was said in frustration. But it was the first step in a series of conversations we had over a couple of months where we talked about what life would be like if we moved. We began to consult wise people in our life, people we knew would tell us the truth even if it wasn’t what we wanted to hear. The fruit of all of these conversations was that in order for us to be healthy, and to be the spouses and parents we really wanted to be, something had to give. My role in the church, as crucial as it was to my spiritual development for 17 years, was the most expendable.
There are two things I really want people to know about this decision. I realize I should not care too much what people think, but I still have been advised that it is wise to be proactive in protecting my family. As I think about Joseph in the Gospels, staying with Mary knowing that people would not understand why he did it and would likely gossip, it occurs to me that sometimes people do not understand decisions we make for our families and sometimes we just have to take the hits. Yet I know there are mature friends and family out there who will read this and take it to heart.
First, I want people to know that we are not leaving because we are afraid to raise Liam in Chicago. The very opposite is true. It has been my dream since before I ever met Kayla to raise my children bilingually, and not merely academically at home, but in the real world context of my church where people from different languages sacrifice for each other. If there is one thing about this decision that kills me more than others, it is that Liam will never know Chicago as his home. The place that I loved with my whole heart and poured blood, sweat and tears into for 17 years will only be known to him in stories and short visits. That breaks my heart unlike anything has in a while. Every time I have told someone of this decision, this is the part that causes me to become emotionally unglued. Northwest is by far the best place I know of to raise my son. I can still raise him to value people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, but there will never ever be another church like Northwest to me in this regard. It was the church that took me straight out of college knowing little about how to be a pastor and how big the world is and discipled me to value the things I do. We are not leaving Chicago so Liam can be safe. I feel safe in my neighborhood but even if I didn’t the risk would be worth it. Safety for myself or my family is not high on my list of priorities. This was not part of the decision making.
Secondly, my fear is that since I was in Chicago 13 years before Kayla and I got married, and I trumpeted to anyone who would listen how I planned to live the rest of my life here, that people will think Kayla asked for this or manipulated it somehow. The truth is that if I could live anywhere in the world I would choose Chicago without batting an eye. My wife would not. But she married me with the intention of going the distance and if I asked her to stay for 40 years she would have. She has never asked me to move or pressured me in any subtle or overt way. I brought up the idea out of concern for her and for us (our marriage and soon to be all three of us), and she pushed back at every turn. She doesn’t want me to be unhappy so she constantly challenged me on if this was the right thing to do. She did not move to Chicago to be a part of a church, primarily, like I did. She moved to get married. But she bought into what Northwest does and she sacrificed heavily for four years to make it work, giving up Saturday evenings—her only day off—to practice on the worship team and sitting in a Sunday School class where she often didn’t understand the language. She was ready to be here indefinitely. But I do not think it is fair at this point to ask that of her.
We offer no platitudes, cliches or Bible College verbiage about “God’s will” or being at peace about this decision. As Haddon Robinson once said, Jesus proves you can be in the middle of God’s will and be so stressed that you sweat blood, and Jonah proves you can be out of God’s will and be so at peace that you can sleep on a boat. This decision has caused suffering for both of us like few things have. But ultimately all of the reasons I could come up with to stay were selfish and beneficial more for me than for my family. Moving seems to be what is best for all three of us at this juncture.
I am more than willing to discuss this further with anyone who may want to talk about it with me. Feel free to contact me if you have my cell number or email or want to PM me on Facebook. Decision making can be messy in God’s kingdom so it’s not a neat and tidy event. It was not this time. But it yielded a result that I think will please God.
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