October 8, 2019
Tuesday morning. Flipping through several magazines looking for anything that resonated with me, I sat with a few other ladies in the living room of a modest home in the heart of Grapevine, Texas. I was so encouraged to see the beautiful vision boards our host displayed on the walls of her home. Some of her dreams had come to pass. I was eager to find content for my Vision Board.
“Cut out anything that jumps out at you, whether it’s a picture or a phrase,” said Hope, our group leader.
I was looking for pictures of kitchens, home decor, modern farmhouse design, and places I’d love to travel with my family someday. Nothing was resonating with me… until I flipped to a page with an article that had the title: “Totally. Unexpected.” I instantly felt it was for me.
I cut out the phrase and dated it on the back: “10/8/19 my word for 2020.” I laminated it into a bookmark. It’s in my Bible on Psalm 112 that I pray over my family often.
As it turns out, 2020 was the year of “Totally. Unexpected.”
For the entire world.
Have you ever fought with God? I have. More than once.
When I was in my early twenties, I made an inner vow NOT to marry a Salvadoran, a preacher, and for sure not a pastor. Well. God had other plans for me. My husband is Salvadoran, a preacher, and now a pastor. Funny how God works.
Born in a Christian home, the daughter of a full-time pastor, I’ve seen and experienced a few things throughout my life. I’ve been the recipient of love, loyalty, and appreciation. I’ve also been the recipient of the opposite. I know the pain of sectarianism and division. The church I attended all my life (since moving to the States over 39 years ago) suffered a split two weeks prior to our wedding. It took me years to heal. Despite these memories, over the years I have met the most sincere believers who truly love God and people.
Unfortunately, some of the unpleasant memories caused me to resent the Church earlier during my youth. It should not be that way. But it is the reality. Through it all, the Lord taught me to be forgiving. After all, we are imperfect beings trying to serve a perfect God. None of us has it all together. We are in different levels of maturity in our spiritual walk with God. We are still growing and learning. It helps to extend each other grace for the sake of maintaining unity in the Body of Christ.
Honesty, love, and sincerity are powerful emotions one can feel. We all have an inner “lie detector” and we know when people are being real and when they’re faking it. Therefore, it is so crucial to fill ourselves daily with God’s Word so that through us God instills peace, hope, and love in the lives and circumstances of our fellowmen. God’s Word says,
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
The more we are filled with God’s Word and presence in our lives, the more we can help others find faith, hope, healing, and salvation.
As a preacher’s wife, I’ve seen and experienced a little bit of everything too. My husband protected me from some things to guard my heart. I learned about them years later! The negative experiences certainly played a role in my apprehension of supporting my husband in his pastoral calling.
I believe the root cause for fear, worry, jealousy, comparison, lack of brotherly love, and other ugly sides of sin embedded in our humanity, is the lack of identity. We don’t really know who we are, nor whose we are. If we did, we would NOT worry, compare, or hurt each other.
My wonderful Daddy is old-school.
He became a follower of Jesus in his early teens. Since he gave his life to Jesus, he developed a love for teaching God’s Word and helping people. As a teenager, he would accompany his pastor-mentor on home visits in different villages of his hometown in our native land of El Salvador.
During this time, my Dad’s form of transportation was his feet. His light at night, a gas-fueled lantern. In sunshine or rain, he was a faithful armor-bearer to his pastor. He loved visiting the poor and forgotten and enjoyed bringing them the hope of the Good News of the Gospel. His pastoral training began in small groups.
Many years later during his tenure as president of the Hispanic Evangelical denomination (a position he held for over thirty years) in which he continues to pastor, my Dad traveled a lot. My sisters and I missed him. My mother missed him. But we understood he had to tend to his responsibilities. We went through incredible circumstances while he was gone that my dear mother somehow figured out to work through. Finances were limited. Not having dad home often caused us sadness to which my two sisters and I reacted in different ways. My mother found comfort and solace in faith and prayer as she does to this day.
When I got married, I ensured I was as supportive as possible to my husband, Nestor, in his desire to preach and serve God as well. But having a husband in full-time ministry as a pastor is a lifestyle I did NOT desire in any way, shape, or form for the sake of myself and our daughters. When my husband brought it up from time to time, I discouraged it. Squashed it.
At his 10-year mark of getting saved, my husband felt a strong call to pastor. That would have been in the year 2000 when we were five years married. It would take another 20 years of preparation and decision for him to answer the call. Or perhaps for God to ready my heart to support, roll up my sleeves, and support my husband while maintaining my dual career.
My surrender to God’s will took time. Two decades at least.
I’ve loved the world’s comforts – a big house, nice cars, two incomes. We all like fine and finer things in life. But we all come stamped with a purpose we are destined to fulfill. And at some point in our lives, we are faced with the decision to follow God’s plan or ours. Pursue God’s way or our own. Obey or disobey.
And when God’s vision for your life captures your heart, nothing else matters. You begin to see the world, people, and circumstances differently. Eternal things take priority over temporary pettiness or pleasure.
Upon graduating from college in 1995, I began my career in computer programming. I earned my bachelor’s in computer science, completing my senior year as an exchange student at the University of Manchester in England, U.K. It was the most amazing experience where I met Christians who impacted my life tremendously. I get homesick from time to time.
Finding my first job, I worked full-time and attended the New York Institute of Technology in the evenings working on my masters. I took classes in the fall, spring, and summer. Two years later, I completed my degree on a Wednesday, got married three days later on Saturday, December 16, 1995, and moved to Texas the next day.
My career in programming was intriguing and challenging. I loved it. Though it was stressful and caused me daily headaches and even carpal tunnel syndrome on my right wrist, I still enjoyed the mental stimulation. It gave me identity and purpose. It made me feel good about myself.
The thrill of problem-solving was my high… as when someone enjoys their favorite margarita, coffee, wine, or other special drink. To me, it was as having my favorite cup of tea.
Years later, I would give up my programming career to start my own business venture in the housing industry. And a few years after that, I also gave up my home building business and dedicated myself to the family. I homeschooled our daughters for 10 years. It was not our choice but our girls’ request. In hindsight, we know it was a divine assignment.
In February of 2020, I began my one-year Bible reading plan. I was 35 days late. I was upset at myself for missing the start date. But I recalled the words of our dear Pastor Robert Morris who encouraged the entire church to read through the Bible in one year. He instructed, “Just read God’s Word. I promise it will change you.” Hence, I felt the urgency to do it. I caught up in about 3 weeks.
Reading God’s Word changed me.
I fell in love with the Old Testament. My confidence began to soar. How in the world did I live before?
I had tried reading plans in the past… like beginning a new diet and exercise plan on January 1st and then it dwindled down to nothing due to the busyness of life. I did not know how much I was missing out.
Confidence. That’s what God’s Word gave me.
Confidence in Who God is.
Confidence in Who I am.
Confidence in Whose I am.
This prepared me for the life-changing decisions we would make as a family later in 2020. There is “No way Jose!” I would have been prepared to help my husband answer the call to do what God placed in his heart 20 years ago had I not been transformed by God’s Word. It changed me! I began to develop a deeper love for God, people, and God’s Kingdom.
July 29, 2020. My husband’s birthday.
He sat at his desk the entire day writing the vision for Shalom Church. A day prior, the Lord instructed him to spend his birthday writing the vision.
Effortlessly. That’s how my husband explains the process of downloading the vision the Lord gave him and putting it in writing. When we shared it with one of our pastors at Gateway Church, he said, “Your vision is clear. It’s not a half-baked vision.”
My husband had the calling for 20+ years, but not a clear vision.
And it was God’s perfect timing when He revealed it to him. It is imperative to have the vision clear and it must be from God, directly from the Throne Room.
Vision gives direction. No wonder God says,
Write down the vision and inscribe it clearly on tablets, so that one who reads it may run. (Habakkuk 2:2)
Which vision? The one He gives you.
With God on our side and a plainly written vision on hand, we can run freely towards our destination. And it takes faith. Trusting. Believing. Knowing that God will never leave us nor forsake us.
My dear mother helped me memorize several verses and Psalms when I was little.
Some of the first verses my mother taught me at a young age are:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
A day before Thanksgiving 2020, my family and I met with Pastor Stokes Collins (campus pastor at Gateway Church NRH) and a few other pastors from his team to bless and send us.
It was the most amazing, intimate, loving, and supportive moment we had ever experienced as a family. We felt God’s embrace and approval.
When Pastor Stokes placed his hands over my husband and me and said, “We say Yes! to Shalom Church. Gateway says Yes! to this vision” it was so reassuring and affirming.
Standing at the altar in the sanctuary of Gateway’s NRH building was a bittersweet moment for me. On the one hand, I felt sad to leave. Our hearts have been so blessed there. Our daughters grew up in Gateway. I cried on the inside of me.
But on the other hand, I was at peace knowing that we are moving in God’s will for us and our family.
On December 5, 2020, we had the launch service of Shalom Church. It was a wonderful service. Spirit-led and Spirit-filled.
That’s when we felt we stepped out of the boat. We sunk our feet in the water. And we began taking the first few steps in the new direction for our family. It’s a little scary, to say the least. But God moves when we move. He shows up when we take the first step in faith. Faith moves God.
It’s exciting. I’m excited. I never dreamed of being excited to serve my Savior, my Creator, my Heavenly Father in this capacity. I never thought I would be happy to step out in this crazy adventure of faith. Our daughters are happy and excited.
This is my story.
I fought with God… as Moses did.
I surrendered to God… as the prophet Isaiah did.
I’m learning to trust God… as King David did.
I’m finding my new life rhythm doing God’s will, executing His agenda and helping those He sends our way.
I am thrilled to work alongside my husband on a new discipleship curriculum we plan to publish and release by the end of 2021 which we will make available to English and Spanish-speaking churches, The Blessing: God’s Desire for Israel, the Church, and You and Your Family. We are equipping leaders to equip the Body of Christ, not just within Shalom Church, but to bless other congregations as well.
2021 and beyond. What are we believing for?
None of us can guarantee what 2021 will hold. Could it be another year of “Totally Unexpected” life changes, world events, tests of our faith, patience, endurance? Could it be a year of totally unexpected harvest, opportunities, and blessings we’ve never seen before?
In the midst of it all, to us who believe in Jesus, there is a greater hope that extends far beyond the present, and an inexplicable peace that surpasses all human understanding.
Whatever the future holds, let’s remain steadfast in the faith, hope, and love.
I’m at peace, learning to trust that it’s all going to be okay. That all is going to be well with my marriage, my family, my soul, and my wonderful new Shalom Church.
I pray that you and I learn to be thankful “in” the midst of the problems.
I pray that you and I worry less and trust more, compare less and encourage more, talk less and pray more.
I pray that whatever the year brings, we can stand in the midst of the mountains and valleys and savor the beauty within, feeling confident that all will be well. That no matter what happens we can still stand with our faith in Jesus and in the midst of tears find joy, in the midst of calamity find abundance, in the midst of chaos find peace.
I pray that we remain in one accord, stand unafraid of the totally unexpected, and trust.
May we continuously sing: It is well with my soul.