Remembering Mark

Rob and I received unfortunate news this week. Dr.R. Mark Beeson of Granger Community Church passed away. I first met Mark when I was eighteen years old when Rob started working at Granger Community Church in 1992. Rob and I spent the next 22 years of our lives leading with Mark and Sheila, serving Jesus together, walking through hills and valleys, and often awestruck at the miracles happening in our very presence.

Mark was a man who loved Jesus with all of his heart. He gave every breath for Jesus, his family, and the Church we built together. There are no words for this loss. Rob and I will be processing this significant loss in our lives for many years to come.

Mark spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours pouring into us everything he knew about Leadership. Directly off the plane from our Honeymoon at Disneyworld, we drove to some small church in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, to hear a guy named John Maxwell talk about courageous Leadership. Over the years, we spent time together at scores of leadership conferences at Willow Creek and Saddleback Church in California.

For Mark, leadership meant service. He served by doing things like parking in the furthest away parking space so others could have a better parking spot. He mowed our 2 acre lawn once while Rob was in Sudan and my girls were very young. When we obtained the land to finally build a building where the Church could meet after meeting in movie theaters for so many years, I remember Mark coming out of the six-foot-tall weeds, grinning ear to ear. He said he’d been walking the property and praying for those who would stand to meet Jesus there in the years to come. There are countless memories like these.

Mark was the first person to teach me about wildlife photography. Once I was showing him some photos of mine that I thought remarkable. He kindly talked to me about what makes a photo come alive. He said, “When you look at a person or an animal, what is the first thing that signals life to you? What reflects joy and radiance? It’s the eyes! Through eyes, we see the essence of a person or creature.” He smiled and told me, If you can capture the essence of a living being through their eyes, you will always have a fantastic photo.” He was so right. His photography skills were stellar. I am a better photographer because of Mark and his passion for capturing the essence of what is alive in a picture.

Mark gave Rob and me our first real hiking boots when we were young and would hike miles together in the mountains. Another time, he gave our kids a huge tent so we could go camping as a family. Once, Mark brought the girls all mini-Cabela’s flashlights so they could go on adventures together. He loved adventure and gave us more opportunities than we could ever count to do just that.

Those adventures brought so much richness to our lives. We circled the globe a few times, landing in places like the Taj Mahal, hiking desolate trails on the Sea of Cortez, and Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home where Rob and I had the privilege of a lifetime eating a barbecue lunch with Jimmy and Rosyln Carter. We were able to travel back and forth to Southern India countless times. In India, I learned about church planting from men and women practicing microchurch before microchurch was a thing.

Those were all thrilling and extraordinary opportunities, but the one memory of Mark that I will hold close to the rest of my life is of him at Camp Adventure in Syracuse, Indiana. Mark met Jesus at this United Methodist camp when he was in seventh grade. When Rob and I stepped into his life in 1992, I never imagined I would learn most about Jesus’s gentle heart and what Heaven on Earth looks like from leading middle school camp with Mark and Sheila.

We served at camp together for seventeen years. Mark masterfully created an environment of life, love, and joy that I have only rarely seen since. I remember walking Maddie to the restroom way after camp light’s out one night. We saw Mark with his hand on the wall of a cabin, head down, praying for the campers inside. He did this every night of every camp he ever led, and only a very few knew. His heart for middle and high schoolers and how well he loved them molded and shaped me more than the twenty years of Willow Creek Leadership Summits or John Maxwell conferences ever taught me.

We will miss him. His life and legacy will live on through us, our kids, and many generations of kids to come. I am so deeply and profoundly grateful for the lifetime of things he taught me over the twenty-two years we served at GCC together.

We will see you on the other side Mark. Rest in the arms of the Savior you love so deeply.

Sabbatical Time!

Twenty one years ago this month, I was flying in a 5 person airplane over the African savannah. I spotted a lion running down a path, watched the Nile river stretch as far as I could see, wondered at the endless hills and treetops, what sorts of animals were playing in the jungle below me.  I was on the adventure of the lifetime just as Rob was in Indiana, starting the adventure of his lifetime.

I remember flying and praying, and praying and praying for him, knowing our lives were about to change drastically. We were engaged, a world apart. My engagement ring shining on my finger, a promise of a new life together. He was moving from the South Suburbs of Chicago to Granger, Indiana. He was starting a job at Granger Community Church, and picking out an apartment for us to live in after we got married.

Our first few years together were action packed non-stop, leading an amazing group of young men and women through their years of middle school and high school. We poured out our lives to them, lived life with them, called them our own in so many ways.  Our hearts were moved by their commitments to Jesus, to each other, to us. We chased rainbows together, following God’s promise of His faithfulness to the Ends of the Earth.  We saw amazing things happen.

Then we started having babies of our own. And everything changed. Our hearts expanded more than we ever could have imagined. God’s blessing and purpose so obvious as each one of them were born. Sisters.  God gave me three sisters to raise. What a gift. An amazing and perfect gift I don’t deserve. A gift I am still trying to unravel the mystery of every single day. Raising girls is the most rewarding yet challenging thing I’ve ever done. I grew up with all boys and all boy cousins. I am a 40 year old woman, still trying to figure out how girls think and why they do what they do…but it is a joy. A deep, deep joy that faces me every day.

Rob and I have been on this long journey together. Twenty one years of serving at Granger Community Church. Twenty years of marriage. Fifteen years of being parents to the most amazing girls in the world. And now, we get to rest. We get a sabbatical for two months this summer. We get to write and think and dream and rest.

The first night of our sabbatical started with a rainbow over our house. A stunning, fire blazing rainbow that lit up the whole sky with its light and color. A promise I don’t understand, I don’t have figured out, but a promise I recognize as hope and joy. And we’ll take it. We are looking forward to the adventure of a lifetime this sumer.

20 Year Celebration

Twenty years. Twenty years is a long time. As our twentieth anniversary at GCC has been approaching, I have been amazed at the comments people have made.  Ones like, “No one does anything for 20 years anymore.” Or “Did you start ministry when you were 10?” Generally people have been shocked, not realizing Rob and I have been at GCC for that long.

I was 19 when we came to Granger, Rob was 21.  Mark and Sheila Beeson have given us a place and space to grow and change over the decades, finding ourselves, finding Jesus, and leading others in the Jesus way all the while.

Last Friday night, we celebrated our 20 year anniversary with some friends from GCC in literally “The Party Of The Century.”  We were humbled, amazed, honored…there truly are not enough words in the human language to express the way our hearts exploded with the outpouring of love from the staff, friends, and family who came along to celebrate.

Several friends sent video messages, Pastor Paul Wirth from Relevant Church in Tampa, Florida, Dustin Holiday from Christian Fellowship Church near Washington DC, and Pastor Rick Warren from Saddleback Church in California. Rajendran from India recorded a message about how grateful he is for Rob’s faithfulness when it comes to serving the people of India…it was all so very meaningful.

There was an amazing media piece with stories from our lives told by others, photos someone had stealthily stolen from my house (with a little help of 3 young accomplices) draped on a clothesline at the GCC property. It was stunningly artistic, and took our breath away.

Our girls had made a secret media with the help of Elle White and Kristin Baker. It brought both Rob and I to tears. It was so beautiful and funny…we are so grateful.

Rev. Dan Gute, our youth pastor made a surprise appearance, speaking words of life and hope into us, and his lovely wife Dianne came too.  We could not believe it.  Both sets of our parents came, along with Rob’s sister Lisa, our brother in law Jim, and our niece and nephew.  What a blast to have all of us in the same room together!

The Senior Management Team each took a minute to say a kind word to Rob and I, and we were humbled by the gracious things they said.  The Culps made a special Rob and Michelle tribute, and we laughed so, so hard.  I was touched when the Culps were transformed back into Dan and Lisa, and they sang the Song “Captivate Us” by Watermark, and played the You Tube video I made of my Instagram pics.  It was a fabulous surprise.

The shock of our lives came when Trace Rorie and the GCC band began playing an old school Petra song.  Those who know Rob well know what a huge influence Petra was on his early faith in Jesus. Whenever he tells the story of how he deditcated his life to Jesus, he talks about the Petra songs that sunk deep down and made him think, change, and grow.

As Trace began singing the song, all of the musicians started looking sort of nervous. I felt bad for them because I thought these old Petra songs must be “new” to them and they might not know them so well.  I felt even worse when they really messed up and had to stop the song. Then it clicked. I put my hand over my mouth as Trace said something about “Four time Grammy Award Winning Artist…” and JOHN SCHLITT FROM PETRA WALKED ON THE STAGE!!!!!”

I don’t know if either of us will ever be able to recover from the shock. John Schlitt is a super-mega-famous Christian Rock star, and has been for decades.  BUT, to us, he’s way more than that.  We went to his concerts as high-schoolers and middle-schoolers ourselves, acted crazy and had fun…but always left profoundly impacted by Petra’s love for Jesus and their compassi0n for kids like us.  John Schlitt was the guy who sang to us while we worshipped Jesus alone in our rooms, or  listening to headphones while walking to high school.  Petra’s songs literally ignited our faith and gave us courage to stand up for what we believed in. The voice of Petra brought each of us to our knees in countless moments of standing before Jesus.

John Schlitt’s presence with us there on Friday night was so symbolic of our lives coming full circle.  It was crazy.

 

 

I have to tell you, one of the funniest moments of my life is captured in this photo below, where Pastor Dan (our youth pastor), and Rob’s mom are talking with John Schlitt.  His mom is telling John how she “put up with that loud music” for so many years, and Dan was telling John how he used to drop us off at Petra concerts and drive around the block about a thousand times so he wouldn’t have to stay and listen to the loud music.  John just laughed and laughed and thanked them over and over again for doing a great job in raising us.

I respected the man from afar for all these decades, but when I saw him speaking to these two, I was deeply moved. I was standing next to John when he spoke to my own dad. He spoke to my dad like they were old friends.  He thanked my dad over and over for allowing us to listen to his music growing up.  He said, “I know Chicago was a dark place to grow up. Thank you for allowing your children to listen to our music, hopefully we brought a little light.”  His words were profound and heartfelt. He spoke to each of our girls with respect and admiration, thanking them for how they celebrated us as their parents through their words on the video, and the letters they had each written us.

John’s humility and compassion were so obvious, and we are so, so blessed by the staff of GCC for allowing this to happen, and for everything they did to make us feel loved and honored.

Our worlds were rocked…literally…on Friday night.  Thank you to each person who came and celebrated with us, and those who celebrated with us by watching the service live stream at gccwired.com .  Our lives are permanently rocked by this amazing celebration.

 

Grocery Shopping For MC3

If you attend Granger Community Church or watched the news in our area, you’ll remember that in the past few years, GCC has held massive food drives in blizzards with off-road conditions as members delivered food to needy families.

I’ll never forget thinking to myself as I got a call from Rob, stranded on the side of the road in a snow pile, “How would those people get food in this blizzard?” I was so proud and grateful to be a part of a church that would drive across town in the middle of a snow storm to deliver boxes of food to people who didn’t have a way to fill their own pantries up with food.

Our food pantry at Monroe Circle Community center has been running smoothly for a few years, but our guests are in need of a food upgrade. The food we have given them in the past has been great, but consists largely of pasta, canned goods, etc. The people receiving these boxes have been nothing but thankful, but we think they deserve healthier food. Plus, our food pantry is just about empty!

That’s why this weekend at GCC we will be collecting food items from YOU and others like you who want to help, but aren’t really sure how to do just that.

I’m taking my girls shopping today and filling up one grocery cart with items from the list GCC has provided, and the other cart with regular stuff our family needs. We are excited about helping.

From Rob’s Blog:

August 11/12 the Granger Campus will host the first every Monroe Circle Food Drive. The purpose of the Food Drive is to stock Monroe Circle Community Center’s new and improved food pantry for 6 months with non-perishables items. Currently, MC3 distributes approximately 500 units of food each month to right at 300 families.

If we’re going to stock the food pantry with enough supplies to feed 300 families for six months, we need a total of 3000 units.

What’s in a unit? 8 Cans, 2 boxes, 1 Bag, 1 Jar.

One unit of food contains the following non-perishable items:

8 canned foods
1 box of cereal
1 box of prepared meal (like mac and cheese, hamburger helper, etc.)
1 bag of rice, beans, or pasta
1 jar of either peanut butter or jelly

1 unit will help one family one time for one month.
12 units will help one family two times per month for six months.
60 units will help five families two times per month for six months.
120 units will help ten families two times per month for six months.

Happy shopping friends. Your gifts of food will go a long way to helping our friends who come to Mc3 when their own pantries are empty.

What I Saw While Serving Communion

Communion

Rob and I were asked to help serve communion for Granger’s Good Friday service. For me, there is no greater honor in the church than to offer the hope of salvation when we can stand together and serve as we say to each person, “The body of Christ broken for you”, and “The blood of Christ shed for you.”

I am always astounded at the different responses that people have as they receive communion.  Some openly weep.  Some look me right in the eyes and beam with joy.  Others go through the motions with no readable expression.

One elderly man was carried out of his wheelchair by a man and woman, who held him up on either side as he made his way toward us. The man wore a hospital bracelet. I am almost certain he came directly from the hospital because of the bandages he wore, and the frailness of his body. I was touched by the act of love this man and woman offered him by bringing him to church on Good Friday.  He was so close to Jesus in the sense that his days on this earth are limited. His hands were so weak that he could not pull the bread off the loaf. I had the privilege of breaking  it off and handing it to him. As I did, I could not help but wonder if this is the last time this man would receive communion on this side of heaven.  What if he wakes up tomorrow, and it isn’t the broken bread in his hand, but the real hand of Jesus?

Another family came up, their son obviously new to the communion scene. His dad held his hand, placed it on the bread and showed him how to break it off and dip it in the cup. The boy smiled so brightly and his dad was so proud. I couldn’t believe I got to be a part of that special moment.

As we stood and served, I had this profound sense of holiness and redemption. Perfection that lives in heaven that is brought to earth when believers come together to remember that He died, rose, and lives again that we might be forgiven and redeemed.

Living in those few minutes of perfection spoke deeply into my soul as one after another received the body and blood of Christ. Some looked Jesus in the eyes. Some shrugged it off as their crumbs fell to the floor.  Others walk away transformed unknowingly by a grace they have yet to understand.

I was changed, and so grateful for the opportunity to serve that elderly man perhaps his last communion, and the little boy who held his dad’s hand and smiled.

Once Upon A Midnight Clear

 

Our church is putting on a spectacular show this week called Once Upon A Midnight Clear.  The setting is a circus with an  amazing, dazzling, surprising cast and crew.

One of the characters is especially special-Flangi the Hooper (A.K.A. Whitney Wegner).

Tickets are still available here

awesome photo of Whit by Mark Beeson