Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gather Round (and get comfortable) Lil Children: After the Summer of 1998

During my freshman year at ECU, I was invited to spend a week as a counselor at a Christian camp.  I had no idea what to expect as I had only spent a few weeks at camp (which was mostly staying in college dorms or hotels) when I was in middle and high school.  However, I was really excited for the opportunity and fell in love with the children I worked with that week.

I also met a guy, Chris, who offered to "help" me teach a class which consisted entirely of watching Veggie Tales videos with children and talking about them.  He was a nice guy, but I couldn't figure out why he was coming back each day to "help" since all I was doing was pressing "play" on the VCR.

Besides, I had a boyfriend.  
And he had a girlfriend.  

And he happily broke up with his girlfriend that week.  I thought it was odd and slightly mean that he was celebrating the fact that they broke up.  It was also a little crazy when she came to the camp later that week with some of his other friends, Heather and Troy, and tried to mend things.  Chris and Troy played basketball, Heather sat in a corner and read a book.  I'm not sure what ex-girlfriend was doing.

It was all very awkward.  

However, I also learned that this guy was crazy about the camp.  I knew he wanted to live there forever and one day become the manager.  I met his niece, Katie, who was all of 4 months old, as he proudly introduced her to the camp staff.  I thought he was nice and then at the end of the camp we went our separate ways.

I continued to date the same guy through college until the end of my junior year.  And then decided that we were not going to be long term and we went our separate ways.  Around that time I was hanging out with another friend, Craig, and one night we decided to run by the camp to see some of our friends leading worship.

Or maybe we were leading worship.  
I don't quite remember.  
I'm an old lady.  

Anyhow, I distinctly remember saying to him as we pulled up, "Man, I just love it here.  I could live here forever."

And he said, "You need to marry Chris Avery.  He loves this place, too."

And I just laughed and got out of the Jeep and went about my business.

I was not trying to date anyone

So, the summer went on, and somehow I ended up spending a lot of time with this Chris Avery through an odd series of events including beating him at arm wrestling, being given VIP tickets during a Burlap to Cashmere concert at Carowinds (always pays to sit in your assigned seats even when they are 3 rows from the back of the amphitheater and no one is ahead of you for miles and miles and miles of rows), riding a 4 wheeler through the woods and getting covered in mud and ticks (worse fear of my life next to cancer and death), as well as other crazy adventures.  I ended up realizing that I really liked this guy and when he was returning to JBC (now JU), I found myself really missing him.  

We dated and broke up and dated again through my senior year at ECU.  He proposed during my first year of teaching and we were married in the summer of 2002.  Later that year, we heard the camp manager was retiring and that the position would be vacant.  Obviously, Chris applied and we had visions of living and running the camp together.  We never thought anything about Chris being so young and fresh out of college and having little ministry experience or anything like that--we just knew that the Lord had placed a serious desire in our hearts for that place.  

Of course Chris didn't get the job.  And we applied at a few other ministries and ended up moving to a town about 2 hours away from my hometown.  We were also scheduled to work another week of camp two weeks after we moved--and found out that we were expecting our first child on the first day of the camp.  

We spent the next few years raising children, figuring out ministry, figuring out our paths, leaving our first ministry and moving to our current location, and keeping it all together.  Every summer at least one of us volunteered at the camp.  We spent a few anniversaries at the camp in the dean's cabin--well, the kids and I stayed in the Spider Shack of Doom while Chris slept in the dorms.  

So romantic.  

But the camp was never far from our hearts.  We always had it in the back of our minds that it was where we were supposed to eventually end up.  Our children fell in love with the place.  They cried when we left at the end of our weeks at camp and looked forward to each summer.  But we kept plugging away at our jobs and being happy where we were at our current church and going about our business.  We were being renewed and refreshed by our current church.  We were being reminded over and over again how blessed we were to be a part of a good church with good leadership and good people.

And we prayed that God would remove our passion for the camp if we weren't supposed to be the family that worked there. 

But we could never shake it far from our minds.

And then things started taking a meandering (yet dramatic) turn. 

Last spring, I was fresh off the tour with my student group.  I was loving my work at MACU, I was perfectly content with our situation, and I was really starting to get into my groove.  I was loving working 3 days a week, Molly was loving her school, and life was relatively good for the Averys.  

Until I went to a friend's retirement party.  She had worked at my last school and I loved her so, so much.  While at the party, I was surrounded by my friends and past co-workers that I had dearly missed.  I didn't expect the wave of emotions that followed me after the party.  I tried to push them aside, but I kept feeling this big pull to leave MACU and go back to the public schools.  I couldn't figure it all out--especially after all the events that led me to leave the public schools in the first place.  And I couldn't explain the timing.  I had no idea what was happening, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to explore local teaching options.  I wasn't particularly excited about the feeling--I wasn't ready to go back to the day in, day out routine of public schools.  I prayed and prayed and prayed and asked God for some much needed clarity.  I was so confused about my feelings that it was time to leave--because wasn't He the one that orchestrated things so well for me to go to MACU?  

And yet, I couldn't shake any of it.  

I called the Arts Director for Pitt County and met with Molly's music teacher to see if there were even local options.  It turns out that there were PLENTY of openings for the fall.  They both seemed really positive after our conversations that I would be able to find a job in the county.  The Arts Director kindly made several phone calls and emails on my behalf and kept plugging my name.

Nothing happened. 

I became irritated with the situation I was in--I wasn't really wanting to leave MACU.  I loved my schedule, I loved my students, I loved what I was able to do.  I was so unsure of what was happening.  On a whim, I asked a friend in Beaufort County if there were any positions opening in her county--and she immediately replied she knew of one at a 4th and 5th grade school.  We shared a few emails and I talked to the music teacher who was leaving, but nothing seemed to come from the situation. 

Nothing at all.  The semester at MACU was coming to a close and I had to sign my contract for the following year.  I felt so conflicted because I really felt that I would not be returning--but I had no interviews, no job offers, nothing on the table to back it up.  I was so confused.  And around that time we were also faced with several financial concerns.  Returning to the public schools (with my completed master's degree) would greatly fill some of the holes in our budget.  But again, no options, no clue what was happening, just a big feeling of "you need to return to public schools."

I kept waiting for a sign from the Lord that it was all going to work out.  I kept waiting for the Lord to send a neon arrow with clear direction.

And He kept me waiting. 

I had to have a difficult conversation with my supervisor at MACU.  It was very weird to try to explain to someone that I wasn't entirely convinced that I was supposed to sign my contract.  I decided that a lot of my hesitation was the fact that we were dealing with some financial difficulties at the time.  I couldn't explain my feelings well because I didn't even understand what was happening.  My journal entries from that time had so many pleas for direction and help.  The meeting was awkward, but I was glad I had the opportunity to speak from my heart.  My supervisor was very gracious, and we agreed for me to sign my contract and move from there.  

About a month later, after hearing nothing from the local school system (which was ridiculous because there were so many available positions--they all closed or were filled internally due to the budget), the principal from the Washington 4th and 5th grade school called to invite me interview for a music position.  She called me the very next day after the interview and offered me the job.  I accepted and it was another awkward time because it was so close to the start of the new semester and I knew I was leaving MACU in a bind.  

I. felt. terrible.  

I didn't get to properly say goodbye to the students or staff, I didn't give the university time to interview and find a replacement--I felt awful and terrible, and yet, I had a strong sense of peace that I was doing the right thing.  I knew this position would afford me time to be at home in the evenings and our budget would be far less pinched from month to month.  I knew this was a great move for our family, but I still felt badly.  

After an abrupt change of employment, I settled into my new position.  Things were good.  Any worries I had about returning to work in a public school were quickly erased.  Molly was starting to make new friends and we were finally experiencing the beautiful feeling of a little bit of breathing room in our budget.  We were able to take care of several doctor's appointments and expenses.

And then it was publicly announced that Mike, the current camp manager, was coming to work at our church.

Obviously, since Chris was on staff at the church we heard that this was a possibility long before it became public knowledge.  However, we had no idea if it would even come to pass.  

In the meantime, I tried my best to ignore the fact that I was already working in Washington.  I tried to ignore the fact that it was Chris' dream job.  I tried to ignore the fact that it was just all too, too, too convenient.  Or perhaps divine.  I chose to live in denial.  I didn't even want to jump to conclusions.  It would have been too perfect.  

We made sure that a few key people in the church knew that Chris was applying for the camp position. We made sure that a handful of our closest friends and prayer partners would pray with us through this process.  The bottom line was that even if Chris didn't get the position, we were happy at our current location and considered it our church home.  We never shared any of this with our kids until after the fact because we didn't want them to be disappointed if it didn't come to pass.  

The days leading up to the interview were beyond stressful for a number of reasons.  However, I spent majority of the day in prayer and asking for prayers from our family and friends who were aware of the situation.  I spent the evening of the interview on the couch finger knitting and praying for my husband.  

Chris returned home from the interview feeling confident that he had done as well as he could have.  We waited and found out the next evening that Chris had gotten the job. It was, and still is, almost a shock.   

Chris will officially start his position as the Camp Manager somewhere around March 5th.  We will plan to move sometime after that--especially since Molly and I drive to Washington everyday for school.  Our plans are to remain members of our current church--it's our church home and we are happy there.  We love the people and we want to provide a little bit of stability for our kids.  Chris will have to spend a lot of Sundays away speaking at different churches, but the girls and I still want to remain involved at CC. 

It's an overwhelming feeling of shock and elation--and most days it hasn't even sunk in yet that we're in this transition.  However, one look at the boxes around our home brings me back to reality.

But it all makes sense--going back to the summer of 1998.  We can look back and see how the Lord worked through us and through situations over the past decade to prepare our family for this season.

And we are beyond blessed and excited about all of the changes that are coming.  

Chris and I at the Washington waterfront.
Photography by Lauren Thorn.


Now, if you've read this entire post, please give yourself a cookie. You totally earned it.

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