Stephen and Amber Cowart joined up with Covenant during our core group phase, after a church that they had been a part of closed its doors. At the time they started coming to core group meetings, their just-weeks-old baby Frankie was very ill, hooked up to all kind of monitors and tubes, at high risk for SIDS. I remember meeting them and being so sobered by their situation. The loss of a church they loved. The stress of a medically-fragile infant. It felt like a weighty responsibility, to walk alongside people who were experiencing so much hard all at once. And honestly, I was a little afraid. Not of the Cowart's, really. Just of the “real life” that they brought with them. In real life, churches close their doors (a sobering thought for any church, but especially a brand new church plant), babies get sick, spouses and children die, marriages crumble, people hurt. And as the church, we are called to enter into the real lives of our brothers and sisters, weeping when they weep and rejoicing when they rejoice. And there we were, right at the beginning, with an opportunity to do just that.
I remember begging God to spare Frankie's life and heal her body. I remember pleading with the Lord to spare Stephen and Amber the pain of losing their child. And He graciously did. Seeing Frankie now, one would never know she had such a rough, scary start in life. She is a living, breathing, bouncing, beautiful display of God's mercy and power to heal. Frankie Cowart, and Stephen and Amber's response to her illness, was one of the first opportunities God gave Covenant to “be the church.” To bear one another's burdens and to move toward those who are suffering with compassion. Honestly, I am not sure how good of a job we did. And yet, God used our bumbling inexperience to glorify himself and draw Stephen, Amber and their new family at Covenant closer to himself.
Like Kyle and Courtney, Stephen and Amber represent a huge answer to some very specific prayers that I prayed for Covenant. For a long time, Covenant really struggled with having someone consistent to lead the music for Sunday service. We had a few different people who could help occasionally, but because of crazy work schedules, no one could do it consistently. I know it was a big stressor for Daniel, who was often having to scramble to find someone at the last minute. It was so hard for Tim and for me to watch this need go unmet, and yet it was a need that we simply couldn't meet. And so we prayed and prayed and prayed. I remember being stunned when I heard that Stephen was stepping into lead music regularly- it had been a need that had been such a struggle for so long, and then, just like that, God provided. Not ever having been part of the music team, I don't know exactly all that goes on with serving in this way, but I am certain that it has required thousands of hours of sacrifice on the part of Amber and Frankie and Harry, releasing their husband and dad to serve Covenant in this way for so long. And I am exceedingly thankful.
Stephen and Amber are another one of those couples who I have mostly watched and learned from at a distance. Until recently, our circles of life and ministry at Covenant haven't overlapped all that often, but that has never stopped me from being in awe as I have watched the way they have given so much of themselves, every gift that they have and some gifts that they don't have, to serve Covenant and love and care for their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and, quite literally, random people they meet walking along the road.
Amber's willingness to make herself uncomfortable and follow her husband, even in doing things that are hard for her, is truly admirable. Tim and I have very similar gifts. Following my husband is not usually difficult for me because our common giftings often put us on the same page much of the time anyway. Stephen and Amber are gifted very differently, which means, for Amber, following her husband often requires costly sacrifice and a lot of personal discomfort. This makes Amber's faithfulness to follow all the more beautiful and challenges me to ask myself in what ways I am sacrificing and choosing hard things rather than just doing the things that come easily to me.
Amber is the first person who taught me how to pray. In the first couple of years of Covenant, we did a training class that required participants to take a spiritual gifts inventory. I was in a group with Amber going over the results of the inventory, and one of her highest categories was “intercession.” Intercession was one of my lowest. So, I asked Amber how and in what ways she prayed, and she explained some of the things she did to cultivate her prayer life. It would take a couple years after that conversation before the Lord would cause the seeds that were planted that day to bear fruit, but I remember that being the first time I had a desire, or even any interest, in becoming gifted in the area of intercession.
Friend, I am so thankful for you. God has used your prayers to hold up my arms when I was struggling and to pick me up when I was falling. Your continual example of costly obedience and a willingness to make yourself uncomfortable has been so encouraging to me and instructive to my heart. Your perseverance to press on, even when it is hard, is a testimony to God's grace at work in your life, and it causes me to praise God and stand in awe of his power and his tender mercy and faithful love toward his children, proof that he will never let us go. I am praying that the Lord will continue to give you help and encouragement to carry on in the midst of difficulty and give you an ever-increasing enjoyment of Jesus and the peace that he promises to give to those who are his.