Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month: Part Five

Amber Cowart

Frankie, Stephen, Harry and Amber Cowart

Frankie, Stephen, Harry and Amber Cowart

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.

Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month: Part Four

The last two ladies I want to write about for Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month (I do realize that was last month, but I appreciate these ladies all year long, so I am writing about them, even though it is no longer March!) haven't had the official title of “pastor's wife” for very long, but they are ladies I have been learning from and praising God for for many years, and it is a privilege to share all God has taught me through them. Sticking with the previous posts, I will write about them in the order in which I met them.

Courtney McGinn

Phillip, Courtney, Ivy, June, Kyle and Mark McGinn

Phillip, Courtney, Ivy, June, Kyle and Mark McGinn

Kyle and Courtney McGinn were one of the very first families to join Covenant once we moved to Pearland. They found us through the Acts 29 website, and after just a couple interactions, they decided to lock arms with us to help us plant Covenant. We were early in core group phase then, which means we were doing nothing that looked or felt like “typical church” - no Sunday service, no Bible study, no Sunday school. We were meeting in a living room one night a week, eating a meal and talking and praying about what it looks like to be the church. And the McGinn's were in.

Following my usual pattern, I was shocked (yes, I know, one would think that by this point in the story that I would expect Jesus to build his church, just like he said he would... and yet, my astonishment continues every. single. time.). I just remember questioning why in the world would anyone, McGinn's included, want to join Covenant- we had nothing to offer. And I quickly realized that they didn't join because of what we could offer them- they joined because they wanted to offer back to God all that he had graciously given them by participating in building up his church.

And, as it turns out, we had been praying for Kyle and Courtney for a long time, long before we ever met them or knew their names. One of the earliest church planting conversations I had with Joy and Maggie in Louisville centered around children's ministry and the who/how/where/when of caring for the children of Covenant. All three of us acknowledged that this was a task that often fell to the pastors's wives, and while all three of us figured we “could” do it, none of us felt gifted or equipped to take on that role. So we prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed, asking God to provide someone with a love for children and who was gifted in lesson planning, scheduling, organizing and those myriad of skills needed in children's ministry.

Looking back, I can see now that most of those prayers were selfish and fearful- “Lord, I can't do this, please send someone else”- and I have no idea why, but God graciously answered them anyway by sending Kyle and Courtney and a few others, who have faithfully and selflessly served in Covenant Kids for years, creating and honing processes, schedules, lesson plans and activities, making it a place that is safe and fun, a place where children can come to learn about God and his word in a way they can understand.

After core group phase, we multiplied out into different community groups, and as our groups have multiplied again and again, transitioning from community groups to missional communities, most of my interaction with Courtney has been from afar, as our circles of life and ministry don't overlap all that often. And yet, that has not stopped the Lord for teaching me a great deal through Courtney and the way she lives her life.

Courtney loves people with great compassion. Compassion is making room in your heart for other people and their burdens. With compassion, there is a movement toward the person in need, a desire to be with, to show them that they are not alone. Courtney does this so well. She hurts when others hurt, and she bears the burdens of others, in the way that she prays, in the way that she serves and in the way that she gives of herself, often at great cost, to care for the needs of others.

Courtney loves Jesus with simplicity. Love God. Love others. These instructions Jesus gave to his followers aren't really all that complicated. And Courtney doesn't try to complicate them, even with some of the “big, hard, scary” stuff that comes with following Jesus. I will never forget the time, very early on in the life of Covenant, when we were made aware of an opportunity to sponsor medically-fragile Haitian orphans who needed to come to the US for medical care after the Haiti earthquake. Kyle and Courtney responded with a “yes” to the need almost immediately, explaining that their reasons for not doing it were based mostly on fear of the unknown and that those weren't good enough reasons to stop them. Governmental red tape prevented the orphans from ever actually coming to the US, but that didn't make their simple obedience any less amazing to me. That's not to say their obedience was easy. I am sure it was immensely difficult to overcome fear and say “yes” to a big unknown. But it was simple. And instructive to me, who often tries to complicate obedience by (endlessly) playing “twenty questions.”

Friend, you are an answer to so many prayers I have prayed. I thank God for the way he has gifted you and for you using those gifts to bless so many, inside and outside our church family, for all you have given to build up those around you. I have learned so much from you just by watching the way you love your husband and children and care for your family, friends, neighbors and the women in your circles. Your prayers, encouragement and example have been used by the Lord to strengthen my faith and challenge me to follow Jesus more simply. It has been a joy to watch you grow in counseling, in leadership and in doing things that are hard and uncomfortable for the sake of Christ. And I pray the Lord will continue to strengthen you, to help you enjoy Jesus more and to give you peace and rest, reminding you of your identity as a beloved child in whom he is well pleased.

Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month: Part Three

Stacey Mullins

Hank, Stacey, Justin and Zoe Mullins Not pictured: brand new baby Pearl Mullins

Hank, Stacey, Justin and Zoe Mullins Not pictured: brand new baby Pearl Mullins

The newest addition: Pearl Sparrow Ellis Mullins. She's just as awesome as the rest of them.

The newest addition: Pearl Sparrow Ellis Mullins. She's just as awesome as the rest of them.

I heard about Stacey Mullins long before I ever met her. The Mullins are those kind of people. The “your reputation precedes you” kind. I remember hearing about how loud and crazy Justin is and how sweet and fun Stacey is, and I remember meeting them and thinking that everything I had heard was exactly right. A good number of my interactions with Stacey in Louisville were in passing, at kids birthday parties or at periodic leader trainings or gatherings. And yet I remember enjoying it immensely and walking away encouraged every single time I had an opportunity to interact with her. When Stacey was pregnant with Hank, I had the chance to babysit Zoe (and Hank eventually!) from time to time, and it was a sweet privilege to get to know Justin and Stacey by getting to know their kids. One of my favorite Louisville memories is spending Eliza’s very first Christmas Eve with Stacey and Zoe and Hank, while Justin and Tim were both at work.

When Justin and Stacey “signed on” to plant with us in Pearland, I responded in disbelief (again). I remember telling Tim, “Um, they can’t move to Pearland, they are waaaaaay too cool for Pearland.” And it’s really true. Justin and Stacey are way cooler than the rest of us could ever hope to be…. And it is one of the many, many reasons I am so thankful they have been with us. Justin and Stacey have connected with people who would have been incredibly difficult for the rest of us to connect with, and their vision for making disciples brings an endurance to walk alongside people for the long haul that is truly awe-inspiring and has been so instructive and encouraging to me.

Stacey is a faithful disciple-maker. On numerous occasions over the last five years, Stacey has lovingly challenged me with the command Jesus gave his followers to make disciples. I have learned so much from her as I have watched her faithfully make disciples, often in the midst of her own difficulty and struggle, never using her situation as an excuse to not encourage and spur others on in their lives of learning how to follow Jesus.

Stacey has so much perseverance. Loving people and walking alongside them in their journey of becoming faithful followers of Jesus is a long road. It can sometimes (or often) seem like you are standing still or even going backwards. It requires a long view and a great deal of endurance to not give up or lose hope. Being able to see and rejoice over baby steps and tiny evidences of grace is a gift and a much needed one. And I have had the privilege of seeing all of this lived out before my eyes as I have watched Stacey and listened to her talk about the people she is loving and enjoying and walking with intentionally.

Friend, I am still sometimes amazed that you are here with us. I know the sacrifice of being in Texas has been costly and often painful for you and your family, and the tripping and stumbling and face-planting through trying to figure out how to plant a church and love people faithfully delivers its own set of bumps and bruises too. Watching you quite literally sacrifice daily your own preferences, your own comfort and your own desires in order to be here, pressing on to be grace to those God has placed in your path and care for those he has given you to love, has been humbling to me and has caused me to question how and in what ways I am making similar sacrifices for the sake of following Jesus. The times I have spent praying with you and listening to your heart have been some of the sweetest gifts the Lord has given me. I am so thankful for you and love you and your sweet family so much.

 

Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month: Part Two

Maggie Ainsworth

Lucy, Maggie, Shepherd, Dave and Trinity Ainsworth Photo Credit: Renee Bergman

Lucy, Maggie, Shepherd, Dave and Trinity Ainsworth Photo Credit: Renee Bergman

 

Shortly after Tim and I met Joy and Daniel, we met Dave and Maggie Ainsworth. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, Dave and Maggie were at the first dinner we were invited to at Daniel and Joy’s apartment. My first impression of Maggie was that she was way too serious to be my friend. And boy, am I glad that my first impression was terribly wrong! Dave and Maggie were our first community group leaders, and they taught us faithfully how to live as a family, modeling and instructing on how to care for one another and bear one another’s burdens. When our community group multiplied, we didn’t see them as much, and yet I was so thankful for any time we had together, as it was always fun and refreshing. Our last year in Louisville, Dave got a job at the same place where Tim was working, which meant they both worked second shift on Sundays, and Maggie and I began to meet most Sunday afternoons at a coffee shop to share our hearts and pray. This began a long-standing tradition of life-giving encouragement from Maggie.

Dave and Maggie were the first couple to “sign up” to move the Pearland to help plant Covenant, and I remember being stunned when Daniel told me they were “in.” I truly thought he was joking. We had been praying that people would join us to plant, and yet my astonishment at seeing those prayers answered showed me how weak and faithless my prayers had actually been. And yet, God saw fit to use Dave and Maggie to answer my wimpy prayers with a resounding “yes.” It strengthened my faith and gave me courage for this thing called church planting.

Throughout the years, God has continued to use Maggie to strengthen my faith, give me courage, lift me up when it is hard and cheer me on when I stumble (or, more accurately, face-plant) in this journey of following Jesus. The long-standing tradition of encouragement went from a coffee shop on a leisurely Sunday afternoon to late-night talks on the couch after our (now 7 between us) kids had gone to bed, and yet the encouragement was no less life-giving. In fact, it was more so. Because over the years, the encouragement has overflowed from experiencing much hurt and loss and difficulty and darkness, our own and that of the people we love dearly and strive to care for well, both inside and outside our own homes; we have found God’s grace sufficient in our weakness and the gospel powerful to bring hope and healing and light to all the sad and hard. I have learned so much from time spent with Maggie, listening to her and watching her live out her identity as a follower of Jesus.

Maggie loves people creatively and sacrificially. I remember the first time I heard Maggie say she wanted to send her husband Dave on a personal retreat. I was amazed that she was choosing to fully bear the work of all mealtimes, naptimes and bedtimes for her three tiny kids, for 24+ hours, not due to a job or any other “requirement,” only out of love for her husband and a desire to see him refreshed and encouraged. This is just one example of thousands I could share of Maggie choosing to love at great cost to herself.

Maggie is so courageous. She would say that she isn’t, but she is. From the uncertainty of fostering to a cross-country move to San Francisco, Maggie is consistently placing herself in situations where her own comfort is sacrificed and her faith is stretched, forcing her to remember the Christ is enough, that He is all she needs and that God is good and can be trusted.


Friend, I cannot believe that we are rapidly approaching one year of not living in the same city. You and Dave and Shep and Trini and Lucy, King's Cross and SF, are never far from my thoughts and prayers. My life has been shaped and continues to be shaped by your sacrificial love, much-needed encouragement and faithful prayers for me and my family.

Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month: Part One

All the appreciation-awareness months stuff is a pretty overwhelming to me. I can rarely keep up with all the different things I am supposed to appreciate and remember each month, and honestly, I don't even really want to try. And yet, when Crossway began an online campaign to make March into Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month, I have to say I was rather interested. I do realize that bringing this month to everyone's attention can seem pretty self-serving, but being aware of Pastor's Wives Appreciation this month has caused me to reflect on and pray for some ladies who I am super thankful for, and who I have learned much from, and I wanted to share them with you. Taking my cue from Daniel Davis, I am going to talk about them in the order in which I met them.

Joy Davis

Daniel, Annelise, Vivian, Joy, Simon and Reid Davis Photo Credit: Ambient Studios

Daniel, Annelise, Vivian, Joy, Simon and Reid Davis Photo Credit: Ambient Studios

Which means that, first up, there is Joy Davis. I met Joy when Tim and I first moved to Louisville and were invited to dinner by some thoughtful neighbors (turned sweet friends) who were trying to help us meet people (who better to introduce us to than fellow Texans, they reasoned). Tim and I became fast friends with Joy and Daniel, and we ended up part of the same church family, part of the same community group and, eventually, apprenticing under them, preparing to become community group leaders ourselves. We spent many nights at Daniel and Joy's apartment after their kid(s) had gone to bed, laughing, talking, playing Rock Band and, later on, dreaming and praying about church planting. In the nearly nine years since we met them, our lives have changed a lot (the addition of 8 kids between us being one of the not-so-small changes), and yet I am thankful that God has sustained our friendship through all the changes, the ups and downs, and I am exceedingly grateful for all I have learned from Joy.

Joy is a godly woman. She lived out biblical womanhood before my eyes long before I ever read a book about it or listened to a sermon on it. The way she loved her husband and child (and soon children!), the way she delighted in taking care of them, the way she worked so hard to grow in her roles as wife and mom, all of it honestly seemed rather odd to me at the time... and yet it was odd to me in a very attractive sort of way. God used Joy to begin to undo some of the lies I had been believing about being a woman and a wife and (eventually) a mother, simply by the way she lived. I learned just from watching her, and my heart was softened, and I was changed. I am writing in past tense because I am remembering the impact her life made at a time when I didn't really have a category for the way she was living, and yet, all of this is true to this day. Joy loves her husband and children fiercely and very well, and she is continually seeking to grow in the way she cares for them.

Joy is a fun friend. I think there was a time in our friendship when I might have been considered the “fun one.” But I don’t think that is really the case anymore. The challenges and struggles of my life the past few years has sobered me and made me much more serious, to the point that I sometimes forget how important it is to laugh and have fun. I can often focus on all there is to do, on how much is left undone, on the difficult and on the sad, and then I forget to just be and enjoy the moment. Joy faithfully reminds me of the need to have fun, the need to laugh, the need to enjoy being together. It is funny for me to sit here and think about how many times over the years Joy has said to me, “that was so fun,” “it was so good to just laugh” “we need to have some fun,” “let's do something fun.” She has said that so. many. times. And she is so right. Laughter, joy, pleasure, enjoyment is such an important part of our lives as believers- I mean, we have more reasons to laugh and be pleased and to enjoy than anyone else, right? I am thankful for Joy's example and encouragement to have fun and enjoy all that we have been given.


My friend, the range of my experiences shared with you over the years is amazing to me. So much life- major milestones, transitions, additions, losses, gifts, joys, sorrows, easy and hard- all shared with you. We have shared some ridiculous silliness, and we have shared some weighty seriousness. We have laughed, and we have cried. And through it all, the Lord has sustained us and grown us and kept us, as friends and as sisters. I praise God for His grace that is able to use all that we have been through and all that will come to conform us into the image of His Son. And I am so thankful for your willingness to be used by Him in that way, in my life and in the lives of so many others.