Dear Fellowship Family,
As we write this letter with so many of your names, faces, and stories on our minds and in our hearts, we are experiencing joy, excitement, thankfulness, sadness, amazement, and gratitude.
For those who like to get right to the point, here it is; we are moving to Stockbridge, Michigan because God has clearly called Josh to serve as the Senior Pastor of Crossroads Community Church. For those of you who like a good "God-story," read below!
In March of this year, our family and church were in transitional places. Pastor Crawford was retiring soon. My (Sarah) father had recently passed away unexpectedly. Things were turbulent. Inside Josh's inbox was an email from a small church in Stockbridge, Michigan, looking for a senior pastor. We were not thrilled about rural village life, and the timing was terrible amid much personal and professional change. Josh politely declined their request for an interview, and we moved on.
Fast forward to mid-July; Pastor Jason was leading our Fellowship family, and Josh was enjoying being a part of the staff team! My (Sarah) family, while still grieving, was in a healthier place. Our summer was joyous and fun-filled. Another email from Crossroads Community Church in Stockbridge, MI, found its way into Josh's inbox. They were still looking for a senior pastor and wanted to check back in with him. The email sat in Josh's inbox for three days while we prayerfully considered whether or not to start a dialogue. Who would choose to live in such a tiny place? Being "suburban people," our family couldn't thrive there. And then there are those Michigan winters. We're native Texans, after all. How could we possibly entertain this idea?!
While we didn't want to say yes, the Spirit wouldn't let us say no.
On July 14th, Josh interviewed via Zoom with the pastor search team. The chemistry was out of this world! After speaking with them for 2-3 hours, Josh asked, "what's next?" I (Sarah) grabbed the calendar off the wall, and we planned a site visit for the following week.
The site visit weekend was a dream. We visited with the search team, the elders, the staff, and the ministry board. The kids got to have plenty of quality time with my (Sarah's) brother and his wife, who, in God's perfect plan, live only 15 minutes away from Stockbridge. The weekend concluded with a final meeting with the search team. After a mutual sharing of thoughts and feelings, we decided to submit to the next phase of the process, which was the candidating weekend. Josh would preach in view of a call on that Sunday, and the church members would vote on him as the man called of God to be their new senior pastor.
We flew to Detroit on August 13th. The night before, Josh was having some abdominal discomfort that wasn't going away. He picked up some medicine and hoped for the best until we got to Michigan the following afternoon. The plane ride was quite uncomfortable for him. As we landed, Josh has multiple calls and text messages from the search team. What was wrong? Our hotel in Ann Arbor lost all power due to a thunderstorm and would be without power all weekend. What were we going to do? Thankfully, a sweet family from the church offered up their home, complete with separate bedrooms for the kids, a trampoline, playground, and eleven chickens to tend - a paradise for our kids! We collected and ate fresh eggs, composted, and kept the doors unlocked. Rural living at its finest!
The evening of the 13th, Josh was feeling even worse. He couldn't get comfortable, and when he lost his appetite, we knew something was wrong. Josh decided to go to the emergency room. After several hours of testing and imaging, he found out - a recently passed kidney stone, plus a bonus stone ready to descend at any time. What timing!
The hotel power debacle, the kidney stone, and a power outage at the church were crystal clear messages to us that we were in the crosshairs. The enemy was shooting his fiery arrows of discouragement right at our hearts and minds. When we could have easily interpreted these circumstances as superstitious signs that we should abandon ship, we clung to Ephesians 6:16. We took up our shields of faith to extinguish the flaming arrows. In all of those off-putting circumstances, the Lord was MORE than faithful. He kindly provided us a more incredible place to stay, the kidney stone passed, and the church restored its power on Sunday morning.
On Sunday, August 15th, Josh preached to a packed house of 250 at Crossroads Community Church. After the service, the members cast their ballots while we waited in the hall, visiting with newcomers and attenders. Then, we were called up to the altar, where the search team announced that not only were there enough votes, but it was unanimous. When presented with the question, "Josh Lilly, will you follow the call of God to be our senior pastor," our oldest son, Micah, ran up to the front and gave his "yes" as Josh's representative. After Josh gave his official affirmative, the elders bestowed upon him a gift most sacred - a Hawaiian shirt.
After the official call, we had a house to find. With Stockbridge being a much smaller housing market, the pickings were slim. We toured as many homes as seemed desirable, and while we were discouraged by what we were finding, we didn't lose hope. Because God was calling us to Stockbridge, He was going to provide the right house. Sunday evening, as we perused the Realtor app, we stumbled across two homes that piqued our interest. Josh reached out to our local realtor to set up showings for the following day. Both were at the top end of our budget, but we hoped that one could work for us.
We arrived at "the Parman," a large, unique home on five acres on Monday morning. As we waited in the car for our realtor, the homeowner, Mindy, stepped outside to greet us and show us the various places we could park. She would remain on the property but would stay out of sight so we could tour unbothered. As we toured the home, we noticed books on the shelves by one of Josh's favorite theologians, R. C. Sproul. We came to the backyard, where Mindy was. As we talked briefly with her, we asked if she would like to walk around with us, to her great delight. Mindy showed us around the acreage, the stocked pond, and the pumpkin patch. She welcomed Micah and Zach into the patch, where they picked six pumpkins straight from the vine to take back to our host home. Mindy told us all of the upgrades and systems she put in place. At one point in the conversation, Josh mentioned seeing the Sproul books and that he would be pastoring a church nearby. Mindy's eyes widened, and she asked us one question - "Are you a homeschooling family?" When we said yes, her eyes welled up. Mindy prayed for a homeschooling family to have her home. She had also been praying for several years that a reformed preacher would come to town. Apparently, the gospel is not nearly as accessible in this part of Michigan as in Atlanta. Well...here we were on both accounts! The reformed preacher with his homeschooling family! We thanked Mindy for the tour and her hospitality and went on our way.
After lunch, our realtor called. Mindy told him we forgot our pumpkins and that we should pick them up that afternoon. When we pulled around back, we started loading up our six pumpkins. As we pulled around back to the pumpkin patch Josh said a silent prayer, "Father, we really like this house, but it is a bit too expensive for us. If you want us to have it, please have Mrs. Mindy come back out to greet us and offer to lower the price." Josh prayed silently; I (Sarah) didn't know about this prayer. Yet. As we were loading the pumpkins, Mindy came back out to greet us, told us how much she enjoyed our family, and that she would be praying for our move to Michigan. We thanked her again for her generosity and thoughtfulness. She did not mention price, so Josh just hid this prayer in his heart, and we moved on to the next house.
When we arrived at the second house, our realtor got out of his car, puzzled. "You won't believe what just happened. The Parman’s homeowner reached out to me and sang your praises. She wants your family to have her house, and if price is an issue, she will come down. " What?! How?! Only God. Josh immediately shared with me about his prayer and, in typical Josh fashion, followed it up with "wrap it up, God has spoken, nothing to see at this house." We swiftly put our best offer in, but it was well below the asking price. Mindy and her husband accepted quickly! We are deeply thankful for the home that awaits us, and the legacy Mindy and her husband are leaving. Praise God for His people and their generosity!
As for selling our home in Hickory Flat, the Lord has again been more than faithful to provide. After buying our house less than a year ago, we have been offered an amount beyond what we ever expected for its sale. Not only will we afford our new Michigan home, but we will be able to purchase lawn and snow equipment needed to maintain our property. The Lord is meeting every single need.
When this process started in July, our prayer was for open doors to either stay wide open or slam decidedly shut. We never expected a call to a pastorate to move this quickly - they usually don't - and with this amount of favor. I (Sarah) have found myself laughing as if I am 90 years old and about to have a baby. I know how Abraham's Sarah felt! Is this real? Can this be happening? This is moving so fast! But watching the events of the past six weeks has renewed our faith in ways we didn't know needed renewing.
We feel all the feels. Fellowship, you have been our family for the past 4.5 years. Through our time here, we have been picked up, restored, and strengthened. Now, as we look forward to establishing in Michigan and to what God has for us there, we look back at our dear family with the deepest gratitude for what God did here for all of us.
Thank you, Fellowship, for loving our family well.
Josh, Sarah, Micah, Zachary, Hannah