ME & MY FAITH
AFTER WORKING AT A CHURCH
This is part 5 in a multi-part blog series about being ashamed, embarrassed, or accused by your past. Learning to accept God's grace and trust Jesus to change us as we follow Him.
If you missed any of the first posts in this series you can find them here:
Most of us have heard stories of people who have a hobby they really enjoy.
You’ve probably also heard stories of people who have turned those hobbies into a job or business only to discover years later that they don’t have the same love for the thing that they once did. The thing you once “got to do” evolved into something you now “have to do”. That’s about the best way I can describe the situation I found myself in 2019. But mine wasn’t a hobby turned into business per se.
I committed my life to Christ in my mid-twenties and over time I developed more and more interest in learning the Bible and discovering what it actually means to be a Christian. Like most people who start down that journey, it was something I pursued because I wanted to. I would get up earlier before work to read or stay up late at night after the kids went to bed to read my bible or work through a study. My desire to keep learning and growing ebbed and flowed for the first several years but in time it became a steady part of my life. And then I began sensing God calling me to go beyond what I felt was a “hobby level” faith and pursue a career in ministry. I had no idea what that meant or would entail. However, I did find out. I can still recall the words of the first pastor I spoke with about my desire to work in ministry. He said, "Listen, I love you, but you don't know what you're asking. Working in ministry is hard, sheep bite. And beyond the learning curve comes something that no one can prepare you for. The target you put on your back. The enemy ups his attacks on you and your family." At the time I heard what he said but it didn't really sink in. He was right, I didn't know what I was asking. But I couldn't shake this sense that I had to be obedient to what I felt God was calling me to. So, I persisted. I jumped in where I could. Learned what I could. And eventually, the opportunity came. I went from a career in building material sales to full-time ministry.
I started working at a church as a middle school youth pastor and for the next decade, I underwent a transformation. The faith I once pursued in the margins of my life because I could, because I wanted to, had morphed into a faith that I all too often pursued because I had to. Now it was my job. My paycheck was attached. People expected things. And even though my heart would ebb and flow, there was a tension inside that felt like I couldn’t let that show. I was now fully immersed in the blessing and turmoil of being a vocational Christian. Over time I was able to “move up” in ministry, taking on more responsibilities and eventually arriving at the coveted senior pastor position.
Years into that role, life as I knew it fell apart. My wife was unfaithful and after 20 years of marriage she opted out. I shared very candidly about that in a previous post in this series you can read here:
I had great friends around me and great support from key leaders in our church, which I was and still am so grateful for. But few jobs have your private life on display as the ministry does.
I’ve heard transparency and vulnerability described like this.
If you’re in your home and your curtains are open here and there and people walk by on the street, they can look in and see little glimpses of you and your life. This is transparency. Then there’s vulnerability. Now, you open the door and invite people in. You let them look around, open drawers, read things, and go where they want. Going through a divorce as a senior pastor was like forced vulnerability. Everyone was allowed into my inner private life. Needless to say, it was incredibly hard and unsettling.
These were the events that led to a sabbatical. A break from everything. I was able to step away for several months and begin to catch my breath, clear the fog, and start to think again. It was during this time that I wrestled immensely with the tension I felt about being a “paid Christian”. I took time to look inside and ask myself hard questions and give myself honest answers. What was I doing simply because I was a Christian and what was I doing because it was my Christian job? The answers that flowed onto my journal pages and the things I sensed God saying to me changed my life and continue to mold and shape me even now.
After several years in a new ministry as a new senior pastor, I think I had become too self-conscious. Then add to that a public divorce and all that entailed and I was walking around with my guard up. Ready to defend myslef. Struggling with what to do next. Fearful of losing my job. But more than losing my job... I was fearful of losing any future opportunity to serve God and do what I felt he called me to do. As wrestled with God about understanding me and my struggles He began shifting my focus off of me and my circumstances back to His word. It was slow and painful at first, reading because I wanted to. Truthfully I still didn't want to. It was during that time away, with rest for my body and soul that I was finally able to fall back in love with God's word and God's plans. Not church plans.
It was during that time that God pointed me to think about those around me that are oppressed. As I looked around, I kept telling God things like, “You know there aren’t really slaves where I live right? How in the world would I know who is oppressed?” And God kept prompting me to think differently. Push past the cliché answers. Until one day at a lodge in Canada, sitting in the quiet, praying and listening, an answer came. Kids. Help kids. They don’t get to choose how their parents spend their money. They don’t get to choose where they live or how they’re raised. In a perfect world, no kids would fall into the “oppressed” category. But we don’t live in a perfect world. In the days that followed God began to clarify a vision. A vision He wanted me to pursue because I love Him and love others. It had nothing to do with the church. It had nothing to do with my job as a pastor. In fact, it wouldn't even matter if I worked at a church or not.
That was where the dream of Blessing Beds was born.
Find kids who are sleeping on the floor and give them a bed. And not some hand-me-down, thrift store bed. Build them a high-quality, furniture-grade bed. New mattress, new pillow, new blankets. Find people who had the least and no means to change their situation and give them the best. Why this? Why beds for kids? No idea except that I know it was from God. His idea. His plan. Hand-delivered to a guy struggling with doing Christian stuff because it was his job and asking God for help re-learning how to follow Him rather than more church programs or ideas.
As you might imagine, having a dream and actually bringing it to life are two different things. On the one hand, I had so many questions. How much will this cost? Who’s going to pay for it? How will I find kids that need a bed? What if the parents could afford a bed but spend it on other things? Despite the questions, I had a real peace that if this was something God was inviting me to do, He would sort out all the answers. My part was to be faithful.
So, in January 2020 I placed this post in a local Facebook group,
“Hey Pullman area friends – this is something that God has put on my heart and mind for months, and now ready to get it rolling. This year I am helping bless kids that need bunk beds. If your kids or someone you know has kids sleeping on the floor or on a mattress on the ground, please contact me.”
That post generated over 500 requests, many needing multiple beds! I was simultaneously excited and panicked! “God, are you sure? I can’t afford to build all these!” “I’m in God, what’s next?” and day by day my faith grew, and I determined to let God sort out the details and just start. A dear friend of mine, Ron Liddle, came over and we spent days together in my basement workshop "roughing" out and refining our first attempt at a bunkbed.
From that moment on, God began providing resources, people, tools, lumber and so much more! With the help of some amazing friends, I turned my unfinished basement into a bed-building factory. I began to share the story with my friends and family on social media and support started rolling in from across the country. In the early days we set up an Amazon registry for people to buy mattresses and bedding and they would ship to my house. By two months in my entire living room had been converted into a warehouse to store the supplies that people were buying.
A woman contact me on Facebook and said, “I’m watching all this play out on these FB groups and you must be overwhelmed. Do you need help?” She built our first website and donation platform and started google sheets for sign-ups.
God introduced me to a graphic designer who fell in love with the idea and designed everything you now see at blessingbeds.com and our social channels – for free.
A young couple I had met at church but didn’t really know well reached out and asked about helping. That couple, Zach & Daisy went all in, and in the months to come we spent countless hours together, building, sanding, shopping, delivering, and living out blessing beds together. Another woman, hurt by the church, saw what was happening at blessing beds and reached out to help. She probably wouldn’t have come if it was a “church thing”. But by God’s very design it wasn’t a church thing it was a team Jesus thing. Her name is Wendy. Those and others who jumped in the mix early on became a core team and even better, became friends for life.
One of the many "Kitchen Table" gatherings
Over the next couple of years Blessing Beds continued to grow and God continued to provide. At one point we were out of mattresses and due to supply chain issues we were having a hard time finding any. After sharing about BB at a local Rotary meeting one of the members reached out to me. He told me he used to own a furniture store years ago and still had some contacts for mattress manufacturers in Seattle. Another amazing volunteer, Aimee, tracked down the mattress supplier and learned that they were discontinuing the exact mattress we were looking for. They had over 200 of them left and were willing to give us a price break. All of that sounds great except, even with the discount it would be just shy of $15,000 to buy all of their remaining mattresses. The team looked at each other and laughed and Zach jokingly says, “Well that’s way out of our league – better tell Thad to ask God for the money.” So I did. About two weeks later I got a call from a friend who works at a mortgage company. He had mentioned to me before that they donate money to local charities and said he’d ask the owner for a donation. He asked me to stop by their office. When I walked in he had an envelope in his hands and he says, “How would a $1,500 donation sound to you?” I was so surprised and immediately grateful, “Wow, really, that would be amazing!” And he smiled big and handed me the envelope and said, “Good I think you’ll really like this one then!” I opened it to find a check for $15,000! I was so excited I ran around the office and hugged them all. With tears in my eyes, I recounted the story to them about how we were at a standstill unable to afford mattresses and the ones we found would cost $15k. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room after that. By the way - we ended up with nearly 250 mattresses, (a fully loaded semi truck), the shipping was free and in the end, we were only charged $12k! It was a giant faith builder for all of us!
There have been countless stories of God’s provision, support, and encouragement. And it would take a whole book to tell of all the stories of friendships made, hope restored, newfound faith in Jesus, the inexpressible joy from so many kids, the overwhelming gratitude of the families, and the shear humility we experience getting to be a part of God’s grace in the lives of those He loves.
Without a doubt, God sent me on the Blessing Beds mission, yes to serve others, but I think, even more, to teach me to follow Him and trust His plans. There have been so many lessons along the way, and some key ones have really stuck out to me.
When the, "I don't know how?" or "Where will the money come from?" questions pop up as they do, default to trusting God. If He called me to something, He will make a way. I learned this lesson over and over and over and have journals pages of stories of God's provision and faithfulness.
Learn to sacrifice
In order for blessing beds to work I had to radically rearrange my house, my shop, my schedule, and my budget. Most of the time I was very willing to do it. In the beginning, it was exciting and fun having so many people in and out of my house. But, as the months went by I started to learn about sacrifice. We had teams in the basement building Mon, Wed, Fri nights with tools, noise, sawdust, and the smell of stain permeating the whole house. We did deliveries on Sunday afternoons. It made the most sense for our volunteers and it was a good time for people to be home to receive the beds. But as a pastor, preaching multiple services on Sunday morning, the last thing I wanted to do was commit to a long day of serving after church. Pushing past my comfort led to some of the most soul-filling days of my life. The utility bill doubled with so many tools running but God taught me to consider it an opportunity to be generous in a way few would know about.
Build relationships around heart not programs
Over the years in the church, I have participated in countless home groups, bible studies, and accountability groups. Occasionally there would be a short-lived connection with someone from one of those groups, but almost all the time, when the group was over, the relationships fizzled out. In stark contrast to that experience were the lessons learned about relationships that developed through blessing beds. There's something about connecting on a heart level with other people, willing to give of themselves to serve others. Getting to know each other around a fire pit, sanding table and stain room created relationships and bonds like few I've ever seen in all my years of ministry. And they are relationships that aren't dependent on everyone being a Christian. Or a certain level of maturity. It's been lesson after lesson about letting God bring people together and watching Him knit hearts and minds together and create friendships. Often friendships among people that would never have met otherwise. And many have even said, friendships with people they never would have chosen to get to know, but now that they have, because of blessing beds, they can't imagine their lives without them as friends.
To date, there are 500 kiddos in a blessing bed in the Moscow, Pullman, Lewiston, and Clarkston areas. And it’s probably no coincidence that we have had about 500 different volunteers come and serve at blessing beds! This last year we formally organized as a 501c3 non-profit we’re eager to continue the mission. For more information about Blessing Beds, how to support, volunteer, or start a chapter in your region please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org Find us online at blessingbeds.com and on FB & Insta @blessingbeds
It's been a joy-filled journey, unlike anything I've ever experienced. I'm feeling more connected with God and content than ever before. Life following Jesus is good.