Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My Name Is James Sebastian Kern, II

I've been getting a lot of questions lately. Questions like:

"Who's Jake?" (from old friends and family)
"Why do some people call you 'Jamie'?" (from new friends)
"Why did you move from Vail, CO to La Crosse, WI of all places?" (pretty much from everyone....)

Well, the short answer is that my name is actually James Sebastian Kern, II. Sounds regal, doesn't it? Jamie was my nickname that my parents gave me and what everyone knew me as from the time I was born until I moved back to the Midwest. And I detested that nickname. Growing up, there was a TV show character called the Bionic Woman, and her name was Jamie Summers. And all throughout grade school I was called "Jamie Summers with the bionic boobs." In high school, I tried the name, 'James,' but as I said before, it's a regal name, and I'm not so much. Also, 'Jim' didn't work because that's my dad's name. As I got older, 'Jamie' became less of a 'girl's name' and more of a 'little kid's name.' Now my nickname is Jake (my choice). James and Jacob are the same name. One's Hebrew, and one's Greek. Also, if you take the first 2 letters from the name, 'James,' and the first 2 letters from the name, 'Kern,' you get JAKE. Pretty clever, huh? And as far as why we moved from Vail to the Midwest, God told us to.

That is the short answer. If you are satisfied with that answer, read no more. If not, then...

I had been Area Director for Young Life in Vail for about two years. And I was pretty much the only Committee member. The two guys that had pushed to get YL started in Vail were going to be on Committee with me, one handling working with leaders and training, and the other handling finances. Well, to make a long story short, one moved to Florida, and the other went through some issues that made him not able to be a part of Committee anymore. So, we did the best we could, but we could never get the money or resources needed to keep the ball rolling. Crazy thing is that during all this time, the ministry aspect of YL was booming like crazy. So many kids were getting affected in such a positive way. But with every aspect of Vail YL on my shoulders, I was getting burned out, to say the least. Don't get me wrong, I loved what I was doing, and I loved YL so much, but I just kept failing miserably at the business aspect of YL. And it was taking its toll. And to just quit... well, man, I just didn't want to be THAT guy.

However, God had other plans. In January of 2003, He revealed to me that it was time to move on. He was going to have me stay through that school year and the summer that followed to get the leaders there ready and start to put the Committee together, but after that, Sara and I needed to get out of Dodge. And it was tough, but it's so much better to follow God even (especially) when it doesn't make sense than to try and figure things out on your own. So we decided to check out the Midwest. Sara and I were both originally from there, although we had both left when we were pretty young. We made a list of what we wanted in a town: friendly people, lots of water, lots of trees, change of seasons, texture to the land (didn't have to be mountains, but we didn't want FLAT), and not too big or not too small. Also, I had always wanted to go back to college and finish my degree, so we looked at a bunch of college towns in the Midwest and decided to check out Ames, IA.

It was a neat little town, but it just didn't feel right. So hard to explain, but it threw us for a loop. We started to check out other towns in the area with varying degrees of success, and we began to wonder where God wanted us. Should we still try to go to the Midwest? Should we head off to AZ? Ft. Collins? Grand Junction? Also, in all this time, we were trying to remember to introduce me as "Jake," but it just wasn't working out. We both kept forgetting :) and I had pretty much decided to write it off as a dumb idea. The final Sunday we were in Iowa, we went to a GREAT church in Ames hoping for some sort of revelation from the Lord because, to be honest, we were stumped as to what to do next. The church used an exegesical style of teaching, and that day's subject was Genesis 29-31. As the pastor was getting ready to start teaching, he made a joke that this section only contained one part where the Lord spoke, so he felt a bit short-changed that Sunday. :) Well, here's the verse that the Lord spoke:

Genesis 31:3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I well be with you."

I about fell out of my chair when he said that. Ask and ye shall receive, right? Well, here was a clear word from the Lord to go to the land of our fathers and relatives... in other words, the Midwest. And the whole "Jacob" thing? That was the moment that I decided to stick with changing my name to Jake as a way to remember how the Lord spoke to me on that day.

So, where in the Midwest do we go, right? After our time in Iowa, we went up to Minnesota for a wedding, and we decided to take the scenic route, also known as The Great River Road. Wow! is it beautiful! We drove through a town called Winona (in Minnesota) and fell in love with it. Friendly people? Check. Lots of water and trees? Check. (It's right on the Mississippi River and has a huge lake in the middle of the town.) Change of seasons? Check. Texture to the land? Check. (We're surrounded by 500 and 600 foot tall bluffs.) And to cap it all off, it has THREE colleges. So September 1st, 2003, off we went to our new home.

The 1st couple years had been an interesting time. Sara and I had a lot of trouble finding a good church out here. It turns out that one of the things that we love about the Midwest (how nice people are) is a huge obstacle when finding a church. Everyone is so pleasant all of the time, and they are unwilling to ever get past that. It's like the pleasantness becomes this big shell to hide behind, and no one seems to have any true, deep relationships. That and the fact that the Midwestern churches tend to fall into the categories of:

1) Stodgy traditionalism;
2) Purpose Driven (I love the Purpose Driven idea and agree so much with most of what Rick Warren says, but when it comes time to implement, the churches out here seem to lose something in the translation, and everything suddenly becomes about being "nice" and "pleasant." Jesus was compassionate, caring, loving, sacrificing, humble, tender, and so many more great adjectives, but I don't remember him being "nice" or "pleasant.") And then, the final category is;
3) Lutheran *shudders*

I have to admit that the move had been tougher than I anticipated. No jobs for a while, and with no jobs, school had to be postponed a bit. But God has still provided for us. It's been amazing. Also, as we were leaving CO, the Lord revealed that I needed to take at least a year off of ministry (maybe more), so the big thing that God had been revealing to me was that He doesn't need me. Through that has been a lot of healing and recharging the batteries, but was also a very tough lesson, let me tell you. Because of that, He's really had to break me. I know that being broken is good and so important for our walk with Christ, but it can hurt. And then the devil comes in and takes that message of, "you're not needed," and twists it into, "you're not wanted." But here's the really cool thing: God has been very active revealing this as a lie.

So, 18 months after the move, the nest egg is gone, and we're still unemployed. My dad approached me about moving to AZ to become an assistant Superintendent for the company where he was working. Now, you have to understand that I hate the state of Arizona. (Sorry to all you Zoners out there, but it's the honest truth.) To me, the simple equation is Arizona = Egypt. And I didn't want to go back to Egypt. But I was tempted. And right during that time, my devotional time focused on Isaiah warning a group of Israelites to not move back to Egypt. They went anyways, and it didn't turn out too well for them. Sara and I were part of a great little fellowship at the time, and they prayed with us through this. And through prayer, I nervously picked up the phone and declined my dad's offer. Leap of faith.

God's answer was that the very next day, I went to a job fair in La Crosse and was hired by a company named CenturyTel. (For you Edwards, CO folks, yes this is the same CenturyTel that always screws up your phone service.) This eventually led us to move to La Crosse, WI, just 30 minutes down the river, same landscape, more people, 3 colleges, and an amazing church that wasn't political and was focused on Jesus and meeting the needs of the community around us.

God has been true to his promise. He has been here with us. We are no longer on the outside looking in. Instead, we are members of a fellowship of Christians that have loved us and given to us in times of need when we've had absolutely NOTHING to give back. We have once again been involved in ministry. We have friends. We have family. We have hope. We have finally found a place where we 'belong' and that we can call 'home.'

So, long story, huh? Sorry 'bout that. I gave you an out at the beginning; don't blame me if you didn't listen to me. For those of you that know me as 'Jamie' (and the few of you that know me as 'James') if you have problem with trying to call me something else, no worries. It's all good. But, yes, I now go by the name 'Jake." It helps me remember the journey that God has led me through. It helps me remember that He keeps His promises, and He is faithful even when we are not. And I just like the sound of it. Besides, I don't know of any 'Jake Summers with the bionic boobs"....