I dug through the hall closet that contained a Sterilite tote of random electronics and old phone chargers. It had been so many years that I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I just had the feeling that if it was going to be anywhere - it would be in there.
I had an “Aha!” moment when I noticed it underneath three miscellaneous phone chargers…I had found it!
Taking the battery charger downstairs, I went into the kitchen were I gingerly removed the battery from my SONY Cyber-shot DSC-W570 camera and placed it into the charger. I plugged it into the wall and the light turned on - I couldn’t believe it!
I returned upstairs and continued my project of “Spring Cleaning” the hallway closet. A few hours later I returned to the kitchen to discover that the battery was fully charged! I held my breath as I took it out of the charger and returned it to the innards of the camera and pressed the power button.
It turned on.
I couldn’t remember how the function buttons worked, so after pressing a few I finally found the correct one - the “show me what I took” button…
The first picture had a timestamp of November 16, 2013 - 9:20 p.m. It was of my Mom and Dad - holding three-year-old Nathan and 19-month-old Josiah.
Tears instantly filled my eyes.
As I scrolled backwards through the album, I began to cry. In fact, I bawled. “God, You’re so good!” was all I could say - over and over again.
What once was lost, had now been found.
This story is about a camera - a camera that moved me to tears and reminded me of who my God is…
On Good Friday this year, I received a text that read: Hey Ashley, a staffer at Applebee’s just message the RC Facebook page (I respond to that), saying that they have a camera in their safe that was left there a few years ago. They finally checked it and saw a pic of you and Jeremiah on it. So…if you contact them, you might have a treasure of missing pictures!!!
I hurriedly texted back saying, Oh my goodness! Yes!! That’s mine!
I immediately called Applebee’s and asked to speak with a manager - claiming my camera. Doing the math, it had been in their safe for nearly 5 1/2 years. Years.
The manager said I could come in at 10 a.m. the following morning to pick it up. I chuckled and informed him that we had nine Easter services happening that weekend - with the first one kicking off at 10 a.m. - and that I wouldn’t be able to come then.
My camera had been in their safe for over 5 years…it could stand to wait another weekend.
The last last time I had it in my possession was at our first Preview Service on November 16, 2013. We had opened our doors for the very first time and Jeremiah led worship, preached, prayed, and took up an offering. Afterwards, we served coffee and brownies, water and pink lemonade. It was a big night as we were in the launching process of our church-plant, River Church, in Clinton, Iowa.
After the service was well over, the band, my parents, and our small - yet mighty - launch team went out to celebrate at Applebee’s over their half-priced appetizers.
The last picture I took before we left for the restaurant was of my parents sitting on the brand-new, black leather couches we had ordered for the foyer. They were holding my boys - whose bedtimes had long come and gone.
At Applebee’s, we celebrated the fact that our diligent work of inviting anyone and everyone we came into contact with at parks, grocery stores, gas stations, and coffee shops - had resulted in real, LIVE people braving the doors of our warehouse-hosted church!
Call it pregnancy-brain - as we were expecting our third at the time - sheer exhaustion, or simple negligence…my camera didn’t make it home with me that night.
In the morning (after the dust had settled) I went to look at the pictures I had taken from the night before. As I searched my bag, my stomach sank as I realized that it wasn’t in there! (And just to make sure, I had dumped out the entire bag’s contents all over the living room floor.)
I searched the Jeep and after no avail called Applebee’s - inquiring if they had found a camera inside a black case from the night before.
I was devastated to hear they hadn’t.
More than five whole years passed. In that time, I couldn’t bring myself to throw the camera box away and didn’t end up replacing it either…
And then I received the text message that led to the phone call that had me driving to Applebee’s on a Tuesday to pick it up…
12Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
After 2013 had come and gone, River Church launched with 70 people on February 2, 2014. As the church continued to grow - my heart was sad… Those moments and memories that I had captured on the camera were lost - seemingly forever.
No one could share in the “before” with us - except the ones who had bled, sweat, and cried like we had done. The 13-hour-long days of turning an old, filthy box-packaging warehouse into a functional house of worship were to be savored only by my husband and I, my sister-in-law, and two other families.
Until the day it was found!
As I scrolled through the photos, my heart-strings were yanked around and all I could say (again and again) was, “God, You’re so good!”
The lessons we learned though that very demanding and high-risk season have carried us through even more “very demanding and high-risk” seasons of this church-planting thing.
Those moments and memories were not lost! And I now have the photos to prove it!
They prove that my husband is amazing - both on the stage and off it. And even behind a pressure washer - in full rain gear - as he ensured that every foot of that warehouse’s ceiling, wall, and floor got hit.
They prove that God called my children too. The 48,000 square foot warehouse became their massive playground as three-year-old Nathan rode his little Rocket bike and 18-month-old Josiah pushed his own Mickey Mouse Clubhouse umbrella stroller around.
Yes, Josiah loved to eat an apple that had more dirt on it than skin, and if there was even an inch of water on the floor - he’d be in it. We would park the Jeep inside the church and play a Curious George DVD for them - allowing them to be safely contained when the scissors lift was in operation. And if I couldn’t make it back to our rental to put them into real beds for naps or bedtime, they’d sleep in their car seats.
The pictures proved that my sister-in-law was also called. She uprooted her “ducks-in-a-row” life to say Yes! to a call and Yes! to a dream. She worked long hours and late nights with her brother and I, and if I was called away to mother my boys and ensure my pregnancy stayed viable, she’d just keep on working.
Seeing those pictures reminded me that God is good, and His grace is enough!
Let me remind you that we had two little boys and a bun in the oven and there were power tools aplenty. Not one ER trip was made as we built the stage, hung lights and black 6mm plastic “walls” and constructed a pallet “fence.” This was before pallets were a “thing,” and the only reason we went that route was there were stacks and stacks of them - for FREE - right next door.
I was also reminded - and overwhelmed - that God is faithful!
Faithful when we started out with nothing but the call - burning in our hearts. Faithful when he called my family to uproot and move four hours away from anyone or anything familiar. Faithful when we said Yes! - with no Plan B and absolutely no guarantees…
Yes, God proved Himself faithful by the fact that my camera had made itself back into my hands after all the things that can happen in five years…like purchasing a home, having two additional babies, purchasing the warehouse, hiring full-time Staff, purchasing 68.8 acres of land, and being in the middle of a multi-million-dollar building project for a new 1,000 seat auditorium all the while gearing up to launch a new campus in Prophetstown, Illinois!
Yes, I’d say - with more conviction, fire, passion, and zeal in our hearts than we first started - God is absolutely faithful!
And that night in my quiet kitchen - while my entire family was sound asleep - God revealed to me:
Sometimes in our lives what we call Lost!...He deems Safe!
He says that about our callings and our dreams - and in this case, even a SONY Cyber-shot DSC-W570 camera.