Fruitful Vacancy

Mike and Anne Rizzo have blessed us so much here in Kansas City. After listening to their son pour his heart out as a singer and musician through the webstream on my computer for so many years, little did we know that when we moved here almost 2 years ago that his father and mother would become dear friends. Their life is a picture to us of true fruitfulness — they live in private what they speak and teach in public; they love Him. They have a soon-to-be published book, called Longing For Eden: Embracing God’s Vision in Your Marriage, and Mike has graciously agreed to offer an excerpt of his book here, for my readers. Enjoy!

For the month of May and a week into June, I will be pressing pause on my online writing and this space will become a series of testimonies of what He births in the midst of delay, perplexity and pain. Author friends from around the world, who love words on a page (and Him even more), will share, here, how they have seen Him make the bitter, sweet.

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We actually live a lifetime of transitions.

The process goes something like this: “Things end, there is a time of fertile emptiness, and then things begin anew.” I love the pairing of these two: “fertile” & “empty” – a productive, fruitful season of being vacant and without purpose! We must learn how to navigate these transitional waters in our marriage journey. There is ample grace to do so; much more difficult when only one spouse is on board, but possible nonetheless. When both partners are pressing in with their eyes on the prize, the grace is exponential, the journey brimming with anticipation and the fruit will be plentiful.

We often describe this launching pad to change as a trial or a wilderness season. In our humanness, we just want it to end so we can feel good again and have tranquility in our marriage. Of course God sees the deeper purpose, working the marriage muscle to build strength.  A friend of mine once said, “God doesn’t pull me out of what He can perfect me through.” I have discovered over and over again that what God prizes is the interaction with my heart. One sign of maturity is when we prize intimacy — our encounters with God — higher than the end of the test.

Transitions are predictable, planned, and welcomed. They are also unpredictable, not planned, and traumatic; which is what I experienced in year twelve of our marriage. We had been on pastoral staff of a church for ten years and felt fruitful, comfortable, and content. (Does the word “pruning” come to mind?) Our three children, ages 8, 10, and 11, were integrated into the church family, had good friends, and we lived in a very nice, upscale parsonage. None of us desired to move. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to be initiated into a new adventure.

I wasn’t exactly fired mind you; the leadership just felt that after ten years on staff, God had something else for me. Not only was I and my family in transition, but we were about to take the reins of our own pastorate in a nearby city, that was also in transition! Their pastor was retiring; they had suffered through a disaster of a failed building program, and they were saddled with debt. My wife, who is my best friend, was a great support in this transition. We both agreed that I should get another perspective and so I went to see a Christian counselor, who just happened to be an art therapist.

So there I was, at thirty-nine years old, cutting out pictures from magazines to make collages! The whole idea was to get my emotions expressed into something tangible. After six weeks of seeing her she told me I was going through grief. The church that released me was the only church I’d ever attended since I was saved. The pastor was like a father figure to me, having been under his leadership for seventeen years.

One night after a board meeting at the new church they took us to see our proposed new living quarters. We went from upscale to no scale! It was pretty bad. The house had an oil burning furnace; we could see black soot on the furniture. The carpet was old and soiled and the odor was less than fragrant. We rented an apartment for a year while the church had the house remodeled. It was a major downgrade from our last house but it was livable; kind of cute actually, like a little cottage. My boys had a bedroom with a slanted roof, which had been an add-on to the back of the house. As they grew taller, we had to move their beds to the “short side” of the room. My daughter’s bedroom was the former shed that was next to the house. It was small, but enough for the essentials – bed, dresser, and guinea pig cage.

I know other guys in ministry whose wives would not have settled for such a scenario. But my beloved helped me to embrace the ending, endure the in-between time, and start afresh. Our new pastorate had its ebbs and flows like all churches do. Financially, the Lord rescued us from debt and after four years we paid off the church mortgage in addition to buying a new parsonage, for cash! Numbers wise however, we struggled with the ability to retain people. The story ended after ten years of pastoring the church. We closed it down and hence, we faced another bitter ending.

Anne and I grieved the loss as our identities underwent change. People didn’t call me “Pastor Mike” anymore; we were not leading worship every week, which we both loved to do. Waves of vacancy beat upon our shoreline and it felt many times like our purpose was gone. On the sweet side, we spent the next four years just being “normal” people; husband and wife at the dinner table, no ministry talk. The circumstances became a new frame for our marriage portrait; we rediscovered the painting, the treasure of our friendship. Further transition ensued with the death of my Dad, the last living parent between us. New beginnings must come, and with them – endings. So I’ve resolved to face the fertile emptiness when it comes. This I know – the waves will recede but the fruit remains.

 

 Excerpt from their soon-to-be-published book: Longing for Eden: Embracing God’s Vision in Your Marriage.

Mike & Anne Rizzo have been in pastoral ministry for thirty years. They currently serve on the staff of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri. Their passion is to work with married and pre-marital couples; to see the prophetic picture of Christ and the church reflected in every marriage.

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