“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”
Joshua 1:9 NIV
State 27: Texas - January 21, 2018
Lori & Nate
We woke up at a Walmart in Pearland, TX well rested, and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we visited NASA Space Center in Houston, and saw the Apollo 11 Command Module from the 1969 moon landing. We could not wait to see what adventures lie head today! The first item on the agenda is a 21 mile drive Northwest back to Houston to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Famous Person” for Texas; Joel Osteen, the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church: the largest church in America.
Lakewood Church was founded by Joel’s father; John Osteen on May 10, 1959. The church was located inside an abandoned feed store in Northeast Houston, and had grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000 worshipers. John created and hosted Lakewood's weekly television program, which broadcasted to 100 countries around the world. John’s youngest son, Joel worked behind the scenes for 17 years producing his fathers televised sermons. Although John had always encouraged his son to preach, Joel respectfully declined as he had become comfortable working behind the scenes. One Sunday much to his father’s delight, Joel agreed to preach, but it would be the only sermon John would ever hear his son share. Two weeks later, John Osteen died suddenly from a heart attack, and Joel Osteen took over as Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church later that year.
Under Joel Osteen’s leadership, Lakewood's congregation grew from 5,000 to 30,000 weekly attendees prompting a move to a larger facility. After a lengthy and exhausting process, Lakewood Church signed a long-term lease with the city of Houston to move into the 16,800 seat Compaq Center in 2003. Today, 43,000 people come weekly to Lakewood Church's 5 worship services, one of which is Spanish, and the ministries include: Kids, Young Adult, Champion Club for special needs Children, Singles, Marriage and Parenting, Men's Club, Women's Club, Senior's, and Business for Entrepreneurs. Osteen’s televised sermons are seen by over 7 million weekly viewers in over 100 countries, and are broadcasted 24 hours a day on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. In addition, Joel Osteen has written seven New York Times best selling books. Despite all of Joel Osteen’s success, He currently takes no salary from the church, and relies on income derived from the sales of his books/cd's etc.
Before I continue, I would like to start off with a joke as does Joel before each sermon. What does a cop, a lawyer, a televangelist have in common? Nothing, except they all get a very bad rap! While there are certainly a few bad apples in the bunch, it should not reflect poorly upon all. Joel prides himself on making his messages real and personable so that his listeners can relate. He is loaded with charisma and magnetism, but underneath all that he considers himself "quiet, reserved and shy". Many consider Joel to be the "smiling preacher" captivating audiences using parables and stories. We have watched Joel’s televised sermons on and off for many years, and have always received a good message. While we were planning our cross country trip, we agreed to attend a service when we arrived in Houston, and after traveling for 7 months and 30,000 miles, today would finally be the day!
Since it has been a particularly bad flu season, we opted to attend the less populated Saturday evening service. When visiting a megachurch with a congregation of over 43,000, we worried we would get lost in the crowd, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. The courtesy Lakewood extended to the Cross Country Couple began before we even arrived! Houston is the 4th largest city in the US, and finding parking in a city for a high top van is always expensive and challenging. However, Lakewood had an open lot parking for oversized vehicles free of charge, and the woman we spoke with on the phone gave us accurate directions. As we made our way to the main entrance of the church, we were greeted by the most enthusiastic and cheerful people we have ever met! This was not the phony and insincere greeting you get when walking into Walmart “w-e-l-c-o-m-e t-o w-a-l-m-a-r-t “. Our arrival was met with, “WELCOME TO LAKEWOOD! I AM SO VERY HAPPY YOU ARE HERE!” It was crystal clear the Lakewood Greeters were genuinely happy to be at church, and wanted to share their joy with all who entered. From the moment we crossed the threshold of the church to the time we approached the main arena, we received the aforementioned greeting by 10 different people. We have never felt so welcomed anywhere in our entire lives!
Just to provide an idea of the size of the Compaq Center, it once was home to the professional basketball team the Houston Rockets. However, the church did an excellent job with the renovations. Neutral toned walls and tasteful carpeting made the building feel more like a church and less like a former sports stadium. There were dozens of doors to enter the main arena, but most were blocked off. After wandering around for 10 minutes looking for a way to enter, we were approached by a friendly older gentlemen holding a huge sign which read “COMMUNION”. Sensing it was our first time at Lakewood, he told us that Joel invites all visitors to sit directly in front of the stage, and directed us where to go.
When finally entering the arena, it was quite the sight! Before us were thousands of seats filled with thousands of people! So much for our plans to go to the less frequented Saturday night service! There was a massive multi-tiered stage with at least 100 choir members flanking either side. In the center of the stage was a huge, and I mean huge, continuously rotating globe. We had seen the globe before on TV, but it was much bigger in person! There were TV cameras, strobe lights, and 3 of the biggest screens we had ever seen! We made our way down a long flight of stairs to the ground level, and were seated in the 2nd row directly in front of the center of the stage. We felt like VIP guests! Please see the pictures below.
As do most, Lakewood’s worship service began with song and praise, but Lakewood's song and praise was unlike any other we had ever seen! This was not your typical hymnal worship, although there is nothing wrong with hymns. There were drums, guitars, and every imaginable instrument! The singers on stage were extremely talented and performed like professionals. We felt like we were at a concert! However, the best part of the worship was the sound of thousands of voices singing together! What a powerful experience!
After the worship service ended and offering was collected, Joel took the stage to deliver his sermon. The message he shared finally answered a long unanswered question in our lives, “What is the purpose our year long cross country journey?”. Three years ago, we wanted to move out of Connecticut, and prayed about where we should live. The answer we got was “Go West, and write about what you see”. We were quite frustrated with what we perceived to be an ambiguous answer to our prayers. When you live in Connecticut everything is West! Write what you see? We had absolutely no idea what that meant! Who writes about moving? We are not author’s, but rather a Nurse and Medical Practice Manager! However, as the months went on, everything started to fall into place, and it became perfectly clear a road trip to discover America was necessary in order to find our new home state. The preparation for our year long cross country journey just unfolded before us in ways we can’t understand or even explain.
Before we knew it, the day had finally arrived to depart on our journey. We were sitting in our apartment waiting for the landlord's arrival to turn in the keys and become officially homeless. We had both quit good paying and rewarding healthcare jobs, and now had zero income coming in! We had eliminated 99% of our worldly possessions, and packed only the bare essentials in the back of a cargo van. We were leaving all of our friends and family behind! It wasn’t as if we had been laid off, or a natural disaster destroyed our home. We had quit our jobs, and became homeless voluntarily! As we pulled our van out of the driveway of our former apartment, we questioned our own sanity! We just willfully traded a safe, comfortable and predictable life, for a life of uncertainty, loneliness and hardship! This year long cross country trip to find a new home made absolutely no sense with one exception! Deep down we knew this was something we had to do! We had never felt so strongly about anything in our entire lives, and had to see where this journey led!
As we drove down the highway towards the Connecticut state border, we prayed for 3 things; safe passage, direction along the unknown path that lie ahead, and at some point in the future to reveal his purpose of our journey! To date, the 1st and 2nd parts of our prayers have been answered, and we see his hand in our journey each and every day. However, we still did not know Gods purpose for our trip. We received the answer listening to Joel Osteen's sermon, and below is an excerpt that really hit home.
“You may be in a season of silence, you feel like you’re hidden, but the silence doesn’t mean God has forgotten about you. He’s heard every prayer, He’s seen every tear, at the right time, He’s going to bring you in to what He has already prepared. God is not preparing the blessing for you, He’s preparing you for the blessing.” - Joel Osteen
Oh boy, do we feel so very hidden! Every day, we wake up in a different location, we don't see any familiar faces, and have long since lost track of the date and the day of the week. Never in our wildest dreams would we have imaged we would be on such a trip, and are grateful for being blessed with the opportunity! While there are certainly good times, there have also been great hardships too! We aren’t traveling in a Class A RV decked out with all the luxuries of a modern home. We are living in the back of a white cargo van with no plumbing, no electricity, no bathroom, no heat, and no AC. We aren’t spending each night in 5 star hotels, or RV parks with water, electric, and sewer hookups. We spend each night parked in a different Walmart, truck stop or casino parking lot. We don’t have a social security or retirement income coming in each month. The only income we have is what we saved prior to departing. For every hour we spend discovering America and looking for a new home, we spend 3 hours driving lonely roads, and writing our experiences in small town library’s and coffee shops all across the country!
After hearing Joel’s Osteen’s sermon, we finally realized the purpose of our year long cross country journey! God is preparing us for whatever it is that lies ahead! We already feel this trip has caused us to grow in ways we never would have if we hadn’t left. We have become less fearful and more faithful! By stepping outside of our small corner of Connecticut, we have been exposed to a variety of people, places, and perspectives all across America! We have reconnected with family we had not seen in decades! We have learned our worth is a not valued by material possessions, and have found joy in our minimal and simple existence! We have learned how to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, and have found comfort in being uncomfortable! We discovered happiness is not a destination, but instead is a state of being! We are not even worried about where our new home may be! We believe blessings are in store regardless of where we end up, and we will be prepared and fully capable to rise to whatever challenges may lie ahead!
After the service ended, Joel invited all of the visitors to meet him in the hall outside the arena, and we lined up with 150 others to meet him. He made his way down the line shaking hands, smiling, signing bibles and books, and took a few moments to talk to each person. We wish we could have said something profound when Joel reached us, but we just said "Hello" and “Nice to meet you”. He shook each of our hands, asked us where we were from, signed our books, made a point to make eye contact, and thanked us for coming to the service. Please see the pictures below.
We walked away feeling Joel was a genuine, humble and sincere man who had a deep desire and calling to help others. Joel and Lakewood Church both went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and loved, and for that we are incredibly grateful!
After departing the Saturday Night Service at Lakewood Church, we drove 21 miles Southwest to Sugar Land, TX where we found a Walmart to spend the night.