“I will move anywhere but Parker,” I said several times as we were abruptly relocating to the US one year ago. We were church planters living in the Czech Republic when we found ourselves backed into a corner, unexpectedly the only ones able to respond to a health crises in my father’s life. As we progressed through the jolting process of packing up and moving “home,” after living almost 15 years and raising four children overseas, we tried to discern how we might best respond to his crises.
Anywhere but Parker, I said, because Parker for me was pain. My parents divorced when I was eight and while my mom remained in Denver, where I was born, my dad forged a new life, 45 minutes away. Parker—then a small town—may as well have been on the Kansas border.
During the divorce I was asked with whom I wanted to live. As a loyal kid I could not choose one parent over the other. So for a decade I went back and forth on a weekly basis—Denver with Mom for a week and Parker with Dad for a week.
My dad was excited about his new life in the country. His girlfriend had a few acres, a few horses, a barn. He and I began spending nights out there. I remember restless sleep, my eyes flying open and wondering where my dad was. Lying on her couch I would try to see anything in the kind of darkness found only beyond city limits. Was he sleeping in the car? My young mind was yet unacquainted with the fluidity of adult relationships that existed outside my parents’ unhappy marriage.
They had a small, outdoor ceremony on a cold day at her little ranch. Thus began my part-time childhood in Parker, Colorado. And when you’re a kid, you only know what you know. You don’t know that all that alcohol and yelling and crashing dishes isn’t okay. You follow your dad when he wakes you up in the middle of the night and says in a trembling voice unfit for a man of his size, “We have to go. Be quiet. Hurry. Get in the car.” You know you’re scared but you don’t know what to do with it. You don’t know that your surroundings are toxic. Until you leave and gain perspective.
After I left for college sadness lay on me like a heavy blanket. The Lord allowed me to succumb to my sorrow, that I might cry out to Him for relief. Through the dusty Bible on my dorm room shelf, Jesus began to breathe new life into me. As I surrendered more and more to Him, I really did become a new creation, just like He said I would (2 Corinthians 5:17). I married. We had a baby and we left for the mission field with a newborn, mere babes ourselves. My dad never, ever called. Life went on in Parker.
After 22 years of marriage and after Alzheimer’s and Dementia set in, she left him. They had moved to an even more remote ranch and the isolation had bred even greater brokenness. I got calls from the social worker, the judge, the doctor. He was really sick and going to be my ward or the state’s. And so, under duress, we prepared to leave—just not to Parker, I said.
I’m typing this from my kitchen in Parker.
It’s now a burgeoning suburb of Denver—the rural spirit is gone, replaced with brew houses, an idyllic main street with custom cupcakes, a modern library, snazzy wine rooms, a theater, and more. It’s actually a lovely town. We knew, before this transition, that we would need as much support as we could get from our extended families. As my dad’s caregiver, homeschool mom, still missionaries with Pioneers International, and guide to my four children who've never lived in the United States, I knew I would be vulnerable. We settled on living as close to Mark’s sister as possible. She lives in Parker.
It happened before we even left the Czech Republic. We bought this house located within a few minute’s drive of my sister-in-law, with a bedroom for my dad. Though our purchase was made from across the Atlantic, we knew the house. Almost 18 years ago we were in it for a Christmas party on the very day we got engaged. It belonged to Mark’s friend’s parents and my now living room is where we announced our engagement to his friends. The seeds of my current life actually sprouted right here, on the hard soil of my former life, in Parker.
We’ve been here just one year and boy have we wrestled with it. Our hearts did not make the voyage with us and remained in Europe for the bulk of this year. We’re grateful to still be doing ministry there—in assistance to our field leader who oversees the 73 teams planting churches across the continent. A couple months ago we began fervently praying that the Lord would let us move back.
As is so common, things haven’t turned out the way we envisioned them. My dad did not actually move into this house. Shortly after we arrived we realized that he’s aggressive, confused, and unkind when confronted or redirected. My kids are scared of his 6’6” frame and belligerent spirit. We can’t handle him. He was living in an assisted living facility until about six weeks ago. In the midst of our fervent prayers to move back overseas he fell. His injuries landed him in the hospital, surgery, rehab, and in a new, declined normal. And a new set of circumstances that make it clear that I cannot leave. I really do need to stay right here and be my dad’s advocate, provider, and family.
As we sojourn in our home state, we pray that the Lord would shine brightly in our midst. This is, in fact, a fairly spiritually dark setting. Denver itself is the nation’s fourth most atheist city. The most recent census says that 65% of Parkerites are declared “nones,” meaning they’ve decided they have no religious beliefs. This is a context known for wealth, all-consuming kids’ sports, and comfort.
And so, we’re planting a local church. Our heart’s cry is that God would awaken our community through our humble church plant—that Parkerites would not be so easily satisfied with their lives, but that they would seek and surrender to Him, forging a new life with the Gospel at the center. I believe the Lord is busy about 10,000 things through this community and the believers in our church plant. I believe He is doing far more than I can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I also believe that in my life, in my small part of His story, He is bringing beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). He is redeeming in my heart what was once a place of darkness. He’s dawning new light in Parker, a setting that once felt so forsaken to me.