Stretching – Ellena Hay

We all grow our capacity through life experiences and learning. The stretching required can be painful to get to a place where we can carry the load that is required of us.

For me, that is exactly true… but not in the way some would expect. My personality was built for stretching and learning with passion and ease. I loved to challenge myself and had no problem point the finger at my own habits to find a way to grow.


Although this often meant having an intense facial expression and often times ‘over-achiever’ label, it molded me into a young woman who could shoulder very large loads. It should come as no surprise, then, that I expected to tackle parenthood and the call to ministry with ease.


Within 5 years of marriage: we owned property in two different countries, had 3 kids under 3, and I began volunteering at our home church (LIFE) in Children’s Ministry. Once again I was putting those broad shoulders to use, diving deep into God’s presence to source the strength needed to carry all that was in my world. And once again, God did not fail in delivering strength for the season. I may have thought that I knew what it was like to lean into Him and need Him in my life….. But I had no idea.

Little did I know that I had not even touched the tip of leaning into God’s grace and strength.


As our eldest child rounded the corner of her 3rd birthday, things started to happen that took the wind out of our sails. What we had started to call “the terrible twos” or “just a phase”; grew to three hours of screaming and flailing. I would sit on the floor in the hall with my arms wrapped as gently as possible around my daughter, trying to keep her from scratching and hurting herself or others. I would whisper calming notes into her ears while praying inwardly that this would end soon. This continued for nearly 2 years before a psychologist finally looked me in the eyes and declared that our daughter had ASD. Autism Spectrum Disorder.


I cried. A lot.


Not because my daughter was diagnosed with Autism, but because I realized that through those years I had been shouldering it all ‘alone’ when I didn’t need to. There could be a path. In fact now we were faced with many paths…. We could choose to step out of ministry to focus solely on her needs until she became an adult. Or we could learn how to lean not on our own understanding, but to rely on the wisdom and grace of a God who had said “You are called”. To believe that God would not have called us to ministry and gifted us our daughter, without equipping us for both. We knew we were called to ministry, and a diagnosis could not end God’s promises and plans. We chose the second path.


The journey has been long. But throughout, we never stopped serving God’s purposes. There would be months of long nights and difficult decisions while we ‘trained’ our daughter in how to cope with a late night of stimulation during evening services at church. There would be days where my capacity to serve God’s house included my daughter clinging to my legs while I organized the Preschool Rooms for Sunday services. But through it all, God remained faithful. Faithful to provide us with just the right strength each time we thought we had emptied out. Faithful to not just care for us, but for our daughter too. And there is the real beauty in this story.


You see, by continuing to serve where God called us, Ailey’s new normal became church. She would actually have a meltdown if we suggested staying home on a Sunday with Nana. And then 5 long years after making our choice, the real miracle happened. At a Prayer and Fasting night located in our Central campus, Ailey took the hand of a Kids Leader and entered the main Kids Auditorium to participate in a prayer service activity. For the first time in her 9 years of life, Ailey went ‘into’ a kids’ service and participated in one of the prayer activities. For the first time she walked into a room that usually overwhelmed her.


Tuning out the things around her,

she tuned into God.


God graces us as parents to not only carry that which seems obvious: family, but to do so while carrying that which he has called us to. When people ask how I carry it all, the answer is that in my own strength, I don’t.  The details are more complicated, but the main truth is simple: God has called you, so He’s got this.


God says: “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to meI will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” Matthew 11:28-30


Ellena Hay
Kids Preschool Pastor
LIFE South