I have attended church for as long as I can remember. In fact, my earliest memory is where I was very young (2 or 3 years) and watching my parents walk away to the service. I sat on a bench near the door in tears. Something about that memory has made me very insistent that my kids always knew that I would come get them if they needed... but that isn't what this post is about.
Not only have I attended church for over 37 years, I have been part of the same church for just as long. Doug and I were baptized in it, had our wedding there, all four kids were dedicated in the same sanctuary and we'd attended the funeral of loved ones, including my mom. Church was a habit and it was what we did on Sunday mornings. After a while we went for the kids to ensure they grew up in a church family and had a similar upbringing to Doug and mine.
Quite a few years ago, I began seriously thinking of why I was going. The short answer was because I felt like my parents wanted me to. Not that it would have mattered to my mom but I was attending because I wanted them to be proud of me - I'm a people pleaser. So, we continued through the motions. Then Sarah was born and some of her issues came to light. I wasn't comfortable with her in a classroom with kids physically bigger and developmentally typical so I kept her with me. I often felt the disapproving looks of people around me as she sat by my feet so I would head out and spend the morning in the foyer. After doing this for a while, Doug and I asked each other, why do this if I could stay home and watch Sarah in the comfort of our house. So we took some Sunday's off (for the first time ever!) and stayed home.
In the summer of 2013, Andrea was a music leader for the kids' VBS program at a smaller country church which is a secondary site to the main campus we had been at. To support her, we decided to spend VBS Sunday at the smaller church. She had previously told me it was small but I really had no idea until I stepped into the building - what a difference from the very large congregation I had been used to. Because it wasn't a normal Sunday service (the pastor was dressed up in a crown and robes), we decided to try again the following week - when we were back in the van, I told Doug that we had very likely found our new church home.
What made me fall in love with it?
The incredible sense of community that we found was a feeling that I didn't even really know existed. I didn't realize what I was missing until it was filled by a church family that was so welcoming to us. I have developed deeper relationships with ladies over the past two years than I expected and their friendships are such a welcome blessing to me. In addition to these friendships, my relationship with Jesus has blossomed in ways that I never imagined. Through prayer sessions with a special friend, she showed me how real He is.
I have learned to be honest with these people. In a small church family, it's hard to hide and they genuinely want to know how I am doing. Being open with others was a big learning curve and the desire to truly know how others are doing is now engrained in me. I have stepped out of my comfort zone and spoken in front of the congregation as well as taken the leap of faith in leading a Bible study with some ladies.
Obviously not everything is smooth sailing in a church (we are after all, imperfect people) but through the tough times, I'm learning to lean on Jesus' strength. My walk with Him has hit some lows as well but I know He is faithful - He waits patiently with His arms open for me when I come back to Him.
The initial transition was tough on the teens since they pretty much made up the youth ages. It wasn't long though before Andrea was first asked to be on a worship team and eventually the opportunity to lead her own team came up. I didn't feel uncomfortable keeping Sarah with me and it was quickly accepted as the norm. Joshua soon loved the smaller church as well - like me, he doesn't love large crowds and so he too preferred the feeling of a quieter setting. The kids have always been welcome and felt like they belonged.
I firmly believe that God wants us at this little country church. We have a purpose and a reason to be there. I am thankful for the body of Christ that my family is part of.