I had been saved for four years, but had not been in a church yet. My prodigal husband had just returned to God. The service had already started when we walked into a little church, and peered through the closed sanctuary doors. I was shocked by what I saw. People clapping, hands raised, and, *gasp*, two women dancing in the aisle. I had heard about these kind of people, but had never actually encountered them. Like a child at the circus, I was mesmerized. And then my husband very calmly said “This is it. This is the one.”, followed quickly by my own voice saying “Are you kidding me?”.
And so began my life at Christian Fellowship Church of Crystal Lake, Illinois. Now, 19 years later, I am saying goodbye to my spiritual childhood home in a giant leap of faith to Texas. I am smiling at the thought that I am now firmly, unequivocally one of “them”…a hand raising, dancing, clapping, barefoot-in-church follower of Christ. So I want to do my best to honor the community that God used to raise me.
I was enveloped by the women of Christian Fellowship almost immediately. I think they saw “help me” written all over me! I knew nothing of being a Christian, and my marriage (and overall life) was a mess. It wasn’t long before a woman approached me and asked if she could be my prayer partner. My mind said “what the heck is that??”, but my mouth said “Okay”. She taught me to pray. Today, she remains my closest friend, and my prayer partner. But back then, she was someone I didn’t know who took me in, and met with me every week to pray for me. And then one day, after she had prayed, she said to me “Your turn”. I almost threw up at the idea of praying out loud, but I was on her couch and I had just enough manners to know that would have been rude. Thus began my life of pure passion for prayer, because I was taught that if you’re scared, then “do it scared”, but do it. Cheryl, for that and so so much more, I honor you and thank you.
It was here, among these women, that I learned what friendship really looks like. It’s a relationship of grace, forgiveness and kindness. And saying the hard things that need to be said, because of love. It’s laughing so hard you can’t breathe and crying just because they’re crying. When I first walked through the doors of Christian Fellowship, I really didn’t have any girlfriends, nor was I looking for any. Growing up in the world taught me that girls can be mean and true friendship is rare. Growing up in this church has taught me that women are a huge blessing, and their friendship is invaluable. To “my girls”, each and every one of you, I love and honor you. You have loved this woman, and all women, well.
To the ones who remained in steadfast friendship with my family through some very dark years, you’ll never know how much your loyalty has meant. Thank you for your prayers, your encouragement, and your willingness to remain connected to people who were so incredibly broken. I honor your warrior hearts for staying in the battle with us all those years.
We had been attending for about a year when the worship leader approached me and asked me if I wanted to join the worship team. You could have knocked me over with a feather! I loved singing, but even I knew that I wasn’t “worship team” material, and the thought of singing in front of the whole church made me want to throw up. (yes, it is my most common response to terror) I think I whispered into the mic for at least 6 months. But I learned from this worship leader. I learned that worship is not the same as entertainment or performance. It’s more than music and singing. It’s a posture of the heart. Don & Henri Peters, and the rest of the worship team, I will be ever grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to learn about the heart of worship. I honor all of you that hold open the door to the throne room every Sunday.
Through the many changes that a church goes through in almost 20 years, I have learned the meaning of commitment, as I watched people remain in commitment through extremely difficult seasons. I have so much respect for a family who stayed, when leaving would have been so much easier. They stayed through a trial that shook them as well as the church. Your determination to remain in community inspired me to tears. You know who you are. I love you both dearly. I honor your steadfast obedience and commitment to do the hard thing. “I tell you what.”
I learned that I won’t always agree with the decisions of leadership, but that if the decisions are not prohibited by scripture, then I am called to submit. Submission is a hard lesson, but it is an act of obedience that invites the blessing of God. I also learned what it looks like to respond with grace when someone is voicing their opinion about your leadership decisions. I was the recipient of much of that grace. I honor the leadership of Christian Fellowship for their gentle call to submission, and the grace that poured out during my times of stubbornness and disagreement.
I learned that if you stay in one place long enough, allowing your life to become entwined with others, offense will come. It will come to you, and through you. The choices are to leave in search of a mythical “offense free” church, or to stay and allow God to use the offense to teach forgiveness and humility. Offense is difficult to work through, but I have seen the power of God restore love and unity to those willing to persevere. I honor both the offenders and the offended in this church, those who have chosen humility and those who have chosen to forgive. You have unknowingly taught me well what overcoming offense looks like. Thank you.
Through the years of growing in Christ in this church, I was given a place for the gifts of the Spirit to grow and flourish, along with so much encouragement and opportunity to use those gifts. I learned how to do that for others, and how to give grace and room for imperfection. I honor this community for always seeking to notice and encourage the Holy Spirit in one another, and for their willingness to allow people to make mistakes as they learn and grow.
Over the last few months my life has been busy with packing and planning. I have been so excited that sadness had no place to sit down. But now it has pushed its way in and demanded my attention. I am experiencing the pain of leaving all that is familiar, all of the people who have made my life so full all these years. Leaving this state, my house, the evil winters…none of that matters. What has made my heart heavy is leaving the people who have been my family for 19 years. I am trying to allow my heart to feel what it feels, because it’s all part of the journey. And the pain is teaching me perhaps the biggest lesson of all.
I was made for community. I know that I will never be able to follow Jesus well unless I am doing it in community with other believers. Christian Fellowship Church, I honor you for all of the love, grace, and friendship that have so blessed my life. I honor your commitment to Jesus and to His Church. I want you to know that I value the life I’ve lived with all of you, and the gift you have been to me.
Your sister in Christ,