It’s been so long since I’ve sat down and poured my heart out to you all, but lately I have not been able to escape the desire to do so. As this new year has gotten underway there is something that leaps from my heart in gratitude for where I am and what God has done in my life lately. It is something that altered my spiritual journey and involves a group of believers who have no idea how deeply they affected my life or how they made a difference in ways they would not have imagined. This is my way of saying thank you and sharing with you the lessons I learned as a result.
Most of you know I have been through great losses over the past 5-6 years, including the passing of my mom and dad just six months apart last year. After their passing I felt like everything in my life had been stripped away from me. In 2018, I had left a church where I had devoted 23 years of my life, including my role as Music/Choir Director for 19 of those years. It became apparent that God was moving me in a different direction, and although I followed, it came at a time in my personal life where I needed the support of a church family more than I can even express! I knew, however, that not following God’s leading to move on would have made things even more difficult. I thought He would immediately move me to the place He wanted me to continue serving, but that didn’t happen. We visited a few churches prior to the loss of my parents, but my dad struggled with things being different, as he was dealing with advancing dementia at the time. Recognizing that “finding” a new church wasn’t going to happen with Dad’s condition and Mom’s failing health, we began attending a home church in my sister’s house that lasted a while until we all began to feel as though God was pulling us to find our new church home. My husband and I found a wonderful church and were “all in” with our attendance and participation, but after several months, something just wasn’t fitting. It was a great church, but we realized it was not where God had been leading us, though we tried to stay because we didn’t want to have to move again. With the upheaval in our lives, we just wanted to find “home” and stay there. We learned, however, that trying to stay in our comfort zones when God is still moving doesn’t work that well – not in the decision of a church to attend or in any other decisions we face in life.
We all have times where things around us get a little shaky, but for a child of God, He is still working through those times. He promised He would lead and guide us, but when there is upheaval in an area (or many areas) of life, most of us naturally want to hunker down and not move at all. We just want comfort and peace, and I was scrambling to find anything that resembled it. I just wanted to feel grounded again, but it wasn’t happening for me. When we find ourselves in these places, it is vitally important for us to be still, take a breath – even if it is a forced one – and grab hold of the truths of God’s word and promises to us that He will never leave us (Deut. 31:8) and that He is working all things out for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). It doesn’t mean you won’t struggle or even feel alone at times. It doesn’t mean you won’t cry out for understanding or clarity. God’s timing is perfect, but when it doesn’t align with ours, it can cause us great distress in our humanity. Waiting is never easy but waiting when you feel isolated or alone makes it even harder.
After Mom passed, my husband and I began attending a different church, one to which I was being drawn. From the first Sunday, there were things that stood out for me (amazing music with choir and orchestra, along with a biblically sound message), but the thing that stood out the most was that everyone we met seemed genuinely happy to be there and genuinely happy to see everyone who walked in the door whether they were familiar or totally new! I not only felt welcome, but I also felt seen for the first time in a long time. People treated us like old friends even though we were technically strangers. And coming from several years of feeling so isolated, it was the best feeling in the world. As we attended, I continued to watch the dynamic each week to see if what we experienced was consistent and genuine, and it seemed to be so.
After a couple of months, I felt God drawing me into a desire to serve alongside these people, and I was able to join the choir, though I had not yet made the decision whether to officially join the church as a member. That experience, and being welcomed into that group of people with open arms, is something for which I will always be grateful. What it provided for me was the opportunity to see if what I saw and felt flowing from them during services each week was true. Was it a performance? Was it a group full of egos? Or was it people with hearts of service and love for God simply doing what they are called to do? From the very first practice with them, I saw an authenticity that touched my heart deeply. Everyone involved in that music program had a huge impact on my decision to officially join the church. God used all of them to validate and cement in my heart that this is where He had led me, and this is where I belonged. Not only was there truth in the messages, but there was also truth in the people. They didn’t know the profound way God was using them to impact my life and my spiritual journey, but I do, and I am beyond grateful.
What you do as person of faith matters, and especially so as a member of a body of believers. You never know who may be watching, searching for something that is real…something that surpasses “religion” and cuts to the heart of our relationships with God and to each other. I’ve said this often, but Jesus tells us we ARE salt and light, not that we can be salt and light. We just need to decide what kind of salt and light we will be. God can do amazing things in our lives and in the lives of others around us when we serve with a willing heart. There is no way we will ever know the scope of how our lives have positively impacted this world when we put God’s word into action. We won’t always see how He worked in the lives of people around us just by us pouring love into even the strangers we meet along the way. But just like a stone tossed into the water, the ripples extend far beyond what we can see and to depths we may never even know existed.
I have such gratitude for the people that God used to create a gateway to the body of believers that has become my home. For every person I have encountered that has loved and shown God’s love not only to me, but to everyone who walks through that door, thank you. Thank you for your witness and example of what a family of God looks like. When I lost my dad on Christmas Eve last year, I felt so alone in many ways. I had only begun building relationships with those around me in my new church home, so I didn’t feel that full web of support I had experienced for all but the previous few years of my life. But standing here today, I am also a testimony of how God can soothe and heal our hearts in reverse because the unbelievable joy, love, and connectedness I feel to Him and to all of you makes it seem like you’ve been with me all along…even back then.
As we continue into this new year, I pray we can all take a moment and remember those who have impacted us in such a way that we are changed for the better. As people of faith, let us remember that we are impacting others every single day of our lives. Not only are we commanded to love, but we are commanded how to love and what that love says to the world around us…. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Blessings to you all!
p.s. If you are looking for a place to worship, come join me! https://www.gatewayvisalia.com/