This Thanksgiving will mark the two-year anniversary of Andy and I moving to the Carolinas. The adventure of this transition has definitely challenged what we anchor our hopes in, and we’re grateful for this new chapter in our lives. God’s ability to use mundane circumstances and a shift in geographical location to fulfill our hearts’ desires has produced a greater understanding of His love for us.
During the last two years, while stepping into the dark of the unknown, often we questioned if we heard God and were being led by Him. The stirrings in our hearts and the words that He spoke to us were incredibly strong the year we prepped for moving cross-country. Words of belonging and old promises being fulfilled in a “new land” were at the forefront of our hearts. Moreover, like Abraham, we were called to leave the land we knew but didn’t know the path and ways in which our promises would come.
Moving to Charlotte, without much money and no job, everything about the journey was humbling. We were arriving weak rather than strong, and that would become a theme of the next two years. Yet, I believe in this the Lord was able to show us that He is a good father. A father who requires a yielded heart.
For three months as Andy applied for about nine million jobs, friends and strangers put money in our hands. In the beginning I made it known that we were in need because I was afraid. I felt we had failed to prepare enough. Over time the Lord broke the fear that we had failed and that He would not take care of us, and someone sent us a large check about two months in. It allowed us to pay our bills up until Andy was able to get his first paycheck, and it gave me money to sow into my body product business.
Over that year we put one foot in front of the other. Andy being accepted into the PHD program for Social Work was seriously an ACT OF GOD! Only four were accepted that year. Despite the favor in his job and later in school, we met unexpected difficulties. The place of worship that we thought was part of the promise to “belong” was not meshing with us, and the relationships we’d made through it were becoming more and more difficult. The aligning of what we believed about His promises, our passions for what God was requiring of us in our devotion to Him, and what was playing out in front of us grew increasingly more unstable. In fact, when we were honest with ourselves we realized it never had actually aligned in the first place. But we depended on our own loyalty to a church as God’s “will” and stayed in misalignment.
The holiday craft fairs began and we both poured ourselves into ending the year well, even though spiritually it felt as if we were dying. At one event at a local high school, a nice lady wandered into my booth and we began to chat. She talked about the church she attended and I told her how we recently moved from California. When I told her what church we were a part of in California I thought she was going to push me over and say “GET. OUT.” like Elaine from Seinfeld. She went on and on about her own pastor, but my eyes sort of glazed over. My heart was pretty numb to the subject at that point (a symptom of a year of misalignment) but I engaged with her. It was good to talk to her and I left it at that. During the rest of that day more and more people from her church came by my booth, all very kind and engaging. I chalked it up to coincidence. Two weeks later at another fair in another town, another woman started chatting with me. She too was from this church, and now I actually took note of it. I wrote it down and put it in my pocket and kept going on with my events.
After an exhausting holiday season, my husband and I came to a crossroads. Broken-hearted and seeking God we found ourselves pulling up to the parking lot of a church–the same church attended by those I had met at the holiday fairs.
I’ve been a part of four churches in my life, and each has had a tremendous impact on me. Church is a big deal to us. And perhaps because I was a pastor’s kid, I don’t feel comfortable with “church hopping.” I always attended a church because God called me there. It’s more than a Sunday experience for me. It’s family.
Nevertheless, venturing in that Sunday felt awkward–like we were limping to the back pew, our hair smoking, our faces streaked with war paint and mud. I brought my knitting like a weirdo. I mean, no one else was knitting. I just needed to feel safe and for some reason a crochet hook felt like a suitable weapon in case things got real. Worship started and Andy wept. I knitted. About twenty minutes in, a dream I’d had two months beforehand came flooding back. There were many components to it, but the thing that stood out most was the fact that the layout of the church matched that of the place in my dream. I’d never seen this church before, yet in my dream it was exactly the same. It was a sign for me to relax and trust again. To put the crochet hook down. To press in and give God the praise He was due despite my pain.
Several Sundays passed and our hearts started to feel alive again. The self-protective walls began to corrode. We found ourselves being welcomed and pursued in healthy friendships, and there was no fight to make and keep friends. We were entering into a healthy family that was already thriving. Health went from the top down. The leadership model consisted of a strong team with a pastor at the helm who served with humility, and that created an atmosphere of healing for us. There were no bodyguards or superstars. No barriers.
I started writing my book two weeks after our first service at our new church, which I don’t believe was by accident. I believe the healthy environment and support of this congregation allowed me to reach my full potential in telling my story and allowed for the vulnerability it required.
As we step back and look at the last eight months we have nothing but gratitude for our new family. They have allowed us to be ourselves and we have grown exponentially because of it. We’re new; we’re not a part of the leadership, or the worship team, nor do we have any other official role at this church. Yet we feel as much a part of the family as those who have attended for many years.
God is true to His promises. Sometimes you go through difficult times so you can know what counterfeit looks like–so when the promises come you know it was Him who brought them.