Hard to believe that it has been two years since I moved to Orlando! One of the things I dreaded most about the move was finding a church home. It was 1993, shortly after my mother’s death – when my friend asked me to visit a new church with her. She was recovering from a divorce, pursuing a closer relationship with the Lord…searching for a church home in which to start over. Mark and I were perfectly happy at a church close to home but I agreed to visit with her for support – it’s not easy walking into a new church alone. As I looked around in this new place, I was struck by the number of men actively serving. I began to understand this rare phenomenon when the pastor spoke. He was a former football coach – his manner and message were so relatable to the average male. I thought Mark might find this more enjoyable and I invited him to return with me. Also in that first service, I learned about counseling services the church was offering. ‘Counseling’ was not present within the culture I grew up. Despite the nebulousness of the concept, something stirred inside of me and I determined to check it out. I was not handling my mother’s death well and I knew I had no one in my life who could help me in the way I needed. Perhaps this “counseling” business might be a good thing? Pastor Brian Benjamin became God’s shepherd in my life: teaching me about grief and exposing me to a new career path. Mark did end up loving the church and we made the move to settle in. He joined me in counseling and he served in the children’s ministry in which Christina blossomed and thrived.
Christina appeared in the church’s first picture directory
Pastor Brian led me as I joined the lay counseling ministry. Ten years after hearing God’s call, he validated God’s work in my life as I finally collected the degree that would allow me to enter into that call. For nineteen years, this church was the central stability of our many moves, our multiple relationship dramas, and Christina’s volatile journey through adolescence. Not a year went by that I wasn’t serving with folks who became my spiritual family – whether singing in the choir or facilitating a Grief Share group (oh the irony). When the worst happened, the Senior Pastor of this now mega-church (son of the football coach) ran the service himself. He had watched Christina grow up along with him. His wife had directed the children’s choir where Christina tried to grab the microphone during the Christmas concert :) The pastor of the 20’s and 30’s ministry – J1TEN – came to tell stories of the lives she had brought into his fellowship. Words cannot describe how much this spiritual family was completely entangled in every aspect of my heart and soul. How on earth could I ever start over? The task seemed impossible and so for months after the move, I attended my church through its online campus. I knew I needed to be in a live fellowship but justified my decision by saying that until Mark joined me, I had no idea where we would settle and so there was no sense in getting attached to a place that might not end up being convenient to involvement.
Around the same time I took this job, my boss, David started a new church. It all sounded nice but I had no desire to check it out for a variety of reasons. As the months marched on, I listened with distant interest to the details of his new venture.
Mark joined me a year ago and four months later, we settled into our rental home. I identified several churches we could check out (all similar in style to the one we left) and made plans as to how we would narrow our choices. However, it seemed every time I had plans for us to attend, something would deter us: Mark would have to work or one of us would not be feeling well. I honestly wasn’t all that motivated so it wasn’t too difficult for me to say each week, “forget it”. In the meantime, my interest in David’s endeavors had grown and I decided to visit his church. I didn’t think it sounded like my kind of place but I wanted to show my support for something he clearly cared deeply for. I remember talking with him about our ‘church shopping’ process (or lack thereof) and realizing that I could not fathom being in a church fellowship of which Christina had not been a part. It had already been difficult enough to move to a workplace where she was unknown. I was no longer surrounded by folks who had known and loved her. Every time I imagined having to do that at a church, it depressed me. I began to understand my lack of motivation. Visiting David’s church was awkward for me because it was so very different from what I left behind, but I enjoyed aspects of it. I left with mixed feelings and determined that I would return occasionally ‘as an encouragement to him’ I told myself. I certainly could not consider committing to it since it met on Saturday nights and Mark always worked then. (Mind you, Mark had given me no such restrictions). Well, things continued to fall apart in terms of attending somewhere with Mark and I found myself returning to Renew more often than I had intended. By the end of Spring, as Renew became more and more comfortable, I realized I might as well settle in until Mark voiced otherwise and there was always the chance his schedule would change.
Over the summer, I began to hear God’s urging to return to ministry. I had not served in any ongoing capacity for five years. Though I had committed not to take on anything new for the entire year, there was a need and I felt permission to meet it. Thus, I agreed to start a women’s ministry which kicked off a week ago. My “welcome home” totally snuck up on me! If you had told me this outcome two years ago, I would have called you crazy.
As David preached on Leaders this weekend, it fully dawned on me that I was home. Part of me trembles because I don’t know for how long. I would like it to be for another 19 years at least as I despise the leavings, but I cannot predict and I cannot live in fear. I must jump in with both feet and see where God takes me. He is sending me confirmation from multiple sources which has been this incredibly tender comfort. My heart is so grateful for this place. I think about Christina a lot when I am there. I know she would have jumped right in to working with the children. The core vision of the place aligns with her favorite verse: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 Tears overflow when I sit in the deep longing I have for her to be with me in this new season. I so wish she could meet these ones I am coming to love but I will have to wait for that meeting. In the meantime, I collect the stories I will tell when I make the introductions.