Welcome back, friends. It’s story time…
Once upon a time, I was looking for a church. I had been reading my Bible and praying and walking out my faith while seeing the very real evidence of God in my life, but I was tired of doing it alone. I saw several miracles come to pass for me specifically – the supernatural hand of God in my life – and I knew without a doubt that God is. (Is what? He IS. He just is.) My eyes were coming open! I didn’t feel qualified to lead myself on the journey I was beginning. I had questions that needed answers. I prayed and searched the good book, but I was getting frustrated. I was at a fork in my spiritual road, and I felt I needed a point in the right direction. For the first time in my life, I knew I needed a church family. At first, it seemed like an easy problem to solve. The very next Saturday, the week before Easter 2012, I returned to the Seventh Day Adventist church where I had been a member since I was 18 years old. I hadn’t been in a few years, but I’m in the directory so I must belong there, right?
Before church there is a Sabbath School time. Basically, it’s Bible study, but it’s from a standard quarterly guide that all the SDA churches use. You can go to just about any SDA church on a Saturday and they’ll be talking about the same thing. I really enjoyed the discussion time. I got some of my questions answered, I had fellowship, I was in the presence of God. BAM. Then I’d go to service, and the service felt dead… I don’t know how else to explain it. I listened, hoping for a word that gave life, but I still left feeling thirsty and dry. Next Saturday, the same thing. The following Saturday, same. I still did my quarterly assignments every night and read my Bible. I thought maybe I just needed to get used to going to church again, and that it must be the enemy trying to keep me from God. It wasn’t long after I started back to church that I felt like I needed to be baptized. I asked about baptism at church and spent some time in the leader guy’s office talking to him about it. He sent me home with a stack of things to read and watch, and a list of things to do before we would talk about me being baptized. I felt like a boulder had been dropped on me… it didn’t feel right. When I left his office that day, I felt sick. I wanted to leave quickly. I felt like everything he said sounded like a lie! It wasn’t the first time I had talked to him, I had known most of the people in that church for a good long time, but all of the sudden I felt like I was escaping capture. I knew I wouldn’t go back there.
I started to research different religions and churches. I looked into the churches that are registered in the county I live in. I live in a pretty small town, and there are over 40 churches! I began asking around about where other people go, but many of the people I knew didn’t go to church. I asked neighbors, social media, family members – everyone. Once I started asking around, I started getting invited to services. It seems worth mentioning that I never got the same answer twice. I did not find two people that went to the same church in this small town. I accepted every invitation I got, and each church just didn’t feel right. What I concluded after all my visits was that the cliques I went to school with (or their parents before them) decided they wanted to maintain their groups. They wanted to worship God with just their crew, in the way that seemed right to them, and outsiders were invited but not necessarily welcome. Nobody was mean to me, though I did meet some ugly looks. I also ran in to some of the people who didn’t like me in school, and they clearly had not changed their minds! WHERE ARE THE JESUS FOLLOWING, BIBLE READING, PEOPLE LOVING CHRISTIANS?? I was getting frustrated and sad. Every other Sunday my girls were with me and they were not happy about the church hopping, either. I gave up.
I gave up looking for a church and instead began looking for a man. During the great church search, I had removed Cali from my life and felt even more alone than I had before. He was pretty much the only person I had to talk to about God, and once I stopped talking to him I just returned to my lonely hole. Instead of reading my Bible, I read online dating profiles. During a road-trip with my best friend and my kids, I gave in to peer pressure (and boredom) and I downloaded OKCupid to my phone. I set up my profile, picked a username (with the help of my toe tattoos), and got to searchin’. There had to be a Jesus loving man out there somewhere who would be interested in a divorced woman with kids and who knows how to spell. There had to. Most messages I received were ignored. I didn’t send many, but when I got replies it was obvious they were not the one for me. I met one in July that I spent some time with, but one day he vanished into thin air. No joke.
School started back up in August, and I traveled a bit – I was a little miffed by the disappearing act, so I took a break from the online dating world.
September rolls around and life is looking up. I moved out of the ghetto and into a good size house, I have my kids after school most days, I have two jobs, Riss moved in with me so money wasn’t as tight… I had some extra time and thought I’d see what OKC had for me. I reactivated my account and had a look around. A few days later I got a message from a guy commenting on my hair. “I had that same haircut last summer.” That’s all. I responded asking if that was his attempt at beginning conversation, or if that was all he had to say. I figured I wouldn’t hear from him again, but, to my surprise, he responded with an upbeat message and I felt compelled to indulge the exchange. After a day of exchanging online messages, we switched to texts. From his profile, he had kids and loved God. He was athletic and good looking. He could spell. Why not? We spent a few days texting and getting to know each other. We had so many things in common! We made plans to meet in person the following Saturday. On Wednesday, however, we had a particularly awesome day of shared interests and good conversation. I asked him if he was sure he wasn’t free that night because I wanted very much to see if he was real. He informed me that he had to be somewhere, but that I was welcome to go. He was going to a church small group entitled Faith-Based Parenting. This excited me for two reasons… I had prayed many times for God to show me the man for me by him inviting me to church AND I was going to meet this guy. Nevermind that going to this small group meeting meant that I would get off work at one job, drive 45 minutes home, work at my other job, get dressed, and drive over an hour to the church he invited me to. I might have turned down the invitation from a friend inviting me to a church that far away, especially on that night since it would be such a hassle to make it, but I was not going to tell him no! Priorities, yo.
I get there. This church is BIG. I’ve never been to a church like this before. I had seen big churches on TV, but it just wasn’t my thing. The group was in a small portable building that was labeled as the K-1 building. The toys inside let me know that it was usually used for children’s activities. I was the first one to arrive, and was 20 minutes early. Upon entering, I met a beautiful woman with the most welcoming smile I’ve ever seen. She welcomed me in, asked my name, complimented me on my bow and started up a conversation. I was immediately at ease. People started to file in, so I made a name tag and took a seat at the back. Right before class started, in walks Mr. Charming (MC). No time to talk, so I surprised him with a hello hug and we turned our faces front for the message. The more she talked, the more I fell in love with Jamie Keith. Her southern accent was adorable and she spoke from her heart. It seemed like the class was short that night. It was just over an hour, but it certainly didn’t feel that long. MC and I talked after class for about 30 minutes and I made the long haul home. I did meet him Saturday as planned (kind of) and he invited me to check out a Sunday service the next day. I, of course, accepted that, too. The small group met every Wednesday for about 8 weeks, and I had come for the first time on the first night of the class for that session. Coincidence? I think not.
I continued making the trip to Celebration Church every Wednesday and Sunday. After the second small group, I was invited to dinner at the fellow’s house. We began hanging out after every Wednesday service, and usually Sundays, too. At first, I’ll admit, I attended church (over an hour from my house, faithfully, twice a week) in order to spend time with this guy and his pretty fantastic kids. I fell in love with the little ones almost right away, and my girls made fast friends with them, as well. He lived right near the church, so it made sense for me to stay there if I didn’t have my girls but I did have church the next day. That way, I wouldn’t have to take time from my work day to drive to church during peak traffic times. I very much enjoyed attending service, but I hadn’t met many people yet and I wasn’t committed. I basically used church services as an excuse to see this guy more often.
I was, however, getting into the Word more often as I was challenged by Pastor Joe Champion’s sermons. Every message he gave was straight from scripture. The more I read, the more I wanted, and the more I got. The longer I went to this place, the more often I wanted to be there. The non-relationship I had with the guy who originally invited me got confusing, and I looked to God more and more for answers. The message God kept giving me was to keep going and not give up. Persevere. It seemed like every time I thought about giving up on the feeling I had for this guy, God stopped me in my tracks. I stopped talking to him, suddenly there was a reason I needed to talk to him. I decided never to go back to his house, I left my life-giving computer cord at his house and arrived to retrieve it at the same time that work needed me online right away and before I could finish and leave, the littles arrived home from school and asked for homework help (MC was at work). These things sounds so insignificant as I read them back to myself, but I was compelled to stay where I was. I was uncomfortable, I wasn’t satisfied with the return on investment with him, but I felt the Lord calling me to just keep doing what I was doing. Whether I imagined that or not, I kept right on. Funny how God works… He knew that if I gave up on the guy, I might give up on that church. I hadn’t yet moved my investment.
Anyway, I began to meet more people. Through MC, I met a family that he had been friends with for a long time (their kids were best friends, and so were they), and they also just happened to go to Celebration. Actually, they were the ones who invited him to go in the first place. The more I talked to them, and the more our kids hung out, the closer we got. To this day, I love them dearly and consider them like a brother and sister to me. They were there for me in a few tough spots, and when they were needed they came running to my side. I thank God for them often.
In January I realized I’d been there almost 4 months, and it was time to put my money where my faith was. I began to tithe. I had never tithed before and it was tough to put it first, but I did. I had to. I knew the Bible was clear about honoring God and giving Him the first fruits, and I was well aware that I only had my job because of His grace to begin with (that’s another testimony). I began serving at the church and giving of my time doing things like cleaning classrooms and restocking for service. While I served I met more people, and then I began forming relationships with these people. I even reconnected with someone from my past when we joined the same small group for the next session. God totally put her in my life back then and now, and her friendship is such a blessing. She has spoken life into my soul on more than one occasion. Over time, when I went to service I stopped walking around with my head down trying not to make eye contact and just find a seat, but I started searching the crowd for familiar faces. It got to where I couldn’t go far without a smile or hug from someone who knew my name. I still saw that guy a lot, but he was no longer the reason I was driving so far to be in God’s house. His face wasn’t the face I looked forward to seeing two to four times a week. The convenience of his house was just that – a convenience that enabled me to be at my church more often. I had unknowingly become part of a church family. God used what I wanted to give me what I needed.
I didn’t go to Celebration looking for a church – I went to Celebration to meet a man. What I found was the family I belonged to. What I found was acceptance. Love. Relationships. Truth. What I found was the place God wanted me to be planted. Where He wanted me to grow. I was planted and being watered and fed by a congregation of believers who accepted me as I was. Everyone I met was the embodiment of “come as you are”. I’ve changed a lot since then, but not because they manipulated me or asked me to change or even suggested that I change. As I was loved and accepted, I longed to be a better person. I wanted to be the kind of person worthy of what they were giving me. I began wanting to reflect the light of God to others the way it had been shone into the dark parts of my life. I made more connections and started speaking life into people with scripture in their time of need, and being sought out for advice. ME! I was being asked for Godly encouragement! Even some of my nonbeliever friends would come to me when things were rough because they recognized that I had something that was getting me through my own rough spots. It was like I was a whole new person. And I was. Except for a few parts of my life that I just wouldn’t let go of, but He would soon strip me of those, too.
Luke 11:9 NLT “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”
You will receive; You will find; It will be opened. But it might not look like what you expected.
I’m proof that God will meet you wherever you are and lead you where you need to be if you’ll just follow Him. God met me on OKCupid.
Where did He lead me? Stay tuned…