If you haven't already, read Part 1: Something is about to change.
Chris’ job has always given him the option of working overseas. Every time his annual review comes up we talk and pray about if it’s time for our family to be open to that option. Inevitably when we have that conversation the answer is: “I can’t imagine leaving our church family at Houston’s First.”
Honestly most of the reason why we’ve stayed in Houston is because Houston’s First has been home and family. I never imagined that we would say goodbye to it. Never. But the Lord never does things that we would imagine, it’s always beyond our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
So the big news is that Sunday, April 15, 2012 will be
our last Sunday at Houston’s First Baptist Church.
Just typing those words makes me want to sob. Driving to church this past Sunday was so surreal knowing it would be one of our last times to do it. Y’all I even took pictures during the service (and totally forgot to turn off the flash... oops!).
Most Sundays we take Karis into the first part of worship so she can experience big church. Some days she loves it and stays the whole time (clapping, waving and flirting). Some days she screams and throws a fit (and we leave before the first song). But on this Sunday, our second to last, she stayed the entire time and cuddled up with us. For a non-cuddly child, this was just what we need since we had just been sharing with each other that morning that it was going to be a hard day.
First, let me dispel any chance of rumors: we aren’t leaving because we are upset with anything or because we feel like where we are going is any better. Yes there are things we’d change about Houston’s First, I’m not saying it’s perfect. But what church is? Every church has things to change and opportunities to grow. That’s not a reason to leave, rather a reason to stay and serve and love. The only reason to leave is if you feel called to go, and we do.
Choosing to leave hasn’t been easy. The thought of having to say goodbye to the people has been nearly unbearable. Also, in the past few months every service opportunity we could possible want has been offered to us. I have told a few friends during this process that if we had spiritual resumes, so to speak, mine could be so jammed full with opportunities both for myself and our family. Ways of serving and leading better that I never imagined to be an option, were now real offers.
But even an unintended or well meaning carrot dangling, as tempting and delicious as it might be and even good, isn't God. We've learned that when the Lord says “Go!” we’ve learned it is always best to go. Even when it doesn’t make the most sense. God’s ways hardly ever make sense.
The main thing I want to try to communicate today is that we are leaving with our hearts bursting full of appreciation for a church that has loved and trained and grown us so much. I am walking away full of memories I will treasure forever.
I’ve been at Houston’s First since I was 16 years old, just months after giving my life to the Lord. A decade and a half, that's a long time (considering I've just been a live for 3 decades).
I think of that young teenager so zealous for the Lord yet so ignorant of how to live for him. I am so thankful for John Durham, Natalie West, CM Habermel, Linda Sproule, Christi Shreckengost and all the other youth volunteers. They were the first to take me right in. They saw value in me that I never knew existed because I was still so focused on the past that I brought with me. They taught me to love God’s Word, to study it and to live it. They taught me how to pray and how to worship. They challenged me to share my faith. They gave me my first opportunities to teach and disciple and to lead.
Moving on to the college ministry seemed near impossible to leave behind what had become a spiritual family, my safe place. I only plugged in my first year in college when I’d come home for holidays and summers but those times have transformed me because of Jay and Ashley Brown. These two live so purposefully for God’s glory. They take discipleship seriously. They were the first to challenge me to read through the Bible. They were the ones to advise a young 19 year to live off your husbands salary when you get married so you could stay home one day if you chose. They were the ones that taught me to stop and wait for the answer to the casual, “How are you?” Ashley modeled for me that it is good and godly to ask direct questions, even if they make you feel uncomfortable, if it means growth could come.
But being away at Texas A&M made it hard to connect with the class so, after my freshmen year, when I came back I went to a women’s Sunday school class taught by an exceptional teacher. I had no clue that my Sunday school teacher was anything important to the rest of the world. I had no clue that other people knew her name, Beth Moore. I just knew she challenged me to love and live God’s Word even more than I had. I knew she had a fire for Christ that bursted out of her. I knew I wanted to love God like that. I knew that I wanted to impact people like her one day (thinking then she was just an amazing Sunday school teacher). I still think from time to time, and laugh, about that naive sophomore that walked up to her after Sunday school and asked her if she'd be my mentor because I admired her so much. (If you are wondering, her response was kind and unpretentious, but simple not able.)
After being done with college and coming home I entered the dreaded singles ministry. I say dreaded not because it truly was, but because I never wanted to be in a singles ministry. So naive was I in what God had in store for me. I got to sit under one of my favorite teachers ever, Jerrell Altic. He challenged us so deeply in the Word and under his teaching I found the courage to leave my dream job in Public Relations to pursue ministry on staff at Houston’s First.
Being on staff was a unique experience for me. The Lord humbled me in my beginnings as an administrative assistant. But in that cubicle I met people that changed me for the better each day. I want to write an entire post just about each of the people I met while on staff, the things I experienced, and how I grew, but truly I could never find the words to give adequate justice to that time. So I will stop here and let you know that I am truly grateful that the Lord allowed me to serve on staff for the time that He did. Today I want to talk about being a member of the church, not staff.
I met my husband in that singles class. Chris and I laugh still today that I had to be in the singles ministry those 2 years because Chris still had to graduate college! Oh I’m such a cougar! Again, there are no words that adequately describe my gratitude for finding my husband, my partner, my teammate, my lover at that church.
Then Chris and I made the transition to the Married Young Adults department. First the newlywed class then a regular class. The teachers we’ve had and the friends we’ve made have been our community. Our life long friends. Again, I find myself at a loss for words because I could quite possible give each person their due credit. We’ve been challenged by genuine community. We’ve laughed so much. So many memories, but not enough time to share.
And finally when we had our daughter we trustfully put in her our churches nursery. The moment we announced we were pregnant I told our preschool minister the room Karis had to be in, Stacy Alexander’s room. It is the room I’ve volunteered in on and off since I was 18 years old. I’ve learned so much from her over the years about serving and loving babies. I know I’m a more confident mother because of my time with her and I know I’m a more willing volunteer because of seeing her consistency to serve.
And weaved through out each of those stages is a ministry that has changed and challenged me so much this past decade: the women’s ministry. Here come the tears again... I won’t take time today to talk about Carolyn, the women’s minister, because I’ve shared often about her on this blog. I’m thankful for the two classes I’ve been able to teach: The Well (Singles) and Oxygen (singles and married, with Amy Kuntz). I’m thankful for the chances to substitute teach in other classes. I’m thankful for the summer Bible study I got to lead last summer. I’m thankful for all the events I’ve gotten to help lead. I’m thankful for being a part of Captivated Together. I’m thankful for the 100s of phone calls and emails from Carolyn saying, “I just want to pick your brain about something...” I love women’s ministry and feel so drawn into it, and I’m so thankful the Lord allowed me to grow up under the women’s ministry at Houston’s First.
And last but not least are all the families we’ve know that from the time I was 16 till today. They’ve changed my life and and changed my family’s life. I could write 100 paragraphs dedicating one to each family that has made a profound impact, but I would fear I’d leave one off. But we are thankful. These faces are the ones that have made it hardest to say goodbye.
We have been so loved. We have been so poured in to. We have been able to grow in service and leadership and relationship. And we are beyond thankful.
Oddly enough it was Pastor Gregg’s words that helped us make our decision. He says often, “It’s not true faith if it doesn’t require Jesus.”
Not that staying and serving at Houston’s First didn’t require true faith, doing anything that would bring God glory requires faith. But for us, what we are saying hello to something that requires even more faith for us.
Check back in Saturday for the final post, Part 3: An Expectant Hello!