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It was two years ago today, on July 19, 2015, that we stepped into Grace Bible Church for the first time. I remember the date quite vividly because it was a series of random-yet-God-scripted events that led us there to our church home.
This past Sunday, our pastor said these words:
It all started with a haircut. Now, I cut Ezra’s hair myself about 98% of the time. In the three years we’ve been in North Carolina, he’s had two professional haircuts. Two. But that weekend, we were getting family / maternity pictures taken, and I wanted his hair to not look like his mom cut it. I took Ezra to one of those haircut salons just for kids. (Funny thing? It’s closed now.) But on that day that’s where we went. It was in a part of town I didn’t frequent all too often. So when we left, I took a road home that I almost never drove on.
On that road, there’s a sign pointing down a quiet wooded street. It’s big enough to see and read… but small enough that if you blink, you might miss it.
Thankfully, I didn’t blink.
On the sign, there’s a website URL. When I got home, I looked it up. I was not averse to what I read. I texted the URL to my husband at work with a message that said something like, “I think I want to visit here sometime.” We decided to try it out that coming Sunday.
The website said that there was two services, 8:30 and 11. As our son wakes up at o-dark-insanity, we picked the early service. So we showed up. I was 35 weeks pregnant, wearing a pink maternity dress with navy polka dots that wasn’t really at all comfortable. It was the only time I wore that dress. We were immediately greeted by the pastor and his daughter and granddaughter. A quick chat with them revealed that they did not have any childcare for their first service.
Having a special needs kiddo, childcare is kind-of-no-totally a deal-breaker. Pastor told us that there were children’s programs for the Sunday School hour if we wanted to wait around. We opted to leave.
We headed to the nearby McDonalds where we grabbed breakfast, then meandered over to a local park. There, we entertained Ezra in the sweltering NC-in-July heat while I sweat buckets in my uncomfortable dress.
I remember Russ coming over to me: “Maybe we should just go home.”
An hour later, we showed up (again) as first-time visitors. I was sweaty and my hair had gone completely flat. We dropped Ezra off for Sunday School and then headed upstairs, where we were greeted with smiling faces and hot coffee.
Somehow, the conversation we were having with the pastor waxed long as people dispersed throughout the building to their classrooms. He invited us into his office, where we sat on a couch across from him and my husband told him OUR ENTIRE LIFE STORY.
He’s done this with pretty much every church we’ve ever attended, but I’d be lying if I said I was 100% okay with this approach.
I shifted uncomfortably while my husband talked and talked and talked. When there was a lull, Pastor turned to me. He asked me how I felt about my faith.
The only answer I could muster was something like this: “Just holding on. I don’t read my Bible. Some times I can’t pray. But I’m still holding onto faith, because I’m just not to the point where I can walk away.”
His response was gentle and kind. He told me that there were many people in their church in the same place that we could relate to.
Down in the nursery, we were greeted by familiar faces – acquaintances that we had met before through mutual friends. People who we knew came from an IFB church background as well.
That first Sunday, it “just so happened” that it was “Care Group Sunday.” This meant no evening service to come back to, but that there was a brand-new care group starting up that very day. He introduced us to the leader of this new care group. Father of three, two of them young boys whose ages perfectly book-ended our Ezra’s.
That afternoon, we took a leap and ended up in the living room of strangers. When we left, we already felt like they were friends.
About six months later, after spending over four hours across our kitchen table from our Pastor and assistant pastor telling them THE EVEN LONGER VERSION OF OUR ENTIRE LIFE STORY, we made GBC our church home.
GBC is a church that was founded on making “clear, systematic exposition of Scripture” the top priority. I have never been in a church so Scripture-centric or Scripture saturated. However, I have also never had a church home so full of love and grace.
At GBC, good theology is preached oh-so-gently but without excuse. However, “good Christian behavior” is encouraged, not as something to be “tacked onto” our outer Christian exteriors, but rather as something that must flow from the outflow of a deep, personal relationship with God who deeply desires to connect with us through His self disclosure (AKA the Bible).
I would love to tell you six reasons why GBC is our church home:
1. It wasn’t just a family – it was OUR family.
GBC is a church home like no other. Pastor said this Sunday that many times he hears from visitors-who-become-members that “Grace Bible Church is the best kept secret in the Triad.” From my spot at the piano, I loudly say the word, “Amen.”
(You can take the girl out of the baptist…but can’t completely take the baptist out of the girl…)
What does family feel like? It feels like acceptance, just as you are.
It feels like walking in the doors and feeling like you belong there.
It’s smiles and hugs from others nearly every week.
It’s being treated like you matter.
2. We were allowed to be real.
Our prior church experiences left us knowing that we didn’t want to be in a place where we had to wear masks or pretend to be Christians who had their crap together. We were just done trying to be people that we weren’t to get people to like us.
Since the day we entered the doors of GBC, we said, “Here we are, in all our mess. In all our doubt. In all our confusion. In all our pain. Love us, please. Just love us.” And they have.
I’ve asked some really hard questions in Sunday School. But you know what? Once a year they have had a few weeks dedicated to a Sunday School class that’s all about answering hard questions. Because it’s that kind of safe place.
We’ve been able to tell them that we’ve been really hurt. That sometimes we struggle to understand why God has allowed life to be so hard for us. Pastor said something like this: Things things are hard. This world is touched by never-ending brokenness, and we don’t always know why. But we know that God is still good.
We told them before officially becoming members that we were going through a lot and might not be able to pour a lot in as far as serving in ministry. Their response was this: We know you are hurt and confused and need a break from your child. It’s totally okay if you can’t get involved in ministry right away. This is a hard season for you guys. We want you to be able to enjoy and participate in the services without worrying about your child.
3. There have been supports for our special needs child.
I have already written a very detailed blog post about how our church family has gone above-and-beyond-to-the-quadrillion-and-ninety-ninth-power to help Ezra, so I won’t spend too much time this point.
The short version is this:
On two separate occasions, we have sat down for a parent-teacher conference with every staff member and volunteer that works with our son. In these meetings, we have explained to them strategies that they can use to help Ezra succeed. Several people have volunteered to be assistants assigned to “Ezra detail” in Sunday School and children’s church. They have sat with him in empty classrooms while he’s had meltdowns. They have taken him on walks. They have coached and quieted and hugged. Most of all, they have showered us with love and prayers while we continue to work with Ezra to help him succeed at our church home.
Ezra with one of his “helpers” at a Valentine’s Day Parent’s Night Out event
4. Time and time again, they have offered us tangible help.
- Less than two months after our first visit, Little Brother was born. We received texts and calls while I was in the hospital from several members, some of whom I didn’t even know yet.
- They set up a meal train for me. Holly and Sally brought me meals those first few weeks.
Allergen-friendly mommy fuel!
- When Little Brother was only a few months old, the ladies in the church threw me a surprise baby shower!
- Christine, Holly, Mercy, Rachel, and Susan have watched my children for me on several occasions.
- Christine has come over to help me clean my house. Christine, Emily, and Rachel have folded my laundry for me.
- Andrea has sat next to me on the bathroom floor and prayed over me as I cried when I was having a rough time.
- Christine has counseled me through a challenging situation in my marriage when I wasn’t sure what to do.
- Pastor visited me in the ICU.
- Mercy, Rachel, and Christine brought me meals after I spent four days in the hospital.
- Holly brought us a Chickfila lunch and helped me clean and pack in preparation to move.
- Bobby and Michael provided vehicles and helped us move furniture when we moved into our new home.
- Cyndi brought me a meal when we moved.
- Iris has sent me encouraging cards and mailed us a gift card for food after I got out of the hospital.
- Laura has handed me a card with trading cards for Ezra inside.
I’m sure I’ve missed mentioning people. For that, I apologize. But, you get the point…
5. People notice when we don’t show up.
There are still Sundays we don’t make it out the door due to a meltdown. There are still weeks we pack up and take a day to hike as a family. But we know that we are missed and that the people at our church home are waiting to welcome us with open arms when we come back.
6. It really was a matter of God’s perfect timing.
Sometimes, my heart aches that I didn’t drive down that road sooner. But maybe we weren’t ready. Maybe we had to travel a broken road to get to where we are.
What I do know is that we have found our church home.
This past Sunday, Pastor Rich preached a really splendid message all about the church – the greater church, and our church. I sat there sort of in awe about how well the words he spoke fit in with this blog post (that I’ve been writing in my head for weeks now and knew I was putting up today).
If not, I’m going to conclude this post by sharing a few quotes from the message.
Finally, this one. The bolded section shares our church’s mission statement, which is repeated nearly every Sunday by our pastor or any one of our teachers.
There is no perfect church home. I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that.
GBC isn’t perfect. There are still Sundays I come home lonely or confused. There are still times I’m triggered by something said (or sung) in a sermon or Sunday School lesson (I have a whole post coming about this). I know people who have left our community because it wasn’t the right fit for them. I get it. I truly do.
I wish that I could tell you that God has a church home like GBC for you. But I can’t. I’ve talked to enough Christians struggling with church issues to know that sometimes, the church selection out there just isn’t all that great.
So instead, I am going to speak to those who HAVE found a good church home.
Please, if you take nothing else away from this series, take away this:
I beg you, I implore you…
Be all in.
Be the reason that visiting family comes back and makes your church their church home.
Send that card, email, or text. Slip that check. Plan that baby shower. Offer to babysit. Take them a meal. Clean their house. Drop by with some coffee. Hold their baby. Sit next to their difficult child in Sunday School so they can enjoy the service without worrying. Sit on the floor of the bathroom next to her when you see her crying and pray with her.
Be the reason someone stays.
Dear GBC Family, if you can handle some sappiness, this song has been in my head all week and will forever remind me of you:
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