Beautiful in His Time is a participant in multiple affiliate marketing programs. The author of this blog may receive commission for purchases or clicks made through links on this website.
Today marks the 7th anniversary of the day we first walked into Grace Bible Church. I’ve been looking forward to today for months now. Not because 7 is the number of perfection, but because seven years is (approximately) the longest I’ve ever been at one church in my life. In a way, this is now new territory. It’s surreal, because sometimes, I still feel like I’m new here.
In preparation for this momentous seven years occassion, I had no plans to write a blog post. I already wrote a post back on this day in 2017, sharing the story of how we ended up here. If you haven’t ever read it, it’s a rather neat story: How God Led Us to Our Church Home & 6 Reasons We’ve Stayed
But this was the pivotal moment for me:
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.
I just perused the rest of that post, and I realize that there’s not much more I can say than what I already said there. But there are a few things I want to add (from the last five years that have passed since then).
First, some memories and top moments from the last seven years:
Another thing I did in preparation for today’s seven years anniversary was the completion of a personal project I do as a sort of “therapy.” I flip through magazines and cut out words that grab my attention. Then, I group them into collages that form my thoughts and feelings about a certain thing. (I did this magazine art therapy thing several times when I was pregnant with Little Brother.)
Words are important to me, so this process allows me to put my thoughts and feelings into words that I might not have initially thought to say on my own. Much like the quote says, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down,” I’m not always able to sort through my tangled thoughts about a certain subject until I find words that reflect my feelings.
My “process” for this is to just flip and find words – any words. Usually then, themes start coming through. Often, when I’m looking for words for a certain collage, I’ll find other words that make me thing, “Oh! I should do a collage for X thing too!”
So I started collecting words for a “Seven Years at GBC” collage back in May, when I was working on collages of my feelings about my boys.
Last night, I put on my headphones to listen to my GBC Music Amazon playlist and got to work. Within the first few minutes, I realized there were too many words for one page. So, I grabbed a second sheet…and then a third. What amazed me about this process was that there were three main themes that emerged in my words. These themes will be the framework for this blog post, because they expressly represent the things I wanted to add to the initial “6 reasons we stayed there” that I wrote about five years ago.
Theme 1: A Community of Grace
A lot of the words I had chosen had themes about relationships and growth. What I was sensing while doing this collage was that the way our church functions and cares cultivates spiritual growth in his members.
We are an intentional community of grace that loves God, demonstrated by loving people in a culture of discipleship.
We are an intentional community of grace that loves God, demonstrated by loving people in a culture of discipleship.
Our family doesn’t always make it easy. We can be difficult to love. But over the last seven years – through the love and care of those in our church – I see the growth and change in us.
Theme 2: Lifechanging Truth
In 2017, our pastor taught a Sunday school seminar called “Seven Words That Can Change Your Life.” This seminar covered seven important words that explain the fullness and yet the simplicity of the gospel of grace as it is taught in the Bible.
I don’t think I fully understood at the time what these words would do in my life. I may have even missed attending some of the seminar. But between that lesson, a series of expositional teaching through the book of Ephesians, a sermon entitled Live in the Outflow, a series of Sunday Night Seminars from 2 Peter chapter 1, and some concepts we worked through in a few marriage counseling sessions – I began to really wrap my head around what the gospel is and how to actually live a Christian life in grace, disentangled from the legalistic effort I had grown up with within the fundamentalist movement.
I am not going to delve into these concepts here, because I have covered them extensively in my blog series Grace: How a Recovering Legalist Moves Forward in Faith. (By the way, this series is still ongoing, and I already have plans for at least one additional post for that series. So I encourage you to check out the landing page.)
These concepts were so transformative to my life that I told our pastor that he had to put the “Seven Words” series into a book. Earlier this year, he went on sabbatical, and said book was one of his projects. I have been honored to work with him in the editing phase. While it is “work” (in a sense that I’m working through grammar, syntax, capitalization, voice, and many other complicated elements of writing), it has also been continually transformative, convicting, and encouraging to study these concepts again.
Our pastor returned from Sabbatical at the beginning of July, and began a new sermon series of expositional teaching through to book of 1 Peter, called Live as People Who are Free. This feels like the culmination of the last seven years of teaching. I was shocked last night when I found both the words “can change your life” and “live free” while flipping through secular magazines to finish up this collage!
Theme 3: Hope-Filled Music Opportunities
I am pretty sure that the words “springs eternal” were the very first words I found that made me want to do a GBC collage. It reminded me of the song we introduced last year that has become so important and dear to many of us, Christ our Hope in Life and Death. The chorus begins with these words:
Oh sing hallelujah
Our hope springs eternal
Music has always been important to me, and the music we sing at our church has been a huge part of both my healing from trauma and my spiritual growth. As a former church pianist, I often found myself “sitting on my hands” to keep from “playing along” during our song services. Our church had a wonderfully talented and established pianist, so I was able to enjoy just absorbing the music from the pew.
As the years went on and people became aware of my own capabilities, I took on a sub role for our church pianist. She was at an age where her kids were grown and she and her husband began to do a lot of cross-country traveling. So, in 2018 and 2019, I began to sub on a much more frequent basis – sometimes even several weeks in a row for back-to-back Sunday morning services.
Because both of my children were still struggling behaviorally and my youngest was a toddler and preschooler, I was limited in how often I could step in. Playing the piano was the easy part. The hard part was the logistics of keeping my children entertained during practices and not having my parenting hands available during services, when my husband was quickly and easily overwhelmed with managing them.
But, as we moved into 2020, our family had begun to really make strides in what we were capable of handling. Then COVID hit, and our church was thrust into the crisis of having to meet the need of a varied congregation (who had strong and differeing opinions on how things should be handled). There were weeks of no church, weeks of recorded music, weeks of livestreams during a second shutdown, and then a return to “normal” song services, although there were some who were not ready for that level of interaction and germ-spreading. As my own family dealt with COVID very early in the pandemic (July 2020), I felt more comfortable in participating in live music services. Unofficially during the fall months of 2020, I was at the piano nearly every Sunday.
In November 2020, I was asked to prayerfully consider the role of main pianist, and I officially took over the position in January of 2021.
When I was a fundamentalist teenager in high school, my strongest desire was to be involved in full-time ministry at a local church. I thought that would mean marrying a pastor or a missionary. But regardless, I knew that my God-given gifts as a pianist would be a part of it. I had begun writing and arranging my own music when I was 16, culminating in my singing a song I wrote at my graduation.
Life derailed those plans. I faced both disciplinary action and failure as a church music major in Bible college, I dropped out of school, married a military man with mental struggles, and birthed a son with sensory issues who couldn’t handle my playing the piano in our home for several years. So, I mean every bit of this when I say it: this role is a dream come true for me.
Our music and media director (who shares my age, my love for music, and my affinity for Google docs and spreadsheets), feels the same way about her role as music leader. Together, we are a bit of a “dream team,” with our skills and passions working complementing each other perfectly. Often she will take ideas and concepts, and I’ll be able to weave songs together musically. Because of her encouragement, I’ve been able to resume arranging and complete two arrangements for our team. It is a gift to serve alongside this sister in Christ (who is technically younger than I, yet seems like the older sister I never had).
The rest of our team (two guitarists, two drummers, a flute player, a keyboard player, our team of about 10 rotating vocalists, and our amazing sound and media people) shares a bond and works so hard to bring our musical visions to fruition. We are all blessed with the privilege of ushering the congregation into beautiful corporate worship in a way that leaves us all in awe.
Our music director has also put a lot of thought and time into expanding our current selection of music. One passion of hers is to bring hymns back into circulation, especially in new and fresh ways that bring our hearts back to the rich theology anew. Since taking over as music director, she has added over 20 hymns back into the rotation.
Hymns, at one time, were a “guilt-enducing” emotional trigger for me. While I haven’t loved every single hymn or every single arrangement brought back, so many of them have renewed my love for hymns and my desire to teach them to my children. I especially love our new arrangements of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Take My Life and Let it Be, and Be Thou My Vision.
I love how this new role allows us to serve within the church as a family. The aspect of balancing this role with the needs of my family continues to – at times – be a challenge, but we have found ways to make it work.
Me: I had no plans to write a blog post.
Also me: 2100 words and 11 hours later…
No church is perfect, that much is certain. Relationships within the church are not without loneliness, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and conflicts. But I’m so thankful that the people at GBC have stayed by our side for the last seven years.
Since we joined seven years ago, our church has instituted a sort of members pledge that people say when they join as members. It goes like this:
Out of love for Jesus Christ, we seek to be vitally connected in the membership of Grace Bible Church. We submit to the authority of God’s word in this community, and we purpose to walk together in a Godward direction. We will support this church with our presence, our prayers, our resources, and our love.
The church then replies with a nearly-identical response, affirming their promise to do the same for the new members.
I joked with our pastor one time that maybe we weren’t really members because we didn’t say the pledge. Obviously that’s not the case. But here’s the truth:
While our congregation never audibly pledged these things back to us when we joined their community, they have lived it out regardless. Over the last seven years, they have submitted to the authority of God’s word in our community and purposed to walk together with us in a Godward direction. They have supported us with their presence, their prayers, their resources, and their love.
And I am forever thankful.