In 1997, Larry and I stumbled into the doors of a precious church in town. From the moment we walked in the doors, we felt at home. We were welcomed, nurtured, taught and loved through the early years of our marriage. Our young marrieds Sunday School class was far more than a group of people we spent an hour a week with. They were our best friends, the ones we desired to spend time with over anyone else, the moms I did play dates with and Bible studies with. These were the men Larry hung out with for Guys' Nights and those he studied the Word with. They were our closest companions and some of our biggest cheerleaders. They were the ones we would call late at night with prayer needs and those who would show up at our door with food in times of crisis. Larry was a deacon and served on the missions board. I was involved in the ladies ministry, worked in the nursery & preschool departments and taught VBS. In late 2004, we said goodbye to the sweet souls there and moved across town to another church where Larry would serve as a pastor for the next 4 1/2 years. We desperately missed all of our friends in those early months, but in time, our new church became 'home.'
In the spring of 2009, Larry stepped down from his job at the church. God was calling us in a different direction, so we followed. It was a hard, painful road back into 'regular' life. Larry grieved the loss of that part of his identity. We mourned the loss of the ministries we had helped start. We missed the families we had served and become so close to. But we knew it was the right thing to do.
We returned to our old church. It seemed the most logical, simple transition. Upon arriving there, we realized that nearly the entire congregation was different. Only 1 staff member was the same. We questioned if this was where we should stay, but determined that any church we attended would be the same --- we'd have to adjust to new church members & staff anywhere we went, so it was time to settle in & get used to a new body of believers. We were anxious to get involved again and become a part of this old, familiar, warm place.
Around the 1 year mark, Larry voiced a concern that maybe this wasn't the right church for us after all. It just didn't feel right to him. He struggled to "fit". He didn't feel connected. He was having a hard time finding his niche. We tried several different Sunday School classes and small groups, but couldn't find "the one" where he felt the most at home. As the kids and I got settled into a routine of serving and involvement, Larry floundered, but he was willing to "stick it out" for our sakes. He was happy that we were all plugged in, filling a role in ministry of one sort or another.
In the coming few years, he quietly suffered. I nudged him to try becoming involved in one ministry or another. I urged him to seek out the staff & try to connect with them. I called his old guy friends and asked them to seek him out & help him find a way to get involved. I kept pushing for him to make it work. As the years passed I grew more deeply involved in women's ministry, the preschool department, relationships with ladies of the church, but he became more & more lost in the crowd, feeling like an outsider.
I guess I knew a long time ago that I should probably submit to his leadership & move to another church with him so we could find a place where he 'fit', but I kept closing my eyes or shoving my fingers in my ears, trying to ignore the facts. I figured as long as he didn't push the issue, I'd just try to keep tiptoeing along until it came up.
In May, Larry reached a breaking point and announced privately to me that he just couldn't keep going. He felt lost, abandoned, disconnected from everyone and lonely. He was silently suffering and he had grown weary of trying to force something to work that didn't seem like it ever would. He said that he didn't want to ever go back. He was ready to move on and find a new place. I couldn't blame him. Five years is long enough to feel out of place and incomplete.
And so, today we spent our final Sunday at the place I've known as my church home for 12 of our 20 years of marriage. I am a little sad, but more than anything I am at peace. I know that following my husband to a new place is right. I know that submitting to his leadership is so very freeing. I know the search for a new church will be hard, and possibly LONG, but I ache to spend my Sunday mornings next to Larry, worshiping and learning by his side. I am also anxious to make this move & get it over and done with, so pray with me that God helps me relax and rest in this journey.
The kids know we're making a move and they have a whole range of emotions about it. They understand WHY we're moving. They agree that it's best for us to find a place where we can ALL feel at home & plugged in. But of course leaving behind something comfortable is always hard. Pray that God helps us find a place where they can get settled in quickly.
I am not gonna lie. This is a hard move. But it's the right move, so I'm game. Father, lead us.
Postscript: I feel like I should note that we are not angry with anyone at the church. We are not disgruntled or mad. We do not intend to destroy the church's reputation or gripe about them at every turn. We have just realized it's not the right specific church group for us anymore. Fortunately we live in the Bible belt where there is another church on just about every corner. There are plenty of others to choose from & we trust that God will lead us to the right place.