I think God has an amazing sense of humor. And by amazing I mean an ironic sense of humor that turns your world slowly upside down, changing your perspective. It is the type of humor that causes you to lift your chin to look outside yourself in order to have you stare, marvel and say the words, “How on Earth did I get here?” This describes my path to Embrace Church.
I grew up in the Methodist faith in a beautiful, soaring cathedral sanctuary, surrounded by stained glass, panty hose, long ties, and appropriate footwear. The church was my home; the other parishioners, my honorary aunt and uncles. My junior high and high school years were tethered to the steady stability of the youth group and its leaders. My entire relationship with this church had a predictable rhythm to it. It was all a positive time in my life.
Fast forward in life to having a husband, children and a desire to have a church home. We looked and visited and finally settled into a place of worship. During this process I was not aware that I was clinging to a self-created idea of how a church should function, behave or even look. It’s embarrassing to say. I had always thought of myself as an open minded person. I was wrong. Well, time passed. Empty and disillusioned, I began to painfully realize with a lot of misplaced resentment that I had not been seeking Christ and an honest relationship with Him in those years. I was looking for a church and not for my Savior. I was the dry bones of which Ezekiel speaks. Sure, I attended church, participated in numerous Bible studies, and faithfully served in various ministries and outreach. Despite all of this, I was empty. And angry. And frankly resentful of what I saw as God working in other’s lives and not mine.
So what changed? I attended a service at Embrace Church. I am going to be honest to a fault here. My first visit to Embrace Church (then the Lee-Scott campus of Cornerstone) was not out of want. I lost a bet over bowling with my best friend and member of the church, Jana Womack. Over the course of several months, I would occasionally visit. I never left without feeling the sincerity of this church’s people. During this time God was pursuing me. He did what He does best – He showed me how much He loves me and always has. Grabbing my losses, my brokenness, my resentment, and my hurt, God swept me up into His arms. He took what I had clung to the most for my worth -my involvement in a homebound food delivery ministry- and showed me how big He is through it and how small my view of church community was. God brought together new volunteers from various churches, many from Embrace, to help staff and grow this ministry. He pulled it from my clutched fists. I began to see the heart of His people and a small glimpse of what His kingdom is.
A church is not a building filled with people at prescribed times to perform predetermined activities. It is not limited by its own structure, budget and traditions. It does not just provide self-satisfying care to others out of obligation. A church loves fiercely – everyone. It looks straight into eyes filled with hurt and says “I am here for you.” It listens. It mourns. It rejoices. Over the past year I have gotten to witness what it looks like to like to live a life patterned after Jesus through some very key people. To watch someone earnestly pray and listen to the Holy Spirit. To watch the selflessness of admitting one’s faults while trying to help bear the weight of someone else’s burden. It is truly inspiring.
So back in January, on the official chartering of Embrace Church, I lifted up my chin, looked around in awe and chuckled, “How did I get here?” I am a daughter of the King that can appreciate the Hallelujah chorus complete with orchestra on Easter and its absence at the same time. I can wrap myself in the beauty of soaring church architecture and worship in a school gymnasium. I can see that our Father and our Redeemer can be in all of it.
I am so thankful for this group of people, this tiny piece of God’s kingdom here on earth. So if you are reading this and feel like dry bones, invite God into your perspective. Allow the Holy Spirit to rattle your cage. Pray that you have the ability to look past your preconceptions of life and not be a victim of habit. It only takes something as simple as a game of bowling to change your trajectory.