In seventeen days, we will have lived in Arizona for a year. There have been some great times and some really hard times. Holidays have been hard for me, especially Easter because it was the last time I saw my friends at my old church. However, I can't ignore the evidence that we are exactly where God has placed us and that He is providing for ALL our needs--emotional, spiritual, and physical, so I will praise Him for His wisdom even as I am still going through periods of grieving.
I still miss so many people in Illinois. I miss my old church, not because I don't like the new church I am attending but because we are in a different stage of relationship. My relationship with my old church, which had the motto "Come as you are", had reached the "husband" stage. If I was having a bad day and a friend asked me "How are you?" at church, I was completely comfortable to be honest, rather than putting on a "Joel Olsteen" smile and saying "oh fine, just wonderful. God has really blessed me this week." In fact, there were several weeks in the course of a year when I would arrive at church crying because either Eric had just left for another trip to China or because a child had spent the week waking up five times in the night or due to any number of emotional traumas. And they would not just say, "Oh, I'm sorry and I will pray for you" as they walked out the door." Most of the time, they would stop, listen to my sob story and actually pray for me on the spot! And I could do the same for them. Having only one service, there was no rush to get out the door to free up a parking space for the next group. The other reason this church was so special is that it was the first church I had attended where I felt safe enough to join it as a full fledged member. I was a member there for over ten years, which also qualifies it as the church in which I attended the most time, in fact, the only church where I attended for more than a year.
The church we are attending now has great worship, memorably good sermons (the key of a really good sermon is if you can remember it a month later), and friendly people. We are getting to know several of them much better through small group Bible study and other things. However, let's be honest, we are really in more of a "getting serious" stage at this point, when you start to let your guard down a little to see how the person will react. Will they still love me like Jesus if I come to church wailing like Jeremiah or fuming at my kids who have made us late for church AGAIN or will they figuratively freak out at the "wierdo" and stop returning my phone calls? So far, evidence shows that they can handle the emotional garbage I bring to church and small group. One time, God's Spirit literally led me to tears within a few bars of the opening song. Right after I had wiped my eyes, they asked people to shake hands with someone near you. I know I must have looked a mess, even with the dim lights, and I nervously refrained from shaking hands. One lady leaned over and told me that it was okay to cry during worship because she does too. I felt safe. And church should be the place in which you feel safest, aside from your home.
More on my first year in Arizona will be forthcoming.