This morning at Cornerstone, we celebrated. Fourteen years as a community of believers. Fourteen years. That's the longest I have ever been a part of any single community. As we sang, laughed, cried, reminisced, baptized, broke bread and celebrated, many thoughts raced through my head. There are so many memories tied up in this place. Towards the end, we had time to speak of our "stones of remembrance" that have come out of this place. There is no way on earth I could have expressed what was in my heart. Here is my feeble attempt...
Our kids did most of their growing up here - Dylan was only six when we moved here, Luke, 9, Erin, 11. Erin met her husband because of this place. My daughter's mentor - the adult that has spoken most into her life, outside of her father and I, came from this community. Erin learned to lead worship here - her heart for worship through song was born in this place. Her voice took wings in this building. Her love for children and teens was nurtured in this place.
Luke, as he always has, lived pretty quietly in the midst of these people - but his dearest friends were in this place. These were the people he played with, raced with, laughed with. During his senior year, he surprised us all and started singing here - and it was beautiful. It was in this place that I began to see his strong will - hidden often behind his quiet reserve. And as he moved away and became this long-haired, barefoot, young man, - breaking with all conservative convention - he has still always been loved and accepted and missed here.
Dylan came out into the open with his depression, and all that that involved, in this place. Most of these people loved him, embraced, prayed for, encouraged and believed in him. He cut his singing teeth on these people. Dylan came into this world with a roar and hasn't slowed down since - he lived out loud here and, for the most part, was accepted and loved through that process by these people.
They are all grown and moved away now, but they were shaped by these people. Being a pastor's kid is a hard calling. Some have made that more difficult for them - forcing them into a fish bowl and expecting a level of maturity and perfection that most kids don't have to live in (sometimes, I'm painfully forced to admit, those people were their parents). Others, most, embraced them - let them be kids -- normal, imperfect, emotional, immature-at-times, but amazing little humans.
The growth that brought Brian and I to the place of making our home available and our hearts open to another child, to a teenager - to Thomas - came in this place, with these people. These people have embraced him as if he'd been a part of our family, both a Black and at Cornerstone, forever. He's been loved, mentored, encouraged, scolded and prayed for in this place. He has learned family here.
I learned what I believe the gospel is truly about in this place. To serve the marginalized. To help widows and orphans. To be light in the darkness, rather than light in the light. To feed the hungry. To clothe the cold. To be uncomfortable for the sake of another. To go way beyond Bible study, to "Bible doing". To love extravagantly. To get involved in our larger community and have an impact.
Some of my dearest friendships were born here. I will be forever grateful for this. We have laughed, cried, raised kids, screamed our frustrations, prayed to our God, and loved, with these people.
Our highest mountain tops have been with these people.
Our deepest wounds have been in this place.
There have been days, weeks, months even, that I just wanted to pack up the boxes and hit the road. It was hard. It was painful. It was heart breaking. I was angry. Depressed. Lonely. I have watched my husband be lied to and about. I've held my tongue as people said painful, untrue things about him and about my kids. I've watched others leave and fluxuated between being angry that they were leaving and jealous that I couldn't go too.
But I stayed.
I stayed for my husband, honestly. Not because I'm some great, mature Christian. But for my husband. I held my tongue for my husband. He is one of the greatest men I have ever known. He is not perfect, he has made mistakes in this place, but I have watched him exercise a level of grace and forgiveness that I do not have and have been in awe of his ability to keep moving forward, to keep shepharding, to keep loving, to keep leading, during some of those more difficult years. But he did. And because of him, I did.
And in that place, I learned the value of staying in a place after you don't want to stay any more.
I learned that it is often in that place - staying when you don't want to stay anymore - that you learn to truly love another. That is where you truly learn forgiveness, grace, mercy, faith. This is the place you grow. This is true in a community of believers. It is true in our families. It is true in our marriages. Most of our growth comes during pain.
I'm not saying there's never a time to go. Not at all. Everything has a season and sometimes it is right to leave. But I'm thankful that God held my tongue when I did not have the strength. I'm thankful He gave me a husband that has shown me what grace and forgiveness looks like. And I think I can honestly say now that I'm thankful for the hard parts. This is where He broke me. Where I laid down my never ending need to control everything and lay it at His feet.
These are my people. The good, the bad, the ugly. But mostly the good. These are my people. And today, I am thankful for all fourteen years.