Y’all it is not often that I am short on words. I’m a talker. I like to make jokes. I know I tend to be the biggest character in the room. But right now, in this moment, although I know I need to write and try to share with you about the amazing weekend I had at The Belonging Co conference and the experience I’ve been having at this new church, I can’t even kind of sort of put any of it into words.
First of all, The Belonging Co is the church our family now attends in Nashville. Yes, I said Nashville, which means that we drive almost an hour and fifteen minutes each way to church. Friends, it was already a hard pill for my husband to swallow that we were driving thirty-five minutes to church in Columbia, because he (the both of us, really) had an idea in our head as to what a church experience, church family, church community would look like. It didn’t look like thirty minutes away. And it most CERTAINLY didn’t look like over an hour away. As a matter of fact, we went to TBCO (The Belonging Co) for the first time on Easter of this year because my friend Tori Hein goes there (yea, I talk about her a lot) and we had a mutual friend in town that was staying at my house. It seemed like a great way to spend Easter—head to church in Nashville and then see the city sights. My husband actually said, “It’s safe for us to go check out this church because there is NO WAY I’m driving to Nashville for church ever, so even if it’s good, we’ll just go back to status quo after the visit.” After service, where Danny Gokey (of American Idol!!) led worship, I didn’t know whether to laugh at the ridiculousness of how good it was, or question the ridiculousness of how good it was—surely that’s not real!!! That’s got to be an Easter spectacular! But it wasn’t just the singing—it was the teaching that was shared and the passion with which it was shared. The pastor was so moved by the Holy Spirit that he had to take a minute to gather himself. I’ve never seen that before.
Tom and I got in the car to head on over to lunch and then to a museum after church. I looked over at him as we pulled out of the parking lot and casually asked him how he liked the service. He looked at me and said deadpan, “I don’t ever want to go back to our old church again.” I felt the same way. NOT because I didn’t LOVE our old church—we had been going there for two years and were in the middle of starting a ministry for goodness sake, but I had never in my life had a church experience like the one I had that Easter morning (and keep in mind I only started going to church maybe six or seven years ago, so take that for what it is).
As the story goes, we did end up going back to our other church. We went for weeks, actually. We forged ahead in the ministry. We stayed anchored in there. We loved the people and loved the teaching… but we couldn’t get the other experience at TBCO out of our head and heart. We kept saying to each other that we just felt the presence of God in that room. Don’t get me wrong I know that as a believer, the presence of God is with me always. I can access it whenever. It doesn’t exist in a place. I know this. But then I went to TBCO. Y’all, you know that when you’re showering or going to the bathroom… you don’t always feel the presence of the Holy Spirit there with you, right? Well, you can’t go to TBCO and not feel the presence. It’s just that simple. So we prayed. And prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I could see that Thomas was just wrestling with the idea of driving so far every single week just for church. It seemed so crazy!!
Finally, we decided to attend TBCO again, just to see if it was a one hit wonder. The week leading up to the second visit, I was on the struggle bus. I was fighting off some deeply buried demons that had managed to resurface, and I was undone over it—truly in dire need of an encounter with the spirit. The night before we would be headed to Nashville, I shared some of my struggles with Tom. I told him what I was walking in and although that gave me a little relief—just to put some light on the issues—it still felt like I had a very long and daunting road of healing in front of me all over again. I had already healed from all of that—it felt unfair and overwhelming.
We went to church the next morning and the message given by Henry, the lead pastor at TBCO, was written just for me in my struggles. It broke me down. The worship, which is written and recorded in house—which is so cool—had already sent me over the edge into tears, but the message… it was for me. It was God, speaking directly to my heart. And as I felt Tom squeezing my hand throughout, I knew that we were standing in a particularly unique house of God. And what’s crazy is I walked out of that service completely healed. I honestly felt one hundred percent pieced back together. I didn’t have the anxiety, I didn’t face the same fear, and I felt like it had all been put right back into the box of my past and the wound was sewn closed anew. Even now, several months later, I haven’t felt an ounce of pain from that hurt that took me so far down so fast this summer. It was done. It was finished.
Needless to say, we decided to commit to going to Nashville for church after that. We didn’t know how long God would have us do that, but we most certainly felt like He was urging us to pull up our anchor where we were and venture out into deeper waters. And so we obeyed that calling, despite feelings of broken loyalty to our former church, fear of what people would think or say about our decision, and of course, a sincere burden for having to hand over the reigns of our newly formed ministry to someone who had not initially signed up to lead the charge. (Praise God they took up those reigns and the ministry is thriving). But what we kept asking ourselves was this: Were we being called to be the change in the church we were already at? Or we were being called to just change? At what point are you the disruption? When you’re fighting against the current to change the place you’re in (when maybe they don’t want to change) or when you stir the pot by abandoning ship? We decided that if exactly what we were looking for existed somewhere else, why were we trying to force change when it wasn’t welcomed? Time to uproot!
Since leaving our former church, we’ve met dozens of families with similar stories. One family, in particular, found TBCO online and began watching and moved their family from Iowa to Nashville JUST to attend the church. And here I was whining about an hour drive and wondering if people would judge us!
Once we became regular attendees at TBCO, we discovered that they were holding a conference in mid-Sept and so we took a massive leap of faith and registered our entire family to go. It was going to be three days, we had no idea what it would be about or like, and we honestly didn’t have the money to be registering our whole crew for a conference, but I felt very strongly that God was telling us to take the step in faith. So we did. Little did I know, my heart, mind, spirit and soul would be so completely and utterly transformed within those three days.
So for those of you who have never attended a church conference—which was me—I can tell you that it’s basically singing (worship) and messages from pastors across the country (so in a nut shell, it’s church on steroids). And then in the afternoons they had what was called TBCO talks, which essentially were chats with folks who were walking out their faith in various real life scenarios—ministry, secular music, mission work, and financial planning. Super helpful real life application stuff.
Of all the messages we heard and the feelings of breakthrough I felt, I’d have to say that I left this past weekend feeling renewed, revived and restored by what I learned. My perspective was blown apart—I’ll have to unpack some of the concepts through this blog over the coming weeks—and my eyes and heart were truly opened to what I had been missing. Y’all know I suffer from strive. I’ve been on a journey of surrender the last few months—you’re bored with me, I know. But this conference felt like the culmination of all of that. It felt like the conclusion paragraph of a really powerful essay; All the pieces kind of fell into place.
Sunday, my birthday, we had church at the conference center again—one huge church body and a guest pastor and he brought the house down. I laughed, I cried. I followed my husband back to the alter for the third or fourth time that weekend to just lay it all down. Just get rid of all the junk and leave it there for good. Friends, how many of you are overdue for a trip to the alter? What do you need to lay down at the feet of Jesus and say, “I’m done carrying this around, you can have it now.” What mindset, bad habit, sin, self sabotaging behavior, broken promise, wasted time, fears do you need to just put down and leave behind?
Y’all, there is no ‘alter.’ I know you guys are freaking out right now—especially my unbeliever friends who just read this blog because they like me and I MIGHT not talk about Jesus—you’re wondering what kind of alter we’ve got going on over here. You’re thinking witchcraft and idol worship. Or at least that’s what I thought of when I would hear the term ‘alter.’ The alter is just that place of vulnerability, right outside your comfort zone, where you’re forced to stand up and give in. If you’re in church it means coming to the front of the crowd to pray—you know, the worst case scenario for a lot of us: Being seen. Being seen crying. Being seen as broken. But you can go to ‘the alter’ whenever you need to friends. That’s what I learned this weekend. And quite frankly, I need to make a trip far more frequently than I think I do. It’s not a one and done kind of situation. It’s a constant battle to stay facing forward, stay on track, stay strong, stay solid, stay free. It’s a constant, uphill-both-ways battle to stay free, Y’all. It requires a lot more pit stops at that alter for drop offs than maybe we schedule in.
So although I learned 3847 new lessons about how cool God is, I’m just going to leave you with this for now: Go to the alter. Get down on your knees—literally and physically, not metaphorically—and unpack. Take all the dirty laundry out and leave it there for Jesus to take care of. He wants it!! He usually keeps it forever, but every once in a while, He’ll hand it back to you pressed and neatly folded and you won’t even recognize it as what you left behind. Give it a try! Come and taste.