This fall marks 10 years since I started my senior year of high school, and being the sentimental person that I am, my thoughts keep mulling over what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed since then. I’ve gone from single to married. College is completed and already five years in the past. I’ve held six different jobs. My address has changed twice. I’ve traveled upwards of 15,000 miles. And I’ve been a part of four different congregations, ranging from a charismatic church to a Baptist church. My thoughts for some reason keep circling back to church.

Church has grown me up a lot in the past decade, and I came across a page in an old journal that reminded me how.

My senior year of high school had just begun, and my home church was on the skids. Actually, our last Sunday there was just a few weeks away. Understandably, I was disappointed I wouldn’t be finishing my big senior year at this church in which I had spent all of my middle school and high school years. Beyond those feelings, I was well aware that our situation had come to the point where it was time to leave.

So, back to that page in my journal.

They were sermon notes from August 2007. This particular Sunday morning, my dance group performed during the morning worship service at a local church. I had performed at this particular church before, and would go on to perform there three other times in the next two years. After worship, my mom and I stayed in the service. The pastor preached a message on Joseph in the book of Genesis, and while I don’t remember all the details, the message touched my church-confused spirit.

In the midst of one messy church situation, God used another congregation to encourage me that church could be healing, not hurtful. It encouraged me that God’s word could be presented truthfully and gracefully, not manipulatively. My soul relaxed, and begin to open up again to the beauty and mystery of God’s bride, the church.

What I didn’t realize at the time that God was connecting me to my future home church, the church that my husband and his family belonged to, a connection that would strengthen over the next four years and be tempered in other congregations. And when my path crossed again with Cherokee Hills, I knew it was time. Point being, it wasn’t a straight line that got me there, but one that criss-crossed, unwound, knotted up, and then straightened out. And that’s OK.

In the past 10 years, I’ve seen the church wound people. I’ve also seen wounds healed in church. I’ve witnessed God use the church to pour forth faith-filled prayers like a fountain, and accomplish powerful, wonderful things.

Ten years ago, I was more apt to define myself by a denomination, and while I better understand some of the differences, I’m less likely to identify as one or the other. I’ve come to see how God’s will WILL prevail, even when humans get in the way, because his ultimate goal is to spread the gospel.

I’m also beginning to get the *tiniest* glimpse of how vital community is. I say tiniest because I know how much I still have to learn.  Community doesn’t mean tidy relationships. No ma’am. To reap the rewards of community means you sometimes a lot of times constantly sow seeds of inconvenience, patience, and grace, something I severely lacked vision for ten years ago.

Have I arrived or got it all figured out? To quote the apostle Paul, “by no means.” By no means have I arrived, but looking back over the past decade of church experiences has reminded me not only of the power and beauty of the Bride, but how God uses church to grow us.

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