We came to The Exchange newly reformed, hungry for the word and expositional teaching, leaving a church of 400 with Gospel-centered teaching but shallow community and a lack of doctrine and theology taught. When God’s sovereignty brought us to Clio, I think I knew even then how much The Exchange would impact my faith.
On our first visit when Hattie wasn’t even a year old, our minds were made up that we would attend. I fell in love with the liturgy, the scriptures, the catechism, the theologically-rich music, the expository preaching (I vividly remember walking through Timothy our first year here and how it came alive – not through personal stories or jokes from the pastor but simply because of the all-sufficient nature of scripture), the taking of Lord’s supper each week, and of course, the community. Coming from a church with flashy set designs and strobe lights, I actually liked the humbleness of Edgerton’s gymnasium (though I could do without the lingering cafeteria smell and child-sized bathrooms).
Right away, we were welcomed warmly, invited in, and loved. We quickly jumped into community groups, visiting the Sabol’s, the Montague’s (where I remember Joe patiently guarding the stairs so I could get a break from chasing toddler Hattie climbing up and down them), and then we landed at Massie’s. I remember being both appalled and grateful for the openness of each group we attended. I remember a woman opening up about her struggle with alcoholism, others’ struggles with depression, deep marriage struggles, vulnerable and real parenting struggles, and anything else. I thought, who are these people who share everything so openly with one another? Aren’t they afraid of what people might think of them? I was not scared, but I was very intrigued and attempted to match their openness. Each week, no matter which group we attended, we were asked at community group and on Sunday, “How are you doing?” by someone (usually multiple someones) who truly meant it, who actually wanted to know, who would carefully listen, genuinely care, and point me to Jesus in whatever circumstance I was facing. I was challenged to open up and be vulnerable in ways that I didn’t even know I needed, but it is an openness that I hope the Lord will strengthen me to carry with me for the rest of my days.
I grew up not having anyone attuned to my emotional needs. I could hide my needs, disregard them, and put them aside because it was too painful to share them with someone who didn’t understand, or worse, someone who would punish me for having the emotions in the first place. So, I grew up not really being seen by those closest to me. In light of this, I am so thankful that God brought us to The Exchange. I know that every Sunday that I step through these doors, that someone will see me. There are so many of you whom I cannot hide a bad day from, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to. And over the past 2 years I’ve had a lot of bad days. Oftentimes, the best part of a bad week was knowing I would be with my beloved brothers and sisters on Sunday, singing, worshiping, learning about the Lord, and receiving comfort from the body of Christ. It was a balm to my aching soul through some very dark valleys to be wrapped in many loving embraces, prayed for, prayed with, comforted, and reminded of the hope I have in Christ. It has blessed my soul to do the same for many of you all. Lord willing, I will never settle for a shallow community again; only openness about sin, struggles, and sorrow will do.
From my time here at The Exchange, the lesson that looms the largest for me is surprising: it is the lesson of my weakness. You’d think that a lesson would be something you have accomplished, mastered, or a skill you’ve grown. But growing in weakness? Five years ago, I would’ve wondered how I could rejoice in that, and what would be so special about learning that lesson anyway. But God has used the preaching of Joe, persistent sorrow and suffering in my life, and especially the fabric of the community of this church, to teach me so much about my own weakness. Without Christ, I am nothing and have nothing. Hallelujah, all I have is Christ. And because I have Christ, I can weather any storm because HE will hold me fast. My hope can only be in Him; not in any feeble accomplishments or trust in my own perceived abilities. I can boast in my weaknesses because Christ is strong in them, and His power and glory is displayed especially when I am weak and dependent on Him. Thank you to each and every one of you who has been open about your weaknesses and who has encouraged me to rejoice in my own weaknesses.
It is no surprise that I am not ready for this. I am not ready to say goodbye to gathering with you all each Sunday; to hearing you all sing from the best vantage point – right here; to seeing you all use your God-given gifts to faithfully and quietly serve the Lord by serving the body, Sunday after Sunday, in big ways and small ways, seen and unseen; to Exchange summer parties at the Forysteks, or 30 people cramming onto our porch for a community group summer party picture; to the sound of our coffee being prepared while the band practices early on Sunday; to hearing Jill say “Christ’s body, broken for you” as she serves us communion and loves us all as a mother would; to this humble, awkward-but-becoming beautiful building that we were in the middle of making our own; to our loving kids’ class teachers caring for our rowdy kids each week so faithfully and lovingly; to sharing meals with one another in our fellowship hall and in homes at community groups; to throwing baby showers every month as we celebrate more and more babies into the family of the church; to Hattie getting to hold each and every baby that comes through the doors, (thank you to all the mothers who are gracious enough to let her); to hearing Laurie and Bonnie and Bri play the piano so talentedly, and Lisa and Ashley sing so beautifully; to hearing Joe’s thoughtfully and prayerfully crafted teaching and his iconic “Ya’ll have a good one”; to seeing all of our children run around together, laughing and playing and ducking in and out of chairs and talking people, comfortable and secure in the family they have here at The Exchange. How I longed to see them all grow up together. I was so content to raise our family here, to be here in this small city with our church family for as long as God would have us. I am trusting in the sovereign God who only does good, even as our beloved church closes its doors.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like our work here at The Exchange is unfinished. I long to see so many of our unanswered prayers answered, and so many of our desires become realized. I wish that we could all be together as God works in each of these situations, so we could marvel at His goodness and glory together. But our separation makes me long for Heaven as I never have before. Nearly every Sunday has felt like a happy family reunion. Surely Heaven will be the same, and we can be assured there will be no more tears or sadness or goodbyes. I love you all. Thank you Joe and Joel for shepherding us so faithfully. Thank you, fellow members, for showing me real community and the love of my Father.