Today looking at an empty space where we use to gather for worship, it’s almost like I hear music and everyone singing praise, babies making noise, people talking and laughing… The same place where Joe would stand up and preach every Sunday morning.
I remember my first time coming to the exchange in 2017. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of an Acts 29 church or what I was going to hear as far as the preaching; But I remember sitting and listening to Joe openly share how he would break down after preaching and spend a whole day in bed, he was very honest which made me uncomfortable, lol. “What was this? Like, who’s this man standing in front of people and openly telling them about his pain and struggles?…” Growing up Catholic, the experience I had was you get dressed up, put on a happy face and when the preacher would tell you to greet your neighbor, that was as close to being in community of the church that I can recall. You don’t share pain or sorrow, meals, or troubles, and the pastor definitely didn’t stand up there telling the congregation about the struggles he had.
I remember having this “agh, I shouldn’t be here, listening to this…” moment, but his message hit my heart. It was so rich, and the way he broke down scripture was something I had never experienced. I remembered crying, but again, the thought “don’t show emotions” popped in. People were so friendly and welcoming. There was a comfort I felt, and I wanted more. I remember the first time going to one of the community groups at the Montagues’ house, where they played soccer and just spent time together. Being greeted at the door with the girls and being asked if I wanted a beer and if I was hungry… like what?!?! What kind of church group is this?!? The conversations were raw. Real struggles. real pain. And always pointing to who I was in Christ, not who the world says I am. There was a beauty in it. I remember seeing the girls just fit right in. We were a family, broken, full of hard things, but also good things to share experiences with. I’ve never experienced this before. The love of Christ was so visible. Having many close relationships with people in The Exchange, and watching my girls grow to love people too, was so special.
I remember becoming a member and being baptized. That was such a special moment. The joy that I saw from everyone and the way it felt being known. I was fully known. All my past, all my failures, life of sin. Reborn. Accepted. And adopted into a forever family. I remember meeting with Joe at the elbow room and him asking me how I was doing, if I needed anything, or had any questions. A pastor that genuinely loves the girls and I and wants to check in. He felt like a true brother to me and I felt safe. That was so unique and special too. Over the years, attending, growing in my faith and becoming closer to people in a way that had such a deep profound relationship and connection. I found I wanted to be around these people all the time. I was thankful for each and every one of them. Having the church care so deeply for the girls and I after getting injured in a car accident, and being able to take meals and serve others when they needed also was life giving.
Back to standing here in this empty space… there’s real grief, real sadness, some anger. But I know God brought the girls and I here. That He saved me from a life filled of darkness and sin, and brought people into my life that didn’t talk me up and fill my head with “you are strong, you can do life on your own you don’t need anyone because you are strong…” but instead a welcoming community that loved me where I was, and again, I was fully known, and they encouraged me by pointing me to Jesus. I grew to see how to let people in, and let my guard down. To love people where they were. To learn to work through struggles and not just brush them to the side. I’m still learning and growing. Not perfect. But I can rest in who I am and don’t have to wear the fake aviator I’ve been wearing for so long.
Standing there, looking at the empty space, I felt a feeling that what I experienced, many people long for and need. I want others to experience that closeness.
I’m truly thankful for the years and relationships made in this church. God is sovereign and I can rest knowing his plan is good and we are on to great things.