Almost 5 years ago I was welcomed into the fellowship of The Exchange Church and I still remember that first Sunday morning, what I was wearing, the unfamiliar yet intriguing lyrics of the songs being sung and, notably, the gentleness with which the sermon was preached. This was so different from what I was used to, but it was wonderful!
Over the years, The Exchange Church, the people who’ve made up this body of believers, you, have patiently and gently loved me. You have sat with me (and some of you have literally walked hundreds of miles with me) in seasons of darkness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. You’ve been so patient with me through misunderstandings, sinfulness, and selfishness on my part. You’ve been patient with me as I’ve imperfectly tried to lead the Kids Ministry, as I’ve been late for or forgetful of commitments, as I’ve said and done stupid things. You’ve taught me how to read and study the Bible and you’ve taught me how to pray. You’ve prayed for me when I couldn’t pray for myself. You’ve carried my burdens and shared in some of my greatest joys. You’ve brought me meals and heating pads when I was sick. You’ve been my friend and neighbor in every sense of the word. I have felt the love of God extended to me through you. And although I’m incredibly grateful for all of these things, there are two other things that stand out in particular, that I will especially cherish about our time together:
Firstly: I have been known here, really known, like scary known, like never-before-known. And yet I learned that being known wasn’t scary or shameful – It has been beautiful and healing to be known so deeply and to not be rejected but rather, loved and embraced in spite of who I am, who I’m not, and no matter what sin and shame is within me. It’s like Tim Keller says: “To be loved but not known is superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But, to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”
Secondly: The gospel. When gospel-centered living was first explained to me: that the gospel isn’t just for adoption and salvation from eternity in hell but that it’s for every day until we see Christ, all the tumblers fell into place; Christianity finally made sense, God finally made sense and the Bible finally made sense to me! It is and was the answer to years of prayers and seeking to know and understand the truth of God’s word. I said it then and I’ll say it again now, “It’s a game changer.” It truly has changed everything! God truly has changed everything.
As inadequate as it will be, I want to say thank you to:
Joe: Thank you for the unseen sacrifices you’ve made for the church over many years – I imagine there are many. Thank you for being faithful to the Word, for teaching us, for praying for us, for counseling us, for caring for and supporting us, for being patient with us and long suffering towards us as we’ve struggled and needed to mature (still true). I have felt all of these things personally and deeply. Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you for your friendship over these past years, you’ve been a blessing to me in more ways than one. To name just a few: the millions of memes we’ve exchanged over the past few years especially have provided a bit of levity when life was difficult, not to mention your ever so lady-like potty humor that has been both surprising and uplifting many a time. And your faithfulness to pray specific prayers for Tim and I. Thank you for pointing me to Christ in my time of need, and a good bargain that was simply too good to pass up! But seriously, thank you for sacrificing more than anyone will probably ever know, as you’ve stayed committed and faithful to Joe in his call to ministry. Thank you.
Joel: Thank you for serving the church as an elder and bearing the burden with Joe and the other elders. We couldn’t have made it this far without you. You have been a constant: joyful, encouraging, kind and gentle servant. Also, for serving in Kids Class with more energy and enthusiasm than anyone else! – Thank you.
And Shaunda I’m sure we’ll never know the sacrifices you’ve made as an elder’s wife, let alone being Joel’s wife, but thank you too for all the unseen ways you’ve served us.
I could go on and on. God has given me the best godly friends here.
It has been a sweet, sweet journey growing together with you all, and the road is bending now in a new way we could’ve never expected, but God was not surprised. We have watched God love, care, grow and provide for us here in Clio, He will surely continue to do the same wherever and with whomever we gather with.
Believing in God’s sovereignty and trusting in His perfect plan for each of us; I look forward to the day when we will see and understand why God allowed this dispersion of His church, but now we see through a glass dimly. I hope and pray that we will be lights to other people in other churches who desperately need the good news of the gospel just like we do, and that it will shine a little brighter as a result of our loss here.
I love you all so much! Thank you for loving me so well.