Although I need to meet up with my children in a short while, I hope to get this blog posted first as many of you have asked about our connection with a church since our arrival. What has seemed to us to be an extremely smooth transition, is evidently quite an undertaking for many families. The spiritual family we've connected with here is so beautiful, so open, so sold out for Jesus, that I am more grateful than ever that God hooked us up with them as I realize it does not go so smoothly for everyone.
Through a friend of a friend of a friend... (phew! Did you follow that?) we were connected with Dennis and Fran Threadgill who pastor the Church of God at the Serviceman's Center here in Bitburg. (Thank you, Colista M. and Vickie H.!) I emailed them in May almost as soon as we found we were moving to Germany. They emailed back and said to keep them posted as to our arrival here.
Well, on the Thursday before we left I found an email invition for LeRoy to join them that Saturday for their men's breakfast. Of course, we arrived on Saturday morning and then went to church at the chapel here on base with our sponsor that first Sunday. Wanting to go to the Church of God, but not knowing how we would get there, I emailed Dennis and Fran to let them know we were here and that we would come visit their church just as soon as we figured out transportation details. Well, Fran emailed me back and said she would be over to pick us up at 10 AM the next Sunday. Oh! And could we stay after to have lunch with them and another family?
Fran picked us up that next Sunday and right away my children put her to the test, "So, Miss Fran, do you know our names and how old we are?" My children (nor I) knew who they were dealing with yet! "Miss Fran" attempted to say each of their names and take a guess at their ages and when my children snickered and told her she had it wrong, Miss Fran simply stated, "Now you listen here," she said in her Maria-from-the-Abbey only with a Michigan accent, "I'll tell you what; I've raised some children myself, and you're just going to have to give me a little grace, but I'll figure out your names and ages real quick!" I knew right then that I loved this woman. And I think my children loved her in that moment, too.
We pulled up into the church parking lot and escorted our children to the Children's Church upstairs. Then we went to the sanctuary where we were greeted by an entire congregation who had been praying for us for three months! People hugged us and said, "We're so glad you've finally made it here! We've been waiting and praying for you!" Well then!
Lunch that day was beautiful and absolutely overwhelming! (I don't know that spaghetti ever tasted so good!) Fran kept making more food because she said, "Pastor keeps inviting more people up for lunch." (They live on one of the floors of the Serviceman's Center.) We felt so loved and nurtured -- like we had known these people for decades and it had just been a really long time since we'd been together! I wonder if this is how the Apostle Paul felt in his travels from place to place.
Later that week Fran called and said they wanted to deliver their van to us as one of the other people, Carlos, in the church had suggested they borrow his vehicle so that we could borrow their van. Again, we were simply overwhelmed!! Having transportation meant that we could travel around the area and look for a house to live in. It meant that we could go shopping at the grocery store without trudging all the way across base with bags of groceries. It meant that we could have a way to come to church each week. We used their van for a little over a month while we searched for a van to buy for our family! Every once in a while we would ask, nervously, if they needed their van back. They always responded the same, "You use it for as long as you need it. God has taken care of all our needs and we're just glad that you can use it!" They were glad? Oh, man! How grateful we are even now!
Sometimes I feel like God holds my hand through something. Other times I can feel Him hug me or plant a soft kiss on my cheek and forehead. Other times I feel like I just need to lean my head on His chest and cry. And, then, there are still other times -- and this was one of these -- where I can feel Him take my face into His hands, look me straight in the eye, and tell me, again: I. Love. You.
We've been going to this church ever since. LeRoy -- and all three boys -- are loving the men's breakfasts every other Saturday. In fact, they love it so much that Eli requested that they go to the men's breakfast before we left for Paris. LeRoy overruled him based purely on time issues. And all three boys were pretty disappointed. They've each made comments to me about the men at church being mentors to them.
We've already connected with several of the families. We even had our first sleep-over with the Ranger Family about a month ago. You know us and our sleep-overs. Our children wanted to do a sleep-over with their children and when me and their mom, Dani, got to talking about it, Dani jokingly said that we should all just come spend the night! I looked at her and, seriously, said, "Okay." Well, that week we had a family sleep-over. (Don't invite me over unless you mean it!) We had a wonderful time and really got to know the Rangers.
Every week we enjoy uplifting, Spirit-filled worship led by the Hillsong Worship Team. (Not every church has such a dynamic worship team! It doesn't even matter that it's on DVD.) And LeRoy and I are just incredibly blessed by the inspiring and incredible teaching team that rotates and takes turns with the pastor to preach every Sunday. (The congregation is a whopping 30 members roughly when everyone is there and not counting the children -- which make up another 30, roughly.) The teaching team consists of about six men.
My children have grown more spiritually in the last three months than I've seen them grow in the last six years. Although we have a phenomenal church family in Spokane, for some reason, things seem to suddenly be clicking for them. Israel will do something kind and thoughtful and when I affirm her she says, "I learned that from Jesus. I learned at church that Jesus loves me and He wants me to be like this." The other day Isaiah told me as he was getting ready for school, "I know I'm going to have a great day because I know who I am in Christ." And isn't that what we want for our children and for all the people in our lives? That they will live confidently not because of what is happening, but because of Whose they are?
We've missed two Sundays because on one we were worshipping Jesus in Paris: climbing on the Arc de Triomphe, walking along the iron fence on Montaigne Avenue, spitting in the Seine River, bonding at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and eating duck on an outdoor patio watching Paris go by. The other Sunday was this last Sunday when we went to a worship and teaching conference put on by Church of God Ministry to the Military. The conference took place in Garmisch, Germany -- right at the base of the Austrian Alps! In fact, we were about 2 hours from Salzburg where they filmed The Sound of Music! (And that's another blog!!) What an incredible Spirit-led, Spirit-filled weekend!!! But I will tell you that we listened to a book on CD all the way there and back which inspired us on the way there and then confirmed our weekend and reinspired us more on the way back. The book is, "The Barbarian Way," by Erwin Raphael McManus. If you've never read it, I highly recommend it.
Basically, God introduced us to more family who live out their faith with whole-hearted passion because they are confident Who they belong to. And, like us, they are passionately seeking an intimate relationship with a God Who intends for us to live dangerous, adventurous lives where we lay everything on the line for the vision and the dreams that He gives us.
When we lived in Spokane, I always wanted my family who would come to visit me from out of town to come meet my spiritual family at Life Center. Now, I know some people who have family that they would rather their friends didn't meet. I feel so blessed that that has never been the case. I've always loved, appreciated, and been proud of my family at Life Center and figured my friends and biological family were missing out if they didn't get to spend time with our Life Center family. That is how I feel here, too. I wish that you all could meet our spiritual family we've met here!
Well, I've wrote right up until the last possible minute and now I must go get my children. It's Friday which means that we'll probably go home for a couple of hours and bike ride and skateboard and play until it's time to come back to the base to get LeRoy. Then we'll have dinner and pop popcorn and maybe watch a movie. There's a women's meeting tonight at my friend, Erin's house, for all the women from church to come hang out, eat dinner together, and visit. So I'll probably let LeRoy have a night with the children while I go spend time with girlfriends.
I love you. Miss you.