If you read my post with my “nectar list” aka the top 15 things of 2014 (if you haven’t and you wish, then you can read about it here), you may remember that my growing relationship with God topped all else on that list. A big thing that continues to fuel that relationship is my new church life. I have mentioned Village Church in several of my blogs, but I have never devoted an entry directly to this amazing place. Until now, I haven’t written down my testimony about how my husband Colby and I came to this awesome body of Christ. After our Christmas service and night of worship this evening, my heart is so full, and I cannot imagine not sharing how God worked in my life and sent me here during some of my darkest days.
I make no secret that I live with Major Depressive Disorder. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in February/March, and I believe that a cause of my illness was a faith crisis that I was in the midst of. Let’s back up a minute; let me explain. I have always called myself a “Christian,” but the last couple of years, I was fed up with the whole institution of religion and especially with Christianity. I had witnessed so many people proclaim themselves Christians and then act so unlike Christ that it disturbed me more than I can describe. Then, I was slightly taken back by people who I thought were “obsessed” with religion. In my mind, I called them “the Christian Christians,” and I always thought their complete affection for all things related to the church was odd and even naïve about the world (turns out I was the naïve one). Soon, I began to question everything about myself and even question the idea of God in general. For several months, I was essentially agnostic, although the only time I ever admitted this to myself or anyone else was in the middle of one of my episodes with depression.
This particular episode actually landed me in the hospital. While no hospital stays are ever pleasant, mental health visits are completely terrifying. Throughout my whole stay, when I became overwhelmed, it never failed that a praise and worship song called “Whom Shall I Fear” by Chris Tomlin would pop into my head, and it always calmed me down. God is always with us, even if He seems silent.
I was also lucky that many of the staff members at this particular hospital were Christians who shared their own stories of faith with me. One of them even brought me a devotional with a personal note in it. This small act of kindness moved me to tears. One of them taught me that spirituality is one of the best forms of treatment. Although I was still riddled with doubt about God when I was discharged, I started looking for spiritual outlets for the purely selfish reason of my personal health.
Honestly, things got way worse before they got better. I wasn’t in a place to finish college successfully, so I took a leave of absence to get better. This turned out to be one of the biggest blessings, because I now had time to really get to know God. I began reading books about His grace and His love epitomized by the gospel story. I longed to find a place to worship and grow, but unfortunately, the Bible Belt it full of legalistic churches that are great at portraying a “Darth Vader” kind of God and beating people up. I promise, people with depression have no problem beating themselves up without help from anyone else. After praying and praying that God would send me somewhere that I needed to be, my dad made a life-changing suggestion to me. One of his coworkers told him about a church that his daughter went to. Turns out, this girl was actually a counselor at a Christian camp called Truett Camp that I went to as a child and really loved. When I found out that a lot of people at Village had been involved with Truett Camp in some capacity, I instantly felt drawn to the church simply because I had such fond memories of the camp.
I was really nervous about going back to church, so I waited for a weekend when Colby was home from college and could go with me. Our first Sunday at Village, we were overwhelmed by the amount of kindness and love that met us, even when we first pulled in the parking lot. When the service began, I got to have my first really awesome “God moment” for as long as I could remember. The first song that the band sang was none other than “Whom Shall I Fear.” Umm, yeah. I’ve never believed in coincidences, even when I wasn’t sure if I believed in God. His grace did not stop there. The message was the first in a series called #Fail. It’s theme was essentially that as human beings, we are weak and sinful and are destined to fail, but that God will meet us in the midst of our failures if we lean in His direction. Colby and I both felt immediately connected, and we began going there regularly. Since then, we have gotten to know more and more people at Village, and they’ve become like family to us. We participate in a small group with wonderful people, and we’ve witnessed God do amazing things for our community and our world through this church. In case you are wondering, here are a few things Village did this year alone (how convenient that our pastor just sent us an email highlighting these outreaches; I told you, no such thing as coincidences 😉 ):
-Supported communities in Kenya as they build up an infrastructure to share the gospel in practical ways w/ our partners at The 410 Bridge (www.410bridge.org)
-Helped establish spiritual education projects in rural villages in Kenya to raise up strong next generation leaders with our friends at Choose To Invest (www.choosetoinvest.org).
-Provided over 12,000 meals to hungry children and adults in the Ebola stricken regions of West Africa. (www.stophungernow.org)
-Invested over $4000 in random acts of kindness in the month of November alone.
-Provided Christmas for local children who may not have experienced it otherwise.
-Put literally HUNDREDS of pairs of shoes on feet in Ethiopia through our partners at BRING LOVE IN (www.bringlove.in)
-Helped Support our first international missionary Ashleigh Faggard who is teaching in Nairobi, Kenya … RIGHT NOW!.
-Given both food and financial support to our friends locally at Matt’s Ministry, who are providing a much needed Saturday food pantry for the working poor and Kid food bags at our schools for hungry children each week.
-Helped Clay County Food Pantry provide to local residents in need of food.
I just got back from an awesome night of worship. We sang Christmas songs, took communion in the most unique and powerful way that I have ever seen, and prayed together for our little village and for our grief-stricken world. At one point, I just started weeping because, despite all that I went through earlier this year, I am so thankful. I am thankful for the people God has surrounded me with to just “do life.” I am thankful for the Christmas season and what it is all about. I am thankful for hope and thankful for heart changes that only God can give. And finally, I am thankful for suffering. If it weren’t for my own suffering, my depression, I probably would not have found Village Church, a small congregation in Hayesville, North Carolina that has quickly become home.
It truly takes a Village. Good thing God is in the village-providing business!
“Let perseverance finish its course so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:4