"I believe that He wants us to love others so much that we go to extremes to help them."
Francis Chan (Crazy Love: Overwhelmed By a Relentless God)
I have never really understood the term, "church home",........ until now. I have always been actively involved in every church that I attended. But, I have also known deep hurts from within the walls of those very buildings. Judgement, gossip and condemnation. Truly, it is everywhere. It is not isolated to just the church. It just hurts worse, coming from there. The scars of that hurt are hard to heal. But, I have known the sweet, pure taste of redemption, from the generous hearts of South Tulsa Baptist Church.
I had just gotten home from Tennessee. It was June of 2008. My, well meaning, dad, insisted that I take Lexi to STBC's Summer Music Activity Kamp. He would pay, if I would take her. It made me mad. She was only six. She did not know anyone. This meant that I would have to go in with her, every morning. Go in after her, every afternoon. It meant that I had to be "seen", and possibly talk to people. Okay, so some of you are thinking, "What's the big deal?". "Kari, is so out-going She talks to anyone! About anything!"! Remember, I was still "sick". "Soul sick"..... I did end up taking her. I would stand in the back, and watch. I noticed this same man, walking around and greeting everyone. Every morning. He seemed so friendly. So nice. It repulsed my rebellious heart. I thought all Christians were "fake". My hurts were shouting loudly in my heart. I had listened to them for far too long. But, in these moments, cracks were beginning to heal. Scars were starting to fade. Even, if just a bit....(By the way, she loved it! And, my family has been a part of SMAK for the last two Summers!)
I confessed a tiny bit of my struggle, to two people that week. Thank you, Lisa Bayless and Karen Pirtle. I had known Lisa from college. And, Karen was a family friend. It was a "baby step". You know the song, "Just put one foot in front of the other, and soon you'll be walkin' cross the floor"? Well, that's where I found myself. I knew that I had to make the steps back to church. And, take the steps back to my faith. It was not easy. My mind was so full of animosity, insecurity, fear, and hurt. The church was the last place that I wanted to go....but, the first place that I needed to go to! South Tulsa Baptist is one mile from my home. I had no excuse. How could I not just try?........
It is really hard to convey, how "lost" I was. So, silently fixated on death, but having a small urge to try to "live". So, I determined to go to everything. I came to church every time the doors opened. My heart was "tenderizing" back to the Lord. I was willing. But, skeptical. It was a slow process at first, but God worked miracles. I went faithfully to Sunday School and Worship services. Jake, Luke and Lexi joined me. Mark and Zach continued to go to The Church at Battlcreek. (Which is an incredible church, by the way! Just too far, at the time, for a depressed mom of four...) I purposed early on, to keep going. No matter what. I would not find fault with anything. I would stay positive and look for hope.... I needed it! And, it was soon to be found.
I started making friends. Feeling a "connection"... One day I decided to go to choir. I had not been in a choir for ten years. Philip Stephens is our Minister of Music. He was quick to make me feel welcome, as he is with everyone! I went every Wednesday night. I was unbelievably scared and insecure for many months! It is true! But, this group of people changed my life. They were so kind. So complimentary. The members of STBC Sanctuary Choir have no clue how they ministered to me. I have tears in my eyes just now. And, there is a struggle to convey my feelings. As you have read from my first post in, "New Beginnings", I was still contemplating my own suicide at this time. But, there are angels in our midst. These people sang over my hurts without even knowing it! One night in rehearsal, a beautiful red haired gal, started talking to me. I began to open up to her. She was so warm and inviting. Genuine. I received a precious card in the mail from her, that next week. It was a pivotal moment, when I opened the mail that day. My hearts "door" was being broken into.... (It is now one of several, that I have gotten from her) More about her, tomorrow!
One day I got a phone call from Philip's wife, Maryann. She asked if I would be willing to help with children's choir. I accepted. She then, called and invited me to sing in the Ladies Ensemble. Again, I accepted. I was nervous, at the proposition to serve or be used for God, in any way. I felt like such a "loser". But, she was an angel to me. Those were the "nudges" that I needed. Desperately! I tell Philip and Maryann, often, what they mean to me. I think they tire of my praise for their work in my life. I can't help it. I was planning my death. And, they were "breathing" life back into me. They had no clue. After all, I am an actress! I had lots of people fooled. But, while satan was trying to distract me, God was working feverishly. I do not think it appropriate to share the plan that I had. The calculations of it, are shocking to my family. But, I was a mess! A big one at that! ( Refer to the "Note", "A woman Named Rochelle") I needed hope. And, these people were walking it out, right in front of me. My children are all involved in the music ministry at church. Mark even sang in a choir special last Fall! They have touched us all! I consider them friends....
Brian Baldwin has been a life-saver to my oldest boys. They were hurting and fragile, when we started coming. We all were. This precious man of God, has LOVED my boys! LOVED! I was able to share some heavy stuff with him. I walked into his office in early 2009, and dumped "it" on his desk.....My boys were in need of a mentor. A trustworthy, understanding man. He became a friend to them both, immediately. Again, he will never truly understand the impact that he has made on them. On our whole family. He and his wife are our good friends. I adore Brian's wife, Candace. She has become one of my closest friends. We have shared our joys and hurts. And, she has helped me. We enjoy every moment that we get to share with this family and their beautiful girls, McKenzie and Madison. I look forward to many years with them! Luke starts in the youth group next Summer! Oh, boy...
Now, back to the friendly man, greeting everyone. You know, the one that made me think about my disdain for "fake Christians". Well, as you might of expected, it was the Pastor. It became apparent, very quickly, that this guy was different. Ted Kersh is the only man that I have ever witnessed, really love his people. REALLY! It is actually quite sweet to watch, now. He is approachable, honest, funny, very cool and.....Boy! Can he preach! Now, I have had the privilege of hearing some great preachers. But, my ears and heart have never been more able to receive God's word. After all, I was starving for it. I have told him that he's a triple threat to the devil. A great preacher, teacher and shepherd. I never want to miss his sermons. And, for all of the right reasons. But, I love how he loves and cherishes his sweet wife, Jerri. They are a team, in every sense of the word. Mark and I had lunch with them in late 2008. As I tell it, we "layed out" my "resume of sin", on the table. I was candid and honest. I look back now, remembering that I almost believed that he might say, "Maybe our church is not the right fit for you...". He did nothing of the sort. In fact, he has encouraged me. Allowed me to share my "story". Opened the doors of my hardened heart. They both have. I have a deep respect for this family. They are the "real deal". I see Jesus in everything that they do...
Karen and Chris Pirtle have loved my boys, too. Jake and Zach trust them implicitly, with their thoughts and hurts. We know their hearts. They are both beautiful. The Pirtle's have become dear to our family, as well. Alyson Walker is my laughing buddy. I always love to see her. A class act. I had lunch with her recently. She has such insight. I love her heart! Connie Faurot has been a wonderful teacher to my kids. She gave me a precious "gift" this past Summer. Her words to me, about Jake, made me proud. I am grateful for all that she does. She and Dick are a big blessing to us all! Dave Bender. Well, he is my witty banter buddy. Great fun! I am "mulch momma" to him....you will just have to ask..... He and his wife, Cindy are our neighbors. And, our friends! And lastly, Brian Easterwood has been a wonderful new friend. He is actually a very close friend with my brothers. I joined singing with the praise band in March. He is such a precious, godly man. An encourager. Brian and his wife, Connie, are favored in my heart. The truth is, we are overwhelmimgly blessed with a great staff.
But, the people of this congregation are what stand out. They are family. I mean it! We have never felt so loved. These people are in the business of love. Our membership is growing because of it! I cannot say every name. I wish I could. I will mention our Sunday School teacher, David Lee. He has been a great encourager to our whole family. Although, Mark is now teaching another class, we will not forget. In my lifetime, I have NEVER received so many notes, cards, letters, emails, gifts, texts, calls or kind words from so many people. Accolades and affirmations almost weekly! While my heart bursts at these precious "acts of kindness"; I have never been so humbled. He has redeemed my life from the pit. It is hard to accept their generosities. I do not deserve them. I am clearly aware that, "It's not about me...". It is ALL about Him! This church loves just like Jesus does....I love that.
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you, for my church. Thank you, for the staff. For the families of this congregation. Please bless, protect, and heal. And, give Your peace to them all. Open our hearts for a desire to deepen our walks with you. Help us understand what it means to truly worship you. Make us afire with your passion. For the lost. The hungry. The hurting...even in our midst. Help us to esteem each other, as better than ourselves. Amen
If you have read this, and you do not know Jesus Christ, as your personal Lord and Savior. Message me. I would love to talk to you. If you do not have a church home, find one! It is more than essential to your daily walk. And, your spiritual journey. If you are in Tulsa, without a church home. Come join us at STBC!
Blessings to you all! Remember! Sing, love, pray and tell someone something nice today! Step out...reach out!