I’ve been going to church since I was 3-weeks old (see above picture–Easter Sunday, 1977). My parents helped plant an Episcopal church here in Colorado Springs before I was born, and I was the first baby baptized there. My mother told me that I used to wander around the little sanctuary during the service, and the priest would often pick me up and hold me while he preached. I have so many memories of the different churches we went to over the years. When we lived on Guam, Daddy would drive me to the other side of the base so I could be an acolyte for the Lutheran service at the smaller chapel. I would beg to stay for the service afterward, which was black gospel. I’m sure the congregation got a kick out of the little white girl with her awkward-looking father sitting in the front row.
If you asked me as a child why I went to church, I would probably look at you funny—those days, most of the kids I knew went to church. It’s just what we did—part of our culture. As a teen I probably would have told you that I went to church because it was the right thing to do. I wanted to be a good Christian. Gag. Obviously, my heart wasn’t in it because I deserted church for much of my 20s. I can share my conversion story another day, but for the purpose of this post, I will tell you that after I asked God if he would adopt me as his daughter, my heart yearned for more than my daily routine. I wanted to learn about God, my mind craved studying the Bible, and I wanted to be around other people who believed what I believed. I ended up living with my sister Erin and her family for 380 days, and they welcomed me to their church. Because of certain circumstances, it happened to be a difficult, painful time in my life, and I was well loved there. I felt safe and at home and like people actually cared about me, which they did. After I moved back to Colorado, I met my husband at church.
When my sisters lived in England, we visited them twice and had the privilege of going to church with them. Their churches were very different—one was very small and traditional while the other was much bigger with lots of young people and a more contemporary style. We loved both for the people—they wanted to be at church. It wasn’t an obligation or a social event. It didn’t seem to be a place to check a box to make sure everyone knew what good people they were. Going to church in Europe is very counter cultural, and those people were there because their hearts yearned for Jesus. They wanted a place to worship him with other people, their church family.
After that experience, we had a new vision of what church could be. We were thinking about starting our own family and knew that we couldn’t raise children ourselves without the help and input of others. Both of our brothers had experienced serious marital issues, and we realized that if we ever went through something like that, we needed relationships with people we could trust to walk that journey alongside us.
We ended up at a wonderful, wonderful church. Our first Sunday they had a visitors’ luncheon and we were fed and welcomed well. Our second Sunday we were invited to a young family’s house for lunch. Our third Sunday, we were invited out to eat by another young couple. While I was very ill during my pregnancy with my son, the church kept track of us and offered help on a regular basis. We have so many stories of the wonderful community we discovered there. It was a time of healing and respite for me personally, and I experienced the love of older women in a way I hadn’t experienced much before. It was a taste of Heaven on earth.
Which is why we said no thank you when Aaron was approached to be the music leader at a new church plant in town. We knew lots of the people who were part of the church and we loved and respected them. We agreed with their mission and vision and prayed for success. We were enjoying getting to know the pastor and his wife, and we believed in the work they were doing. My heart ached to join them and the excitement, but we were at such a perfect place with our church—we had no reason to leave. We were learning about God, learning how to share with others about God, and learning how to have true and meaningful community. Why would we leave that?
But the pastor kept asking Aaron, pursuing him both personally and professionally. Finally, in a feeble attempt to put an end to the conversation, Aaron promised to pray about joining the church plant. He laughed as he recounted the story of his lunch with Jason to me later that day. I said, “I guess we better pray…” We did, and Aaron sought the counsel of several men he trusts. Each friend told him to go for it—that it seemed like God was being obvious about trying to gift us with something really special. Even our pastor was excited when Aaron told him what was going on.
The first Sunday we went to the church plant, now named Westside, I was nervous. The group had been meeting for several months together at the church that was sending them off. They knew each other and each others’ stories. I felt like I was behind on relationships. But it didn’t matter. The moment we stepped in the door, we were greeted by a tall man with an even bigger personality. He didn’t know who we were, and we didn’t spoil it for him—we were enjoying his welcome too much. From there we were greeted by person after person. When we were introduced to the congregation, we felt genuine joy that we were with them. And not a Sunday has passed in the year since that I haven’t been approached by women pursuing relationship with me—wanting to know how we are, what’s going on, how my heart is. Every Sunday I am reminded from the pulpit how much God loves me, what he did because of that love, and how it has changed my identity. I learn more about God’s character. I pray with people I care about and who care about me. We petition God for some hard stuff and thank him for gifts.
I have a very strong impression from the first time we met Jason and Kara. It was at one of our favorite restaurants where we were joining them and mutual friends for a birthday celebration. I had just had our baby boy and was still carrying him in the wrap. I believe it was the first time we even took him on such an outing and I was nervous, messy, tired, and not feeling up to engaging people socially. When we approached the table, everyone began greeting each other, but Jason stood up and helped me with the baby gear and pulled out my chair. He moved stuff out of the way at my place setting like a seasoned dad. I remember thinking, This man notices me. And he gets it.
That is the way he and Kara have led Westside. They notice people. And it’s infectious—other people are noticing other people. I would be surprised if anyone has ever come and gone from Westside without being noticed. It’s a direct reflection of God’s character—he notices me and he gets it and he cares and he sent his son Jesus—Immanuel, God with us—to make this journey with me. And with you. Together. Ask me about my church. I’ll tell you. I’ll invite you. But only join us if you want to be noticed.