Cancer, church and commitment

Hello dear readers! I apologize for the (exceedingly long) duration between my posts; life has been crazy and wonderful and busy and new and exhilarating. As Wes and I were driving home last night, I was absolutely overcome with the perfection of the Easter day from start to finish. I couldn’t help but let my mind flash back to some previous Easter memories, and I am so excited to share with you those stories. I promise you, my blog title will make sense once you get to the end!

 

Easter, 2008

I was in Greensboro, and had the assignment of opening kitchen manager for the holiday. Sundays at Tripps were always busy, but certain Sundays (Mother’s Day and Easter, specifically) were especially busy. Luckily, with an incredible kitchen staff and days of preparation, the brunch shift went off without a hitch, and we all were thanking and congratulating each other for jobs well done. Sometime in the late afternoon, a server came to me on the line and said I had an urgent phone call. I remember walking into the office, laughing at something said by one of our kitchen calls…completely oblivious to the fact that my laughing would be halted immediately. Beau Whitt, a dear family friend, greeted me on the other end, and as calmly as he could, told me I needed to come home. My parents had taken my sister to the hospital earlier that morning, and with the doctors’ urging, advised Beau to call me with the request to get to Asheville as quickly as possible.

I assume by now, all of you know how I can over-describe a situation and/or a memory; unfortunately, that’s all the detail you get from this day. It’s not because I’m hiding anything, it’s because the memory of that phone call is the only thing that is still clear in my mind. I don’t remember leaving Tripps, I don’t remember going to my apartment to pack, I don’t remember the drive home. When I look back on that day, searching as far back into my mind as I can reach, the only other memory I have is one from later in the evening. My immediate family is sitting all around Ali in her hospital room, and her doctor came in. He began explaining what they knew so far, and few minutes into his speech, he informed us that an oncologist would be coming in shortly. It was the only word he’d said so far that stood out in my mind. “An oncologist?” I thought. “Aren’t they cancer doctors?” I knew there’d been a mistake. I remember silently scolding myself for not paying closer attention to what the doctor had said earlier. It made no sense in my mind why an oncologist would be coming in to see Ali if she didn’t have cancer…

It only took a little while longer for me to get my answer.

They’d found a tumor.

They would run more tests tomorrow to give us more information.

My sister had cancer.

My sister had cancer.

Ali, my 24-year-old younger sister, had cancer.

While Ali’s story has a happy ending, this day, Easter Sunday of 2008, is a day filled with shock and pure grief.

 

Fast forward, 5 years later:

Easter, 2013

Wes and I had recently stopped going to a church here in Boone after never really feeling “connected,” and didn’t have any plans for celebrating Easter. We decided to go home for the weekend, and decided to go to the Sunrise Service at Pole Creek Baptist Church. I started going to Pole Creek when I was 15, so I didn’t “grow up” in this church like so many of my friends did…but my memories are countless. When I was in high school and my dad had his heart attack, it was the Pole Creek staff and congregation that came to our rescue. It was Pastor Dennis Thurman that gently persuaded my dad to start bringing our family to church. We were baptized, as a family, in the baptismal pool at Pole Creek. Some of my dearest friends throughout high school, and beyond, still go to this church. Needless to say, I was overly excited to go back and see everyone and introduce Wes to these incredible people he’d heard so much about. We’d told my parents that we were going, but didn’t think they would want to get up so early on a Sunday to join us. Late Saturday night, my dad called to ask if he could join us, and I silently celebrated. It may be the cheesiest thought I’ve ever had, but the image of sitting in between my dad and my boyfriend at my home church filled my heart almost beyond its capacity!

Even though it rained and the service had to be moved inside, being back at Pole Creek was everything I’d hoped. I got to hug so many of the women I’d grown up loving and admiring (and learning from!). My dad got to shake the hands of men who’d helped him coach softball and prayed over him when he was sick. And best of all, I got to proudly introduce the man I loved to a community that had loved me for so long.

Shortly after this visit to Pole Creek, Wes and I committed to ourselves and to each other that we would search for a church of our own. We no longer wanted to be doing our own bible studies… We wanted to join a group of believers and meet new people that we could love and learn from.

Praise the Lord; He delivered…

 

One year later:

Easter, 2014

I wrote a lengthy Facebook post on the day Wes and I joined Oak Grove Baptist Church, and I want to share that with you again…

“’Gathered at the Passover feast, the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the others’ feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat, feet caked with dirt. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least…
Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and redefined greatness.’”
(Celebration of Greatness – Richard Foster)
When
Wesley asked me if I wanted us to become members at Oak Grove Baptist Church, I was afraid it was too soon. However, when Pastor Michael Gragg told the congregation this morning that “greatness” at our church was going to be defined in terms of humility and washing people’s feet, I knew that it would never be too soon to join this exceptional congregation.
We are SO BLESSED to be welcomed into a church family as gracious and loving as our new one at Oak Grove.
Today is a good day.”

As I mentioned in the post, we had not been going to Oak Grove very long. When I had my first thought of becoming members, I immediately talked myself out of it since we’d only visited a few times. On the Sunday we joined, however, I couldn’t give myself one single reason not to. We were quickly becoming close friends to Pastor Michael and his wife Casey, and I could not have adored them more. People in the congregation had reached out to us for friendship. Wes’s daughters loved coming and playing with all the other children. And, most of all, Oak Grove was/is a church that very firmly preaches what it stands FOR, not against. In a time when people are so quick to vocalize what they don’t like or don’t approve, our church does the opposite. We want our community to know that we love. We help. We serve. I am so grateful we were led into this place.

(see, here’s the over-description I talked about earlier!)

Wes and I have had the honor to help Pastor Michael plan and organize the Easter service for weeks, so needless to say, we had very high hopes for yesterday morning. We got to church just in time to see people lined out the door, searching the sanctuary for open seats. Even better than that, we got to see regular members give their seats up to those who were visiting. We got to see our children sing and praise. Our traditional and contemporary worship teams paired up to lead us in the best worship I’ve ever been a part of. Pastor Michael preached a message that resonated in the minds and hearts of everyone that heard.

And, best of all…

Larson, Wes’s 6-year-old daughter, told her dad that she wanted to give her heart and her life to Jesus. When asked why, she said, “because he died on the cross for our sins and he loves me.”

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It’s that simple.

“He died on the cross for our sins and he loves me.”

There is nothing quite as humbling as hearing the purest definition of Christianity from the mouth of a 6-year-old.

After the service and the fellowship (who doesn’t love a meal at a Baptist church?!), the “usual suspects” and our kids stayed around and soaked up the sunshine and friendship as long as possible.

On our way home, Wes told me a story that will very likely stay with me the rest of my life:

At one point while he was playing with the kids yesterday, he looked over and saw four of us women sitting on blanket talking and laughing. We are four women from very different walks of life. There’s the pastor’s wife, who is an absolute super-mom to her four children, and the glue that holds Pastor Michael and their family together. There’s a woman who is beautifully (and successfully!) raising a child on her own. There’s a woman remarried, having faced (and overcome) numerous health issues, raising two adorable children, so in love with her husband and her life that it shows through everything she says and does. And there’s me, newly married, with two stepdaughters, drifting in and out of church for years. There we all were, sharing stories and jokes and advice, so happy in the moment that Wes said he felt as though it would be an intrusion to come over and sit with us. At the end of his story, he said, “What a glimpse of heaven you all were! Four of you, so different, but loving each other so strongly and so non-judgmentally, so thrilled for each moment of life you get to share with each other.”

 

Last night, while I was reflecting on the day’s events, and the events of the previously described Easter Sundays, I really couldn’t wait to write everything down. Six years ago, the day was the first in what would become an impossibly challenging and discouraging part of my life. Last year, I was able to reconnect with men and women that have made such a positive influence in my life. Yesterday, I celebrated the day of our risen Savior with my HUSBAND (!!), his adorable little girls, and a group of women that bring so much joy into my life. My sister is cancer free, also newly married, and expecting a baby boy July 4th. I have gotten to spend time with my distant family twice in the last few months. I’ve graduated college, and recently started an incredible job.

The cancer is gone. My childhood church led us to our search for Oak Grove. I have been led to a husband, a family, a group of friends, a church, and a job that I am fully committed to for the foreseeable future. I feel as though the three Easter Sundays I remember represent so perfectly my walk through life.

Happy Easter, y’all! Thank you for allowing me to share my memories with you!

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