I grew up in church. I think I was born there. Sundays, Wednesdays, rehearsals because both my parents were on the worship team, special meetings, extra meetings, bonus meetings, come early for a meeting before the meetings… I’ve been at them all! It’s what I know.
Having just turned 32 I’ve not only been in church my whole life but I’ve been through a few different churches. I went to church where I went to school, I went to a church that was planted by the church that I went to school at. My grade 5 science teacher and principal (same guy) was my pastor and still a good friend. I’ve lived in 5 different cities across Canada & the U.S. and been a regular attender, staff member or involved in the leadership at 6 churches. And that’s just me, we haven’t even talked about Kelley’s journey yet. And why is this important?
Because with every addition in the number of churches I’ve attended, it means I’ve left one more church somewhere behind me in my life. And I am certain of one thing… it is the most difficult, heart breaking, life altering experience I’ve ever been through.
Leaving church shouldn’t be easy… because church is about people.
I don’t want you to assume that I’m flaky and just move cities all the time. My story is a rather unique one – yet, for many, probably not so unique at all.
Why didn’t someone warn me???
Oh wait… they did. I’ve been in a lot of youth conferences, adult conferences, worship conferences etc… and at most of them there’s someone that gets up there and gives an incredible preach on following the will of God for your life, “the call”. People label it a myriad of different things. God’s Destiny For Your Life. Call To Ministry. A Calling. and so on and so forth. And they actually warn you, “If you don’t mean it, don’t pray it… but I invite you to pray with me now, “God, I give you my life, have Your way, take me wherever You want to take me…” – done deal.
With every new journey comes a tearing of the heart.
Kelley and I have had the privilege to be part of some incredible moments, both with people and in what we consider to be God’s destiny for our lives. We have forged friendships around the globe. Collected countless stories of God’s favour, blessing, experience and work in cities across many countries. And as I mentioned earlier, we have lived in 5 cities. But with leaving a city you experience a tear in the heart.
I left Cornwall, my home town, born raised and left at the age of 19 to go to Toronto. I had no idea I would stay in Toronto, but ended up living there for 6 years. But with moving to Toronto I missed birthdays for my nieces and nephews, my parents, I missed playing golf with my brother, father & brother-in-law. Because I believe that more than just my desires directs my life…
After 6 years of living in Toronto I felt like God spoke to me to leave Toronto and move BACK to Cornwall. I believe God wants and desires a personal relationship with us (it’s all over the bible, stories of God encountering people…). I never saw myself moving back to Cornwall, I didn’t understand it. But I listened… So, in my excitement of gaining my family back – I moved in with my brother (which was amazing), I was able to live, play and enjoy time with my parents, my brother and sister and their families. BUT I also walked away from some of the closest relationships I had ever experienced. Friendships that were deeper than I could have known. And then, out of nowhere God opens my eyes to my beautiful wife – even though I had known her for 6 years I never saw her like this and suddenly we were in love and planning our wedding.
After only 6 months of being back in Cornwall I am torn again… this time Across the continent to Santa Cruz, California, to the little town of Capitola. Of the places we have lived, this is by far the most beautiful, tranquil, amazing place. But again, I experience this tare, this pulling apart where I leave my family to pursue what I believe God has for me.
Let’s take a pause there for a second. Reliving this isn’t the easiest!
In each of these scenarios of my life what I was looking FORWARD to was good, exactly what I was supposed to do and God was in it. I have no doubt in my mind. But when you step out to move forward you by default must move away from where you were, it’s just the nature of the movement. And you experience this loss in the midst of gain.
I joined Kelley in California – She had been there for a little more than a year and we had this great little one bedroom place across the street from the monterey bay. It was incredible. But before long we felt God speaking again. We spent 8 months in this place before we packed all of our things into a 20ft moving truck and drove completely across the country from Central California all the way to Raleigh, North Carolina. 5 days, 10 hours of driving a day. It was a journey for sure! Again, a tearing of the heart as Kelley left some of her closest girl friends and we left pastors we had become very close to. And all the while we are looking forward to our destination and feeling the distance from our past.
Three years in Raleigh. You build some incredible friendships in three years. You forge in fire, relationships that grow and stand the test of time. You give of your life and they give of theirs, and you feel a bond not easily torn. And after three years again, we hear what we can only believe is the voice of our Heavenly Father saying, “the time is now.” And this one, probably the greatest to this point of our lives. Again, now with having collected even more belongings we pack into a 26ft truck and drive from Raleigh up north to Ottawa, Canada.
Now, after three and a half years, again, having grown in friendship, relationship and mission, we feel God pulling at our hearts again. Is this God – absolutely. Is this good – no doubt in my mind this is the absolute best thing for us. Is this easy – absolutely not – this is, and continues to be the hardest thing you can ask someone to do – walk away from friends and family. Even in the face of great adventure and new vision, the lives and friendships that you leave behind are the most precious and valuable part of any city you could live in.
Do I miss the beaches of California? Sure, but not as much as we miss the faces and conversations and bbqs with those we loved.
Do I miss the beautiful city of Raleigh? Yeah, but not nearly as much as I miss hearing the songs sung by the ones we poured our lives into and worked with.
Do I miss Toronto? Well, that’s a tough one. Every time I drive through Toronto I wonder why on earth anyone lives there :P… But I do miss the people, the culture, the relationship.
See, it’s never just about moving on, there’s always a story, there’s always a hard part. It’s never as easy as just looking forward and being excited.
So, are we excited about this next season? Absolutely. Every journey has brought us into more of what God has for us and without a shadow of a doubt we trust that this is a major step forward in God’s plan for our lives. But, we don’t look forward to not seeing the ones we love, not hanging out with our friends, not seeing our daughter with the other kids born around the same time, not swapping stories with other young parents we have a bond with because they were pregnant when Kelley was, not having close friends over for coffee even though they are allergic to our cats… We don’t look forward to not seeing the faces of the friends we have grown to love with all of our hearts here in Ottawa.
And that is the problem with leaving a church…