My eldest son was four years old when he asked the question that forever changed my life:
“Why don’t we go to church?”
“We do go to church,” I said. “On Christmas and Easter.”
“But why don’t we go every Sunday?”
He posed a good question, and he deserved a good answer. Standing before me at three feet nothing, he was larger than life. Those beautiful, innocent eyes told me not to answer just to do so. So a few days later, I packed Leo and his twin baby brothers into the car and headed to Willow Creek in South Barrington. One Sunday turned into two and then four until, one day, a neighbor told me about Willow Creek Huntley.
If you’ve been to one of our services, you know that we want to be like family at Huntley. We greet each other and welcome new faces and do this beautiful, messy, imperfect thing called “life” together. But five years in, doing life with a church family is something I am just starting to explore.
At the end of 2016, I felt an emptiness begin to take hold of my heart. I wondered if attending church was really even worth it for me—my husband, though supportive of my faith and my beliefs, didn’t regularly attend with me, and getting my kids to church had become such a struggle that I had stopped bothering to take up the fight. Church had become a checklist: wake up; pray that my husband would go to church with me; pray that my kids would once again long to go to church; drive to church alone; sit in church alone; occasionally serve in Promiseland; read the program and consider joining a group or taking a class; drive home alone; hope for a different outcome next week. Maybe a change was all I needed. Maybe a new church would fill the void.
After much prayer and many tears, I decided to step away from Willow Creek Huntley for a while. First, I tried skipping church altogether. Next, I tried skipping church but listening to the messages in my car on the way to work. By the time I tried attending a new church, the emptiness inside my heart had overflowed and was seeping out into my world. My kids could hear it in my voice. My husband could see it in my eyes. I’m sure even my students could feel it in when they walked into my classroom.
When I hit E, God intervened.
He led me to a church one Sunday morning where the pastor was talking about all the ways that we compartmentalize our lives: work, home, kids, friends, hobbies, interests. He suggested that some of us have areas of our life, big or small, that we withhold from God—our hidden compartments. God wants access to our secrets. He wants access to those good and bad, beautiful and ugly, pristine and filthy corners of our lives.
I reflected on that message for several weeks. What had I been withholding? What had I been hiding? What were my compartments?
I grew up as an active member of my local church. In middle and high school, I was in youth groups and youth leadership roles. I was mentored by adults and peers who poured their faith into me and cultivated my heart for God’s work. They taught me to listen for God’s voice. They taught me to use prayer and petition to communicate with God. Most importantly, they taught me that sharing my faith with others was like watering the seeds in God’s garden. One particular leader told me that sharing faith starts with a story. Everyone has one. On a weekend retreat, twenty-some years ago, I stood up in front of my peers and told my story. I wish I could say that I remember what I said. I wish I could say that everyone in the room was forever changed. I wish I could say that it was a life-altering, earth-shattering experience, but, to be honest, the only thing I remember from that talk is how vulnerable I felt. I’d spoken in front of groups before, but this time my feelings, my words, my life were pouring out of my heart, and the entire world was listening (even if the entire world was only comprised of about forty other teenagers and a handful of adults). It was my first and last faith talk, and the experience of sharing my story has been safe ever since—tucked away nicely in a compartment in my heart.
On January 29, God called me back to Willow Creek Huntley. The day I returned was the day that Todd talked about the launch of our Home campaign and the small groups that would be forming to work through our church’s vision for a permanent home. As I opened the program, a card fell into my lap. It was an invitation to be a part of the Willow Creek Huntley Home Vision. God will stop at nothing to get our attention, and that morning, I heard Him loud and clear. I took out my pen, wrote down my name, and decided to start watering God’s crops again.
A week later, I was sitting around a table with women—some of whom I already knew and some I did not. We greeted each other and welcomed each other, and we sat down together to do this beautiful, messy, imperfect thing called “life” together—at home.