My Struggle with Trust (a church break-up)

Photo: Kara Russek

“God knows what he’s doing”

It’s the mantra I’ve had to repeat over and over again for the past eight months. Sometimes I didn’t believe it myself. Some months I had to utter the phrase more than others. The only reason I kept saying it was because I knew it to be true and I needed some peace.

Eight months ago, September 2014, was a pretty heavy month for me. The church I was attending was going through some turmoil and no one was sure if we would come out of it as a brick and mortar church. In September, we were told we would have until the end of the calendar year to determine if we would still be able to gather as a family on Sundays. Would we be financially stable? Would we need to relocate? Would the pastoral staff be willing to continue on? I kind of shrugged off this potential event. We were a church that loved each other. We were in each others lives and even if the church as a whole was to fall apart, we could relaunch as a local, independent church instead of being one of 14 locations. Nothing could hurt us or tear us apart. We are a family. Besides, I had no time to wrestle with the hurt as I was going through a break up and dealing with that hurt. I figured I could deal with the church hurt later.

Weeks began to pass and Sunday service attendance begins to drop and services were eventually cut. People left for various reasons. Some left because of the distance. Some didn’t see the church lasting and left while they could. Others were hurt by what was going on and separated themselves from corporate church all together.  In mid October we were told that December 29 would be our last Sunday in the building on Argosy Ave.  I was still in denial. I knew our time as a church would soon come to a close but I never left. I never felt called to leave. I was going to stick it out until the bitter end. Besides, I secretly hoped that minds would be changed and that December 29th would not be our last Sunday worshiping together. It would all be a sick joke and we would relaunch as a new and smaller church.  During this time, I still decided not to deal with the potential hurt. I was strong. I could handle this. Besides, my heart still hurt from that break up and I didn’t think I would have the emotional capacity to handle all the grief and the loss.

But the Lord slowly healed my heart.  I eventually stopped crying at night. Granted I was also binge watching Gilmore Girls, so that might have contributed to the tears in my very unstable emotional state. The holidays were coming and I had something to look forward to! Parties and gift giving and friends and family. I love Christmas. I enjoyed the dressing up, the laughter, and the conversations. I savored every hug and smile that was passed at those gatherings. Christmas soon came and passed but the decorations still hung in celebration.

Then it came. Sunday December 29.

It wasn’t supposed to come. And if it decided to come…well, it wasn’t. Period.

That Sunday was a day of celebration and mourning. People were baptized. Pastors and past members in the area came to show support. I brought a six pack of pocket tissues. I didn’t need all six packs, but my friends definitely did. I only needed one.  Our pastor shared what God did at our church and in the community. Orange and LA counties. God definitely worked in the short span of our church life. Marriages, families, and lives changed by the grace of God. We sang praises and prayed over the pastors as they were now out of work but knowing that this is what they needed to do.

And then, just like that, the Sunday December 29 service was over.

I looked back at the place I loved one last time as I walked back to my car. The name of our church off the building and only holograms of people walking in and out of service, conjured in my imagination. I turned, sat in my car, just screamed, “Why?”, and ugly cried. The heaving sobs that you need giant breaths just to continue. And then when no more tears can be produced, you just want to sleep. Yeah, that cry.

God had healed the hurt from the breakup. But then it all got opened up again. It was a different kind of breakup. Three months later.  Thanks a lot God. Thanks a bunch. But the day wasn’t yet over.

A group of about 10-12 of us made plans for that evening to go roller skating and then go to a bar and do karaoke. For a day that started out kind of blah, it ending up being a stark reminder of what God gave me at that church. He gave me friends to speak into my life, call me out on my sins, and just have fun with. We do life together.

Fast forward one week and I had to try out new churches. Let me preface with I had a list of churches I wanted to checkout. All theologically sound, but I wanted to know how they did life. Because the church that was no longer, did life together exceptionally well.

On the first Sunday of 2015, I checked out a church that would have the most familiar faces. But service didn’t start until 4pm. The whole day leading up to it I argued with myself debating on if I should even go. After all, this was feeling like a chore that I knew would have to be done, but quite frankly, I didn’t want to do it. But I went and after telling some people that days struggles, they asked me, “Why didn’t you take a week off?”  I responded with, “Because if I didn’t go to church this week, I would never go back.” And it wasn’t until those words were out of my mouth did I realize how true they were.

 I saw so many faces from my last church, but this was not the same. There was a guest speaker and all I did during the first 3/4 of the sermon, I sat, cried, and wrote in my journal. This wasn’t where I was to continue worshiping the King of Kings and I had to keep looking around. But I had a list of churches to check out. I was ready. The thing is, you can really only check out one church a week, and I had at least five on my list. What if none of those churches was where I was supposed to be?
The following week, a friend and I checked out a church by my house. The pastor spoke wonderfully but their small groups were pretty segregated. I could tell I didn’t belong. It was easy to walk out without any one noticing. One more church crossed off the list.
The following week I decided to check out a church that met just outside the circle in Orange. This church had been popping up in my newsfeed on Facebook since September. At this point, I was going to cross another church off my list. Yet, it wouldn’t have surprised me if this was the church I was supposed to be at. And I would go in knowing no one, because God was good at putting events in my life that made me uncomfortable.
I walked in the church about 15 minutes early and just stood there and looked around. The band had just finished warming up and there was no one there. No one mingling. I definitely thought I was in the wrong place. But someone saw me and came up to me, introduced themselves, and explained that there was Sunday School at 10am and it was just about to finish. Sure enough, about 40 people came rushing into the Women’s Club, holding their folding chairs. Children running around and the sound of genuine laughter.
Good, I wasn’t in the wrong place.
A pastor came up and introduced himself to me. Took genuine interest in knowing me and answering my questions. I gave them a point for making me feel welcomed, but I asked God for more. I REALLY needed to know this is where I was supposed to be.
During worship, a woman spoke because she felt led to say something. She read some scripture. I don’t remember the exact passage that was read, but it had something to do with God is in control and knows what he’s doing. I said, “Okay God. They have two points. But I need one more sign.”
That Sunday, the head pastor was out sick so a resident pastor spoke on Jonah. Yup, that’s right. Jonah. The guy who ran away from what God was telling him to do, was swallowed by a giant fish, and then eventually did what God initially asked him to do. I couldn’t but silently laugh and say, “Okay God, I get it. This is going to be my home for the foreseeable future.”
I am now a member at that church. I have friends at that church. What I thought was going to be a nightmare of trying to see where I fit in, God did it all for me.

God Does Not Forget His People
To say that these past months was a roller coaster ride, would be an understatement. But I have learned that God knows what He’s doing and that He does not forget his people. My dad said, “If God wants this church to be disbanded, it will happen.” As in the Old Testament, God brought down civilizations, kings, and rulers, God brought down the church. But not the whole church. Just a building. The people are his church and it is still very much thriving.
I came out of that experience with about 5-10 girl friends I can talk to about ANYTHING. I grew up with guys, and you can’t tell guys about your crush or the crap you’re going through. For the first time ever, I felt super connected to some awesome ladies, and I will go out of my way to see them, laugh with them, and cry with them. (Also, on a side note, I probably cried more in the past eight months, than I had my entire life combined. That freaked me out.)
I thought that God wouldn’t give me a straight answer right away. God gave me the answer to where I was to worship Him back in September. I just chose to ignore it because I had “better” things planned. I even had the audacity to ask God for not one, not two, but three signs that this church in Orange was supposed to be my home church. It was like I was giving God three chances to change his mind. But God doesn’t change. Our hearts change to align with God’s.
God knew exactly what he was doing and between a new job, guy stuff, and finding a church, God gave me what I needed most: a place I could call home every Sunday with people to love. He never forgot me, forsook me, or left me to the side. He cared for me and I had to obey him. There are absolutely no regrets.
Do I know why I’m at the church I’m at now? Nope. But I’m praying God will reveal that answer to me. Would I wish for a church to dissolve on someone? Never. Would I change anything that I went through? Absolutely not. These events were perfectly planned for my growth and God’s glory.
God knows what he’s doing.

Can I get an amen?

karaBio Born in the wrong decade, this wannabe 1950s housewife loves Disneyland, reading, swing dancing, conversing with humans, traveling, and the beach. A combination of any of the above is a perfect day.

Kara Russek