Embracing a New Family of Faith

Though she liked things as they were, deep down she knew they couldn’t stay that way.

- Posted on May 24, 2013

Shawnelle Eliasen

I found a seat just before the nine o’clock service. It was one of those mornings. My husband, Lonny, was out of town again for work. My oldest son was away at college. My teenager took so long to get dressed that he wasn’t much help with his little brothers, who were surly because they hadn’t slept well.

There’d been a mad dash to get here so they wouldn’t be late for their Bible classes. Now I just wanted to leave. Everywhere I looked, folks were catching up. Laughing. Sharing. Everyone but me. I sat alone. Again.

We’d been at this church for six months. Would I ever feel at home here? Like I belonged?

Help me to stay right here, Lord, I prayed. Because all I want to do is pluck the boys from their classes and head back to Cornerstone. Our old church, which, true to its name, had been a cornerstone in our lives. We’d made just-like-family friends and incredible memories there.

Lonny and I discovered Cornerstone when we had just two boys and needed a place to learn about God’s love. The people welcomed us with open arms. We wouldn’t have made it through years of infertility, a miscarriage and the challenges of homeschooling without them.

At Cornerstone, our family grew in number— to five boys in all—and we grew in faith. Then, after six years, we decided to move. Not far. Just 22 miles across the mighty Mississippi from Iowa to Illinois to shorten Lonny’s commute to work.

One morning we sat on the peeling porch steps of the old Victorian we planned to buy.

“I don’t want to leave Cornerstone,” I told Lonny. “I just can’t give up what we have there.”

He pulled me close. “Don’t worry, Shawnelle,” he said. “Nothing about church has to change.”

We bought the house and made the move...and we made the drive to Cornerstone. On the interstate. Over the long bridge from Illinois to Iowa. From our creaking back door to the wide-open front doors of the church. For three years, it was worth every mile.

But our lives got busier. There were basketball, soccer and baseball games. Plenty of church activities too. Deacon meetings. Fellowship meetings. Youth group for the older boys, Bible club for the little ones. Our once-a-week trips to Cornerstone became almost daily treks. The river now felt like an ocean.

One Sunday Lonny said, “Going back and forth like this is wearing us all out. I feel like maybe God wants us to find a church where we live. Get to know folks better. What do you think?”

“I just...I just can’t imagine leaving,” I said. Why does everything always have to change, Lord? Then I thought about how hectic things had become. Constantly rushing from place to place.... That wasn’t good for any of us. Maybe Lonny was right. I finally relented. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s try it.”

So we found a church in town. And we went faithfully every week. We joined a Sunday school class, got the kids involved with programs. But making just-like-family friends? Feeling like it was our second home? That didn’t happen.

One time we stood at a church dinner, plates in hand, searching for seats, and no one made room at their table. I’m reserved by nature but I’d tried getting acquainted with some of the ladies after service. We never seemed to get beyond polite chitchat.

Now I sat here alone in this pew. It had been so hard for me to leave Cornerstone, but I thought we’d made the right choice. Had we heard God wrong?

The service ended. I waited to break into the flow of folks streaming out the door. At Cornerstone, friends would’ve caught me outside, wanting to hear about my week or how the boys were.... Today I’d be lucky to make it to the van before my eyes burned with tears.

“Morning, Shawnelle,” came a voice from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder. Becky. From Sunday school class. We’d talked once or twice.

“Morning,” I said, then glanced back at the door.

Becky laid her hand on my shoulder. “How are you?” she asked. “Is Lonny okay?”

“We’re fine,” I said. “Lonny’s just out of town for work.”

“That’s tough,” she said. “The boys doing okay?”

I was about to tell her they were fine. I was fine. Everything was fine. But there was something in her eyes. Kindness. Understanding. Sure, this church was different. But that look? I knew it well. I’d seen it at Cornerstone. Something inside me crumbled.

“I’m really not fine,” I admitted. “Lonny’s been gone a lot. The boys are cranky. Getting out the door this morning, it felt like my last thin thread was going to break.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, taking my hands in hers. “May I pray for you now? Pray for you and all those boys?”

I nodded. We closed our eyes.

Right there, standing in line, Becky prayed out loud. For me to have patience. For Lonny to get home safely. For our boys to be content and peaceful. And I prayed too. Quietly. In my heart. Thank you, Lord, for Becky. For the way she reached out. For the way she listened.

The warmth of Becky’s hands flowed into my spirit. People hadn’t meant to be unwelcoming, I realized. I was the one who had a wall up. I really hadn’t tried all that hard to reach out.

I’d been holding back, clinging so tightly to our memories at Cornerstone that I wasn’t open to the new experiences, and new friends, right in front of me. That was me all right, fighting change, always trying to make time stop.

God must’ve heard Becky’s prayer as well as mine, because the boys were quiet that afternoon and I had some time to think. After Lonny got home we sat out on the porch to talk. “I want to get more involved with people at our new church. I want them to know me, know you, know our boys,” I said.

“Me too,” he said. “I’m ready if you are.” Then he gave me a big, reassuring hug, as big as the mighty Mississippi.

That was a year ago. Today Lonny and I lead a small Bible-study group and I’m teaching Sunday school. The boys love it too. And Becky and the rest of our church friends? They’re just like family.

That’s right, our church feels like home now. It’s where I belong on this side of the Big River. And each week when I step through the doors, I’m reminded that it’s okay to look back on the past, to cherish the memories, as long as you make room for the joy that is right before you.


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