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My Christian Backstory (or Where I Was Before Elevation Church) #elevat10n #superversary

I have always been in church. My Granny took me every week when I was a little girl in Heath Springs, SC. She made me watch Billy Graham every time he was on TV. I remember being a little girl of 5 or 6 standing next to Granny in a pew at Flint Ridge Baptist Church and crying as we sang “Just As I Am” in church. How could someone love me so much that He would allow His Son to die for me? I didn’t quite understand it all, but I felt it all.

Me with my Granny and my Uncle Bert after church Easter 1970

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So I grew up in church. I sang in the choir. I was in GA’s. My mom re-married when I was 9 and we moved to Charlotte. We started attending Thomasboro Baptist Church, the home church of my new Daddy. When I was 14, I publicly answered the alter call. I was baptized not long afterward. It wasn’t all it should have been. You can see that story at an earlier post when I was celebrating my choice to be baptized again at Elevation Church Lake Norman in 2014.

As I said before, we had always been a church family. I fell away as a teenager because I worked every Sunday and while I was in college I never made it a priority and my first career out of college again I worked every Sunday. I never forgot my relationship with God, but I sure didn’t prioritize it. The birth of my daughter changed things. I knew I had to raise her in the church, like I had been. Being the child of a single mom was going to be tough enough, so I needed to nurture a love of Christ in her so she would always have Him to lean on. We were members at a Presbyterian Church. If the door was open, we were there. I was a Sunday School teacher for 2 year olds, I served in the nursery during preaching, I led the 4 and 5-year-old Cherub Choir, and I coached softball and soccer. Seriously, if the door was open, we were there starting when my daughter was about two years old. By the time she was 7 or so, she would throw tantrums about going to church. At around 8, I stopped all the volunteering but it was hard to get her to church just once a week or so. When she was 9, I lost my job and we lost our home. We had to move back to Charlotte with my mom. I was suffering from severe, crippling depression. It was a dark and dangerous time in our lives.

But like He always does, He brought me out of it. One night I just broke down at a stop light and sobbed. I confessed that I was clueless about what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I obviously had no idea what to do to take care of my family. I was coming up on being out of work for a year. I had finally broken down and applied for food stamps and Medicaid for my daughter. I pleaded with God to show me where He wanted me, where I belonged. I knew He had plans for me. I was still alive when at a point I had felt I shouldn’t be. I admitted I was weak and He was strong and wherever He led me, I would go.

When I got home and checked my email, there was an email about an office manager position at a management consulting firm. Management consulting was what I wanted to do when I graduated! I had degrees in Business and Psychology in preparation for that career, but I let life and hard-headedness get in the way and followed money into the restaurant business. But there was more. The name of the company was Peter Rock Consulting. I would find out later that, yes, the company was named after the disciple Peter. The principle felt that the greatest stories of leadership in our history are located in the Bible and the greatest leader of all times was Jesus. Yes – God had placed me exactly where I needed to be. It was my new boss that pressed me to find a new church, one that Bailey would attend. After the year I had, you would think I would run to the church for some peace and comfort. But I was still overwhelmed with all that had happened and getting back into the swing of working full-time and my daughter started having more trouble than ever in school. It was always something. Sunday was the day I slept all day long. I was totally exhausted physically and mentally. Our living conditions were still not great. Grown women with children should not live with their mother. I’ll just leave it at that.

I thrived at Peter Rock Consulting. The psychologist I worked with had gotten his start working with adolescent and pre-adolescent girls with serious issues in a residential facility. With a growing daughter that was angry at the world for everything, again, God had me right where I needed to be. My Daddy was a psychologist. He promised me while I was pregnant that he would be there to help me raise my daughter. Unfortunately, he went to Heaven right before her 2nd birthday, followed soon after by my uncle, my Granny and my Grandaddy. But the time my daughter was 5 she was so comfortable at funerals she ran up to my Granny’s casket and exclaimed, “Look how pretty she is!” I dearly needed help as she started into the teen years. Nothing seemed to bring her joy other than drawing and animals. School was an argument every day. My boss gently suggested that my daughter needed to be in church, with like-minded people and children. He urged me to keep visiting churches. He knew eventually I would find one that fit.

So Christmas came and went in 2008 and I still had not found a church. It was almost Easter. There was no way we weren’t going to be in a church somewhere on Easter!!! I prayed for guidance and I surfed the internet. I visited churches alone.  I knew the right place for my daughter was there somewhere. You can’t swing a cat in Charlotte without hitting a church. It was there. I knew it.

During my research I came across an article about Elevation Church. It was about to celebrate Easter for the 4th year. They had done some crazy egg drop the first year – which was referenced in the article. It said the music was loud and the preacher engaging. That’s what we needed. Bailey was all about music by the time she hit 12 or 13. Emo music. My Chemical Romance is the main band I remember. Hopefully the Elevation Church music would come close. She had started coming home from school swearing there was no such thing as God and I was crazy if I thought He would take care of us. None of her friends’ families had to go to church. It sounded like some of the most blasphemous, hippy crap I had ever heard and it was coming out of my child’s mouth, a child who I drug to church over and over again, and I wasn’t having it!!!

I gave her an ultimatum the day before Easter: We are Christians. We go to church. We dang sure go to church on Easter. So pick a sunrise service at Chimney Rock or this church here in town called Elevation where she could wear jeans and a tee shirt and the last service was at 6:00 PM on Easter Sunday. She said “That one” begrudgingly. Hallelujah! I was getting somewhere.

She got to wear her black leopard print jeans and her tennis shoes. She went in without a fuss. She sat down and stared at the floor. I prayed she would at least politely sit there and listen. We were three or four rows from the front of the auditorium at Butler High School. We had been smiled at, waved at and welcomed since we hit the parking lot. I prayed this was it. This was where we needed to be. That this was going to be home.

Check out my previous post to see more about that first day on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009. It was just as I hoped. We were home and our lives were about to change in ways I never thought possible.

Sneak Peek at Coming Posts

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First Time at Elevation – Easter 2009 #elevat10n #superversary

“Broken and repaired. Damaged and restored. Sometimes, it’s not about what you can do. It’s about what’s already been done. This series, Healer, is about being made whole again.” – Elevation Church

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Sunday, April 12, 2009 – Easter

That was our first time at Elevation Church, at the Butler High School campus. Pastor was preaching at Uptown and it was the last of probably 5th or 6th sermon he had preached in 24 hours. Elevation didn’t have a permanent building yet, but the Matthews site was under construction. So how did we, a family that had been heavily involved in a formal Presbyterian church for over 10 years end up at this new type of worship we had never really heard of???

My daughter was 13 at the time. Despite growing up in the church, she was rebelling. Probably because if the door of the church was open, we were there. Right before Easter some junk came out of her mouth that she had picked up at school about there not being a God. Well, that wasn’t flying with me, so I was determined to find a church I could get her to attend. I knew I wasn’t getting her dressed in a dress, etc. for a church like we were used to so I started doing research. I found an article about Elevation in the Charlotte Observer, and while it sounded crazy to me, I could take her in jeans and a tee and that would at least keep the uproar at home to a minimum.

So Easter weekend that year, I gave her a choice. We were going to church, no matter what, but she could choose – get up at 2 or 3 in the morning and drive to Chimney Rock for a sunrise service or there was some church in Charlotte that we could go to that had a service at 6:00 PM AND she could wear jeans. She picked Elevation.

So we rolled into the parking lot at Butler High School late that afternoon. People were jumping around and waving at us. This was pretty cool! We got out and started walking up the walkway and everyone was welcoming us. We got inside and went into the auditorium and were seated about 3 or 4 rows back from the front.

This is the first thing we saw (actually this is the teaser, but you get the idea):

At that point I’m wondering what in the world?!?! We were definitely not at 1st Pres anymore! But I looked over at my daughter and she was no longer staring at the floor. She was staring at the screen! Then the music started and Mack Brock and the band came out on stage. She sat up. Then, a miracle started to form in front of my eyes as an artist came out and started painting on glass! Bailey was an art student at Northwest School of the Arts. While she is more into sculpture and photography, she appreciates anything artistic.  In my heart, I knew I had brought her to the right place at the right time and God had arranged that meeting. Here is what the painting looked like: (I know I saw a video of it at some point, but I can no longer find it)

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So the music ended and instead of her sulking back into her seat, she listened to Pastor Steven preach. So did I. I knew we were in the right place. We had been through some very rough times – unemployment, losing our home, illness, depression, anger, etc. We were broken. We were damaged. But that day, our lives shifted in a new direction. In the sermon, pastor says he hopes our world is turned upside down by his message from Isaiah 53:1-6. Our world definitely was!! I had never heard a pastor preach like that. He was honest, brutally so, about the horror of the Crucifixion. He was straight-forward in what it means to love God and esteem Him. At one point he said “I know a lot of you are first time guests and didn’t plan to get into all this, but if you didn’t want to get wet you shouldn’t have gotten near the boat”. When he said that Jesus “kicked the end out of a borrowed tomb” I was all in. Then he said said “Cut the crap! Give yourself to Jesus and be healed by His wounds! He suffered for you! And He loves you!” I was smacked in the face with the truth and I appreciated it. I knew if I was going to show my child the way of the Lord, we were in the place I was going to learn, and so would she, how to live as true Christians, not the ones that give lip service and live like hell.

As I was looking through things I said over the next few months, I see a change in my outlook on life. I was more positive but most importantly, I started relying on God to be there for me. I was no longer alone. My child was no longer locking herself in her room all the time. In fact, she invited her best friend Kaila to come with us to Elevation during Cow Tipping.

There is so much more to be thankful for, so the next step in our Elevation journey will be in my next post. But for this one, I am so thankful for that day in April 2009 that I decided that I was dragging my child to church and I’m thankful that the experience was life-changing. We still struggle. We don’t have it all together. But we have God in our lives constantly. No half-stepping as Pastor said that day. We are all in and can’t wait for the next 10 years and beyond!

 

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Be Still and Know that I am Lord (Or “Please get these locusts out of here!”)

Now therefore stand still and see this great thing, which Jehovah will do before your eyes.  1 Samuel 12:16

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.  Psalm 46:10

And Jehovah turned an exceeding strong west wind, which took up the locusts, and drove them into the Red Sea; there remained not one locust in all the border of Egypt. Exodus 10:19

I wasn’t in the best mood on the way to church this morning. My daughter wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t the most pleasant person to deal with as we got ready to serve and attend church. She has eosinophilic esophagitis and recently everything she eats causes her pain and then on top of that she can’t sleep, so her being grumpy is an understatement. She was in pain, hungry, sleepy – “mad at the world” was an understatement actually. On top of that, my feelings had been hurt at church last night by someone who, at least it appeared to me, was encouraging me to change churches by praying about it because I said the other one might be a shorter commute!  To say I was distracted and not in the right frame of mind was an understatement. In fact, as I drove I was writing a blog post in my head (I do that a lot – if I wrote in WordPress every blog post I write in my head I would have a novel by now) on the subject. The more I dwelt on what may or may not have been an innocuous statement, the more agitated I became. This is NOT how you are supposed to go to church!

THIS is how you are supposed to go to church:

1Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. 2Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. 3Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.     4Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. Psalm 100:1-4

This definitely wasn’t how we started into His presence this morning.

I pulled into the parking space and we started walking toward the church. We’ve been experiencing the effects of Hurricane Joaquin here in the Charlotte area – LOTS of rain and bouts of strong wind. The weather was pretty calm when I got out of the car, unlike the storm that was brewing in my heart and my head. I knew my mood had to get adjusted quickly before I breached the threshold of the church.

Then it happened……a HUGE rush of wind. And another and another. I paused in my walk. In my head, I heard the beginnings of Psalm 46:10… “BE STILL, and know that I am God”.

As I started walking again, the wind seemed to get stronger and stronger and I started praying. Praying that the wind would blow away all the negativity in my head and in my daughter’s head. She had ear buds in and a hoodie over her head. I specifically prayed that God’s wind would break those barriers she had put up as protection. His protection was what she needed. His love was what she needed. His healing was what she needed. Those things were what we BOTH needed. I begged Him to provide all these things – trusting He was going to get us over this bump and into His presence in the proper state of mind.

I’ve walked the walk through that long parking lot more times than I can count. I know the way. So about halfway, I closed my eyes and lifted my hands a bit, thanking God for all He was doing in our lives. I already knew my prayer from moments earlier was fulfilled. I needed to thank Him for what He had done this morning. I needed to thank Him for everything He does for us.

As usual, my Trust in Him was fruitful. By the time we got to the threshold, I was smiling ear to ear and telling a friend what I was feeling and doing. My mind was in a totally different place as I stepped onto the walkway in front of the church than it was when I stepped out of the car. But I wasn’t sure about my daughter. In my mind, God’s winds had pierced her protective defenses and cleared her heart and mind and gotten her ready to come into His presence. But until she pulled that hood off and those ear buds out, I didn’t know.

She noticed me talking with my friend and took out the ear buds and pushed back the hoodie. THAT person was not the same kid I was in the car with! She was smiling, pleasant and laughing. The wind had taken up the locusts and blew them back from wherever they came from. She walked in the church ready to share God’s love with all that came in her path.

I said another prayer of thanksgiving as I watched her walk off, waving and speaking to people like the loving person I know she is. It wouldn’t be the last that morning. I find myself giving thanks to God so many times a day it would be a task to quantify it. We had a teaching this weekend about remembering to give thanks to the Lord for the little things. I forget sometimes that everyone hasn’t lived the life I have. Everyone hasn’t lost everything, or seemed to have lost everything, only to find themselves with everything they need because He provides it. In my church world, I’m old. I’ve followed the Lord for over 40 years – since I was 5 years old. Most of the people I go to church with haven’t been on this Earth that long! I’m thankful for that. I’m grateful for the times I can show someone from a chapter in my life how I asked for Him to help and He did. I’m privileged to be able to tell how I started tithing and the positive impact it had on my life. I’m honored to tell others how time after time, the Lord has been there for me and my family. I am evidence of a loving God. I’m a sinner but He has taken my sin from me. I call on Him and He is there. I trust Him because He has my heart and my soul and in Him, my life is Heaven on Earth. And even if the locusts come visit, He’ll blow them away with His powerful wind.

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Please Drive Safely….Don’t be a Statistic

Tonight on the way to pick up Mom and Bobby from the airport, it was raining and the country road from our house to the interstate was covered in wet leaves. Bailey said something about she wished she had driven. I was immediately transported back 31 years to the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1983 (Nov. 20th). It was on a wet, leaf covered country road where my best friend since 2nd grade’s boyfriend hit a patch of wet leaves, then a drain pipe, went airborne and then hit a tree and she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. She died of a dissected aorta on the operating table at CMC. I had moved away from Heath Springs and Kershaw when I was 9, 6 years before this happened, but Audrey was my first real best friend. Our parents were friends. Our Granny’s were friends. We were born the same summer at the same SC hospital. I loved her like a sister. Bailey shares her middle name, Lane.

Every Sunday before Thanksgiving I remember my angel best friend and thank her for keeping an eye on me and hope she continues to watch over me and her namesake. Bailey’s comment threw me for a moment, but then I just reminded her to please never drive on wet country roads. She knows the story and immediately knew where my head was. I love how she just let me remember my friend in silence and promised me she would always be careful driving in the rain and would never drive on country roads at night in the rain unless there was no other option.

For my friends and family, please drive carefully all the time, but especially this week. This is the highest travel volume week of the year and there are so many accidents. It’s a matter of statistics. More cars – more accidents. Please don’t be a statistic. Wear your seat belt and make sure your children have theirs on as well.

Rest in peace my sweet friend Audrey Lane Taylor (1968 – 1983) I know we will see each other again in Heaven.

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When Life and Death Collide

Eighteen years ago right now. I was on my last Daddy – Daughter Date with my Daddy, Chester Helms. At least it was our last one without the Baby Princess. He took me out to eat at Champps Americana because we had never been there before and I didn’t think a sports bar would be the appropriate place to take a baby later. I can still remember it like it was yesterday, even what I ordered. Chicken Salad sandwich with pasta salad. And I couldn’t finish it because I was so nervous and I couldn’t take it with me because I couldn’t eat after midnight because I was being induced the next morning, May 24th, at 7:00 AM. Little did we know Bailey wouldn’t make her entrance until 9:05 AM on May 25th. I should have known then she was going to be a handful. 🙂 After 26 hours of labor she still put up a fight to come in her own time. LOL

But both nights, my Daddy was there for me. He and Mom stayed with me the entire time. My friend Nell joined us in the early morning hours before Bailey finally arrived. But when I watch the video, I still tear up when I see my Daddy, in his high-tech wheelchair, reclining as he sat with me the whole time. Mom was working the camera and fidgeting and such, but Daddy just sat there, and listened when I needed it, and was my calming steadfast rock. He always was.

I wish he had been around more for Bailey. Losing him when she was two was just too soon. It’s hard that her birthday always reminds me so much of what I lost when I lost Daddy, even though I gained so much when she was born. I may not have shared DNA with my Daddy, but I doubt any biological daughter could have been closer than he and I. He was my best friend and my therapist and my protector – my Daddy.

I get angry at him sometimes still. He promised me when I told him I was pregnant and scared, that he would be there for me. He would help me. I wouldn’t have to raise her alone. I thought “What could be better? He was the perfect Daddy, so surely he would be the perfect Grandpa”. I was pretty sure Bailey’s father would never be there for her or me, but I knew my Daddy would be. He adopted me a couple of years after he married Mom and he had been there for me since I was 9. I could raise her alone, as long as Daddy was there. And maybe God would bring me someone just like Daddy was for me for my precious baby girl. But Daddy died in April 1997 – not quite two months before Bailey turned 2. He broke his promise. He was supposed to help me raise her.

I told her father while I was pregnant the best gift my Mom ever gave me was a life without my biological father. I told him if he ever wanted to be in her life, that would be fine, but I didn’t want  him in my life anymore as anything other than her father. So glad I made that choice. Her biological father never made a motion to meet her. It took my aunt falling ill with cancer and us visiting her in AL for him to meet his daughter at a park – when she was 16. She knew she had siblings and she wanted to meet them. As I imagined, after some time he broke her heart as well. He married a woman and didn’t bother to tell her about 3 of his six children – the three that don’t live near him. Bailey was crushed that her own father basically dismissed her existence. I hope one day they can develop a relationship. Every daughter should see her Daddy as the perfect man. He should treat her with respect, care and dignity. He should show her how she deserves for any man to treat her. I have no doubt if more Daddy’s would treat their daughters and their daughter’s mothers with more respect, we would have a lot less social turmoil in our country. But that’s a blog for another time….

Tonight is about me and my Daddy. It was our last outing together just the two of us. After May 25th, 1995 it was the three of us. We went to parties, charity events, restaurants, movies, Charlotte Hornets games, anywhere we wanted to go Daddy was proud to show off his Princesses. Bailey charmed many a person, usually men, wherever we went with her big smile and lots of laughter and Daddy beamed. I really wish her birthday didn’t always remind me of the loss of him, but then again, it reminds me of how much he meant to me, gave to me, and taught me about being a good person, as well as a good parent.

I miss you Daddy!

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