I grew up in a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) church. For those unfamiliar with the WELS church, let me give you the abbreviated version: Very traditional services. Organ, following the liturgy in the red hymnal, the whole nine yards. The Holy Spirit was talked about at Pentecost and at Jesus’ baptism, but there wasn’t much of a connection to that part of the Triune God. He was there, but he wasn’t talked about. Miracles, speaking in tongues, and healing only happened in the Bible. Could it still happen? Well, of course, because nothing can stop God, but it just wasn’t seen in our church. The liturgy told you when to sit or stand, and there was definitely no arm or hand raising. If you moved away from the area, it was highly recommended to find another WELS church. This was almost imperative. No other church was the same, although if there wasn’t a WELS church around, Missouri Synod would work. I think you get the general idea.
I was baptized as an infant, went to Sunday School, sang in the Children’s Choir, held a leading role in a few of the Choir Spring Musicals, went to Youth Rally’s, and participated in Lutheran Girl Pioneers (similar to Girl Scouts, but in the church and without the cookies). In 7th Grade, I started attending the church's school. I “graduated” in 8th Grade and started high school at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School. I thought I knew what it was like to be a Christian. One of my high school teachers even told my parents that I wore my heart and faith on my sleeve. As high school continued on, I slowly stopped going to church on Sunday’s. I was going to chapel every day at school and I had religion classes, so why did I need to go on Sunday? I had convinced myself that this was ok.
Slowly, God became less and less of a priority. I knew that He was involved in my life, and I still believed in His Word, but that was where it ended. I would pick up my Bible a few times a year, but would only get a few chapters in before I found something that my sinful being deemed more important. After graduation I got married to my husband, Seth, and we moved away.
When Seth and I moved back to the area in 2012, he was excited to show me North Heights. His aunt and uncle were members and Seth would rave about the Passion Play and how big the church was. It was not a WELS church, so I had rather large hesitations before walking in the door. Coming into the sanctuary, I had sudden flashbacks of Youth Rally’s I had attended. This was church? And people were raising their hands in worship? Dancing with flags in the balcony? What was this? We walk in and Seth said, “So we’re sitting in the front row?” Umm…. NO! (Growing up, my family sat in the middle-ish of the sanctuary.) So my sweet husband took pity on me. We sat in the second row.
I heard and saw nothing that was contradictory to God’s Word, but I still had the walls of Jericho around my heart and soul. I avoided Healing Sunday’s like the plague. We never had healings at the WELS church, so it was 100% new to me. Instead of investigating it, I just shut out that part of the church. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to understand it. I just avoided it.
Little by little, North Heights started to feel more and more like home, but something still wasn’t right. I watched people have this strong, intense relationship with Jesus, and I was jealous. How come they get to have that, but I don’t? I tried reading the Bible, tried different devotionals, tried making a prayer wall, but nothing seemed to get me close like everyone else.
About 10 months ago, I knew I needed to leave my daycare job. I needed to get out, and the sooner the better. I had even convinced myself that I was done working with kids. (Yes, I’m sure God was laughing at me at this point.) Anyway, I will spare you the gruesome details of my application addiction and get to the point where I had to trust God with everything in me that He had a plan.
One day at work, I got the phone call from Diane, the North Heights Admin Assistant Pastoral Staff, to inquire about what exactly I was looking for in the receptionist position. At this point, I was informed that it was only a part-time job, which was half of what I was hoping for. I thought my world was going to crash down. How could I misread the signs from God? I was positive that I was supposed to leave the daycare, and I thought I was going in the right direction, but where did this curveball come from? Was I that desperate to leave my job that I misread the situation and only saw what I wanted to see? After a frantic 15-minute argument with myself, I realized I did not feel right walking away from this opportunity. So, I sent Diane an email, telling her that, despite what we had talked about, I actually did want to continue and sit down for an interview with her, all the while fighting the voices in my head telling me that I appeared to be an untrustworthy flake that couldn’t make up her mind. I decided to trust God and take a chance that an employer would take a chance on someone with little experience in the field. I also had to trust that God had a plan to fill in the other half of my job. What followed was the longest month of my life: discovering what that other half entailed, trusting that God knew what He was putting me into, waiting for the interviews, waiting for the job offer, and then waiting out my two-week notice.
North Heights felt like home before I took the job. Now I get to work with people that treat me like family. It didn't end there. The Holy Spirit that never got talked about growing up? He came alive in me, in ways I didn't expect. I can sense God in ways I never knew were possible. There are times when I listen to worship music, and I can feel the lyrics resonate deep in my soul. I believe God does heal people, in real time, today, even in this church. Prayer languages are real and one of the best gifts from God that I can imagine in today’s world.
Looking back, I can’t believe the box I tried to put God in. I used to think that I didn’t have a testimony because I had been a Christian my whole life. However, God used the circumstances in my life, including North Heights, to show me that I do have a testimony. I think He is also trying to show me that there are many people out there, simply going through the motions, even when something doesn’t feel quite right, just waiting for someone to show them the magnitude of our God.
Who better to reach them than someone who has already been there?