Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Chapel Life in South Georgia

Ten months ago we moved to a quaint coastal town in South Georgia to our second duty station on this adventure called military life and chaplaincy. It has been a beautifully wild ride switching coasts and, man, the differences are many! It has been an adjustment, but I am certain that we are exactly where the Lord wants us. 

My husband was previously stationed in 29 Palms with 3rd battalion 4th Marines, then regiment, and then 1st Tanks. We were there just shy of 3 years before moving to GA. Those who know me will recall that I loved our desert dwelling. I loved the sunshine, the people, the chapel family and ministry we were a part of, the hiking. It was very difficult to not play the comparison game when we first moved here. For the first several months I think I made the transition a little bit more difficult than it would have been had I surrendered to the Lord's will sooner. Always learning the hard way, I am. 

 In December of 2014 we moved to beautiful South GA where T is now ministering at a chapel, which is basically a church on base for sailors, marines, retirees, and others with base access. He preaches weekly, leads a bible study, counsels A LOT of people, officiates weddings, and prays at numerous events from balls to retirement ceremonies to even a Solar Farm dedication (yes, that really happened). He also does a bunch of things that I don't see or know much about, many of which are administrative in nature. We LOVE our sweet little chapel here but we (I) have had to get out of the way and allow God to move. Let me explain. 

While in the desert, we were part of a large and thriving chapel. We knew that the one in GA would be small and in my head I thought it would be no big deal. Yes, it would be small and vastly different from what we experienced in California, but we would just love Jesus, love the people, and let God do the rest. That sounds AWESOME and super spiritually mature, doesn't it? And that's totally how it went down... (crickets...chirp...chirp). Yeah. Just kidding. 

Honestly, we arrived here and reality hit that we were starting from ground zero with a wonderful staff, an amazing pianist, and...that's it. Something of importance to note is that we have one building for both Protestant and Catholic services. The catholic congregation is very large and thriving, with around 300 people on Sunday mornings which is pretty incredible and rare for catholic chapels. This being the bible belt and all, catholic churches are far and few between (as in there is one other catholic church in the entire county, I believe) whereas you can find a protestant church or three on every corner. This presents a unique challenge but nevertheless, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. 

The first Sunday T preached, there were 13 people in attendance, including the 7 in our family. Many were retirees (they are lovely!), plus some RVers that were there for a season (also lovely), and a few single Sailors and Marines (we love our men in uniform!). Over the next several weeks it was about the same. During this time, our youngest son proved to be very challenging as we taught our children to sit quietly through the service and to be patient as daddy preached. I often ended up in T's office in tears because the three year old would run away or even run up to the podium WHILE T was preaching. I was horrified inside but would paste a smile on my face as I walked to the pulpit with the baby strapped to my front in the ergo and grabbed at the wiggly preschooler as he screamed, "I. WANT. MY. DADDY!'" Sometimes I couldn't grab a hold of him and T would have to leave the pulpit and grab him for me. Looking apologetically toward the congregation, I would make the walk of shame to the back, out the door, and hunker down in the office wondering what in the world we had gotten ourselves into. The children and I worked at home and had daily "training sessions" where we would all sit in front of the TV and watch parts of  a sermon, lengthening the time little by little. Everyone did really awesome during the week - even the preschooler - but inevitably, on Sunday, it would be chaos all over again. Every week I beat myself up about my parenting skills with the disobedient child. What was the answer? We spanked. We did time out. We took things away. We talked. We hugged. We prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed some more. Over him, with him, about him, FOR him.  Where had we gone wrong? Was there any hope? Was he going to grow up and do dugs? Rob a bank? Get kicked out of college? Would he even make it to college? Irrational much? Ha! Maybe. One thing was for sure, something had to give.  I had grown weary of going to church. What was the point if I never heard the sermon and merely babysat my children in the office? It's important to point out that the members of the congregation were so understanding gracious during this time and they still are. We have some amazing people who have become like grandparents to my kids and friends who don't mind holding babies. It's been a gift from the Lord to have these people in our lives!

So. It turns out that it wasn't my little son who needed to change. It was my perspective. My heart. I had to surrender my ideas of what Sundays should look like, and embrace my new reality. We continued going to chapel faithfully and some weeks were better than others. Sometimes our little guy made it nearly the whole way through and other days we would take a walk outside and try to find the alligator that lives in the pond behind the chapel. We would talk about how Jesus made the alligators and squirrels and the trees and grass. I began to enjoy that time with my little ones. Even though I didn't always hear all of sermon - if anything at all - I looked forward to the fellowship time after the service and getting to know those who came any given week. I had to get back to the original idea of loving the people God brought. I could do that. That was easy - I love people! So, I began to focus on getting to know the chapel-goers better, making notes of prayer requests, enjoying the conversations, and my soul started to find rest. We started a fifth Sunday fellowship potluck for every month that has five weeks and we started a Wednesday evening worship service. When Wednesday didn't work out because of a scheduling conflict in the building, we moved it to Sundays. Sundays didn't really work out as a full fledged worship service and instead became an intimate time of bible study. We were changing as the Lord saw fit. I was tempted to start a children's ministry even though that is outside of my natural gifting but as we prayed, T and I both felt a peace about waiting. We agreed that we didn't want to start ministries just because we thought it would draw people in. We didn't want it to be about numbers. So we waited

In August, our oldest son came down with viral meningitis and encephalitis, also knowns as meningoencephilitis. It was a battle to get someone to take us seriously and not just pass it off as "just a virus," but the Lord is good  and provided exactly the doctors, staff, and facility we needed. It was during this time that the Lord just poured out his love from the community around us. Our neighborhood friends, our chapel family. He used that time to show me how very blessed I am right where we are. Then, one Sunday while I was still at the hospital with our son, T called on his drive over and excitedly told me about a couple with four children who came to chapel and desired to start a children's church. My heart rejoiced that I had been obedient and waited on the Lord's timing. A couple weeks later, children's church was born and it's been going really well. We are so thankful for this couple and the work they are putting into this ministry for our chapel children!

In the past few months we have also been blessed to exercise the gift of hospitality, which I LOVE! We have had the staff over, many single marines and sailors, other members of our chapel family, and many friends we have made since moving here. We recently said our first goodbye to a Marine that we had welcomed into our home a few times and whom my kids had grown to love. This Sunday we say goodbye to a couple beloved sailors. Its not easy, but its been such a blessing getting to know them. There are many others to minister to, still, so it doesn't stop here! 

There is still much work to be done, and so much potential for this sweet chapel, still people to get to know and have over, but I am certain of WHO has it all planned out. In the next few weeks I am hoping to get CPR certified so I can begin providing a nursery on Sunday mornings. It is also my hope that we can start a women's bible study by the new year. We are growing slowly but surely. It changes from week to week because that's just the transitional nature of chapels. I can't say that things are drastically different from when we first came to GA, but the Lord has changed my perspective and priorities. HE now guides me expectations and I am excited to see what HE has planned! As a chapel, our hearts are being knit together in Christ. We are real. We are imperfect. We are fellow travelers on a journey to know the Lord better and do His will. And though small, by most people's standards, we are a family and I wouldn't trade this experience for another one. God is good and we thank all of you who have kept and continue to keep us in your prayers. May God bless each of you greatly, according to His glorious riches in heaven.