I was born and raised in a Catholic family. It wasn't just my parents that were Catholic, but literally every last one of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I was baptized as a baby, attended weekly Sunday school (or CCD as we called it), went through the sacraments of 1st Communion and Confirmation and attended Catholic church all of the way through high school.
Once I headed off to college and actually had to make the decision on my own to attend church, well you can guess that didn't go over well. Church was simply too early on a Sunday after a late night out and just not 'the cool thing' to do in college. Having a boyfriend who was not Catholic probably didn't help the situation as I did not have an automatic 'church partner' who would help keep me accountable and push me to go.
So in 2007 when that boyfriend became my fiance, we needed to pick a church to get married in. I was not an 'active' Catholic at the time, but knew I should get married in a Catholic church to, if nothing else, please my parents and grandparents. We also decided that we wanted to make God a big part of our marriage and that would include going to church every week. We went a few times leading up to our wedding, but of course did not step into that church again after it. For whatever reason, it just didn't stick with me, and although it was one of my more favorite Catholic churches I've attended, I always left feeling good, but never wanting more or having the desire to come back. I just never left feeling that I had actually taken something away - I went through all of the motions of the service, but just nothing said out loud ever hit me as intriguing, interesting or inspirational.
Fast forward to 2010... we found out we were going to be parents! I said "OK, I know we've talked about finding a church before, but now that we are going to bring a baby into the world, we really need to find one now. No more excuses!" After Avery was born we attended Heartland Community Church (my first non-Catholic Church) a few times. I actually loved it there - for the first time in my life I actually took away something from the service and felt really really good about myself and God. But it was decently far away from our house and with Nick's crazy work schedule, we couldn't always dedicate a couple of hours on a Saturday night or Sunday morning to go. So, you guessed it - we stopped going ... again. We went ahead and had Avery baptizing Catholic, again mostly to please my parents and grandparents. It also left it open that if we did decide to pursue the Catholic faith for our family, that Avery already had the first step under her belt.
Double fast forward to Fall 2012... I had just lost both of my Grandpas (Bupa on March 17 & Grandpa on November 25). We had also just suffered the loss of a baby - a miscarriage in October, three of the most devastating events of my life. My life (and my faith) were at an all-time low. I hated my life - I cried every day - I was depressed - I didn't think it was fair - I didn't get why bad kept coming to me, and I even questioned if I was being punished by God because I had been neglecting my faith and my relationship with him. Is THAT what could have caused all of this? I obviously know that is NOT the reason behind all of last year's misfortunes, but because I was so disconnected, I couldn't help but wonder.
I decided once and for all that the Johnson clan needed to give church another try. I would go to any church that I could get my husband to agree to go to and enjoy, but kept my eyes set on Heartland. Heartland sets up their worship through "series" - 4-7 week "episodes" on a certain topic. They even have an amazing Launch program for Avery - a free day care service that is one of the most well oiled machines I have ever seen at a church! We started attending right before the series "Greater Than" started. Wow, could that have been more perfectly timed?! For the next 5 weeks we would hear stories of misfortune and triumph and how God is truly greater than any bad that is in our world. There was even one week that focused on a family's heartbreak of a late-in-pregnancy miscarriage (which I strategically skipped and watched from the comfort of my own home - thankfully Heartland posts all of their messages on Facebook, so you can always get caught up if you can't be there in person!) Of course they talk a lot about the Bible - but they always relate it to the modern day life, the modern day family, something that I have never experienced before at a church.
Heartland has been incredible for me - I can truly say that through this church I have been reconnected to God and to my faith. I know that everything happens for a reason (even if you can't see it at the time) and that God has a plan for all of us. He is greater than any of our misfortunes and wants us all to be happy. The current series that just started is called "Habitat" and is focused on how to create a solid foundation to build a great home and family. Their teaching pastors (especially Mike Breaux) are fabulous and really are effective at driving their messages home. The songs we sing are so powerful and touching - I often find myself listening to them during the week on YouTube. I get excited every week for the weekend so I can go to Heartland and see what else I can learn and take away from to help build a happier and stronger family. In my 28 (almost 29!) years of life, I have NEVER found a church that would affect me and change me as much as this one, so to Heartland, I am eternally grateful.
I do have several family members that are very skeptical of my choice to attend Heartland. But I believe there is a right church out there for all of us. I am still a Christian woman with the same beliefs and values as the rest of them, I have just found another 'house' to learn about him and celebrate him in. Not only is Heartland a church, it is a charitable leader in the Rockford community - they hold a large Prom for special needs kids every year that I am thrilled to be volunteering at this month, they make amazing improvements to schools every summer, among countless other things, and they have small groups to help with peoples' individual needs - including recovery and marriage/relationships.
You can check out more information about Heartland on Facebook or on their website. Like I mentioned, they post their weekend message every Monday on Facebook, so if you want to see what they are all about, Mondays are a good day to do so!
It must sound like I am getting paid for this endorsement, but I truly am just so happy right now, that I felt the need to share - actually over share - I have the tendency to do that sometimes! :) I promise I will (probably) not post about church or religion again - it's just been heavy on my mind and I wanted to get it out! But I will leave you with 3 of my favorite songs that we sing - have a wonderful day! XO!
From the Inside Out - Hillsong
Favorite Lines - "Everlasting his light will shine when all else fails"
"In my heart, in my soul
I give you control
Consume me from the inside out"
"In my heart, in my soul
I give you control
Consume me from the inside out"
Our God - Chris Tomlin
Favorite Line - "And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against."
Cannons - Phil Wickham
Favorite Line - "I'm so unworthy, but still you love me.
Forever my heart will sing of how great you are."