Just before summer our family got “called” to attend and serve in the Lynn Spanish branch of our church. This means we were asked to stop attending our congregation that we’d been a part of for nearly 7 years and attend a little tiny Spanish speaking congregation up in Lynn (about 20 min north of where we live). This came as kind of a shock to us all. We were feeling pretty darn comfortable where we were and felt so integrated and happy.
But I don’t know why it came as a shock. For months I had been hoping and praying for some kind of new adventure. Some opportunity to come along that would stretch us, open our eyes, give us some experience, take us out of the rut we’ve made so nice and comfortable for ourselves. I had a strong feeling for months that we were on the brink of something, of some new family adventure. I guess, looking back, I was envisioning us moving to another country with some new fancy job for Jeff. But, that is clearly not what God was envisioning (not for now anyway). He was envisioning us being uprooted in our very own lives, doing something new and hard right where we were planted.
I sort of grumbled inside about this big change until we had our first Sunday there and our first primary activity. It was then that realized how perfectly this calling fills our needs as a family right now. How it is a perfect gift from God. How his hand is in the details of our lives. How he knows us, knows our kids, knows our situation, knows what we need.
The transition to the branch was rough, and not very well thought out on anyone's part. We were asked to go, accepted and announced it all within a few hours. This gave us all very little time to process what was happening. The kids were bewildered as people came up to them all day in church asking them if they were excited, if they were nervous about having to learn Spanish and saying their farewells. They had no idea what was going on. When we finally got the chance to talk to them about it they were pretty upset. They did not want change. They felt a little betrayed and unprepared. They didn’t understand why we were being asked to do this or why we said yes. That evening we had a little family meeting and explained that we didn’t really know why we were being asked to do this either but that we were sure it would be something that would help us learn and grow.
They went dragging their feet into our small new little rented space meeting house. Lynn really is like stepping into another country. All the signs are in Spanish. You are suddenly a minority. Everything feels foreign. When they realized that everything at church really was in Spanish they kind of freaked out a little bit. Jeff went with them to Primary (where the kids go for their Sunday School classes) and they were clingy and crying and making quite a scene.
But, the entire congregation greeted them (and us) so incredibly warmly. Our kids didn’t really know what to think of it. Everyone was giving them hugs and talking at them in a language the didn’t understand. The Primary leaders were all rallying around them to help them feel comfortable. They found someone to translate, they hugged them again and again. They smiled, they taught them a few words in Spanish. But still, my kids clung and cried. By the end of the two hour primary block they were a little less fragile but on the way home they insisted that they were never ever going back.
That evening I thought a lot about how the day had gone. Were we doing the right thing? Was this too much for our kids? Were we really in the right place? Was it fair to ask all the members of this new congregation to spend so much of their time and energy making us feel ok? But, despite all the evidence against this change, I felt at peace.
I want my kids to know how to do hard things. I want them to have experiences that stretch them. In a way I’m hoping that the drama of that day will stick with them forever. I hope they’ll remember how hard it is to be new and different and lost. I hope that one day they’ll be on the other end of it all and remember how hard it was. And I hope when that day comes their little souls will be wise with experience and know how to come and rescue others who are lost.
As good as I thought that extreme challenge was for them that first day, I did pray that something would happen to make things a little easier on them.
And, that prayer was answered.
Before the next Sunday there was a service activity for the kids. We all met on a Thursday afternoon and cleaned the church building together. My kids were not excited about going, but they didn’t grumble too much (especially when I told Charlie he could bring the Dust Buster with him). We were greeted again so warmly with hugs and kisses. It was clear that the Primary leaders were spending all of their efforts to try to make my kids feel at home. And, within minutes, they had all made new friends and were happily working to clean together. We all ended up outside the building to clean the sidewalk in front and everyone was engaged and working hard and happy. We ate watermelon afterwards while the kids ran crazy with their new friends (who all speak English). And we left with both Hazel and Charlie yelling “Adios!” out of our van window. On the way home they both concurred that they LOVED our new branch and, in Hazel’s words they “never want to go back to our old ward!”
Just like that they were hooked. There has been a tiny bit of complaining about not understanding everything since then, and boy is it harder to keep them reverent during Sacrament Meeting since they don’t understand a lick of what’s going on. But, overall we’ve all loved attending church there. The kids have made some really great new friends, they’re learning some Spanish, Jeff and I have met so many amazing and inspiring people, my Spanish is slowly coming back to me and we’ve ate truckloads of amazing food. They really know how to throw some tasty parties.
I feel like suddenly we’re part of a big giant family. There’s a lot of love in that branch. I leave exhausted (it’s hard to function for three hours in your second language) but happy and full of the spirit.
This change is one of the best things that has happened to us as a family, and we wouldn’t have chosen it on our own.
I’ve learned that God is aware of our little family and he is pushing us in the ways we need to go.
And I am grateful.