Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy 35th Anniversary, Willow Creek Community Church!

35th Anniversary Service Program

This weekend, at church, we celebrated the 35th anniversary of it's beginnings.  Started in 1975, by a rag tag bunch of very young people, Willow Creek started holding it's original services in the Willow Creek movie theatre in Palatine, Illinois (one of the movies listed on the marquee was Woody Allen's "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask" - too funny and ironic).  God indeed showed up in that unlikely location along with 125 original attendees.  Now, 35 years later, Willow is in a beautiful location and building of its own in South Barrington. This celebration really touched my heart more than any of the other anniversary celebrations because of what our membership at Willow Creek has meant for our family and our lives.
I was not raised in a religious home.  By the time I came along, any attempts at church attendance had faded and the only time religion was ever introduced into my life was when I was invited to the church events of friends.  For some reason, I definitely felt like something was missing, but just couldn't get it figured out.

When Randy & I got married and got started on a life of our own, we were an absolute mess!  We had no idea how to handle our finances and just two months after our wedding, our marriage was in shambles and I felt I had made a mistake and wanted out.  But we stuck it out and continued to make a chaotic mess of things.  I went through life mocking those who followed Christ and tried some funky spiritual offerings that just lead me further down the wrong road.  I still felt something was missing and would talk to God about wishing I knew who he was and how to pray, but it wasn't until we had our first precious baby and nine months later lost her to Pompe's Disease, that I decided it was definitely time to get this God stuff figured out.  My sister, Nancy, told me about a concert at a church in South Barrington called Willow Creek Church and we went to it with a work friend of her's who attended there.  I was absolutely enthralled and completely intrigued with the amazing Christian concert that they put on.  I looked around the Lakeside auditorium and the large size of it and thought, I could come here anonymously and see if I can make any sense of this Christianity stuff.  I would attend services and sit up in a balcony section with my arms firmly crossed over my chest, still thinking these Jesus freaks were freaks indeed!  Randy wouldn't attend with me for a time, but I finally coaxed him into joining me (I think the dug-in heel marks are still out in the parking lot) and we heard very relevant, applicable messages about God that kept us coming back.  The music and dramas were equally incredible, so we made many efforts to return.  I would continually ask Randy, who was brought up in a very religious home to explain the Jesus element to me over and over again and I just couldn't buy it.  But one day (wish I documented the exact day), in my parent's living room, he explained it yet one more time and for some reason, the lightbulb just went off and I actually understood what it meant to accept Christ as my savior.  And, accept him I did.
A beautiful, fall view of the Willow fountain
Over the years, as we had our two healthyand beautiful girls, we brought them to Willow, but for some reason, they just couldn't accliminate to Promiseland as real little ones, so we lost a few years here and there while they were little (and let me tell you, when we'd get notice that they were beyond consolable, the walk from the balcony down to Promiseland was LONG and exhausting).  But, the day came, when we could finally attend on a regular basis and we did.  We learned amazing lessons on how to have a healthy marriage, manage our finances well and raise our children to love Christ and to instill morals in them that never seemed to matter to me before believing.
On the bridge among the willow trees
And, now, fast forwarding to today, I thought of how far I/we have come through our attendance at Willow and how our daughters are now, at the ages of 17 and 20, God loving, serving, wonderful young women and I can't be anything but eternally grateful to Bill Hybels for following the vision he was given so many years ago and to Willow for all of the opportunities we've had for learning, belonging, serving and giving over the years that have built up our spiritual lives to what they are today.  I have also made some of the best friends through Willow that a woman could ask for (and you all know who you are!).  Has our marriage been all wine and roses - far from it.  But because of what we've learned, we've stayed loyal to one another and devoted, even in the worst of times.  Have our daughters been perfect angels throughout the years, staying on the completely straight and narrow path themselves, of course not.  But, again, because of what we've been taught and the support the church offers, we've done our best and as a family, we've gotten through the lumps and bumps and hills and valleys and are a very happy, loving family with a hopeful and bright future.  And, all of the glory and praise goes to God for it all!!!  I truly don't think I'd be saying that today if it weren't for Willow.  I'm pretty certain our marriage would not have survived losing Jessie and God only knows the pain and chaos we may have endured in our lives, far worse from what we already have.

When I look at where Kylie and Chelsea are these days and I reflect on where I was at their ages, I just marvel at how amazing God is with Chelsea attending a Christian college (and loving every single opportunity and minute of it!) and Kylie being in a worship band and wanting to major in worship arts in college.  I am not at all bragging on them, but I am indeed bragging on God!  I couldn't be more grateful!

A large cake in the lobby with rubber bracelets at the base that we all wore according to the decade we started attending
So, Happy Anniversary, Willow!  I owe my life to God and the fact that I even walk with him to you!

Bill Hybels newest book and a book about the 35 years of Willow
And, as a side note, everyone who attended the anniversary services this weekend received a free copy of these two books.  I was so thrilled as I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of "The Power of a Whisper" and now, when I need it as such, I have it in my hands - as a gift.  Again, thank you!