September 12, 2013

Alot Can Change in a Year

Warning: This is a LONG blog post. Go get a snack before you continue reading.  
Or, if you're in a hurry and want to get to the most important point of the post, skip ahead until you see the font color change.  You're welcome.  ;)

Alot really can change in a year. Actually, this post may be more appropriately named, "Alot Can Change in a Moment". Because that's what happened. Literally. Exactly one year ago today, we got an unexpected phone call from someone, that changed our direction.

In August 2012, we made a really tough decision to step out from the church we had been a part of for over 10 years. We had been through alot with that community, so it was very difficult to leave, but we knew it was the right thing and the right timing. We made that decision without knowing exactly what we were going to do or where we were going to go. We really had no idea. 

In an effort to stay a part of the church community as a whole, the following Sunday after we left, we went to another local church where we didn't know too many people. One of our good friends had lovingly advised us not to stop meeting with other believers, not just for us, but for our kids. 

I could write a LONG blog post on the different things I learned during the week following September 4th, and the mixture of feelings I had. But that's a little too personal for this blog. I will say, I had an encounter with God like I've never had before. He really came through for me, personally, during this challenging time in my life.

But it was September 12th that things started to make more sense. I came home to a message on my answering machine from Josh Waters. I didn't even actually speak with him. Josh had just moved to Toronto two weeks earlier with his fiancee, Erika Crosier, and John and Heather Bishop (and their two children). 

But before I get into that, let me back up a couple of years...

In early 2011, Mark and I watched a documentary (This is How we Change the World) that gave us a renewed sense of passion to reach our world. We watched it several times, cried lots, and prepared ourselves to be a part of a global movement in our part of the world: Canada. We didn't know exactly how this would happen, but that documentary spurred us on, and we dug in deep at our local church. We were ready to take action. Because this documentary was so inspiring, we decided to go and visit the church where it originated: Elevation Church, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mark took a few friends and leaders from our church with him one weekend in April 2011 to check things out. He had been listening to the Elevation podcasts when he would go on truck runs (along with lots of other inspiring books and podcasts - so this wasn't unusual for Mark). There was something different about Elevation Church though. Something clicked, but still, we always kept it at a distance because of...well, the geographical distance, logically. Then Mark and I took a trip to Miami, FL in June 2011, for our 10th anniversary. Naturally, he wanted to stop in NC to show me this great church he had found. I loved the experience, but it was still just an amazing church that was far away. We gained excitement for our own church family after being inspired by Elevation. It made complete sense. Anyone in leadership knows how important it is to expose yourself to great leaders outside of your main circle. So, we stayed connected to Elevation over the course of the next year and a half. 

So back to September 12th, 2012...
We got this random call. Josh and the rest of the crew had just moved to Toronto, from North Carolina, to start the very first Canadian Elevation Campus. They were making calls to all the Canadian contacts who had ever visited Elevation in Charlotte, to let them know that there would be a GTA (Greater Toronto Area) Campus launched early 2013. They were meeting at Mississauga Secondary School every Saturday night, for the time being, building a core team and planning for the launch. They were meeting ONE HOUR away from us. I couldn't help but think, why Toronto? Why so close to us?

So that Saturday night, Mark drove to Mississauga to visit. I, honestly, didn't think too much of it. It was, after all, an hour's drive...and that couldn't become a regular thing for our family of six (at the time, we had a 7 yr old, 4 yr old, 2 yr old and 5 month old). Or could it become a regular drive for us? I wasn't sure. Mark arrived home at around 10:00 pm that saturday night (which also happened to be the day before my birthday). When he walked in the door, I knew something was happening. He was beaming. If you know Mark, you know he doesn't really get worked up about much. He's just not an impulsive kind of guy. He typically takes his time and doesn't over-react. So, when I saw how excited he was, I was convinced in my heart that we would be a part of this new launch in the GTA. It had to happen. (on a side note: Mark's first visit also happened to be the very first installment of the "Greater" series - one that completely challenged and encouraged us in the next leg of our journey)

I remember him telling me that it was a small group of people (like around 60), and that I was going to love them. He said they were so friendly and open and that we would take our family the following week so I could see what he was talking about. 

On my first visit, September 21st, I was blown away by the passion of these people. And I mean, the sermon was amazing, the set-up was great, it was all wonderful. But what really struck me, was how passionate the people were and how driven they were to see people meet Jesus in a powerful way. I loved that everyone was working together towards one goal, one vision. I loved that just as soon as you stepped in the doors, you were given opportunity to do something - make a difference in your own way and find your place.

Looking back, I am pretty sure that the children's volunteers were overwhelmed with the addition of our four kids that week too (lol). But this was the other thing...our kids LOVED being there, from the start. If you have kids, you know how big of a deal this is.

Now, flash forward one year...
We have been a part of Elevation GTA this entire time. We have had the honor of being a part of the core team, the launch team, and the volunteer team and have had the privilege of conducting an egroup (our close-knit group of friends/family) in our home. We have given and have received, we've been encouraged and have encouraged others. We've seen growth happen and lives turn around. I can truly say that my experience this past year has been unlike any other that I have known. I could probably write an entire book (maybe I will someday) on all that I have seen and what we've experienced as a church family at Elevation GTA, and we're not even a year old yet. We've only just begun. September has always felt like a month of new beginnings for me, not sure why, maybe because it's the month of my birth, maybe because of school starting, the freshness of Fall, I don't know. September 2012 really proved to be a new start for me. I can't wait to grow and change more and continue on this journey God has for me and my family. I'm so glad to be a part of a family that will support and challenge me to move in that direction.

I love you guys. I wish you all could have the joy I've experienced this past year.

Thanks so much for reading and celebrating with me. Here's to new beginnings!


Julie Karanfilis said...

Amazing! And to see you blossom and exude peace and graceful love has been such a testimony of being a part of something "greater" --- love your stories Estelle! Keep them coming, and thank you for introducing us to Elevation. We obviously need to check it out sooner than later!

Leah said...

awesome! So amazing to be reminded that God is always at work in and through us. What an exciting reminder for me. Bless you.

Jo-Jo said...

very inspiring! Like the energy you have but more than that ..the determination you have to do the Lord's will.

Ryan Sworth said...


My name is Ryan Hollingsworth - I'm the Lead Designer and Communications Director at Elevation. I'm also the Editor for the Elevation Magazine and we'd love to interview you and tell your story for our next issue! Can you please send me an email (rhollingsworth[at]elevationchurch[dot]org) as soon as you can! We'd love to write the story this week if possible! Thanks!