Dear Pastor Mike, Chapel Hill Family, and God:

                I am writing you to say thank you not only to you, but all of my brothers and sisters in Christ here at Chapel Hill and to our Heavenly Father for the love and open arms that they have provided me throughout my childhood, my adulthood, but most importantly over the last year. I have heard you speak several times in your sermons about writing love letters to God.   I have started this letter 1,000 times in my head and have never actually gotten the courage to write it.  Why God wants me to reach out to you and share my story with you is beyond me, but he has told me time and time again to take the time to share my “testimony” with you, so here it goes. 

                I won’t go into my whole life story, but I will give you a little background about me.  I am an only child, and I lost my father when I was 7 years old unexpectedly. That moment changed my childhood, as my mom and I traveled through life together with the love of our amazing family, faith, and a church that made us feel loved and wanted.  As I got older and life got busier, I started coming to church less and less until eventually I had come up with every excuse as to why I was “too tired” or “it was my only day off”.  After I had Rawlin I had an even better excuse to not come to church it felt like. How would I ever get myself out the door to get to church?  No one wants to watch or listen to me wrestle with him during the service and he would “never let me leave him in the nursery”.  These were the things that I would convince myself were justifiable to not take the time to get up and worship each week.  My husband is a farmer, so when harvest and planting season would come around I would tell myself that we were just too busy and I didn’t want to come alone, so I would just keep praying and knowing that I loved God from my home.  I kept telling myself that I wanted Rawlin to grow up knowing God the way that I had.  I read him bible stories and we prayed each night, but I knew in my heart that this was not enough…and it wasn’t. 

In February of 2017 everything in my life changed.  I had no idea how much I was going to need God more than ever and how alone and far away I was from him.  I had drifted so far away from him, but he never left me.  I just couldn’t see it at the time.  You see, at 34 weeks pregnant with Sawyer I got the flu.  It was hard on me and the next thing I knew I was delivering a baby a month early.  He was healthy for the most part, but needed some time in the NICU.  Life was stressful!  A new baby, a second child, and I still wasn’t feeling well.  I continued to pray, but still felt this giant weight constantly on me.

 Then, on March 28th I found myself closer to God than I ever had.  Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up with a fever of 104 which landed me in the hospital.  In just a few hours things went from bad to worse.  My fever spiked to 107 and my blood pressure and heart rate dropped.  The details from that moment are a bit of a blur, but as I look back there are moments that are so clear.  I will never forget the fear in my mom’s eyes when she told me they were taking me to ICU.  I will never forget watching my husband fall to his knees and burying his face in hands, or the look in the doctor’s eyes when he tried to explain to me that I was septic and they were working very hard to keep me alive.  But the one thing I will never forget is the peace that I felt in that moment.  I wasn’t afraid.  I knew something wasn’t right, but I was so calm.  I remember listening to the ticks of the clock as each minute passed and hearing a small voice tell me “don’t close your eyes, keep your eyes open!” I remember praying to myself for God to keep His eye on me, and be with me.  What I didn’t realize until later though, was that he was!  He was the calm during the storm, He was the voice of the doctor when he looked and me and told me, “When I say fight, you fight!  You have two boys that want and need their mother.”  He didn’t have his eyes on me, he had his hands on me.  I later found out after that day that people all over our community had stopped and prayed for me in that moment.  Not just my family and amazing friends, but a church family that hadn’t spoken to me in years or strangers that didn’t even know me.  In that moment God used me to bring people together as one.  But, the problem was…I continued to ignore his great love for me.  I still didn’t hear his cry.  Why?  I will never know.  Selfish?  Maybe.  Blind?  Absolutely. 

                After I returned home from the hospital and continued to recover I kept telling myself that I would start going to church once I felt better.  Once I wasn’t at risk to get sick again.  However, as life is so good at doing, another major life event got in the way.  My husband’s grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in and she did not have a lot of time.  We got to spend one month with her before we lost her in September of 2017.  At that moment I was so lost.  Why did all of these terrible things keep happening?  Was I being punished because I didn’t listen to God’s cry for me to follow him when I needed to?  I knew God didn’t work that way, but it was so hard to not think that way.  Each week I told myself that I would go back to church on Sunday, and each Sunday morning I would talk myself out of going.  Mostly because I didn’t want to make going to church feel like a chore.  I found myself obsessed with thinking and praying about going back to church.  In fact, I would often drive past churches and feel the urge to just pull in the parking lot, get out of my car and walk through the doors.  I knew God was calling me to his house.  He was begging me, but I continued to not accept my invite.  Each day the weight of my fear, grief, and just life in general was so overbearing there were times I felt like I couldn’t even breathe.  I knew what I needed to do, but I just couldn’t do.  I remember thinking, “What will people think?  Will they talk about me if I come alone? Will they wonder why I haven’t been here all this time?”  Then in December I went with my family to Return to Bethlehem in Madisonville.  My heart pounded as I walked through those doors, and for the first time in forever I felt like I could breathe.

 I told myself that night that if I could get up in enough time and get the boys out the door without a fuss that I would go to church.  So, the next morning came.  My alarm went off, the boys got up, everyone got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and we walked out the door without a tear or yelling.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was on time, which is a miracle in itself.  All the way to church I prayed that God gave me the strength to follow through and I was so excited to walk back through the doors of a church that I once called home, and oh how it didn’t disappoint.

  I wish that I could explain the emotion I felt that day.  Happiness, peace, love, just for starters.  There were so many smiling faces, outstretched hands, hugs, and excitement for new kids to be coming to church.  The service that I attended that day was an advent service that talked about inviting God to our homes for Christmas.  I knew at that moment I didn’t just want him there for Christmas, but I wanted him there every day.  Every moment of that service was perfect.  I had never felt so much relief and burden lifted at one time.  In fact I cried the whole service, and I didn’t even care.  Since that day, I have been able to become involved in other ways in the church.  I helped with Bible School this summer, I host at JUMP once a month, my boys LOVE coming each week.  Even my husband has found a love for coming.  I am so thankful for my rekindled relationship with God and this church.  I am still growing and learning every day, but I know I am running in the right direction now.  For that I am thankful.  So thank you to my Chapel Hill family for greeting me with open arms and praying for me even when I may not have been for you.  Thank you Pastor Mike for knowing God well enough to be able to teach me each week, and praise be to God for being our ever loving God.  Thank you for fighting for me.  Thank you for never giving up on me and guiding me home.  I cannot wait to see where my faith may guide me.

Your Sister in Christ,

Jessica Williams