The first church my Daddy pastored was in a tiny town in Kansas called Phillipsburg. We actually lived there twice. (1994-1996 & 2003-2005)
A few weekends ago was that church's 50th anniversary. My Dad, Mom, and myself drove the 14 hour trip (along with my 3 month old baby) to be there. Of course, what is normally a 14 hour trip, turned into 22 hours when you're stopping to nurse a baby every 3 hours. But it was so worth the drive.
I knew I missed the town and especially the people in the church that we had left behind when we moved, but I didn't realize how much. It's hard to describe. I imagine it's a lot like those country songs about going back to your childhood house and all the bittersweet emotions that come along with that.
We only got to spend one whole day in Phillipsburg and I made sure to make the most of it. Every minute I wasn't nursing Calvin, I was catching up with old and dear friends; my favorite Sunday School teacher, the couple that I was the flower girl at their wedding when I was 5, the resident jokester who used to call me Monkey, the sweet couple whose family we have been friends with for years despite the miles, the gal who gave me my first job shredding paper at an accounting office for $1.50 an hour, the sweet old lady who has been there for all of the churches 50 years and is never afraid to speak her mind, my 8th grade music teacher, and so many more sweet faces. I also missed many the faces of some people who have passed away and are in the presence of Jesus.
After church on Sunday, we went to the Chicken Inn for dinner. Because you can't go to Phillipsburg without getting chicken strips, curly fries, and a cherry Mountain Dew from Chicken Inn.
A tour of the town (population around 2,200) doesn't take long, but it was full of memories and I was delighted to see that not much has changed. We drove by our old house. The garage door is painted red and a tree is missing from the front yard, but it mostly looks the same. The town square still looks like something straight out of a Jan Karon novel, complete with the The Third Street Bakery where you'll find the same group of people at the same time every morning, shootin' the breeze. I saw the buildings where I went to preschool and middle school and the hill where the whole town went to sled when it snowed.
Last but not least, Daddy and I went by the old church building. After we moved away the second time, the church moved into a much nicer new building that used to be a grocery store and then it was an office building of some sort. But to be quite honest, as nice as the new building is, I was anxious to visit the creaky floored, musty smelling, little, white church that I came to know Jesus in.
I made up my mind before we got there that I wouldn't cry....HA! As soon as I walked in the door, the old church's familiar smell hit me and I started choking back the tears. Before we walked up the narrow staircase toward the sanctuary, Dad reminded me not to be too disappointed if it wasn't how I remembered it because it was now the youth group's hang out a.k.a. The Fortress. I rounded the corner and choked back more tears. The walls once white, were painted a groovy dark blue and all the old, gray padded pews were gone. It was smaller than I remembered. Dad and I started pointing to the spots where the pews used to be and naming off the people who used to sit there, Sunday after Sunday.
Downstairs, in the musty basement the murals that I helped my Sister and Aunt Cheryl paint for children's church, were still there. The tears were flowing freely by this point as I remembered countless potluck dinners in that basement. When we lived there the first time we had a once a month burger fest called Hamburger Heaven.
I'm so thankful for that tiny little church. I'm so thankful for the people in it and the Gospel that I heard and saw played out in the lives of the people. I'm so thankful for the love my family knew from that church. I'm so thankful for how God is using them to impact that little town called Phillipsburg.
To the rest of the world, Phillipsburg is pretty insignificant with its brick streets and one stop light. But to me, it's a beautiful chapter in my story. It's a place I can look back on with fond memories and say that was home....and in some ways, still is home.