Have you ever lost a letter in the mail? Or lost something that was of great value to you? A package or a gift? You looked for it everywhere...you really needed it. Did it fall in the trash on accident when you were flipping through the letters? Did it happen to slip out of the mailbox when it was delivered? Where had it gone? How could it be lost?!
5 years ago, my husband and I along with 13 incredible people sat at a cabin dreaming of what is now ThreeLife Church. Big dreams not small ones. 1,000 people in a year in a small town kind of dreams. My husband(Josh) was determined to reach people from all walks of life. A place where everyone was welcome and we went for it. With no money to back up our dream just a group of people willing to serve and see it come to pass, we headed into the unknown. I know we may not have voiced it but when Josh said, "God will bring 1,000 people in a year" I know we all kind of looked at him crazy, but just had this feeling inside that he was right. Our dream was to start a church and continue planting churches wherever God would lead us. Go into all the world but first this little town we came to love called LaGrange.
Josh and I are both Pastor's kids and have grown up in church our whole lives. Crazy because we still wanted to be in the church and more than that start one. Most PKs get jaded and leave church because they get to see the inside and how ugly people can be. (Wait Christians? Ugly? - Oh yeah. We are the worst at times.) But we knew what God had spoke to us on the inside and knew what we had to do. We wanted our friends who left church all together, those who hated church, those that hadn't been in years, the broken ones and those far from God. We were fired all the way up! I am talking high faith, nothing too hard for God. It began, the planning, the execution. Where would we meet? What would the logo look like? So many things to get rolling and then the launch date. When we looked at the calendar it was a given, Sunday, 3.3.13 was it. I mean it was 3.3.13 and we were ThreeLife. A no brainer. In November of 2012 we kicked off our first pre-launch service in a ballroom hotel. We set up that morning and I remember the team sitting back and we all guessed a number of how many people (if any) would come. 120 something people showed up that morning and off it went. We began building a launch team for our Grand Opening on 3/3.
We had 3 more pre-launch services in hotel ballroom and the numbers continued to grow and by the last pre-launch in February there was over 250 people packing the ballroom to capacity. Chairs and more chairs, the team put all of them out and even looking for more. The excitement was so intense. We couldn't wait until March 3rd! Like literally, couldn't sleep kind of pumped. The Grand Opening of ThreeLife was at one of our favorite spots in our town, The Delavant. 3.3.13 came and with over 500 people in attendance that day, the beginning of ThreeLife Church had begun. Year one was ahead of us and we were halfway to the vision Josh had set of 1,000 people in a year. People were getting saved each week and more and more people joined the team to help make it hard to go to hell in Lagrange, Ga. We were setting up and tearing down each week, a crew of incredible guys getting there at 4:00am each Sunday to prep the day. We didn't have a permanent place so we went back and fourth from one ballroom to the next praying for a place to call home while keeping everyone on their toes. Everything was on track. Focused and on mission.
Earlier that year my sister in law(Jessie) lived in Atlanta and saw Louie Giglio and his wife, Shelley at a restaurant. She felt God tell her to take care of their lunch. On the back of the receipt she put a little note. It was something like, thank you so much for all you do and please pray for my brother, he is starting a church called ThreeLife in Lagrange, GA on 3.3.13. I remember she called us and told us about it and I just thought to myself he probably won't even see it, but that's awesome. Months later, after we had launched ThreeLife, I was rocking my ThreeLife tee at Starbucks and went in and guess who was there? Louie and Shelley Giglio. What!? In little LaGrange!? I am sure they were passing through to head to the AU game but they were there in the flesh getting their coffee on. I walked up to Shelley and said hello and then Louie walked up. I told them about the lunch receipt from my sister in law a few months back and he looked at me and and my shirt and said, yes! ThreeLife! He went on to say did your husband get my letter? HOLD UP!!! UMMMM...WHAT??? (that's what i said inside my head) I am pretty sure I lied to Louie G because I was like, yeah I am sure we got it..... It threw me way off guard. We said our goodbyes and then I picked up the phone to call my husband and said, did you get a letter from Louie Giglio????? He then replied, what?! I never got a letter. So, we then begin to investigate where this letter was and called the team to figure out what had happened to it. I mean it's not everyday you get a letter from Louie. Since we didn't have a permanent location, we had a PO Box that was located on our website. Well.. after our research...our website had the WRONG PO Box number on it. OF ALL THINGS!?! So whoever was box 4732 got a letter from Louie. Yeah so me begin a beginner with website stuff, I had accidentally typed a 2 instead of 3 for the address on the page. (seriously Amanda!???) I couldn't believe I did that! We tried to located the letter but no luck.
All I could think about was I lied to Louie Giglio and then I wondered... what was on the piece of paper? What had he wrote? Now knowing what was coming our way, oh how that letter could have helped me, I've thought before. A little letter by in my end table to remind me to not let the hurt of ministering to others take a piece of me. Just maybe knowing that there was some wisdom from him, a piece of his heart on a sheet of paper would bring encouragement. Maybe to say, don't give up when the enemy comes knocking or stand firm when people fail you. Maybe something like that was on that letter. Maybe a little advice of don't do this because it won't work or people will leave you but God never will, just love them. I could image it would say, be strong and very courageous because you are called and chosen by God for this mission.
Not long after our Grand Opening (6 months in to be exact) Josh's youngest brother(Justin) committed suicide. Justin was full of life, smiles and so much love. He loved Christmas, cooking and all things style. He was the one that helped get Josh and I back in contact with each other after 4 years.(thanks myspace) Along the way, Justin lost himself and he gave up hope. The greatest attack we had ever known to date was at our doorstep. Meanwhile, we were building a church, we had found a temporary home for ThreeLife that we call the barn and the barn could seat 1,000 people just as we had planned for God to send us our first year. We were getting ready to pack that place out come March 2014. We were growing, God was moving, but so was enemy.
Josh got a phone call the evening of September 19th and what was on the other end was the devastating news that Justin had jumped to his death from a bridge in Augusta, Ga. I still remember the look on Josh's face with the phone to his ear. We dropped everything and made a 3 hour trip in 1 and half hours to get to him. When we got there and walked into the hospital room, Justin was already gone. The most surreal thing I have ever seen in my life. Someone I loved laying there, but not there anymore. A mother laying over her son with tears streaming down her face onto his cheek, stroking his hair and crying out to God. Kissing his hands, his feet, his eyes. The attack began but yet we had to press on. But how could we? How could we reach the world and not reach our own brother? Those were the thoughts that came into our minds. But still we pressed on believing somewhere inside of us that Justin's story would live on. That we must do whatever it takes to bring hope to the hopeless. To have a place for the lost and broken to have a home. God used Justin's death to reach so many people for good and he is still doing that today. Even through the pain, their is a great purpose. It has helped me see things that I've never saw before. Help me love harder and fight for those who can't find the fight for themselves.
1,009 people gathered in the barn to celebrate ThreeLife's 1st birthday. Let me say that again, 1,009 people. It had happened, what Josh had said from that small little country cabin with 13 people, we were in it, we were looking at it. In awe. It really happened. We packed out that barn to the max. God gave us what we asked for and yet the burden to reach more people was still within us. We couldn't help but cry at the end of the day in thankfulness for what God did and was doing around us even with a lot of pain in our hearts from the loss we had experienced just a few month prior. We had no staff and just an incredible team of volunteers who served after work each day to make it all happen. We had a place to call home and a group of people on fire to reach their city.
I'd like to say this past 5 years has been all roses and sunshine, but it hasn't been. God has moved mountains for us in this small town, but yet there are still mountains that need to be moved and to this day I still wonder what was on the letter? Would it say, when God moves people away that you love, lead on! Would it say, when people betray you, love them anyway. Maybe it would even have said, you won't always get it right as a leader, you will make many mistakes along the way, but keep going. It could have said towards the end, when you can't get out of bed and feel completely defeated, God still has you, don't quit. And maybe just maybe one thing I would have read on that page is that you will learn to lead alone and that sometimes God gets you alone for a reason. He wants you to lean on him and no one else. Not even a letter from Louie. God has shown me my flaws, my weaknesses and where I must decrease in my life. The enemy has tried to take me out a many of times. But really, cancer couldn't have me, depression nor anxiety has won and the sins from my past are far gone. Although I am nowhere near perfect and there are times when I want to quit, I think of what that letter would say. And in those moments of feeling defeated, HOPE invades and a small still voice speaks into my heart. Keep going.
Josh ran into Louie G 6 month after Justin died and told him what happen to his brother and the pain he was walking through while trying to be a strong leader for his family and church. He still didn't tell him about the letter, but Louie said something profound that we still think about from time to time. "Every great leader walks through the valley of the shadow of death." So, whatever is on the other end of that phone call, whatever valley your facing today, this week or even the near future, hold onto HOPE tight. There will be lonely days, days where you don't get it right, where your feelings try to override your faith, but you better believe that it's not over for you! There is more to come, and for us, for ThreeLife, we are stilling going strong. Yeah we've been wounded, yeah it's been hard at times, yeah we have had our days of trouble and when the enemy almost won, but here we are, still reaching people from all walks of life. To bring hope to those who need it, to love the unlovable, messy sinners just like me. When you step out to do something for God, to take those back from the enemies camp, he hates it. He will fight you and he will fight you hard to quit, he is relentless, but we stand firm knowing we are VICTORIOUS IN JESUS! We are headed into year 5 stronger than ever and ready to step again and dream even bigger than the beginning! The impossible becoming possible and FREEDOM as our theme for 2018.
Another letter that was lost was Justin's. Justin wrote some letters right before he died. Some of which were missing and our family was never able to find, page 17 to be exact. The letter that just maybe would have explained a lot of questions we had. Gone. I don't think there is a day that goes by that we don't wonder what was on that page. What did it say? What did he write? Maybe your letter got lost too. Maybe you needed it to keep going or to help you in the hard days...or maybe it's what's on those letters you didn't read that keep you awake at night. The unknown of your life. I know for sure that there is a purpose in the lost letters, although I'd still love to know what it said, today I look back and say to you, write your own. We all have the pen to our story. We can write it ourselves. We can write the ending, the middle and even a new beginning. Write your letter from Louie or from the person you look up to, maybe it's from a parent who's not here anymore, a brother, a best friend, someone who inspired you. What would they write to you? What would they say to do with the doubt and fear? What would they tell you to do when the bad days come? Write what you think they would say to you when you face your dark hours. Write that letter. It will be the best letter you ever lost.
Ps. If I ever see Louie again I promise to let him know, we never got his letter and sorry for not writing back. :)