Greater Things than I can Imagine – Amanda
I was born and raised here in Naples, Florida. I’ve always known that First Naples has been a large part of the community here. I actually had the opportunity to join the youth group when I was in high school. Fast forward…life was going as I had planned, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. And so I needed to find a new home church.
So the first church I tried was First Naples and I walked in, I think it was last August. Walking up, I definitely was nervous. I was unsure of how it was going to be, because I know it’s a large church with thousands of members.
I became a single mom to my two young children, and there’s a shame that comes with that. But when I walked into the doors of First Naples over a year ago, I was met with warmth and welcoming and no judgment. The guest services team immediately asked me my name, got to know me, and they asked if I had children. I said yes, I have two young children, and they took me over to the children’s building, showed me around, explained how I would check them in, and all those things. I immediately felt at home, from the greeters to Pastor Alan’s preaching – it just spoke directly to my heart, and from there I immediately wanted to get involved in the church.
On my first Sunday here with my children, and as I was dropping my kids off, I had mentioned to Jess that I had done the check-in team at my previous church, and she said, “Well, we absolutely love to have volunteers. Please feel free to fill out an application. We would love to have you.”
It was a God thing that when I met with her to start volunteering she told me her story. She gave me hope that there is a life with Jesus after your world comes crashing down.
My divorce was unexpected and, at the time, I felt so much shame. After ten years of marriage and being a Christian, my children were going to be raised in two different homes. It was heartbreaking. So when I went to First Naples, to meet with Jess to get the lay of the land for serving with First Impressions, she could sense that about me. I just told her, “You know, I only have my kids every other weekend because of the situation,” and she goes, “You know, Amanda, I’m in the same situation.”
And I looked at her and I’m pretty sure I started crying, and I asked her,
“Does it get better?”
And she goes,
“It does get better with Jesus. And you can make it through this.”
It was a God thing that 1) I ended up at First Naples after all these years of being in Naples, and 2) that the person who I came in contact with was another single mom who is killing it. But she’s not doing it alone, she’s doing it with Jesus and she points to him through it all. To see Jess up there leading her children, my children, and others in worship and praise for a God who we know has more for each and every one of us besides that bad thing that happened, it was powerful.
I thought, “Okay, I can do this. This isn’t where my story ends. From here, God has far greater things than I can ever imagine, and First Naples is part of that.”
Hearing her have struggles, but knowing that she’s leaning on God, that was amazing to me.
I had the opportunity to join a women’s group that meets on Wednesday nights while my children were in Awana. When I joined the women’s group, right off the bat, everyone was welcoming, and no one questioned why I was a single mom. Sitting down with women who are all married, they all have children. I felt I should be in that “married-with-children” status and I wasn’t, so I felt that they may judge me because of my situation. Instead, they welcomed me. They dried my tears. They listened to my story and then, on the day I got baptized, they were in the audience cheering me on.
I know the importance of my children being plugged into a church, getting God’s Word as much as they possibly can, especially in today’s world. So I make it a point that my children are here for Awana every Wednesday, and every weekend that they’re with me, we are… I’m serving with them in their classrooms, so they’re seeing me be a part of the story that they’re learning, as well as we also go to service together. My daughter has accepted Jesus Christ this year and she also wants to be baptized. She’s a little nervous about it, so she hasn’t done it yet, but she has that desire to know Jesus. I can see that growing in my son as well.
Since we’ve been members here at First Naples, I’ve seen my children become more open to talking about Christ. There’s something so beautiful about your children praying for you. You know that’s not just from the routine. They’re being impacted when they’re into that classroom and they’re hearing scriptures. There’s just something so beautiful and it has meant the world to me.
Last week I had the opportunity to be part of the service where they were teaching God is close to the brokenhearted. For me, that verse has been like a lifeline throughout the last couple years of my life, but my daughter raised her hand really fast and she talked about how our dog passed away. To see her hear a verse and connect it to something that she went through and for her to know that God was there – It’s beautiful to see them put two and two together and connect it to the lives that we live.
From the moment I walked through those doors to the moment I left, I felt loved and I felt welcomed. Even if your family isn’t traditional, you’re always welcome here. When you drop your kids off, there’s no questions. They just absolutely love you and they love your children. All around, you are welcome. This is a large church. One of my fears was I was going to get lost in the congregation. But I was welcomed and the more I got connected it felt smaller and smaller. The more I got plugged into the Women’s Ministry, volunteering in Kid’s Ministry, it became smaller and more intimate in the friendships I’ve built from being a part of First Naples. It just feels like home.
Whether you’re a single mom or a family who just moved, First Naples is a very welcoming church. If you’re sitting here and you feel like there’s something that is holding you back from becoming part of this church because you feel like you won’t be accepted,
don’t let that stop you from coming, volunteering, and becoming that change in someone else’s life just by them seeing you and your story.