Darla Kernell, our LittleKIDS Coordinator and Sports Director, shared what it was like for her as a first-time guest at Seabreeze and how that experience continues to impact her life today:
“Good morning! You must be new!” He had spotted us before we even stepped out of the parking lot. He greeted us where the grass met the cement with a warm smile and a hint of a Southern accent. My facial expression likely resembled the “deer in the headlights” look. I’m sure he had seen it before because he was more than prepared for us.
“Yes, we are new and don’t know where to go…” Without hesitation, he started to personally walk my little family in the direction of the Kid’s ministry, explaining how the check-in procedure went, that we were welcome to as many donuts as we’d like and where the back entrance to main auditorium was. What this man didn’t know was our history. He didn’t know that we had just come off of an intermittent 175- day hospital stay between our two youngest children or that my son had been brought back to life just a few weeks earlier. He didn’t realize that we had the heartbreaking experience of saying goodbye forever to our oldest daughter and had to constantly reassure our next daughter that not all children die, despite what she had seen.
None of that mattered because he had prepared his heart in advance for people like us. Scripture says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Trust me. I gave this man every excuse why we shouldn’t leave our kids in the nursery…They have never been left in a church nursery…Don’t worry, we’ll give you a pager and you’ll be notified within thirty seconds if they get upset…They have an extensive medical history…Not a problem. We have an awesome first aid team on alert with walkie-talkies. They are prepared for most any situation… What I didn’t know at that time was HIS story. Where he had come from. I just knew that he put my heart at ease.
He looked down at my tiny toddling son and gave him a thumbs up. My son grinned back at him. This 6’4” gentle giant led my 20-inch baby into the nursery, sippy cup in one hand and a diabetic test kit in the other.
Now flash forward five years later. My children are older and love Jesus with all their hearts. I’m humbled to stand at that very same children’s kiosk each Sunday and welcome new families. This last Easter was beautiful. God reminded me of how I came to Seabreeze and how special first-time families are. As family after family walked out of the parking lot, I watched this very same man doing for them what he did for us on that first day. He wasn’t a “scheduled” volunteer or a staff member, but a committed member of the body of Christ. A humbled servant of God living his life the same way that Jesus did: compassionately, lovingly, attentively, and making himself available in order to put others’ needs above his own.
I stood at the kiosk, with tears in my eyes more often than not because of the gratefulness in my heart for what he had done for us. I was remembering how broken and vulnerable I was on our first visit. I’ll never forget picking up my youngest daughter from Sunday school and she was smiling from ear to ear, so eager and full of excitement to share what she had made. She was grasping an art project that was titled “Jesus heals the little children.” It was a cross decorated with bandages, cotton balls and gauze. My daughter exclaimed, “Mommy! I have good news! Jesus heals all of His children…Isn’t that great news?” Simple as that, faith like a child.
Now, I am even more grateful that I get to be a part of these family’s first-time experiences. I love hearing the children pass by me after the service is over, so full of energy, explaining to their parents about their first Bible lesson. I love seeing the relief on the parent’s faces when they realize their kids will be okay for that hour while they listen to God’s healing words. What my daughter said was true, Jesus does heal His children. Not just the little children, all of His children. Whether you’re seven months, seven years or seventy years, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalms 147:3. We all have so much to be grateful for.