Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler is mother to Mahala and Isaiah, wife to Nathan and Minister of Church Community Life at First Mennonite Church of Iowa City. She received a Master of Divinity from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 2007. Besides tending her family and the church, she loves going for walks in the woods, gardening and playing with flowers.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God! Everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8
My four-month-old daughter, Mahala, wobbles before me, proudly standing as I support her small, sturdy frame. Her eyes meet mine, tiny dark brown pools twinkling as she grins with joy. Does she know what her smile does to my heart? Does she know what love is?
Surely, she has been surrounded by love since her beginning. Certainly, she is coming to know what love is, not only because of the love of her father, mother, brother and grandparents — and we do love her immensely.
But our love is magnified a hundred times over by the church community that loves and supports our family as we nurture this new life.
I am a half-time pastor at First Mennonite Church of Iowa City. This congregation keeps teaching me what love looks like through its generous care for one another, including their pastors.
Their care for our daughter began before she was born, when they arranged for me to have twelve weeks of paid maternity leave. This was an extra-special gift this year, since our congregation is in transition, searching for new pastors to join our leadership team. Two interim pastors cared for the congregation during my leave, freeing me to care for my family.
When Mahala was born, we were blessed with gifts. We received two weeks’ worth of hearty, home-cooked meals, coordinated by our congregation’s volunteer Family Life Coordinator. Other, unsolicited meals and loaves of bread and other goodies also found their way to our home. To paraphrase the Psalmist, our refrigerator overflowed!
Visitors came to meet Mahala and brought her gifts — most often clothes! We’ve needed to buy only a few garments to dress her in style. And every single visitor who came to meet our new baby also came bearing a gift for her three-year-old brother, Isaiah. Their kindness and wisdom, knowing what a big transition this would be for Isaiah, moves me to tears even now.
When Mahala was two weeks old, we put an offer on a house a few miles outside of town — one that provided much desired space for our growing family and that significantly cut my husband’s commute to work. Maybe we were crazy. But again, our congregation supported us — LOVED us — through the craziness.
Volunteers came to help me pack gradually in the month preceding our move. One woman who has a special connection with Isaiah volunteered to take him to a park for a few hours once a week until we moved, to give me some quieter time at home. Another dear congregation member came and held Mahala for hours at a time while we were packing and moving.
And again, meals came. This time, a Sunday school class purchased 15 homemade frozen meals from a local business. Such a gift in our time of transition!
And that’s not all! The home we purchased wasn’t quite move-in ready. So a few days after closing, church friends spent a cold, dusty day ripping out the old carpet and tile so we could refinish the hardwood floors before moving in. Another crew of friends (from our congregation and beyond) spent a good chunk of a day deep cleaning the kitchen and washing windows.
And on moving day, two crews of helpers came to our aid: one crew to carefully, efficiently load our moving truck, and another to unload at our new house. Both crews cheerfully offered their time and strength on one of spring’s hottest days.
In our congregation, love is a verb. It’s expressed with sweat and smiles and hugs and meals and gifts and prayers and paid maternity leave for this very grateful pastor.
As they grow up in this family of faith, I know that our children are coming to know what love is. And they are coming to know God, who is love. For God’s love on display in and through the church, I am profoundly grateful. Thanks be to God!