Monday, March 29, 2010

Small Groups

I am an advocate for small groups. I'm biased. I'm in two.

When my husband and I married (seven years ago next month) I didn't realize how difficult the journey to new couple friendships would be. We had grown up in different churches in different towns. We chose to live where I had grown up. At first we attended his church, thirty to forty minutes away. I'll be honest, I was the one to have some serious issues with that. Despite the fact that I had the best in-laws in the world, I needed to find out who we were as a couple and didn't feel like I could do that there. Further fueling my teenage angst (no, I wasn't a young bride, I was nearly 30, acting like I was 16) was Eric's senior pastor was a woman and I struggled (still struggle, right or wrong, even though that isn't politically correct to admit) with sitting under a female pastor. We ended up at "my" church. At first blush, you might think I won. I did not. Now "my" church had to live up to all our hopes and dreams.

If you know me, you know I am a wall flower.

If you know Eric, you know that he is the background color that silently makes that flower on the wall paper look lovely by being the perfect compliment.

Now let's find friends. Hmm. I think I can hear the crickets in this quiet, super long pause.

To say it was difficult to find friends is really an understatement. After all, most social networks work best for people who are social. Unfortunately, even those of us lacking strong social skills need more than our cute honey, for sure.

We did some things right. We had different couples who we thought were interesting over for dinner. Fellowship around a table is touted as one of the best ways to get to know people. More crickets. More long pauses. More awkward silence.

See, Eric and I don't always make the best first impressions. I like to think of us as buried treasure chests that take a little work to dig out and pry open. We really are cool people with lots of interesting experiences. I grew up in the Caribbean, taught Language Arts overseas, managed a bookstore, majored in Art. Eric is a prankster known for leading a toilet paper decorating brigade, "forking" yards, taken trips to Mexico, worked in cutting edge research and development in the electrical engineering field, and has run sound for Randy Stonehill (but don't ask about that less than positive experience). The dilemma is we'd both rather listen to someone else's interesting stories and we aren't always the best at asking the right questions to get the conversation rolling. Too self-conscience to spit out anything that comes to mind, thinking too much about what the other person is concluding about our words (when they are actually concluding things about our lack of words).

We take time to warm up, get comfortable, relax enough to take a risk. A second "date" is usually better, but it's hard to ask someone over for dinner again if you aren't sure it went well the first time.

Before your insides get all knotted up over this poor couple who can't find any friends... enter small groups.

There was a couple (albeit my parents' age) in our church who started a small group. The only ones who showed up were us, the hosting couple, and one other couple. At this point Daniel was a few months old and we had been at the church more than a year, wandering (okay that's a little dramatic, but we had talked about trying a different church, but I can't think of a scenario bad enough for us to risk being labeled church hoppers).

Our Small Group saved our social life. I'm not saying it gave us exactly what we were looking for. We thought we needed another couple with young kids, just like us. You know the kind of couple that you call up on a Saturday morning and ask if it's their turn to bring the eggs for brunch at your house or if you're bringing eggs to their place. No one in that small group even had kids young enough to need to look for childcare. We ended up getting something more than we were looking for. We found two couples who had been through the stage we were in. They had survived. They understood. They had good advice (tried and true). They had sympathy. They had wisdom. They had encouragement. They had good stories. Because they didn't have babies of their own they could come help me when I was pregnant with Baby #2 and had an emergency appendectomy and couldn't lift my 16 month old out of his crib after the surgery. They had much more to give.

Eric and I have a second small group now. It's everything we were initially looking for, a lot of couples with kids around the ages of our kids. Over time I know those relationships will deepen, they should. But, I know that none will ever compare to the friendships we discovered in our first small group. These friends are the ones that Daniel, Mercy, and Gracie will likely always call Uncle Mike and Auntie Linda, Uncle Kevin and Auntie Sherry, because they adore them almost as much as Eric and I do.

If you haven't gotten what you've asked for from God, perhaps it's because He has something even more lovely in mind. Start asking what God has for you, instead of telling him what you are sure you need. You won't regret it.

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