This year started off hectic, as usual. But, for some reason, the way I was feeling was just not acceptable this time. I found myself being unintentional in most areas of my life, overwhelmed, cranky, and ultimately feeling empty. Because of where I came from, when I’m in a place like this, I know I need to find solution pronto. It became clear pretty quickly that God was taking a backseat to the whirlwind that is life. Not ok, I know, but I can’t be the only one who’s guilty right?
Anyway, after a huge, demanding work project finally moved off my plate in February, I finally had time to assess my priorities. This happened, in a large part thanks to my favorite possession, my Passion Planner. Because of this handy tool, I forced myself to take a look at how I was spending my time so far in 2016. It wasn’t all bad, but it became clear why I felt the way I did; I was running the show. Me, myself and I are aware of how life goes when I run the show and have agreed this is not a good idea.
Need a Change
So what was I going to do about this? Answer: make time with God a priority. I’ve made this commitment many times before, so I was trying to “right the ship” once again. But this time was different. I was much more consistent and my outlook on life was getting brighter. In the past, I was never consistent long enough for this to happen.
As I continued being diligent with my quiet time, God revealed something to me that caught me off guard. I was very aware that I’ve been blessed with many great friendships. Old friends, new friends, parents, singles, from the gym, from work, from school. Quite a variety really. Spending time with my girlfriends is one of my favorite things, but something I suddenly realized is that I don’t often spend time with them and Seth, at the same time. And on the flip side, Seth was in a similar boat. And we do have couples that we spend time with together, but these couples mostly come from a previous connection to one of us, but usually not both. So basically, we didn’t have any couples that were equally our friends. Nothing wrong with it, just something God brought to my attention.
Awareness Turned to Longing
This awareness at some point turned on me and I began to long for couples like us to be around. I wanted to go do things with other husbands and wives; couples who would like to have deep conversations about faith and how they live out the gospel in their lives. I wanted to spend time with women, other wives in particular, who hadn’t become moms yet. Ladies who are just working on being less selfish in marriage. Or maybe they had already become less selfish and could share some secrets.
As the desire in my heart grew stronger for these things, I started praying for God to lead me to… something. I had no idea at the time, or even for a while after my prayer was answered, that I was praying for Community. After about 6 weeks of praying, I finally mentioned all of this to Seth. Although it was not something that was on his radar, he did agree that it’d be nice to have couples that we spent time with together who had common goals for life and were striving to grow, both individually and as a couple, in Christ.
I Saw the Sign!
Not one week later, while sitting in church and reading through the bulletin, I got my sign. An “ad” for a Lifegroup opportunity. “20-30s, married, no kids”. My heart skipped a beat. That’s us! I’ve had prayers answered before in my life, but this one was like a 10 foot tall neon sign billboard. Lifegroup? Really? I wasn’t sure what Lifegroup even was, but seeing this in the bulletin made it pretty clear of His plan.
We agreed to contact the coordinator and set up a meeting time. Everything moved pretty quickly; the next week we sat down with her and told her all about the Hueninks. Two weeks later, we received the email with our Lifegroup roster. Want to know the first thing I did? Yup, Facebooked everyone.
And now I get real — I immediately passed judgement on each couple. From pictures. Based on who they were friends with and where they were from. Assuming things there was no way I could know based on a Facebook profile. But of course, it’s the same thoughts I have when I meet people in the real world. And now all of my readers are probably judging me. What kind of person prays for something and then judges the answer to the prayer.
My thoughts exactly. And I’ll tell you who does that: a broken person. That’s me. Before I got too far down the rabbit hole, I was able to see what I was doing, and where I had my mind take me. I told on myself immediately by letting both Seth and my good friend Joyce know my thoughts and actions. God showed me a big “defect” that is deep in my make up and I confessed to Him, I knew my first actions were very wrong.
I said this out loud then and wrote it in a letter to myself: “Jessi, you prayed for women who are in similar places in life. You asked for this and God brought it to you, on a silver platter. These women haven’t done anything to you; you don’t even know them. This reaction is your default mode and it MUST STOP. You are the problem.”
This is my truth and it’s not something I’m proud of, but I’ve learned, unless I acknowledge a fault in myself, there’s little chance it will change on its own. So I hope that you see confession and room for growth rather than a wicked person. I know these thoughts come from fear of not measuring up. And chances are, the other ladies may have similar fears about this new group. After I confessed all of this, I immediately started praying for these women and have continued to do so ever since.
At our first meeting, we had 5 couples. It was as awkward as one might imagine. We knew each others names, ages, and where each couple lived. That’s it. The Lifegroup coordinator had met with each of us, but we didn’t know each other. One of the couples went to our gym, so we recognized them and we took the same church class as another couple so we’d seen them before, but that was it.
Our coordinator talked about her passion for connecting groups, especially young couples, and how excited she was for our group. I couldn’t hear because I was so anxious. My stomach was swirling; my teeth chattered. It’s a normal reaction my body has when I’m fearful; my adrenaline gets going and it’s difficult to focus on anything. But I try to breathe and act normal, while I’m freaking out on the inside.
Like many people do, I think way too far out in the future. As I sat there with these new people, I thought, this is going to be my friend group for the rest of my life. And because no one seemed especially excited to be there made me even more anxious. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact others might be feeling just as anxious, nervous, or fearful as I was.
Eventually, our coordinator left us to “bond”. Some people started to open up a little, which was nice. My churning stomach relaxed. Turns out, our group did have quite a few things in common. Travel was a common theme. We’d also all been married between 1 and 4 years. All in our late 20s, early 30s. And no kids. The no kids stands out because our coordinator felt strongly about us all enjoying our time and each other before we became parents. And apparently it was important to her we take a group trip! She was weirdly specific about Kansas City. This jokes still gets brought up often. 🙂 Before we parted ways, we made plans for our continued meeting, same night, a little earlier, varied locations.
Building Our Community
Between our first and second meeting, another couple joined our group. They have rounded out our group nicely. So, we were 6 couples, 12 people, ready to do life together. Or at least attempt to 🙂 We decided to spend a few weeks hanging out and playing games while also getting to know each other. During these game evenings, we ended up talking a lot. At least the girls did… I think the boys actually might have played games. 🙂 After a couple of weeks, we moved in to sharing our testimonies. Things got real quickly, but it was all very good. The bonds were slowly being made throughout the group.
One especially helpful bonding night was over pizza, followed by a game where we had to guess our spouses answers. Tears were shed that night. Out of laughter. We still talk about things that happened that night and laugh. Another step we took was separating, girls vs. boys, to escape some rooms down at Escape Lincoln, where I work part-time. Things like this helped to build the camaraderie among the same sexes.
Over-thinking and Over-feeling
We continued to get together, doing activities and learning about each other. But I struggled in the group settings. I was over-thinking everything I said/did/laughed at, and some nights I’d lay in bed wondering if what I said was “ok”, or if they might ask me to leave the group. These feelings brought back similar thoughts and experiences from when I was young and at times, early on in our Lifegroup history, I felt like throwing in the towel because feeling this vulnerable while getting to know people is just too hard.
Is this why so many people have such superficial relationships? Is it because getting deep can make you feel so exposed? And being brought together, not only to do life together, but also do grow in our relationship with God and further His kingdom, that might mean that uncomfortable conversations during the growth. Truth isn’t always easy to hear and it can be even harder to speak at times. But, this is what we said we wanted. Sometimes what we want sounds great in theory, right?
A good friend reminded me that I do better in one-on-one situations, at least as I start to get to know people. Luckily one of the ladies had already reached out to me, so we were building that relationship and it was going well. It gave me the courage to approach the other girls to go out for coffee, lunch, walks, anything where we could just get a little deeper, just the two of us. As I was doing this with them, I learned they were doing it with others and we were all building the necessary foundations for the group.
Doing the one-on-ones helped me a ton, and really improved my feelings about being in the group settings. I began to see these ladies as my friends and my cheerleaders, rather than judgmental peers who would be out of my life if I said the wrong thing. Now, I am in contact with each of them almost daily and I truly miss them when I don’t talk to them outside of Lifegroup evenings.
As I was working on my relationships with the girls, I saw Seth do the same with the guys. When we talked about it, I learned that we both really enjoy the one-on-ones. We did some double dates though too, and those were equally helpful as we bonded over golf, shopping, county fair, food, and more discussions. I’m the type of person who makes fast friends, but not always ones that last. This experience with our Lifegroup is teaching me that taking it slow is ok too. Taking things slow allow for foundations to be laid.
Doing Life Together
When I think of a Lifegroup, it makes sense to say that this is a group you “do life with”. But what does that look like? I sure didn’t know. We started out having fun together, doing different activities. Building new friendships. Then we took on a study together where we focused on the true, biblical meaning of marriage. As we’ve gone on, our conversations are going deeper, we’ve challenge each other, and we are learning how to debate tactfully. Outside of the group, we talk about what is going on in life. We are getting to the point where we feel comfortable asking the hard questions.
And life things have happened. Good things, hard things, happy things, sad things. Each time something happens in our group, I’m blown away by the responses of love. I experienced this when we lost Hank and again when I received a promotion at work. I’ve connected with each of them in unique ways, and this came out when I needed it most. Quite literally, these people are by my side to live life. They’ve challenged me in my faith in great ways. These ladies continually encourage me and are able to share in similar life situations.
I can’t speak to what Seth is experiencing in the group, and maybe sometime I can have him share that with you. But what I see is that boys move a lot slower than girls. Again, I think of a diesel engine. They’ll spend all afternoon playing golf but not learn much about the other. That’s ok though, God created us differently for a reason. It was really cool to see them get together to watch football without any wife encouragement. That tells me that he has found a home here too.
Feelings of Gratitude
I really didn’t know what we were signing up for, but I definitely got more than I expected. Our church has become a little smaller because I see a few more people I know each week. And at a church the size of ours, that’s a big deal! Wednesday nights are my favorite nights. I got rid of the judgmental attitude pretty quick, but I’m amazed at the feelings of love I have for these people. They are teaching me so much and it’s been a gift to watch them grow in the short time we’ve been together. I so look forward to what God has in-store for each and every one of them, individually, and as couples, and for our group!
I’ll be sure to keep you all posted as we continue to grow together. It sounds like we all our hoping for a long-term relationship out of this. My drive for creating this blog is similar to the desires God put on my heart — for community. This virtual community that I’m striving for through this blog is just as important as a group meeting face to face on a weekly basis. We were created to be in community with others. Connecting with people who are encouraging in our walk with Jesus and who help push each other to grow has become the highlight of my life. My prayer is for all my readers to find the community and fellowship they crave and continue to grow in their faith too.