This week has been sort of a big deal for me. I've been going to my church only since last November. I started going because my whole life was turned upside down and I was pretending to be happy to almost very single person in my life and especially on my social media channels and blog. I'm not ready to share all of that just yet, but I'm getting there.
I started going to church after a friend invited me and let me tell you, I was scared...nervous...anxious...intimidated. I was feeling all those emotions by simply sitting in my car outside the church! I didn't grow up in a church filled home, although my family talked about God and about religion but I didn't have that base throughout my life so all of this was new to me. The first month or so that I was going to church every Sunday I think I cried more inside a church than I had cried in my life. I was embarrassed at first but once I got the courage to look around and make sure that not every single person was staring at me, I saw that other people, too, were getting emotional and crying just like me.
After being convicted and feeling like I needed to show my love and belief in the Lord, I was baptized and it was the most amazing experience of my life! I have prayed a lot, been prayed for, done a lot of self reflection, read a lot, and tried to learn from Jesus' teachings and after about nine months I felt like so much has changed in my life. Things are better all the way around but none of it came without work, patience, and the faith that I gained knowing that God has a plan for me even if I don't see it now.
Now to preface, my church is huge, like 9,000 or so people attend 4 different campuses each weekend if I remember right. Huge, right!? You can imagine that it might seem difficult to feel connected at a church that big, and you're right. Our amazingly inspiring Pastor, Aaron, talks so much about how joining a church group can help you feel connected and I have been interested in joining one for awhile now. I even emailed the church requesting to join one earlier this year, was placed, and never showed up to the meeting. I was too nervous.
Every month or so Aaron starts to preach a new series of messages and two weeks ago we started Growth Track which is a way to take the entire church through the ways to get connected at our church and to grow. Growth is what I need. I can only learn so much on my own and most of my family and friends aren't really in the same place as I am regarding my faith so I took the plunge (again) and told the church I'd like to be placed in a group. A couple days after notifying the church, I had a group meeting set up! I was texted by the leader, Jenna, the night before the first meeting and I was so happy our little family didn't have plans and I was able to attend.
A little about the group meeting: I had NO idea what to expect other than it being a women's only group (which is what I chose). I didn't know how many people were going to be there, what to bring, what to wear, how old or young people were going to be. My bigger fears were more of me not able to know if I was going to fit in with these women. Am I going to be able to open up with people I haven't met before? With my past are these faithful and church based people going to accept me with all of my baggage and my sins? To give you a little look inside my mind the night of the meeting this is what I wrote in my "Notes" on my phone as I was parked two blocks from our meeting:
I’m sitting two blocks away from the meeting location because I don’t wanna be the first person to arrive and I’m 7 minutes early for the meeting time. I feel like I’m going to be sick and I can’t stop moving my feet (sign of anxiousness for me!). This is really making my anxiety shoot through the roof right now. I have my tacky Speedway gas station cup full of Diet Coke with me because I didn’t know what to bring and I'm addicted to Diet Coke. I used to be embarrassed to bring a tacky styrofoam cup places but the person who changed that for me was one of my pastors, Matt, who when I told him that-he laughed and said, “What!? Never be embarrassed about who you are.” If part of who I am has to do with tacky styrofoam cups...then so be it! I bet God likes tacky styrofoam cups anyway. Also, I went to check my social medias to try and take my mind off these next few minutes and of course I have no service... Which is why I’m writing to myself right now trying to relax. And it’s not working!
Ok, SO if that doesn't tell you something about where my mind was, right!? I was extraordinarily anxious and I had it in my mind that all of the women I was going to meet were going to be so knowledgeable about faith, have all the answers, scrutinize me, and judge me. Who knows why I had these thoughts running through my mind. I had seen and read a lot of testimonials about our church's group meetings and they were all so positive and inspiring. I almost texted Jenna and told her something came up and turned around and drove home. I'm SO glad I didn't. I parked outside our meeting spot and prayed. I prayed for God to give me the strength to get my booty out of my car and the courage to simply walk inside and show up to this meeting. All I had to do was show up, that's it.
In our meeting we talked and laughed and stuff got real. There was something about being around faith-based peers and learning that no one's life was perfect just like mine isn't. Everyone has their struggles and not that it's fun hearing about them at all, but its nice knowing that there's hope. It's nice hearing that people's lives have been turned around by Jesus. Our leader, Jenna, said something amazing that night and it hit home for me. She said that sometimes you might feel like you need to show up and do this and this and this...do all these amazing things and change the world with your actions. But most of the time, God isn't asking you to do that, He is simply asking you to SHOW UP. That's it, just show up. I'm getting teary-eyed just typing this because I can put myself right back in my car outside before walking in, asking God to give me the courage I needed to simply show up. When I heard those words from her mouth it was like God was talking to me through her. I knew it, I felt it. There was no judging in my group, no pushing to share more than you’re comfortable sharing, no awkward silences. There was understanding, acceptance, encouragement, and HOPE!
So what did I learn about faith this week?... To believe in it and it can change your life. It can give you strength, courage, hope, and so much you didn’t know you could have! It’s not always going to be a rainy day in your life, you’ll get that sunshine if you just believe in His plan!