Box o’ Fun – Putt Putt at Pirate’s Cove! (L-R…Karen, Ben, Patrick, Kristi, Brandy, Sara)
Recently, the speaker at a church retreat I attended talked about the concept of having “Aarons” in your life. This concept is taken from Exodus 4:14 where God tells Moses, “He (Aaron) is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you.” John, the speaker, talked about these treasured people in your life who make your heart smile, and whose heart you make smile. I am very privileged to have several of these in my life, but tonight, another one came to mind that I hadn’t yet thought about in those terms…
My friend, Ben, and I were reminiscing about a previous small group we were in together a couple of years ago with our friends Patrick, Karen, Brandy and Sara. It was a true small group in every sense of the world. For one thing, there were only six of us. I know that played a big role in it because everyone was depended upon to be present and speak. You could definitely feel a gap when someone was gone. But more importantly, the six of us were committed to this group.
The really interesting thing was that none of us were really close before being in this group together. To be honest, there was probably good reason. We had different tastes, interests, roles, circles of friends, you name it. Karen and I probably had the strongest relationship but she was still a little new to Atlanta and I wouldn’t have considered us super close at the time. So, here we were, just kind of this little hodge-podge of people doing life together on a weekly basis. But for whatever reason, we all firmly decided that we were going to make this group a real community. Despite the friends we all had outside this group that we could turn to in good and bad times instead, the six of us were going to give this a go. We all took the dive together. That meant being consistent, being intimate, being accountable and being real. It was just us when we showed up: good or bad mood, struggles, imperfections, gifts, talents, sarcasm, encouragement, etc. We didn’t worry about acceptance – we already pledged to give that to each other. So, with that out of the way, it left room for a lot of amazing things.
And God was faithful in filling that space with amazing things. We would start the lessons that we were supposed to be discussing that week, but it would inevitably lead to something that was on someone’s heart and that would take over. It would become this absolutely heart-felt, raw conversation between regular people living regular lives that longed to know their Creator, and each other, better. It was awesome. It was powerful. It was life-changing.
We were beautifully entrenched in each other’s lives. When one of us struggled, the rest of us were there to encourage and walk alongside them. We never hurt alone. There were some major life crises and heartaches for a few of us over that year. It was a comfort knowing that those people cared, and that they would ask you about it. But there was also a lot of playing and laughing. In fact, in order to get to know each other better, we did one thing each month outside of group together. We called it our Box o’ Fun. Each of us submitted ideas into the box and we drew one out every month. It was always exciting, and always fun, so there you go – good name. And it stuck. (And I’m proud to say many of our small groups have even adopted this concept.) It was nice to come and eat meals together every week and have these amazing discussions. But it was icing on the cake to take part in each other’s hobbies or interests. Lots and lots of laughing.
I guess it sounds like all lollipops, hearts and giggles, but we had our hard times. In fact, we had some really hard times. We were imperfect people and that definitely showed up from time to time. There were lots of nights when someone didn’t feel like participating, or was moody, or had something heavy on their hearts. But we all knew that it wasn’t us as individuals. It wasn’t us as a group. It wasn’t even them. It was just one off night. So, some times we let it go. But if attention needed to be called to it, we did. We had a few interventions. We had some definite, strong accountability. We drew some boundaries. We had some tears. But it was always honest, and always in love – we all knew that without a doubt. And sometimes those really hard nights were what made us stronger as a group. When you know you can say something really raw and difficult to someone, and know that love will remain between you afterwards, the fear is removed and the growth in both people takes place. There is almost nothing more beautiful.
I look back on it and I see the intentionality we took with each other. After all, our relationships didn’t come easy. Even as we went along in the group, we would laugh about how different we all were and what a funny bunch of people to end up together. How was this working? It was our longest running joke, and still is. But what a blessing in hearing and seeing how others operate and worship. We all learned a lot from each other.
I’m so thankful for those five other people. Each time I look back on that group, my heart does smile. We still have reunions from on occasion, too, which is pretty cool. We also still update each other on prayer requests once in a while. But it’s been a couple of years, and I’ve had a couple of other small groups and that experience has yet to be duplicated. However, now that I think about that, I think that’s ok. The other groups I’ve been in have all taught me new things about myself, those individuals, God and life. They have all contained new people that are now old friends. They have all met new needs in my life’s circumstances. So, maybe the same experience doesn’t need to be duplicated, maybe it needs to be multiplied. Maybe we all need to be out there multiplying that kind of experience for lots of others, so they can do the same. The ripple should continue. I truly believe that The Small Group Six (I just made that up) wasn’t this magical anomaly that will fade into memory, but rather a bold retelling of how Christ wants us to live in community with others. This updated version can begin again and again and again. I hope that we can each do our part to make that a reality.
So, thank you, Ben, Sara, Brandy, Karen and Patrick. You have changed my life. Your names are etched on my heart. You are my multi-headed Aaron who makes my heart smile. I pray that each of us will dig down within ourselves to show others the power of what we had, and the reality of what is possible. You guys are so special to me, and this is definitely dedicated to you! I may not have consistency with you, but I know I have connection with you. Thank you for making such an impact on me.
Ben – you are probably the most caring man I have ever met. I love every silly and serious conversation we have, and you bring joy into every room you enter. Your insight is beyond your years and your leadership is always needed.
Brandy – thank you for saying what is on your mind. Your authenticity challenges me to be more of who I am, and less of who I feel I need to be for others. You brought a rawness to the group that gave us freedom.
Sara – the words kind and gentle don’t do you justice. You have one of the sweetest hearts I’ve ever seen. Your ability to love and serve others amazes me, and I’m so thankful other cultures and people will be able to witness you in action.
Patrick – you have probably almost as many idiosyncrasies as I do! You are someone I always enjoy laughing with, and am guaranteed a good time when you are around. You came to us late, but were well worth the wait. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and thoughts. They led to a lot of great discussions.
Karen – my Kare Bear. For me, you are one of those rare people that I feel connected to without even trying. You and I have had so many life discussions, and I think we could talk for ages about anything. You challenge me in so many ways, and I’m thankful. I just love being near you…even if I don’t like watching movies with you!