It all started on the car ride home from Epcot last year after spending the weekend in Orlando for my 25th birthday with my sister-in-law and good friend Megan. We found ourselves EXHAUSTED and in desperate need of coffee to prepare us for the 2-hour drive back to Bradenton that always feels longer than 2 hours. As Megan and I sat in the back seat slightly dozing off and sipping on our fall flavored coffee, she proposed the idea of joining a small group with her. Megan teaches at Phillippi Shore Elementary School and one of her teacher-friends invited her to join the group. At that time, I had been living back in Sarasota for about a year and had yet to find a solid group of friends. Keep in mind, I was convinced that living in Sarasota was extremely temporary, because I had always vowed that I would never be the girl that moved back after college. With few questions asked, I agreed to join her the following week at the small group. Little did I know that this group would completely change my life.
It was Wednesday, October 11, 2017. I pulled up to someone’s house that the small group was being held at a little hesitant, yet equally confident knowing that Megan would be in there. As soon as I entered the picturesque house, I knew that I had just walked into most welcoming environment. Candles were burning, the sound of laughter and conversation filled the room, and I was greeted by a sweet and smiling face. Mary Rose greeted me and said something along the lines of “I think I know you! You were friends with Rachel Schwartz, right?!” As we started talking, we saw just how many connections we had through mutual friends. What a sweet moment of reassurance. After a little bit of socializing and snacking on some yummy fall treats, Mariah welcomed everyone, began to introduce herself and explained what the group would consist of. As the night went on, I could feel my guard slowly coming down. There was something different here.
As the group wrapped up, Mariah and Mary Rose each shared a little bit about their stories. I was touched by their honesty and also comforted by the similarities I saw among us–and then it got real. In what I now call “typical Mariah fashion,” she asked if anyone was feeling prompted to share part of their story. My heart IMMEDIATELY started pounding out of my chest. After a couple moments of pure silence, a young woman spoke up and shared about a recent season she had been in after a relationship had ended and left her brokenhearted and feeling abandoned. She was sharing not only from a place of hurt, but also a place of complete vulnerability and honesty, which opened the door for me to do the same. My heart continued to pound so hard I thought others could hear it from the inside of my chest and before I knew it, my mouth opened and I began to share from the depths of my heart. I shared with the group about my broken engagement and how I was actually supposed to be on my honeymoon that day, being that my wedding was supposed to have taken place three days prior. I shared with complete honesty and transparency about the struggle I was facing and the mess I was sitting in. I expressed how this group was literately everything I had been praying for over the last three months and just how specifically God was answering prayers in those moments.
As we ended the group, we shared our prayer requests and prayed for one another. Marie–who is now a dear friend of mine–volunteered to pray over me and prayed Isaiah 43:18-19 over me:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am going a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Little did she know this was the verse I had been circling in prayer for the last month! Only God! It was that not-so-typical Wednesday night that changed my life forever. I found freedom in community. I found love and acceptance in a season of rejection. I experienced a piece of Jesus’ heart that is often hard to explain. The tenderness, faithfulness, genuine compassion and acceptance of Jesus manifested in these women that now surrounded me. As only Jesus could do, He reignited a fire in my heart for small groups. I had gotten away from my first love and the ministry I once held so dear. I have known for a long time that a deep, deep love for community and fellowship was woven into my DNA–but now I had a place to exercise these gifts and passions.
Throughout the semester, Mary Rose and I hung out pretty often and God grew our friendship so intimately in such a short amount of time. As we began to see the need and desire for a healthy young adult community in our area, we decided to lead another women’s group the next semester. Fast forward to a year later and our group still meets every week. Wednesday has become one of my favorite days of the week.
What a miraculous gift and extreme honor to be trusted with God’s children. I firmly believe that when we honor God and realize the privilege we have to pour into other people’s lives, He continually blesses it and won’t hesitate to multiply it. We have seen this firsthand, as our women’s group has led to more women’s groups which in turn led to co-ed young adult groups. I want to make people feel love, connected and welcomed like Mary Rose and Mariah did for me. It changed my life and I know it has the potential to do just that for others.
I share all this not to glorify my efforts, but to simply encourage you. KEEP PRAYING! KEEP SEEKING! KEEP KNOCKING! It took months and months on my knees and spending intimate time with the Lord to reap the harvest I am in now. He IS faithful.
Another reason I share this is to encourage you to get into community. Even if you label yourself an introvert or think you are too awkward, being around like-minded people will literately change your whole life. You will learn things about yourself and grow in ways that simply are not possible if you do life alone. You will gain insight from different upbringings and different perspectives. You will experience parts of Jesus you would not be able to experience on your own. You will laugh–A LOT. You will cry together. You will pray for and with each other. Parts of your heart that have been wounded for what seems like forever will begin to heal.
There is nothing like knowing you have an army before you and behind you to not only lift you up in prayer, but to be there to go on all of life’s adventures with. It is a piece of Jesus’ heart. It is an insight–although only a tiny glimpse–of the communion and fellowship we will have one day in Eternity. Life is better together and it is even better with Jesus.
You see, it started with a simple invitation. It continued with courage to walk into that group. It blossomed with the boldness of the leaders and it produced a harvest of fruit because God is faithful to those who keep seeking, asking and knocking! I spent months asking God to bring community into my life. I spent months trying to find it through various means. I spent months trying to get out of my comfort zone in attempts to make friends. I spent months trying to make it happen in my own strength and then that sweet day came with God’s impeccable timing. I know one thing for sure, God knows far more than we could ever imagine and His timing is ALWAYS perfect. It might not feel perfect and it might not look perfect to those around you but when that sweet moment or season of answered prayer comes, the joy is unexplainable and the is peace undeniable. It is in those moments that we are profoundly reassured of the constant goodness of the God we serve and get to be in relationship with. We are reminded that He ALWAYS has our best interest at heart. We are reaffirmed to the depths of our soul that He loves us and will always take good care of us.