years

Seven years ago this month, I found myself among a group of people that allowed me the freedom to grow into the life and language that God was leading me to move from ‘doing mission’ to ‘living for Kingdom.’ It’s actually not that big of a leap, but it is a flip in perspective. God took what I thought ‘mission’ was and completely broke it all down, and rebuilt it as Kingdom. Doing mission encompasses a lot of doing, building for and typically results in stealing dignity from those you think you are helping. Kingdom is embracing the person God has created you to be to empower others to live in that same freedom. It is choosing to see multiple perspectives and sometimes making a hard choice to humble yourself to see others lifted to their full capability. Kingdom has no borders, no language barriers and brings us into a unity unlike anyone has ever experienced.

The thing about Kingdom is that it is solely owned by God. It is God’s Kingdom we work to see realized in our world. It is hope, and it is life.

In the ‘doing mission,’ we tend to think of ourselves in the ‘saving’ role, and elevating our own accomplishments, when realistically…they were never our own to start with.

It has always been and will always be God’s Kingdom, no matter how many times we try to redefine it.

While God was changing my language and growing me in ways I never thought possible, he also led me to start a small group in a church largely defined by Sunday school, and women’s weekday Bible studies on mornings that excluded working women. I still vividly remember those conversations, because what I was feeling led to start was not like anything else available. I did not want to be the ‘teacher,’ and I had been in enough Beth Moore studies to last a lifetime. Learning was great, but I knew God had more within his heart for us than learning without action steps. My heart was in the discipleship and passing on of everything God had been pouring into my head and heart.

I wanted a group of people that would revolve around the Kingdom of God. From the beginning I felt led to only use studies or books that would lead us into the action of incarnational living and see God’s Kingdom realized on earth. I wanted people who would be willing to fight for justice, and passionate about righting the wrongs in our world. I wanted a safe place I could experiment with ideas and conversations that didn’t always fit into the ‘church culture’ and wouldn’t bat an eyelash when cuss words would become littered in my passionate rants. I wanted people that were aching for discipleship and to go beyond the surface level of a Sunday morning. I wanted to give God the space to create genuine community among us.

After much prayer and discernment, I put an announcement in the church bulletin and left it in God’s hands as to who would show up and what our group would look like. I had no preference on gender, age, life stage, etc. I was at peace with not having a lot of people, and thought that was probably better anyway since I was experimenting with the poor schmucks since I had never done this before.

Through conversations with the group of people I was learning with, I had found a great resource at Missio Publishing and had chosen ‘The Tangible Kingdom Primer’ to start our small group.

On March 5, 2012, I had three people show up…all women. One was a surprise, and the other two were friends I had persuaded (maybe bribed) into coming and over the next couple of weeks we would grow to six women. I still remember where I was sitting in that room, and in that first night, I had no idea where God would take us and what we would go through as a community of believers.

At one point in the Primer, there was a community day that said to have fondue together. We made fun of that suggestion for WEEKS. Comments like: ‘Did this author live in the 70’s?’ and ‘That is SO weird, who eats fondue anymore?’ Until one night someone said quietly, ‘Well, I have a fondue pot we could use…if we wanted to…’

The night we ate fondue was the end of the eight week Primer, and that night was unlike any night I had ever had within a small group of people. In that unique setting, God broke down barriers in conversation unlike anything that we had talked about in the previous eight weeks. It was incredible. Truly, only God can create a night like that one, and he has been creating moments for us ever since.

That night started our rhythm of marking ‘big’ moments with having fondue as a community: when we’ve finished studies, when someone moves away or a time of celebration. We’ve been as large as twelve, and settled into a group of eight people for the last couple of years. Each woman has uniquely been added into the group. Though one of the most memorable is my friend I met in Haiti who needed a small group, and started hanging out with my friends while I was living in Haiti. That first night was a surreal moment for me on FaceTime to see her with my friends, who quickly became our friends.

We have done a multitude of studies surrounding incarnational life, missiology, justice and discipleship. Admittedly, we have gotten into a nasty rhythm of not finishing what we start, which is why we are doing a four week Bible study at the moment.

Today is SIX years since I sat in that room with three other people.  Six years, while four of those years I have lived outside of Kansas City. FaceTime is a lifesaver when your ‘people’ are far away, because without technology, I would be even more disconnected.

These seven women have been the support system I never knew I needed, and had God allowed me to see the pain our community would walk through when I started it…I might not have started it out of fear of what was to come.

The unique thing about our group is how much it has morphed and flexed with time, yet still maintained as community. People have come and go. Some left with drama, some with silence and some just needing to be released from our community for the season of life they were in. Others just found that our group was no longer a good fit for what they needed. Some of those moments still bring up bad memories and other moments have been heartbreaking, but the reality is community is messy and you have to live in the mess. It is coming out on the other side of the mess as one body of believers focused on God’s Kingdom that is common unifier. It is also about prayer and discernment. Our community is really shitty at praying out loud. It just isn’t a comfort level for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we don’t pray and discern direction, words and life with each other. It just looks different and every small group has a different rhythm.

One of the other unique factors about our community is that each woman has entered into God’s Kingdom perspective with orphan ministry while being present in Russia, Haiti or both. We cross into very different languages and cultures, but the passion and desire to see children know their worth, be educated and live with their families is identical. In other communities, I am the odd duck who has made ‘weird’ choices revolving around care for orphans and seeing families’ whole. Yet in our community, I am among friends who get it and I don’t have to explain why I do what I do. I can be who I am, and know I am accepted unconditionally.

I know within our community we are not perfect, with some of my asshole tendencies leading the pack, and we have to be comfortable with people going through different seasons of life.  One of my very best friends waited to join us until her kids were a bit older, but now I don’t think any season of life would pull her away.

But I also know there is no other group I would want to have my back when everything goes to complete shit, because they have wrapped around me and protected me in ways no one ever had before in those moments. They are fierce, and together we are insurmountable. I am honored to walk with them through their shit, too, because that is what friendship is to me: loyal, accepting, unconditional love, presence (because, quality time…) with insane amounts of laughter (sometimes inappropriate humor…okay most of the time). Even in my worst moments, they never abandoned me…even when I abandoned them to move to Haiti. The real truth is, I never would have been able to stay in Haiti as long as the time God had for me without their unconditional support.

For the times they have gone beyond the Stateside borders with me, the times they came to me in Haiti, for all of the amazing weekends in Missouri and for the time we get next month in Colorado when they come to me…I need these women in my life just as much as I need air to breathe. They are the gift I never knew I needed those six years ago when God whispered, ‘Start a small group.’

I still look back at 2011, and am mesmerized that God had me in that room with leaders that were decades beyond what God was teaching me at the time. I had no seminary degree and no undergraduate degree that even warranted being in ministry, yet I was among people that were leaders in large churches. That I had the privilege to learn from them and be included as a part of their group was a gift I will never forget. It is no coincidence that God had me in that group at the same time he allowed me to see vision for His Kingdom. He knew where I was going, what I would be doing and how I would grow into him…and he also knew I would need seven insanely amazing women to walk with me through the good and rough moments we would encounter while aching for God’s Kingdom to be known.

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