Circles are Better than Rows

In 2005 if someone would have told me the significance of being in a Small Group I would first have asked, “What’s a Small Group?” Followed by my protest question, “What do I have to do that I don’t want to do?” Truth be told, I would have asked the second question first. I am an introvert, so being in a small setting with a bunch of folks I didn’t know, where I wouldn’t go unnoticed, didn’t seem very appealing to me. However, my extrovert spouse Tim overruled any excuses I had rolling around in my head for not participating and we began “The Journey.” Thank goodness for the extroverts!

Quite honestly I wasn’t sure what “The Journey” was all about when we started, but what I did discover is that that I enjoyed being in this group of people and surprisingly found myself not wanting to miss a week. So over the course of many month we came to church once a week during the work week and gathered with exploring, new and “mature”  Christians. I will admit, because of where I was (or wasn’t) in my walk, most of what was taught seemed over my head. This was all new … small groups and studying the Bible, but community came out of these classes for me.

So significant was one Spiritual Development class within the Journey that I actually remember where I was sitting in the room. Greg Corral was teaching on the Holy Spirit and I remember thinking during that class, “Please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me.” I was participating enough in the other classes, so maybe if I didn’t make eye contact he wouldn’t call on me. Perhaps it was a prompting by the Holy Spirit because just like Greg, it was like he could read my thoughts and wanting to challenge me, proceeded to ask me what I thought the Holy Spirit was. I opened my mouth, but at first nothing came out. I paused a moment and blurted out, “I got nothing.” I was being truthful at the time. I had never really thought about the Holy Spirit. I am happy to report that during that class, I learned a lot about this very important part of the Trinity.  Personally, the Holy Spirit is my conscience. It’s what prompted me to go online and discover a teaching by Andy Stanley on Small Groups called “Preventative Circles”.

Although the Journey is just one of the Small Groups that Crossroads offers, it was a huge part of what was to come for me. I have learned since those first small group classes in 2005 that we were not designed to be alone, but rather in community with one another. If Tim hadn’t “encouraged” me to go through the Journey with him, I never would have had the opportunity to share that experience with my sister and her husband who were also new and going through the classes at the same time. I never would have met my best girlfriend (another sanguine in my life, go figure), someone who would not too long after, become like another sister to me and later yet, re-introduce me to tent camping, something I vowed 27 years ago never to do again. I never would have taken part 2 of the Journey and learned why I am the way I am through the gifting course, taught by someone who I consider my mentor and fellow melancholy sympathizer.

The Journey was not only a catalyst for me but also for my family. When we first came to Crossroads almost 12 years ago, Sunday youth group was meeting at Pastor Pat’s house. Josh, our oldest, didn’t attend that first week, but the second week came and as he started to protest going, that same sanguine from the beginning of this message, “encouraged” him to go; meaning he said, “you’re going.”  Josh would soon make friends that he is still friends with today, making new ones along the way, moving from Youth on to the Young Adults group after graduating college. Emily, our second born, would be welcomed to the Youth Group simply by the Youth leader at the time, Paul Payette, letting her come to the High School Thursday night Bible study as a middle schooler. I recall dropping them off in the front parking lot before she went the first time and her nervously asking Josh, “are you sure he said it was okay”? Well, she was hooked and would be a member of Youth Group through high school. Now graduated from college, she is married and serving in the Youth and Children’s Ministry with her new husband. She has shared that she would like to go back to Mexico as a young adult leader when Pastor Todd takes the youth back on a mission trip. Sarah and Abby are currently coming up through high school and we hope that they can have those same opportunities for friendship and community as their older siblings.

There are stories like this for each of us who have come here, joining a group not knowing what to expect, but coming out on the other side blessed beyond measure.

In this sermon I was listening to, Andy Stanley encourages children, youth, singles, marrieds, “mature” adults, etc. and explains the importance of being part of small groups (or circles) at all stages of life.  He sums it up with this …

“Let’s say that something happens to me, all the staff, and all the buildings simultaneously explode. Let’s make it worst case scenario. There’s no staff. There’s no buildings. And there’s no me. Here’s what would happen. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of the following week, thousands and thousands of adults would gather in homes all over the city and pray together, and do Bible study together and take care of whatever family members are left over and the church is going to go on.

Because at the end of the day, circles are better than rows. And from day one, we’ve been committed to creating a culture that’s all about circles and not rows. We are famous for our rows. But the strength of our churches is what happens in circles.”

We don’t have thousands of attenders or multiple churches, but those “circles” at Crossroads are pretty significant to me and my family. So thank you to Pastor Pat for standing in the field at the corner of Jamison and Girdle all those years ago and seeing the vision … the vision of rows, circles and maybe even a future Family Life Center. How exciting would that be?

Wigwams and Muck Boots

Three years ago if you would have asked me about living anywhere but the suburbs, I would have laughed. We lived in a very nice tree-lined subdivision. Our house was manageable in size to clean, when I actually felt compelled to clean, and maintain. We had just enough lawn for me mow so I could get my yearly exercise crammed into the late spring, summer and early fall months. I could walk to the end of my driveway in my slippers to get the mail in all seasons and we were minutes away from the convenience of grocery stores, clothing stores, gas stations, big box stores, restaurants and the kids schools. For 16 of our 25 married years we dwelt in suburbia. Lancaster However, from the day we moved from our blue collar neighborhood of 1940’s cape cod houses bordering the city to our white collar, tree-lined neighborhood of late 1990’s colonial houses bordering a park, I felt unsettled. 14 years later, God pricked our hearts and we started to look for a piece of property to build a home on. This has always been a dream of my husband’s, but the older we got, the more we resigned ourselves that perhaps this wasn’t to be for our family. I thought as I wrote this about how we teach our kids that with God all things are possible, yet we resign ourselves to “not possible”? So we ventured out on weekends and looked at parcels ranging from 1 to 25+ acres. If it didn’t have trees, Tim didn’t want to look. I showed him this one particular piece of land online in July 2012 that I had been watching for some time but thought he would balk at because it was raw land and would require a well, but he agreed to go take a look. Needless to say, we were beyond overwhelmed. Trees would not be a problem and there were multiple ponds as a bonus (which my Dad, the fisherman, has already begun to stock). So we went home, prayed and began to run the numbers; a month later we became the owners, but it would be almost 2 years before any building would occur. God had plans for us, but we had to be patient. Woods One of the very first things Tim said after we bought the property was that it wasn’t going to be just for us. This house and property was meant to be a blessing for many people, people we already knew and people we have yet to meet. We weren’t going to move out there and shut ourselves off from the world. This is easy to do as you get older and comfortable with your day-to-day life, but I don’t believe that’s what God wants for us. We are relational by design. I am not a very spiritual person, but how can we be a light if we have no place or opportunity to shine and express God’s love? Over the course of the two years before the construction happened, we had brought family and friends out for tours which ended up being more like hikes … I was exhausted each time! My lawn mowing exercise was over-shadowed by these tour-hikes.  Our brother-in-law was the first family member to see the parcel outside of our kids. It was important that Tim share this with him, not only as a brother-in-law, fellow architect and hunter, but as his long-time college friend. Another hike occurred with our good friends. They were so excited and encouraging to us and would be throughout those two years. But that day they took the tour-hike, they prayed over the land. Never having been part of something like that, it was at that moment I knew we were supposed to be here. DSCN0358 We were supposed to be there, but I honestly don’t know how or why people would want to build multiple houses in their lifetimes. We only built one and I am convinced that God wanted to teach us patience and lots of grace because in the course of 7 months we designed a modest home, sold our old home, moved in with my parents for 5 months, built the new house and began our life in non-suburbia going into the long and cold winter months. Our journey to this point was not without its struggles, both in our marriage, temporarily moving back in with my parents and in the building process itself. There was more stress than I like to think about, but God who took us through … got us through all of it and did it through His grace.  Even though it wasn’t easy at times, there were so many good things that happened throughout this to-be-continued adventure that can only be explained by saying that God was totally in control of every part of it. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6 So I’ve traded my suburban mailbox slippers for Wigwams and Muck boots to begin the part of our journey in small-town USA. Pond