My journey back to God began at the Hoboken Grace Easter Egg hunt in the spring of 2019. Seeing my kids and others squeal with delight as they uncovered candy-filled plastic eggs in the hay, I wondered – what amazing organization is behind this initiative? Who does this kind of thing in Hudson County FOR FREE?! I was also a relatively new mom, with all the typical struggles that come with that stage of life. I needed support, and this seemed like the kind of community that just might have what I was looking for.
I started attending Hoboken Grace in-person and online, and joined a virtual dinner group that was led by a friendly-looking woman who was a little bit older than me. She felt like a safe person. I can manage being in an online group, I thought – especially if I can turn my camera off and be a passive participant sometimes.
The friendly-looking woman was named Vicki, and indeed, she was wonderful. She made me feel immediately welcome and at ease. In fact, I had never met someone like her in my childhood church. She was very honest about her personal story, and as messy as parts of it were, she was one of the best examples I had ever seen of obedience and faith in God. She was so relatable, and I could see the grace of God working in her life. She was the first person at Hoboken Grace who really made me feel at home.
While I continued in the group throughout that year and into the early months of COVID, I was largely a passive participant. The group met during my kids’ bedtime routine, which didn’t help matters. “I’m not connecting with anyone in the group,” I lamented to Vicki. She encouraged me to keep showing up and trying, but ultimately, I realized that I needed to deconflict my dinner group with bedtime. In hindsight, it’s clear to me how important consistency is when you’re in a dinner group.
So I joined a lunchtime meeting, led by another nice woman named Patty. With this group, I kept my camera on, spoke up, and really started to share my experience, my fears, my doubts and my hopes. And what I was saying seemed to resonate with other group members, as they began opening up about their own life circumstances. About a year into this group, in the spring of 2021, and at the encouragement of our new group leader Dana, I decided to take the step of Baptism. Dana stood on the stage with me and held my hand. I will never forget it.
I know it’s not like this for everyone, but for me, there really was a “Before Baptism” and “After Baptism” experience. I stood on that stage and proclaimed that I would follow Jesus wherever he led me. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it has not always been an easy road since I made that decision and declaration. But I have continued to follow him and continue to take steps toward God, and I have begun to experience that “peace that surpasses all understanding” in my day-to-day life.
I’ll never forget the Sunday when Pastor Chris talked about answering “yes” to God’s call. I walked out of that service, determined that when God is asking me to take my next step, I don’t want to say no. And that’s around the same time that Dana was thinking to step back from leading the group and step up into other roles.
There were many reasons for me to say no when Dana asked me to take on the leadership of our group. For one, my job was too demanding, and there was no way I could make every meeting. I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I was also worried about what my friends, and especially my family members who are not believers, would think about it. But my biggest excuse was that I didn’t have a picture perfect life, so I wasn’t fit to lead a dinner group. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I started leading my group in the fall of 2021, I had all sorts of unresolved issues in my life. But much like Vicki had demonstrated for me, people don’t need perfect leaders. They need people who are relatable. They want to feel comfortable sharing their own struggles, and that starts with a leader who is honest and authentic about their own life. That includes Group wrestling with your own challenges and seeing God at work.
The other “reasons” have also sorted themselves out. When I have an immovable work or family commitment, one of the other women steps up and leads the group that week. This has given other women the chance to “try out” leading the group, to see if it’s something that God is calling them to do in the future. Leading a group has also been an opportunity for me to invite people in my life, including those who don’t know Jesus, or those who maybe grew up in church but have put their relationship with God on the backburner, to come try out the group. Sometimes coming to an online group can be less intimidating than showing up at church on Sunday morning. Baby steps!
Leading a group has filtered into other areas of my life and improved my relationship with God as well as my spiritual rhythms. I show up for church every Sunday, whether I’m in town (I go in person) or I’m out of town (I stream the service online). I read the Bible and pray for thirty minutes a day, several days a week, with one of the women from my group. And I spend more time in fellowship, during our group meetings and throughout the week. Leading a group has been a gravitational force pulling me back to God when I would otherwise be consumed by work and other false idols. It’s strengthened my faith by witnessing the miracles (big and small) that my group members have experienced. We’ve seen family members recover from addictions. Broken marriages pieced back together. And some of us are still in the thick of our mess, but we are pointing each other back to God as the answer, not the world. We are walking through the valley together, hand in hand.