So, how did you end up here?
That’s the most natural question I get after telling people I’m originally from Illinois. And, no, I’m not in the military; nor did I go to school here. The short answer is simple: the Lord – He brought me here. The long answer is the same, but the details reveal His consistent faithfulness and provision in my life.
I usually start this story at age 22, but the story really begins at age 15, where the key question I was asking myself was “what’s the purpose of life?” The Lord started revealing pieces of that question to me on my first mission trip. After that, I wanted to know the Lord more and grow in sharing Him with others. I felt like this was my purpose in life. Eventually, I went to college and studied missions. When it came time for an internship, I stumbled upon an organization called Global Frontier Missions (GFM) – a missionary training organization based out of Clarkston, GA, a small town outside of Atlanta with about 10,000 refugees.
My time at GFM felt like a missions buffet! Monday afternoon I’d be in a Nepali home, Tuesday afternoon in an Iraqi home, Wednesday afternoon in a Burmese home, Thursday in an Afghan home, and Friday in an Ethiopian home. It was awesome! I love different cultures, and this town is filled with them! But, in the midst of this diversity, the Lord specifically broke my heart for one particular people. When I say “broke my heart,” I mean that out of all of the people I was interacting with, there was one group in particular that brought me to tears when thinking about their lack of the gospel. Therefore, as I finished the internship and entered my senior year of college, I began praying that the Lord would allow me to live among these people after college and share the gospel with them.
After graduating college, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I went back to GFM for a second summer internship. During the last week, we hosted a short-term team from a church in Virginia called Peninsula Community Chapel. Perhaps, you’ve heard of them. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about this team coming, because it was the last week of the internship, meaning it would be the last time I’d see the international friends I’d made. I knew this team was a group of high school students, so I was a little worried about getting some punk kid that would be culturally insensitive and not eat the food placed in front of them. I distinctly remember signing up for one of my ministry partners for the week, and as I was writing her name down, I said, “I don’t know who this Chelsea girl is, but she better be good!” I wonder if the Lord chuckled at that comment.
It turns out, I had a great week with that Chelsea girl, and I even tried to convince her to move to Nashville with me. She graciously declined, the week ended, and we parted ways saying, “well, I guess I’ll see you in heaven!”
College is over. Now what?
Meanwhile, I moved back home and continued to pray for the Lord to make a way for me to live among the people He placed on my heart. And, thankfully, He started putting a team together in Chicago! Two of my friends from college had a similar vision, so we started making our plans to head to Chicago. We even had a “vision” trip together. We got connected to a local ministry, found temporary housing, and started applying for jobs. In February of 2016, this Chelsea girl reached out to me somewhat out of the blue.
“You should come intern at our church this summer,” she said.
“Oh that sounds awesome, but I kind of have these other plans,” I told her, and began filling her in on how God was putting all the pieces in place for me to move to Chicago.
“That’s awesome!” Chelsea replied. “Since going to Clarkston, I’ve gotten involved with the refugee ministry at my church and now I really want to move into a refugee apartment complex.”
“Wow! I’m excited for you! I’ll be praying the Lord sends you a roommate!” I responded as we finished up our conversation. Perhaps, the Lord chuckled at that comment, as well.
A few weeks after that conversation, my plans to move to Chicago quickly unraveled. One of my potential roommates ended up not being able to move, our temporary housing fell through, and after applying to about 20 (literally) different jobs, I had no job offers. Everything was changing so quickly, but at the same time I was planning a trip with two of my friends to the Outer Banks, because we’re from the Midwest, so we don’t know that you don’t plan a trip to the Outer Banks in March.
However, it proved to be one of the best trips of my life. I told my two friends about this Chelsea girl, and that I was maybe planning to ask her if it would be okay if I just move to Virginia and we try to live together in a refugee apartment complex. This plan sounded ridiculous, even to me, so I asked them to spy on Chelsea for me to let me know if I had gone off the deep end. Shockingly, after making a quick stop in the 757 on our way to the OBX, both of my friends affirmed my plan. “It is crazy,” they said, “but I think it could work!”
The next day I sent a message to Chelsea.
“So, is your church still looking for summer interns?”
“Yes. Oh my gosh! Do you want to apply?”
“Well, what would you think about me just moving to Virginia and the two of us moving into a refugee apartment complex?”
“What?!?! Are you serious? This would be an answer to prayer! If you’re in, I’m in!”
And just like that, within a month, all of my plans to move to Chicago had crumbled, and I had a roommate, housing, and a job set for me to move to Virginia in June 2016. The Lord clearly put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and I stood back in pure, joyful amazement at the ridiculous details that I knew I could not have dreamed up on my own.
Side Note: Parents’ Support
Throughout this whole process one of the greatest gifts from the Lord was my parents’ support. They encouraged my first mission trip, and consistently showed support, even when I began processing that I felt like the Lord was leading me to a people that aren’t known to be the most peaceful. It was a true blessing that allowed me to honestly process with my mom. She continually pointed me back to the Lord, trusted that He was the best guide for my life, and that I was seeking to follow Him. My parents never pressured me to question the path I believed He was laying out for me. This meant I got to share the joys and struggles of the process, and my parents got to mourn and rejoice alongside me.
When I got home after my trip to the Outer Banks, I shared all of the details with my mom and said, “Mom, I think I’m moving to Virginia!”
"I just knew something like this was going to fall into place, and the Lord would guide all the pieces,” she graciously replied.
She could have been fearful – that would have been reasonable – but she chose to trust the Lord with my life. And that, has been one of the biggest blessings.
Thankfully, the process of picking an apartment complex to move into was easy; actually moving in was not. But the Lord was faithful to remove obstacles and we found ourselves in Regency Square. In fact, just as we moved in, so did a whole group of people from the people group I loved. It felt like the Lord had literally just picked all of us up and moved us into this same area together at the same time!
The whole first year, Chelsea and I were so excited and easily just laughed off the bug problems, plumbing problems, heating problems, etc. We were just excited that the plan worked – we were really living right next door to a ton of refugees.
After about a month I came home from work one day in November, and I smelled something. I walked into the kitchen and Chelsea promptly opened the oven door and showed me the pumpkin pies she was baking.
“How do you know if they’re done?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t really like pumpkin pie”
“Yeah, neither do I.”
“Ummm…,” I started to say with a confused look, “you do know that the likelihood of us getting served whatever we take to someone is very high, right?”
Well, thankfully, we didn’t get the pies served to us, but I also don’t think we ever got invited into that house again, so maybe our new friend didn’t like the pies either. No hard feelings though; we were happy for the trial-and-error process of our relationship building to begin!
There was a lady in Regency named Nor. One day I saw her taking her trash out, and I felt like the Lord was telling me to go talk to her. I wasn’t feeling especially social that day, and just didn’t want to, so I started bargaining with God and eventually said, “Fine, I’ll go out and prayer walk one lap around our half of the complex. If I see her, I’ll talk to her. If not, I won’t.” Nor wasn’t out, but that’s when I met Diana, who became my closest, and only consistent refugee friend while at Regency.
Eventually, Diana and I started meeting weekly. I told her I’d teach her English if she taught me Arabic. That was a little bit of a joke because what developed was much sweeter than language lessons. Eventually, we would talk about real things. I remember the day we grieved together as she told me about a friend of hers back home who committed suicide, and I remember her talking about how much pain and anger her sister had because her husband was taking a second wife. “The husband loves each consecutive wife more,” she explained to me. This was a great time to talk about how Jesus tells husbands to take only one wife and to love them like they love their own bodies. Also, Jesus loves us so much that He gave His life for His followers and husbands are supposed to love their wives like that. She liked the words and character of Jesus. These conversations gave me incredible joy; they were the reason we were there.
Eventually, the first year drew to an end, and a lot of the newness wore off. Many of our friends started moving out of Regency as their contract drew to an end, including Diana. Also, I was having a pretty tough time. I had inconsistent employment for the first three years I lived here, and that resulted in me being consistently discouraged and poor. I was not doing a whole lot, because many activities cost money, and many people spend their days at work, so I ended up isolating myself. I learned quickly that isolation is a breeding ground for sin.
I dove headfirst into sin and got wrapped up in things I never imagined would be a struggle for me. After two years of this, nothing was changing for the better. Therefore, I decided circumstances needed to change. I either needed to move away and start over, or it was simply time to move out of Regency. Chelsea and I decided to try a new location and invite another person into our lives. We began praying for a third roommate.
Thankfully, a few months before we started praying, the Lord moved a physical therapist from Texas here for a 9-month work contract. Rachel was someone who we had begun spending a lot of time with, at first because she was the new girl, who lived all the way in Williamsburg, and we thought she needed more friends. But, as we spent time with her, we learned that she was trustworthy and full of grace – a good friend to have.
I distinctly remember discussing a hot issue within the global Church, and she simply said, “Our sin should never shock us. We should never be shocked by others’ sins.” As someone who was struggling with the shame of my own sin, these words were a balm to my soul, and this friend made me feel safe and reminded me of the grace of my Redeemer.
Eventually, we asked Rachel to move into a house with us, and we shared with her in detail how life had been going for the past couple of years. We wanted her to know what sort of battles she would be joining. Again, she responded with grace and shared some of her own battles, as well. With that, the house hunt began.
Moving onto Selden Road began a season of restoration for me. I am in a new living environment, with faithful, God-loving roommates who know the details of my story and will lovingly point me back to Christ. The Lord gave me steady employment. Additionally, the desire to share the gospel with internationals never left, and the Lord has recently been creating a new way to do that.
The last two years have been a season of turning back to the Lord and learning to seek Him first. One main thing the Lord has impressed upon me in this season is a new sense of relief in His grace and forgiveness that covers all of my sins – past, present, and future. He paid for everything when I accepted Him as a 10-year-old. The day I accepted Christ, I didn’t fully know what Jesus was forgiving, but He did. He took all of my sin and shame – 10-year-old Abby sin and shame, 25-year-old Abby sin and shame, 70-year-old Abby sin and shame – and He gave me His righteousness, and there is nothing I can do to lessen that. He has redeemed me and called me righteous, even though I will continue to struggle with sin in this life. Praise God for His faithful grace and mercy!
So, that is how I got here – by following the seemingly ridiculous leading of our faithful God who puts together all the details. He writes a much better story than I could ever imagine.
Last week, we discussed the first two steps of creating community. The first step mentioned was to ask yourself what needs you have, both perceived and real needs. The second step was to acknowledge what season you are in.
1. The Third Step: SO, THE NEXT THING IS, “WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR HAND???
“Seek out what you need but give what you can. The next phase of this conversation is to concentrate on what you CAN offer. There will be seasons like I mentioned above when you have extreme need. Yes, you will need to seek out assistance or friendship for yourself at times. But remember the best friend who took all my children for a few days? What if YOU can be that best friend?
There are things you CAN do in the season you are in. Even if you feel stuck at home, even if you are homebound, even if you are nursing, even if you are homeschooling, even if you are working…even if you expect others to offer you community, you can be intentional about doing your part to create community. Susan Miller, again, says, “It begins with you!”
Could you send a real note in the mail to that new gal you met who needs a lift? Write a note, and actually sign it, post a stamp, and send it out during naptime. What if you are baking cookies, and you decide that you have 6 extra cookies to spare to offer that new neighbor next door on a paper plate? What are you already doing in your day that you could offer to another? If you are already making dinner, double the recipe and stick one in the freezer so you can give it away. The next time someone has a death in the family, or a baby is born, food will be ready. You won’t necessarily have time to bake each time you hear about something, but the freezer is wonderful.
Keep something homemade or store-bought there all the time. ALL THE TIME. It is the best and easiest gift to give when you find the right moment. And the most fun moment is when a friend drops by unannounced and all you need to do is put the plate of frozen cookies in the microwave on defrost and heat up some water for tea. And this is an easy one – when you are at the grocery store, call that new friend and ask if you can pick up something for them while you are out. Amazing!
What if you don’t bake? Do you draw? Write beautifully? Sew? Paint? One of my most precious gifts from a friend was a hand painted watercolor bookmark. I think of her every time I read the book it’s in. It cost her time, but not much money – but I love it because it connects me to her heart and our friendship.
What about the real telephone? When you are nursing, pick up the phone and actually call that old neighbor you miss a few states over. The one who cried when you said goodbye? The best friend who was really hard to leave?
Taking moments to offer friendship and connection in these simple moments doesn’t have to take long, either. It might be that you only have 5 minutes. Well, you know what? I say so! Tell them when they first pick up that you only have 5 minutes. Catch them up for 2, and then ask them to take 2 to share about their life, and make sure lastly to have a plan to connect again soon.
One important side note here:
Friends from other seasons of life can still offer you community NOW. If you are having trouble finding that deepest, heartfelt friend here in town, or now during COVID, call up one who knows your heart. Be real. Be transparent. Share the trials or the joys.
Daily community doesn’t have to be someone present in your living room. It can be a simple connection with someone across any number of miles. My dearest and best friends, two of them, are from college and from Louisiana. I never thought I would still have long conversations and encouragement and wise advice from someone I only see every couple of years. But I INVEST in those relationships, because I can TRUST them.
I make myself take time to ask how they are doing…to listen to them for a while. And they, in turn, call me once in a while and really listen.
So, consider what you have in your hand. Sometimes you have little to no energy but give what is in you. As a military wife alone in Texas, after that first miscarriage, I had a little two-year old son who loved the old couple next door – Joe and Ines. They lived about 30 feet down the sidewalk in the next rancher over. What I had in my hand was grief, but also a delightful son – and they loved him with a passion. Sometimes, I would stand at my front door, tell Alex to go down the sidewalk and to knock on their door. Then Joe would open the door, say, “COME IN THIS HOUSE,” and he would bring delight and smiles to their hearts for a few minutes.
The tips I’ve shared are simple, practical tips for offering community, creating friendships, being a friend. I’d like to highly recommend the book I referenced earlier – Susan Miller’s book called After the Boxes are Unpacked. She makes a list at the end of every chapter called “Unpack your Survival Box.” Tips that I suggest you try are in her book and include the following:
Let me tell you one final story. I was in a summer volunteer job in Dallas, Texas, at the Summer Institute of Linguistics. I was living far away from home in Virginia, but I found out my younger brother was flying through DFW airport on his way to a summer internship in Mexico. An adult student at the center offered to take me to the airport terminal to say a quick hi to my brother on his layover. I tried to pay her $10 for gas, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She said, “I felt like God said I’m supposed to take you to the airport, so don’t take away my opportunity to be a blessing to you.”
Did it occur to you that in some seasons, others are just waiting to be a blessing to you? And in other seasons, maybe one just around the corner, you are going to be able to be a huge blessing to someone else? Look for ways to ask for help, and then look for ways to be a help. Look for ways to be a friend, and then also look for ways to allow someone to be a friend to you.
Lots of us at PCC have found that by being in a regular, weekly community called Home Group allows us to do life together. Once in a while, we hear of a need someone has, and another in the group has the means to meet it. Another time, we might share a need and be shocked by how the whole group steps up to serve us.
Last September I listened to a new podcast by a friend of mine, Stephanie Pletka. It was on the topic of “What is Life without Community?” Her guest said, “Don’t give up, if you are waiting for a friend. And while you are looking, create a warm and peaceful environment.” You will be ready when the opportunity comes. She also added something I mentioned earlier, “Have friends in multiple stages of life,
Be intentional about finding your tribe, love them, and be loved. The investment is worth it.
You are in a particular season of your journey through life. What you do and how you do it matters. A t-shirt I bought while hiking the Grand Canyon in college says, “The journey is the reward.” This journey is lifelong. Don’t forget that where you are right now is not where you will be forever. Each part of life, each season you are in, is temporary. The two points to remember are these:
Accept the season are you in.
Seek out what you need but give what you can.
What can you do right now to create a small bit of community in your own sphere? As Elisabeth Elliott often quoted, “Do the next thing.” Take steps today to implement some of the things you have learned today to create community and enjoy the reward – the journey itself is the reward.
Susan Miller: After the Boxes are Unpacked, Just Moved Ministry, blog, and podcast “Hope for the Uprooted Woman”
Sally Clarkson: The Mission of Motherhood, The Life-Giving Parent, and her new book, Help, I’m Drowning, Sally Clarkson has a “Home with Sally” podcast, a blog, and many other resources
Stephanie Pletka: Living Your Best Life: Letting Go of Self-Doubt, Fear, and Other’s Expectations to Live the Life You’ve Always Dreamed, “Mother Mindset” podcast
Connie Albers: Parenting Beyond the Rules, blog, “Equipped to Be” podcast, Parenting Teens, and Mom Mentoring
I know how it feels to start over, and over and over…. Having moved 19 times over the years, creating community is hard. If you are trying to maintain friendships formed years ago in another season, trying to create new friendships in this new phase of my life, trying to get rooted into a community either in my neighborhood, my church, or my social group, I have been in your shoes.
I moved to various cities for summer opportunities. I moved to start marriage. I moved to begin civilian residency training for Brad, my husband. I moved again to fulfill Air Force payback for Brad. We moved to take care of elderly loved ones. And so on…Each time I had to find the courage to create community for myself, my family, my children…I want to encourage you that it is possible, it is worth it, and by God’s grace, you can do it!
Keep in mind two things:
Covid has brought us great transition and challenge in the last 18+ months. There are losses to grieve, and it is important to accept that these have changed us and affected our story. We have lost fellowship with canceled vacations, failed to find restorative time for ourselves because children are home from school, caregivers might have resigned because of risk of illness, and job situations and income may have been lost.
Considering all this, it can be difficult to reach out again as the lockdowns are lifting. It may be terrifying for some of us to now intentionally serve others. So, accept the season you are in. Acknowledge the loss, then look at what you do have to offer or extend to someone else. This is critical to your survival, to your community, and to the journey that you get to share with others.
After the birth of my first two children and the miscarriage of a third between 1998 and 2003, I began to homeschool my oldest for kindergarten. I was relatively new in town, had new neighbors, and was trying to find fellowship with others who shared my faith.
It became a season of hunkering down to teach my kindergartener, managing a toddler, and right after beginning to homeschool, getting pregnant again. As you can imagine, I didn’t have much luxury time to visit with other moms. I was surviving…barely finishing very full days: laundry, meals for hungry littles, learning about teaching, nausea, snacks again, cleanup, playtime then nap, dinner, fall into bed…all to enjoy those SLEEPLESS NIGHTS OF JOY.
I learned how critical it was to figure out my own needs for fellowship. Just how do you find time to have lunch with a girlfriend and even finish a complete sentence without a tiny tot crying, wiping a nose, or working a cup of tea around naptime? How, with a part time job and teenagers and all their emotional needs, do you find time to pull away from the “taxicab” job to actually connect for a solid hour in person with your group of gals?
I don’t think any of us would argue the value of community, why we need each other. This last year has demonstrated how isolating the lack of community can be. But it’s hard to find sometimes, isn’t it, in various seasons of life?
TAKING STEPS TO COMMUNITY
1. The First Step: “Acknowledge where you are in life.”
Ask Yourself - What is it you need? Do you need a deeper friend? Do you need coffee away from children? Do you need a shopping trip, or even just a shower ALONE? Do you need weekly book study? Do you need to go back to school? Do you need a new job?
For myself, I think I need to stay busy, be productive, type A…Enneagram 1, you get the picture. I would rather be busy keeping house and check all the boxes than to leave things undone to go out for a few hours with someone. It might ruin the toddler’s attitude if they miss a nap, for crying out loud! Then our whole day is affected. I’d also rather keep everyone on routine than to interrupt a good night’s sleep. Sleep gets to be a commodity, right? Or now, with multiple high schoolers, it might interrupt a good homeschool day to schedule a coffee date, what with the education flowing, books being read, worksheets finished…or my volunteer work calling my name from the computer.
But what I truly need is this:
I need events and excitement AWAY from my house. Brad finally recognizes that. We have come to respect that about each other. Accepting the need I have has been important, and it is also helpful when your partner or loved ones respect it, too. Brad used to look at me with those puppy dog eyes when I’d leave for ANYTHING and say he’d miss me while I was gone. I actually felt guilty going anywhere by myself. I love a good adventure, and when spontaneity strikes, I cannot wait to jump in the car. And if I can’t go somewhere exciting once in a while, I’m going to go crazy. I learned, however, it would help me be a better mom, wife, and teacher, and they would be much happier if I could get that need met for myself.
I must be intentional about planning it just for me. Even if the housework is calling my name. Even if my family of introverts is not interested. It will be life-giving for me to get out, for me to make the effort of making a date with a friend because of the fruit it produces in my life afterward. It’s so worth it.
2. The Second Step: Ask “What part of life’s journey, what season, are you in?”
I used to be in a season of young parenting, needing some outside mom connection for the kids, maybe some adult conversation for me. I am now in a season of young adult parenting, with lots more time on my hands. My needs have changed somewhat. I now have independent learners who can manage school or work alone while I go to a meeting or get out of the house. Now I feel like connecting professionally with other women would be exciting. But I also still deeply need to have a heart connection with someone in the same season of life that I am in.
I’ll never forget December 2011. We had just moved to Virginia in March, and it was time to do Christmas shopping for family (who lived back in the South) and also for my four children, ages 4-12. I begged my brand, new neighbor if she could watch my youngest two, the girls, for just two hours so I could do a Christmas shopping blitz. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to ask for help. It turned out my neighbor had three boys. She absolutely loved that one babysitting stint, as it gave her a precious memory of having tea with two little girls that afternoon – while I GOT SHOPPING DONE! She and I have become great friends and rely on each other for a myriad of things now.
This is a huge point I want you to remember. It’s uncomfortable to ask for help, but so very worth it. I heard a quote last month by Dr. Joseph Lee on a recent virtual conference. He said it’s “…okay to recognize that we will have a lifelong need of help.” What do you need from community? God created us to need and serve one another. Galatians 6:2 says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
I had a very practical need years ago. Freshly grieving my first miscarriage, an elder’s wife in my church called and asked if I needed anything. I didn’t know what to say that week. I had no idea what anyone could do to help me. But I took a huge risk and answered her honestly. I needed food. I needed dinner made for me. So, I ASKED.
She was grateful to have something tangible to do for me, and I was humbled to ask, yet grateful she said yes. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have told that story – a young, grieving mom, unable to cook dinner. It makes me cry just writing this down. But we have to ask for help. This creates opportunities for friendships to blossom!
BORROW AN EGG
Susan Miller, in her book, After the Boxes are Unpacked, says to “Borrow an Egg.” If you are trying to create community and you don’t know your neighbor, find something you DON’T have, and go next door and ask for it! Be intentional and ask their name, how they are doing, but can I borrow an egg, or a stick of butter, or a cup of sugar? It is the best advice I ever got. It helps you get over the fear of reaching out with embarrassment and instead puts the power into your hand of offering friendship.
Asking for an egg is so practical, but guess what you can do with it? You can plant seeds for a relationship. You can begin a friendship! And once you are done baking, share some of it with that neighbor!
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.