We live in a kinda weird world, don’t we? We are so connected, with the advances of technology. And we are so disconnected, living such busy lives that we rarely pause to just be with each other anymore. I confess that I struggle with this. I want community. I long for it. But I also don’t always know what to do or say when I’m with a group in person. I want to belong…but don’t always feel like I do. I want to especially connect with other believers, to be part of our Lord’s living, breathing Church. But this living, breathing Church is so fractured in so many ways. There is so much attention put on so many differences.

And yet…and yet we are still the Church, the Body of Christ. We are part of something miraculous. We–when we’re brave enough and vulnerable enough–can live that community out in some pretty astounding ways.

I’ve heard a lot of disparaging comments over the years about screens and technology and how it’s disconnecting us–and all of that can be true. But technology has also given us ways to connect with people far away, which I love. My best friend lives a thousand miles from me–thanks to tech, we can message each other a dozen times a day, we can send each other video messages, we can video chat live. That’s amazing. Thanks to tech, I can talk to other writers on a daily basis, even though there are no other Christian fiction writers that I know of in my hometown. Thanks to tech, I can connect with other homeschooling moms daily, other diabetic moms, other people doing the same exercise program.

That matters. But having the ability to do it doesn’t mean that I’m doing it well, right?

Back when 2021 was a new year, my husband and I ran an online group focused around Dream Big by Bob Goff. We met once a week via Zoom and had great conversations about what our big, God-given dreams are. One of the exercises in that program is to literally make a list of your dreams. Your old dreams, your crazy dreams, your new dreams, your maybe-someday dreams. No holds barred. Just make a list of everything you once entertained, of things you’ll probably never do but which caught your imagination for a week or two once, of the things you long for but which seem to out-there. Then you sift them, through the lens of what will bring God glory…of what will last…of what you actually want to be your legacy.

One of the things on my list was “be part of the building of a true community of believers.”

I’ve tried it before, with email lists. I’ve been part of a few that went strong for a while and then trickled to nothing. I’ve been part of plenty that seem to be going strong but in which I never really fit well. This was a dream that I pretty much knew was beyond my control–I can do what I can, but ultimately whether a random group becomes a true community is up to the members and God.

Then in January, I launched Patrons & Peers. I launched it with a dream, a hope, and little more. I didn’t know if it would work. I didn’t know if anyone would join. If they did join, I didn’t know if they’d actually take me up on my invitation to share their heart, their dreams, their struggles. I just knew that I wanted it to be about us, not me. I wanted this group to be something that supported not only me but the members. Would it do that? I had no idea.

But we’re now seven months in. And I am astounded weekly at what God and these women have made this group into. I wanted to reflect on it here today because for the last week, we’ve been talking a lot within the group about encouragement. What does it mean to be an encourager? Or an exhorter? How do those two things combine and overlap? We have some AMAZING encouragers and exhorters in this group! Ladies with experience who offer their wisdom and love to the young moms. Those young moms, full of life and vibrancy and a whole lot of day-to-day challenges. We have ladies dealing with health issues. Ladies caretaking their husbands. Ladies battling cancer.

Each one has bared their heart to our group. Each one has offered their struggles and their joys and their dreams. Each one comes to the email list or the video chat app with their prayer needs and their thoughts from their weekly reading and study. Each one offers exactly what is needed for that true community: themselves. Open and vulnerable. Conscientious about what the other members need, but not afraid to share their own needs.

Last night (as of when I’m writing this), one of the ladies got onto the video app and said how she joined to be an encouragement to me, but she wasn’t sure if she was doing that. What, she asked, could she do to serve me better? What do I expect of her?

The question nearly brought me to tears, and I was quick to answer–she is one of those voices of encouragement and exhortation, of transparency and vulnerability. She is one of those ladies who lives with such faith and joy in the midst of such trials that I am inspired every day to chase after God like she’s doing. She is one of those women who cheers on the younger ones and offers her wisdom and insight. What do I expect? I expected nothing–but I dreamed of exactly what she and the others have given. Friendship, but more than that. Sisterhood. This group has somehow, through their openness and love of God, become a family. A true community. One always seeking to build up the others. “This,” I told her. “This is exactly what I hoped for, and exactly what you give.”

This particular lady also told us that she doesn’t often share her insights and thoughts about faith and life with others like she does with us. I get that–it’s hard, sometimes, to be that vulnerable with people you see in person regularly. It’s different when it’s people you don’t have to interact face-to-face with daily. But oh, how privileged we all then felt, to realize we’re not only receiving something rare and precious, but we’re also giving her an outlet for using her God-given gifts.

This isn’t a commercial for Patrons & Peers, though I do want to provide updates a couple times a year to introduce the group to newcomers. What it is, though, is a praise report. It’s my soul crying out in gratitude to God for creating this amazing community. It’s me reflecting on what has made us into a true community, and realizing where I’ve failed at that in the past. Maybe not all communities have the same characteristics, but I have to think that among believers, what makes them work may come down to these three things:

we need to be open and honest about ourselves, our hearts, our joys, our struggles.

Conscientious love
we need to always be considering the others in the group and what THEY need.

first to God and what He asks of us in the group, and then to each other,
praying for each other and checking in regularly.

I am by no means a community-building expert. I’m honestly not always even a great community member. But I’m someone who’s trying–trying to learn what it is that makes true community, so that I can live it out. And I am so, so blessed to now be surrounded by the love and wisdom and insight of other like-hearted women on a daily basis. Women who have let each other into their hearts and lives. Women who recognize that God has built something amazing here and has knit our hearts together. It’s a joy and an honor to be a part of that…and one of those Big Dreams come true.

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