This past year, my family struggled to be committed to our Connect group. We were trying to sell our house, with a new baby, a 3-year-old, and a kindergartener who often took our entire family out with sickness. We had unexpected work meetings, out of town guests, and an 8U softball schedule that plagued our presence on any given week. Discouragement started to grow in my heart. I’m a recovering perfectionist, and it doesn’t take much for me to feel like a failure. Each Tuesday my head and my heart swirled with negativity. “We are the worst Connect group members of all time!” “Our group must think our priorities are off!” “I haven’t read the book our group is studying in four weeks, I have nothing to offer!”
The truth is, the devil was whispering little lies that cut me deeply. He was stealing my joy of a group that has loved us well for years. This group that has seen marriages, births, job loss, promotions, members move, and new members join. We’ve been there for loss and longing, we’ve cheered for each other’s successes and we’ve even worked through college football rivalries (Go ‘noles). These people love us well and care about us. But Satan doesn’t want us to feel that. Satan doesn’t want me and my family in communion with my Connect group. When I am in communion with my Connect group, I see my brothers and sisters in Christ in real, raw relationships with Jesus. I see people I can trust to share my struggles with and I am always met with encouragement. When I am in communion with my Connect group, I see the fruit of the Spirit lived out.
One week during the Of the Vine series, we were actually available to meet. Some couples couldn’t come, and I secretly hoped that our group would be cancelled because I felt so embarrassed over our lack of involvement. We decided to meet at Tijuana Flats for Taco Tuesday and go over the sermon study guide. We had been to church the previous Sunday, so I felt slightly encouraged that I might have something small to offer. We sat around the patio tables outside catching up. Our sweet friends played with our kids, asked how our house hunt was going— they engaged us in community. My fears, my insecurities, my discouragement all started to melt away. As we started to go over the sermon study guide, our six-year-old perked up. “Goodness? We learned about goodness on Sunday in Base Camp!” she exclaimed. Being the gregarious girl she is, she immediately wanted to be included in the group discussion. Our amazing group welcomed her thoughts and input. I felt so grateful. In community we have a team of people that care about us and our kids. We have a church that continually encourages us to engage in community and that values giving families as many opportunities as possible to engage in faith-based discussions with our children.
I honestly can’t remember what the questions were that were presented over chips and salsa that night or what Rileigh’s answers were. But I do know that Rileigh heard real stories about imperfect people that are growing in Jesus. I know that she feels loved and valued, and I think she is learning a lot sooner than I ever did that she doesn’t have to be perfect before she starts having a relationship with Jesus. She is learning that the fruit of the Spirit isn’t a list to check off but a rather a daily surrender of self and a lifelong process of growth with a savior that wants communion with us. She is learning that through communion with Jesus and with others, we find ourselves with many opportunities to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. I’m learning these things right alongside my six-year-old. My discouragement has morphed into gratitude. Over the past few weeks I’ve realized more than ever the million little ways over the last six years we have been the witness of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control lived out in this group that has really become more like a family.
No matter how many softball games or ear infections cause us to miss our group in the future, I am not going to listen to the lies, I am going to remember the love that consistently has been the heartbeat of our group, and I’m going to go with joy when we can, even if I haven’t read. I’m not going to let the perfectionist inside me or the Devil take away a community that I need as I grow in Jesus, and as my husband and I try to teach our children about what it means to have an authentic relationship with him.
Courtney Poppell and her husband, Andrew, have been attending Summit for about six years and have three daughters. As you can tell, they are big fans of their Connect group and have been in one in some way or another during their whole time at Summit. She is a teacher at Orangewood Christian School, who will monogram anything that isn't nailed to the ground, has a fierce Starbucks addiction, and just loves the beach!