In light of the (in)RL Conference I had the privilege to attend (at home, by myself-- but not really by myself since I felt the connection of women all around the globe gathering on the subject of community! A beautiful thing!) I've been thinking about what community has meant for me over the past several years. I wanted to share with you the importance of community--how it can grow you, nourish you and change you in amazing and surprising ways:
I walk into the first MOPS meeting of the year feeling like 14 year old just entering the halls of high school. But instead of fretting all night over what I should wear to look cool, I've fretted all night over my not-yet-sleeping through the night 2 month old. I'm still brand-new to motherhood. I'm tired. Clueless. Lonely. I feel like I should have a big tattoo splashed across my forehead reading: "clueless tired new mom without a mom friend in the world."
These moms have probably been moms for years. They all have toddlers running around-- they're probably all getting a full night's sleep. I bet they have oodles of friends that meet at parks and coffee shops. Why on earth would they want to be friends with me? What do I have to offer--the new girl with the newborn, desperate for connection.
I do have ONE mom friend. She lives almost an hour away and we've been friends since grade school. She's been a mom for years so she knows what she's doing and listens to my sleep-deprived woes and fears. She mentions that she runs a group called MOPS and encourages me to attend. The group is far away but I feel like I'd drive across the country in order to connect with somebody, so here I am.
I find my one friend and she greets me with a big hug and smile. Then several other women also greet me with warm smiles and show me around. I make my way to a table full of other equally nice women and settle in. We exchange pleasantries and sip coffee.
What I didn't realize at the time was that this was the first day of being a part of community. A community of women with whom I could share and trust. Women who I could count on when things got hard. Women who I could laugh with, cry with, ponder with and really be myself.
Over the course of that first MOPS year I opened up in ways I never would have imagined. Sharing the really hard things I never thought I would discuss. As we worked our way through book discussions on the topic of family life, we discussed our own walks of life--out trials, our pasts, our worries. I found myself pouring my heart out about the loneliness I felt. About how scared and overwhelmed I was as a new mom with no friends. How I didn't have help from parents--but rather a set of worries over my mentally ill mother who, at the time, was in and out of hospitals. On how I had no parental role models to turn to--those wonderfully built-in "free babysitters" full of wisdom and concern who you can call at 1:00 in the morning wondering how to hold the baby so it will stop crying and which brand of pacifier works best. I shared how I didn't have a clue about what "happy family life" looked like save for what you find in a book, having grown up with a mess of a childhood: schitzophrenia, alcoholism, divorce, latch-key loneliness cutting like a knife.
I poured out my heart on how I afraid I was I'd screw it all up. On the pressure I heaped on myself to know everything there was to know about parenting--all from textbooks and college courses, none of it yet experienced. How I wanted to breastfeed but couldn't, and all of the expectations and disappointment I carried over my failure.
These women listened. They cried with me. They offered advice when I needed it. And best of all they got it. These women were not perfect "Stepford" Wives" who had it all figured out and wanted for nothing. These women had broken scared places, too, just like me. Difficult in-laws, husbands working long hours leaving them to parent virtually alone, and pasts that hurt and haunted. These women also felt scared, tired, overwhelmed and lonely-- just trying to get through another day. It turned out I wasn't the only mess in the world. In fact, I was pretty much just...a normal new mom. And with this realization I no longer felt so scared, worried and alone. And neither did they.
I took a risk, sharing my heart and my past. Sure, I could've been rejected, snubbed. I could've poured out my heart just to heave it left there dangling and exposed. But sometimes it takes a risk to get what you really need. I really needed connection. In order to get it I had to put myself out there. Chances are, when you put yourself out there, someone will connect with part of your story. The details and circumstances might look different, but our feelings are so often the same. And that's exactly what we really need to share--our feelings, our hearts. The importance of community is to give yourself breathing room. A place to just be you--wherever you are.
Seven years and two kids later I've grown a lot. Learned to let go of those old fears and perfectionism. I've walked through periods of grief, loss, change. And through it all I had a wonderful community to share it with. A community that helped me become the person I am today. Over the years my community changed--I found a MOPS group closer to home, joined homeschool groups, bible studies that began and ended. But there was a always some sort of community out there for me to embrace. A community of women to share with and learn from.
So if you're feeling really lost or alone, if you're a new mom, a veteran mom in a new town, or someone going through tough times and needing some support, I urge you to find a community. Find a MOPS group, bible study, church group, meetup group, cooking club, sewing circle--find people to be real with. Just do it. Do it for yourself. You won't regret it.