I love cookies. Chocolate chip, macadamia nut, snickerdoodle. But occasionally a cookie will be making its glorious ascent into my mouth, when the baker announces, "It's made with Splenda!" My face falls in disappointment. I place the cookie back on the plate, and there will be no reconciliation. It's over.
Splenda cookies have all the outward signs of something really great, but they lack authenticity. And they're gross.
I used to equate being in women's ministry groups with being forced to eat Splenda cookies: the fluffier version of true friendship and biblical community. I envisioned myself sitting awkwardly in an immaculate living room, surrounded by ten absently smiling women. They'd have matching blonde newscaster hairstyles. Their prayer requests would consist of "unspokens" or prayers for distant relatives with health problems.
I decided I should just stay home and deal with my own mess. Alone.
But then one night at the 20s ministry I attend, the pastor announced: "Tonight we're going to split off by gender for discussion tables."
Honestly, the majority of people who attend this ministry go, at least in part, to interact with Christian members of the opposite sex. Eye rolls abounded, but off we went to our separate corners.
I sat next to my friend Kira, low expectations intact. Everyone looked uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we shared. A little.
Anna brushed her thick hair from her almond-shaped eyes as she told us that she runs marathons and just finished her masters.
Wow. Driven, I thought.
Jennie skimmed over her job, and her eyes darted as she said, "I'm a single mom."
My heart softened, and I smiled.
"I have a three-year-old daughter named Eva," Jennie continued. "She's the best."
"She really is," added Anna. "And Jennie is an incredible mom."
At the end of the evening, we kept talking and exchanged numbers.
Over the course of a few weeks, the four of us began having longer conversations. We started a Facebook message chain that's become a safe place to voice prayer requests, worries, jokes, and fears. We get together at least once a week—and not because we have to.
What I Was Missing
About a month ago as we sat on Jennie's kitchen floor and laughed until our faces ached, I realized that I was experiencing true biblical community. It had depth, grace, and authenticity. It left a sweet taste in my soul. We'd shared struggles, lifted one another in prayer, cried together, dyed one another's hair, and played with Eva (she's our extra half in this 4.5 equation).
Jennie used to be a professional hip hop dancer. She's Latina, has crazy stories, and the best testimony. Kira comes from a loving, slightly erratic Polish family. She is kind and has more shoes than Cleopatra. Anna is half-Korean, quirky, and absolutely loves karaoke. And Eva loves Michael Jackson. She might only be three years old, but she's already a better dancer than my sorry Irish-American self will ever be.
I'm grateful and humble that God knew what I was missing. He gifted me with colorful, real women, just to prove my stereotypes wrong. First John 4:12 says, "No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us."
God gave me these women when he knew I needed to feel his complete love. Christian community is loving one another, carrying one another's burdens, and putting one another first.
It takes time to find women you connect with, but be on the lookout. And pray. Love freely the people God brings into your life. Don't miss out. And don't settle for Splenda.