Find Your Tribe

When we traveled in Costa Rica, we met a family from the Bay Area. When Guy and I celebrated our anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, we enjoyed conversation with a young couple from the Bay Area. On both occasions, we found something in common with strangers simply by being in and from the same places on the planet. But sometimes we go through hardship and the only people who truly get it are others who have shared a similar experience. Those experiences can connect us in ways we’d never imagined.

Guest Post: Donna Schweitzer

When my oldest—born three-and-a-half months prematurely—was three years old, I discovered an online community for NICU parents. I never thought I’d be one of those people who talks to people online but, in that community, I found people who just got me, people who understood the journey we’d been on and were still traveling.

I found a place to share my grief, fears, dark moments, awful memories. It was also a place where people understood my great joy in the smallest milestones. I could safely let it all fly—and I finally began to heal from his premature birth and those long months in the NICU. I’d had no idea that I needed to heal but, in this community, I learned that I wasn’t crazy, or paranoid, or a horrible mother for letting my body do that to my son. We began having regular Sunday evening chats and, soon, these women became what I would call friends.

A few months later, the director of that online community brought five of us together at a volunteer leadership conference. I arrived wondering if those online conversations would carry over. I had no reason to fear. Seeing each other in person, we picked up right where we’d left off. Over the course of a few days, we shared so many hugs, stories, tears, and gut-busting laughter.

We decided the rest of our community needed to meet in person as well, and planned a “Union” (we couldn’t call it a “reunion” as we’d never been all together before). The Union—a beautiful gathering of so many people who understand the language, the pain, the guilt—became an annual thing. I’ve traveled the country to spend time with these NICU parents. It’s always an emotionally-charged event, but also so healing and hopeful.

As with any large group, you find your smaller group—the ones you just click with. I have my people. I couldn’t tell you when exactly we gelled but, for years, we’ve texted on a near-daily basis. We try to get together for a long weekend every year. We nicknamed our crew “the MoomSquad.” The text tone assigned to our thread never fails to bring a smile to my face.

I rely on these four women, and I wouldn’t be the mother I am without them. We met because we had one thing in common: our pregnancies and the births of our children went horribly wrong, and we all did NICU time. When one of us has a freak out, we’re all there. We don’t judge because we know what’s behind it. But I believe we were brought together for a larger reason.

We’ve walked each other through so much…autism diagnosis, illness, loss of parents, subsequent pregnancies…all the ups and downs of life, marriage, and parenting. When something amazing or horrible happens, they are my go-to people. They have my back, and I have theirs. I couldn’t do life without them.

They each have their “specialty” in my life…the Nurse also has mad-Cricut skills; the Educator helps me with IEP/special ed situations for my youngest; one Mama has an autistic daughter older than my autistic kiddo (and they totally speak the same language); one serves as our personal Cheerleader/story teller/voice of reason/jokester…

I’m prone to try to make sense of my life’s events. Sometimes, it takes the perspective of years before I can see the purpose. When we spent three months in the NICU with our oldest, I couldn’t believe I would ever understand why, nor what good could come of it. I believe in a Grand Plan, and now I believe one purpose of his prematurity was to bring me to these incredible women. Through his prematurity, I connected with a group of women who get me. I now almost count his early arrival as a blessing. In that online community, I found my tribe.

When someone I know experiences hardship, I always tell them to find people who have been or are there. It makes whatever you’re dealing with that much easier when you can talk with people who get it. Among other things, my MoomSquad taught me that reaching out to those who’ve walked the journey can lead to more than just a support group. You might find your tribe.

 

Donna Schweitzer (pictured with the Moomsquad) has been married to her husband, Michael, for almost 20 years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.

ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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The Table

I adored Cari from the night I met her. We cheerfully bantered back and forth and I may have talked her ear off. I felt certain I’d made a new friend. Cari has that effect on people: they want to know her, listen to her, spend time with her, learn from her. Her life is rich soil for growth–she always has a new story to share of what she is learning and how she is growing; and she provides soil for others to plant their seeds and grow. Her tables are quite often set outside, in a garden, and that is fitting. Relationships grow around Cari’s tables. People grow around Cari’s tables. You’ll want a seat at Cari’s table. But better yet, learn from her and set your own table. Invite others to gather with you and watch what grows.

Create Challenge #30: Cari Jenkinscj-4

I create by drawing people to the table.
I set tables with beauty to proclaim the value of the one who sits at the table.
Each element of the table is important as the table tells a story.
When individuals gather around tables, they cease to be a lone character, but instead they become a member of a collective.
I design tables to inspire people to remember their Creator.
I set each table with purpose to express, through beauty, an element of God’s character.
I create through theme, light, glass, food, weaving relationships and asking a question.
Every table I set is a collective of people who gather together to be given dignity, shown love, and inspired to replicate.
The beauty of the table is experienced when each invitation inspires an invitation. cj-7 cj-5
The creative process begins with the guest list and moves to a theme that invites each guess to consider an aspect of God’s character. The theme dictates the beauty and the beauty invites people to feel valued. Leaving the table valued, evidences the fact that the image of the Creator was spoken through the creation. Each element from invitation, to menu, to participation and inspiration is included in the creative process.
Every year I have a goal of inviting 500 or more people to sit around tables, created with purpose, to weave an even broader tapestry of relationship around the city. The more individuals gather around tables, the stronger and more beautifully diverse the collective tapestry becomes.  cj-6cj-3
As I prepare to set a table for nearly 100 people this coming Saturday, I am in mid-process of watching another table lead to the strengthening and diversifying of the relational tapestry in Denver.
cjenkins

With over 25 years of relational ministry both in and beyond the local church, Cari uses her gifts to make the Kingdom of God tangible through relationship as she pastors those without a pastor. In partnership with Urban Skye, Cari shares the story of Jesus and His invitation to live into our truest identity as children of God. Cari loves to see individuals formed by Jesus for the transformation of the places where they live, work and play. Cari lives in Englewood, Colorado, where she loves to host, redecorate daily, play often and create beauty. It is an annual aim of hers to host over 500 people for meals in various forms and to encourage true hospitality in others. You are always welcome at her table.