Tonight, I stepped a little outside of my newfound “stay-at-home mommy comfort zone” and went to The Grove in Atlanta. This is a truly beautiful monthly gathering put on by the women’s ministry of Passion City Church.
When you walk in to The Grove off of 400’s Syndey Marcus exit in Atlanta, think hundreds of ladies browsing decadent dessert tables in the concrete and steel belly of a warehouse building (big enough for a house to fit right in the middle of it all). Think worship, magnificent heart pounding worship. And laugh-your-heart-out while you cry your eyes out stories straight from the lives of women who have experienced God’s grace and lived to tell about it. Well done. Totally hip. And all heart.
But it was a struggle for me just to get there. And in the end it taught me a lot about myself and how much God loves and cares for me despite myself.
If you care to join me, this is my journey in “Getting to The Grove.”
A few months ago, when someone mentioned going to “The Grove” I couldn’t think of anything less desirable than dragging myself out into the freezing weather. Especially when I hadn’t bothered to wear makeup or shave my legs in weeks and certainly didn’t own a pair of fashionable winter boots like seemingly every other well-dressed woman in Atlanta.
I was content to spiral downward, staying snug and warm at home for days at a time with my baby and yoga pants. The mere mention of The Grove, and its droves of dressed-to-the-nines women with fabulous makeup (how it was described to me), made me feel unworthy somehow.
But then another month rolled around and I ran into the table leader from my Bible study after church. She casually invited me to go with her and some of other ladies from our small group the next day, and she would drive. I was caught like a deer in the headlights and said yes before I realized how much it scared me. (This is so not my usual fun-loving, never met a stranger self, by the way, this is all just new mommy stuff.) But then it snowed and, like it does every time there are icy roads in Atlanta, everything got cancelled. While I texted about what a bummer it was (probably with lots of exclamation points and emoticons) I was inwardly thankful.
This month (third times a charm), with Spring in the air and daffodil bulbs blooming on my kitchen table (and a hand-me-down pair of winter boots from my mom, the only other woman in our family who wears my size), I was walking out of my Tuesday morning Bible study feeling like a new and confident woman when my table leader caught up with me in the hall and again extended an invitation to The Grove the following week. Feeling up for anything at that point, I said, “Count me in!” Seconds later the heel of my second-hand boot came off and scudded to a stop on the carpet behind me.
I almost let this deter me as an omen, and by the time Monday afternoon rolled around I was trying to muster up the courage to still go. Finally determined that I needed to “just do this thing,” I stopped by a clothing store (very last minute as always) to find a new top. I also found a pair of outrageously oversized earrings. The sales lady who showed them to me (while my toddler who I affectionately refer to as my “ticking time bomb” squirmed in my arms), said, “Oh, YOU can definitely pull these off!”
Such a good sign! Grove, here I come! With newfound momentum, and very little time left, I secured babysitting services on the drive home.
This. was. happening.
But even then, I got home and began to lose momentum. My nerves got the best of me and I heavily procrastinated instead of getting ready for what (in my mind) had fast become “the event” of 2015. I spent an unproductive hour pouring over Google images to see if my new wardrobe pieces were a good choice (I still have no idea). Then I Googled the restaurant where we were meeting, pondering the menu before wasting more precious time tending to my water kefir project.
Nothing like a hearty dose of self-sabotage.
As a side note, this morning (in a different Bible study, for moms), I took a personality quiz that left me wondering (again) if I skew my results with perceptions of who I think I am, instead of reality. This is because (on paper) I scored lowest in “Blue” but I found myself identifying with the examples of someone who personified this trait. (Quiet person, energized by time alone, extremely sensitive, always looking for perfection, very analytical, deep thinker, very caring, embarrassed by public discipline, etc). I thought, “I’m just like that person!” Except for the quiet part, usually.
But it wasn’t until after thinking about my experience in getting to the The Grove this evening that I can also better identify with the “negatives” listed as part of the trait: Lacks Spontaneity, Struggles Under Pressure, Hard to Please, and Can’t Function Without Structure.
Regardless, I managed to break free of my self-sabotage and get out the door on time, but ended up waiting in the wrong parking lot. I wanted to cry. “Struggles Under Pressure” comes to mind.
When I finally connected with my ride (a freshly vacuumed mini-van full of women) they’d decided to beat traffic and eat a different restaurant closer in. Since I had my menu choice carefully planned out, this was another blow (I know, I know, ridiculous, right?) and I even thought briefly about just going back home. I would have never pegged myself as someone who “Lacks Spontaneity” but this was looking suspiciously close.
But then things started looking up on this most perfect of all Spring days when we ended up on a sunny restaurant patio. We chatted through the best meal, totally lost track of time, and still got to The Grove an hour early to claim seats and mingle over dessert.
To me, The Grove was exactly as it was described: Neon-vested men directing traffic, busses shuttling women from overflow parking, groups of them walking and chattering down the sidewalk. Inside, energy. Droves of every type of women, seemingly all of them dressed to the nines, hugging and laughing, mingling among tables laden with deserts, sipping on coffees and lemon water.
And then there were some things that words cannot describe. Like the bathroom attendant holding stall doors and calling out above the din of dozens of flushing toilets, “Another beautiful lady! Another beautiful lady! Right here, this stall! This one! Thank you, Beautiful Lady! Another beautiful lady! Right here! This one!” Priceless.
But that’s when I started to sink again. After an hour of mingling (and without my usual few quiet moments in the restroom to regroup, recharge, and reset), I was uncomfortable and ready to retreat.
I found my seat in a vast dimly lit room packed wall-to-wall with women, between a girl visiting with her sister from Minnesota and the friend who drove us. The open ceiling was bedazzled with a dozen star-shaped chandeliers. Chairs had been removed and hundreds sat on blankets in front of the stage with its huge screens, so that tonight there wouldn’t be an overflow room.
We were asked to write words of encouragement on the notecards found on our seat, to accompany fleece blankets for hospitalized children, hundreds of which were piled in huge open-sided shipping containers in the halls. Then after a few minutes the worship band lit up. It was like a rock concert, ground quivering, heart-pounding LOUD. (Not that I know a ton about rock concerts; I’ve been to ONE.)
Letting go of my crank-up-the-volume ways, after marrying my very health-conscious husband four years ago, has (fortunately) made my ears sensitive again. These days, I’m following his low-volume ways and even wearing ear muffs to vacuum and run the blender (when I remember), and sometimes I slip in a pair of earplugs at church. Tonight my ears hurt. I couldn’t handle it. “Can’t Function Without Structure” comes to mind. I wanted to hold my hands to the sides of my head but it somehow seemed irreverent as I looked around (in amazement) at the seemingly unfazed masses of women in worship around me.
I felt like everything that happened up this point was an attempt to keep me from being there, distract me from preparing my heart through worship, and prevent me from hearing what would eventually be spoken over all of us ladies tonight.
And now the latest distraction was more than trivial. I wanted to leave. But I was determined to stay. Enter: The Survivalist Makeshift Earplugs (don’t laugh; they worked)! At some point over the weekend I felt like I should replenish my tiny makeup bag with extra Q-tips for eye shadow. Just an impulse. So I had plenty available to snap off the padded tips and ease into each ear. (Some were used, so there may now be sparkles on my ear drums – and if it becomes a trend, remember you heard it here first.)
There may have also been some bubble gum involved. . .
My makeshift earplugs got my “Hard to Please” self back in line and ready to enjoy some incredible worship in preparation for the story. People tell me it’s usually stories (plural) at The Grove. They bring in women who share trials and triumphs in onstage interviews and talk about what it taught them about survival, trust, belief, dependency, obedience, hope, and more.
Tonight, it was the guest worship leader who settled into the hot seat, front and center. She was interviewed about the loss and brokenness experienced after a miscarriage early in her marriage (something I can relate to), followed by several years of barrenness, before the new season that she is in now with two children and one on the way.
She said that whatever our season (we may currently be in a good one), the only sure thing about seasons is that they change. If we are in a tough season (of despair, doubt, loneliness, fear, grief, anger, abandonment, or any other hardship), it is only a season. God does not intend to leave us there. He has good things in store for us. We need to “let go” and allow Him to work in our lives.
Earlier in the evening, someone asked me about “wanting”, and how long we’ve been “trying” for, another baby (questions I’ve been gettomg a lot lately). We have a 27 month old and have been trying, with nothing medically wrong, for more than two years. I have recently found myself in a place of just waiting on God, of letting go. I realized tonight that this wasn’t just something I was saying. I wasn’t fighting back tears or choking with anger or bitterness. My heart is truly there.
The final word she wanted to speak over us was that, Spring follows Winter. And for those of us who are in a tough winter wasteland season of life, Spring is coming.
When I heard this, I knew why I was at The Grove tonight.
Despite the insecurities that kept me home before, the worry and procrastination while getting ready today, confusion with directions, temporary disappointment, stepping out of my comfort zone emotionally with the crowds, and even a temporary physical discomfort with the music, there was a very special message for my obviously deeply True Blue and introspective self…
And while I know that message is universal and applicable to probably every woman at The Grove tonight, this whole evening was still confirmation that God speaks to us in little ways that are personal and unique to us. In my case, it was topped off with bubble gum and Q-tips… What I heard for the rest of the night was: I love and care for you, even in a crowd, you are special to me.
I could have walked out of The Grove wearing anything tonight and felt confident in this, because I already knew it to be true. But tonight it was reconfirmed while so tenderly and lovingly spoken over us by a woman who had walked in some hard shoes, or maybe fashionable boots, I don’t know.
But I do know that God loves us and wants good things for us.
Every season changes, and Spring is coming!
P.S. I’ve been back to the Grove since posting this. And it was as beautiful as ever.