How To Change Your Life With Pasta…and Impact Groups

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Last year, I shared this wonderful article on Facebook: Friday Night Meatballs: How to Change Your Life With Pasta. I thought it was a neat idea, and it was very well received, with many of my friends commenting “What an awesome idea! We need to do this!”. I also received quite a few private messages from people lamenting how much they wanted to do this, but just didn’t have the community around them to begin. A simple share on Facebook got me thinking really deeply on this whole concept. How much we all long for close, intimate community. Even the self-professed introverts that love curling up alone with a good book on Friday nights perk up at this idea.

Years ago, I started to pray fervently for God to lead us to a community of believers that would become our family. I love my immediate family and absolutely enjoy spending time with them and my extended family too, but they all live in another state so those times are few and far between. It’s tough living in loneliness. We spent years attending churches, trying to get involved in activities and making friends. I told myself “this takes time. It takes years to develop close friendships”. I thought my patience would pay off, but my husband’s military job would inevitably move us around and we’d start all over again in a new place, with a new church.

About 3 1/2 years ago, God brought us to San Antonio and the first church we visited we fell in love with. Our twins were only about 2 months old at the time, and just attending Sunday services was a major accomplishment for me. But I loved hearing about how important Impact Groups were to our church. They weren’t just about spending 8 weeks in a nice bible study, then moving on. Spiritual growth is important of course, but a huge part of it was building a community. Making the close friends we all long for, the people who are there for you in good times and bad. You know, those ladies that will bring you over a pot of soup when your kids are sick and your husband is on a business trip. Real friends.

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I finally started going to impact groups, and like a kid attending a new school for the first time, there was some nervousness involved. But I went, and it was awesome. Each semester I signed up for another group, then another. I made some amazing friends; I started to really feel like this church was a family. We started to include each other in things like Thanksgiving dinners, and birthday parties. Each time we had an “outside the impact group” get together, we would marvel at what a good time it was. How we should do this more often; the kids love it. Let’s do dinner soon! Then the weeks would pass, and we wouldn’t plan anything. πŸ™‚ Life is busy, that’s just how it goes.

Then, this article sparked something in me. I felt like the Lord was speaking loudly and clearly: if you want these things in life, you need to make it happen. Okay Jesus, let’s do this. But let’s also discuss why I am the worst person to try to organize this sort of thing. 1. I’m unorganized. 2. I don’t have much money. 3. My house is too small. 4. What if no one likes my cooking? 5. What if no one really wants to be my friend and they don’t come? Cue all kinds of panic…

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person in our impact group who thought this was a great idea, and a few of us ladies took to planning. Someone volunteered their home as the hosting spot. One family brought meatballs, another brought pasta, another brought salad, etc. It was definitely a potluck type of affair, with a few husbands coming over straight from work and grabbing a plate of food and joining us at a long table on the patio.

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The only picture from our first dinner: Stephanie, Shawna, baby G, and Cassie

I wish now that I’d gotten a lot of photos from that first dinner. The kids sitting at their little tables slurping pasta, then running and laughing through the yard. The adults gathered around a long table, talking and laughing in the soft glow of the lights. Watching the conversation shift from slightly awkward small talk to deeper things. Watching my friend Stephanie share the deep things God was doing in her life, and reading to us the bible verses that were laid on her heart. I could have cried, but I was still too concerned with appearances that first night. πŸ™‚ I wanted to dance around and shriek a little. Something alive and vibrant and amazing started to grow that night. We knew, we knew that God was going to do some amazing things.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Sometimes this American Christian life can seem so one dimensional. To see God’s plan come alive in such a way was so wonderful. And so…we planned another dinner. And another. There began to be more spontaneous get togethers. Coffee dates, lunches, play dates, ladies nights, etc. Our little village. How I love them so.

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One nice thing about kids from many families dining together: they are inspired to try new foods!

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Our Christmas soup dinner

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These boys…oh my heart!

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Ladies night

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Oh yeah, we know how to have a good time! πŸ™‚ Jeff and Mary…I adore you both

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These precious ones

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Sometimes you need a BBQ in the middle of winter! This dinner was a BBQ chicken, potato salad, fruit and cookies night. Awesome!

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Who cares how big or small your house is? Being cozy is fun πŸ™‚

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So the kids *might* play more than they eat. That’s what gummy vitamins are for, right? πŸ˜‰

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Everyone eats when they want some dessert though

This could be the “happily ever after” ending to this little story, right? God answered our prayers for close friends and an amazing church family. But no. Our pastor has recently done a sermon series entitled “Dream Seeding” that jolted this little dream into the possibility of something more. I could (and might!) write an entire blog post on how deeply this sermon series challenged me and moved me. To think about what God sized dreams I have and how willing I am to trust God and be brave enough to step out of the boat no matter how scary deep that water looks.

So. Let me tell you guys…as I sat in church one Sunday listening to this sermon (you can hear it here by the way), a vision exploded in my mind. Of a simple home with plenty of yard space that was filled with long wooden tables. And I mean long tables, with many chairs filled with many people and many children running around. And a garden nearby. And music and worship and new friends. That is my dream…because you see, as much as I adore my little village I know how many lonely people are out there that need this community too. I want to be able to invite them to join us. I want the neighbors to come on over too. I want people to experience all of this and want to know the Jesus that brings people together in such a way.

I have no idea how this will all happen. Maybe it won’t really happen for a few years, maybe it’ll happen next month. I have no idea how to make that much food nor how to even acquire enough tables and seating for such a dream. But that’s good to know because it means its a God sized dream, not a Tara sized dream. πŸ™‚

We recently packed our biggest crowd into my friend Cassie’s house. There were tables in every nook and cranny with about 30 people. It was amazing. I want to see that doubled, tripled, quadrupled. I want the Lord to open up the chance for Nick and I to buy a home on a decent sized piece of land…something we always wanted but could never answer the question of WHY. Did we want horses or something? I don’t know. I just have a burning desire for some land. I’ve felt this way for years, now I think I know why! πŸ™‚

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Please pray with me that this dream will come true.

Sometimes I get so excited over where we are now, and how much things have improved, that I forget about the very low place we were in just a few short years ago. I am so grateful to be at a church that values community so much that they work tirelessly at putting together impact groups and other community events. I want them to know how far and wide those efforts have gone, and will continue to go.

If you live in San Antonio, I hope you’ll check out Grace Community Church. Join an impact group. Do you already go to church but feel like an impact group is just too much to add to an already busy schedule? Let me just tell you that I understand completely. I have 3 kids, including twin toddlers, I homeschool, and my domestic duties can fill up a 28 hour day. I can say with 100% certainty that being in an impact group is worth it. Keep going, don’t feel bad if you miss a week. Just go. Then go again next semester. πŸ™‚

If you do a bible study group already, and like it, but find yourself longing for that something more…let me encourage you to be brave and put together your own “just because” potluck dinner. Chances are, people might look at you strangely and wonder if there’s an occasion they’re missing. They might check their schedules and see that they are booked solid for the next 5 weeks and it’ll take work getting a date set that most people can attend. That’s okay, pick a date and just do it. Don’t worry too much if its a little awkward at first.

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Its pretty easy to have everyone bring a pot of soup and some bread. Break that bread together; its even more delicious when you’re eating it with friends.

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Matzo ball soup made by the amazing Cassie

I’ve talked to so many friends about this over the last few months. People that see our Facebook postings and confess how much they want something like this. Do it guys, its worth it. I’ll leave you with these last thoughts from the original pasta night article:

“In the past nine months, friends who’ve been inspired by Friday Night Meatballs have told me about slow cookers full of meatballs in hotel rooms at conferences. There’s a Taco Tuesday in Minneapolis and a Brisket Brunch in Austin. Many others have shared their favorite low-stress ways to bring people together: game nights, “bring a weird snack” night, bad movie night, Sunday brunch club, even a backyard fried-chicken competition. It doesn’t matter what dish you serve or what idea brings you together: the point is simply to break bread.”

If you want more advice or encouragement in this, please contact me anytime. I’d also love to pray for you if you’re on the same journey of searching for a community of friends.

And thank you, thank you, thank you Grace Community Church for bringing us together. We love you so much.

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Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

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