I didn’t grow up in California but was born and raised in Minnesota, did college in Texas, and moved to California for a job. Ever since visiting California in 2003 I wanted to come back to live, being raised in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. For two years my job required travel for weeks on end and I didn't make an effort toward a social life knowing I'd be back on the road soon.
Living a thousand miles from home with no family and friends certainly starts to feel lonely after awhile. I needed a change. So, in June 2009 I quit my job and all of the travel that went with it. If I wanted to enjoy my life here making friends was to be a part of it. Okay, now how? Co-workers are great but I see them 40 hours a week, and no one seemed comfortable sharing their faith openly.... There's always people at church who are welcoming and friendly, right? Next stop Saddleback Church. I had attended Saddleback for about a year and heard about a new community of 20s and 30s in the Refinery where I would be amongst peers. After several months I realized things weren't turning out how I expected. Apparently, you have to actually talk to people if you want to make new friends. Week after week I'd walk into FUEL, sing, listen, and make a beeline toward the exit once we were dismissed. So my life was not changing and I was still lonely.
As with most things worth having it takes time to make friends. At that point I started thinking about joined a small group. Uncomfortable. People I don't know. I'm the new guy. Again. The first several weeks in my new small group, I wasn't very thrilled with the people I was "stuck" with. We didn't have anything in common. It felt forced. The people there had already been a small group for months.
Weeks went by, I kept attending, more new people joined the group, we started a new study, I had the chance to lead one night, more weeks went by, I was no longer the newest member... I was starting to realize I had more in common with these people than I thought and then last winter the Lone Star State was calling me back. In 2010, I was running on less and less income, my roommate was getting married and kicking me out, I felt hopeless with my living situation. All signs pointed to my old life in Texas. Things seemed easier there. In my mind I was already moved.
As spring approached, something changed. I felt as though God was telling me to not give up quite yet. I needed to keep attending Fuel and attending my small group. I didn't know why! Patience? Ugh. Our small group had people come and go throughout the year, but there remained a core group of about 6-8 of us who were always there. We really started to open up with each other. There was a comfort level and trust that just hadn't been there before. We started doing things outside of our weekly meeting. I was actually having... fun.
Now today….some of you know I did the blogging while on the FUEL PEACE trip to the Dominican Republic. What made it really special for me was two of my fellow small group members went along and we grew closer to one another than ever before. I hadn't thought about my moving plans for several weeks, but while we were in the D.R. they started to occupy my mind again. God reminded me how He wanted me to wait it out a few months. I looked at my reflection in the mirror, and it was at that moment, I literally saw a light bulb appear above my head (ok, not literally).
I knew the answer to my problem! God didn't want me to move back to Texas. He wanted me to give Orange County more time because He knew I needed time to reach the turning point in my relationships with my small group. Going into Decade of Destiny, I'm excited more than ever for the next chapter of my life. I know without a doubt that God wants me to stay right where I am, eager to see what He has planned for my life in the next several months and years. I finally feel like I have real friends. Friends that I'll have forever. It's taken almost a year, but I would do it over again in an instant. Now I know what other people feel like when they say they love their small group.
Sometimes you have ups and downs about decisions in your life but my small group was there every step of the way supporting me and my journey. And yes, this was just one big plug for small groups.