All Good Things

Last Thursday was my last day as an advocate. I cried. But not too much, in front of other people at least.

Let me back up. In case you’ve joined us recently, let me explain. For the last couple years I’ve held a volunteer position at my church that gave me the nifty title of “advocate.” It also gave me a small group of women who themselves led groups of other women (the groups are called “small groups”—inventive, no?—at our church, but other churches call them life groups or community groups or house churches, or whatever, because we Christians love to name things you know; Adam started it).

Back to the pod. I had this group of women and for about a year I didn’t do anything more than what was expected of me. And I hated it. Well, hate is a strong word, but it wasn’t enough, and I knew it, and they knew it. I knew we could do something big, and we were just doing something small.

So in October of 2009, I rebooted the group, gave them a new vision, had a couple dinner parties to launch the new pod, and set off to change the world (or at least how small groups are done at our church).

I don’t know if I really accomplished that. I don’t know that I said everything I wanted to say, or that I developed my leaders as much as I wanted to. I don’t know if I made any lasting dent in the system itself.

But at least I can say I shook things up a bit.

What a blast I had, shaking things up.

Our group bonded fast and hard. We were different, and we made it known. Every month when we met at the church, I brought a big blue comforter and set it up under a giant fake “tree” at the entrance to the kids’ area. I lit a candle, spread out candies, or opened bags of cookies. We lounged and talked. We brought up problems and proposed solutions. We laughed at often-inappropriate jokes. We talked about things women only talk about when surrounded by other women.

I got to watch these women (along with others who joined later) grow in their confidence, in their clarity of vision, in their problem solving, in their creativity. I watched new groups spring up and take everyone by surprise. I cheered them on. I observed their groups and gave them written evaluations. I met with them to brainstorm solutions and to think up questions we hadn’t thought to ask yet. I tried to challenge them, inspire them. I believed in them, and I threw myself into supporting them and pushing them to aspire for more.

Every time one of the girls had a birthday, I brought her a tiara to wear, and we gave her presents and flowers, and the rest of us wore birthday hats and looked insane and goofy in front of a crowd of people (none of whom were wearing crowns or hats)—which worked like a charm to cement the bonds within the group and to create and foster a group identity. We were the loud ones, and I’m sure we were often annoying, but I was willing to have a loud, obnoxious, and potentially annoying group if it meant that said group was also intensely bonded and highly effective. Which I believe we were.

This went on for about a year. During the summer of last year, I was on fire, and I was imagining a future that never materialized. I wanted to make this more than a volunteer position, I wanted to be more involved, I wanted to help translate the changes I had been implementing in my own group to the system at large. I began taking notes, making lists, assembling a dream team I might call on to help execute my ideas and plans.

But none of that happened. I was on the job market, and I got the teaching gig at the university. Then, I started the job and quickly fell in love with it. Teaching began to eclipse the pod and pod-related activities. It demanded so much of me—emotionally, logistically. And it was easy to give in, because I loved it so much.

I knew something would eventually give. I was exhausted after teaching, and being an advocate was emotionally and physically taxing. More taxing, however, than the actual advocate work itself was the odd drain of being the different one. Everything I loved about the pod, its challenging of the status quo, its demand that others take notice, its questioning, all those attributes were also in and of themselves an emotional and mental drain on me, a drain I hadn’t noticed before I was simultaneously working in another emotionally draining field.

I began to make exit plans—plans, again, that would not be realized.

At the beginning of this month, I found out that the church is restructuring the way they do small groups to a regional model that I actually think is rather brilliant and could eventually revolutionize the way these groups look. Along with the restructuring came a shuffling of pods. Also to a regional model. All my girls are from different parts of town, so I would be getting a new pod. A new group that would need to bond, a new group identity to recognize and shape. I would be starting from the ground up.

Normally, this would energize me, but I knew I didn’t have it in me, not this time.

Sadly, I had to admit that my time was up. The exit plans had to be abandoned. Our last semester of work left undone. I submitted my resignation and knew it was the right decision, but in the week leading up to our last meeting I was quiet, melancholy. This was the end of a little era, a time of my life I enjoyed ardently, recklessly. This was months of work, of thinking, of imagining, of challenging and asking what if and why not. This was a group of women who loved one another, a group of women I loved deeply.

Our last meeting was Thursday, and I didn’t light a candle under the tree, but I did have chocolates on hand. And after our last meeting was over, I picked up my stuff and put it in my car and left, knowing it was the last time and also knowing that I had shed the last tears over it. It was time. It was time—these were the words that had made me cry when I said them to my “Pod People,” not because I hadn’t known the group would eventually end, but because I knew it had to, because I knew we had accomplished everything we needed to, and because all the things that went undone were not meant to be done, not by me anyway, and not yet.

The day before it happened, before the pod ended, Jesse ran across this quote by Lao Tzu: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

It was time to let go. It’s time to see what’s next.

And so, the beginning of a new year, the ending of a good thing, but I am no longer sad. I am hopeful. I am excited. I am letting go.

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