On Saturday, since Hurricane Charley cancelled our plans, Mike and I spent the afternoon at (an exceptionally crowded) Barnes and Noble. We even scored squishy chairs somehow. I finished Reading Lolita in Tehran, and he read another chunk of How to be Good.
I think Reading Lolita in Tehran would have been more meaningful to me if I had read more of the works they discussed. I have never read Lolita. Or any Henry James. I loved the Jane Austen section, though. The core of the book was the women who met together to discuss forbidden Western literature. In the end, I was really moved by some of the comments the women made about how meeting together each week like that changed them. It made me think about the groups in my life that have changed me.
I have been involved in a lot of small groups and Bible studies and Sunday School classes. The one I am in now (an offshoot of the group in which I met the Shearers) is young marrieds with babies. Except for us. We’re the only baby-less couple. The group started in March after our larger group split, but we have been with most of the people in our group for four years, the entire time we’ve been married. I have really learned how to be a wife with the help of that group (in all its different forms). (I have also learned other things, like the art of the awkward lunch, dog etiquette, and that there can in fact be too many side dishes containing potatoes.) Another memorable group for me is the group in which I met Shelby. That group met for two years – my freshman and sophomore years of college. We did Bible study, but we also just had a good time being together. We took trips and played games and ate tons of junk food. And we laughed. That group really defined my first two years of college. I don’t keep up with all of those girls like I should, but when I see them, there’s an instant connection.
Sandwiched in between those two groups is the group that I think most defined the person I am today. My junior year of college, I was on a planning team for my school’s chapter of InterVarsity. It consisted of four women (there was a guy involved the first semester, but he resigned over Christmas break) occasionally joined by two male staffworkers. We all had a lot going on that year. I was planning my wedding, one of the girls was going through a difficult on-again-off-again relationship, and one of the girls lost her mother. The fourth girl just had regular life stuff going on. Lucky her. She was the only one who we could pretty much guarantee wouldn’t cry every week. The rest of us? We were pretty emotional. I learned so much from meeting with that group every week. I learned how to let people into my personal space, and how to be vulnerable. I learned about planning and organizing events for a chapter. I learned what to do when your car breaks down on the interstate and someone offers to tow you for free (For the record: I rode in the cab with the driver and his friend. The other girls rode in the car on the back of the truck. Yes, that is illegal. Also, the nice driver kept offering me cigarettes). I learned that I wasn’t the only one who felt incompetent most of the time. I learned about passing that comfortable level of honesty and really talking about your crap. I learned how to make brownies when all you have to work with is a microwave. I learned how to let people do things for me and accept it graciously. I learned exactly how many people you can feed with a Stouffer’s lasagna and that not everyone knows how “boil-in-bag” rice works. We ate snow cream together and smoked cigars (well, everyone but me – I’m allergic. So I took the pictures and then used them as blackmail evidence) and cried many many tears.
I am thankful for all the small groups I have been a part of, and they have all changed me in some way. That one year, though . . . that was magic. At the time I didn’t appreciate those Monday night meetings as much as I do now. I am a better friend because of that group. I am more honest with myself and more real in my relationship with God because of those three women. It was not an easy year, but it would have been much harder without them.