A woman sitting on the floor with pictures of people hanging around her

The coffee shop closed promptly at 6:00 p.m., but as the director of coffee at Espresso NEAT, our friend Kyle had received permission from the owner for our small group to meet in the shop after hours. I’ve come to see Espresso NEAT is a special establishment—the kind of place that holds the soul of a town. As a result, it is a favorite place for people to gather and, for a moment, find joy. 

For most of my life, I was mostly an individual sports kind of girl. This was true both in athletics and life. As a swimmer and a runner, I enjoyed athletic competition absent of any form of interdependence. In life, I was wildly uncomfortable in the vulnerable position of having to depend on others for my success or stability. Accepting the help I needed or wanted meant accepting the notion that I wasn’t good enough on my own.

In turn, I was also pained by the possibility of letting someone down. Fierce independence provided a false protection against the potential for my mistakes to hurt someone else. A culture that views feelings as liabilities and applauds brave faces taught me that strength looked like invulnerability. I learned to depend on no one but myself.

I learned to depend on no one but myself.

We met every other week on Friday nights for four years. So, on this particular night at Espresso NEAT, we had all agreed to meet at 6:30 p.m. with our takeout food of choice. We made small talk as we settled around an enormous square metal table in the far corner of the shop, one couple to each side. Nobody wanted to acknowledge the reality of the goodbye. Nobody wanted to be the first to put words to the finality of a season that was special and transformational for each of us.

We cried as we told each other directly and specifically what we had learned from one another and how each relationship had challenged us to personally grow. We marveled at the fact that everyone of us had faced some of the most intense challenges of our lives right after this group was formed.

It was as if we were brought together specifically for a season where we would need each other. This collective season included marital struggle, mental health battles, infertility and pregnancy loss. We weathered all of it, and we did it together. We learned that, actually, there really is no other way.

We weathered all of it, and we did it together. We learned that, actually, there really is no other way.

As a group, we declared certain things to be true and sacred in a world that largely dismisses the value of community and relational intimacy. We decided that life is a team sport, not an individual sport, and that we do not exist just for ourselves. We exist for each other.

We believe that because we are created for relationship with God and with others, deep friendship with one another is one of life’s greatest gifts to us and well worth the investment. We experienced the truth that when we give one another invitations into our lives—even the dark and messy rooms that we have been taught are best kept with doors shut—we give other people permission to do the same. Together, we learned firsthand that getting to witness others’ transformation also changes something in us.

Not one of us was able to fix or change a single thing about the others’ circumstances. There was absolutely nothing we could do to provide a shortcut for navigating the pain that life had hurled in each of our directions. No, being together didn’t fix the pain, but it did change the pain.

No, being together didn’t fix the pain, but it did change the pain.

When life felt unsafe, we knew we were not alone. We held one another’s hands and said, “I am so sorry about this pain. We are going to get through this together. And I promise that what awaits you on the other side is beautiful.”

These seven people loved with a bold love that is not afraid of the dark, and it worked to help heal all of us. This is why we gather in community. When every gift shows up, we begin to see a bigger picture.

Our small group was a team that knew how to bring our gifts and show up for one another. We had celebrated milestone birthdays and talked around the dinner table until the food grew cold. On multiple occasions, we had gathered to specifically pray for personal situations that looked hopeless through the lens of our human eyes. 

To commemorate our final gathering, we ended this special evening at Espresso NEAT with a coffee tasting, compliments of Kyle. On this particular evening, he had just installed an impressive new piece of equipment in the shop. Kyle was eager to show us how it worked, and we were more than willing to receive whatever it produced.

As piping-hot white porcelain mugs of coffee were passed around the group, I reflected on the gift of these relationships in my life. This group had turned me into a team sports kind of girl, and I was never going back. I wanted to be the kind of person who prioritizes people over projects. I wanted to be someone who participates instead of isolates. I wanted to forego independence in favor of intimacy. From now on, I wanted to choose interdependence.

I wanted to be someone who participates instead of isolates—to forego independence in favor of intimacy.

There is risk involved with deep relationships, but as I’m learning in so many areas of my life, playing it safe only keeps us dangerously distant from what is truly good. It’s better here. Showing up with your messy, honest self and making life a team sport will always be worth it.

I was the last to be served. Kyle leaned over the counter and handed me a taste of Colombia’s finest as he smiled proudly and said, “This is the good stuff.”

As I looked at this shop full of friends, I couldn’t contain my smile. The good stuff indeed.

This is an excerpt from author Nicole Zasowski‘s book “From Lost to Found.”

Image via Jory Cordy, Darling Issue No. 2

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