Hey friends, I’m Shanalea, Pastor Adam Atchison’s wife. We lead Sandals Church East Valley, near Redlands. This idea of being real with ourselves, God and others was such a fresh and freeing vision that drew us to Sandals 9 years ago. There is no way we would be who we are today without this church and our community. REAL community.
I grew up in a place where you put on your Sunday best with a smile and pretended to be fine no matter what was happening in your life. So this idea of being connected in community has been such a learning process. Really, it’s been a struggle for me.
Just because something is hard doesn’t mean I get a free pass.
Since I am a storyteller and, well, I think things are more clearly seen when there is a story to point toward, I want to share a little about my journey with community.
I think when most people see me they think, “Wow, she knows a lot of people and must have tons of friends.” Which is partly true. I do know quite a few people, but I also have tons of acquaintances.
There is a common phrase, “Being alone in a crowded room.” This phrase is what I’ve felt most of my life. I would attend everything where I knew everyone, but never felt truly connected. I longed to have a BFF, for someone to know me, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen. I began to think that I needed to change myself, mold myself to be whatever “that person” (fill in whoever I thought was the person to know) needed.
On top of that I grew up moving around a lot so being in a place long enough to establish true friendships was difficult. Add a really hurtful experience with friends in high school, and by college, I was one messed up chick when it came to community.
All of these experiences left me feeling that there was something wrong with me.
I gave up on thinking that I could experience real community. This doesn’t mean I stopped having friends or going to parties. It means that I rarely allowed someone close enough to see the raw/vulnerable part of me.
It has taken years to even begin the process of healing in this area. I am still healing and still learning what it means, but I can tell you this…
“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT
This last year God has redeemed the broken part of me that thought REAL community was not available or even a possibility. He placed our family with another family IN community. The truth that has been spoken into me from these people will never be forgotten.
They have seen the raw, vulnerable part of me and STAYED.
My past experiences told me that people didn’t stay; that when it got hard they moved on (or I moved). Last summer was probably one of the lowest points in my life so far. I was undone and had no way of moving forward. There was nothing left in me to even fight for what I knew was true.
I was broken and defeated.
My community invited me in and spoke truth to my soul when I could only hear the lies of the enemy.
Community sat down and listened without trying to fix.
Community allowed me to ugly cry and not judge.
Community helped me laugh again when I felt like I would never feel joy.
Community chose to stay when I didn’t think I deserved it.
Community loved me when I didn’t think I was lovable.
I am in tears as I write this because it has been so powerful for me to experience this kind of community.
GOD is SO GOOD though and continued to bless me. I am a teacher and at the beginning of the year I decided that I wanted to start a Cultivate book club group with some of the ladies I work with. Having the sessions online has allowed us to participate in Cultivate and dig deep.
I began this group knowing that we would grow in our spiritual walks and become friends. I just didn’t expect it to be so quick and so deep.
There were hard moments where real life was shared and spoken. We cried together, we laughed together, we worked together. When my washing machine was broken for a month, they took on my laundry! YOU GUYS! This was huge for me. I literally shared my dirty laundry with a group of ladies. They have cheered me on when I thought I was in too deep.
The love, support, and friendship of this group changed my entire school year. I was able to love the “hard to love” people and receive prayer when needed. I have never had this type of experience at work. COMMUNITY MATTERS!
Here’s the main idea ….community doesn’t matter because I say so or even because Cultivate says so.
Community matters because God says so.
God doesn’t expect us to do this life without having people around to be with us, love us, and speak truth into us. Think about all the Bible stories you know…
Moses had Aaron. Noah had his family. Ruth had Naomi.
David had Jonathan. Martha had Mary. Paul had Timothy.
Jesus had His disciples.
Each of these guys and gals didn’t walk through life on their own. God gave them a person. He will give you a person too.
Maybe you are like I was and have given up on people or groups because you’ve had some bad experiences. I get it and really understand why you might feel that way. What I want you to know is that it is worth it to keep trying.
Pursue God first and foremost, but then pursue a community that is going to point you toward Him when you are in too deep to see Him for yourself.
LET’S DIG DEEPER…
- What has kept you from connecting in community? Are there fears that you need to surrender to God?
- Sometimes we can simply go through the motions when we’re in a group. Is there something in your life that you need to be real with your community group about?
- Who is in your circle of people that might benefit from being in community? What would it take for you to invite them in?
- Reflect on Hebrews 10:23-25. What is the purpose of community? How can you encourage others with what you’ve learned?
To learn more about joining a Sandals Church community group or to start your own, click here.
Shanalea is the wife of Adam Atchison, Campus Pastor at East Valley. She is mom to four boys, Avery (15), Aiden (11), Asher (9), and Axel (7). Besides being wife and mom, she is a 5th grade teacher at a school in Riverside. Shanalea loves Dr. Pepper, dancing, sitting on a beach, getting together with friends and family and enjoying great food and good conversation.