It's always awkward venturing into an unfamiliar situation ... especially by yourself. But before more doubts have time to gather and send you fleeing in the opposite direction, the door swings wide and the welcome offered is surprisingly gracious and warm.
People shove over so there's room for you on the sofa while someone fetches a cup of something warm and offers it to you with a smile that's not forced or phony.
Your radar goes up as you quickly survey the room, listening to the chatter and laughter, looking at the faces, sensing the body language. Is there even a chance that a kindred spirit could be here? It looks like there's genuine delight in each other's company and it feels ... well, safe.
There's nothing cliquey or exclusive or la-de-da going on.
It's not long til you're casually drawn into the conversation without anyone making a big deal about it. Eyes meet and smile back.
These are just normal everyday people .... just like you with their baggage and their dreams and their yearning for acceptance.
Maybe, just maybe, this community could be a safe place to land.
The subject matter on the table isn't exactly profound, but it seems to somehow strike a chord, spark a bit of a flame.
And the sharing begins, a bit slowly at first, then picking up steam as iron sharpens iron. You have a distinct impression that no one takes themselves too seriously, yet wisdom and insight flow like a river.
The facilitator quietly works the room, being sure that no one dominates the dialogue and that everyone's contributions are affirmed. She leans forward just a bit when someone speaks, not wanting to miss a word ... and others do as well. Heads nod in understanding and you get the distinct impression that this is a judgment free zone where truth and grace mingle well.
The Spirit is most certainly present ... enlightening, guiding into all truth, convicting, unifying. You find yourself opening your heart to Him, to the prayers of those sitting by your side.
And when the gathering concludes, the participants reluctantly head out the door feeling richer for having been there. Each and every soul can't wait 'til next time.