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The Breakfast Club: Growing in Community - by Ann C. Averill

When I was a little girl, we went to my Memaw’s farm every summer for vacation. It was two weeks of romping with cousins, one of which was only four months older than I was and more like the sister I never had. From dawn to dusk we ranged free, taming feral kittens that lived in the woodshed, swinging from one hayloft to the other on a rope that hung from the rafter in the middle of the barn, jumping on the broken tin roof of the chicken coop that sprung up and down as if it was a trampoline. Then after a dinner, with all the aunts and uncles in the dining room, and us kids on the back porch, we caught fireflies in the dark until it was time for bed, and we fell asleep like a pile of puppies on old mattresses placed on the upstairs sleeping porch. Looking back, it was a visceral experience of belonging to a group that loved me without condition.

As I grew older and my world expanded, my grandmother’s farm felt like a dream, a world apart from my reality. I turned sixteen the summer of Woodstock, the legendary concert that touted mantras like free love, do your own thing, and question authority. Even though I’d been raised in the church, after the Vietnam War and Watergate, make love not war made more sense than saving sex until after you were married, and I made choices I deeply regret.

I was twenty-nine when I went back to church as a young mom of preschoolers. Struggling not to lose my temper when my kids were annoying or disobedient, struggling to be a better wife after I’d almost blown my marriage by becoming emotionally involved with another man, struggling with self-esteem as a stay-at-home mom, I was full of shame and knew I needed a savior. But no matter how many times I attended church, no matter how many Bible verses I memorized, I never felt I measured up to the prim and proper people sitting next to me on the pew.

Twenty years later found me in another church with a new pastor who started a women’s group nicknamed The Breakfast Club. Once a month, we came for breakfast, a speaker, and a follow-up discussion in small groups. The topics focused on how to belong to a community of grace. I was one of a handful of women chosen as facilitators and speakers, and we met with the pastor prior to each breakfast for more in-depth study and conversation. We chatted about vulnerability, integrity, submission versus compliance, trust learned versus trust earned, and more.

Yes, we applied Biblical truth, but it was so much more than a Bible study. Over time, we shared the real-life issues that kept us from trusting God could really love us, our dirt, our fears, our failures, and together God changed how we saw ourselves and each other. Gone was my image of prim and proper church folk. And gone was my shame. I hadn’t been so comfortable in my own skin since I was a child romping with cousins on my grandmother’s farm. These women became more sisters I never had.

All this to say, when people meet someone full of joy and verve, they often say, “I wonder what she had for breakfast?”

Now, I know, it’s critically important what you feed your soul, but if you really want to grow, you should never eat alone.

Ann C. Averill is a retired teacher and the author of Teacher Dropout: Finding Grace in an Unjust School who blogs at Ann lives in the hills of western Massachusetts with her husband, her cat, and a flock of silly chickens. She enjoys tap dancing, kayaking, and long walks with close friends.

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