On the Outside Looking In



Last month I had the opportunity to join with several hundred of my PCA women’s ministry friends and participate in Leadership Training 2016. I love the Lord, His Word, and His church. What an exciting experience to be part of something that can have an eternal impact on our women and their ministry. Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do and who I’m able to do it with, it’s just that, well, sometimes “women’s” events scare me.

On the Outside Looking In

I’m the oldest of three and the only girl. In God’s providence, my younger sister only lived a few short weeks and died as result of complications from massive birth defects. Until recently, this was not something I dwelt on or a loss that I felt deeply. It was just part of our family’s story, but not really part of my story. I was six when Joni Lynn was born and never knew life with her or without her. Her time with us was too, too short.

Maybe it’s a result of my birth order and gender, but I don’t do girls. I don’t get girls. I was never in a sorority, or club, or crowd – “in” or not. Although I’m a mom to three girls of my own, I confess to being perpetually in the dark about what makes the fairer sex tick. How a group of girls can somehow arrange themselves into a circle of friends almost instantly always seemed a mysterious secret code to which I was not privy. I grew up long before “mean girls” was a term, but any girl can tell you that, labeled or not, we all know what it means to be on the outside looking in.

Even to this extrovert, there is nothing scarier than walking into a large group of women, whether familiar or not. The gut-gripping feelings of “will I be known/liked/accepted/rejected/acknowledged” are never far away. I have been known to sit down at a beautifully decorated table and, instead of enjoying the carefully planned Women’s Luncheon, flee in a panic because the women on either side of me already had someone to talk to.

God Gives More Grace

So that’s how I found myself on the brink of LT, for the first time arriving all by myself with no handholding from my hometown friends.

Not only that, I’m responsible to help my group feel at home and connected as they are all brand new as well. Could this get any harder? Why not throw in a roommate that I have never met before. (Why on earth, I’m asking myself, did I feel the need to say “yes” to this request? Oh yeah…because she was from my region and I thought we could get to know each other better. What was I thinking???)

I think we can all agree this is not a great way to live one’s life. It’s also not a great way to start a week of intense, relational, connectional ministry. God and I had some business to do. I knew prayer was probably a good start but I couldn’t bring myself to send out a large group email confessing my fear and anxiety. “Maybe I’ll just tell our fearless leader.” Could I really bug Karen Hodge with all she has on her plate already? She probably wouldn’t mind, but any way I spun it, I couldn’t figure out a way to compose this note that didn’t sound selfish and self-centered. “Please pray that I will have a friend and won’t feel like an outsider” just seemed ridiculous.

“Lord, what would you have me learn from this?” That’s it is not about me and that my focus doesn’t need to be on me and my feelings. Check. That no matter what, I can choose to put my focus on someone else and trust you for the rest. I can look into those sweet faces, familiar or not, and smile at them and ask where they are from. I can realize that they are probably just as worried and unsure about this as I am and we are all in this together. If we are here by God’s good design, then I can trust Him to bring something beautiful out of my fallen fearful female self.

In short, I asked for grace. I asked for God to pour out his riches and show me how to do this. I asked him to Show Me the Savior. (Ok, I also confess that I prayed a little bit about my roommate and hoped that she wouldn’t think I was weird for bringing jerky, tuna, and protein powder.)

On the last night of the conference Karen asked us to ask God to show us one thing. What is one thing that we are to take away from LT2016? Where do I begin to list the answered prayers? That our first regional gathering was a joyful time of across-the-table connections flying fast and furious. That my little group of newcomers said this was a life-changing event. That my handout (Connie’s 4 Quadrants) was appreciated and put to use! That my youth pastor’s wife heard my enthusiasm over Titus 2 Tools and said “sign me up.” Oh, and my roommate? When she started unpacking her baggies full of protein powder, I knew we were going to be just fine!

What did God show me from my time at LT? We lovingly refer to LT as a family reunion but to me it will always be much more. For me, LT2016 was the week God gave me sisters.

After sharing these thoughts with some of my friends, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear I’d touched a tender spot. That feeling of wanting to belong and to be accepted is part of what makes us human beings. I’m thankful our Heavenly Father took care of that need by lovingly welcoming me into His family: the body of Christ.

Renee Mathis attends Christ Church PCA in Katy, Texas. She serves on the women’s ministry team, as a regional advisor for the PCA women’s ministry, and an advisory board member for Covenant College. When she’s not enjoying her 5 children and 6 grandchildren, she teaches English, reads books, and drinks coffee.