Pulling into the parking lot of our local Chick-fil-a, I took a deep breath. Here we go again. I desperately needed a little hope. My 4-year-old and 20-month-old were in the back seat, anxious to get to the play-area. We’d just finished running a marathon of errands. (anything turns into a marathon with a 4-year-old and 20-month old). So I figured we deserved a treat. But I glanced with anticipation at the children already playing in the play area, knowing I’d be interacting with unknown moms at the playground. Again.
Life in Isolation
We’d moved to the area only 6-months prior and I’d spent that time finding the playgrounds, settling in at a new church, and getting adjusted to going from a full-time working mom to being a SAHM (Stay at Home Mom).
Whenever I interacted with other moms, I hoped it would lead to a friendship. I didn’t know anyone. My husband was connecting with people at work but I had no meaningful way to connect with someone beyond these casual playground interactions.
As an introvert, figuring out what to say and engaging strangers in conversation was exhausting. Often, the other moms were already connected with busy schedules. They probably didn’t recognize my attempt at conversation as a desire for friendship but more as casual way to pass the time while the kids play.
In six-months, only two of my playground meetings had led to other play dates, but they were still just that. Play dates. Regardless, I was determined to continue trying. So, I navigated the Chick-Fil-A parking lot carrying one child and grasping the tiny hand of another. Here we go again…
While navigating the process of getting food to a table and inside the bellies of two small children, I managed to observe the other moms in the restaurant. There were two moms chatting at a nearby table while their children were playing on the other side of the glass window. Then, there was a pregnant mom, sitting crossed-legged on the bench inside the play area. She was watching her toddler walk up to the glass where the other moms were talking. She was making faces at them and smiling. The two moms were giggling and waving back at her.
Another Playground Scenario
Much to the satisfaction of my little ones, I agreed it was finally time to hit the playground. Yup. Here we go. While helping my little ones get their shoes off, I began a casual conversation with the pregnant woman. Her jolly toddler was already introducing herself to my children. My 4-year-old had already taken off with her Mickey Mouse doll to interact with another little boy.
The pregnant mom introduced herself as Nancy. They’d just recently moved to the area and she was living with her in-laws. We began one of those surface level conversations that I’d come to find so familiar. But it was nice talking to another adult who was going through a similar situation.
That’s when I officially met Rachel. She was one of the two moms who had been talking inside the restaurant. Her friend was gathering up her children to leave. But Rachel hung around to chat with us. Her boys, John and Samuel were playing and Samuel was identifying with my Sadie’s stuffed Mickey Mouse (who went everywhere with us). Sadie was letting him play with it. Rachel introduced herself to us. She had an outgoing and fun personality.
The Hope of Friendship
After talking for a bit, Rachel said these magical words:
“I know you guys think I’m just some crazy lady you ran into at the Chick-Fil-A but you should come to our next MOPS meeting. I know, stupid name. “MOPS.” I’m not talking about a mop. I hate cleaning myself but MOPS the club is awesome. The ladies are all great, there’s food, and the women who watch the kids are wonderful. You can’t get better childcare. Seriously. You should come.”
There’s Hope in an Invitation
Today, it is staggering how that simple invitation changed the course of my life and ultimately helped me to grow as a person. So many times, accepting one invitation leads to other invitations and opportunities to connect with other people. Or to develop new skills and impact the lives of others.
Looking back, the chain of events that Rachel started in my life on that day is incredible. She gave me the greatest gift by extending her hand in friendship. Inviting me, a total stranger, into her world. Through her simple invitation, Rachel gave me hope that day.
Extending an Invitation
It didn’t cost her a single penny. But she had to take herself out of the hustle and bustle of her day. She had to forget about the things she had to accomplish and the children she needed to gather up. She had to take the time to notice the two moms sitting there on the bench and show a little interest in a couple of strangers.
She didn’t worry about what we might think of her. She wasn’t worried that we’d laugh at her MOPS group or joke about how they must love the clean. She didn’t let any concern for herself stop her from offering that simple invitation.
Extending an invitation takes a level of courage. There’s a degree of vulnerability involved when you invite someone into your world. Not everyone will say yes. But it could mean the world to someone who is feeling lost, lonely, overwhelmed, or broken. I never again saw Nancy (the pregnant mom) who had been chatting with me at Chick-Fil-A. She didn’t choose to accept Rachel’s invitation, but my life was forever changed on that day.
Accepting an Invitation
Accepting someone’s invitation takes a degree of courage as well. You have to take yourself out of your normal routine and your familiar environment. You have to go somewhere new and be greeted by people you don’t know and may not be comfortable around.
I am thankful that I was in a place where I was more than willing to accept Rachel’s invitation and take a risk. I was willing to allow myself to feel a little uncomfortable if that’s what it came too. The worst thing that could happen is I would have lost one morning of my life, felt uncomfortable, and I would have never returned. No big deal. Really.
By accepting that invitation, I made new friends. I had meaningful conversation with other mothers about things that moms confront daily. My need for connection was met. I received other invitations to a Bible study where I learned more about Jesus. Eventually, I stepped into leadership and heard the voice of God guiding me and teaching me things that he could only teach me through those trials and a willingness for me to hear Him.
Invitations are Powerful
Today, I have to remind myself to be open to casual conversations with strangers who might be like I once was: lonely and desperate for a connection. It’s my turn to be a Rachel for someone else by passing out hope through a simple invitation.
I remain open to invitations. I understand that invitations are like doors. You never know what’s behind them if you don’t open the door and step through the doorway. I’m very inclined to say “yes.” God does powerful things through invitations.
The next time you’re a part of something awesome, invite someone else to be a part of it with you. You just might give them the priceless gift of hope.