How I accidentally joined The Exchange

I’ve been going through my old journals recently. It’s a fun thing to do from time to time; I get a glimpse of the person I was – fifteen years ago, seven years ago, six months ago – and it’s interesting to see how I’ve changed. Re-reading my diaries is always an enlightening experience. Sometimes I remember inside jokes, sometimes I rediscover an important moment that stuck out to me at the time, and sometimes it’s just hilarious to see how atrocious my spelling used to be.

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Oh boy.

This time, I was struck by the entries I wrote when I moved back to Calgary after graduating from UBC. Not because I was up to anything particularly interesting at the time, but rather because I couldn’t believe what I’d forgotten about those first few months being back home:

I’d forgotten how lonely I was.

Hindsight is 20-20, right? Well, I’d forgotten that in those first few months of being home again, I’d lost my support group. The friends that I had at UBC were amazing – but they’d started to move on (grad school in other countries, jobs, marriages) and I’d come back to Calgary not having done a stellar job of keeping in touch with my high school friends. I joined a small group run by UCM alumni and while it was good for a while, I was not in the same stage of life as most of these friends: they were married, contemplating starting families, while I was painfully single and still terrified of babies (they seem so breakable, okay???)

How could I have possibly forgotten how isolated and alone I felt in the fall of 2014? Well, because I don’t feel that way at all now. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The thing you need to know about me is that I’m an introvert. Small talk is the bane of my existence, especially with new people. I’m shy, quiet, and usually defer to the louder voices in the room. It’s something I’ve been working on over the past two years and I’ve come a long way. (Digression: I met and hung out with a bunch of strangers at last year’s comic expo for eight hours and they were shocked when I offhandedly mentioned being an introvert.) But this was back then and I was still trying to figure out how to meet people when I wasn’t forced to spend time with them in class.

On a whim, I decided to start going to The Exchange. It was still an alternative Sunday night service at First Alliance Church, one that had started up just after I moved to Vancouver for my undergrad. My high school mentor suggested I give it a chance; unlike the church I was currently going to (mostly seniors and married couples), this demographic was more my style.

At my first service and I saw a girl I knew from UCM singing on stage. Okay, I thought, I at least kind of know one person my age here. Maybe this won’t be as painfully awkward as I anticipated.

When the sermon was done and announcements were read out, one in particular made me perk up: a small group (or community group, as The Exchange calls them) that met in a neighbourhood close to mine on Wednesday nights. This was exciting because the other two groups at the time were in the far south and I wasn’t too jazzed on that much driving (oh, the irony now). The announcement said to text the number on the screen for more information (even better for an introvert) and I resolved to do so.

The next day I typed out a text asking for more information (I didn’t rewrite it six times to make sure it was the perfect mix of interested and aloof, what are you talking about) and within half an hour the group’s leader was texting me back and inviting me to their next meeting.

Oh crap, I thought. That wasn’t exactly how I planned this going.

It was Monday afternoon; that only gave me a day and a half to adequately prepare to go to a stranger’s house and spend a couple hours with people I didn’t know. When Wednesday rolled around, part of me was tempted to back out and stay home. But I’d told Adam I was coming, and my Canadian and British politeness made it unthinkable to just not show up without saying a word. Since I couldn’t think of a good excuse not to go, I forced myself to get in my car and drive there.

Because I’m me, I arrived 15 minutes early. I spent 14 minutes sitting in my car because no way was I going inside to awkwardly make small talk with strangers for longer than was necessary. At 6:59, I took a few deep breaths and got out of my car. Let me tell you, there is nothing more terrifying for an introvert than walking up to a house you’ve never been to before, hoping desperately that you have the right address and aren’t about to embarrass yourself.

Despite the anxiety and the accelerated heart rate I had to endure, I’m glad that I forced myself out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I didn’t stick to my original plan of sitting unassumingly in the back row during church service, politely declining invites to Brewsters afterwards, only working up the courage to join a community group months later. I’m glad that I couldn’t say no to Adam and ended up going to his house only three days after my first Sunday at The Exchange.

Why? Here’s why:

Good food & good people
Wedding shenanigans
Ride or die

Because I get why The Exchange calls them community groups.

I’d experienced community in university, with life in first year in dorms, with my fellow Honours students and with the friends that I made at UCM. And while I’d enjoyed that community, I’d also been mentally distancing myself from it during that last summer in Vancouver because I knew that time in my life was coming to an end.

This new community was unexpected, possibly because it was so sudden and jarring – in a good way. Kirsten, who I knew from UCM, was part of the group so that helped break the ice. And when we went downstairs for Bible study and I saw the Xbox and DVD collection, I knew these would be people I could get along with.

I won’t bore you with a detailed description of how I eventually came out of my shell and started to trust these people, but rest assured it happened. These people became people that I would take a break from Dragon Age: Inquisition to hang out with, and if that isn’t the highest form of praise I don’t know what is. It’s hard to imagine how my life would have gone without them, how I would have made it through a rough couple of months without their support.

Looking back, I can see how that whole situation was an answer to a prayer I never prayed. I was lonely, desperate for friends and community and to connect with people, and the seeds of what would become some of my closest friendships were planted within weeks of me moving back to Calgary.

So, perspective. I can look back on that situation and call it a series of fortunate events that led me to that community group, or I can see it as God having my back when I felt unmoored, like I didn’t belong in the city where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Between you and me, I’m inclined to go with the latter option.

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