Shortly after September started, I attended a birthday bash for a church buddy of mine along with several folks from a young adult singles group called Unleashed that meets at Grace Pointe Church in Naperville. I knew most of these folks already, having connected with them during two previous attempts at attending the Unleashed group back in the fall months of both 2017 and 2018. Both times, I often reluctantly chose to go, prompted by the goals of “personal change” and “growth in God,” whatever those meant. Neither attempt succeeded, and I thus ended up spending my Tuesday evenings at home, video gaming or hanging with siblings.
When one of the guys at this recent party thoughtfully suggested I come back to Unleashed, I offered a polite “I’ll think about it” and proceeded to shrug the thought off. In all honesty, I didn’t intend on giving it much consideration at all. Anchored to a life centered around my own personal comfort and the relaxations of home after a long day of work, I played off the idea of going somewhere in the evening as unappealing. Petty and lazy, certainly, but ridiculously compelling to a guy who likes his rest too much.
Even though I had already mentally declined the invitation, the thought would not leave the back of my head. It nagged and buzzed and bugged until I relented and decided to attend the following Tuesday. While I can’t claim to be attuned whatsoever to when God’s trying to tell me something, I’ll admit there are moments where I catch tiny glimpses of Him working around and in me. I’d like to say this nagging thought of attending Unleashed, especially when I wasn’t even considerate enough to give it a decent amount of thought, was guided by Him.
So I went.
And, amazingly, I kept going.
I’ve only been back a month-and-half, and already, I feel better in my friendships and faith than I have in the last two years. A lot of it is still a work-in-progress, but being around people who encourage me and who I can encourage has been hugely inspiring and draws me to Tuesday nights and outside activities. Already, I’ve engaged in conversations I typically don’t have with people; I’ve been encouraged to (in a very literal sense) step outside my comfort zone; I’ve seen others take steps outside their own comfort zones.
I’ve told several people that I haven’t found a group of friends like this since high school. But a group like this surpasses that, because our interactions, though certainly guided by common interests and activities, possess a deeper connection. We’re Christians first, exploring a bizarre time of our lives together and sincerely desiring the best for each other.
From that larger group, I’ve connected with a smaller unit of about six or so young adults. While being with a bigger company on Tuesdays has been a blast, hanging with this smaller group has meant a lot even in terms of just curating friendships outside of our regularly scheduled Unleashed evening. We’ve seen movies, gotten food, hung out, and chatted virtually. The lineup changes per activity, but it’s this idea of being amongst an “inner circle,” as I refer to it as, that encourages me. A smaller, more tight-knit band of people I get to interact with more frequently. I believe I’m in an early stage of creating foundations of friendship with most of them, but there’s still been growth over the last several weeks.
Which brings me to Saddle Up.
For the uninitiated, Saddle Up is a saloon and dancehall located in Aurora (that, according to Google…serves wings? Why didn’t anybody tell me that?!?), which automatically means one thing to me: generally, it’s a place I’d never voluntarily visit. I remember, during my past Unleashed attempts, hearing people plan Saddle Up nights out and just shaking my head and going, “You have fun. You’re not getting me there.”
“We need to get you there, Nate,” was something I started hearing when I began attending again. “We need to get you to Saddle Up,” “You’d have fun,” “You should come with us.” Each prod was met with a wave of the hand and a reiteration that I, as a rule, don’t dance in public. 24-year-old me still vividly recalls dancing like a maniac at my aunt and uncle’s wedding at eight years old and the friendly joking caused by that incident. For whatever reason, it’s stuck with me like an equation. “Nate” + “Dancing” = “People joking.” This isn’t to condemn those who found my childish attempts at boogying cute or amusing; it’s more so to point out a powerful side of myself which all too eagerly extrapolates the worst possible outcome for hypothetical scenarios. If I go dancing with people I like being around, well, crap, that means they’re gonna see me dance, and I’m gonna look like an idiot.
Then one of my friends, during a one-on-one time of accountability, kindly listened to and argued against my points/fears, taking them and breaking down the lack of logic in each. This isn’t to say he said my fears were wholly unfounded; he, as someone with experience in this area, merely pointed out to me that the poor scenarios I hypothesized happening might end up not transpiring. “Afraid of looking like an idiot? Fear not: everyone around you is too focused on their own dancing to pay any attention to you.” Stuff like that.
He also made some comment about possibly seeing people dance with alcoholic beverages in hand. That kind of won me over. It sounded hilarious.
With that encouragement tucked away, I went to Saddle Up on a Wednesday with my friends and tried, largely in vain, to replicate line dancing moves my body is unfamiliar with. I even danced with a drink (read: a glass of water) in my hand, which was frightfully odd.
Was dancing difficult? Heck, yeah. Did I fumble and fail like the first-timer I was? Definitely. But did I have fun? Surprisingly, yes. Biggest question of all: would I go again? Yes.
You hear that, inner circle? You’ve ensnared me.
Cheesy as it sounds, I’ve found it’s not about what we do or when we do it that matters, but it’s that we do it together. As a group. As friends, unified by our faith and a genuine desire to enjoy ourselves and see that others have fun and grow too. If “it” means line dancing, count me in. If “it” just means standing around the periphery of the dance floor and chatting and laughing, that’s even better. Wanna watch anime? Sure, let’s do it. Grab food? Absolutely. Karaoke? Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Point is this: days where I get home from work and have nothing planned have little to no appeal at all, which is darn weird to put down. But days where I can attend Unleashed or hang out with my friends feels like taking hold a shovel and digging myself out of a grave I’ve been buried in for a while (thank you, As I Lay Dying, for that mental image). Days of progress, days of growth, days of believing the life I’ve been leading is futile and that God has better plans in store for me, even if those plans feel scary.
So thank you to the friend who reached out and initially invited me to attend Unleashed—you offered me an opportunity that has seen me grow a lot in a short time.
Thank you to the friends who smothered me with requests to go line dancing at Saddle Up—you gave me a chance to step outside my comfort zone and start removing the façade of fear and doubt I’ve wrapped myself up in for so long.
Thank you to the friend who encouraged me to bat aside the fears of humiliation—you pulled the darkness away from my eyes, using light of genuine interest in me as a person to break through my self-centered exterior of worry and help me see a life of possibility instead of doubt.
Thank you to the friend who showed me the ropes and encouraged me on the dance floor—you took a guy who was so shakingly underconfident in himself and helped him have fun doing something he’d never thought he’d enjoy being a part of.
And thank you to the friend who, for some reason, suggested our group do karaoke at some point—while I think you people aren’t going to get me to sing in a million years, I’ve been proven wrong before and even someone’s suggestion of doing something that terrifies me gives me thoughts to process and has made me wonder about which fears I need to overcome next.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be at Unleashed if it weren’t for you guys, so I appreciate your effort in making the experience worth it so far. I hope I’ve worked to return the favor and intend on continuing to do so.
But more credit must be given where credit is due. Yes, I’ve done some growing. I’m the guy who consciously makes the decision to attend small group each week. But whatever strength I didn’t have to take that first step came from God, because as I said, under my own steam alone, I would never have gone back to Unleashed. He’s shown me that. Once He gave me that strength and helped me grapple with the questions and doubts, consciously deciding to continue attending Unleashed became easier. Conversing with people became easier. Encouraging people became easier. And, yes, dancing became easier.
I can be a selfish wreck, and the last two years of inactivity and lack of care weigh on me. I’m trying, with God’s help, to change. I’m afraid that comes across as grasping for self-pity, but I don’t want it to. I’ve reached a point where I’m becoming more and more uncomfortable with who “Nate” currently is and more interested in who “Nate” could be. With God’s hand guiding me, and some wonderful help from my friends, I think I can strive towards that ideal while helping them work towards theirs. Seeing how I’ve grown, I want to see how other people in our little band of Christian brothers and sisters can grow too. I hope to keep improving; I hope to keep changing.
Maybe, someday, I’ll even sing.