(in)RL and the Packing Peanut

(in)RL and the Packing Peanut

Thursday afternoon, as I haul a package into my kitchen and pull the inner box from a sea of packing peanuts, a few fall to the floor. A couple of minutes later, I turn around to see my dog chewing something up.

“He didn’t just eat a packing peanut, did he?” I ask my husband {who works from home and had just come up for his afternoon coffee}.

We quickly realize that our sweet-but-not-so-smart Springer Spaniel has indeed ingested a packing peanut or two.

“Oh, that’s going to mess him up,” my husband predicts.

By Friday morning, it becomes evident the dog is sick, and Googling “what happens when dog eats packing peanut” shoots right to the top of our to-do list. {Evidently, dogs love to eat packing peanuts — and it’s really bad news. Those Styrofoam things just don’t break down, and rarely pass through.}

By Friday night, Jasper is even sicker, and my husband says let’s just wait and see how he feels in the morning.

But, I have a ball of dread lodged in my stomach — it involves thoughts of surgery and vets and major bills — all on Saturday, the day I’m supposed to be hosting a house full of strangers for a women’s mini-conference sponsored by the popular site (in)Courage.


inrl gift bags

Saturday morning dawns bright and sunny. Already I’ve gotten a text and a Facebook message from ladies cancelling out of today. {Liz has been pulled out of town to say her goodbyes to her dear grandfather, who just suffered a heart attack and is gravely ill, while Melissa forgot the event and ended up being surprised by her husband with a weekend family getaway.}

My neighbor is coming more than an hour late, because she has inadvertently scheduled a hair appointment for the same time is my (in)RL meetup.

I’ve been thinking it’s strange that none of the six ladies left, who all signed up online, have left any comments on my meetup. I keep posting cheery comments like: “Can’t wait to meet everyone! Don’t forget to bring a business card if you have one!”

But, I keep looking, and no one’s changed their RSVP. And I know the comments I post are coming into my email box, so they should be hitting theirs too.

And, there was so much chit-chat at the beginning too. “Can’t wait to meet everyone!” “Anyone else coming from the North Hills, so we can carpool?” “Can I bring anything?”

My mom’s come in from out of town to help, and we’ve gone through elaborate scheming on how we can get my husband  my dad and the three kids out of the house for about four hours, so we ladies can chat, and eat, and watch the videos in a serene, calm setting.

I’ve carried loads and loads of toys to the basement.

I’ve scoured my house clean.

I’ve arranged flowers.

I’ve laid linens and china plates.

I’ve cooked deep-dish, dark chocolate brownies with my mom, late the night before.

I’ve printed out eleven copies of the (in)RL handouts and rounded up eleven pens.

I’ve ordered eleven gifts bags from Dayspring {props here for their amazing sale/coupon codes for hosts, which made these uber-affordable}.

And, no-one’s coming, I start to realize, as my mom and I finish up the sandwiches in a big flurry, rushing to be done by 10 am.

We slide the trays of turkey and roasted red pepper on focaccia with homemade pesto and provolone and rosemary ham-and-brie sandwiches on baguettes with Dijon and apples slices into the fridge, and it’s 10:15.

No-one is coming, and my stomach sinks, like I’ve just swallowed a thick lump that’s sitting in my stomach and getting more and more leaden by the moment.

Then, my friend Beth pulls up.

And, I’m ashamed to tell her that no-one is coming. I’ve put on this whole big shindig, and all these people signed up and they’re not  coming. They’re just not. I don’t know why. Maybe they forgot. Maybe they thought everyone else would show, and they wouldn’t be missed.

Maybe they thought it was ok to just not show up, even though they said they would.

People get busy, and it’s really easy to not think about the person on the other side of the screen —  packaging up little bags of chocolate-covered almonds and herbal tea and tying ribbons on trays and making things lovely for them.

And, I am angry. Angry and ashamed and hurt. And, that lump sits there in my gut, getting harder and harder by each passing minute.

I know I have friends who wanted to come who are praying for us {like Laura and Jennifer}, and I keep thinking: This is what you wanted, God? Really?

The doorbell rings, and I think it’s my neighbor, Robin, but it’s her mom {who I’d had Robin extend a verbal invite too, but I really wasn’t sure if she’d come}.

inrl viewing

We go back to watching the community keynote, and I find that — despite everything — I just love these stories the ladies have to tell here. And, I love the faces equally — bloggers and authors I’ve come to know — both from afar, reading their posts and books, and from closer, from being a part of Holley Gerth’s God-sized Dream Team {the book launch group of 100 lovely ladies for her latest book, You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to All God Has for You}.

There’s Holley herself, and how great is it that she sitting there on the mentor video in her cute dress, with bare feet peeking out?! {These ladies are keeping it real.}

Then, there’s other members of the dream team like Jennifer Camp and Crystal Stine, and so many more — like my new friend, Teri Lynne Underwood, who’s been helping coach me through some projects. It warms my heart to see and hear them.

I see Robin’s mom, Connie, reach for a tissue, and I feel myself well up at some of the raw, real moments these brave women share on screen.


It turns out the packing peanut was biodegradable. Jasper woke up Saturday morning, happy, nubbin-wagging {Springers having that adorable stump-tail}, and ready to eat breakfast. Sure, he’d swallowed a nasty lump that aggravated his stomach, but it broke down and left him good as new.

And, I feel my lump loosen and melt away as the event goes on. Robin comes, and we all exchange gift bags and eat good food. We finish the video and sit in the deck, in the vibrant sun, rejoicing in the beautiful day and the excellent company. My mom and Connie share an emotional moment in the kitchen and hug, while we younger ladies are outside. We celebrate Beth, who’s turning 40 this very day, and would’ve spent it at home, alone with her kids {since it’s her husband’s busy season and he has to even work weekends right now}, had I not {strongly} urged her to find a sitter.

Of course, it wasn’t that no-one came, though it felt that way at first. My in-real-life friends came to my (in)RL meetup, and the irony isn’t lost on me.

I’m not entirely sure what God had up His sleeve in making (in)RL totally different than I planned, but I think He wanted to let me know that:

  •  “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” {Matthew 18:20}, so size doesn’t really matter.
  • We can plan and scheme all we want, but He is sovereign and His plans will prevail.
  • Staying in community in real life is important, and that I shouldn’t have to invite strangers to my house online to “get” this. When was the last time I invited all my girl friends over and made a beautiful meal and gave them gifts and told them what a blessing they were and praised God with them? {I’m too embarrassed to even answer this one.}

(in)RL 2013 for me was nothing like the testimonials I read on (in)Courage or like the video clips from last year where people talk about the amazing new bonds they formed with total strangers, who went on to become new friends.

And, it wasn’t a chance for me to meet and spend more time with the new friends I’ve met online, because none of them could come.

(in)RL 2013 was nothing like I expected, but everything that God wanted it to be. And, I am so grateful.


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  1. Hey Stopping by from Laura Boggness’ place. This is a beautiful story. I get that pit in my stomach every time I have a gathering. I feel so vulnerable putting myself out there – holding my breath to see if any one will come – if anyone really likes me! I think most people feel that ! I’m so glad it turned into a sweet time.

  2. Robin Meyers :

    And what an afternoon it was, which actually stretched into evening with our families enjoying pure & honest friendship! Beth, you are such a gracious hostess and such a wonderful friend to me. God has blessed you richly with a wonderful husband, gorgeous children, and such loving & supportive parents. The IRL friends that you have are so blessed to have YOU for a friend, although some may forget this from time to time… I appreciate YOU, I appreciate all the planning and effort that you put into this gathering. I appreciate you extending the invitation to my mom, it meant so much to her to be included-and share in conversation and a moment with your mom. I loved meeting Beth Trax IRL, as I’ve read many of your posts back and forth and got to see this wonderful personality first hand.

    In my opinion, your day was a success! And ever though there were just a handful of us, I felt God in our presence and that is truly what matters. Thank you so much for the gifts, I loved them all! And thanks to Beth Trax for her adorable contribution to goodie bag!

    Now for us to get busy on “our bench”… 😉

  3. Robin Meyers :

    And some day I will learn to spell check before I hit post! Please feel free to edit my errors above! LOL!

  4. Elizabeth,
    Can you see me fist pumping from here? Even in the midst of my CAR-AZY day/weekend, I thought you you and all my sisters hosting (in)RL meetups. I told you if I could’ve teleported I’d have been there. Love that you pushed through your fear; love that God met you when you did, and particularly LOVED when Jasper was well (you know how we feel about our fur-babies).
    You lived your dream and had an anointing on your home. I COULDN’t BE PROUDER!
    Peace and good to you in Jesus’ name dear sister,
    Chelle recently posted..Surrender to Sabbath; I crave Sabbath rest-I am exhaustedMy Profile

  5. Oh friend…I know how you feel. Last year I signed up to host and was sure that no one would come. In the end there were 4 of us. And this year the same, but one of the ladies got sick…and my mom attended as well. I was a little bummed that no one from my church or community responded to my invite….but I have found that at least here in MN people don’t quite “get” blogging….and maybe felt that it was a blogger thing only…when really it is just a chance to connect and share life a little. Grateful for your courage in hosting – even it didn’t turn out as you had planned! 🙂
    Kristin Smith recently posted..Five Minute Friday – FriendMy Profile

  6. Hi Elizabeth Anne! Isn’t it wonderful how God constantly surprises and teaches us? Thank you so much for sharing your story. I would have loved your event–you put your heart and soul into making it special.
    Nancy Sturm recently posted..New GrowthMy Profile

  7. Oh girl…mine was the same. People didn’t show up. My imaginings of friends new & old sitting together, crying, having deep emotionally connected moments…yeah…it didn’t work that way. We painted our nails & ate too many cupcakes and there wasn’t much deep anything going on. But the seeds God plants in those moments of faith, when we choose to show up and do it anyway, when it’s scary and doesn’t turn out how we hoped – that’s what will grow into something beautiful and amazing. Thank you for being brave.
    Crystal Stine recently posted..(in)RL – Immeasurably MoreMy Profile

    • Crystal: But you had those cute mustaches, and that awesome banner in the background! (Love the pic.) Seriously, though, we make our plans and have our expectations… but God. I refuse to feel anything but utterly blessed, once I course-corrected and listened to what He was telling me. Blessings, friend. Loved seeing you on the (in)Couragers video!

  8. I’m grateful you saw God moving even though it wasn’t what you expected. Really, isn’t that how life is? Yeah … it’s hard for me to grasp many times! I know those ladies were blessed by you putting yourself out there.
    Kristin Taylor recently posted..Welcoming a new cousin-friend …My Profile

  9. Oh, so brave! And I can almost see the Father smiling down on you. And this heart of trust and of faith, “(in)RL 2013 was nothing like I expected, but everything that God wanted it to be. And, I am so grateful.” So inspiring to my own heart. <3
    Michele-Lyn recently posted..God Can Use Community to Heal Us [Stories from (in)RL 2013]My Profile

  10. Sorry I couldn’t join you! Would have surely if it wasn’t the only weekend to get this tent camping training…though I have to admit, I miss seeing you IRL. Good to have a reality check on the IRL friendships we already have, perhaps, and how important they are. Sounds like it all worked out to be lovely, though.

  11. Sweet friend, I loved this post…thank you for your real honesty about disappointment but also how there was redemption, too. I love that God worked it out just as He’d planned. I had a small group, too, and I was hoping some of my friends from Bible study would join, but they didn’t seem interested. I just had to let it go and trust that God had a plan. (And I think it’s awesome that you noticed Holley’s bare feet…so did I, and I wondered if anyone else would! She’s now even more my hero, I think.) 😉 Blessings…and I look forward to the day when we meet (in)RL! Have a fantastic day!
    Mel recently posted..(in)RL…Beyond Computer ScreensMy Profile

  12. I want to crawl through the computer to hug you! I know that feeling of planning and excitement followed by great disappointment. I’m so glad you are able to look beyond the unexpected and see how God had your day planned for you and each one who joined in your home. You said yes and God met you all there on Saturday!

  13. I can relate with the whole ‘high expectations’ thing. I am so glad God showed up. The guest of honor was there and when He’s present, He is enough. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing, friend.

  14. I ended up with only half as many as I’d expected too … but it was a sweet morning with encouragement for all. And just knowing I was there in your living room (even if it was just on the screen for a few seconds) makes me super happy!! I’m so thankful to call you friend.
    Teri Lynne Underwood recently posted..Community (in)RLMy Profile

  15. Oh, friend! And there was lonely me, watching those beautiful ladies all by myself. How I would have loved some of your “turkey and roasted red pepper on focaccia with homemade pesto and provolone and rosemary ham-and-brie sandwiches on baguettes with Dijon and apples slices into the fridge”!

    But I too am grateful for the stories shared, for your graciousness to host, and your open heart. You have the gift of hospitality, I see. What a blessing you must have been to your friends who were able to attend.

    And I am hoping that somehow, someway we will have our own inRL meeting one day soon.
    laura recently posted..Playdates with God: More on Free TuesdayMy Profile

  16. I’m there with ya, girl. I was expecting a lot of girls – friends in real life – and then life got busy and half of them never showed. Some saw me prepping the night before, asked what I was doing, and the walked away (probably unsure how to explain they wouldn’t be coming Saturday). It wasn’t what I (we) planned, but girl wasn’t it beautiful? Thankful He knows best.
    OneGirl recently posted..(in)RL 2013: CommunityMy Profile

  17. I think that is why I didn’t want to host this time. I attended for the first time, and wanted to see what it was all about. I’m glad you had a few show up, and made a day of it.
    Julie {Another Chance Ranch} recently posted..The 24-Day Challenge – You In?My Profile

    • Julie: It’s hard to open our hearts and homes and risk being disappointed, but I think that I will host again next year. God calls us to reach out and open up –even when it’s a risk!


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