Extending Family

02/17/2017 .
Clayton Heilman  .  Storyteller

Moving across the country is never easy. As Tammi and her husband, Hexin, moved back to Orange County, California from Texas, excited to be living in California again. Once they settled in, they wanted to meet new friends and get involved in the local community.

A friend invited them to Saddleback Church where they hoped to meet more people from the community and join a small group. Tammi tried a few groups, but nothing seemed to work out. She went to groups by herself, and they tried a couples small group, but they just couldn’t seem to find the right fit.

After a while, they heard about a large small group a few miles away from their home, but Tammi thought they should give it a chance. “It was a huge group,” Tammi said, “and they welcomed us right in.”

“Everyone there was warm and friendly, but I wouldn’t say it felt like family from the start,” she confessed. “We all have strong personalities — we don’t have a problem saying something if we think someone is talking too much. Everyone is very passionate and outspoken.”

Tammi observed the group’s strong connection when people started talking about splitting the group in half. There were 24 people and meeting in one place regularly became difficult to manage. No one wanted to separate. The couples had grown close over the years and the idea seemed out of the question. Tammi knew this was a tight-knit group and she saw how her and Hexin fit right in.

A few years later, Tammi began to realize this group was becoming family. “They felt like my siblings,” Tammi said. When her health started taking a turn for the worse, the small group went above and beyond to support her. “I had a stroke, but the doctors couldn’t figure out what caused it,” Tammi said. ”None of the common contributing factors existed. I didn’t know there was anything serious wrong in my brain.”

Her search for answers took her to UCLA Medical Center. When the doctor examined her, his recommendation caught Tammi off guard. “He told me I needed brain surgery, like, yesterday.”

She scheduled the surgery as soon as possible. While she waited, her small group rallied around Tammi and supported her. They prayed for her, they checked up on her — they made sure Tammi knew she could count on them if she needed help. 

“When I finally had my surgery, my husband didn’t want anyone at the hospital with him,” Tammi said. But she went to the other guys in the small group and asked if one of them could simply show up and be there for Hexin. Just in case.

Tammi’s surgery lasted eight hours. During that time, every one of the guys showed up to sit with and support her husband while he waited and worried.

“When people have brain bleeds, they often die,” Tammi said. She really felt God was carrying her through this health scare. “I made it to the neurosurgeon at UCLA and got it taken care of just in time. I feel like all of that was a miracle — I am a miracle sitting here.”

Tammi made it through the surgery successfully, but someone had to be by her side for the next three weeks. She was bedridden — doctor’s orders. Her mom and husband were there often, but her small group also helped nurture her back to health.

“I couldn’t drive because I was at risk for seizures,” Tammi said, “but my small group family drove me places I needed to go.” While she recovered, Tammi’s fridge overflowed with home-cooked meals. “They brought me meals every day until I told them to slow down!”

“Having people that cared so much has taught me to show up for others more,” Tammi said. “If someone needs me now, I will drop anything to be there for them. The old me wasn’t like that.”

When another member in the group lost his job and was in a serious financial situation. “He lost his house and essentially became homeless,” Tammi said. While he was in that difficult transition period, Tammi and Hexin opened their home. “It was a tough season for him, but we were glad to be there for him like he was there for us.”

“I always thought I was a strong believer, but going through my medical issues and seeing my small group be so supportive has encouraged me and made my faith even stronger, It has challenged me to do the same for others in need.”

If you want to learn more about joining or starting a small group, click HERE.

If you want to learn more about Saddleback Church's medical support groups, click HERE

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