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A widow, a cancer-survivor and a mother of three with only two she can hold, sing to and rock to sleep – these are the women that MOPS introduced me to at my first meeting. My table was lively, bold and wounded. I quickly adjusted my filter seeing things through a new perspective. I held my tongue on the frivolous complaints of life I had been ready to share, and I listened. I listened hard.

I listened, because I could not fathom how these beautiful, smiling mothers were pulling off their jobs. I listened, because I was eager to know how they kept it together. I listened, because I was afraid to speak and say the very opposite of what they needed to hear. And they deserved to hear what they needed.

What I heard was: I am grieving, but I am blessed. I have been through hell, but I’m a fighter. I have lost, but I have also gained.

These women did not need me to say what they needed to hear. They did not expect me to. They invited me to be as open and as vulnerable as they had chosen to be, so that we could truly understand what it means to do life together. As soon as I realized this beautiful invitation, I joined the conversation.

I am so glad I joined that conversation.

Since that evening, I have developed friendships that have both challenged me and encouraged me; challenged me to be the truest version of myself, and encouraged me that I have what it takes to get there. I have shared countless “aha” moments as I’ve realized I am not the only one who thinks the best time of day is when the children are sleeping (when they are peaceful, still and let’s face it – quiet).

In a moment of confession, I shared with another new-found mom friend, “Parenting is just really hard … I thought I would be good at it, but it’s just really hard.” This was met with a resounding, “Yes! I’m so glad you said that! Sometimes I think I am the only one who thinks so.”

I have allowed myself to “go there” in conversations, because others bravely paved the way. I have shared the embarrassing fact that I have held a grudge against my two-year-old who had since moved on completely from our disagreement. I have shared that I am tired of yelling, and feeling like I have to. I have shared that I know I am not parenting well; I’m not giving it my best, because I am pulled in too many directions. I have acknowledged that if I don’t change something in my life, I will never be the mother my children deserve.

What if I didn’t share those things? What if I kept that filter on because I feared judgement over my seemingly minor struggles? I would have never realized that mothering truths transcend circumstances. I wouldn’t have received the encouragement I needed to make real change in my life.

One of the moms I met that first night has become an important confidante in my life. It is one of those relationships that you know had more behind it than mere happenstance. We not only share the common bond of motherhood, but also working full-time primarily from home while mothering young girls and baby boys. The comfort of knowing another mom that struggles with seemingly constant divided attention, and not knowing how to create an appropriate relationship between work and home life, has been irreplaceable. She is also the one who has encouraged me to make a change and be the mom I want to be: family first, work second. I am grateful that my family can support that. Her encouragement guided me to a place I knew I needed to go, but may never have arrived at on my own.

I almost did not go. I did not want to be uncomfortable or feel awkward. I sensed my introverted nature trying to claim the spotlight, and I almost turned over the mic and stayed home. But someone implored me saying, You need this. Someone, who knows me better than I know myself; who knit me together, gave me that final nudge out the door, because Jesus is always working for my good.

Thank God, he is working for my good.

Christen Bell is a wife and mother of two who lives in central Pennsylvania. She works in the nonprofit world and is passionate about running, reading, and writing. You can follow her on Facebook.