I haven't posted in a long time. They say it is good for writers to get in the habit of writing a little bit every day. Who is they? I don't really know. But whoever the authority is I have to confess I blatantly ignored their advice over the Christmas holidays. I don't regret it too much either. But now I'm back at school. I already have assignments due which means I don't have a lot of time to be writing anymore, but I'm going to do it anyways. Isn't that how it always works. Somehow I never get motivated to do the things I want to do when I actually have time to do them.
I have had several thoughts over the past few days that I am processing by bits. Slowly I hope to write pieces of them over the next few days (or weeks). I want to begin with a conversation I had with someone yesterday about community, but I have to provide some writing before I write. I threw together some musings on community for a class assignment yesterday. They aren't fancy, but I offered them sincerely. In class, my classmates and I traded papers to offer feedback. I offer the bulk of my musings first and then I have some questions about one classmate's response:
Whenever I pause to glance behind me and consider the things that have deeply impacted who I have come to be, nearly every defining moment was birthed within community. When I ventured outside the borders of the United States for the first time and found my heart enlarged to hold something more than my individual dreams, it was within the context of community. When my heart was moved with compassion and urgency for those surrounded by such need, watching the responses of those around me just as much as seeing the need itself was the source of my inspiration. When my heart was at odds with my mother and our disagreements were tearing us apart, it was community that gathered round and graciously walked us through the pain to a place of deepened friendship. When I faced a fear that paralyzed my heart for months, filling my thoughts, isolating my soul, voicing my cries to community broke the chains of paranoia and gave me the strength to move on. Community has encouraged me to aim high, never allowing my youth to become an excuse against grabbing hold of the deep things of the kingdom. Community has provided a venue for me to test my identity, discovering my gifts and how they can be used to bless those around me. Community has constantly challenged me, never allowing my success to morph into complacency. Community has taught me things I could not have learned on my own. Community has sat with me in my places of greatest pain, facing the messiness of my struggles right along with me, providing the strength to press through. Community has never let me quit, and yet they have taught me how to rest.
When I picture community I see snapshots of images: eyes that light up when I walk through the door. A soft wore-out couch with a small frizzy dog and a woman who lets me lay on her lap while we talk about life. Homes that are always open. Doors that never lock. Fireside chats under blankets of down. A grown woman who will come and curl up on the floor next to me when tears and despair have taken control. Laughter. Bent knees and folded hands. Those who mediate hearts when communication has failed. A couple who will stay up and cry with me till the first hours of morning when I show up with tear-stained cheeks on their doorstep. Games. Friends soaked with river water from playing tag in the creek. Eyes that read my own and see into my heart. Cards and letters that never fail to come when miles separate. Children and parents, the faces of wisdom, a room full of people, a family of families. If strength could be seen, this is what it would look like. If love and sacrifice and beauty had faces, they could be painted with these images.
This is my community. They are the body. They are home. They have birthed and stayed and grown my faith. Even though I have gone so far away to school, every summer and winter I return and dive into the deep waters of community as hard as I can. I spend my breaks reconnecting. My community washes my heart and leaves it refreshed and strengthened to face another season away from home.
The distance from home has fostered a deeper appreciation within my heart for what community is and means and does. And moreover, how hard it is to find. Three years at school has given me barely a fraction of the community I experience at home. No one here knows me as well as the church family that grew up with me over the span of twelve years. They can’t read my heart, they can’t understand my reasoning, they can’t challenge me as effectively, they don’t trust my voice without reserve. But they are still important. Two years ago I chose a church family in Tennessee. They feel nothing like the one back home. There are so many weeks when they seem to fall drastically short of what my heart craves, so many weeks I am tempted to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. But I can’t. No matter how flawed or imperfect my community here may be, I still need them. I cannot walk my faith alone; I have learned this from my community back home. They have taught me the importance of community so much that every Sunday morning and a sprinkling of other occasions, I choose to sacrifice of my time and invest in community, not only for my sake, but for theirs as well. I believe in the value of community so strongly because I know how important it is to the Father to whom I have pledged my faith, and because I have experienced the power of what true community provides. It is a gift, something to be treasured. Something every human heart needs. Since it has been so bountifully bestowed upon me, my heart longs to bestow it on the people around me in whatever small ways I am able.
One my classmates, full of questions, pulled me aside after class.
"Is what you wrote true?" she asked. The look on her face was a mix of bewilderment and longing.
"It is," I replied. "That is what community has meant to me."
Something just shy of shock played across her face.
"I didn't know people like this still existed," she stated.
We talked a little more. I assured her again of my experience and I watched her struggle to take it in. She wanted to hope for something like that. I could see it in her eyes. She wanted to hope so strongly. Maybe she did. But I think deep down she was afraid to, afraid of her disappointment. She wanted to be able to find life like I had described, but she didn't really believe it was possible.
The conversation has haunted me for the past day. Why is my story so hard to believe? I know that what I have found at home is unique, but why is it unique? Why is it an anomaly to sit and have an honest conversation with someone, to build homes that are always open to others, or to cry with those who cry? What is the church if she is not these things? I wanted to assure my classmate that a life like this was more than possible, but I couldn't. She can't move to my home, and I don't have another place here where I can direct her. But I know I awakened something within her.
I awakened something within myself as well. The longer I have stayed away from home the more I have come to appreciate the community that God provided and is still fostering for my heart. Yet I do not appreciate it near enough. I have not appreciated it hard enough to start providing it for those around me. I have not appreciated it enough to fully lock into the urgency for its existence.
I cannot be a community. There are days I look around at the vastness of need in the eyes of those around me, in the eyes of my classmate, and I wish I could be a community. I wish that I had what it took to satisfy the buried longings in so many hearts. But I can't. I am only one. And I am not God. But somewhere I have a role, a role that needs to be developed further. What else can I be doing to foster an environment prone towards birthing community? Does the smile on my face and the look in my eyes speak value into the strangers I pass as I walk to class? Is my tongue slow to speak, slow to verbalize anger, and quick to listen to the voice of another? Is my heart a safe place for others to pause and rest? Is my door open at any time of night or day to welcome the tear-stained cheeks of another? Do I take time to invite others to sit on my previously owned couch and chat about life? Do I have the insight and the courage to move from shallow conversations to places of depth and insight? I can't be a community in and of myself. But I can't let the immense need keep me from being anything at all. Change starts with one. I have seen the eyes of one who is silently pleading for me to ask these hard questions and press through to find hard answers. Something must be done.