what does it take?

I want you to read this post and then answer the questions for me. Because I'm super curious. Like a cat. 

I have been thinking a lot about community. Not the neighborhood you live in, but the deep-in-your-bones-being-known-by-others community. 

I've been thinking about it on a lot of different levels, and then last Sunday our pastor spoke about unity, which goes hand in hand with true community. He shared that in Greek "accept" means to "see another person and to open your arms to embrace them."

It got me thinking about times in my life I've experienced that kind of unity and community. I realize that community ebbs and flows throughout life.  In high school I was fortunate to have a wonderful group of friends in "the Union S. guys", and I found true community when they embraced me and modeled authentic male christianity.  wrote a piece in college about friendship/community, and it was about these guys.  In it I said: I now realize the beauty of moments with friends and how, when you let them happen to you, it's like letting a psalm happen to you. This happening fills your mouth and becomes prayer-- a deep kind of prayer-- a prayer that happens with every memory of a living room conversation. Open your mouth and He will fill it and things that are not prayer become prayer, and moments that are ordinary pierce us and fill us and we become holier because of them.

I was terrified to leave that community I had found, and yet at college the depth of friendships and raw, authentic community I discovered left me nearly breathless. I found honesty and passion in my roommate, Renae, and I knew ours would be a friendship that only got sweeter over time and distance. I remember one of the first conversations I ever had with her. She was in tears on her top bunk [we weren't roommates yet], and was holding a picture in her hands. It was her brother. He was five and he had just learned how to ride a bike and she wasn't there to see him. And as I crawled onto that bunk with her and listened to her heart breaking, I knew that our hearts would break together and heal together many times over the next four years, and I knew that in her I had found community. 

And then I became a Resident Assistant my junior year. At first we just had meetings with our staff of 8, but quickly those meetings bled into meals and coffee and late LATE nights sitting on the hallway floor laughing and crying together. Those meetings turned into rallying behind our very sick/pregnant mentor and boss, and they turned into retreats where we shared our deepest fears and our biggest excitements. We held losses in our hands and we carried each other through them. We could not have been more different [ask anyone who knew us!], but we sat together, and broke bread together, and we accepted one another in the way the Greek means to accept one another: by opening our arms and receiving and embracing. 

apparently being an RA meant dressing up a lot, too. 

And again I was terrified to leave this community and these friends. I was better with them. I was better because of them. But life happens. And we grow and move and change. And Brent and I married [a NEW and WONDERFUL kind of community], and we moved away from everything and everyone we knew. And if I'm being honest, times got dark for me. I was so terribly lonely. At the end of the movie "Into the Wild", the main character says, "Happiness is only real when it is shared." I knew I was lonely for friendship and to be known, but I don't think I understood just how thirsty my soul was for community. 

So Brent and I stepped out. We invited people over. And one of those couples just so happened to be as desperate as we were. And what happened was beautiful. And seven years later we still consider them our community. [More on all of that and them here]. And then at work something happened and this random group of people that I taught with became another type of community for me. Again, we were different and in all different places in life, but we found joy in our time together. We shared struggles and we shared questions and doubts. We shared lots and lots of laughs. And then Brent and I went out on a limb and through a really crazy "placement night" joined a small group at our church. The couples we met with were wonderful and all of us shared how deeply we had been needing each other. 

And then, you guessed it, it was time to move on. It didn't seem fair. So we packed up and left community once again. By this point I knew change was hard for me, but I also knew community was essential. But it didn't come as easily. And it seemed to be avoiding us. At one point, a few years into our move, we made a trip back to our old stomping grounds in Louisville. And I wept. There was something in my heart that ached for our time there. I chalked it up to some type of "homesickness" and moved on. Fast forward to this past summer when we visited those same haunts: I reminisced without a lump in my throat and I walked our old streets with dry eyes. What  is the difference? I asked Brent. 

He responded with one word: Community. 

We had finally found it in Missouri. And because we were living in community, I could re-visit our old spaces and not feel so alone and so desperate to have that time back. You see, a few years earlier when we went back what I felt in those spaces was not some intangible thing; what I felt in those spaces was the community I had experienced when we lived there. I felt Meagan and Shane and the other interns. I felt my team of teachers. I felt our small group. But more than that, because I lacked community back home, I felt a void, and I could do nothing but weep for community again. 

That trip was a catalyst for us, as we realized how despondent we had become by not having people we could do life with. And we got busy in good ways and we clawed and scratched our way into people's lives and we attached ourselves to them. I am only minorly exaggerating, because it became that important to us. 

I picked up a book called "Creating Community" by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, and in it they say, "We are a culture craving relatinship. In the midst of our crowded existence, many of us are living lonely lives… Being married does not exempt someone from the emptiness associated with isolation… [We are] acquainted with many people, but [we are] known by none… We live and work in a sea of humanity, but we end up missing out on the benefits of regular, meaningful relationships." I felt that crowded yet empty existence when I moved to Louisville. It was crippling at times, even though I was a very happy newlywed. The writers go on to say, "When we live in isolation, we can easily lose perspective on life. That's because there is no objective voice calling us toward balance." 

I had had community before, and I knew what I was missing. But what if you've never experienced it before? What if you didn't know what you were missing? If we look to Christ we see that He is and always has been a part of community in the Trinity. If we are bearing His images, it only makes sense that we should feel like we are missing something if we aren't living life with others. 

John Ortberg said:
Sometimes in church circles when people feel lonely, we will tell them not to expect too much from human relationships, that there is inside every human being a God-shaped void that no other person can fill. That is true. But apparently, according the the writer of Genesis, God creates inside this man a kind of "human-shaped-void" that God Himself will not fill.
In his book, "Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them", Ortberg dives into studies that tracked thousands of people over many years. 
Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. People who had bad health habits (such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, or alcohol use) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. In other words, it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone. 
Don't you love that? And if you are like me you love it because you have experienced those good friends and you know, without seeing a stitch of research, that they are good for your body and soul. 

But beyond what is good for you, community is good for the world. If we, as Christians, are living "for the life of the world" then bearing the image of Christ means showing others true community. Francis Schaeffer said, "Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful-- Christian community is the final apologetic." 

All of this came crashing to the surface for me last weekend, and not just because my pastor spoke about it: one of my RA colleagues got married. And Brent and I traveled to go see her say "I do" and another one of those RAs was in her bridal party and it was all I could do to keep from running up to the front of the church during the ceremony to embrace them. My throat caught at the sight of them. These were my people. I had walked through a lot of life with them. At the reception I grabbed them and we had little five minute conversations between cake cutting and dancing and merry-making. And do you know what real community is? It is hugging a friend you haven't seen in a couple years, looking her directly in the eyes and saying, "But how are you?" And it is her, not saying, "I'm good. Busy, but, you know! Good!" Community is her spilling her heart into your lap, even if you just have five minutes, you both getting tears in your eyes about something she has gone through, and you asking her tough questions before it is time to go. It is picking up where you left off, and knowing that where you left off is a place that will constantly be a spot of healing and growth and joy. 
Jess, the bride, back in college helping me dig out my car. 
Becker,  the other friend at the wedding…. and I never got a picture with her because we were too busy catching up… getting to know Brent on one of his visits. She loved him because I loved him. That's community, too. 
Jess and me last weekend! 

I left that wedding reception with a fat soul, and a reminder of the importance and beauty of real community. 

When have you experienced real community? What were the factors that contributed to that community? What is keeping you from living messing with people right now?  Is it true community if we are only sharing life with those similar to us? 

I am asking these questions because I really want your answers. Please don't be silent on this one! 

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*carrie* said...

Great thoughts, Kelsey, and how fun that you had a mini-reunion recently!

We have definitely experienced community at NWC, but it's ebbed and flowed, as so much of life does. I was well-connected as a student, but the other time that stands out was during a certain period of the RD staff when we felt like family.

By the way, that is a BEAUTIFUL house that appears in the background of your snowed-in pic! =)

Hannah said...

Community is sooo important! I think it is what makes a place all the more special/better. Moving can be really difficult when you have a great community where you are. To leave that and go to a new place where you know no one can leave you feeling extremely isolated. I think that's a really big part of why it's so hard to go back to Louisville: because I know we had a great group of people and I know that we don't really have that here. While we have made some friends and know people now and have a sense of community here, it's still not like the friendships we had built in Louisville.

I have experienced real community a few times in my life and the factors that made it such a solid community were time and autheticity. I guess. You really have to invest time and be real with people in order to create a true community. Though, the hard part about that is that it takes time to do that ... You really have to make an effort and invest in the people around you/that you are trying to create a community/do life with. You will get out of it what you put in it. Though, there are times that you just click with a person and that's all it takes. Those are the special relationships and ones you can go back to in an instant - like your friends that you saw at the wedding.

And there are my rambling thoughts on that. :)

Torrie said...

I know that a huge contributor to my community is the church congregation we're a part of---if it weren't for that, I think I'd be pretty lonely. Going to church weekly with the same people and having that proximity makes it a lot easier to connect with people. It's like when you're in school and you see your friends every day---it's a lot easier to feel like you belong, you know?

When we first moved to the place we're at now, it took a little while to build that community, but that's to be expected--it also took quite a bit of effort on our part (still does). We regularly have people over for games and treats, and we've taken advantage of other church- and community-sponsored activities in order to connect with people further.

Loved your thoughts on this! Lots to think about.