Friday, October 10, 2014

Let's Do This Community Thing Better (A Re-post)

*It's Day 10 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community *

It's been a day. And by that, I mean, from the minute I rolled out of the bed to get Sam ready for school and pick the baby girl up from her crib, I have been on the move. Despite what it may sound like, it's been a good one, but I've definitely reached that point in the day when putting together sentences is starting to be slightly hard. And so, to save you and me from a blog post that could either be mind-numbingly boring or just incredibly awkward, I've decided to give myself a measure of grace and not write a post on community tonight. Luckily, before I started the 31 Day Writing Challenge, I'd written a little post about community that I'm going to share again. This just happens to be the post that sparked my interest in committing to a month-long conversation about intentional community:

A fellow stay-at-home mom (a.k.a. laundry-dominator, kid-chaser, house cleaner extraodinaire, nutritional snack czar, etc.) called me yesterday. We talked on the phone, which is in itself a small miracle, considering that children are drawn to moms on the phone like moths to a flame, except they're more needy (the children, not the moths). It's a natural phenomenon that I do not have the scientific credentials to explain. Even as her little ones bounced around her house and fought and needed things from her (Sam was at school and the babe was asleep, if you were wondering where my people were), we shared actual words of encouragement and words of understanding and words of wondering what it's all about, this life we are leading, shepherding small hearts and souls in our little homes from sun-up to sun-down and sometimes long after that sun has gone down.

And we hit on something in the midst of that conversation. Something that you have probably already considered or wondered about or maybe even acted on. We talked about the strangeness of raising children the way we do in this weirdly isolated society we live in. And I'm not just talking about the social media phenomenon that helps us keep up with friends who live across the country whom we haven't seen since we were twelve even as we don't know our neighbors or see friends who live only a few miles from us more than twice a year. I'm talking about the situation in which most stay-at-home moms find themselves in day after day, raising their babies in virtual isolation, tucked away in the solitude of their own houses waiting for husbands to come home and give them a couple breaths of relief from the unrelenting constancy of it all.

We don't live in community the way women did fifty years ago. You've probably noticed this. Our neighborhoods are full of strangers who we wouldn't recognize in a police line-up. Our children don't play with the kids down the street because we're kind of afraid they might sell them drugs (or equally alarming, trans fats) or join a preschooler gang. Our mornings aren't spent with moms who live next door drinking cups of coffee on the porch while the littlest ones who don't go to school play at our feet.

We drop older kids off at school and then drive straight back into our garages, retreat into our homes, and spend the day doing our usual stuff, disciplining children, cleaning bathrooms, making meals, paying bills, with the occasional guilty glance at Facebook as we wonder what other women are doing right now and hoping for some small connection with them online as we face another day alone.

Um...that sounds a little more bleak than I meant for it to. But, you know what I mean. Being a stay-at-home mom these days is, for the most part, kind of a loner experience.

And, so, this brings me back to what my friend (we'll call her Courtney, because that's her name) and I were mulling over. We want more than that. We want real community with each other. Community that's more than just a playdate at Chic fil a (although those are occasionally extraordinary). But, how on earth do we make that happen? And, are we even willing to be intentional enough to make it happen? My introverted self can occasionally choose to be alone when community would be so much more life-giving.

We need to be intentional about community with each other, but, I think we also need to be somewhat unconventional about it. Playdates aren't really community. Can we just be honest about that? Playdates make my brain want to explode sometimes. But, if we aren't living across the street from each other, can we even have the kind of comfortable, familiar, intertwined-life community that seems so out of reach? I honestly don't know yet. But, I really want to at least give it a serious try.

My friend and I talked about having family dinners together where everyone brings food, so that no one feels like the burden of dinner is completely on their shoulders. We talked about being intentional about driving over to each others' houses after kids have been dropped off at school to have a cup of coffee and talk for an hour before heading back home to put the baby down for a nap. We talked about going on walks in the evening and about being intentional to occasionally involve our husbands in our pursuit of community so that we aren't tempted to be exclusive in some kind of  "No Boys Allowed" cliche.

I'm curious if it's possible. I think it is. I think we can create the community we were designed for.

We need each other. I need friends to speak truth into my life daily so that I'm not tempted to hide out in my house and allow the Enemy to convince me of things that aren't true. I need friends to walk with me consistently in this parenting thing because on any given day I can easily believe that I'm screwing it all up. I need friends to encourage me to be myself, to live out my purpose, to pursue gifts and talents that I'm tempted to put away until the kids graduate from college.

What would it look like if we made choices about where to buy a house based on where our friends lived? What if we took back our neighborhoods (so to speak) and created the community that we long for? I know that sounds a little far-fetched, but wouldn't living a stones' throw away from a dear friend be worth about a million double-sink master bathrooms? I'm pretty sure our quality of life would benefit from the friend across the street way more than the bonus room in that house across town. I say this and I currently live on a street where I know zero neighbors and I've lived here almost two years. And it's not for lack of trying to be friendly. I think real community just feels so foreign and possibly even outdated that maybe no one really tries anymore.

I want to borrow a cup of sugar from you and I want you to call me to remind me to pull my shade at night before I put on my pj's (because, oops) and I want to know that you'll water my flowers when I'm out of town for the weekend. I want to know that you will drop by and feel the freedom to come in without knocking. I want to feel like we're in this together. Because we are. We just don't always realize it. 

Let's be different. Let's pursue each other. Let's get all up in each others' business (in a good way, friends). Let's change this weird trend of moms locked up in their houses trying to go it alone. Let's figure out real ways to be intentional about unconventional community. 

I'm in if you are.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Community is Necessary

*It's Day 9 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community *

A few years ago, we lived on Lookout Mountain in a tiny little house that we loved, despite the lack of a dishwasher (and by that I mean a non-human version) and the occasional scorpion that I will never be able to forget. Ever.

We went to a church that met in a big, beautiful barn on the back of the mountain and we made friends who welcomed us into their community from the moment we showed up.

Just down the road from our house was Covenant College, which was full of some pretty exceptional students, many of whom we got to know and invited into our little home. One of those was a senior at Covenant named Hannah. She and I would meet once a week and talk about a book we were reading over mugs of hot tea. One semester we discussed a chapter a week of Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a twentieth century theologian. If you haven't read it and you're interested in Christian community, I'd suggest clicking over to Amazon right this minute. It's a relatively easy read and absolutely worth your time.

Life Together is essentially Bonhoeffer's thoughts
on the basic elements of Christian community and what those can and perhaps should look like.

You probably know this already, but Bonhoeffer experienced Christian community, at least as an adult, in the shadow of the Nazi regime in Germany before and during the war. His opposition of the Nazi's treatment of the Jews eventually resulted in his being executed at the end of the war, only weeks before the concentration camp where he had been held was liberated.

I point all this out because I think it's important to understand where Bonhoeffer was coming from when he wrote the quote below. I would imagine, in light of his circumstances, his evaluation of Christian community probably would have had more of a sense of absolute spiritual necessity about it. And I'm sure he also understood it to be something that could possibly be taken away at any moment.

Page six of Life Together includes this quote: "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren."

I can tend to think of community so casually and, at different seasons of my life, even think of it as negotiable. But, if we see it for what it really is, essentially a life-line in the trenches of a very real battle for our hearts and minds, we would likely be less inclined to put it off or take it for granted. More than just a comfortable group of friends to spend time with, Christian community is, very literally, necessary for our spiritual health.

The privilege of having community with people who love Jesus and who also love us is all grace. I wonder if we would value it differently and commit to it with more vigor if we could see it through the same lens as Bonhoeffer must have.

It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing." Life Together, page 3.

It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing." (p. 3) - See more at:

"It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." (p. 6) - See more at:
"It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." (p. 6) - See more at:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Being a Parent + Making New Friends = Awkward

*It's Day 8 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community

There's a new couple at our church. We like them. I think they'd be a great addition to our community group. The only catch is, it's hard to actually have a real, live conversation with them at any point because there are small people hanging off of us at all times. At. All. Times. We are human jungle gyms. The end.

But, wait. Surely, making new friends and possibly inviting them into our community can still happen despite our total inability to focus during conversations or make eye contact or finish a sentence. Right?

I wonder sometimes about this. Most people I meet are meeting a version of me that is so different from what I consider to be the REAL ME. The current version of me struggles to think about things unrelated to juice boxes, cartoons, diaper changes and naptime. If you have procreated in the last twenty years, I'm guessing you know something about this mental block.

The aforementioned couple at church don't have any children. That's about to change in a month or so but for now, they are calm and cool and collected. Their shirts are tucked in and their hair is in place and they don't have peanut butter fingerprints on their pants. No one's tried to hand them a booger in the last five minutes. They haven't endured mind-numbing episodes of Thomas the Train on repeat. And because of this, I find myself hesitant to approach them sometimes. My ability to form complete thoughts much less complete sentences in public is at an all time low. I have very little to talk about that can't be related to PBS children's programming. What do I have to offer to anyone in any sort of valuable relational way right now?

These are the thoughts that run through my mind two seconds before I meet someone new. It's a problem.

BUT, sometimes, I push through. And despite the child on my hip chewing on my hair or the other child who just raced by me as he let out a loud, warlike whoop, I chance it and say hi. It's hard. I feel awkward, but suddenly it's happening and I'm in conversation. And, it's good.

When I was single and attending a huge church in Knoxville, Tennessee by myself, I remember wishing that some family would approach me and make conversation with me and maybe even invite me over for lunch in the midst of their chaotic, crazy, kid-filled Sunday afternoon. That never happened and on the flip side of that experience, I'm a lot more understanding of why that was. But, I want to do things differently. Despite my insecurity and despite my hesitance to invite people into the crazytown that is having a family that includes small, high-on-life little people.

I'm not sure if we've made that couple at church a little afraid of having children now that they've seen the weariness and the wildness and the intensity of parenting up close and personal when we walk up to say hello on Sunday morning. We might have.

But, even in the midst of this season of raising our small ones, we can still invite people in and hopefully give them glimpses at times of the incredibly good parts of parenting. Who knows. It might be exactly what they need right now.

Waiting until we have it together before we invite people into community with us means it probably won't ever happen.

So, set the juice cup down, move your kid to the other hip, and hold out a Cheerio-scented hand to that person you haven't met yet. I'm pretty sure they won't even notice you smell like peanut butter.

I may or not be wearing a Thomas the Train conductor's hat here. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Every Person Matters

*It's Day 7 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community

Sometimes my thirteen-year-old self resurfaces and I find that the strange tendency toward clique-y behavior isn't so far behind me. It creeps up unexpectedly and I don't realize that it's happening until I notice that I'm enjoying being on the 'inside" a little too much. It doesn't happen often, but every now and then, this 36-year-old adult reverts back to middle-school worthy relational habits. And it's not pretty.

Obviously, now that we're all older and wiser, we know better. And we're so above all that mean girl stuff. Right? Except when we're not. It just plays out differently now that we're not awkward middle-schoolers.

Looking back, I can see that insecurity was the underlying issue of most of the weird grouping dynamics in school. We were all just trying so hard to fit in somewhere, anywhere, that once we finally got in with a circle of friends, we wanted to close it up tight so that we could create the relational security we wanted so badly. I think we'd probably do more of that as adults if we weren't so busy doing other stuff like work, and dropping kids off at school, and getting adjusted at the chiropractor.

There are a lot of problems with that kind of behavior, but I'm just going to point out one. Mainly, because I'm not a psychologist and also because you don't want to read a dissertation by someone who doesn't know all that much (i.e. I just figured out "clique" isn't spelled "cliche," which changes this post entirely).

Essentially, we miss out when we don't let people in. All this talking about community and creating a circle of friends to relax into reminded me that we also need to be sure we're not creating cliques. Because that's easy to do without even realizing we're doing it.

C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, puts all this better than I ever could:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.... two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend...

He goes on to explain that more than just helping bring out different facets of one another, we also reveal aspects of God to one another unique to our own experience: For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.

Your presence in a fellowship of friends is invaluable because it highlights aspects of each friend to the others through your unique perspective of them. Similarly, our specific experience of God gives our friends a glimpse into His character and His heart that they might not have seen were we not there to offer it. Each person we invite into our community has that same ability to shine a light into places we might have overlooked.

Community isn't a big crowd of acquaintances who spend time together. But, it also isn't a tight circle that doesn't let anyone else in.

Lewis also said that friendship is the least jealous of loves. As we create
community, let's remember to invite people in.

For their sake, but also for our own.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Meet Me at Luke's Diner

*It's Day 6 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community *

My husband suffered valiantly through five seasons of Gilmore Girls with me. And then we stopped watching after that fifth season when things got weird with Rory and Lorelai, but we'll save my minor soapbox rant on that for another post. Right now, I want to talk about how much I want to live in Stars Hollow.

Stars Hollow, Connecticut is basically Mayberry in technicolor but with more caffeine. I love that everybody in town runs into each other at their impossibly tiny grocery store and that they all order coffee and pancakes at Luke's diner and that every last person in SH shows up for random town meetings about random town issues. Obviously, I'm aware that the town in Gilmore Girls was just a set. On some Hollywood lot. Possibly with plastic trees and turf for grass. It also turns out that the actresses who played Rory and Lorelai actually hated coffee in real life. I was strangely disappointed to find that bit of trivia out. Basically, everything about Stars Hollow was a figment of someone's creative imagination.

But, I love it anyway.

So, why am I talking about Stars Hollow like a semi-obsessed fan who might be willing to drive to L.A. for the chance to walk down SH's Main Street and pretend like I belong there for a half a second? I think the Stars Hollows and the Mayberrys, and whatever other fictional depiction of community we find ourselves drawn to, uncover and even point us to our very real desire for gospel community. I've been told that "every true story borrow it's power from the gospel."  Maybe it's possible that, despite their obvious flaws, the images of community we see in our favorite television shows reflect something true about what real, gospel community should look like.

The desire stirred up by those depictions of scripted community is an honest response to what we were designed for. We were made to be in a circle of friends. We want shared experiences. Despite our insecurities and our fears and our issues, we don't want to do life by ourselves. Sometimes we think we do, but if you dig down deep enough, you know that your heart wants community. It's built in. We're hard-wired for it. Life is basically a group activity, a team effort, a village situation.

Don't let yourself believe the lie that you are just fine on your own. Don't give into the temptation to keep others' at arms' length. You and I were not made to be lone rangers. We just weren't. (If you need to be convinced, rent Castaway this weekend).

Pursue community. Make it important enough in your life that you fight for it. The Enemy will put lies about you and others on repeat in your head, but God's desire for you to be placed in a fellowship is bigger than those.

I read once that "every redemptive relationship will be opposed." (maybe John Eldredge?) That means building real, intentional, heart-deep community will most likely be hard. It will require something of you. Most importantly, it will require you. But the effort is worth it. Redemptive community helps us work out the gospel in our lives. It'll kick us in the pants when we need a wake-up call. It will love us back into fellowship when we've wandered off at times. God will use that kind of community to help bring about His redemption in our hearts. I promise. I've seen it happen up close and personal. 

My friend Sarah shared a few verses at small group last night that speak to why community is necessary:

Hebrews 10:24-25

24 And let us consider how we may spur each other on toward love and good deeds. 

25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all  the more as you see the Day approaching.

Invite people in. Be faithful to meet with them. Be honest with each other and pursue God's truth together. Encourage each other to live the gospel out for real. You and I will see redemption in our lives and in the lives of those around us when we live in that kind of radical community.

And all the Stars Hollows will pale in comparison.

Photo of Stars Hollow courtesy

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twenty's a Crowd

*It's Day 5 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community

Once upon a time, I was young and fancy-free and lived in Nashville. I moved there after college for a job that turned out to be a really strange three months of my life that felt more like three years. But, despite a weird start, I moved on to other things and built a life in Music City for four years that changed me in about a million ways. Mostly good.

When I was twenty-four, I moved into a house with a friend whose other roommate was about to move out to get married. She was ten years older than I was and owned her own graphic design company, which was beyond my early twenties' comprehension. Her husband-to-be and she had met at a wedding where she was a bridesmaid and he a groomsman, which was basically one of my top five dream ways to meet the love of my life. Anyway, I thought she was the coolest.

I remember one evening coming home from a huge party of some sort with a myriad of singles from the super hip church I attended. There was a big group of single people between twenty-two and thirty who hung out all the time, and it was very much like a large youth group full of young adults, many of whom were connected to or trying to be connected to the music machine that is Nashville. Anyway, I came home from this event I'd attended, heavy with twenties' angst and wondering why I felt so alone after having spent time with about fifty of my closest friends that night.

My roommate was there doing something wedding-related and I stopped to chat with her before heading to bed. I think she must have recognized something in my mood that she had experienced when she was in the same season of life I was in at that point. I don't remember how the conversation came about, but I do remember her telling me that when she turned twenty-five, she realized she was over the "youth group" hang outs (which seem to be a weird phenomenon in urban cities among large groups of young single Christians, and I feel warrants a sociological study.) She told me that at twenty-five, she thought through which friendships in her life were most significant and decided she was going to focus on that handful of friendships and stop feeling the pressure to be friends with fifty people she wasn't even close to.

She moved out that fall to get married and it wasn't long after when a friend and I started a Bible study with ten girls who became like family to me. That Bible study and those friendships were a significant part of my experience in Nashville as I struggled to determine who I was exactly and what it was that mattered to me. (The twenties are hard, y'all, especially for a girl who was sure she'd get her MRS. degree the day after college wrapped up.)

I'm sure you've heard somebody say "quality over quantity" to you at some point in your life. I think that totally applies to friendships. We don't need a huge group to be a part of. We just need a handful of Jesus-loving friends who go deep with us.

Jesus had twelve. That's probably a good indication that we should keep things small. Community isn't about how wide your social network extends. It's about how deep your relationships go with a few people whose lives intersect with yours.

Who are those people in your life?

The Bible Study girls (minus one). Note: I'm wearing athletic wear, but without any actual athletic purpose).


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