This is Part 3 in a three-part series about what's shaped my ideas of community, and though it didn't start out as a personal history it quickly descended into one, so i let it write itself. the final piece is posted over on our heartloose blog, and if you want to skip all the navel-gazing and jump right into the dream, go on and head right over.
We moved to Brooklyn when Douglas was 18 months, and I felt exhilarated and terrified … and even more lonely. The bigger and more crowded the city, the more it seems we build little imaginary walls around ourselves in order to stay sane while squished thigh-to-thigh with perfect strangers on the train. The desire to Not Get Involved is huge, but so is the ability to rally and connect and help when big things hit. So our block, and the city, was a sometimes-community and a sometimes-packed-crowd-of-5-million-strangers. Where did I fit in? Did I belong? I actually reveled in the anonymity, learned to enjoy being alone (oh the bliss of 30 minutes of silence when raising toddlers!), and went through a hideous phase of chopping all my hair off. I found a couple close friends through school and daycare, and then a few more once we started to homeschool. It took years, but it was enough. I became a home body for the most part though, a big change from the packed schedules of my tireless 20's.
We went to meeting the first couple of years there, watched the group shrink from 40 to barely a dozen, and started acting on the faith we'd had for a long time that we were free to worship wherever there was a desire to remember the Lord. That the Lord's table was His table, not ours to defend and protect with so many rules and regulations. Knowing this would be troubling to those we were meeting with, we told them what we were doing and asked for their thoughts on it. They said they had no personal issues with our freedom to worship elsewhere, but knew that other groups would, so we'd better not take part anymore.
I felt equal parts terror and joy in that moment, knowing that I was free of the expectations and rules of fellowship that I'd followed for 30+ years (and questioned for at least a dozen), but that I was formally stepping outside of my birth culture, the circle of arms of hundreds of people I still loved with all my heart, and the desires of my parents' hearts. I felt more a part of the body of Christ, but less a part of my birth community … the one that first taught me what love and fellowship really meant. Heartbreaking.
My relationship with God was so tightly tied up in my meeting identity, that I hardly opened a Bible for about five years. Every time I did, someone else's words played in my ears while I tried to read, and I'd close it again. I mentioned my desire at one point to find another church, and Michael thought it best not to at that point. Why? Because I was still seeking belonging and approval in a group, rather than with God, and that needed to come first. It took a lot of wrestling, a lot of running and thinking and praying and alone-ing in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge (I was really good at the walls-in-a-crowd thing by then) before I could crack open my Bible and find something fresh in it. Find a desire and a hunger and an I Want More that wasn't pulled out of me by guilt, but was loved into me by a God who wanted a relationship with me. Really heady stuff. I still missed the kind of community I grew up in, but just didn't have it available, and in retrospect think it was really good that I didn't.
That broke the dam, and I think my whole relationship shift with God, along with a concurrent shift in my relationship with Michael, set the stage for being able to jump so incredibly far outside my comfort zone (homebody and loves being alone, remember?), and take this crazy journey called heartLOOSE. I don't think I've ever been more vulnerable, more un-tethered, or more knowingly dependent on God.
But between NYC and heartLOOSE, there was Lackawaxen, and I can't leave that story out. A tiny house on the Delaware river in PA to be exact, where the boys and I lived full time, and Michael commuted back to on the weekends after working in NYC during the week. It was a rental, and parked in the middle of a summer community, with only one other full-time resident down the 'block', a lovely older man struggling with COPD. The first few months were bliss … woods! River! Nightly freight trains 40' from the back door rattling the dishes, and eagles and deer and coons and foxes entertaining during the day along the river. Even the occasional bear was to be found, and all of it delighted us.
However, having Michael gone all week pretty much sucked, and the planned year of “NYC salary + PA Cheap Living = Savings” turned into two years thanks to two lemon vehicles in a row. Also, my plan to not put down roots or get too embroiled in the summer crowd because it would just hurt too much if I did (and it was just a yea r) … that turned out to be simply laughable. You see, we'd landed in the middle of one of the strongest communities I've ever encountered, and one that was as close to my childhood as I've found too. Kids and adults ranging up and down the block, hopping on and off of porches, trampolines, and bikes … roaring up and down on 4-wheelers, the always stocked soda and beer fridge, campfires, a communal swimming hole … walking each other home by flashlight when the moon wasn't out. Jokes and songs and impromptu potlucks and floating the river in inner tubes and kayaks.
Watching each other's kids, tending each other's hearts in the rough and the good, and the smell of fires and wet hair and love and frying fish and easy but oh-so-TLC, wrapped in the solidity that comes from generation after generation raising their kids together. We were sucked full force into those hearts despite my vow to not get too involved, and in the end it hurt more to leave than I could ever have imagined. Bam. It was so very good and so very unexpected, and rather raised the bar for what I thought was possible.
(oh, will she EVER get to the point?!)
I love people. Always have, was just born with it I think. I'm at times ridiculously loyal, somewhat rigid, have high expectations of myself and immediate family, and generally give lots more leeway to the rest of the world. When that division happened, I wasn't able to write off the folks on the other side of the line. I missed them, wondered about them, hungered after news of them. Rarely got it. Then we stepped out of the other half of the meeting too, and I missed all those folks deeply too. How were they? Did they still love me? Did they know I still loved them? How was life going?
So we start careening around the country visiting meeting friends, school friends, work friends … and falling deep and usually hard into whatever community our hosts are part of. Churches, friends, fellowships, families … and it is delicious. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. Hard. So hard. To love, to do Life together for a wee stretch of time, falling deeper into love and understanding and community … and then leave. Leave shreds of my heart behind, chunks even at times, knowing that we've been loved in return. Sometimes I can clearly still feel the walls there, the ones that say “You chose to be Other”, and it hurts more than I'd like to admit, but I've been there too and I still remember the feelings I had from the other side. “You left, and by leaving you've judged us as not enough for you. You see us as rigid and legal and wrong. That really hurts.” I have no more right to judge your faith than you have to judge mine. Zero. It's personal. How we live out our faith is personal too, but how it affects others … that's where community comes in, and is vital.
Worship together is good, singing together is good, digging together, working together, asking together, seeking together … saying the hard things and the easy things both. Loving each other as ourselves.
What I'm hoping that could all look like soon in an actual community? It's over here on heartLOOSE (and is much much shorter, I promise!). This post started out as a heartLOOSE thing, but quickly became an InMyMiddle thing. So there it is.