As I’m busy celebrating the completion of my book (cheeses!!! sleeping late!!! beach days!!! ice cream!!! reading for pleasure!!! cheeses!!! all of the cheeses!!!) I asked my friend Laura to write a little guest post to keep you all entertained.
Laura decided we were friends long before I knew she existed. It’s like that sometimes, you know? A sweet New Hampshire girl stumbles upon your blog, stalks it relentlessly, sends you emails that make you laugh out loud and finally asks if you’d be willing to meet up with her and her sisters for coffee. So, armed with your best friend Big Guy and your poor man’s pepper spray (the can of travel hairspray you keep in your purse) you enter the cafe with trepidation and the highest levels of Situational Awareness. And it turns out that you are NOT being catfished and they ARE three women and you spend an awesome afternoon laughing and crying and making all sorts of stalker jokes.
Laura is wonderful and hilarious and has met Clinton Kelly in person, which makes her the complete package in my opinion. She writes over at http://www.livinginrubyslippers.blogspot.com/, so check it out if you’d like more than just a taste!
Community is such a strange thing.
We’ve all been a part of a community before, even if just for a season. A soccer team, a youth group, a neighborhood, a class. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to appreciate community for what it truly is. (Side note: Community is also one of my favorite TV shows, and the fact that this post isn’t mostly quotes from that show is a testament to extreme self-control.)
When my husband got his dream job as a youth pastor offered to him several years ago, we were elated. (This is what we had prayed for!) Only one small hitch – it would require moving out of the Boston suburbs and into a tiny town on the high plains in western Kansas. (Oops! We didn’t pray specifically enough!)
But God clearly showed us that it was where He wanted us, and so we were nervous but excited to follow God’s leading. But that did mean that we now lived on an out-of-commission farm on a dirt road 14 miles outside of the town of only 5,000 people (but double that many cows) and virtually no one else anywhere around for quite a ways. This was the view out of my front door:
To our surprise, we LOVED it. And still do! (God knew what He was doing after all!) But the culture shock was very real at times, and much of that “shock” had to do with the community we found here.
In western Kansas the towns don’t blend into one another like they do in populated areas. The town I grew up in in southern New Hampshire wasn’t very well defined. To this day I can’t really tell you where the town line begins and ends…the jagged town boarders and weaving roads take you in and out of towns (and states) without a second thought. It’s a suburb of a metropolis and even if it’s a bit of a drive (ugh, eight minutes to Walmart!) nothing is really that inaccessible or far.
But in western Kansas that isn’t the case. There is a town. And at the edge of the town there stops being houses and little stores and there are only fields. And there continues to be only fields until you hit the next town – usually about thirty miles away. (This makes it difficult for bathroom breaks, let me tell you.) So towns tend to be very contained. They have their own school system, churches, and regular town amenities – grocery store, library, etc. But it’s incredibly impractical to drive to another town, so most people do their business, education, and worship in the same pool of people. Oh, and Walmart is about a 45 minute drive. One way.
This all translates to a community where sitting in church next to the your grocer, librarian, waiter at a local diner, and the school principal is normal. It means your girlfriend’s husband is one of the doctors in town and could possibly be on call to deliver your baby. (Still trying to get over that awkwardness.) It means when you are in the backyard playing with your dogs, a co-worker will likely stop by and say hi since they only live one street over. It means when you stop at the gas station, your husband performed the wedding ceremony for the gas station attendant there.
And for me, this now meant that the community I lived in saw every aspect of my life. Though I never meant to be deceptive, I realized how much I previously kept separate different parts of my life and how each one had it’s own code. I had my work people, my church people, and then my family and friends. They mostly didn’t overlap much – I didn’t ever worship with co-workers or work with family.
Here, there is no strictly professional me, or strictly Christian me, or my default blend of OCD/goofy that rears it’s head in between.
That was surprisingly hard for me. I had always tried to be professional in my job as a teacher, and I certainly wouldn’t want the parents of my students to see me out bowling with my friends being ridiculous and lip syncing all the words to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” I avoided those situations where there was overlap. I liked to keep the separate parts of my life separate, and honestly it wasn’t too hard.
That’s not to say when I wasn’t at church that I wasn’t Christian. My faith is real and deep and meaningful. But I was much more likely to say ‘I’m praying for you!’ to someone hurting at church than to someone hurting at work. And I was much more comfortable being goofy with my friends than with my co-workers.
That overlap that I had tried so hard to avoid before is unavoidable where I now live, but something interesting has happened. I’ve found a deeper version of me that is far more genuine and translates seamlessly to each different facet of life. I’m me: I’m seriously in love with Jesus, I am a passionate educator, I am always secretly perfecting the rap interludes of songs so when I’m with my family and friends I can bust out a rhyme and take them by surprise. Just little ol’ me.
By consciously choosing to not let the areas of my life define me, I’ve broadened in ways I never thought possible. Teaching in the public school system, I can’t pray with my students, so instead I pray over their desks before they come for the day or after they leave. I’ve shared real struggles I’m going through with people at church – some of the struggles far outside of my ‘bright eyed and bushy tailed Sunday morning smile no matter what’ that we all seem to somehow have adopted along the way. I’ve let my love of kids expand outside the classroom and into helping out in the nursery or kid’s church program. And I’ve let myself be real and goofy with people that aren’t in my comfort zone – and seriously amazed some boys in my husband’s youth group when I confessed to being kicked out of a hockey game for “aggression and excessive unsportsmanlike conduct.” (If you can’t watch hockey and pound on the glass and yell ‘FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT’ and then quote Happy Gilmore loudly – then you’re not living.)
While I wouldn’t have considered myself a hypocrite before this, there were times I was with people who needed more than a platitude that I offered them. Being a pastor’s wife especially, people can get weird around you and forget you are a normal person and start apologizing for the weirdest things and acting differently. But sadly, because of that, I fear that I missed a lot of opportunities to be a part of people’s lives in meaningful ways because I didn’t offer them Jesus’ love when it may have mattered most to them.
Being forced to be more authentic and genuine about all of me at all times has been strangely beautiful. The parts of me I was embarrassed about but shared anyways were met with lots of understanding and love and people sharing what they were dealing with on a deep level. The parts of me that were a bit crazy met other crazies along the way that have led to lots of hilarious Snap Chat conversations that I certainly would have missed if I had tried to sanitize my personality. The parts of me that were striving daily to love Jesus more and love myself less met people with the same mind who have joined me on my spiritual journey. It’s all been amazingly beautiful.
I think God knows what He’s doing (imagine that) when He places us in various communities, whatever that may look like – a Bible study, a friend group at work, a church, a neighborhood, a book club, whatever it may be. I had never realized its importance before, and now I’m afraid to think of where I would be without it. Because only now – in this little Kansas town – am I realizing that the tiniest taste of heaven is the beauty that comes from being who He has created us to be and to be deeply loved by people that know your never-ending list of screw ups and love you anyway.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.