Thankful for Community

Like most of you, I have been part of many different communities.

I have lived in three different states and nine different towns/cities. I've been part of work communities and school communities and church communities. I've volunteered. I've been in small groups, book clubs, blogging challenges, online fitness groups and CLL forums.

I have gained something from every community experience.

The first community I was ever a part of was an unhealthy church.

I can't categorize it as simply an unhealthy spiritual community because it enveloped my whole life. I remember being told again and again (in church services throughout my life) that I couldn't go anywhere else in the whole world (outside our group) and find true friends equal to those I had in this "body" of people. I believed this because I had no other experience to gauge life by.

When I felt God nudging me to leave, it was hard to imagine what my future would look like as far as community and friends.

Some who share my earliest community (and others like it) have been alienated from all community as a result of that experience. Some have felt drawn to completely different types of communities while never again feeling comfortable in a spiritual or Christian community.

I have plenty of baggage I've had to unpack over time. But I'm thankful I have never struggled to embrace opportunities for shared community in spite of soul-damaging past experiences. I left that first community on a quest to find community elsewhere. And I've been blessed with many true friends along the journey.

I'm not sharing this in a boastful way. It's not a virtue. This is not good vs. bad or anything like that. No judgment or feelings of superiority. Just gratitude.

Because it was simply part of my hard wiring as a human being, I never stopped wanting to find community with others, and especially other believers. And because I never stopped pursuing community, I've found almost endless community. In church, in small groups, in causes that are important to me, through the Internet, and even my blog, I have formed meaningful connection and enduring friendship.

Yes, I've been hurt, disillusioned and disappointed. But that's not what matters most to me. I've had the opportunity to be woven into the tapestry of other lives as they have been interwoven into mine. I have contributed something to every community I've participated in, just as I have learned from each of them. I try to go into every setting with the mindset of how I may be a blessing rather than how I might be blessed. And you know what? I can't say that I have always been a blessing to others. But I'm always blessed in some way.

I participated over a year ago in an Empowering Women conference. I was on a panel of several women who shared personal stories and lessons learned about succeeding in life. We were asked thoughtful questions. And our discussion was concluded as we were each asked to offer one piece of advice to other women as keys to successful living. I said, "Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. It's the only way to have meaningful connection in your life."

The younger woman next to me said she would have to say the opposite. She didn't see vulnerability as a good choice and cautioned about exploitation. She was trying to compete in a business world. I was thinking more in terms of personal relationship. And I pointed that out. For a brief second, I felt  "corrected" and that familiar feeling of self-doubt surged simply because I wasn't validated by someone else. In that moment, I felt the discomfort of vulnerability just as I was advocating for its importance. But in spite of her disagreement, my conviction was AND IS still that it's better to let people know me for who I am than to go through life trying to protect myself from being taken advantage of or hurt.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” ― BrenĂ© BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

We can never be completely successful in avoiding being hurt. But we can succeed in hardening our hearts in the process of avoiding vulnerability. And the trade off is just not worth it.

Community with others has brought far more positive to my life than negative, even factoring in 43 years in a religious cult.

I'm not nostalgic for those 43 years and I grieve that I believed lies about God and my eternity for so long. But the freedom, joy and gratitude of today is so much deeper and sweeter because of all those years. And after a season of separation, so many of my dearest "lost" friendships have been restored. Without those years, I wouldn't have those dear friends.

We were created for relationship -- with Him and each other.

From every community I've embraced, I have learned and grown.
In every community, I have enjoyed friendship, support and encouragement.
To every community, I have tried to make some kind of meaningful contribution and be a blessing.

I believe that God wants us to enjoy life. He's given us so much in life to be enjoyed. But the purpose of our lives is not enjoyment, pleasure or happiness.

Our purpose is to touch the lives of those around us for His glory and His kingdom.

We find those opportunities in community.

I'm thankful for opportunities to be on both ends of that purpose.

Thankful for each of you who have touched and impacted my life.


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